WITH THE INCREASE in popularity in Europe for English
wool, Tommy and the family earned extra coin from their
spinning and weaving. William’s children now worked combing and carding wool for the local clothier. Each week Tommy and his father would make the mile journey to Stanbury and retrieve the fleece at the local market. Once washed, they would bring it home, and the family would turn it into broadcloth, but it was a tedious process which
required many hours with the shuttle and warp. Tommy knew that the
steward wasn’t paying them the correct money for the kersey, but there wasn’t much he could do and the five penny's per day they earnt was
better than nothing. He had thought about complaining to the Justice
of the Peace but knew it would make no difference as he was on the side
of the rich and powerful and was well paid by them to keep the peace
and dispense with any trivial complaints.
Wee Thomas, now all grown up, sat there on the hard-backed
wooden chair beside the hearth. He smoked his clay, barrel-shaped
pipe and stared silently into the flames, watching them dance among
the wood and dried peat. Tommy, as they called him, liked the radiant
warmth of the fire while hearing the wind howl and blast the snow
outside, but it did little to brighten his feeling of hopelessness. He had
thought, giving up his copyholder existence and becoming a Freeman,
would allow the family more rights and freedoms, as they were no
longer required to work the demesne of the lord of the manor, well
unless he paid. He thought things would improve, but he still had to pay
rent to the lord and taxes became higher and higher. Due to the labour
shortage from the black death, he knew that he could move the family,
but better the devil you know than the devil you don’t he thought to
himself and besides he wouldn’t contemplate leaving his parents alone
to the ravages of winter in the moors.
The villagers knew Tommy as the strong silent type who only spoke
when he thought he had something important to say; he preferred
to think on the subject before making his point. For this reason, he
had built up respect in the village and its surrounds as a man with
a sensible head on his shoulders and one that didn’t make decisions
lightly especially when it came to his family. His mother and father
were starting to get older now, and the sixteen-hour workdays were
beginning to take their toll.
He looked at his father who sat on his chair opposite, indisposed
to his surrounds, whittling a piece of pinewood, making a toy for the
next addition to the family. He held the wood in his left hand and
braced his thumb against the wood, drawing the blade towards him as
if peeling an apple. He made short and controlled strokes and was deep
in thought rarely venturing to look up except when the wind blew so
loud it sounded as if the shutters would be punched in.
Agnes, his mother, sat on a stool spinning yarn at the wheel humming
a pretty tune. Her bony, brown spotted hands worked methodologically
with the teased fleece, and the wheel spun with a slow whirring sound.
Stopping intermittently, she often looked up contentedly and smiled if
she caught her son looking at her. She was proud of her Tommy and the
man that he had become. He was strong and sensible and never strayed
from the things that he held most dear his Isabel.
Some of the mortar between the stones had started to crack, and
rags had been pushed into the gaps between the shutters. There was
plaster on the walls, and long branches supported the sides of the roof.
When a strong wind rushed over the moors, the cottage shook, and the
roof vibrated. A ladder at the side of the chimney led to the loft where
the children slept, the adults preferring to sleep on a rolled out straw
mattress by the low glow of the fire.
The slanting roof leaked in places, but the children had learnt to
strategically place their mattresses in areas that were not subject to the
annoying drip. On occasion, the leak would find another outlet and
one of them would climb under their blanket only to find their straw
pillow soggy and wet.
They preferred to live as a family working the hide and spinning and
weaving the wool, but there was very little privacy. Often, one couple
would be kept awake at night with the grunting and quiet love sounds
of another. Once finished, all knew that it was time for sleep and the
end of another day until the cock crowed to start the next.
A spark flew out of the fire but was quickly extinguished by the
dampness of the smashed gravel floor and trodden straw, which at
times, with no drainage flooded with the melting snow and ice.
Isabel watched as Tommy knocked the barrel of his pipe on the
stones at the hearth of the fire and proceeded to refill it from the pouch
which sat on the small wooden table beside him. He watched his Isabel
slowly stirring the pottage under the tottering chimney and chunky oak
mantelpiece, stained black from the smoke.
