Women of Geddington: Charlotte Ager

My story is a little different to those that have gone before. My life was not one that made the news or had a great impact on events of the village. It was rather a life that reflected the poor conditions for many families in Geddington in the early twentieth century. However it was a life with humour, love and close bonds within a community where many were related to one another and knew each other well.

I was born in 1855 or ’56 and my parents were Robert and Elizabeth Slough, sometimes recorded as Slowe. I was the oldest of their children and by the time I was 15 there were 7 of us children. We lived in Queen Street during my early years in a cottage not far from The Royal Oak (now the Post Office) and my father was an agricultural labourer by trade. He could, however, read and write but sadly I never acquired those skills and had to manage regardless.

Children in Queen Street c.1910. The Royal Oak is in the background.

Despite my lack of literacy, by the time I was fifteen I had a responsible job as a nursemaid and brought some money into the family home. I wasn’t the only one; my brother was only 11, but had already left school and had followed our father as an agricultural labourer. There were a lot of mouths to feed!

I met and married Thomas Ager in 1877 and we set up home in a cottage of our own on Queen Street. It was lovely to marry in the village church, but I was sorry not to be able to sign my name in the register alongside that of my new husband. By 1891 we had 2 sons and two daughters and Thomas still worked on the land to provide for us. Our neighbours were the Toselands, the Allsopps and the Towells and we often met Mary Jane as she went about her business as one of the village carriers.

We moved to a Bridge Street cottage before 1901. My elder son was by now a strapping 20 year-old and a shoe hand in a local firm. My youngest Percy was still at school. Life was changing; fewer men worked on the land and boys wanted apprenticeships in the new trades and the chance of a better life for themselves. I wondered what Percy would choose to do, but as it turned out his life was to be very different.

Sadness lay ahead. As Thomas filled in the census form in 1911, now from our cottage in West Street, I thought of the seven children I had lost and of the three still with me. Only Percy was still living at home but, at eighteen, I knew it would not be long before he too left.

In fact he left in October 1914 to enlist and like so many other mothers in the village I watched the son I had brought to manhood march off into the unknown. Percy joined the Northants regiment and lived through another three years of war before being killed by a shell in May 1917. He has no grave but is remembered on the Arras Memorial at Pas de Calais in France. I was named as his sole legatee and after he died I was awarded £11.10s. I have joined a group of at least 3 other mothers from West Street who have paid the highest price for war.

Day to day life is hard; no running water, no sanitation, cooking in a pot over an open fire and little light in the cottage even during the day. The uncertainty about the future and the sadness of loss is hard to bear but there are family and friends in the village; the Agers, the Mabbutts, the Sloughs, the Daintys, the Freestones and the Redheads at the White Hart not least and we support each other through the dark times. Better days will come.

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The village laundry was run at this time by Betsey Cobley on Church Hill, but most families managed by using a copper to wash the clothes and those on West Street with no outside drying space used the drying area at the rear of The Star. Many of the cottages on West Street were unsanitary and were pulled down as the village tried to improve living conditions for its inhabitants. Bathing facilities were set up on the Meadows and opened in 1912 and boys were offered the opportunity to take swimming lessons there too. Electricity did not arrive until 1927, the only telephone was a manual one at the Post office, water and sewage remained a problem until 1951 and a lift with the farmer going to market or the carrier en route, was the only transport in and out of the village apart from ‘shank’s pony’!

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