Saturday, 23 January 2016

Remembering

The University of Glasgow in 1650 - founded in 1451
University of Glasgow today showing the main building designed by the eminent Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott
Scotland became our home when H was offered a research scholarship at the University of Glasgow. We were able to live on my salary whilst his research grant remained untouched and went towards savings for our first home. Times change? it would be impossible for a young couple to do that today.
We shared a flat with Mrs Wren whom we found via a 'rooms to let' notice board in the foyer of Glasgow's St.Enoch's Railway Station. A dignified lady in her mid eighties, very active and smart; her disciplined way of life had a positive influence on us. Although we were young and she was old we all got on surprisingly well. 
Mrs Wren, Jean, was the daughter of an Irish/Glaswegian labourer, one of 9 or 10 children, she was born the beauty of the bunch. As a young girl she was very aware of this, with her flaxen blond hair and tall slim figure. Many were those who wished to court her, but eventually "Mr.Right" came along. He was a very wealthy Glasgow Ship owner, a colleague of Burrell, whose collection of antiques and artworks are now housed in their own gallery in Glasgow - internationally known as "The Burrell Collection". When they married Jean's husband bought a huge house in Langbank by the River Clyde. In 1841 the Glasgow to Greenock railway line had opened and subsequently Langbank became an area where many fine houses were built. The house they owned had a tower, a flag pole atop and even had its own ballroom. 
In the 1930s she had travelled on exotic cruises and still had the wonderful dresses from that era which she would show me. 
She was indulged by her husband who obviously adored her, and showered her with specially commissioned jewels and accessories from the leading Glaswegian designers of the day. When H was away she would get out her boxes of treasures and explore them with me recounting tales and adventures from her past.
However, the 'Good Life' that she had known and shared with her husband came to an abrupt halt when he unexpectedly died, leaving her at the tender age of 40 with a daughter to finish raising. When we first met her she had been living on independent means for 45 years and that was one of the reasons why she was happy to take us into her large Glasgow apartment to help share the expenses.
Every Friday morning she would knock on our door and hand us a big plate full of her baking which she had made hours before we were even awake. She took a huge pride in her baking and the selection she gave us would vary from week to week. Sometimes scones - fruit, cheese, treacle or plain, fruit pies and cakes. At other times shortbread, scotch pancakes, 'tattie' cakes also known as Irish potato farls - it makes my mouth water just thinking about them.
On Saturday mornings, another knock, and she would hand us a big pot of her homemade wholesome Scotch Broth or Ham and Lentil Soup. It was quite a shock and a rude awakening to me when we eventually moved into our own home, and there was no one knocking on the door handing in plates of delicious food anymore.
Sometimes her sister Agnes would come and stay, she had lived a hard life much different to that of her sister. Agnes spoke with a gruff (from smoking) broad Glaswegian accent, and Jean with a much more refined one known locally as "Kelvinside" - Kelvinside being an affluent area of the city. It was very amusing for us to hear the sisters talking to one another, each with a completely different accent and tone to their voice. 
They would go off to the 'Kirk' on a Sunday morning, Agnes in her plant pot hat and rough tweed coat, and Jean in her classic black coat, large black fedora hat elegantly covering her finger waved white hair, and red silk scarf at her neck.
 via
Marcel/Finger Wave hairstyle
They would return home with scandalous Scottish Sunday broadsheet newspapers, and sit in front of the kitchen fire exclaiming to one another about how awful everything they read was. I wonder whatever they would think of the world news today? 
Jean on her 100th birthday - celebrating with a glass of champagne wearing a paper party hat. She lived until she was 105 years old. Sadly this is the only picture I have of her from a newspaper clipping which was sent to me by a friend many years after we had moved away from Scotland. 
We lived with Jean for 3 years, but finally built a bungalow in the countryside several miles outside Glasgow on the way towards Loch Lomand. It was a further eighteen months before H finished his research and eventually graduated from the university by which time our first son had been born.

65 comments:

  1. I enjoy such reminisces. How different it is for young people starting out today. I don't know if our children will ever buy houses, as Vancouver and Victoria have some of the highest housing costs in the country.
    The story of your neighbour is lovely. I looked at her photo and couldn't help but notice how pretty her 100 year old hands and nails are. A lady from another era!