She was a good wife and tended to his needs; they never fought or
disagreed for she knew her place, especially in front of the others. She
only saw Tommy for a couple of hours in the evening because he was
always out in the fields and she was always busy spinning the wheel
which was like a cog in the engine which kept the family going. Tommy
never showed much affection toward her, but she knew he loved her
even though he rarely showed it. She always looked forward to the
whispers that they shared at night as they slept close for warmth under
the woollen blanket. It was often the only time they could be together
away from the eyes of the others and it was here that Tommy showed
The back of the fireplace was covered in soot and an iron chimney
crane with hooks allowed Isabel to swing the earthenware cauldron into
a more easily accessible position. Split logs and dried peat and manure
sat in the corner of the fireplace and all manner of wooden skillets hung
from the inside wall. On top of the mantlepiece sat the earthenware jugs
and bowls including the wooden stand for his father’s pipe which he
had handcrafted himself out of a small fallen oak tree branch. Leaning
beside the front wall of the chimney there was an iron poker, ash shovel
and tongs, along with a wooden water bucket from which Isabel took
water she used to thin the pottage.
She stood and hyper flexed her back to counter the added weight
from the rather large baby bump extending from her lower abdomen.
She was a good woman and new her place among the other women in
the household. Younger than the others she lacked their experience but
more than made up for it in effort. It wasn’t comfortable moving into
your husband’s cottage with his family and it had taken her a while to
get used to it.
Agnes welcomed her when she arrived from Stanbury and she liked
her. Isabel had worked as a servant girl prior and was well versed in
the running of a household. She knew how to bake bread, brew ale
and was proficient in making pickles, preserves and the jellies that the
children loved so much. She also spun wool and linen and sold the extra
garments at Haworth markets to earn extra coin for the family. She was
very timid to start with but started to feel more at ease with the other
women after a period.
The smoke from the sweet aroma of his pipe tobacco filled the room
as he felt the mark that his grandfather had engraved in the top of the
wooden table beside him, a reminder of times past, but not forgotten.
The family was important to Tommy and even though he didn’t
know much about his father’s folk, he felt a kinship, a belonging to
the Dales and knew he couldn’t leave. He had met Isabel in Stanbury
when he and his father had travelled there to sell cloth at the market.
They purchased mushy wool which had weathered and worn tips from
the local farmers and then the women would spin it into less desirable
lengths of cloth.
He remembered, as a young lad growing up in the old cruck house
with Nan Margery and later the stone-walled cottage that Uncle William
and his father had built for her and his mother Agnes. Labour was in
short supply at the time, because of the Black Death, so they tended
more land and the lord permitted improvements to the cottage paying
them five shillings a week to work his demesne. It was more significant
than the old cruck house he remembered as a child, the walls were made
of limestone rubble and rendered with lime and sand mortar which kept
the weather out and there was finally a chimney.
Sadly, Nan Margery was gone now she had made her peace with
God before she went, confessing and repenting her sins for all to hear.
He recalled as a youngster how she called him over to her, while she laid
in her bed and quietly whispered to him.
‘Wee Tommy, you’re a good lad and you ’ave the look of yer father
about ya,’ She placed her hand on his lovingly.
‘I luv ya’ Tommy, and you make me sa proud, look after thy mother
and thy father and let no harm come to them when I’m gone.’
He didn’t know what to say, so he leaned over and rested his head
on her hand softly and sadly, ‘Don’t go nan Margery, please don’t go.’
‘Ooy there Tommy, tis me time, an’ I’m going to a better place and,
besides, I’m tired.’ Her breathing was raspy and laboured. She coughed
and took a deep breath, ‘So very tired,’ she closed her
eyes and drifted back to sleep.
He turned going back to sit on the stool silently beside his father,
who lovingly placed his hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
He remembered the heavy breathing that night, sitting quietly beside
her. She rested with her deep-set, darkened eyes closed, cheekbones lying
beneath the loose, saggy skin on her face; her hands clasped together on
top of the blanket. The shadow from the small candle flickered on the
stone wall, the smoke from the flame rose to be absorbed by the stained
thatch ceiling. Cousin Mary, mother and Mrs Hargreaves knelt at the
side of the bed with their hands clasped together saying quiet prayers.
Father and Uncle William sat on wooden stools, not saying much but
consoling each other by their presence. Then the breathing stopped,
and all was quiet. Father stood and placed two coins on Nan-Margery’s
eyes to ward off a haunting. Mother wept and Mrs Hargreaves recited
the Lord’s Prayer.
The next morning, wee Tommy awoke to the noise of movement
downstairs, he sat up and picked the sleep from the corners of his
eyes. All who slept in the loft were absent and he remembered the
events of the previous evening and looked over to see Nan Margery’s
mattress empty. He quickly dressed into his brown, cut hand-me-down
knickerbockers and frayed undershirt and climbed down the ladder.
