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Looking Back


Annie Elizabeth Stevenson, née Fidler, 1900 - 1987


Editor's Note: This document, and its accompanying photographs, were kindly provided by Lesley Brown in September 2012. It is an autobiography of Lesley's maternal grandmother, Annie Elizabeth Stevenson, née Fidler, and was discovered after her death. The article is a valuable piece of social history and reveals fascinating aspects of life in Ridgeway during the early 2oth century.


My father, James Fidler was born on 16th January 1870 at High Lane Ridgeway.  He was the youngest son of James and Ann Fidler. My mother, Agnes Marsh, was born at Conisborough on 24th February 1870.  She was the eldest of a family of 12, the rest of the family were born at “The Farm”, Ridgeway where they came to live shortly after my mother was born and “The Farm” has been occupied by the Marsh Family until recently.


My father’s family were stonemasons and most of the houses in Ridgeway were built by the Fidlers, including Ridgeway School, and mother and father were amongst the first pupils.  Before that my mother attended a private school opposite The Farm which was run by two ladies, the Miss Broomheads (daughters of William Broomhead, farmer and sickle manufacturer) and which was built mainly by the Fidler family.


When my father left school at the age of 12 he was apprenticed to his father and worked as a stonemason until his untimely death through septic pneumonia at the age of 36 on 26th September 1906.


Mother too left school at 12 years of age and went to live in Roker near Sunderland as maid to the daughter of the Hutton family who resided at “The Lawn”, Ridgeway.  It was a busy doctor’s family and must have been hard work for a young girl.  She stayed there a few years and then came back to live at The Lawn where she stayed as a cook until she got married in 1894.  She and my father had been sweethearts from school days.


My brother Jack was born on 23rd December in Sheffield where they lived when first married.  Later they came to live in a little cottage in High Lane; fancy they had to go across the road to the toilet, the privy as it was called in those days. My brother, Tom, was born almost two years later on Dec 21st and they then flitted to Cromwell House, Sload Lane, about one mile from the village, where I was born on June 13th 1900.  I often think it must have been a marvellous summer as my mother used to say that she put me out in front of the kitchen window, in the orchard, in a clothes basket, where she could keep her eye on me and I was out in the fresh air and sunshine all day long and often a hen would come and lay an egg by my side.  I must have had a lonely life because, by the time I was toddling, my brothers were going to school and there were no other children living in Sload Lane, at least, not near our house, but I was happy playing round the farm buildings and yard.  I loved all the animals especially the pigs.  My mother used to tell the tale of how, when I was a few months old, she left me sleeping in the rocking chair (the very chair that I’m sitting in now) to look at a pig that was farrowing and as it was so cold out of doors she brought one or two piglets in and put them in a box in front of the kitchen fire and then went out to see if the sow was alright and perhaps bring some more piglets in.  Imagine her surprise when she returned and there was no baby in the rocking chair.  I had fallen into the box with the piglets.  I think that gave me the love for pigs.  When I was about two years of age I crept through a hole into the pig place and, when my father discovered I was missing, he came and looked through the hole and saw me nursing a little pig, but he daren’t get me out as the old sow would have attacked him and probably have hurt me, so he just had to wait patiently until I made up my mind to go out.  When my father was at home I used to follow him about but that was only night and morning as he used to work away from home a lot, walking to Sheffield even, and after a day’s work walking home.




Annie at Cromwell House

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Cromwell House was built in the Regency period for a Mr Inman by the Fidler family as a country house and, as a child, I used to admire it.  I do not think Mr Inman lived there long and it was let as a small farm, about nine acres, there was also a small cottage which went with it, all for £12.10s every half year.  The farm buildings were built at the same time, about 1840 and I think they were intended as a house, they were built of the same dressed stone and the layout was capable of being turned into a nice house.


