The toffee crunch tin

The toffee crunch tin. Own photo.

The tin is old and worn, the once bright orange dahlias on the side have been scrubbed to a mottled yellow or even further to white, there’s a ding on the lid and rust spots on the bottom.

And yet, of all the objects we sorted through after Grandpy died, it was the one all five siblings coveted. For love, and toffee crunch, had filled it for many years.

The logo on the botton of the tin. Own photo.

Once upon a time it must have been filled with Jacob’s Cream Crackers, for W.&R. Jacob & Co (L’Pool) Ltd, Biscuit Manufacturers, Liverpool, England is emblazoned across the bottom. Cheese and crackers, the perfect afternoon tea in front of the fire, with wrestling on the tv. At least that’s how I remember it, but the crackers from this tin would have been long gone before I arrived on the scene. Instead, my first memory is of it being filled with Nana’s perfect crumbly flapjack. Flapjack so good, that I almost never choose to eat it nowadays, for nothing can match it.

It’s toffee crunch though (or possibly toffee crispie depending on which family member you ask) for which this tin was famous for containing. Lined with greaseproof paper, stacked sideways with golden squares of deliciousness.

The recipe is super simple. My version is just thirteen words long. Apparently, I didn’t even think I needed to specify units of measurement.

Recipe for toffee crunch, Natasha’s version.

The secret was in the toffee. Mum was always on the look out for slab toffee (which normally came in 4oz packs). Werther’s Originals could, with a lot of unwrapping, be deployed as a slightly inferior alternative.

Heading back to university each term, I was presented with a large plastic bag of toffee crunch to take with me and after Nana died, Grandpy kept up the tradition, never failing to open the cupboard and pull out the tin to send me back to Leeds with sustenance. It never lasted long. One bite of the sweet, chewy, crunchy square quickly led to another and then another.

After Grandpy died we managed a fairly amicable split of his possessions. In the early days we put aside anything that two or more of us wanted and left it for a few months until the memory of his death had lost some of its sharpness that could have caused disagreement. Somehow, I ended up with the tin. It was only when I got home and opened that discovered Grandpy had been prepared until the end as it was full of the very last toffee crunch Grandpy would ever make.

With much gratitude to my Nana and Grandpy for all their love and toffee crunch.

21st birthday pearls

Aunty Christine’s 21st birthday pearls. Own photo.

Mum specifically warned Dad (Bob) against buying pearls for her 21st. It was the 1970s. Being a talented dressmaker she could make her own fashionable clothes and pearls, well, they didn’t excite a modern young woman. The Housemans were far more traditional in their taste and more general approach to life. Early intervention was warranted.

When Bob handed her a smart red leather case her thoughts would have run first to silver, possibly even to gold. Until she lifted the lid. I feel certain that there was a necessary re-arrangement of her face as she hoped to look grateful for something she specifically did not want. Bob on the other hand would have been struggling to disguise a smirk as would his sister, Christine.

I wonder how long he made Mum struggle before revealing that these pearls belonged to his sister, her own 21st birthday present, and from which she had only willing parted from for the duration of the joke? It was worth it. The joke has lasted for fifty years. I don’t actually know what the real present was!

Aunty Christine at her own 21st in 1968 proudly wearing her new pearls. Own collection.

Nana’s box of joy

I have four decades of my own memorabilia stuffed haphazardly into three large plastic boxes. Every so often I pull out a pile of stuff and discard just enough of my random keepsakes (such as tickets to events I don’t remember and birthday cards without special meaning) to squeeze in what I’ve saved over from recent months. Despite their chaotic nature I still find myself delving into these boxes to find something that is relevant to my life right now. The night Queenie died I tipped all three boxes onto the floor of my living room to hunt for royal souvenirs and that’s when I realised it was time to bring the same order to my own archive as I was with those of my ancestors. Well, almost, the papers are now at least divided into “eras.” More excitingly I found a whole pile of family history treasures I’d inherited & forgotten about over the years including an unassuming box labelled “Elton Bond.”