The cottage walls, shutters and mirror had been cloaked in black linen
and a curtain hung on a piece of rope separated the room.
He peeked behind the curtain and saw Nan Margery’s body; it
had been wrapped in a winding sheet and placed on planks sitting
on wooden stools on the other side of the curtain. Friends, family
and neighbours arrived at the cottage and two members of the parish
accompanied by the clerk, placed her in a black coffin on loan from St
Michael and All Angels. The rest of the family walked outside to wait
for the vicar; when he arrived, the procession made its way across the
farrowed field, up to Sun Street, past the manor, onto Main Street. The
residents from the cottages along the road came outside and ducked
their heads, the men removing their woollen hats in respect.
The clerk led, ringing the bell, followed by the vicar, holding his
King James Bible piously in front of him. His father, Uncle William,
John Hargreaves and the reeve of the manor followed; carrying the
coffin on two wooden poles their heads lowered with sorrow. It wasn’t
heavy, for the sickness had reduced Margery’s body to a skeleton. The
rest followed slowly behind including Tommy and his mother who held
his hand tightly for comfort beside her.
At St Michael and All Angels cemetery, the coffin was placed on
two stools beside the gravesite of her husband, her feet facing east. Each
of the men took off their hats and the clerk rang the bell six times then
one ring for each of the years of Nan Margery’s life.
The vicar stood in front of the coffin, his black cassock, white gown
and dark tippet draped over his shoulders.
He cleared his throat and, raised his hand and with a nonemotionally
deep voice began, ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ says
the Lord. ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and
everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’
The vicar sprinkled holy water on the coffin, ‘God of all consolation,
your Son Jesus Christ was moved to tears at the grave of Lazarus, his friend.
Look with compassion on your children in their loss; give to troubled hearts
the light of hope and strengthen in us the gift of faith, in Jesus Christ our
‘Amen,’ they all repeated.
After prayers, her body was lifted from the coffin and placed by the
members of the burial guild into the pre-dug hole.
The vicar said one more prayer, ‘O God, whose Son Jesus Christ was
laid in a tomb: bless, we pray, this grave as the place where the body of
Margery Rushworth your servant may rest in peace, through your Son, who
is the resurrection and the life; who died and is alive and reigns with you
now and for ever. Amen.’
‘Amen,’ they all repeated.
All who were present walked to the mound of dirt beside the
shallow grave, picked up a handful of rocky soil and carefully dropped
it onto Nan Margery’s body. It was a quiet, solemn moment as the
heavens opened with a crack of thunder and the rain started to fall as
if signalling the end of her days.
After the burial, they all retired to the Rushworth cottage for ale,
black bread and biscuits, but as they started walking back around the
horizontally placed tombstones, Tommy turned back around to see his
father unperturbed by the rain standing over the mound of the grave.
He saw him holding her wimple, but then clutched it tightly to his face
and wept into it. He had never seen emotion from his father who was
normally a stern, unemotional figure of a man. His Uncle William,
standing besides, held his red woollen, felt hat in his hands and solemnly
looked downwards at the grave quietly whispering his goodbyes.
His mother still holding his hand tightly said, ‘Come Tommy, let
thy father and uncle say tarreur to Nan Margery in their own way.’
She knew that the two men would not like to be seen expressing their
emotion in public and certainly not in front of wee Tommy, for in the
West Riding that’s not what men did.
It started to drizzle as they walked out of the graveyard, past the
pillory holding the now subdued, drunkard from the previous night,
down Main street which was muddied and wet. They continued
downhill past the manor onto Sun Street, past Woodlands Rise then
uphill toward home.
A farmer, pulling an ox and cart full of fleece passed them on the
road he doffed his hat, ‘Condolences Missis’ and continued up Sun
Street. The ox having some difficulty getting tread on the muddy road,
grunted and groaned in frustration until he found his tread.
Mother sadly nodded her acceptance, the drizzle continued, and
their clothes became saturated and cold. Tommy began to shiver, his
feet frozen from the mud which clung to his thin leather boots.
The sky was low, grey and bleak, and the weather had set in. They
climbed over the stone wall and walked uphill through the hide to the
cottage. Beyond, Tommy could see the white sheep contrasted by the
green and brown heather of the moors. There was a chill in the air and
winter was coming.