There was a large orchard with 25 apple trees, Irish Peach, Ribston Pippins, Potts Seedlings, Russets, Hawthorns, Tankaras, Lord Suffields, Cox’s Orange Pippins and lots more.  We used to sell them to a greengrocer by the cart load.  There were also pear trees and plums and gooseberries and black and red currant bushes in the garden.  The front garden was lovely;  there were two laburnum trees each side of the front gate, purple lilac trees down the right hand side hiding the farmyard, two white lilac trees  and a laurestinus on the left hand side, Gloria roses up the front of the house and also an archway of them lower down the path, lilies of the valley under the windows, a moss rose and jasmine by the front door.  (I have jasmine growing now which I brought as a cutting from it over 50 years ago and the original came from Norton Oaks when my father was working there before I was born).  There were also polyanthus, sweet violets, auriculas and lavender bushes and lots of other plants.  I used to wander round smelling at them.  One Sunday morning I was doing just that and I well remember looking down at my dress to see the most awful looking caterpillar coming leaping up.  I was sure it was coming into my mouth and I let out the most terrifying yell which brought my mother rushing out, but all the sympathy I got was a smacked bottom, “something to moan about” she said.  I was only about two years old.


Cromwell House contained an entrance hall with a lounge on the left hand side, and dining room on the right nearer the kitchen.  The floor of the hall and kitchen were stone flags, there were two windows, one looking to the orchard and the field beyond and the other to the garden with Ridgeway Church visible about half a mile away.  When the sun was rising it was lovely to see the windows all lit up with the rays of sunlight.  There was a large stone sink under the window looking into the orchard, a pump on the left hand side and a soft water tap in the same corner, the water was pumped up from the cellar from a well supplied by a spring and it was icy cold and clear.  The tap water came from a large tank over the kitchen door and was rain water from the roof.  The water was lovely and soft but, as it was exposed to the elements, it got very dirty and, in hot weather, was full of little red wriggling things, perhaps mosquitos.  There was a copper in the corner by the fireplace and a grate that was large with a boiler for heating water on one side, with a brass tap, bars about a foot wide and a large oven.  Underneath the bars was a recess and in front of that was a grate with bars and a hole below.  The ashes fell, were poked out of the fire and were then riddled so the ash went into the hole and the cokes were put back on the fire.  Then, when the hole was full, in about a fortnight, the ashes were taken out and thrown onto the midden which was at the back of the privy, or closet, as we used to call it.  Ours was a very posh one, it had a wooden seat with a large hole and a small one and in the middle was a diamond shaped box in which to place the paper – newspaper, I might add, I never saw a toilet roll when I was a child.


To get back to the kitchen, the grate was blackleaded every week with Zyeba Grate polish, at least, ours was. I believe there were other makes.  The little hole under the fire was washed and then rubbed with pot mould and the rest of the hearth was washed and treated with another substance, pipe clay and the grate and the hearth was blackleaded.  The fender was about six foot long and made of steel and this was cleaned with smithy slack and paraffin.  Smithy slack was made by hammering steel blades while they were still red hot, these were made into sickles and exported all over the world.  I used to go to Mr Fox’s at Common Side to get the smithy slack and I always had to go to Mr Bolsover, I think he made the finest product.  The fender was rubbed with this and paraffin until it shone like silver, the top of the ashpan that was in front of the fireplace was also polished.  It really was a work of art and took about one hour to do.


The stone floor was also washed by hand and rubbed with a piece of hard stone and was bare except for a hand pegged or knitted hearth rug.  These were made out of worn out or discarded garments.  The pegged ones were made from sacking and pieces of cloth were cut into small pieces, all the same size, and pushed into the sacking with a sharpened clothes peg.  The knitted ones were made of a thick yarn and each piece of cloth was worked in.  These wore for years.  Another form of floor covering was rag carpeting, this was made of thin strips of material, mostly cotton, joined and made into large balls.  These were taken to the blind school in Sheffield and were woven into mats and runners and wore for years.  My grandmother always had one on the settle by the fireplace.


