MARCH - Optimism in Huge Dollops
So here we are coming towards the end of Women's History Month. And I haven't been idle. Crowvus decided to tip a collective cap to women in history and, because I am at present chief researcher into geneaology, I drew the short straw and was obliged to find a woman for each day of the month. I decided to concentrate on my side of the family as I don't have that passed-down connectivity with Keith's side. At first I thought it would be a poisoned chalice. I expected to be saddened by the women I looked at - to find that their lives were downtrodden and without effect. That isn't how it turned out to be at all. I am proud to be better acquainted with the women in my family from days long gone. Some of the qualities I have identified are strength, compassion, adventure, tolerance, courage and determination - often through faith. These women are appearing on our Twitter page throughout March and we hope they will highlight positivity for those who get a glimpse of them. Some of their stories are sad. Eliza Richardson moved, from her native Suffolk, to Flamborough in Yorkshire with her husband and children and, soon afterwards died - after the birth of her 9th child, Julia. Hannah Temperton died as a young woman, after her clothing caught fire. Louisa Widdowson became a widow with a small child in World War One. These three young women suffered but they are not forgotten. Their stories must never be forgotten.
Eliza's husband was employed by Customs and subsequently became involved in violent skirmishes - some of which are well documented. They moved north to Flamborough where he was coastguard and later chief coastguard. Flamborough must have been significant in their minds as it was less than twenty years before Norton Richardson's birth that the Battle of Flamborough Head took place on 23rd September 1779. The battle was between an American Continental Navy of four vessels and two British escort vessels protecting a large merchant convoy. I have a scrimshaw etching of the American vessel, the Bonhomme Richard, and a British ship, the Serpis. My daughter gave it to me. She and I have a shared interest in geneaology and she is writing a dissertation on colonialism and how Wick responded to it within the sphere of the military.
Wick is now our home town so you might like to suggest we carried on up the North Sea coast from where Eliza and Norton left off. I shall tell my little granddaughter about her 5th great grandmother, Eliza Richardson (nee Woods).
Hannah's story is quite different. After the deaths of her mother and sister, Sophia, Hannah lived with her father, John Temperton, and her brother, Arthur, in Belton in Axholme. John and Arthur were working in the fields one autumn afternoon when they heard screams coming from their cottage. John found Hannah on the floor with her clothing burning. She managed to utter "I shall not live" while Arthur went to get help. She died the next day. That was in 1892 when many women died as a result of burns. Hannah's story is, to this day, being told locally and, horrible as it was, the example of the danger of open fires deterred children from getting up close to the flames.
Louisa Widdowson was born, in Malton, Yorkshire, Louisa Moss Dimbleby - and was the illegitimate daughter of Eliza Dimbleby and, we believe but cannot prove, a soldier who had moved through the ranks, Sharp-style. Louisa was known in the family as Lilly - perhaps that was to avoid confusion with my great grandmother - her aunt - who was also Louisa. Lilly lived with her grandmother until her death when she went to live with her Aunt Louisa and Louisa's young family in Belton in Axholme. She met a local lad, Fred Widdowson, and they married and went to live in an old house called Primrose Hill. It was close by my childhood home and I walked, many times, through the fields towards the disused railway line, passing Primrose Hill on the way and sometimes standing within its bare walls imagining the lives which were developing there all those years ago. Lilly had a little boy, also Fred, and after her husband died she married John Nicholson from Epworth. John was fighting alongside Fred Snr. in World War One. John came home, Fred didn't. Lilly's start in life was less than secure but she was reared within a very loving family who just couldn't help smiling - in spite of numerous adversities. Let all children smile, let them laugh - and let them be children.
The women we know in history need not be famous beyond our families but they are capable of empowering us as individuals. Here in Caithness I can identify those women whose ancestors had lived through the harsh life that was gutting the herring - then salting them before the men smoked them. These women are tough. They have inherited resilience and a sense of community. Community is a big thing and that appeared to be a problem when I first came to live here nearly ten years ago. I'm a private person with some wonderful and very true long-standing friends . I find it difficult to throw myself into something which is outwith my close circle. So, when we came to live here, I JOINED! I joined everything I could because I wanted to give back something of the joy Caithness was giving me. I put aside my way of being and I JOINED. It didn't really work though. I don't suffer fools gladly and there was more than one fool pushing me around. So I withdrew. I felt guilty for a while but then I got to thinking: the people who had been in my groups really didn't mind that I had withdrawn - we seemed to get on anyway. I didn't need to feel guilty because everyone is different and not everyone joins. I don't join much now. No one dislikes me for it and I like to think they know they can come here if they can't get the support they require to survive difficulties. I look around and I realise that Caithness is a glorious mix of all types and all sensibilities. There is little in the way of sentimentality and even less moralizing. Many women here are descended from those who struggled to raise large families and did gruelling work while watching and hoping for the boats as they returned from the fishing grounds carrying their men - and the herring which was the means of their survival.
I do appreciate those noble trailblazers amongst women - the ones who make the Google Doodle - but who is to say that they had more about them than, for example, my aunt and godmother who ran a shoe and drapery shop, helped her husband run a taxi business extra to his regular employment, taught at Sunday School and brought up three amazing sons with absolute devotion? Who is to say that they had more about them than the sister of my great grandmother who never heard a sound in all her eighty years, cared for her father after the death of her mother until she married at the age of twenty nine, after which she had four children and moved from one side of the country to the far opposite - only to lose her husband at a relatively young age.
Ann Elizabeth Taylor born in Lincolnshire in 1868 was pretty impressive. She went alone to live in Canada, taking with her only her experience as a cook. Her nephew - the brother of my grandmother - followed her decades later and settled there too. My granny flew across the Atlantic to stay with him for several months - at a time when women didn't generally fly unaccompanied.
Esther Beilby, my 4th great aunt, was born in Yorkshire in 1830 and died in America in 1875, after travelling with the Pioneer and Handcart Company and settling with her husband and small child in Utah.
These are examples of the women in my family. They are in yours too. Don't let Modern Woman tell you that this is the day of the woman - because it simply isn't true. This is the day that Modern Woman loudly proclaims what it is she does - and so often despises men. A big mistake! I loved my grannies for their kindness, for their tenacity, for their courage and for their love and loyalty. And I loved my grandfathers for their patience, for their fortitude, their sheer hard work and for their gratitude - gratitude for my grannies. Both of my grannies outlived my grandfathers and they dealt with their time living alone very well. There was quiet acceptance. There was a stoical thankfulness.
I am proud of the women in my family. It is a fact that the ones who were happiest were the ones who had their say in the marriage. My great-great-grandmother Dimbleby left her husband for a time - twice - but she is buried in the same place - even though she died several miles away. The women in my family knew their own minds and fought for the future of their children, the children of their siblings and for the good of their pupils. They still are fighting - amid the echoes of generations past. I look for positivity in my subject and I am certain the women of my own history offer optimism in huge dollops - just as yours do. We don't have to dig deep when you think about it. Women's History Month is coming to an end but I'm just beginning to realise that the women from my history are all around me.