Jane Lackenby (circa 1880-1970)

Once Jane had a bit of money saved, she bought her mother a rocking chair. It cost 5/- and she carried it home over her head.

Jane Lackenby photographed at her retirement presentation

Jane Lackenby Retirement

Jane Lackenby and her father went to the “Hirings” as a pair, farm hand and dairy maid. Jane’s mother was a strong woman and always vetted the cottage provided before they actually unloaded their possessions from the cart which brought them. Once, when she found that the wall between the coal house and the pantry was incomplete, she made the farmer promise that it would be rectified as soon as possible and then saw that the improvements were carried out.

They came to work for my grandfather, Edward Reed of “Hill Top”, New York Village and Jane became a lifelong friend of my grandmother, Margaret Fenwick Reed, later Thompson, known as ‘Meggie’. Her daughter Dora and I, the granddaughter, continued to visit until her death.

I don’t know when Jane was born, but my grandmother was born in 1869 and her brother James (Jim) was born in 1880 so it would be about 1880 I think as Jim was her friend as well and she was younger than my grandmother.

I don’t know how many years they worked at Hill Top, but eventually they were at a farm at Plessey Checks where my great uncle Jim visited them on his motor bike. Jane was always a very lively companion with a fund of good stories. She and her father must have come to Hill Top about l895 and been at Plessey Checks about 1905 or a bit later.

When her father was too old, or perhaps too infirm to work, they moved to Popplewell Terrace, Preston Village, North Shields in a downstairs flat with her brother and his family in a flat above.

I think there were six flats with a courtyard at the back with shared taps and closets. They would be dry closets when the flats were built as they were very old, but by the time I was visiting her in 1958 they would have been converted. The residents were all very particular and kept the places spick and span. The door from the street led straight into the bedroom which had a large brass bed for the parents and a desk bed under the window for Jane who always maintained it was very comfortable and snug. This room was kept immaculate with the best quilt on the bed during the day.

One door led straight into the kitchen which had a big black range, a large table in the centre of the room and that was the working and dining area. I don’t remember there being a scullery but there may have been. Certainly everything was cooked on the range and all work was performed on the table, cooking, ironing, etc., dining as well.

Her father had a comfortable wooden armchair and once Jane had a bit of money saved up she went to Gladstones in North Shields and bought her mother a rocking chair for her birthday. It cost 5/- and Jane carried it all the way home balanced over her head.

By this time Jane was the sole wage earner so she worked for Potts the farmer on the outskirts of Preston Village, milking twice a day and working in the house other times. She dashed through “Fat Man’s Alley” at 5.30am flapping her cloak as she went to frighten off any attackers who may be lurking. She also cleaned the “Old Hundred” public house in North Shields and later the “Spread Eagle Inn” in Preston Village. She reckoned what she earned in the morning had to cover rent, light and heating, what she earned in the afternoon covered food and household expenses and what she earned at night was for clothing and personal items. She worked for many weeks to buy herself some false teeth, but when she got on the bus to come home it jolted to a stop and her teeth flew out of her mouth and were cracked. Not a very good fit and also before the National Health Service.

At the end of the street, Jane’s was the end house, there was a market garden and also a well. Jane always maintained that any house built over the site of the well couldn’t help being damp. The man who had the vegetable garden lived in a sort of shack with no access to the lavatories. His vegetables flourished, but no one in the street was tempted to eat them.

Every Sunday night she went to St. Andrew’s church in the village. By this time her parents would be dead because every week grandmother came to see her friend, then joined a group of them going to church, then dashed ahead of the group to “bag” the rocking chair. A typical family trait.

The families all loved living in Popplewell Terrace and were devastated when it was demolished. Jane refused all offers from the Council of more modern flats and eventually agreed to go to 33 Sidney Street, North Shields. It was a very similar property to the one she left, only better. She shared the yard with the family above but had a small bedroom and a scullery which was better than she had previously had. This left the front room as her best room which was papered and done out very colourfully. It was the first time in her life she had a “parlour” and she was very proud of all her pieces displayed around. All her possessions were very old and I once said that everything she had was valuable. She just laughed and I know her nephew, whom I met once or twice, liked modern things so the family would just get rid of it all. I hope they kept a few mementoes.

When she retired from cleaning the public houses Newcastle Breweries gave her a party and presented her with flowers, a chair and a wireless. The Breweries gave her a pension of £1 per week. With her old age pension as well, she “wouldn’t call the King her uncle” she would say to me.

We visited her at Sidney Street, my aunt and I, and her main hobby was making quilts. The frames were nearly always up in her living room. She made very simple patterns drawing round saucers and she kept at it until all the members of her family had a quilt. I have no record of her death, but she lived all the time at Sidney Street and never went into a home. When she died it wasn’t long before Sidney Street was demolished as well so it had served her well.

Jane and my grandmother loved each other dearly. She was hard working, clever, witty and honest as the day is long. All her life she was just a servant, but my grandmother’s family, and I’m sure the people working at the “Old Hundred”, also the young family of farmer Potts when she worked there, would remember her with respect and fondness, as I have done.

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