Nana’s box of joy. Own photo.

Unassuming as my Nana (Mary Booth) was perhaps it’s appropriate. For this small dusty box turned out to be, like Nana, full of joy, memories of all those people she held dear during special periods of her & their lives. It covers a period of approximately thirty years from 1942 to 1973 and includes a few pieces that have left me wanting to know more. This blog is broadly in the order in which I unearthed its contents rather than being chronological. I make no apologies for its length as it’s just so full of gems.

Join me as we explore its contents.

A dummy. Own photo.

I’m guessing this dummy belonged to Uncle Richard, Nana’s first born. This is how I knew this was a box of happy memories for Richard was a young man of promise who died before his time, aged just 22, and there is nothing in the box to remind Nana of his end.  

These three items from 1942/3 are the most intriguing in the box. First is a letter written to Mary about a skirt in February 1942. Was it C Babbs, or the skirt, or a reference to having left school which led Nana to keep this letter? Then there was a ticket for “Romany” to which school children were admitted for 6d on 25 April 1942. Was the event itself special or something that happened there? Finally an invite from the Ilkley Youth council to a Social Evening & Dance addressed Miss M Booth, Netherwood, Ilkley in 1943. I wondered who the fifteen-year-old Mary was living with at the time as this was not her parents’ address. And who it was she met there that might have caused her to keep the letter. I’m pretty sure that Grandpy wasn’t yet on the scene.

There’s one more letter from the pre-marriage period. A newsy piece from Maureen of 3 Kimberley Street, Ilkley dated 7 February 1946 with some wonderful snippets. “How is the old engaged couple getting on? I hope Hilda won’t welt me one when she see’s me” and “You’d better behave yourself all these boy friends of yours Walker will be telling you off.” An ex-work colleague who I hope might one day help me identify exactly which establishment in Ilkley helped my Nana learn her trade.

Two cards arrived at Upper West End Farm, Stainburn in September 1962 from Nana’s father, Arthur Booth. It was both the year after his wife, Nana’s Mum, had died and the year before he, too, passed away. One last holiday very different from the rest. One card was addressed to his daughter and son-in-law, the other to his grandson, Richard. It’s not difficult to guess which is which!

I’m not quite sure how Mum’s invite to Dad’s 21st ended up in Nana’s box of joy but it led me to learning a lot more about their engagement which was formally shared with the world at the YFC County Rally in the summer of 1972 being the anniversary of when they first became a couple. Young Farmers has a lot to answer for.

Which is why follows a postcard from Mum & Dad’s honeymoon in June 1973. Apparently, it’s a good job the left the accommodation in Dockray early as they’d only just enough cash to pay for the nights they had stayed. Mum elaborated “We were going to see Cassie as she was meant to be my bridesmaid (and go to her first wedding) but got the ‘kissing’ disease (glandular fever) and was too ill to come.

It is to my Mum’s paternal cousin, Jennifer “Jenny” Barrett, that I owe half of the credit for my first name (the other half of that credit belonging to my Mum’s maternal cousin Jennifer “Jenn” nee Nelson). Jenny Barrett has also sent me so much amazing family history paraphernalia so I was delighted she appeared in this collection. Was this a special holiday?

A wedding gift tag. Own collection.

Talking of Jennifers – it doesn’t surprise me which gift tag Nana kept in this box of joy, one from the, not yet one year old, twin daughters of her beloved sister Hilda, Joan & Jenn.

There is also only one wedding card in the box. Aunty Edie became as close to a grandmother as a great aunt could be to my Mum after Nana’s own mother, Edie’s sister, Marion, died in 1961.

Staying with a wedding theme, next up are the wedding mementos. There’s a blog to be written comparing the cost of my Nana & Grandpy and Grandma & Grandad’s weddings with my own and far more joyful than that of funeral receipts I have inherited (although that, too, might make it to a blog in future….).

