Monday, 19 September 2011

An Autumn Embrace

The days seem just that little less warm and there's a reminder that the seasons are about to change! It was nearly a year ago that we did a couple of trips north of London and were mesmerised by the beautiful Autumn colours along the motorway. The thought that came to mind was that God's Autumn designer fashion range was now being paraded along the motorways of England's countryside. Entry is free! All are welcome!

However, this is also a time for change as I move away from bustling London and into village life, so the London house is cluttered with boxes, papers, bags and other bits and bobs. While sorting and packing, I found a story I'd written a few months ago, drawing on the occupation and residence of an ancestor, and since it has a hint of Autumn in it, thought I'd share it here!

An Autumn Embrace

     “Mrs H!” In the manner of the times William Holesgrove called out to his wife.  Their rambling Chelsea home had often been a curse in trying to find a family member, but the strong, gentle shoemaker had a voice which resonated among the oak timbers.  The sweet aroma of fresh bread, fruit puddings and a venison stew were very attractive to William’s nose as he strode into the warm, homely kitchen.

“Welcome home Mr H.” said Sarah, “The kettle is on the fire and we can sit and have a cup of tea while the dinner finishes cooking. What tales of Burlington do you have for me today?”

William made himself comfortable at the table and helped himself to a crunchy apple which had been earmarked for tomorrow’s apple pie!

“No fancy news today my dear; Miss Asser had a busy morning.” William offered this piece of information knowing his wife was actually asking if Miss Asser had been delivered of her baby yet.

“Sarah, I’m going to speak to Mr Crew tomorrow. He will assist me in ensuring that you and the children will have all you need when the time comes for me to go.” William spoke lovingly to his wife; she was his world, he respected her and cherished her.

“Thank you William, I’m sure he will advise you well.” It was obvious in exchanged looks, how devoted they each were to the other.

William was entering his seventy second year. Over the last few months he had recognised that it took him just a little longer to walk the short half mile to the Arcade each day. He’d acknowledged that it took a little more time to craft a pair of exquisite shoes for the ladies and gentlemen of Piccadilly. His son, also named William, assisted him in the workshop and was charming to each customer he attended.  William was proud to know he could leave the thriving, reputable business in his son’s capable hands.

The Last Will & Testament was properly drawn up. Thomas Crew, the Solicitor, ensured that all William’s assets would go to his family and not be ‘available’ to any fortune hunter or be handed over for an unwise spouse’s  misfortunate debts. He left the shoe-making business in equal shares to his son and his daughter Elizabeth - “as a precaution” Thomas had said.

Wise words, for just short of two winters later, young William’s life was tragically taken in a freak accident at the Thames dock side.

William aged even more with the pain of losing a son. His health deteriorated, his face carried deep and long sadness. Sarah in her own grief continued to tempt her beloved husband with food to build up his strength and health, but it all became too much for William and his heart died within the year, leaving his wife grieving both a son and husband.

Elizabeth, with a husband and family of her own, had no choice but to sell the Holesgrove Shoe & Bootmakers’ business to a neighbouring Arcade shoemaker. Mr Beyer bought the equipment and the Goodwill of the business and promised Elizabeth he would honour her father’s name and reputation as an honest and skilful master shoemaker.

It was Autumn 1854. Sarah had planned this day for the last few weeks. It was time to end her mourning and to publicly acknowledge her deep appreciation to her husband’s colleagues and for the assistance and love they had shown her since his passing.  She set aside the black dress with the black lace necktie, and held the dark grey woollen dress against her slim body before the looking glass.

Taking a deep breath, Sarah walked down the steps of the home she’d shared with a most wonderful man. The deep red shawl over her shoulders gave even more dignity and elegance to her walk as she made her way to the Arcade. She’d made this journey many times, usually with a hot pie and half a jug of ale for her husband’s lunch in her basket. Today she carried a delicate white handkerchief and a suitably autumnal parasol.

Mr Lord met her at the north entrance, doffed his top hat, and accompanied her to No. 66.  The worn workbench on which many shoes had been formed had been replaced and softened with woollen hose, kid-goat leather gloves and neatly folded white linen shirts. The proud sign of ‘Holesgrove Shoe & Bootmakers’ had been removed and ‘Charles Price Hosiers’ had taken its place. Sarah did not go into the shop. She nodded respectfully to Mr Price as he came to the door, then turned to walk back the way she’d come.

Mrs Durlin, the ladies shoemaker from the shop next door, quietly took over Mr Lord’s place beside Sarah and walked with her in silence to her front door. Sarah was aware of the sweet aroma of leather and dubbin and felt comforted by the familiarity. Before ascending the steps she turned to Jane Durlin, smiled, gently laid her lace-gloved hand on Jane’s working rough fingers and nodded her appreciation of the company.

Sarah stood before the looking glass William had bought her when they promised to love each other forever. “You were a wonderful man William Holesgrove. I will always love you!”

        She smiled at the reflection as she felt William’s presence embrace her in the empty home.

Building a story around an ancestor makes them more real! The details of this story may hold no truth, but the Burlington Arcade in Picadilly, London, the names of the neighbouring shop owners and the Beadle Mr Lord, were real people during the time 4x Great Grandfather William Holesgrove had his shoe shop there in the middle of the 19th century.

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