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Village History

‘You stole them turnups!’

Posted on May 27 2014 at 11:27:17 0 comments

Martha

Here’s another extract from The Story of Martha, which was written around 1904 in memory of a beloved village character.

Martha Harber was born on August 10, 1817, the youngest of a large family of children. Of her father she knew but little, for he disappeared from the village when she was a very little child, and nobody ever saw or heard anything of him again.

The family must, certainly, have been poor enough, in those days when bread was so terribly dear after the long French war, and there were so many mouths to fill.
The poor wife, Molly, who was almost stone-deaf, made a brave struggle to keep herself and her children. People were sorry for her, and helped her; Parson Tonyn adopted and educated her son John, and Molly herself did the rest.

It gives us some idea of what the conditions of working people must have been like nearly a century ago, when we think of this woman beginning her washing at Lea End Farm at three o’clock in the morning, summer and winter!

She used to get up soon after midnight, put her own cottage in order for the day, and then go nearly two miles along the dark, lonely roads at that uncanny hour, so as to get the washing well in hand before anyone else was astir about the farm.

“She never would work after tea-time, though,” said Martha. And no wonder, either.

Molly must have been a good, honest soul, and she tried to teach her children to be honest, above all things. This is how she showed her daughter the meaning of honesty. I will try and give the story in Martha’s own words, as she was so fond of telling it to the very end of her life.

“Well, my dear, did you ever hear the story of me and the turnups, when I was a little girl?

“Me and Sally were out by Mr Harris’s, of Stony Lane, and Sally looked over a gate and said to me: “Oh, Martha, look at all them turnups! We’ll fill our aperns and take ‘em home to our mothers.”

“So we got over the gate, and got as many o’ the turnups as ever we could carry. And I was so pleased, my child, to think what a beautiful lot I’d got to take home.

“But when I showed ‘em to my mother, she looked at me very queer, and she said: “Where did you get them from, Martha?”

“Out of Mr Harris’s field, mother,” says I, as proud as could be.

“My child,” said my mother [and Martha’s voice always got very slow and impressive at this point ] “do you know as you stole them turnups?”

“Oh no, mother,” says I; “no, mother, I only picked ‘em up.” Poor, silly child, I didn’t know as it was stealing. “I only picked ‘em up, mother.”

“Oh, yes, Martha,” she said, “you’ve stole them turnups, and I shouldn’t wonder if the constable didn’t come and lock you up.

“Now, to-morrow morning, you must take ‘em back to the field, and if you see Mr Harris you must go up to him and tell him as you’re very sorry you’ve stole his turnups, and you’ve brought ‘em back.”

“And, oh,” Martha used to say, “I was so frightened that night, for fear the constable should come and take me; and early next morning I got up and filled my apern with the turnups, and took ‘em back to Mr Harris’s field.

“And the road seemed ever so much longer to go back than it did to come.And I was so frightened that Mr Harris might be in the field. But when I got there, there was nobody, so I threw the turnups down, and ran home as fast as ever I could.

“Ah, dear! That’s nearly eighty years ago, my child…

“But if folks ‘ud do that with their childern, it ‘ud bring ‘em up to be honest,” was Martha’s usual way of ending. 


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