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I'm a novelist and playwright, traditionally and independently published.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Eliza Marshall's Tale - For National Short Story Week

We first moved to Scotland when I was twelve years old and - although I've travelled about a bit - I've considered it my home ever since. Much of what I write is set in Scotland. But recently, I've begun to want to go back to my Yorkshire roots. Memories of Leeds are tugging at me, especially the place where I spent the first seven years of my life, industrial Holbeck, demanding to be explored and examined. Next year, therefore, I plan to write Yorkshire Girl,  a very personal memoir of what it was like growing up in Leeds back then. It's something I've tinkered with and thought about for a long time, but now it's positively demanding to be written! Meanwhile, for National Short Story Week, I'm posting a short piece of 'made up truth'. Poor Eliza Marshall gave her testimony to the Factory Commission in 1832 and you'll find her true story here on the wonderful Leodis website. Eliza's story is heartrending. I took some of her words and shaped them into a monologue with a Yorkshire accent. I remember Marshall's Mill from when I was a little girl. Even then, it seemed to be a strange place, one set apart from the clearly industrial buildings round about.

Cellar Dwelling
My name is Eliza, Eliza Marshall, and I live in Bayton Street. We live in a cellar. I pay a shilling a week for it. Nobody lives with us. Not now. What do I do? I do nothing and no, I have no mother. I live with my little sisters. There’s three of us. The youngest is going fifteen. The other’s sixteen. I’m turned eighteen. It’s cold, even in summer. There’s a range when we can get coal but we can’t always afford it. Sometimes we get given a bit. If the neighbours have owt to spare. Damp runs down walls. You can’t keep owt. It all goes black. And there’s bedbugs.  They smell quite nice. I don’t like them. No. But you can squash them if you catch them. What you must do is scrub beds down with paraffin and water, but they get into blankets and there’s nowt you can do about that. My sisters work. They’re spinners an all. I have two and six a week from town. That pays rent and a bit more but I can’t go out to work. Not now.
Yard off Meadow Lane
I were born in Doncaster. I were nine when we came to Leeds. We’d no father so we all had to work one way and another.  Later, we’d a stepfather but he were a great big waste of space. Great big lump of a waste of space. He’d take money and drink it. We lived on Meadow Lane first and I worked at Marshalls. Same name as me. That big mill with great pillars outside.  I thought I were going to church first day it were that strange. Like a palace or something. Then I went to Burgess’s in Lady Lane. That were where I learned to spin.        
I worked from six in morning till seven at night. There were a knocker upper went down street but you’d to pay him a penny a week so we didn’t always do it. Besides, everyone else in house were running up and down stairs so you’d hear them anyway. Nobody slept in. I got three shillings a week and then three and six. After a bit  Mr Warburton took over. I were a good worker so he set me on to doing five to nine. Five in morning till nine at night. You got half an hour for your dinner which you brought with you and heated up. And you knocked off at five on Saturdays. That were good.
Workers in Marshall's Mill
I weren’t lame then. I had my strength very well while we worked from six to seven. I had my health very well till I took from five to nine.  My sister were well an all. She began to fail when we began long hours. I were just turned ten when I began long hours She were turned nine. I tried to leave. I were like killed wi it. My legs were like to break in two. It were work and hours together and always having to stop  flyers wi your knees. It were having to crook your knees to stop flying shuttle as much as owt else. It were heavy and it went that fast and it clattered against your legs and you couldn’t rest.    
Marshall's Mill
Our mother tried to find work for us at Wilkinsons. Wilkinsons were better.But Warburton said I must come back and work for him. I asked Wilkinson what I should do and he said I should go an all. I didn’t know but they were hand in glove at that time. He said Warburton weren’t happy to lose a good worker and he were right. So Warburton asked for me and Wilkinson made me go. What could I do?
It were after I went back that he knocked me down. Warburton. He hadn’t struck me since I were little. He strapped me many a time then. It were a common thing for him to beat hands then. I’d been glad to get away from him. But not long after I went back, he came in and he were that vexed with me for having left him that he just walked up to me and hit me with flat of his hand and sent me flying against my machine. I slid down onto floor and lay there looking up at him. I couldn’t think. He knocked thoughts clean out of my head and I don’t think I've been same since. Mind you I were that weak I were soon knocked down.
I were about eleven when I started to go lame. By the time I were seventeen I couldn’t work in factory. It were just as well because my mother were ill by then. She got  very ill and I had to mind her. When she died my stepfather walked out and left us to fend for ourselves. He said we weren't his and that were true enough.
Timble Bridge
I used to go to Sunday school so I could read a bit. I were learning to write and I could sew. When I couldn’t work in factory any more I thought maybe I could be a dressmaker. I went to Mrs Darley of Timble Bridge to learn. Where that tall house is, near bridge end.  But then my mother fell ill so I had to give that up. And then I were very poorly myself. I’ve never been able to go backwards and forwards since.
The iron is so heavy. It supports me so that I can stand up but I don’t feel any stronger. Sometimes I’m a bit better and then again another day, I can hardly stir.
My sister says we should move closer to Timble Bridge so that I can start sewing again. There's money in sewing. But lessons cost half a guinea a year and besides  I don’t want to move. We’ve lived here seven year. We have friends here to help us if we need them. If my sisters need them. I shouldn’t like to leave them. Where would you be without your friends? No. I shouldn’t like to leave them behind.


If you would like to read more short stories, I have a couple of small collections available on Kindle
A Quiet Afternoon in the Museum of Torture 
and
Stained Glass.



3 comments:

Kathleen Jones said...

It's a very sad story Catherine - but true. You've 'got' Eliza's voice perfectly. The way children were treated seems unbelievable now. Part of my father's Irish family worked in the cotton mills and came to northern England to work in the mills there. My great grandfather started work at 12, but he eventually became a pattern maker - one of the lucky ones!

Kathleen Jones said...

I've posted a link to your story from my Tuesday Poem blog, because it connects with this week's poetry!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Thanks, Kathleen. We must share a similar heritage. My grandmother's family were Leeds Irish - my great grandfather was a pavier. My gradad's family came down from Swaledale for much the same economic reasons. They had been lead miners and farriers. I started out in Holbeck and went to school in Armley - my dad started out as a textile presser when he first came to England after the war. The history of these children and how they were treated is always moving, isn't it?