Na then – ooo I’m in favour o’ this – celebrating women’s lives – why not? – an I will, if you don’t mind, tell you a bit about mi own. First off though, you must understand, I’ve been dead an gone for oow, nigh on hundred an twenty year. I’d hoped I would mek it into ’twentieth century, bur it weren’t to be.
Eighteen ninety nine – ooff, that September – it were that damp an bitter cold, more like mid-winter than ’back-end, an I were badly wi’ mi chest.
It were a Friday when I lost me footin’.
Fridays was market day an it were allus hectic at ’Royal White Horse Hotel wi’ us open from early for ’farmers. I were in’t kitchen an I were chastising our Lizzie for leaving pork hock in ’brine-soak too long, an of a sudden, I were took right peculiar. It were like whole kitchen were swirlin’ round, then mi knees buckled an next thing I knew I were laid on ’floor wi’ a thumpin’ head an our Lizzie hangin’ ov’r me lookin’ frit to death.
Lizzie, she were mi daughter. An me – I were Ann Millwaters, licensed victualler and proprietor o’ ’Royal White Horse Hotel in Otley, West Riding o’ Yorkshire. Aye, that were me, for 26 year from when my Thomas passed away sudden and I took it all on, license an’ that. ’An eee, it were grand!
As I said, Fridays was hectic. Early on, I’d cashed up from ’night before an med sure ’new lass were cleaning up proper an getting fires fettled in ’public rooms an that Joseph were attending to ’barrels. I’d checked on spirits an tobacco supplies an I’d mi ears pinned back listening for owt as might be going on amiss in ’stables – we’d our own eight ’osses and some visiting. It were alright though, I could hear only ’quiet clatter of activity which were reassuring ’cos ostler, that’s ‘oss man, could be a tricky customer if he’d a bad head of a morning.
Our guests as had stayed overnight of course, were due my personal attention at breakfast – I recall we’d a couple come up early as part o’ ’wedding party for ’Sat’day an three gentleman as was interested in ’land an a stand o’ trees at Lindley that Mr Dacre would be auctioning in our upstairs dining room later on. Once I’d seen to ’butcher’s lad at ’door an some other bits an bobs, I went to ’kitchen to get cracking on ’preparations for our ’ordinary.
What’s an ordinary? – it’s a fixed meal at a fixed time at a fixed price, an that Friday, it were consommé followed by my renowned pigeon pie an a puddin’ what I hadn’t quite made me mind up on yet. Most o’ biggish hostelries did an ordinary of a Friday, an I’m not one to brag, but our prices were an ’appenny in advance of all t’others an there weren’t a week went by when we we’d less than forty sat down for our ordinary.
As well, that Friday, there were a party o’ ladies in two waggonnettes to go up to Harewood (though why ladies should want to venture out in that weather were beyond my understanding), and there were to be ’Chamber o’ Agriculture meeting in ’afternoon an by evening, there’d be most o’ out-o’-town guests arriving for Sat’day’s wedding.
So you’ll appreciate, I’d no business falling on ’floor on a Friday! But that’s whar happened.
Joseph, mi son-in-law, – brawny lad, he’d been in leather trade, came from a family o’ curriers –eergk, filthy, smelly job that, I’m glad he were out on it – any road, our Joseph, he carried me like a babby up two fights o ’stairs to mi bedroom. An I knew, I knew then, ’only way I’d be coming back down were feet first. But for ’next ten week, I managed ’hotel from mi bed – I knew full well they’d be in bother wi’out me. So I were mitherin’ ’em every way I could to keep trottin’ on, to mek sure ’wheels di’nt fall off ’cart. A couple o’ times, I were up on mi elbows thinking I were fit for gerrin back down there… but mi strength were gone.
They were good to me at ’end, them last few days – kept a decent fire all ’time in ’bedroom grate. Bur it weren’t right, it weren’t me – laying there doing nowt. I’d not ever done that in all mi seventy eight year. I liked to be in charge o’ things, wi’ lots going on an me attending to stuff, settling things down or geeing ’em up. I were ‘oldest licensed victualler in ’town an it were still my name above ’door to ’very end – died wi’ me boots on, so to speak.
But them last few days it were as though… like they was keeping vigil. I’m in bed and there’s always one on ’em there looking at me an I could feel ’em trying to put off what were inevitable. An in’t end, ten o’clock on a Monday morning, quietest day o’ week when otherwise I’d o’ bin giving mi instructions for ’ladies luncheon, I’m being watched bi Joseph when our Lizzie calls him to go back down because there were some kerfuffle in’t stables an she needed his help wi’ blomin’ Ostler…
I took mi chance. I thought – I’m ready. An I slipped away.
Aye, but it were a right good life I had.