Leading from the kitchen was a door to the cellar, down 12 steps, then in the corner was a well and, as a child, I used to go down in the dark with a bucket to get water when the pump went out of action, as it often did, and all the water had to be carried, even for the cows.  I used to tread cautiously until I felt a large stone slab tilt and then I knew I could dip my bucket in and get the water, I have carried at least 12 buckets of water without a break.


There were two cellars.  The other one had a large thrawl (like a large stone table) and this was where the panshions of milk were kept, then, after a day, the cream was skimmed off and put into a large crock, the cream pot.  After about a week all the cream that had been collected was churned into butter.  There was also a large panshion where the bread was kept.  Mother used to bake twice a week and I used to love to watch as she kneaded the dough but got very upset when she exclaimed, “I’ve drowned the miller”, meaning that she had put too much water in.


The back door led out of the kitchen into a courtyard and up two steps into the farmyard. The third door went into the entrance hall where the oak chest I have in my hall used to stand.  The stairs twisted up to three nice bedrooms but we had no bathroom or toilet.  When we were small our bath stood in the sink and it was cold and draughty in the winter time.


I was born whilst Queen Victoria was still our Queen, The Boer war had just ended but sadly the Queen died in 1901 and Edward 7th came to the throne.  I don’t remember much about the coronation but I do remember burning myself on my father’s cigar at the celebrations.


As I said, I spent a lonely childhood, playing around the farm.  I used to pick up all the feathers when the hens were moulting and make them into little pillows with little cotton sugar bags.  The only toy I had was a little wooden doll but my Uncle Chris, Mother’s youngest brother, threw it over the farm buildings and broke its legs and arms off – he always was a great torment to me.


The only outing I ever remember was to Barlborough Hall with my mother and father.  I was dressed in my Sunday dress of white silk and a velvet coat and was very proud as I sat between my mother and father in a trap or carriage pulled by our Kit, the old horse.


1903 on Nov 16th my brother, Charlie was born.  I remember all the commotion, the district nurse coming into the kitchen for water from the big kettle on the stove as I sat on the fender wondering what all the fuss was about.  From then my father took on the task of putting me to bed after I had sat on his knees saying the prayers which he taught me.  I don’t remember much of the next two years then on Nov 21st my youngest brother was born and the following spring and summer whenever my father was working nearby he took me with him and I well remember watching him build walls and houses that are still standing today.  It was a lovely summer and continued into late September, a time I will never forget.  My father came home from work very ill and a week later he died from septic pneumonia.  I stayed at the home of my uncle George (mother’s eldest brother and his wife – they lived on a farm in the village) on the Sat and Sun Sept 30th 1906.  I remember so well walking from the village with Aunt Ethel.  I was wearing a black dress with lace on the sleeves and neck and black button boots.  It was a lovely morning and I started to skip along.  My aunt, who was very religious said, “you mustn’t skip on a Sunday” and I felt as though a cold hand had been placed on me and I walked along feeling very hurt and sad.  When we arrived home my mother was sitting in the sitting room all dressed in black and I dashed by and ran upstairs into my father’s bedroom followed by my aunt and there lying in his coffin was my dad.  I wanted to get in beside him.  I just couldn’t believe or understand that he was dead.


Soon people began to arrive, relations I had never seen before.  Then carriages drawn by horses arrived and, after my father was carried out in his coffin we all filed into the carriages and were driven to church.  I don’t remember the service but I remember very well standing by the graveside as the coffin was lowered in and seeing everybody crying but I just stood there with a terrible ache inside me.  For days I fretted, then one day my aunt Ethel took me on her knee and explained that my dad would never come back, that he had died and gone to Heaven and for the first time I cried and cried and, for years after, whenever anyone spoke of him I sobbed.  I just worshipped him.


I had just started school after the summer holidays.  I was six years of age but, living over a mile away, I had not been compelled to go when I was five.  My brother, Tom, took me into the infant classroom and I’ll never forget all the children gazing at me.  The teacher’s name was Miss Mundy and I thought it would be Miss Tuesday the next day and so on.  The seats were arranged in tiers and I had to sit in the bottom one along with others.  I was so shy I didn’t speak to anyone all day but I soon got used to going to school and soon learned my tables and alphabet.


