I first met Ella in February 1990 at her bungalow in Shoscombe. I had gone there to see if she was able to ‘put meat on the bones’ of my ancestors. In my notes that I kept of that first meeting I described her as “a very sprightly 90 year old lady, totally with it, displaying a sharp mind and good memory”. Over the years I visited Ella several times and saw her become frailer. Sadly the last time I saw here was at St.Martins Hospital in Bath on the 18th October 1997. I was there having arranged an interview with Paul Sigrist the Director of the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Using my daughters Fisher Price tape recorder he conducted an interview with her lasting well over an hour. In the article Paul Sigrist is quoted as saying “In the 24 year history of the project, it is unprecedented to find someone who came back to their native land”.
I was born at the turn of the century on 5th May 1900 at Shoscombe. Unlike most people who have eight grand-parents, I had only six on account of my own parents being cousins.
One great grandmother was Mary Ann Harding who married great grandfather Joel Hamilton. A daughter , May was born in 1855. She married Thomas Rogers. He originated from Sway, in the New Forest and came to Shoscombe to work building the new railroad. Their first born Nell (my mother) was born in 1874. A son William was born 2 years letter in 1876. Much later in 1895 a baby girl Gertrude, the illegitimate child of a work friend of Nell, was taken into the Roger’ home but not formally adopted. This was a tremendous sacrifice for the Rogers, particularly because Thomas Rogers was by now severely crippled and confined to a wheelchair.
Nell Rogers married my father Isaac Hamilton (her first cousin) on 27th December 1898. In 1900 I was born. My birth was followed at intervals by Albert (Sonny), Leonard, Frank, Richard and Dora.
1900 Uncle Bill (William Rogers) went to the USA to live and on 2nd June 1903 married Rachel Morris – originally from England – a divorcee with four children. They had one child of their own, Nell.
In 1901 we lived in a semi-detached house named Braeside situated at the top of SingleHill, a few hundred yards from the village Post Office and School. The house was built by the Coles brothers of Peasedown. Next door lived Uncle Jim, his wife Lilly and their daughter Winnie who was six months older than me. Alongside our house we had an orchard with apple and plum trees. Chickens were also kept in a stone out-house. On Uncle Jim’s side was a larger field with a stable to house their cart horse Kit. When I was 14 months old my first brother Albert was born. (Albert was nick named Sonny and was called that for the rest of his life – I could not imagine how he got that name as he cried a lot as a baby).
I started at the local school at the age of three , going into the infants room which consisted of three classes, babies, second and third years. All I can remember is having small boxes containing sand to play with – what we did with them I just can’t remember. A Miss Harding looked after us. Mrs Young was our teacher in classes two and three. She was the wife of the school Head and they lived in Shoscombe. Their daughter Dolly attended the school. Mrs Young started us on our ABC and Multiplication tables using our slates with chalk. She must have been very kind to us as I liked going to School. Later, I don’t remember exactly when, I moved up to the big classroom where there were four classes called standards 1 to 4. In standard 1 our teacher was Miss Shelton. She taught us to write , to do simple arithmetic like adding and subtraction. We also had dictation.
School started at 9.00 am with Scripture for the first half hour. This was followed by arithmetic till 10.30 am when we were allowed out to play for 10 minutes. More lessons followed till noon when everyone, except children from far distant Woodborough, went home for lunch returning for afternoon school at 2.00pm. Other lessons were history, geography and sewing for the girls, gardening for the boys. The schoolday finished at 4.00pm. At School I was happy.
After school hours we amused ourselves with simple pastimes. The girls skipping or playing hop-scotch, or Dibbs (a form of five stones), whilst the boys played marbles or the more robust ‘Bung the barrel’. Why it was called this I have no idea. It required no equipment. Two teams , each of a minimum of four or five but generally the more the better, were chosen. One team formed a straight line with backs bent and heads well down, each member holding on closely and tightly to the boy in front. The first in the line place his head in the stomach of the one upright team member called the ‘post’. This was essential to act as a cushion. Members of the other team would in turn , run and jump, leapfrogging and landing safely as far as possible up the line of bent backs. There they must stay until all members of the jumping team had safely landed. If any member of the jumping team should fall off before all jumps were completed then the team would change places. If the static team should collapse under the strain, that was one point to the jumping team and the game continued. I believe that this game was peculiar to our small area of Somerset and also to a part of Kent but I guess it has now become extinct. The girls and boys never played together, I had a special friend Millie Gunning who lived at Foxcote, about half a mile away.
My second brother. Leonard, was born when I was five. He suffered from tuberculosis (TB) and needed a lot of attention. Two years later Frank was born. Unlike Sonny he was a very contented baby. We had our chores to do at home. After school had finished for the day Sonny and I would often walk to Peasedown to deliver a large basket of eggs to where Fred Smith lived with his sister, opposite Welch the grocer. On Saturdays it was my job to clean the boots and knives.
I started at Sunday School at Single hill Chapel at a very young age. Each year a choir was formed, conducted by Mr. Montague. Some of us youngsters recited religious poems and the choir gave a ‘Service of Song’ on Whitsunday. We all got new dresses for this important day. I remember going to Weston Super Mare on the annual Sunday School outing. This necessitated walking 3 miles to Radstock where we caught the train to the sea-side for the day and then the weary trek home at night. That was a big day.
Because of his illness, Leonard did not start school until he was eight years old. He tired easily and was not able to walk far without collapsing in a hedge. On such occasions our welsh collie dog, Vic, who invariably accompanied him, would stay by his side until either mother or I would find the two of them. From an early age he had received treatment once a month at Bath Hospital. Later, after he was showing some improvement, he was to receive treatment from a clinic at Wells Hill, just outside Radstock. I had to accompany him there and although it was only about three miles away it took us all day to struggle there and back. Father was prosecuted and fined two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) for my non-attendance at school that day. Leonard eventually got better so it must have been worth it!
In 1910 uncle Bill revisited England for the first time. He had homes in both Pittsburgh, where he worked as a builder, and in Hawthorn, 16 miles outside of Los Angeles.
In June 1911 we exchanged homes with Granf’er and Granny Hamilton, to run the small farm at Stoney Littleton with its four cows, one cart horse and some pigs. This was further away from the school making it more difficult for Leonard. The house was next door to mother’s parents Granny and Granf’er Rogers. Granf’er was crippled with rheumatism and spent his days, after Granny got him up, in an arm chair. To me he was an angel. If ever I had a problem I knew I had only to go to himr comfort and good advice.
In November of this year the fourth and last boy Richard was born which meant more baby minding for me.
Thinking back I have often wondered what mother had to sing about. She sang a lot around the house and had a good voice- she was very patient. We had a piano at home and father made time to teach me to play. A cane was kept on the mantle shelf over the fire place and although we children were often threatened for being naughty I can not ever remember the cane being used.
At thirteen I left school. I didn’t want to but at that age we had to sit what was called a Labour Exam. If you passed you could leave school, if you failed you had to stay on for another year. I passed so had to leave. Every one had to leave the village school at the age of fourteen. Very few went on for any further education. There was not much else but coal mining or farm labouring for the boys to look forward to and as for the girls, just domestic service or being a shop assistant at Peasedown or Radstock. I did neither of these but became mother’s full time help and all I wanted to do was to go back to school. Mother taught me to knit. I specialised in socks. From that time on I don’t believe father ever wore socks that had not been knitted by me or, in later days, by my younger sister Dora. When we had lived at Braeside father worked in the mine and continued to do so for the first few years after we took over the small farm. Sonny milked the cows each morning before going to school being helped sometimes by mother. That was one chore I never could do.