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    1. It is exactly the same for young people here, houses are far too expensive for them to buy, and they leave university with huge debts too. I should imagine that they will have a different attitude towards home ownership.
      Mrs Wren was actually our landlady, but as time past, even though the age difference was huge, we considered her a friend. She was the first person to see our new son when we left the hospital.

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  2. Wow, what an interesting sounding lady. It's hard getting into the property market. My husband was drafted into the Army when we were first married and we were so poor! We had $163 a month to live on. My wonderful Mother-in-law use to send us care packages to keep us going. We didn't finish college until we were in our 40's.

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    1. It has always been difficult establishing yourself when young and we fortunate to stay with Mrs. Wren from whom we learnt so much.

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  3. Jean does look elegant and regal, even at her 100th! What an interesting recollection you have shared with us, and you bring back memories too. We also lived on my salary and saved HBs in order to build our first home. So much more difficult today, our son in Sydney could never purchase a home in the current market, even with two good salaries coming in (not without a 4-5 hour commute each day!). The University of Glasgow looks stunning; it must be a beautiful city architecturally.

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    1. Dear Patricia - I had no idea that the housing market was so difficult in Australia too, and Pondside mentions that it is the same in Canada as well.
      I can't imagine anyway in which the situation can be resolved for them.

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  4. A wonderful post! It was great to hear about the early years of your marriage and your lovely landlady. Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. When we travelled to Scotland it seemed very remote from our own homes to us, the roads were poor and the journey felt as if it would never end.

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  5. What a wonderful story and I am sure rich memory for you. Thank you for sharing it. I really enjoyed it.

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    1. Thank you Catherine - I am pleased that you enjoyed it. Writing it rekindled my memories of a fine lady.

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  6. A wonderful story! Many people live very interesting lives and Jean must have been a lovely landlady. My mouth watered too, when I read about the food that accompanied the knock on the door.

    Ms Soup

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    1. She was a very disciplined lady, always up early, everything spick and span, and would never leave the house unless she looked smart.

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  7. Loved the story and was interested in learning you have lived in Glasgow. My niece just graduated from the university there, had now idea it was that old. From all I read and heard over the past several years, she had an awesome time whilst there - her home had been the south of France since she was 12, Scotland is much different. Fortunately she's a skier and didn't mind the cold winters! She's now started her first job with Airbus in Bristol.
    How lovely for you and your husband to have had such a special landlady - and that she lived to 105 is amazing. I loved the lace collar on her 100th birthday party dress - and she was a real trooper to wear a paper hat and enjoy a glass of bubbly! I hope I grow up to be like her, LOL!

    Thanks for sharing your lovely memories Rosemary.
    Hugs - Mary

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    1. Glasgow is the 4th oldest university in the English speaking world - Oxford being first followed by Cambridge and then St. Andrews.
      It is interesting that your neice is in Bristol as that is where my eldest granddaughter has gone to live following her graduation. The young people seem to like Bristol but it is very expensive to buy a property there and not much different from London.
      I enjoyed writing this and remembering her Mary, and it made me realise what, as you mention, a trooper she was.

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  8. Thank you for reminiscing. What an interesting lady Jean was. Things are much the same here in New Zealand as in the U.K. for young people these days with huge debts when they finish at university.

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    1. I find it very confusing as to how this is all going to be resolved. I feel for our youngsters - how can they raise families and lead the sort of life that we have enjoyed.

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  9. Wonderful memories there Rosemary and lovely of you to share them.
    We certainly can't do the things we used to do in the past. We did similar to you.

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    1. Thanks Margaret - life is tough on the young today.

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  10. Such an impressive woman! And she looks very keen on this photo (I read once, that 'curiosity' (in the good meaning - being interested in life) is one important characteristic of centenarians.
    I loved Glasgow when I visited for a day.

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed your day in Glasgow - it felt quite remote when we went to live there so many years ago, but it was a vibrant and lively place to live.
      Although the photo is just a newspaper photo I think that she looks very smart for someone celebrating their 100th birthday. She would never leave the house without being well dressed, used to get up very early and get all of her chores done before breakfast - baking, wash her hair, make the fire etc. she led a self disciplined life.