After my father’s death, his eldest sister, aunt Lizzie, took my brother Tom to live with them at Eckington and I did miss him, he had always been kind to me. At Christmas we all went to spend the holiday with Aunt Ethel and Uncle George and it was lovely to be there.  I shared a bed with cousin Gwen who was four years old and we had such fun and games over the Christmas time and I was very sad when my mother decided to take us home.  It was a bitter cold day, the 6th of January, with ice and snow and when we got home it was terribly cold until mother made the fire.  I foolishly took a large jug to get some water from a tub outside but, of course, it was frozen and on the way back I fell and broke the jug and cut my left wrist (I still have the awful scar).  My mother just wrapped it up and sent me to my grandmother’s with my brother Jack.  It was a long walk and Jack tried to carry me and somehow we got there but, unfortunately, my grandmother had gone to Sheffield with my grandfather who had a carriers business and went to Sheffield every Tuesday and Saturday with a waggonette.  My aunt Carrie, one of my mother’s sisters, was at home and she kept putting my hand into a bowl of water.  Poor soul, she didn’t know what to do but, fortunately for me, the district nurse, or midwife I should say, came in and when she saw my hand she immediately put a tourniquet on my arm and bandaged my wrist.  Then when my grandfather came home he immediately got another carriage (a dog cart) and, with Mrs Whittaker, the nurse, took me to the doctor’s surgery, nearly three miles away, where my wrist was stitched, after the guiders and main artery had been tied and all the time I just watched and neither fainted nor cried and I must have lost lots of blood.


I stayed at my Grandmother’s for quite a while after that and, after my wrist had healed, I had electric treatment to try and get the circulation back.  I used to hold two handles of an electric battery each evening but, alas, to this day I cannot close my fingers, but this has never prevented me from working. My grandmother’s house was always a busy place and so warm and comfortable, a big fire burning all the time.  Coal was 10 shillings a ton from a mine, a foot drill it was called, at the top of High Lane. I was away from school for some weeks but, in the end I caught up with the scholars who had been there for over a year and enjoyed my lessons.


After my father died, my mother started going to St Cross, a lovely house, where her aunt Jane and uncle Will Bolsover lived.  They had bought it for £120.  It is now occupied and owned by Lady Renwick, her husband, Sir John died several years ago.  After uncle Will died I used to stay there for company to aunt Jane and I loved it.  We used to go to bed early and get up at 4am.  It was my job to scare the birds off the cherries in the orchard with a clapper, two bits of wood.


I had always been used to getting up at four o’clock.  From being about eight I had to go out with the cows, firstly to take them to the dyke to drink and then along the lanes and roadside to eat the grass as we only had a small field for grazing when the other field was down for hay.  I enjoyed being out early to see the sun rising and hear the birds singing.  I often used to think I could catch a rabbit.  One morning I climbed over a fence to chase them but, of course, I couldn’t catch them but, alas, I had my knitting with me and as I jumped over the fence the ball of wool fell out of my pocket and, of course, it was tangled all round the gorse bushes and it was my school work, black stockings.


I got on so well at school that the headmaster, Mr Harvey, suggested that I, along with three boys, should sit for a scholarship but, unfortunately, he left and by the time we got a new headmaster we were too old to enter.  I will never forget the morning Mr Madin, the headmaster came.  He had been teaching naval cadets in the Mediterranean and was almost black.  He was the kindest person I ever met, very strict and just.  He made me a pupil teacher and I stayed on at school till I was just turned 14 but I felt it wasn’t right for me to stay on any longer as my brother Jack was working and, except for the little my mother got from going out to work a few hours a week and a little from milk and eggs, there was no money coming in so at the end of July 1914 I left school.  I had talked it over with a boy who used to sit by me and he asked me what I was going to do, he said his sister wanted someone to be with her as she had fainting bouts and her husband did not like to leave her alone all day, so it was decided that I should go and live with them.


