Helen Clark, of Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical and Archaeological Society, tells the story of life-long Borrowash resident Joan Millband – the latest person to commit their memories to the group’s ongoing Unexamined Lives project.
JOAN Millband has lived in Borrowash all her life but is not planning on being buried there. This is despite the fact that she is no stranger to cemeteries; a graveyard visit was as integral to her childhood as a trip to the sweet shop.
These visits did, however, have some plus points. She said: “I like to read headstones. You can learn a lot from headstones, can’t you?”
But on balance, Joan could have done without the regular pilgrimages to Nottingham Road Cemetery.
“I used to have to go up winter, summer, rain and snow, with my Gran and my Auntie Annie Boothwaite and take these damn flowers,” Joan remembered.
“I used to have to go and get the water and take it back.”
Any flowers left over after family graves had been decorated would be placed on the grave of an unknown boy.
Joan explained: “The ground wasn’t consecrated where he was. The Boys’ Brigade or someone from the chapel made a wooden cross for it and there was a jam jar.
“I used to go and put my little bits and pieces in it. It was just a mound of earth.
“I can’t be 100% certain, but I think they found him on the railway line.”
In those days, to a young girl, funerals were also memorable occasions.
“I went into the old part of the cemetery as well,” Joan said.
“I think the last person to be buried there was Old Lady Smith, who used to go into the Forester’s pub with my Gran.
“It could have been 1950. She was the mother of Frank Smith, the parish clerk.
“I can remember walking down behind the coffin. I was being nosey. I was a kid who just tagged along.”
Many years later, holidaying in Fritton, near Great Yarmouth,corr with husband Brian, the local cemetery was an essential port of call.
Joan said: “When we went on holiday, I always used to go round the cemetery. Mind you, I did get a fright one day! We went to Fritton – it’s way out in the country in East Anglia.
“We walked round the graveyard, tried the door to the church and it was open so we went in.
“They’d fetched the plaster off the walls and, behind the door, were drawings and pictures and it looked like they were going to do them up.
“Brian opened a door and it went ‘eek’ and on the other side was a coffin! It was empty, mind you.
“It was a relief to step back into the graveyard and measure its upkeep against the less-than-exacting standard of the burial ground in Borrowash.
“I think if the hedges had been cut it would have been better, but it wasn’t and there was all weeds growing up.
“If you’ve got to go, you might as well go where it’s nice.”
In Joan’s own case, weeds or a lack of them will be purely academic. She has decided to donate her body to the University of Nottingham School for Biomedical Science.
It will cost £90 instead of £3,000 for a funeral and she will be collected from home in a van, two or three days after her death.
Joan’s great-grandfather, James was born in 1856, in Duddleston, near Birmingham, the son of William Bailey and Anne Glaves.
William was a jobbing basket maker and we know that Anne was illiterate because she made a mark on her son’s birth certificate in place of a signature.
Railway plant-layer James married Elizabeth, of Breaston, and they became parents to nine children born in Reader Street, Spondon, and, Annie, who made her entrance in Ockbrook.
Joan recalls some of the brothers and sisters – Aunt Randa, Aunt Bertha, Aunt Annie and Uncle John but not Uncle Edward.
Another son, William, was a casualty of the First World War and appears to have been erased from family memory thereafter.
Joan stumbled upon William’s existence purely by chance after the death of her own father in 1987.
One snippet had surfaced years earlier, when she prevented her grandmother from discarding a small condolence card edged in black and inscribed with the words: “In loving memory of Private W Bailey”.
As she sorted out her father’s possessions after his death, Joan discovered a commemorative medal belonging to Private W Bailey 4072, 7th Lancers.
William Bailey had joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on his enlistment, but the battalion suffered heavy casualties and, by the time of his death in April 1918, the troop had amalgamated with the Lancers.
The fact that relatives could fail to preserve the memory of someone who was killed in action seems unusual but reserve was a family characteristic, epitomised by Joan’s grandmother, Adela.
Joan explained: “You know, she was a character in her own right – she wouldn’t have anybody in the house. Mrs Dakin used to go in and that was about it. She would say, ‘People only come in your house to look and see what you’ve got and go and talk about it’.”
Years later, during the Second World War, the pattern would repeat itself.
“My mum’s sister’s husband got burned in a tank so he was very scarred, but we didn’t have anything to do with them. They lived in Chaddesden,” said Joan.
“My Dad and Uncle Charlie were working on aero parts at Rolls-Royce. Uncle Charlie was on the test beds. Dad never talked about it, my Uncle Charlie never talked about it.
“The only thing I know is that, when Royce’s was bombed, my Dad had come home from nights and my Uncle Charlie was still there.
“Dad went back to see if he was all right. He’d dived under a steel table.”
Joan’s mother, Annie Pye, was the daughter of Arthur Proctor Pye and Susan Goodhead.
Susan died when her granddaughter was about 18 months old and Joan has no memories of her at all.
Arthur was a French polisher; a skilled craftsman who specialised in creating a very high gloss finish on figured wood.
He was employed by Porter’s furniture shop in Derby and, after the death of his wife, moved in with Annie and her family at 19 at their home in Victoria Avenue, Borrowash.
It was a two-up, two-down private rental with a “hut, plus sink” in the outside yard deputising for a kitchen and an outside toilet.
The toilet, a primitive contraption with a chain and a box and tap, doubled up as a fish tank. Joan explained: “My mum’s dad lived with us and he used to go fishing. He always brought the fish home in water. He used to put them in the cistern of the loo.
“You’d go to the loo to spend a penny and what would happen? You’d get splashed. They were in a bucket – live silver-coloured ones – and then in the toilet cistern.”
