I always thought that my family were fairly typical of Bradford’s working class inhabitants in the early to mid 20th century. Both my grandmothers had to cope with tragedy when they were young mothers. Grandma Falkingham was abandoned by her first husband and left destitute with three little children. She met my Grandpa when he to returned to Bradford from the north east and a disastrous marriage. They set up home together, added my father to their family and eventually opened the cycle shop where I was born. Grandma Fordham had also been left with a small child when she was widowed less than five years after her marriage. Her second husband, my grandfather, had been a baker and then worked on the railways, latterly as a foreman porter. Mum and her sisters worked in local mills as weavers.
So, I was shocked to read, in two books by Harry Leslie Smith, the campaigner who died recently aged 91, about the absolute poverty in which some Bradford families lived. In his book “1923: A Great Depression Memoir”, Harry describes a life, in Bradford and elsewhere in Yorkshire, where nothing is certain – not food on the table, not your home, not even the presence of a parent. People lived their lives hand to mouth, doing whatever work they could get, “flitting” from one place to another when they couldn’t pay the rent.
How lucky my parents and their two families were. They may have lived life at a fairly basic level but they obviously had certainty, even time for leisure. They had steady work, they had a home and my paternal grandfather must have made a success of his cycle shop because his son was able to carry it on and provide a certain level of comfort for us.
Here are my two amazing Grandmas – both strong women, as was my Mum.