Margaret Barton: author

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here.  It’s been even longer since I’ve done any family history research.  Slowly though, I’m beginning again.

But this post will be about my early days of – ahem- publishing.

My earliest attempts at writing date from my days in Sandhutton.  My father had gone to London to look for work, since rural North Yorkshire wasn’t on the look-out for university educated Poles, and I had just started at the village school.

I was a shy, slightly earnest little thing at my London primary school.  By the time I was nine or so, my friend Rona and I were spending most of our free time writing and drawing for our very own magazine . I have no idea what its title,  PIBA, stood for.  Print run?  One copy.  Readership?  Two.  Us.

Disaster struck when Rona and family moved to Maidstone, leaving the editorial team stranded 60 miles apart.  No matter.  We continued our labours for one further edition, as this letter shows.  Who knows what shocking things I revealed in my own letter to Rona?

An editorial conference, 1950s style.

As my primary school days drew to a close, I decided that play writing was the thing.  The Haunted School  owes everything to the boarding school stories by the likes of Angela Brazil., and to heroes such as Jennings and Darbishire.  My teacher decided that this gripping yarn should be performed at the end of year prize giving, and my mother helped me write out multiple copies.  Photocopying was unknown, and not many people had typewriters at home.  Naturally I got the main part.

My mother seems to have helped me out when it came to making copies of this piece.
A no-expense spared, state-of-the-art programme for my final Prize Day at Ebley House School.

When I went to Grammar School, I continued to write. There was the odd competition.  Here’s proof that I got to the finals of a Daily Mirror (what?) competition in 1960, when I was 13.  I find my offering, when I read it now, to be stilted and dated.  A lively personal writing style was not encouraged.

I did quite well in the competitions I occasionally entered for The Young Elizabethan magazine, whose readership consisted of the now obsolete 1950s grammar school child.  Perhaps I should start buying up back copies on e-bay.

Then I pretty much stopped writing for pleasure.

I didn’t begin again until I started blogging about my life, first of all in France, then back in England.  Later still, I joined Ripon U3A Scribblers.  Our facilitator, the ever-resourceful and inspirational Sheila, wrings stories, memoirs, observations, poems, flash fiction ….. words of every kind from us.  We won’t be publishing our oeuvre.  But we do have fun.


Birds’ eggs for Easter

Once we moved to London, every year at Easter time I was given some rather unusual Easter eggs.

An oblong box contained about six different kinds of egg, five or six of each variety.  Each was carefully decorated to look exactly like the eggs of various different kinds of British bird.  There were thrush eggs, chaffinch eggs, blackbird eggs, and so on.  The front of the pack illustrated these birds, and on the back were nature notes.  I loved these sweets and would spend hours looking at them, and at the packaging.  I can’t remember if I ever ate them.

I’ve spent ages trawling all kinds of site, but not come up with any pictures of my special Easter memory.  I’m fairly sure they were made by Fullers, which was part of Lyons Corner House.

Occasionally, for a very special treat, we’d go to Lyons’ Corner House for afternoon tea. We’d be elegantly seated, and waitresses would serve sandwiches and fancy small cakes which formed no part of our every day meal routines.  It was a ‘posh’ occasion, just as my special eggs were rather ‘posh’, and to my innocent eyes, totally exquisite.

I can’t show you pictures of my eggs, nor the packaging.  Instead, I’m posting pictures of the birds’ eggs which provided the inspiration for my special Easter gift.  Does anybody recognise my special Fullers’ eggs?

The Robert Mayer Concerts

Readers of my other blog will know I recently went to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Pushing on for sixty years ago, this was something I did more often than once a month.

Mrs. Waring, our music teacher at my grammar school, Grey Coat Hospital (of which more, much more, later) wanted her younger pupils to know a thing or two about classical music: and she knew a way to do it.

Every couple of weeks or so, on Saturday mornings, the thirty or so of us whose parents had handed over a subscription fee presented ourselves for the Robert Mayer Concerts at the Royal Festival Hall.

The Royal Festival Hall in 2017: little changed from the way it looked back in the late 1950s and early 1960s

Actually, because I lived near her.  Mrs. Waring gave me a lift.  In a car like this one.

A Morris Mini-Minor, 1959 style.

