You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?
Photographers, show us GIFT.
This photo was a gift from my father. It shows a group of people, probably around the late nineteenth century. They were farm workers at Sissinghurst in the county of Sussex/Kent and it looks like they were busy picking hops Hops are an important item for the production of beer, and the county of Kent in England is famous for its oast buildings where the hops were stored.
Why bitter sweet – for many reasons. My father has no real idea who and what is on the photo, but thinks it might be his mother (my grandmother) at the front on the left, and perhaps a few of a her brothers dotted around. Birth control did not really exist in those days and so my grandmother grew up with 11 brothers. There were a few more siblings around, but they died as babies, or by accident. So was life in those days, it was the luck of the draw. Her elder brothers had already left the fold and had married. They had moved on, a few still working as farm hands, a couple climbing the ladder to farming success and becoming foremen on the farms where they lived.
My father knew a couple of his uncles. Now and again he spent a holiday in the country with their families, again having numerous children.
Back to the photo: this was taken by a photographer of the time. No-one had a camera, it was all done by professional photographers. Everyone is wearing a hat and the Levi Strauss invention known as blue jeans had not yet reached the English countryside. Women were wearing skirts and aprons of course. One gentleman is even wearing his bowler hat, but perhaps that was because his wife told him to, for the photo.
How I would have loved to have been there. Heard what they were talking about. These memories have been lost over so much time and space. It seems my grandmother worked in the dairy eventually. She actually grew up in the priest’s house at Sissinghurst castle. The priest was no longer living in the house, and it was probably large enough to accommodate the family. Many years later the castle was taken over by Victoria Sackville-West, who redesigned the gardens, which are still today an attraction for visitrs.
One day the relation of another family in the village of Sissinghurst spent a few days in the country, visiting his family in the area. He lived in the East End of London and was probably glad to get away from the smoke and grime of the factories in his area. Whether it was love at first sight I do not know, but his eyes fell on the diary worker and one thing lead to another. My grandmother, with the numerous brothers, married this man from London.
I often thought it must have been a civilisation shock to her when she arrived in a working class London, which was already bursting at the seams with its rows of attached houses, but she seemed to take it all in her stride. Grandad liked his drink, as most working class men of the time. He also liked participating in bets on horse racing and dog racing, but Gran having so many brothers, she probably found it normal.
One thing I do remember about her, she was a good cook and her pastries were fantastic. They are the tastes and smells that have remained in my mind. She would make her own pastry always. She had a recipe for lemon tarts. The filling just melted in your mouth: a sort of lemon creamy consistency. I have tried often to bake them myself, but alas her secret recipe, probably taken from the farmlands of Sissinghurst castle and her own mother, died with her.
I just love this photo and all the memories it contains.