After the funeral, Thomas and William went to the Kings Arms, a
tavern across the square from St Michael and All Angels. Most of the
men had known the family for many years and most were good friends
of nan Margery’s husband who had passed away from consumption
sometime before her.
Thomas and William ducked their heads as they went through the
doorway and were immediately stunned by the stale smell, always a
contrast to the clean, clear breeze of the moors. A man leaned against
the wall, allowing a stream of urine to flow into a bucket in the back
corner of the room. A farmer argued with the wool merchant over the
price for his fleece.
‘Ya don’t understand, tis not enough to feed me, doubt about me
’Aye and yer don’t understand, I’m not getting as much as what I was
fer spun wool in the markets. He knew that by the time he distributed
the raw fleece among the poor to card and spin and weave he would
still be left with a tidy profit.
‘Come off it, I know how much ya’ get in York fer the cloth!’
‘Aye, but there’s a surplus a’ fleece now, ya’ know that! This war
that’s comin’ is interruptin’ trade and then there’s the king’s levy on
‘A surplus of fleece, they’re getting a shillin’ more in York than what
ya pay us ’ere.
‘Well then take yer cloth ta York and sell it!’
Ya’ know I can’t do that, I’ve got a herd ta run!’
Thomas and William made a point of not getting involved in
the dealings of others, so walked to the bar and ordered their ale but
watched on as the voices of the farmer and cloth merchant got louder
Thomas whispered, ’Tis right what he says, the cloth merchants get
richer and richer while the poor folk scratch out a livin’.’
‘Aye but what are we ta do about it.’
‘Nothin’ we can do ‘cept cop it er lump it.’
The shutters were open and allowed some of the smokiness from
the fire and pipes to escape. Three-legged stools and the odd wooden
table were used for the card games. Wide, rough planks made up the
bar which separated the barkeep from the tenants, freemen and yeomen
that frequented the establishment.
A handful of men stood at the bar playing shoffe-grote on a
rectangular wooden board. The shelves behind, housed leather jacks,
wooden bowls and tankards. Most of the light came from the fire in the
hearth, but the odd tallow candle provided enough light for the card
games and arguments about the dissolution of Parliament and King
Charles’ right of divine rule. The serving wench walked one way then
the next refilling tankards of ale and chastising the occasional patron
that couldn’t keep his hands to himself.
An old woman, her left eye whitened by the cataract that had slowly
tunnelled her vision then completely erased it, limped from table to
table the old stick she held supporting her cracked and painful hip. She
wore a dirty, ochre, frayed kirtle and moth-eaten wimple that had lost
its true colour years ago.
The old woman held out the wrinkled, worn palm of her hand,
begging for a penny from the patrons, ‘Spare a penny sir, spare a penny
to feed the bairns. Spare a penny sir?’
One of the patrons, lifted his eyes from his cards, ‘Be off with ya’
foul old woman before ya feel the pointy end of me foot up yer arse.’
She grunted in frustration and walked to the men standing at
the bar, ‘Spare a penny sir, spare a penny to feed the bairns. spare a
The barkeep looked at the poor wretched soul, ‘Be off with ya’ old
Thomas placed a penny on the bar,’ Ales barkeep.’
He turned around, shocked by the wrinkled face that was bent over
before him, her whispery white hair poking through the sides of her
wimple. Deep wrinkles in her face spread like a roadmap; her left eye,
almost moonlike with its colour and sadness, a reminder of the poor
wretches in the world.
He didn’t have much, but he had felt the pangs of hunger and
wished it not on any other, ‘Here, take this and be off with ya’, feed
yer bairns or more likely yer ’usband that ‘as no more work left in ’im.’
Thomas placed a penny in her hand.
She lifted her shaking hand, which was wrapped in a dirty, small
woollen mitten with the fingers cut at the knuckles, ‘Thank yer sir,
God bless ya.’
She knew the weight of a penny and raised it steadily to her one eye
for a closer look to ensure she hadn’t been tricked like times before; she
paused then focused her one good eye on Thomas’ face to remember it
for the future, ‘God bless ya.’
She hobbled out through the door, no doubt back to her husband
that waited for the homebrew that she would collect from one of the
cottages on the way home.
‘Why’d ya do that Thomas?’
‘There’s some in the world far worse off than we.’