It had a wire across the inside of the passenger door which had to be manipulated to open or close the door,  But I thought her mini, and my privileged position as receiver-of-a-lift were the height of sophistication.  Once there – and I don’t remember any problems in parking, or any thoughts of paying for same, slap bang in the centre of London – we milled round the foyer with other schoolchildren from all over the city and beyond, until it was time to find our seats.  It never occurred to us to mind that we were in full school uniform.  It never occurred to us to bring sweets or snacks, or the money to buy any.  The expedition itself was treat enough.

Robert Mayer was German born philanthropist who attended one of a series of  children’s concerts in New York in 1919.  He said the experience changed his life.  He determined that British children should have the same opportunity.  Using his wealth as a merchant of  industrial metals, he realised this dream by 1923.  These concerts had already been going for some 57 years by the time they became part of my Saturday routine, and they continued for many years after.

Was it still Adrian Boult who introduced those concerts? Or Sir Malcolm Sargent?  Sargent, I tend to think.  Whoever it was, he wore his scholarship lightly, and communicated his enthusiasm joyfully.  We were never patronised, and always enthralled.

William G Blair, New York Times, January 20th 1985, on the occasion of Sir Robert Mayer’s death, aged 105

We were thrilled to be part of a special audience in an auditorium which is still as good a place as any in London for fine acoustics.  A sense of occasion, good teaching, great music carried us through.

It was such a thrill to be part of the Festival Hall audience (

I think our parents may have paid more than a shilling for our tickets, but not a great deal more.  We were all done and dusted in about an hour and a half, our minds refreshed and uplifted.  Thank you, Sir Robert Mayer..

‘May I have your autograph?’

Blanche Pickard in about 1903.
Blanche Pickard in about 1903.

Among my family treasures is an autograph book, dating from about 1903.  It has no signatures from the famous, or even local notables.  Instead, it’s a record of young people enjoying themselves at the turn of the 20th century.

The book belonged to my grandmother’s sister, Blanche.  In 1903 her father Arthur was a clothier’s salesman, and she was a tailoress, a machinist.  Most of their friends worked in the textile industry in some capacity.  They were ordinary working people, and not educated to a high level – though she and her sister were still at school at the ages of 12 and 14, according to the 1891 census.

Blanche and her friends had autograph books.  They sometimes amused themselves in their spare time by filling the pages of each others’ volumes.  Here’s hers.  I’ve left out all the pages that simply had improving quotations from the likes of Longfellow and Sir Walter Scott, but included all the illustrations.  The were probably copied from the pages of ‘Punch’ or similar.  I find them completely charming: a celebration of friendship that’s endured for over a century.  I bet you won’t find my own children’s and grandchildren’s Instagram accounts in the family archive this time next century.

Look out by the way for Jack Hall’s contributions.  In August 1903, Miss Blanche Pickard became Mrs. John Hall.


Click on any image to view it full size.

The great polio epidemic

This 1961 polio vaccine poster came along too late to help me (Wikimedia Commons)
This 1961 polio vaccine poster came along too late to help me (Wikimedia Commons)

I’d been happily established in Ebley House School for a couple of years when something  astonishing happened.  Shortly after term started, school was closed – just like that.

Ebley House, it seemed, was in quarantine.  A younger pupil had contracted poliomyelitis, and we were closed down to prevent the spread of infection.

Polio was greatly feared in the 1950s.  Although most people – certainly most children – who contracted it suffered no permanent effects, those who did suffered extreme and permanent paralysis.  There have been epidemics of the disease throughout history, but the 1940s and 50s saw several severe episodes worldwide, with sufferers in the western world whipped into newly built or extended isolation hospitals.

School closed for 10 days or so.  It reopened.  A month or so later I fell ill.  The doctor came.  He called an ambulance, and I was trundled away to Middlesex Isolation Hospital. He’d diagnosed poliomyelitis.  Ill as I was, I remember my disappointment that the ambulance bell (it was a tinny, jangly bell in those days) didn’t ring to clear a way through the traffic, and we stopped at every pedestrian crossing.

My parents would have been aware that if things hadn't gone well for me, I'd have perhaps continued breathing courtesy of an 'iron lung' like this (image courtesy of Boston Children's Hospital Archive)
My parents would have been aware that if things hadn’t gone well for me, I’d have perhaps continued breathing courtesy of an ‘iron lung’ like this (image courtesy of Boston Children’s Hospital Archive)

I remained for a month in an individual though large cell, glass-walled from bed height upwards:  I, and the patients in adjoining cells could always be seen from the nurses’ station.  They, the orderlies and the doctors became my daily companions.