I left school on the Friday afternoon after a tearful farewell to Mr Madin and I went to live with Mrs Killeen on the Monday.  One of my aunts, Gertie, and her young man took me in the dog cart, the very same one I’d gone to the doctor’s surgery in, with my tin box containing two print frocks, white apron, a black frock and a few other garments. When I arrived I was taken up to my bedroom in the attic, after being shown the kitchen where I was to take my meals and sit when I had time.  Alas, I was just a general servant but I settled down and never had time to fret, there was a lot of work to do! I received my first wage when I had been a month, 8/- and with it I bought an enamelled kettle and a large tin of fruit salad for my mother and a pair of black stockings for myself.


The First World War broke out on 3rd August 1914, just a week after I had left home.  My brother Jack was in the Derbyshire Yeomanry Territorials and was called up for active service on the first day along with others from the village, including my uncle Chris.  Horses from the farms were commandeered.  One of my grandfather’s horses went with the battalion to the Dardanelles, survived and came back to Ridgeway.  My mother was now alone in Cromwell House and I used to worry about her and wished I was still at home.  Little did I know that I could have been.  I learnt years afterwards that, as soon as the war began, Mr Madin, my headmaster went to see my mother and asked if I would like to go back to school as a teacher as many of the teachers would be joining up, but she never told me.


Anyway I settled down with Mrs Killeen at Linden Avenue off Abbey Lane, Woodseats.  I had every other Sunday off and Wednesday afternoon each week.  I used to walk home, about five miles each way, and I had to be in by 9pm.  I had to get up at 6.30 every morning and clean the dining room, make the fire and lay the breakfast table. Just before Christmas Mr Killeen told me that he had bought a farm at Troway which was about 3½ miles from my home so I was delighted and we moved in about a week before Christmas, but what a change from a modern house.  That house, it was in a terrible state, a large room with a huge cooking range and smaller room and the kitchen, where I spent all my time, was at the back of the house.  It was just a lean to and was coming away from the wall.  When the candle was lit, which was the only light I had, the draught used to blow the candle out, but I was happy I could see the chimneys of Cromwell House in the distance.


After Christmas alterations to the farmhouse began and it was in a state of dust and dirt but gradually the new house began to take shape but part of the old house had to come down.  My bedroom wall was taken down and for a while I had only a sheet of fabric on one side.  We had to climb a ladder to get to the bedrooms and Mr and Mrs Killeen went up at the same time as I did.  I would hear them bolt their bedroom door whilst I hadn’t even got a wall.  Luckily it was fine weather and it was fun, at least I thought so.  When all the work was completed the house was completely transformed, a large entrance hall, dining and drawing room, two large bedrooms and a bathroom had been built on!  I now had a large bedroom and large living room and scullery.


On October 28th Mrs Killeen gave birth to a baby girl and I was the first person to be allowed to hold her.  She was a lovely baby but cried quite a lot so I was able to nurse her quite a lot.


I often wonder how I managed to do the work I did, there was a monthly nurse who had meals at different times to Mr Killeen, all the washing with the wash house and copper across the farm yard and I had all the water to carry.  I baked all the bread, pastry and cakes and did all the cooking as well as all the cleaning and it was hard work in those days, brush and dustpan, no cleaners of any description and my knees had hooves on them through kneeling on the hard stone floor.  Although there was a bathroom there was no water on the kitchen sink and it all had to be carried from a tap in the bathroom.  Still life went on.


The second Christmas we were at Troway I had Christmas Day off.  It was a lovely morning as I walked home but when I got there Mother wasn’t in and, as my aunt Gert and her husband had been living with her for a time but had left and their rooms hadn’t been put in order, I started work. I put the carpet down in the sitting room, dragged furniture from one room to another and got everything ship-shape which took me until about four o’clock.  Then I walked to the village, to my grandmother’s and my mother was there.  Then it was a walk back to Troway for nine o’clock.  What a Christmas Day.