Some men came up to shake the hands of the two brothers and pay
their condolences. There was the baker from the manor with his stained,
floppy white hat, the reeve, who smoked his pipe and all manner of
patrons, free tenants and yeomen that frequented the establishment and
knew of Margery’s passing. They had come to pay their respects and to
tell and hear stories of Margery for she had played a part as matchmaker
in many of their banns.
Thomas was reminded of the time that he and William arrived
home to find a dead man flat on his back, in the old cruck house,
his nose hanging to the side of his face after the English Mastiff had
attacked him, protecting their mother. This brought back bad memories
of the footpads and coney-catchers that had terrorised the village and
surrounds at the time.
‘Aye, they were strange times, they were,’ said the reeve.
‘Who’d have thought it was the steward’s men takin’ advantage of
good folk a’ Haworth.’
‘Anyway, they got their just deserves, probably still chained ta’ wall
in Castle Prison, I’d say,’ said William.
‘She was a cunning old girl,’ said Thomas, ‘If it weren’t for her,
Agnes and I wouldn’t be together. She arranged the banns and the hand
tyin’ with the vicar, even settled the dowry after me father passed.’
‘She was always up ta some sort of shenanigans,’ said William,
‘What about the time she dragged you off ta see the steward about the
tenure for the hide.’
‘Aye, I was but a boy, seems like a lifetime ago,’ said Thomas sadly.
Trying to pep himself up in front of the others, ‘Plenty a water under
the bridge since then brother.’
‘And you William, ya ’ave another on the way,’ asked the baker from
‘All I ’ave ta do is wave me cod-piece over the bed and it brings the
The men laughed, all except the reeve who was always up on the
latest news in the town.
‘Ya should be sa lucky mate, there’s many young ‘uns with the
sickness here bouts, tis gonna be a long ‘ard winter fer some. John Pigells
missus lost another to the consumption last week, only four years old.
Only one of four of ‘is ’ave made it to their sixth year, bloody sad t’is.
Thomas looked at his brother William and watched as he looked
down gloomily, ‘Aye there’s more worse off than we. ‘That bastard the
steward, only one thing he cares about and that’s ’imself!
William, the younger, more outspoken of the two brothers had a
likeable, spirited personality. Unlike Thomas who thought before he
spoke, William was the opposite and spoke his mind whenever and
wherever, often getting himself into some sort of strife that his brother
had to bail him out of.
The reeve trying to change the subject, ‘Aye, ol’ Margery wasn’t
backwards in coming forward that’s fer sure.’
‘Grand lass she was, hated the old lord with a passion because of the
way he mistreated father when he was sick and coughing blood.’
‘Aye, I remember, still cursin’ him I’d say,’ said William.
Thomas, preferring to change the subject and block his feelings of
sadness, raised his tankard and the other men followed suit, ‘Oh here’s
to other meetings, and merry greetings then; and here’s to those we’ve drunk
with, but never can again,’ They all lifted their tankards and skulled
their ale slamming them down on the bar.
‘Barkeep, more ale,’ Yelled John Hargreaves, ‘May as well, if we
don’t drink it, some other bastard will.’
All who heard smiled a little, but the brothers kept their solemn
mood as Thomas, saying nothing, reached inside his tunic and felt
Margery’s wimple that he carried there. He knew that it would still
smell of her and back at home when nobody was looking, he would
take it out and reminisce. He would think about the life lessons he had
learnt and the wisdom she taught.
The Kings Arms started to empty, and the bar wench went around
busily wiping the spilt ale from the tables; and waking up the drunk
who had momentarily fallen asleep at a table in the corner. His head on
his forearms, still holding tightly to his half-finished pewter tankard.
The barkeep went around with a bucket collecting any dregs from the
jacks left half-empty on the tables to be poured back into the other
barrel for tomorrow.
The barkeep was a large rotund man his red waistcoat stretched
tightly across his belly, revealing the dirty grey undershirt beneath. His
brown tunic was stained and covered in wet patches from the ale that
he slopped from noon till night. His dirty white, ragged apron rested
below his protruding waistline, which he continually pulled up and
tightened. He wasn’t an overly joyous man and did just enough to keep
the locals coming back by knowing their names, pouring ale quickly
and not giving the slops to the regulars.
