By Ellie Shimmin.
February 28th, 1915. Today is my birthday, seventy-four years.
I was born in the year 1841 in the parish of Ballaugh. I was baptized and catechised for confirmation by our beloved Rector, Thomas Howard, and was confirmed by Bishop Powys on September 23rd,1855. In those days we went three months to be catechised; we went to Church every Sunday afternoon after service, and one night in the week to the Parson’s house, so we were well drilled.
I must tell you what a good man our Rector was, and all in the parish loved him. He was a tee-totaller, and a Manx preacher. In my young days, when Manx was so much spoken, he preached in Manx every other Sunday. We had service at eleven in the morning and three in the afternoon. There was no service at night so we went to the Methodist Chapel at six o’clock. A service was also held in the Methodist Chapel at two o’clock in the afternoon, and, if we had a short service, we all went to another service at Church; we were all friendly.
Mr. Howard came on his rounds to see all who could not come to Church, and at times of sacrament, he came to their houses to administer it. He never let a child pass him on the road but he spoke to it, and had something nice to say, and gave a tract; he always had his pocket full of tracts. They were not so plentiful in those days and we prized them. I myself often met him and always had a nice little cooish (chat). He always said, ‘In the time of youth is the time to begin serving the Lord. I am speaking from my own experience.’ He was an old man when I got married but I wished to be married by him. When my father told him of the wedding, and that I wished to be married by him and not by the curate, he said, ‘The poor child, and she wants to be married by me!’ He did marry me, and he gave us his blessing and prayed over us, and gave us all a tract each.
Now I am going to tell you of my younger days. My father was a small farmer, he had four fields of his own, but that was not enough to keep a pair of horses, and raise a family, so he rented some fields; but he had such a love for the sea, he went in spells to sea. He and some of our neighbours had a little smack, they called her the Edgar Veg. For a short time they traded in her out of Ramsey to Whitehaven, taking corn and potatoes there, and brought coals back. I believe they made a fair trade. I had a very good mother, a good manager; she had to get a man to manage the horses when father was away. Our horses were so good and quiet, they let us children get on their backs going to the field or getting them home when they came from the plough. When their day’s work was over they came to the door for their piece of bread, and, if any of us were not there, Jess would scrape on the flag at the door until we came with it, and then she and young Jess, her daughter, went to their stables quietly. Horses are so sensitive it grieves me to see them abused.
We did all our harvest, shearing the corn with sickles; and we small farmers found it hard to get workers. The big farmers sent their carts in good time in the morning and got the good shearers to go with them, and took them home at night. Sometimes the cartmen would quarrel over the shearers. Shearing corn was hard work, I would be too tired at night to sleep. I didn’t go to strangers, we had enough to do at home. We had three big fields on rent from Craine the Glaick; it was good land and we had plenty of work. There were no reaping machines nor steam-mills to thresh the corn.
When the big farmers began to use scythes, and it was a great improvement, it was much easier to lift the sheaf of corn than to shear. The first reaping machine that came to the Island, came to a gentleman that lived at Druidale. He was a very rich man. That was the first reaping machine that was heard of in the Isle of Man, I remember the talk of the wonder, and the farmers going past our house to see it. His land was very late, and he sent to Ireland and got a batch of Irishmen over to do his harvest. Brook was a wonderful man, never short of money. I suppose there are not many that remember him now, but he is quite fresh in my memory, as I often saw him pass riding on his pony, Galloway, to and from home.
I am not a very good scholar, as in those days schools were not easy to get to. My brothers went two miles to the low end of the parish to Mr. Cregeen. He was a very good teacher. I got the little I have from an English lady who kept a private school in Ballaugh village. She came to the Island, away from her relations, She was cheated of her money by her guardians. She was a very good teacher. We children did not go to school regularly, there were times when field-work had to be done, and we each had our share. We went to school in whiles when we could be spared. I had to go to herd the young cattle when they were in fields where the hedges were not good; bullocks are such thieves. Sometimes when I did get to school, when I came home in the evening, off with my school clothes, go and get the stable ready, clean it, and get hay and straw for their night’s rest, poor horses tired ploughing. Sometimes I think that I would like to go through it all again, and still when father gave up the rented land, and my sister and myself went to live in Ramsey, I was not sorry, only we were sorry to leave mother.