In the new Year I was feeling fed up living away from Ridgeway and wished I could get a job as a maid in the village when, out of the blue, one was offered to me.  Miss Hutton, where my aunt Gert lived for about 2-3 years asked me if I would go as maid.  She wanted a Marsh, so she said, having had one of the Marsh family from my mother living there in Mrs Hutton’s time.  So I gave a month’s notice and left Mrs Killeen’s.  I was very sad to leave as I was very fond of the baby.  Anyway, I started my duties with Miss Hutton at the end of January, a cold snowy month.  I was glad I hadn’t to walk from and to Troway on my days off.


As soon as I arrived I was shown my room. I already knew what the kitchen was like as I had visited Aunt Gert many times, it was a cosy kitchen with an enormous cooking range, but more about that later.  Miss Hutton then gave me a timetable with all my jobs to do – arise 6.45am clean grate and make a fire, clean sitting room grate and make fire.  8am take Miss Hutton morning tea, 8.30 take hot water upstairs for Miss Hutton’s bath, a large round bath in the bedroom.  9am breakfast and so on.  I was very intrigued when I got to Friday morning’s work, firstly I was to move the fender and ashpan, clean and put on one side, then clean flues by pushing a wad of paper filled with gunpowder as far as possible under the oven and light it with a taper.  I waited expecting the range to be blown out and I was thankful when I heard the bang.  Then there was the task of raking all the soot out and taking it, along with the ashes, up the garden into the midden, then came the mammoth task of blackleading the grate.  Oh I had to be up by 6am on Friday morning and it was a rush to get breakfast ready by nine o’clock.  In those days the kettle had to be boiled over the fire and toast made in front of it so I had to be sure I had a nice bright fire.  After breakfast and washing up done my next task was washing lions and chairs. What? You may ask, as I did, it was washing the two lions and garden chairs that were each side of the front door and then I had to swill the path down to the road and whiten the steps, then clean the brass knocker and knob.  Friday was also baking day and I had to make the bread whilst Miss Hutton made cakes, biscuits and pastries, it was also the day when the work wasn’t finished by dinnertime. Other days all the dirty work had to be finished and I had to be changed into my black dress and white apron by two o’clock to be able to answer the door to callers.  Well, I soon got into the routine and loved being there surrounded by lovely furniture and ornaments which Miss Hutton was now able to display, the last maid had broken so many that she had put the best away.


Washday was hard work.  The washhouse was up three steps and all the water had to be carried to fill the copper which was heated by a fire underneath, it was a job to light the fire but I managed very well.  In those days the clothes were all washed by hand, then put into a large peggy pot (a large earthenware vessel abut 2½ feet high).  The clothes were then spun round with peggy legs or a posher then rinsed and put through the wringer (a large machine with two large wooden rollers).  It was very hard work.  Then the clothes were pegged on the line, mostly by wooden pegs made by gypsies and what a job if it was frosty to get the clothes off the line and put round the fire on a large clothes horse.  Miss Hutton did most of the ironing.  The irons were placed in front of a very hot fire.  It had to be red or the irons would get dirty.  What a job making sure they were clean. Not many people had a wringer when I was a child, I think we were amongst the first, and I was proud to show it off to any visitors and to this day I have two deformed nails when I got my fingers under the rollers when showing off.


Alas, my stay with Miss Hutton was shortlived as the cost of living and the war was making it impossible to keep a large house and a maid, although my wage was only 4/-, so poor Miss Hutton had to leave her home and go into rooms in Sheffield.  There was a two day sale at Ridgeway House and most of her treasures were sold.  She gave me several little things, one is the brass hare I have on this mantelpiece.





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As soon as Mrs Killeen knew I was leaving she came and begged me to go back, which I did.  She said how she had missed me and didn’t like the maid that had replaced me.  So began the trek, going home on Wednesday when my mother would have the order for the stores ready and I went another four miles to Intake with the order, but……..



Related Photographs




Agnes, Annie and Lesley's mother, Joan

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The Cottage, Sloade Lane (Charles Potter)

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