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  11. What a nice story about your Glasgow stay, she must have been a wonderful woman to live with.
    We once went, some time ago, with our little children on holiday to Lanark. We visited Glasgow too to see the Randy Macintosh artschool and had tea in a tearoom sitting on the Macintosh chairs, which were not so comfortable. :)

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    1. Yes, you are right about the Mackintosh chairs, they were uncomfortable. Did you know that the Art School suffered a terrible fire last year?

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    2. Yes, I remember, such a sad story and seeing the photos was terrible.

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  12. Enjoyed very much reading this wonderful story. Jean even looked impressive on her 100th birthday. You definitely will continue to cherish the beautiful memories to your time in Glasgow together with your husband. Nowadays it's indeed completely different and more difficult to build up a comfortable life.

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    1. As a result of this post Janneke I have discovered that it is much the same for all of our young people around the globe.

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  13. Hello Rosemary, You were lucky to get to know Mrs. Wren, who seems to have taken full advantage of her long life, and had the standards and inner resources to pass through all vicissitudes. What stories she must have had, and what changes she saw come to pass in the larger world, as well as her own.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - I recall that the very large apartment was filled with huge antique furniture, paintings, silver and wonderful china. From time to time some pieces would disappear, and I now realise that she was selling them off in order to manage.

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  14. what fascinating story, and so lovely you have happy memories of Jean xxx

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    1. It was a pleasure for me to remember her Lyn

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  15. Thanks for sharing this interesting segment of your life, getting to know Mrs Wren and becoming friends. An exceptional lady!
    I think Glasgow is a beautiful city, after visiting in 2013.

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    1. I do recall that you went to Glasgow Betty - you are quite a traveller.

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  16. Dear Rosemary, Like Pondside, the first thing I noticed in Ms Jean's 100th birthday photo were her elegant hands. Her story made me wonder why her husband, who adored her and spoiled her, left her with so little.
    You are a wonderful story teller. I didn't want the story to end. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Dear Gina - Before she was widowed her husband had mistakenly opted out of National Insurance because he was so wealthy and I don't expect that he imagined that she would go without. He left her with property, money and possessions and she did live on private means comfortably for most of her widowed life which amounted to 65 years. I don't suppose that either of them would ever have thought that she would live to be 105 - life expectancy was so much lower then, and inflation was unheard of.
      She used to tell me that all of her generation were gone, and even the generation that came after her including her daughter and son-in-law and their friends too.

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  17. Wonderful memories! Mrs Wren sounds positively delightful, and what a baker! Real estate is very expensive here in Andover, MA. We too are concerned for the next generation's ability to buy a home.

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    1. This post has opened my eyes to the problems of housing and how it is in fact an issue worldwide. We were able to help our sons get on the housing ladder, but it is our five grandchildren that we are concerned about now.

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  18. Charming story! She certainly married well, didn't she? Like the old saying goes, "it's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as with a poor one."

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    1. Coming from her humble background it must have been a big change in her life, but I don't think that she had any problems at all adapting.

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  19. Wonderful memories. How lucky the winds of fate brought you to Jean Wren's door.

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    1. Yes, we really were the fotunate ones to see her little advertisment in the station forecourt.

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  20. What wonderful memories of a wonderful lady!! She sounds like a very interesting and quite amazing person! xx

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    1. She kept herself trim and fit throughout her life and was only looked after at the very end of her days.

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  21. Dearest Rosemary ,it is so lovely that you have these memories from this kind lady .I think that she had many stories of her life to talk about . It was a pleasant experience for you to have so interesting owner. Have a nice week .

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    1. Lovely to hear from you Olympia and I do hope all is well with you. We were very fortunate, as a young couple, to be able to live with her in such lovely Glasgow apartment.

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  22. What a lovely story Rosemary, really enjoyed reading about this charismatic lady. Judging from the photos she was a true beauty and a very generous woman too .

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    1. Even when she was 100 she still had a good structure to her face. Many people as they age tend to loose the shape of their face and also their features. She was also very upright with her head held high - no feebleness for her.

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  23. What a great story. I could have done with a Mrs Wren when I was starting out. She sell looked good at a 100, didn't she.

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    1. Yes, I think that she looks better than many younger than her with her lace collar, earrings and bracelet, and as several others have noticed her nice manicured hands and nails.

