Real Lives: reflecting on days when there was no social welfare
In his occasional series on the lives of interesting local people Gerry Molumby travelled to Derbyshore to meet 99 year old Sarah Jane Hughes from Co. Down.
I had met Sarah Jane Hughes (known as Jane or, to her family, as ‘Jess’) at this year’s Nottingham St. Patrick’s Parade, and had heard glowing affirmations about her from her grand-daughter, Debs.
Debs was very keen to tell me that throughout her life ‘Nan’ (Jane or Jess) “was a mother to me and my children.”
These days Jane lives independently in supported housing in Alfreton, Derbyshire near her niece Debs and her partner Tony.
Jane was born, five days before the end of World War One, in the village of Crossgar, Co Down, the third child of Mary Daigan and Robert Patrick McClements.
“My parents were small farmers, with milk from the cows, and eggs from the chickens to keep us busy baking bread,” she told me.
As a child she picked bilberries for the neighbours to make wine. She was educated at the Nazareth House Convent in nearby Belfast and by the age of sixteen she was expected to fend for herself so set off to work in one of Belfast’s many shirt factories. She attended night school and attained qualifications in bookkeeping, shorthand and typing.
During, and after, the war the Department of Employment decided where people worked: “I had qualifications in book-keeping so in 1946 I came to Brixton where my sister Anne, her husband and five children lived.
“When I walked the streets of Brixton I cried for London. Tears poured from my eyes as coming from near the Mountains of Mourn, I had never been able to imagine such destruction, yes I cried for London.”
Rationing was still in force in Britain and the late forties and fifties were difficult times, she said. That said, between looking after her nieces and nephews she often went dancing in her adopted city and met and married Royal Air Force Warrant Officer James ‘Tim’ Arthur Hughes.
“In 1947 I was sent to work in Lyons Tea shop in Margate.”
His wages were just about enough to pay the rent on the council house in Margate and little luxuries like renting a telly and paying the TV license. In the summers Jane took in families from London who wanted to come to the seaside while her own children and husband had to make do in front room and she also worked locally in a care home to bring in some extra money needed.
She is keen to point out that there was no social welfare until many years after the war and even then it was frugal and often frowned upon.
Jane and Tim had two sons: Adrian who has worked all over the world in the car interior design trade and Jim, a pharmacist.
Eventually, in 1958, the family moved to Luton. In 1976 Adrian moved to work in Germany while parents Jane and Tim moved to Nottingham where their son Jim worked for Boots The Chemist.