Woman’s amazing place in history of Second World War

Ooh Aah Droitwich Spa

A Droitwich woman was one of the first people in Britain to learn that the D-Day Landings had taken place.

Marge Barton (nee Payne) was working as a teleprinter operator with the Auxiliary Territorial Service when she received a message at 8.30am on June 6, 1944 stating that Allied troops had landed on the beaches of Normandy.

Born in 1920, Marge hailed from Birmingham and received her call-up papers in August 1942. She was told to catch a train to Droitwich where she’d undertake her basic training.

She and the other women were split into patrols for their three weeks at Norbury House. Marge’s patrol was judged the best, and they were rewarded with a night at the Raven Hotel.

Marge was then posted to Bradford to train as a teleprinter operator and it was while working at Luton Hoo, a country house in Bedfordshire, that she received the message…

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Look up

We were fortunate to have our booster shots against Covid today, especially in the light of the local case rate escalation published by the ZOE project. Sitting waiting in the (mercifully quiet) doctor’s surgery I was reminded of a friend’s exhortation when she posted a shot of a beautiful historic building ceiling to remember to ‘look up’.

Whilst the aesthetic appeal of the GP surgery and its ceiling might be more limited, looking up did bring a view of a cheering, bright blue sky, which I chose to take as a good portent, hence the phone snap. Not a brilliant image but I’ll keep & post it as a salutory reminder to keep looking up for the things we may otherwise overlook and to look for the bright spots when circumstances can feel overwhelming.

Blue skies beyond
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Last taste of summer

I’m no gardener. The gardening gene of both my parents passed me by, but I have always appreciated a garden even if not being very adept at looking after one. This means I am always disproportionately chuffed when I actually manage to harvest edibles or have flowers flourish!

Courgette flower fritters

Summer is pretty much over in the garden here; the last few ‘Octoberries’ are sparse now, the bedding plants need an autumn refresh, the tomatoes have been pulled up after a summer’s bounty and the courgettes have just had a last flurry of flowering. With frosts impending, I took the chance to pretend we’re still in summer and made our annual treat of stuffed courgette flower fritters.

I first made these on a holiday in Italy with friends, where the villa owners had kindly left the Elizabeth David batter recipe to hand! The local market had an abundance of flowers and my friends were willing guinea pigs.

Since then, I have sometimes grown courgettes (zucchini) as much for this little treat as the veg, though this year we have cropped well and with the supply chain issues (thank you, Brexit and Covid) the garden has handily supplemented a slightly erratic supply.

The recipe works well with a tempura-style batter too, but I do like to use the David one. 4 oz flour, 3 tbsp olive oil, salt, 3/4 tumbler (sic) of cold water and an egg white, whipped until stiff. She recommends stirring the oil into the flour & salt, making a thick paste, then adding the water slowly – add enough to make a thick creamy mix. Let stand for 3 hrs, then fold in the whipped egg white. If too thick, add a little cold water but you want a thickish coating mix.

I hadn’t planned this properly so didn’t have the more traditional ricotta for stuffing. I have simply put a chunk of good ‘melty’ hard cheese inside in the past when similarly unprepared, but it’s not that easy to seal the flowers!

Raiding the fridge gave me grated mature cheddar which I bound with a small pot of mild, soft, medium-fat goat’s cheese, adding a grating of Parmesan and a few shredded basil leaves. A scrape of nutmeg finished off the mix. I left this in the fridge until ready to cook.

After washing the flowers and taking out the central pistil I scooped in a heaped teaspoon of the now firm cheese mix, folding the petals to seal in the cheese. I kept the baby courgettes attached, though the odd one separated.

The final stage was to dip them in the batter and fry in small batches in a light oil, keeping the fritters warm in the oven after draining until all were ready. A final taste of summer!

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Occupational hazards…

I do a fair bit of slightly desultory genealogy and also quite a lot of transcription work for a family history society. I admit I’m probably not the fastest kid on the block with either, as I do tend to go down rabbit holes when I come across mysteries or something intriguing. Add to that the small pleasure of serendipitously coming across & following up things that amuse me, and you’ll see I can be endlessly diverted! I thought I’d just pass on a few of the more obscure occupations that have crossed my meandering path of late.

The cotton and woollen industries of the Pennines and elsewhere are ripe sources of sometimes esoteric, now mostly lost, trades. In the 1861 census I found 11-year-old Jane Farrow living in Rochdale, with the occupation of ‘Reacher-in of Ends’, more usually done by small boys. The drawing-in frame was part of a weaving machine and the Reacher-in would pass the ends of the threads, one by one and in order, to the Loomer who would then thread them over the healds (heddles) and through the reeds on the beam. Her older brother and sister also worked in textiles as Woollen Mule Spinners.

Salt’s Mill:, Saltaire Run the Chain.
Image: Ruth Bourne

Another Farrow, Emma, aged 20 in 1861, born in Heptonstall, Yorkshire and by now living in Rochdale, has a deceptively charmingly-named occupation of Throstle Piecer, Cotton. The Throstle was a spinning machine which was supposedly named for the sound it made, though I doubt it was as soothing as thrush song! A Piecer’s job was to rejoin broken threads during spinning, dodging machinery all the while. A Spinner would often employ their own children directly, keeping the money in the family.

Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire
Image: Ruth Bourne

Whilst we often assume a division of cotton in Lancashire and wool in Yorkshire, the trans-Pennine trades do cross boundaries. In 1871 in Halifax, one household has both a Cotton Throstle piecer and a Woollen Jobber. A Jobber does minor repairs to drawing frames, spinning mules or other textile machinery, and does other ‘odd jobs’ under the direction of the overlooker (supervisor) of his department.

A 1909 baptism record from Halifax shows the father’s occupation as Hoist Tenter, who attends to the working of a hoist and is often also a Bobbin Carrier, taking bobbins of thread to the looms ready for use by the weavers. Any weaver without a constant supply of thread and relying on piece work would be very unhappy!

Loom, Kidderminster Carpet Museum.
Image: Ruth Bourne

Thomas Robertshaw of Northowram is listed as a Carpet Taker-in. Apparently this role has a lot of names in various contexts, including Loomer, Warp Taker-in and the more common Drawer. The Taker-in attaches the weaving beam to the drawing-in frame, and draws each warp yarn separately, with a hook, through the eye (or loop) of the heald, and through the dent of the reed in a loom.

A motley mix of professions from some Halifax school admission logs ca 1871 includes:-

  • a Horse Clipper (who would hand-clip and also singe the coats, manes and tails):
  • a Tin-man, which instantly conjures up the Wizard of Oz these days but refers either to a tinker/tinsmith or by extension, to a tinware seller:
  • and an Iron Shingler, who would process wrought iron as it was removed from the furnace.
Iron Shingler: shingling hammer at work at Coatbridge’s Waverley Works in 1920. Courtesy of CultureNL https://www.culturenlmuseums.co.uk/SIModes/Detail/21249

In 1911, Thornton Holdsworth in Bradford is a Store and Time Keeper, which at first seemed redolent of Dr Who but, more mundanely, a Time Keeper turns out to be someone who records the time of entry and departure of workpeople in a book or has charge of timekeeping clocks and check boards and who superintends “clocking” in and out and related jobs, then passing on the information to the cashier for wages.

I liked the domestic details of the 1871 Chair Bottomer and the Clothes Prop Maker, both of which no doubt need explaining to anyone younger than I am. (I have a childhood memory of running out behind my grandmother’s terraced house to help hold up one of the already overlong clothes props that held up the washing lines cross-crossing the narrow back street so that a van could drive along without taking the laundry with it!) The Chair Bottomer would probably have been a caner as depicted here, or just possibly a carpenter who would adze the shaped wooden seat of a chair.

A 1911 Tripe Dresser sounds slightly Monty Pythonesque now that tripe has pretty much disappeared from much of the country’s menus. Another one from the textile side that sets the mind to some strange visualisations is this Under Overlooker (Spinning) (i.e. deputy supervisor of the spinning department) from a 1910 record.

I’ll finish this on another Halifax entry, as I found some Wire drawers in my own family background. These made wire by drawing a metal rod through a series of ever-reducing holes. I am trusting that this particular entry refers to the gauge of the wire rather than the intellectual capacity of the workman – Thick Wire Drawer!

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Riding the Wave

The Wave
Wave 2

It was a pleasure to introduce a friend from photography club recently to the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, which she’d never visited even though she lives pretty locally. It’s a lovely facility and everyone we have taken there has thoroughly enjoyed it.

Avoncroft was England’s first open-air buildings museum, in the tradition of the Scandinavian Skansen, and has an eclectic selection of 30+ buildings from a post-war prefab to a working windmill via a mediaeval merchant’s house and a jail.

You could hardly get further from the sea there, though, so why the Waves? I was taking some slightly desultory photos almost on autopilot, and a lovely barn there has some great worn stone flags which I thought would make good textures. While processing the images later, I saved a few fairly ‘straight’ versions for texture use but then a long-lost creative mojo that I just faintly recognised from pre-Covid days peeped in and I started to play around…

I know they’re nothing special (Hokusai they ain’t) but they do represent an important small step for me, back to some creativity, I hope, so I will nevertheless celebrate them!

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Looking back

A young David Dobson
An even younger Jean (Morton), still in her teens here, I think.

I thought it apt to give these photos of my late parents, David and Jean Dobson, an airing now as it was Fathers’ Day on Sunday 20th and the 21st June was my mum’s birthday – and the official opening of the strawberry season as her birthday treat in our family!

I’ve always loved these photos. There is a hand-coloured version of mum’s too, which as a small child I thought very glamorous.

It’s some 20 years since we lost mum and almost 40 since dad died suddenly and much too young, but both are still very much cherished and present in memory.

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A Pocketful of Illusions

In the first stages of easing the current, pretty comprehensive lockdown, we took advantage of a sunny day a couple of weeks ago to pop down the road to Spetchley Park Gardens which had not long re-opened their gates.