After too many ales, Thomas and William started on their way
home, made harder by the constant drizzle. They walked through the
fields, a dog barked in the distance, past the manor house at the foot
of Main Street with its large cut ashlar gritstone and deeply recessed
candlelit mullioned windows, in all its splendour, down Sun Street,
muddied and slippery underfoot. The cottage merchants quietened
their trade and shut up shop to get out of the drizzle. The expanse of
open Pennine countryside and moorlands lost their expanse with the
encroaching fog and low cloud as if the Lord himself was rubbing them
out to start painting again. The upper part of the church steeple of St.
Michael and All Angels was mostly lost to the weather. They walked
in silence for a while, contemplating what it would be like without her.
Their only solace the thought that they had to be strong for the family.
The drizzle got more substantial, and it started to pour, soaking
their felt wide-brimmed hats, cloaks and tunics and drenching them
through and through. They continued to trudge home, Thomas taking
off his hat which had lost part of its shape, to push his slick hair back
and wipe the droplets of wet from his eyelashes. William was staggering
and finding it quite challenging to keep his balance. Both were not quite
as nimble as they once were, especially Thomas, who laboured more
under the uphill journey while trying to balance his brother.
‘Do ya’ think she’s with father?’ asked William.
‘Aye, I think she’s with father, God rest her soul.’
Tommy and the English Mastiff heard the ramblings of William
coming up the hill. The dog stood quickly and went to the door sniffing
underneath it to try and get a scent of who approached. It was familiar,
so he waited for the latch to lift and the door to open. The two men
staggered in disregarding the dog, who looked up at them. With no
affection directed his way he turned and walked back to the hearth,
slumping down with a groan and a grumble.
Tommy noticed that it was pitch black outside and his uncle
William was loud, drunk and filthy. He rarely saw his father and Uncle
like this, and it disturbed him as he knew that with this came anger
and chastisement from his mother who had no patience for men who
couldn’t handle their drink.
The Mastiff rose from his place beside the fire tail wagging; he
walked over and sniffed unapologetically at the fresh wet scent. He
sniffed the legs of their hose and looked up at them to get his customary
scratch behind the ears, but none came so he walked back over to his
place by the hearth and took up his position again. He put his large
black snout on his folded forelegs and watched on as the show began.
‘Look at you two,’ exclaimed Agnes, while shepherding them in
quickly through the door to keep the downpour at bay.
Father and Uncle William were soaking wet and chilled through
to the bone, shivering. Uncle had slipped in the mud and pulled father
down with him, so their tunics and hose were caked in mud and a
distinct aroma of fresh manure wafted through the cottage joining with
the animal smells already present.
Father had one hand around Uncle William’s waist, and he had
his arm around father’s shoulder, but he found it still difficult to stand
upright. Father leant him down carefully, on the form by the wall, where
he closed his eyes and leant his head back, mumbling something that
nobody could understand. Father sat down beside him, taking off his
muddied tunic, giving it to ma. His thin leather and woollen shoes were
saturated and muddy so he too them off and put them under the form.
Suddenly, Uncle William opened his eyes and bolted upright; he
stood there swaying and trying to focus, ‘More ale,’ he hollered.
William was always a bit more confident in the household when he had a belly
full of ale.
‘I think you’ve had quite enough William,’ said Agnes trying to
take off his tunic.
She was the only woman in the household who had the courage
and the tenacity to scold the men and even the occasional threat of the
ducking stool from her husband did not dissuade her; she knew Thomas
wouldn’t dare lest he sleep alone in the cold and consume cold pottage
in the morning. When he carried on like this, she knew he was only
trying to reassert himself in front of his watching son and the others,
who ignored his rantings and ravings.
‘Come on ‘usband get yer gear off and don’t embarrass yerself in
front of wee Tommy.’
She was a wise woman and the years of hard work, sacrifice and
lost young ones had taken their toll. She had a tough, unemotional
demeanour, but all could sense her quiet, sensitive side that she tried so
hard to hide unless she was dealing with the young ones. Tommy was
the love of her life and she doted on him often protecting him from the
wrath of his father if he dropped the eggs or forgot to put the wood in
the hole on a cold night.
Agnes lifted Thomas’ arm up and pulled his sleeve to get his tunic
off, ‘Come on you two off with those mucky clothes before ya’ get the
chill a’ death into ya,’
Lucy walked over to help William, she lifted his arm to take off his
unbuttoned tunic, but he wouldn’t have it and shakily stood to his feet,
‘More ale, woman bring more ale.’
