Sunday, 23 March 2014

The story of a pork pie

I had a pork pie for lunch the other day – a Melton Mowbray pork pie.  I haven’t been to that small market town for many years, not since the Old Bat and I were staying with friends of her family in a village not so very far from there. I don’t remember if the village is in Leicestershire but has a postal address in Nottinghamshire or vice versa, but it is small and sits pretty much on the county boundary.

For many years we were puzzled about why a family from Brighton should be so friendly with a butcher from a small East midlands village. How did the families come to meet? We knew that my wife’s grandfather was buried in the village churchyard, but quite why that was remained a mystery, the answer to which was beyond anybody’s knowledge. OK, smart arse, he was buried there because he was dead, but what had taken him, his wife and my very young father-in-law to that spot in the first place?

I did – eventually – stumble upon the answer. But the whole story could provide the plot for one of those novels that leads the reader through goodness knows how many twists and turns before revealing that all those fantastic theories were just so much rubbish. The real answer is the simple one. And that, in this case, was how it turned out.

But let me start at the beginning.

My wife’s grandmother – Helena – was born in Liverpool in 1878. Her parents were Humphrey and Margaret, both of whom had been born in Ireland and who had presumably moved to Liverpool in search of work. Helena was the younger of two girls, her elder sister Margaret having been born almost 10 years before her. By 1881, Humphrey had moved to London with his elder daughter, the census taken that year describing him as unemployed, and a widower. There was no trace of Helena and I have never been able to find any record of her mother’s death.

By 1902, Helena had moved to Brighton where she taught music and singing. It was in that year she married William, my wife’s grandfather. William had been born in Australia, his father having emigrated there sometime in the late 1860s. It was in Melbourne that William’s father met and married an Irish girl. After she died, the two surviving children (William and his sister) were sent to Brighton to live with their paternal grandparents. My late father-in-law (another William) was born in 1904. In 1908, William, Helena and the young William were staying in the Notts/Leics village of Plungar when William died. He was buried in the village churchyard as there were insufficient funds for his body to be brought back to Brighton.

My late parents-in-law remained friendly with people in Plungar, especially the village butcher and his family, and there were frequent visits both ways. Indeed, my wife spent many of her summer holidays in the village. We still exchange Christmas cards with the butcher’s daughter and daughter-in-law. But none of us – parents-in-law, village butcher and family, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all – had ever managed to work out just what the connection was. Until, quite by chance, I learned that, after her mother’s death, Helena had been adopted by a couple living in Plungar. They eventually moved to Brighton, bringing Helena with them. And the rest, as they say, is history.

As I said, so often the simplest answer is the right one.

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