Jessica's early years in Clitheroe...
In 1901 Clitheroe's population was 11,414. Its major industry was cotton, but there were lime and cement works and a paper mill. In 1905 the public library opened. Today Clitheroe is a pleasant urban interlude in the Ribble Valley catering to tourists and daytrippers and providing sought after dormitory accommodation for workers in Blackburn, Burnley and beyond. Two hundred years ago it was a blacker, grimmer place, gas-lit and begrimed with the smoke from factory and domestic chimneys.
Jessica was born in the front bedroom above the grocer's shop. The room had a frieze of blue and gold swallows. It would be a murky November night, cold without and not much cheer to welcome a new baby into the world. Probably they'd lit a fire in the bedroom.
John's shop was an old fashioned grocer's such as does not exist today. Most things would be on sale and most things would have been loose in bins and storage jars ready to be weighed out on the brass scales. There would have been oil and honey and molasses, dry goods such as sugar and flour, tin-boxes of biscuits that would be weighed and sold in paper bags, jars of boiled sweets and sticks of candy. There would have been tins piled up and items of hardware hanging from the ceiling. There would have been donkey stones for the front steps, black lead for the ranges, and big blocks of soap for washing day. A fascinating place for a young girl, but hard work for her parents. Shop hours were long, often they would not close till 11 at night and would be open again by 7 or 8 the next day. Competition was fierce. It was not unknown for a shopkeeper to send a child round to make sure other shops were not still open, before deciding to close.
In 1910 when Jessica was 4, John's business folded and he went to work at Barrow Print Works. The family moved to Brennand St. Jessica started in the infants department of the Council School shortly afterwards. She was terrified of the headmistress whom she later described as being a "tight-corseted, high bone-collared old maid". She had to be bribed to go to school by the promise of sweets. At the age of 7 she graduated to the senior department, where she met Nell, who was to be a life-long friend. This was also the year that the First World War broke out.
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