My favourite items amongst the receipts and charms are these two. A pouch, which I assume contained Nana’s wedding ring and a tattered receipt for teas and coffees on 5 June 1948 at the Bowes Moor Hotel. This had me scratching my head, why did Nana have a receipt for four teas and coffees from a hotel near Barnard Castle on the day of her wedding? Until I realised this must be in fact four shillings not four drinks and they were on honeymoon!

Card from Grandpy to Nana. Own collection.

I couldn’t decide whether Nana kept this 1959 postcard from Grandpy because he’d had “a grand day”, because it was the first night they’d spent time apart since marrying or because she’d been forced to pay a 1d charge to receive it!

What’s left is an interesting collection.

First there’s a letter from “Aunty Mary” aka Mary Ramsden, wife of Nana’s uncle, Johnny Booth. Mary had a special way with words recognised locally through the publication of her poems in the Wharfedale & Airedale Observer.

Within her book of “Selected Poems” published in 1990 are two which hold a special place in my heart. The first celebrated my Uncle Richard after his early death. The second, “Your Empty Chair” was written following the death of Uncle Jonny and I found considerable solace in after my own husband died.

I still wonder though if this letter only made the cut because of the recipe for Melting Moments captured on the back 😉

Then there is a postcard to Grandpy from his prospective in-laws just two weeks before the wedding. What were they trying to say?

Continuing on the theme of cheeky postcards, I have by now I’ve started to get a sense of my great grandfather, Arthur’s, handwriting and sense of humour. Arthur married Marion in 1925. Marion’s sister, Edith was not to marry Charles Hardy for another decade. I’ve speculated before that Edith may have been kept at home to help, free to marry only after her mother died. Dating this card might well provide a clue. Either way I can see that Grandpy may well have shared a joke with his father-in-law……

Finally, there’s the handkerchief. Mum & I have debated this one. Nana’s WI trips were to The Netherlands and Norway rather than Belgium and as Mum put it “Aunty Hilda helped Mum choose between Dad and Richard Greenwood – no Belgians!” so we didn’t think it was a sweetheart. Was it a gift from a female friend? Nana’s big sister Hilda is conspicuously absent from this box. She was also the more adventurous of the two sisters, so whatever the story behind it I’m going to associate with Aunty Hilda from now.

A painted hanky. Own photo.

I hope you enjoyed this brief peek into Nana’s life, I know I did even if it’s left me with more questions than answers! With much love & gratitude for my Nana who created such a wonderful collection.

Preserving through use

My broken engagement glass preserved through new uses.

When I broke the fifth of my eight engagement wineglasses, I was cross for a moment. But it broke cleanly. The bowl might make a beautiful flower display. More, those glasses have been used, a lot. They’ve been part of my life for nearly twenty-five years. The crossness I felt dissipated in a minute. The joy I feel in their use is with me every day.

Nana had a wedding china and an everyday crockery. When her arthritis got too bad to handle the “everyday” the Denby Arabesque came to me. I, too, use it every day. Except when my sister-in-law is here because she doesn’t like the scrape of cutlery against the crockery. I don’t even remember what Nana’s wedding china looks like.

A flyer for Denby Arabesque (Nana’s everyday crockery) taken from Denby Pottery pinterest site.

As the family heritage keeper, I have spent a fortune on proper archive materials along side weeks of time scanning and labelling. I don’t regret a moment.  And yet I know that photos in a box may not survive much longer than I. Instead, I rely on stories & connections to preserve our family heritage.

I preserve through stories. One sister confessed that she was only really interested in those she knew but then loved learning about our great, great grandfather’s political leanings. Another sister said she’d felt better to know about a pioneering divorce in 1899 (longest story that I tell a lot and will get written….). In their own ways my sisters had told me that stories were the way forward to preserve what I knew. Then I learnt that a printed version of this blog was making its way around my Dad’s cousins and I discovered the truth in this.

