Rosemary and Rue.
Recollections of a Forest of Dean Childhood
Chalk and cheese. My two grandfathers.
"People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors."
Two grandfathers - my Forest "Grancher" Joseph, and Grandad John. Chalk and cheese. And never were there two more divergent characters. Superficially they were not unalike; both sturdy, stocky figures, both with white hair and white moustaches and whiskers in the fashion of the day. They were even born in the same year - 1856 - when Victoria was still the "young" queen. They both lived through three reigns and saw twenty-five Prime Ministers come and go, ending with the Labour Ramsey MacDonald, a fact which, no doubt, pleased Grancher Joseph mightily. However, there the likeness ended. Grancher Joseph had warm brown eyes and should have had a kindly warm nature to match. Grandad John had blue eyes, a piercing pale blue. But his eyes twinkled whereas Joseph's were usually stern and disapproving. He was the awesome figure of my childhood, a strict disciplinarian, a "children should be seen and not heard" Grancher.
Waste not, want not. My forest "Grancher"
"We labour soon, we labour late,
To feed the titled knave, man,
And a' the comfort we're to get,
Is that ayont the grave, man."
Born at Ruspidge, halfway through the last century, Grancher Joseph was a Forester through and through. He had attended the National School at St. John's, but only briefly. When he was barely eleven he was taken by his father to work at Lightmoor colliery. Prior to the Education Act of 1870, which made school attendance compulsory, it was not at all unusual for boys of ten or eleven to start their working lives in the pits with their fathers and older brothers, many having no education at all. Times were hard, family life a grim struggle against illness and poverty when even another shilling a day would be welcome.
No doubt Joseph's first job would have been hodding - dragging coal from the narrow seams on a flat sledge-like box to the main roadways where it was loaded into drams for transport to the pit bottom. His only light was a candle as he dragged himself along by hands, elbows and knees with the hod behind him containing over a hundredweight of coal. The heavy leather hod straps, passing over his shoulders and between his legs would chafe and cut into the young flesh; knees and elbows grazed and skinned from contact with the roadway and the roof. It was the cruellest job on earth and there was scant sympathy from parents for the suffering he would have endured. The blackness underground was intense, there was water, mud and rats. It wasn't work - it was slavery. At forty he was, an old man; come to think of it, I don't believe he was ever young; his body was scarred With blue miners' scars and his lungs coated with coal dust - "colliers' asthma" they called it.
Small wonder then, that this grim upbringing should have coloured his attitude to wife and family when he, in his turn, grew to manhood. When he was about
24 he married. Emma, his bride, had come from the Stroud valleys and was distantly related to Joseph through marriage. Within five years she had given birth to three children; she was heavily pregnant for the fourth time when she fell downstairs. In the subsequent miscarriage her child was stillborn and Emma herself died, thus giving up the unequal struggle. So Joseph was faced with the prospect of bringing up three motherless children, but, in true Joseph fashion, he soon solved the problem by bringing Emma's younger sister, Sarah Jane, to Ruspidge to take over the reins her dead sibling had so early surrendered. In less than a year he had married her at the Registrar's in Newnham and she, following in Emma's footsteps, had produced another seven living children by the time Edward VII had ascended the throne.