I was well aware, even as a child, that the head of the household was Eliza Alice Haworth, my maternal grandmother. In hindsight I could say that she was a possessive, domineering woman, and this would be partially true, but from her point of view she was protecting her brood to the best of her ability. She ruled with a rod of iron, mainly because she held the purse strings, but woe betide anyone who interfered with her family.
She was born in 1881, the daughter of a farm labourer, and had to be married by the time she was 18 (a major scandal in those days), And eventually, in 1937, on the death of my grandfather, she became the licensee of the Courts Hotel on Blakey Moor, in the Lancashire cotton town of Blackburn.
At the beginning of the 1940s my dad was out at work all day in the local munitions factory, but my mother and aunt were expected to do work in the pub. At that time opening hours were 11am until 3pm, and 6pm until 10pm, or at least they were as long as the rationed beer didn’t run out.
Eliza would be up at 6am, lighting fires, mopping floors, cleaning toilets, dusting, ordering everyone about and making sure that the place was spick and span by opening time.
I can see her now, down on her hands and knees like Old Mother Riley, mopping the front step and window ledges, then finishing them off with a donkey stone she’d obtained from the local rag and bone man. You took your life in your hands if you put one dirty mark on the step before 11 o’clock!
Shortly before opening time Eliza would rush upstairs, cast off her Mrs. Mopp image and transform herself into an elegant landlady. She would sort out the cash for the till and float back downstairs on the stroke of eleven ready to open the doors to a rush of a couple of customers. They were usually elderly men who sat in the vault, the sawdust and spittoon part of the pub, and played their game of dominoes.
The cellars, though, were Eliza’s pride and joy.
They stretched the length and breadth of the pub, one for the barrels and beer crates and one for the wash cellar. In one recess there was a pile of coal which kept the pub fires burning.
Monday was the big day of the week for Eliza -washday.
Erom early morning she’d be underground, the boiler in the corner of the wash cellar sending clouds of steam into every nook and cranny. She was in her element, possing the washing around in the boiler, turning the handle of the old wooden mangle, the smell of soap and bleach permeating the air. Soon the freshly-laundered clothes would be flapping in the breeze, pegged out on the clothes line that criss-crossed the pub yard.
Eliza was a good cook and could turn out a fabulous shin beef and cowheel pie, the rich gravy swamping the mashed potatoes and carrots, followed by a creamy rice pudding or crisp apple tart. This was food from the gods in those days of ration books and shortages.
I think my dad and Eliza had a kind of love-hate relationship, but at times she must have seemed like the mother-in-law from hell, lie joined the ARP which was housed in the school across the road. At least Eliza couldn’t follow him there!
In 1951 Eliza was 70 years old and it was time to leave the Courts Hotel. Her loyal customers bought her the obligatory dock, which still ticks away on the mantelpiece.
We all moved to the new house, and life went on in the same old way. Eliza still did the washing in the cellar of the house. Washing machines were too new-fangled for her. She battled on until the ripe old age of 85, leaving my parents in possession of their own home for the first time in 40 years.
If she did land in heaven, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll have the cleanest doorstep in the universe!