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  24. This is such a delightful reminiscence, Rosemary, and a real Cinderella romance. There are remnants of great beauty in Jean's 100 year-old face. I'm very glad you have given us such an interesting glimpse of her long and eventful life.

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    1. I am pleased that you found it interesting Perpetua - it was nice to me to think about her and remember times past.

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  25. A lovely story thanks for sharing.
    I sometimes think the young want so many other expensive items of modern life before a house.

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    1. Thanks Brian - I wonder if some of the young are like that because they have no hope of ever being house owners?

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  26. What wonderful memories of your time in Glasgow, Jean sounds a remarkable woman, she doesn't look 100 years old in that picture! Sarah x

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    1. I wish that I had a better photo of her Sarah other than that newspaper cutting, but back then we didn't snap everything around us. I would be very choosy what I shot with my 36 pictures per film.

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  27. Hello Rosemary
    I loved reading about this part of your life. How fortunate you were to get to meet and know Mrs. Wren. What a lady. It seems like she handled all that life dished out to her in a ladylike and honourable and generous fashion. Hw blessed you were to have known Mrs. Wren. How interesting it must have been to witness her friendship with her sister and how their lives differed.
    Thanks Rosemary for a great story. Are you celebrating Robbie Burns day>
    Helen xx

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    1. Thank you Helen - we are not celebrating Burns Night here, but my eldest son, now living in Paris, and born in Glasgow usually does. In fact when I visited them at Christmas I took them over a haggis.
      We were fortunate to stay with Mrs. Wren, she had a big influence on us at the beginning of our married life.

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  28. What an absolutely wonderful story about jean and that last photo of her is so precious. I am quite sure she loved retelling the days of old and even offering up her baked goodness. I can well imagine too, Rosemary, that you all got along so well together. I have a dear friend, Bettie, who is 79 years old, very spritely and active for her age and she inspires me no end. I love to hear her stories. My mother too lived SUCH a glamourous life, that no one would ever believe it looking at her now. She in fact lived on every continent on Earth but Antartica!

    Anyway, what a time that must have been for you. good memories and how true too that these days that would never be afforded, unfortunately. And, actually, yes, I've read of The Burrell Collection!! wow.

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    1. Throughout my life I seem to have had several goods friends who are substantially older than me, may be that is why I feel much younger than I actually am!
      I would love to hear more about your mother, her life sounds really interesting.

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    2. I love to tell stories about her as there are so many incredible ones, some good some not so good (like the first man who proposed to her and she rejected, shot himself. he was from a well known family back in England, an Earl or something, and the suicide was written about in all the english speaking papers of the world back then in the 50's. He killed himself at the Raffles hotel in Malaya when she was living there.

      Teh thing is with my mother, while i love to tell the stories, she is not fond of them being put in print and being such an incredible writer herself, I wish she had done that but she says no one woudl believe half of them but they are all very very true as I can back them up with other eye witness accounts and people who were in her life at variosu times....like how she worked MI6! :)

      So, funny how after writing this I wrote of Bettie, mentioned above. She reminds me of my mother in a way-- unique. My mother was very big hearted but also had her heart broken too many times. She is old now (85) and rather has dementia with very poor health which she struggled with most of her life. Being that she is in UK, I am NOT ready at all for her to go as I've spent not nearly enough time with her when she was healthier and such. Regrets...

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    3. Your mother's life sounds as if there is a book to be told at some stage. It must be difficult when you are so far away, but I do hope that she is being kindly cared for. Old age can be very difficult, none of us know from day to day just what awaits us around the corner.

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  29. A really canny woman by the sound of things. She certainly made the most of her assets and who can blame her? How wonderful to have been shown her treasures - they must have brought back such special memories for her.

    I can totally understand her baking things to share, as I do that too.

    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. When I lived in Scotland and then moved to Northumberland I discovered that canny has a completely different meaning in the two areas.
      I think you are right about the cakes - she loved to bake.

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  30. Oh I adored this Rosemary. Sounds like Mrs. Wren had a wonderful lifelong life..and I will bet she liked having you and Mr. H to bake for.

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    1. That is kind of you Janey and I am so pleased that you enjoyed reading it. Mrs. Wren spoilt us, and as I mentioned we missed all the the little treats she made for us when we moved.

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  31. What a delightful post!
    Thank you Rosemary!

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