We have remained very cautious throughout the pandemic, and it was almost exciting to be able to go out without planning and pre-booking (we became members last year with that in mind). It was interesting to see how this simple, very local outing (just a walk round the gardens, no cafe visit, not meeting up with anyone as it was a bit spur-of-the-moment) still provided us with the illusion of having a big day out!

Spring had arrived, it seemed – and that was the second illusion, as sitting here writing on a wet, blustery, almost wintry Bank Holiday Monday would suggest.

Some of the garden was still tucked up in its winter woolies, but the magnolias and many other plants were blooming beautifully. Ducklings and goslings were (IRL) zooming round the lake, peeping, piping and looking for all the world like clockwork toys.

The final illusion of this little handful is the image that I shot for the vivid spring-green colours and peaceful reflections that attracted me. The floating weed gave the burgeoning tree the illusion of having its full summer foliage. Inverting the image completed the illusion.

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A Mundane Conversation

Day 28 of the January Challenge: a 10-minute creative task each day. The task today was to write a boringly mundane conversation, then add the subtext.

A Mundane Conversation – From the sick bed

He: Is it a bin day?

She: Yes, today’s bin day.

(Giddy spin day, a little sin day? Perhaps a win day?
A gin day, a ‘has-bin’ day, a staying in day…)

He: Which colour?

She: I think it’s the green.

(Colour you say? An iridescent sheen,
Or flamingo pink in which to preen?
Maybe it’s an azure, as yet unseen.
Rainbow opalescence or aquamarine…)

Yes, it’s green.


He; That’s done. Coffee?

She: Would love a cup o’ tea.

(Stay me with flagons, Comfort me…
Or, just some tea and sympathy.)

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60 Years On…For the Record.

Some years ago I inexpertly scanned a lot of my dad’s slides, particularly from their/our time in Nigeria (1950s to early 60s) and have been part of a ‘Nigerian Nostalgia’ group on Facebook, sharing some of these. The images tend to arouse some interest, ranging from ‘they didn’t have colour then, though?’ (which makes me feel ancient and has me heading straight into lecture mode!) to amazement at some of the realities of the past (no mobile phones really blows the minds of the younger generation).  I have only ‘snapshot’ memories really, being quite young when we left, so I remember places and people, but not the overall geography of a place or the full context, so it’s interesting for me to fill in some of those gaps.

A kind young man in the online group, Nengak Daniel,  who was going to visit the Jos area over the Christmas period offered to take some photos for anyone interested while there, so I shot in with a request for a quickie tour of the school compound at Kuru, where my dad was principal and we lived ca 1959 – Jan 63. (You may recall the name from some sad stories of conflict in more recent years.) It was a peaceful place as I recalled. and I was thrilled to see pictures from around the area to fill in the gaps between our literal snapshots and my ‘snapshot memories’.  It’s also enabled me to confirm I’d found the right building on Google Earth – I do like a geolocation! 

Nengak even found our old house for me. I thought I’d post a 60-years-on shot back in the Facebook group with his permission. It’s not a great photo-collage (cobbled together on the phone!) and it will mean little to you, I suppose, but it’s surprising how potent I found this little picture and how it and the other images triggered memories and emotions. My mum is on the top picture, with her treasured Morning Glory, ever the gardener. The garden is a bit of a victim of time and changing priorities, but the house remains; like me, showing its age, not in pristine condition, but still standing and doing the job.  

What am I trying to say with this? I suppose, don’t ever say ‘just a record shot’,, as so many photographers do. Sometimes that record can mean a great deal to a viewer and move them as much or more than a piece of art – even 60 years on! 

60 years on…
An added bonus is that Nengak also helped me confirm which was our old house on Google Earth!
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We have managed to catch up with a few friends in person in the last couple of days. We had to go to Kidderminster for husband Stewart’s eye appointment at the hospital on Saturday, so thought we would take the chance afterwards to drop off some Christmas presents to a couple of friends in the area (and take a flask of mulled wine along to share for good measure!).

Both friends had decked the house with festive fairy lights, if not boughs of holly, and suitably seasonal decor, and put us entirely to shame as our decs still languish in the loft, despite various pleas from me. We’ve managed a few desultory lights in the front window and on the front garden tree (well, as far as I could reach from the second step of the ladder – too wimpy to go higher!).

Deer friends!

Digression alert: I found said husband putting out the Christmas cards round the house, the other day, something he never does. I was waiting to put them in the holders I usually hang up. I was going to congratulate him on a sudden surge of festive spirit until I clocked that he was valiantly trying to cover as much space as possible so he could claim we don’t need the decorations and there’s no space anyway!

A couple of other friends we’d been trying to meet up with for a week or two asked if they could pop over briefly on Sunday. It was lovely to catch up with them over mulled wine and nibbles and ‘christen’ the new veranda, though it still seemed very strange sitting out in our coats, albeit in sunshine, with the Christmas music in the background.

It brought home to me how much we are missing the spontaneity of people just dropping by or popping in on someone. Even so, whilst the garden and driveway visits have their frustrations and limitations, it is just such a real pleasure to be with people, even if you can’t give them the hugs and hospitality you want to share.

In case we don’t say it enough, I’m saying it now, loud and long; friends matter, and we value every one of you greatly.

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