‘Da ya think you’ve not had enough? You’ll feel like a dog’s breakfast
in the morn’ if ya don’t sleep it off.’
She tried to lift his arm, but he shook away her grasp and put his
arms around her in a bear hug.
Embarrassed, Lucy pushed him away.
William tried to keep a hold of her but lost his balance and plonked
himself back down on the form.
‘What’s got in ta ya William?’
He staggered and almost lost his balance until Thomas grabbed and
steadied him, ‘William, what’s got into ya’, behave!’
Father rose and, slowly and steadily walked over to the clay jug
covered with a linen cloth, and poured two tankards of ale. He walked
back and gave one to uncle and downed the other. Uncle William
taking his, lost his balance and recovering, spilt some of it while taking
it to his lips and then skulled the rest.
‘William, I’ve got work ta do this wool isn’t gonna spin itself!’
‘More!’ William yelled as he lifted his empty tankard into the air
as if an offering to the Gods.
Father once again filled their tankards and uncle took a step
forward, unsteady on his feet, Lucy and ma held him upright. He took
the tankard and brought it to his lips, taking a large gulp.
‘William yer need ta’ get ta bed, it’s late and there’s work ta be done
in t’ mornin,’ said Lucy.
‘We’ll never get ’im up that ladder,’ said Agnes, so they walked him
over to the animal enclosure.
They dropped Uncle William down on a mound of clean straw,
used for the animals bedding, fully dressed. He leaned backwards,
his eyes rolling upwards so that you could see the whites of his eyes
until they closed. He took one deep breath and went limp, passing out
mumbling something incoherently. They took his muddy leg warmers,
strappings and hose off and left the wet undershirt.
Agnes placed a blanket over him as the cow mooed with
dissatisfaction having him occupying her corner of the room. The ox
continued to chew its cud and unceremoniously watched what was
going on with his peripheral vision. The six sheep scattered to the other
side of the enclosure and the chickens squawked and flapped their
wings. The pig grunted, and the sow stood, neglecting the piglets that
had not finished feeding and started to squeal.
Tommy watched his father as he tentatively walked back to his high
backed wooden chair near the fire; he took out his clay pipe and lit it
with a piece of straw, puffing on it methodically until he was happy
with the state of the ember in the barrel.
He looked at his father’s face, the punishing wind and harsh burning
summer sun of the Pennines had taken their toll. Worry lines creased
his forehead and whispers of hair streaked with silver fell sporadically
accentuating his receding hairline. His honest, deep-set eyes had lost
some of their sparkle and deep lines like crow’s feet spread outwards
from the corners. His long bushy eyebrows were dusted with silver and
wispy white hair protruded from his nose and ears. A long white shirt,
greyed by frequent washing, opened at the top to show bristled chest
hair, speckled with grey. His bearing was upright, and he had quiet
confidence, not feeling the need to scold as his look when angry was
enough. When he raised his pipe, you could see the veins protruding
through the backs of his hands which were dotted with brown spots
born of hours in the sun. Snug, dirty, cream coloured hose covered both
brawny legs from hip to ankle, stained from tripping in the manure on
the partly tilled soil.
Tommy had never seen his uncle in such a state and his father had
a quiet solemness that filled the room like a dense fog. Not much was
said after that and the women continued their evening chores. Lucy
stayed with her spinning wheel and Agnes pounded dough for bread
for the morning.
When the cock crowed, William started to stir, father having not
slept had already left to visit Nan Margery’s grave, so Tommy was spared
helping his father pluck rocks and stones from the earth to prepare for
the Spring sowing.
William started to come around, he felt the heavy tiredness and
pain behind his eyes, and he tried hard to fall back to sleep but couldn’t.
He slowly tried to open his eyes and then, squinting at the light from
the open shutters, immediately closed them again and groaned. He tried
to swallow away the bad taste in his mouth, but it was too dry, and the
surface of his tongue had a woolly feel to it. He squinted, trying to let
his eyes adjust to the light slowly then rolled over kneeling on all fours
in the mound of straw. Pieces of straw protruded from his hair and stuck
to his undershirt and he groaned when he smelt the fresh manure and
droppings plop on the ground beside him.
‘You better get those animals over to the common green William,
the day tis half over,’ said Agnes shaking her head.