Father was so fond of the sea, he went to the herrings three months in summer. Mother said, ‘As long as any one gave him a boat, he wouldn’t stay at home.’ He went skipper over one of the boats owned by Corris Brothers. They owned boats and a tan-yard. When the season of herrings was over, and winter coming, father brought two sides of leather from the tan-yard, one for uppers and one for soles of shoes, and we had a shoemaker come in the house and make our winter stock of shoes. His wages was one shilling a day, and board and lodging, and he was a good shoemaker. When they were worn a bit he came to mend them. There was no shoes nor boots from away, everything was made at home. The shoemakers and weavers were plentiful in those days. Our blankets, flannels, cloth for the men’s suits, plaids for us women’s frocks or dresses, all made at home, spun by mother with a woman to help. We sent the wool to the carding-mill to get the rolls made, and spun them at home. My eldest brother served his time as a joiner, and when he went to Liverpool to work, dressed in Manx clothes, he was looked on as a sailor. Mother had to get him an English suit, as his cousins didn’t like his coarse dress on Sundays. He worked at his trade some years, and got restless, liked the sea like father, and went as carpenter on a big ship with three hundred soldiers to the Crimean War, the ship was the Golconda. He went three voyages in the same ship, his last voyage was to Australia, and he left the ship and settled there, I suppose he had enough of sea.
Now I am going to tell you how we bleached the linen that was grown and cleaned, and spun at home and woven. I often helped with a neighbour who did that work, such nice linen for tablecloths – with a kind of wavy pattern woven in it, a nice diaper for bedroom towels, and such big webs for sheets. I think there must be some of those linen sheets in the Wattleworth family yet, such big webs came from Ballawattleworth. When we had a good many ready to begin work, Aunty, as I called the woman I was helping, said to me, ‘The next web that will come will be thine, big or little.’ That was to be my wages for my summer work, the price of the web for bleaching. The first was a very good big web from Frank Matthews, Ballahowin.
Bleaching linen wasn’t easy work. I was fourteen years of age at the time I was helping Aunty. I was pretty strong. Aunty’s mother was a bleacher before her. There were two houses in the field near the river, one to keep the linens in, the other had a big boiler or as aunty called it the furnace, that was where we boiled the linen. First we stayed the river, put a lot of stones across to make a big pool, then put as many linens as the furnace would hold in the river-pool, and stamped them until they were quite wet; then we put them in the furnace in cold water with a quantity of fern ashes. We got cart-loads of small bushy gorse from the mountain. People didn’t pay for gorse or ling in those days as they do now. Then I sat to put gorse under the furnace until the linens were well boiled. When boiled enough they were lifted into a wheelbarrow and put in the pool in the river, and we stamped them well again. Then we lifted them on to a big fine granite stone, set for the purpose, and beat them with wooden sladdans, then turned them in the river again, and washed them well, and spread them on the grass along the river side to dry, and when they were dry, I went with the watering can, several times as soon as they were dry, wet them again. They would be a day and a night on one side, and the next day turned the other side and treated in the same way, and so on, until all was finished. Some days I went to the side of the mountain to cut and burn learn to make ashes to bleach the linens.
I never came in tack with the fairies. A woman told me that when she was a girl she had been a day burning fearn, and went the next day to take it home. When she had it ready she couldn’t find her way home, everything was strange. She walked around to find her way and couldn’t find it. She got frightened and tired ,so she sat down and blessed herself and all came right; she saw the way clear. The fairies had her. We had fairies round our house. I never saw one, but I have heard them talk and laugh and blow a bugle. I wonder where they are all gone, we were not afraid of them.
Aunty was a thorough Manx woman. She never spoke English to me, so I got a good training in Manx.
When people came with linen to be bleached and when they came to get it, and she tried to talk English to them, it was painful to her to talk English, but she was a good soul. She loved me and I her. When I stayed at home all day, I had to sleep with her at night, and she would say, ‘Nell, voght, veloo cheet, bare-lhiam fakin oo na yn kiannoort, yn aspick,ny yn ven rein. (Nell, dear, have thou come (is that you?), I would rather see thee than the governor, bishop, or queen.)
Well, I think I have said enough this time.
Shee Yee dy row meriu ooilley. (The Peace of God be with you all.)
(source: Mannin Vol. 5 (1915) A Manx Notebook; photo is of a farmstead near Ballaugh courtesy of the imuseum)