What’s Gone Before

A surprise trip to my Grandpa’s childhood home this weekend triggered lots of thoughts about the importance of what’s gone before, and made me reflect on how learning about the past is such an enriching process.

As fate would have it, it turned out that the place my Mum had booked for us to spend our bank holiday weekend was only five minutes down the road from where my Grandpa (my Dad’s Dad) grew up in Lancashire. She didn’t realise this at the time of booking which made the experience even more wonderful.

We set off to find the house and were driving up the country lane when suddenly my Mum shouted: “That’s it! I recognise the door!”.

Number 85. There it was – a stone bricked house, sturdy in the face of the harsh Lancashire weather, with the very same front door as when my Pa was a little boy. Sitting in the same spot, surrounded by farms, other little cottages and Lancashire’s rolling dales. 

My Grandpa’s childhood home – the view from his back garden

A gentleman was unpacking some things out of his car and carrying them through the front door so we asked if we could take some pictures. We told him that this was my Grandpa’s childhood home. He said we could go through to the back garden if we liked and have a look around.

We found the house from my Mum’s memory of when my Dad had shown her it many years before. And so there we were, in my Pa’s garden looking at the same fields he would have looked at and worked on as a farmer’s boy. Stood on the same ground he would have played on with his siblings and looking at the same front door him and his whole family would have come in and out of many years before in the 1940’s and 50’s.

This experience was fascinating. Had that gentleman who now owned the house contemplated how many had gone before? How many other owners had trodden through that front door? How much heritage, memories and experiences have been formed right there?

It fascinates me.The way in which buildings and structures are rife with memories and by simply being near them or within them you are connected to all that has gone before.

Losing my Dad at 26 lit something inside of me. It is only when he wasn’t around any more I realised there was so much to still know about him, his family, everything that had formed him, his parents and those before them.

By asking and asking I learned so much about him and those gone before and it really allowed me to paint a picture of his life more vividly, as well as those that raised him. As a result it helped me fill gaps of knowledge I had about myself too. Only by learning about, and from, those older than me was I able to really expand my knowledge, wisdom and find out more about my background. 

It isn’t just my own history and that of my family’s history that fascinates me. 

I’ve always been really curious and have found historical houses and estates particularly enthralling from a young age. I love to visit them; walk around the houses and grounds and learn about the residents. Then after a guided tour, or some time reading the plaques and literature around the place, I look out at the grounds and feel transported to a time when the carriages would have pulled up outside and the galloping feet of horses would have signalled new arrivals. I think of the way those who lived here dressed, spoke, felt. What they experienced and what they lived through. Wars, marriages, deaths, plagues, changes of religion, monarchy and politicians. 

The place we stayed this weekend, Salmesbury Hall, was built in 1325 and that fact alone is incredible. To think that structure has been standing for 696 years is awesome. These buildings are not just inanimate objects, to me they hold the lives, learnings and experiences of those who inhabited them, indeed those who designed and built them, and this is what brings them alive to me. 

Another way in which I am inspired by what has gone before is when I come across historical gems on my walks. One of my favourite places to walk is The Goyt Valley and one particular route I tread takes you up past the ruins of Erwood Hall. Built in the mid-1800s by the Grimshawe family from Manchester, the hall was occupied by members of the family until 1930. 

Further on past the hall the walk takes you up the ascent of Pym’s Chair and leads you to the spiritual gem that is St Joseph’s Shrine. It is a beautiful place to shelter from the elements and also a spiritual sanctuary and a place of worship. Within is a candle that is always lit; no one knows who by, but it is constantly aflame and flickering to welcome you.

St Joseph’s Shrine, The Goyt Valley

Upon further reading I learned that St Joseph, in Catholicism, is the patron saint of workers, fathers, travelers, unborn children, immigrants and dying a happy death. 

The shrine was originally a place the local community, including farmers, prayed and sought as a place of peace. As the local farming community diminished it became significant to the residents of Errwood Hall, and was particularly special for one member in particular. It is said that Dona Maria Dolores de Ybarguen, the companion to Lady Jessie Grimshawe after her husband Samuel died in 1883, declared the shrine as her favourite place. After she passed away her initials D de Y were ingraved into the shrine wall and now live on as a part of the structure. 

This beautiful structural legacy allows ramblers like me to learn about, remember and pay respects to those that are a part of the estate, and it is so special that Dona now lives on through that inscription available for all to read.

It is a part of my nature to visit somewhere, view something, hear a snippet of information and to question, to explore, to want to understand. And this is why history; that of my country, and that of other countries fascinates me – alongside the intrigue about my own social history. 

Those older and wiser have so much to share and I have learned so much by speaking with my elders about their lives. My granddad, my mum’s Dad, fought in the Second World War and was a part of the regiments in the town of Dunkirk, fighting off the German’s to enable the Allies time to flee in the boats from the beach. He was captured and lived as a prisoner of war in a labour camp for many years before eventually setting out on the Death March and surviving it. He later went on to meet my Nana and have my mum. 

I remember speaking to him about his experiences as a child, for a school project I was putting together, and him showing me his medals. It was like stepping back in history for me as a little girl. To look up as he sat in his armchair and learn about the Second World War from a survivor was special. 

I learned about wars and events at school from textbooks, yet I feel privileged that members of my own family were present at the time some of these huge events took place. It lessened the gap between story and reality for me, as a little girl, to see an old man sat in front of her telling tales of HIS life. So much more powerful than just reading a book which details what went on at that beach on that day. I spoke to the man who ran along the sand defending his country and know the price he paid for doing so. 

I’m fascinated by it all. How people lived their lives before me, what life was like for them and how it all beautifully,  magically, fatefully led to me sitting before them learning from their wisdom. 

I will always question and follow my curiosity because there are so many gems to be discovered by doing so.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and have a lovely day. 

Alison xxx

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