I were born in Brayton, near Selby, an me Da an Mam both laboured on ’land. It were harsh. We’d not always enough to eat, growing up, an people was leavin’ countryside in droves, so we flit an all – to Bradford. I met my Thomas there. He’d an alehouse an made a decent enough living, but we were… we were ambitious, for ourselves and for our Lizzie. And it were natural enough for him to look for an hostelry. He got tenure first o’ Black Bull and then after a few year, we took on ’White Horse. A more refined establishment, but it ’ad been closed down a good while an were in disarray. We gor it straight though. And well, we just revelled in it – company an trade, post horses and coaches, dinners and luncheons an teas, families an commercial travellers stopping ov’r. Hard graft, but wonderful, for 5 year. Then my Thomas died, unexpected. (pause)
I’d a choice to mek. ’Hotel were my home an Lizzie’s. I weren’t afraid of hard work. I decided I’d ger on wi’ it. And we thrived! Carriages an gigs, weddings, funerals, all sorts o’ celebrations, auctions, clubs and societies an various Boards having their meetings. Everyone came to ’White Horse Hotel, – even ’Duke of Connaught, Prince Arthur, came wi’ his men and their ’osses. After, we was allowed by warrent to call ourselves Royal. Mmmm.
We refurbished, near rebuilt. We’d four bar rooms, a tearoom an a dining room as could sit down 80 at a time. For a bigger do, folks hired ’Mechanics Institute where they could have 200, but they still called on me to do victuals. When the Mason’s Lodge had their ’Grand Charity Ball” – Mrs Millwaters had to be engaged for ‘catering, they were most insistent. Even gentlemen in Leeds Philosophical Society got wind o’ me cookin’, an they come an all to Royal White Horse Hotel.
Mind, social niceties were very much more of a restriction back in them days, position in society an what were expected of a female person. A bit like corsets – you might not like it, but it’s just what were done, so I’d keep mi eyes down as I put a plate in front o’ Mr. Duncan or Mr Fawkes or one o’ their ladies, an accept their complements wi’ due modesty. I’d a view on ’capabilities of mi own sex, bur I kept it to mi-sen. I could keep polite company, bur I’d bin an hungry child so I’d also an affinity wi’ them as found theirselves in ’workhouse or them as come to our kitchen door for ’leavings. I did what I could for ’em. I know it were not enough. As for politics, I were well aware of agitations, factory acts, Poor Law, an I heard ’em debating universal suffrage and about women needing ’vote an all – this were before ’suffragettes got going. Like I say, I’d me own views, but in my situation, it didn’t do to spout ’em out in public. When there was elections, they’d announce results from ’balcony o’ Royal White Horse Hotel no matter whatever side won.
Bur I could see change were on ’way for us women. We’d ’cyclists club met at ’Hotel and they had a debate on Rational Dress – women wanting to wear “Mrs Bloomers bifurcated apparel”, the divided skirt, trousers, to ride their bicycles. Ooo the scandal! Aye, things was beginning to move. We would not be corseted forever.
‘Railway come to us in ’68 and that were ’beginning of ’end for ’post-horses an stage-coaches. Our way o’ livin’ would not last a lot longer. I’d a mind though, that folks ud allus want feedin’!
It’s true, I’d bin hungry as a little un. But at ’Royal White Horse there were such a lavish extravagance of food – an I loved it. I loved to go to ‘butchers an be in league wi’ Mrs Weegmann in excitement at quality o’ meat an choosing best pheasants an hares. I loved to see all ’fresh vegetables piled up at market. An I loved having there in mi kitchen, all makings o’ puddings an jellies an sauces an pastrys an pies – all ’ingredients to hand for whatever I were pleased to concoct.
I loved ’town – it were prosperous, busy, wi’ an auction mart that brought farmers in, lots o’ leather works, paper mill, print machine engineering, an spinnin an weaving o’ worsted in ’mills – an’ all round about, there were stone being quarried and new rows o’ cottages growin’. I loved to walk out in ’town an everyone greet me: Good morning Mrs Millwaters, the gentlemen tippin’ their hats and each on us nodding our pleasure.
Not everything were right all ’time. Sometimes there were trouble. There were brawling’ often at some o’ ’rougher establishments an out on ’streets of a Friday an Sat’day. You could understand – there were often hard times for ’working man, some o’ locals felt ’pinch –how easy bad health or accident could lead ‘em to ruin, an ‘drink could be a solace as well as a cause o’ bother. We’d still navvies here from Ireland – once ’railway were done, they were digging out reservoirs – work as ud build up a thirst. No surprise some of ‘em took more than they could hold. But we’d never really any trouble at ’Royal White Horse Hotel, I made sure o’ that.
We’d some sad times too. I’d hoped for more children an our Lizzie and Joseph had not-a-one to comfort ’em. I don’t know which was worser though – me brother and his Betsey, they’d fourteen born and three on ’em took early. Betsey suffered. An I missed my Thomas.
A fine sharp day it were for mi funeral – cold enough to see ’breath of ’horses and people. ’Cept mine o’ course. All ’shops in’t town shut an ’houses on ’route had blinds down wi’ ’folk stood solemn outside for ’procession. Our two heavy ’osses, dressed up wi’ black ribbons, pulled our own hearse. They laid me to rest wi’ my Thomas, under ’memorial I’d put up for him. It were all as I would o’ wished it – except – only thing struck me not right, were when I saw ’nature o’ ’spread the’d put out for ’mourners – oh I do wish I could o’ done ’victuals mi-sen!
Not a bad life. I started wi’ nowt, bur I made things happen. I made mi mark.
It were just, grand.