He pulled himself up from the straw pile and crawled over to the
animal’s half water barrel, he dunked his head in it and blue bubbles
trying to rid himself of the pain behind his eyes. He splashed his face
pushing his wet hands through his hair, grimacing from the shock of
the cold water, his head feeling heavy and uncooperative. He cupped
his hands and splashed his face a few more times and then tried slowly
to open his eyes fully. He looked around, trying to get his bearings and
make sense of the previous night.
Agnes ignored him and did not pay him any attention whatsoever
while she was tending to the vegetables that she had collected from the
patch. Now she collected eggs from the chickens who squawked their
William, still on all fours looked around and saw wee Tommy
looking at him suspiciously, scrutinising his every move with interest.
He raised his head, ‘What’re ya’ lookin’ at boy, be off with ya’ help
yer mother, ‘he yelled. Then realising his mistake, held onto the side of
his head coughing up the phlegm that had collected through the night.
He felt the pain and frowned with each cough and continued to moan
Tommy ran across the room and grabbed onto his mother’s leg as
she placed the bowl of eggs on the table; he peeked out from behind her
kirtle and continued to watch his uncle with fascination.
‘There, there Tommy, pay no mind to yer uncle swill-belly, he
swallowed a hair and will have barrel fever fer the rest a’ the day. You
go outside an’ play.’
Tommy watched his uncle as he tried to stand too quickly and lost
his balance, so he dropped to his knees back to the earthen floor head
down. He then slowly looked up, his eyes were red, and it seemed like
they couldn’t focus in the light.
He lifted an outstretched arm, ‘Help me boy.’
William’s head was muddled and his memory of the previous
evening cloudy like the beck after a good rain.
Tommy hesitantly walked over to him and slowly tried to put his
arm around him like he had seen father do the night before, but he was
heavy and couldn’t quite reach his waist. William put his open hand on
the top of Tommy’s head and used it for balance to steady himself and
walk to the door. He opened the door and was taken back by the cold
wind; he staggered outside into the chill to try and revive himself with
the wind in his face, but it was too much to bear and staggered back
inside to take up a place in his brother’s chair beside the fire.
Lucy said nothing, but watched his every movement, smiling at
his uncovered knobbly knees. She provided no sympathy as she slowly
teased the thread and pushed the peddle to spin the wheel. Lucy loved
the whirring of the wheel; it was almost mesmerising, and it took her to
another place away from the hardships of her own simple life.
Agnes bent down and scooped some steaming pottage into a wooden
bowl from the cauldron under the fire and passed it to him with a jack
of ale. He accepted it without gesture and then, feeling a queasy feeling
starting to rise in his throat, ran to the door, lifted the latch and dropped
to his knees outside. Tommy watched on as he saw his uncle’s back arch
followed by a steady stream of liquid which poured from his gaping
mouth. He coughed then arched his back again and a further stream of
clear liquid splashed to the ground. His back arched again but there was
no more, so he dryly coughed trying to rid his throat of the distasteful
acidic phlegm that now presided there.
When he eventually stood, he staggered back inside holding onto the
door jamb for balance, none of the women looked at him but continued
their spinning and weaving. He stopped for a moment expecting some
comment to be made, but the women knew that silence was their best
insult. William staggered back over to the fire, stirred the pottage and
sipped it from the spoon, hoping it would help silence the pounding of
the blacksmith working behind his eyes.
Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of two novels:
Skulduggery- An exciting, mysterious, fictional and historically accurate adventure pulls no punches about the life and hardships of peasant farmers living on the moors of Yorkshire in 1590. Reading this novel, you will walk the moors around Haworth and try a jack of ale at the Kings Arms; you will laugh, cry and feel empathy for young Thomas Rushworth and his family who face the rigors of life living as copyholders on Lord Birkhead’s land at Green Hall. Shenanigans, murder, deception, and love will keep you enthralled right until the end, but be forewarned as the author paints a realistic, literary picture which quite easily places you amidst the tale.
Winter of Red- Come on this historic journey, which twists, turns and surprises until the very end. If you like history, adventure and intrigue with a dash of spirited love, then you will be engrossed by this tale of a peasant family unexpectedly getting caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War in 1642. Now turn the page, if you dare, and follow the exploits of Tommy Rushworth as he tries to stay alive after being absconded into the Parliamentary Army. You will fear for Thomas Rushworth, his father, who is racing against time to save him from a war he wanted no part of. Reading this novel one can immerse themselves within the tale and discover the more colourful, candid details of what it was like to live in this rebellious time.
Dream of Courage- Coming Soon
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