I preserve through connections with those who are connected to the things I wish to preserve. I’ve sent photos and other documents to those for whom they have meant more (my favourite is the Kings – friends of my great grandparents, Mary Wellock & George Thomas Barrett) but I had no idea how beautiful this could be until I reached out to my Canada “cousins”. I had a preserved image of their life here and of how their descendants would be. Some has proved to be true, much hasn’t – even the surname Wellock sounds different. In mingling our histories we created a new shared narrative rather than preserved the old and it has ensured that knowledge of our shared ancestors is recounted in future.

The Wellock homestead has disappeared, but in its place a new memory of distant relatives meeting to be preserved for future.

Grandma’s locket

Grandma’s locket. Own photo.

Smaller than a modern five pence piece made of nothing more valuable than gilt and paste, Grandma’s locket could hardly be considered an heirloom. Until, that is, you unpack the stories.

Grandma’s locket. Own photo.

The locket tells of two wonderful times in my Grandma’s life.

Grandad’s picture matches the wedding photos leading me to think this was a wedding gift. As my uncle recently said, “she worshipped me father.” There’s Thomas in the background, brother Thomas, twelve years older, who acted as the father figure when my Grandad’s dad died but perhaps didn’t always act in my Grandad’s best interest when it conflicted with his own.

Grandma’s picture appears to be taken from the one below. She’s with Mary & Jim Marshall (George’s sister & brother-in-law) and likely one of George’s sisters. Neither Aunty Mary nor Aunty Hilda ever had children of their own and remained close to Grandma all her life.

Grandma & Grandad are on the right, Mary (Grandad’s sister) & Jim Marshall on the left & I believe it’s either Hilda or Annie (Grandad’s sisters) in the middle. Own collection.

Yet the patina of this locket holds far more of our family history than just two photos of special times.

Twelve times in my life (so far) people have broken into my home and stolen money, TVs, computers, rings and whatever else was worth selling at the time. In one particular house it became fairly standard to come home on a Friday night and find that the house had been broken into. I’ve learnt how to hide or wear the few pieces of jewellery that is either valuable or sentimentally important. I’ve learnt not to take it personally.

Twice though the burglars have taken an entire jewellery box.

The second time was (I hope) my last burglary. I lost the necklace my dead husband had bought me and the ring I’d bought myself after sneaking away with my sister from him & his friends to visit the diamond museum in Amsterdam. I lost the silver bracelet which held charms purchased to reflect twenty years of my life. I lost the paste necklace that was my go-to for posh black-tie events. I lost the little silver stamp holders that made me smile every time I posted a birthday card. I lost the poppy brooch my Mum had bought me because it was the flower for my month of birth. I lost the cheap plastic orange ring that was festival perfect. I even lost the box that my sister had carefully chosen to store all these “treasures.” It hurt.

The first time this happened it was my Mum who suffered. Six months after my dad died Mum arrived home to find our house had been broken into. They’d watched the house; they knew she took my sister to playschool on a Friday morning. They’d gone straight to her bedroom and ransacked one jewellery box, before someone disturbed them, and they ran taking the whole of the second box. So many memories embedded in inexpensive jewellrey that would likely just get thrown were gone. Unlike when it happened to me, Mum had never been burgled before. Whether you’ve experienced this type of crime or not, take a moment to think how it felt to lose so many memories so soon after losing the person to whom they related.

Grandma did the best she could. She took out her own jewellery box and encouraged my mum to take what she wanted. The tiny locket was amongst the things Mum chose. And in doing so this tiny locket became a family heirloom.

An addendum

One of the wonderful things about writing up & sharing these stories is they often lead to more family memories. Amongst the contents of Grandma’s jewellery box was a broken signet ring. Mum had it mended and inscribed with A for Ann. When my sister tried it on she declared it was A for Anna and it has remained on her hand for the last 30 years!

Is it A for Ann or A for Anna?

I am planning a series of stories about objects imbued with family heritage. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and was finally inspired to write by a workshop on the history of an item by Gudrun Laurent part of the wonderful Curious Descendants Club run by Natalie Pithers.