Cramped living conditions must have added to family tensions but impromptu excursions were not always successful.
“Grandad said to Mum, ‘I’ll take her out’, and he took me to the greyhound racing up Friar Gate,” remembered Joan.
“Mum says when we got back, ‘Where have you been?’ and I said, ‘Oh, we’ve been to the dogs!’
“You had to scrape Mother off the ceiling. And Grandad!
“Well, he should have warned me not to say anything, shouldn’t he?”
The trip made an impression on Joan, because the outward journey was by rail.
She said: “We went on the train from Borrowash. It was the first time I’d been on a train so it would have been a fun ride for me.
“The porter on the train was also called Joan and she came from Newbold Avenue. But we didn’t come back on the train. Grandad lost his money so we had to walk.”
After seven years, prompted by a family quarrel, Arthur left Annie’s household, never to return.
Joan and her parents heard nothing – until Annie found out, by chance, by reading an obituary in the local paper that he had died .
This caused a permanent family rift and Joan says she has not seen some members of her family for 50 years.
Joan can remember her father’s mother very well.
Adela Bailey, “a tough old bird”, was born in 1888 and went into service in Nottingham.
Joan said: “She told me they had to live at the top of the house and, in the morning, you had to get down and make the fires and everything before everybody else got up. It was a house on Long Row.
“I never went, but I know where Long Row was – those great big Victorian houses with bay windows.”
Adela’s future husband, Thomas Cooper, came from Ticknall.
Joan said: “My Dad used to tell me that, on a Sunday, when it was a nice day, they used to get a pony and trap and go to Ticknall in it. You couldn’t do that today.”
Thomas worked in the Acid Department at British Celanese and would come home smelling “something awful”.
He supplemented his income by helping out with the cattle on a Harrington estate farm and, according to Adela, once walked a bull from Elvaston to Derby Market, leading it on a pole with a ring through its nose.
For a while, Adela, Thomas and their young sons, Robert and Charlie, lived in a rented cottage on the Harrington estate.
Joan’s father, Robert, recalled opening the gate for the elderly earl who rewarded him with a silver coin.
“He earned more opening that gate in a week than Grandad did in wages,” said Joan.
Adela bestrode the stage as a colourful presence in Joan’s childhood.
During wartime, she refused to observe the recommended home safety procedures.
“You used to have these black curtain things up. Planes came up and over and the sirens used to go,” said Joan.
“ I remember the first time I was with my Gran and the sirens went.
“Josephine from next door and her dad came round and they went down the pantry. It went down one step, then three more.
“This was in Kimberley Road and, eventually, Gran says, ‘I’m not going to do this. If they’re going to kill me, they’ll kill me in my bed! So, we never did it after that.
“We just watched the planes come over. She’d have the curtains open so you could see them.”
After the war, Adela settled into a comfortable social routine – with Joan as a regular companion.
“I used to go in the Forester’s and in the Jug and Bottle with my Grandma, because she went in every night and sometimes with Old Lady Smith,” said Joan.
“In the Forester’s, Mr Francis had a tiny pot hanging on the door jamb.
“He’d fill it and give it me and, when I drank the first one, I used to say ‘More please’. It was when I was between five and ten.”
Joan remembers Adela as unsentimental and practical – qualities that certainly came to the fore when her husband, Joan’s grandfather, died in sudden and tragic circumstances.
Joan said: “Dad and Uncle Charlie were waiting at the bus stop outside Burrow’s fish and chip shop in Victoria Avenue.
“They were waiting to catch a bus to go to work at Spondon Power Station.
“Grandad was walking to James’s paper shop and he saw them and yelled out ‘Idle buggers!’
“He didn’t see the bus. It was a foggy morning and it hit him. He collapsed from shock.”
Thomas was taken to hospital and died shortly afterwards.
Adela, unable to go to the funeral because she suffered from bad legs, was upset in her own way but found a way of coping through her mordant sense of humour.
Joan said: “We all went to the crematorium and when we came back she’d got a few sandwiches and things.
“I sat on the sideboard. I always had to sit on the drawer. I had to pull it out and sit on it, because that was my place at the table.
“So, I’m sitting here and she’s sitting there, which was her place, and she starts to tell us all funny things and make us laugh.
“She told us about the man she once went to lay out. She put her hand on his tummy and the dead man made a noise and the man who was with her shot off and left her!”
Because Joan’s grandfather had died in unusual circumstances, an inquest was held and there was a certain amount of interest among the local media.
It must have been distressing but Adela retained her quizzical perspective.
Joan said: “The accident was in the paper. The chap who came to interview Gran was made up – eye shadow on and all! And when he’d gone, Gran looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know why we talked to him, do you?’”
Joan’s childhood in Borrowash was populated with some of the village’s local characters, including Mrs Dawson, Mrs Jackson (“she didn’t like me because I cheeked her”) and Old Man Bradbury (“he used to keep his horse in a field where those houses were built”).
Dr Smith, the local doctor, lived in a very nice house and had a pond outside with goldfish in. He ran his practice from his home.
Joan recalled: “I had to go for my injection; I don’t know what for – measles or something. He had ornaments on his mantelpiece in the surgery and there was a gas fire.
“He had a little gas ring that he put a saucepan of water on and put the needle in it.
“He said, when he was going to stick the needle in, if I watched those ornaments that he had got – cows and horses and sheep – those that were standing up would sit down or lie down and the ones that were lying down would stand up. And do you know, they didn’t!
“It was a good distraction technique, although I never forgave him for that.”
Helen continues with Joan’s story next week.
Thanks to Alice Beilby for the transcription and Paul Hart and Anthony Heron for the original interviews.