A 1950s nurse (Joyce Steel: Brierley Village website)
A 1950s nurse (Joyce Steel: Brierley Village website)

At the weekends and occasionally during the week I saw my parents sheathed in hospital-issue white coats.  They were forbidden to touch me, or to take away any of the drawings  I made, or the stories I wrote. for them as presents,  All the books and games they brought for me while I was there were retained to be burnt when I left.

It must have been a tough time for them.  The hospital was miles away and the journey there demanded travelling on a succession of tube trains and buses, as well as a hike within the hospital grounds.  Keeping me in books and comics can’t have been cheap. And they had to put up with a public health officer coming to our flat, masked in protective clothing, to fumigate it.

This spray gun was used to kill flies.  The idea was the same when it came to polio microbes (Wikimedia Commons)
This spray gun was used to kill flies. The idea was the same when it came to polio microbes (Wikimedia Commons)

I can only remember one part of my treatment.  On my first day, I was given a lumbar puncture, when a needle is inserted into the spinal column for diagnostic purposes.  I’ve never known such pain, before or since.  In fact I passed out.  I’ve just read about the procedure, and it seems not to be a painful one – at least not now.  But I have such clear – and horrible – memories of it.

It was a funny old month, but I don’t remember being unhappy on the whole.  The nurses and orderlies fussed over me because I was the only child on the ward. I read incessantly, drew, wrote stories,  gorged on normally-forbidden comics and puzzle books, and towards the end, was allowed to get up and practice walking (back then, hospital meant lying in bed, all day and every day).

My favourite comic  - 'Girl'
My favourite comic – ‘Girl’ (Wikimedia Commons)

Then one day I was discharged.   I couldn’t go back to school, not for the whole of the rest of the term.

Every day, I was put in the care of an elderly neighbour, and we’d potter off to St. James’ Park to feed the ducks, or I’d help her round the house.  I’d assure her vehemently that I was going to be a nurse when I grew up.  Reading this will provoke hollow laughter from anyone who’s suffered my attentions whilst they’re off colour.  I’m useless.  No bedside manner, little sympathy – completely hopeless.

St. James' Park, with Buckingham Palace behind. (Image from
St. James’ Park, with Buckingham Palace behind. (Image from

And do you know what the worst thing about the whole episode was?  School wasn’t closed, not even for a day when I became ill.  Now how unfair was that?

And the other bad thing was that shortly after that, my mother contracted polio too.  Like me, she made a full recovery.

‘Make do and mend’

I’ve woefully neglected this blog lately.  Partly from lack of time, partly because when my old computer died, it took a lot of material with it.  It’s all retrievable, but it’ll take time.

But the excesses of Christmas have got me thinking about my childhood, as part of the post war ‘make do and mend’ generation.

Even without rationing being a day-to-day part of my early years, we’d have been a thrifty family.  My mother was a clergyman’s daughter,. and priests were notoriously underpaid until quite recently.  They also tended to live in large vicarages which were fine buildings, but hard to maintain and harder to heat.  ‘Making do and mending’ was a core part of her life from her earliest days.

My father was a notoriously poor provider and I can’t remember a time when my parents got on well.  She did the housekeeping and bill-paying on her income alone.  She was a teacher, but until 1961, female teachers were paid less than their male counterparts.  Admittedly, there was  almost no job available to her that would have paid her on the same scale as a male colleague, but the assumption was that it was men who brought home the bacon. (As a little aside, my mother once failed to get a teaching post, because she referred to it during her interview as ‘a job’.  Her interviewer regarded her frostily.  ‘Miss Barton, teaching is not a job.  It is a profession, a calling’.)

I was brought up with the following skills:

Darning:.  I’m still not good at sewing, but I’m a dab hand at darning gaping holes in socks.  Though actually I don’t do it any more. Even stockings got darned in those days (tights still didn’t exist)

Here are some of the contents of my sewing box. I rarely use any of these things (stocking darning thread, anyone?) but I couldn't get rid of any of it.
Here are some of the contents of my sewing box. I rarely use any of these things (stocking darning thread, anyone?) but I couldn’t get rid of any of it.

Turning sheets ‘sides to middle’: when sheets wear thin in the middle, they’re split in half and rejoined with the edges towards the centre.  I used to help with the cutting and tacking.

Preparing cheap cuts of meat: the meats  we bought during my childhood were tougher, often bony cuts requiring long slow cooking – breast of lamb; oxtail; pigs’ heads to be transformed into brawn; skirt of beef – all helped to go further by the addition of lots of root vegetables to the pot.

Cheap cuts of pork (image from Farms not factories)
Cheap cuts of pork (image from Farms not Factories)

Hand-making clothes: my mother made most of my clothes, though she wasn’t a natural.  I used to help her, but I was even less gifted, and preferred choosing the cloth, and Butterick or Simplicity patterns, and pinning the pattern pieces to the cloth.  I lost interest after that.

Some of the instructions from a Butterick's pattern. I remember the occasional despair in interpreting these.
Some of the instructions from a Butterick’s pattern. I remember the occasional despair in interpreting these.

Taking shoes to be mended: shoes had to last.  As there was a tiny cobbler’s shop near our house, I was usually the one that would take our shoes to be soled and heeled.  With growing feet, I was the only one to get new footwear fairly regularly.  And it was taken for granted that shoes would be polished every single day.  I still do clean and shine my shoes – fairly often.

Baking: it was inconceivable that we would ever buy biscuits or cakes, though that was more to do with our preference for good food.  Shop cakes and biscuits were pretty dire in those days.  Some of my earliest memories involve cake mixing – always by hand, never with a fork or spoon – with the delicious pay-back at the end of ‘licking the bowl out’.  Why do we ever cook cakes?  That raw mixture clinging to the sides of the bowl is so much more appetising.

Saving anything that might have a future use:

  • That includes string – to be carefully unknotted, wound tightly and stored.
  • Gift wrapping paper: presents had to be carefully unwrapped, and the paper it came in smoothed out and ironed later.  I still do this.  It drives my daughter mad.
  • Saving tiny portions of food left over from a meal.  I still do this too.  My son-in-law used to say that it was so I could have a clear out a few days later and throw the stuff out then.  He might have had a point.  Except that …..

The soup pot: usually those left overs formed the basis of a soup.  Now, as then, there’s usually soup on the go in this house.  Usually it’s based on those vegetables lurking in the crisper that really need to be used up, or something else that’s too small to make a meal in its own right. Normally known as ‘old boot soup’.

Though I’m no longer as thrifty as my upbringing demanded, ‘make do and mend’ is a core part of me still.  As I think it should be.

Introducing Henery Rosse … er, Rousse … er, Rewse … er, Rouse.

The beginning of our family ... for the time being.
The beginning of our family … for the time being.

Henery Rosse is my ninth great-grandfather on the Barton side.  He was born in 1579, and he married my ninth great-grandmother Jane Hargrave in Stratford St. Mary, Suffolk, in 1592.  Here’s a picture of the lovely parish church where the marriage took place.

Stratford St. Mary Parish Church (
Stratford St. Mary Parish Church (

The original wooden church is mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, but the building where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were wed was constructed in the 12th Century, improved and extended in the 15th, and is substantially the  same now as it was then.  It makes my head zing to think that I could so easily stand before the altar in this building and see pretty much what they saw, more than four centuries ago.

I guess they were illiterate.  This would explain why each generation of this family in the 16th and 17th centuries, and even siblings from the same generation had their names spelt in so many ways.  Rosse, Rousse, Rewse, Rouse.

Just in case you don't know where it is - here's Suffolk.
Just in case you don’t know where it is – here’s Suffolk.

When I finally get to Suffolk, I hope to uncover a little more about this branch of the family.  For generations and generations, the Barton antecedents lived in Suffolk, mainly in Layham, but also in Polestead and Stratford.  Once the census kicked in, in 1840, disclosing family occupation, it’s clear that the men were, without exception, agricultural labourers.  It was probably always so.  I also know that Henery’s grandson John died a pauper.  In the main though, as far as I know, they had fairly decent life-spans.  Pauper John died when he was 78

The communities my ancestors called home.
The communities my ancestors called home.

Next year, we plan a Suffolk holiday.  I plan to besiege the churches where family members were baptised, married and buried, and take up temporary residence at Suffolk Record Office, in Ipswich, where many church records are now stored, to find out as much as I can.  I’m impressed by how much has been available to me through Ancestry.  How much more involving to see the actual records of my ancestors’ significant life events.

By the way, something exiting has recently happened.  My grandfather’s brother’s great-granddaughter (that’s second cousin once removed, apparently) recently got in touch via Ancestry.  She had quite a lot to tell me about my grandfather, and had records I hadn’t seen.  We plan to keep in touch and share information.  So glad she made contact.

This is how family relationships work, apparently.
This is how family relationships work, apparently.