Obituary: Mary Clegg

Date published: 19 February 2020

Mary Clegg, 31-01-21 to 02-02-20

Formerly of Spring Vale Terrace in Littleborough, latterly of Oakland Care Home in Rochdale.

Peacefully in her sleep just after attaining her 99th birthday.

Funeral Director: Holdens Funeral Services Ltd 01706 378485.

Funeral on Friday 21 February at Rochdale Crematorium, donations in lieu of flowers to NSPCC.

There will be a collection box at the crematorium, and also refreshments in Littleborough afterwards.

Mary always thoroughly enjoyed reading my regular charity newsletters (of the Three Owls Bird Sanctuary & Reserve), and asked if I could put one together for her funeral. We planned its content over several months, and we both hope that you enjoy the following read, and see an insight into Mary’s very full life. Considering she was 98 years of age during recollections, she had an amazing memory for detail.

-          Nigel S Fowler

Mary’s birth was not registered for some time due to very ill health. She was born on 30 January, but her mother tried to say ‘the 30th of the first’, but it came out as the 31st. Hence Mary has always celebrated her birthday on 30 January at home, though all her documentation, of course, states she was born on 31 January.

Mary was born at the family home, number 9 Durn Street in Littleborough. There was no electric in the house, only gas. The fire and stove were both coal-fired, and with Father working at the Foundry, he was allowed to take home as much coal as he liked.

Mary was very ill from birth, and the priest was called as she was not expected to survive. As well as all the usual childhood illnesses, she persistently struggled with numerous bouts of double pneumonia.

Due to these repeated illnesses, she was not well enough to attend St. Mary’s RC School until she was seven years old. Mary remembers there were lots of prayers between lessons – which she seemed to think were a complete waste of time!

She left school at 14 years of age to start work. Mary always had time for other people; such was her desire to help and put others first, so it was no surprise that she ended up in nursing.

However, let’s start at the beginning, in her own words –

“My first job was at Breda Versada, a silk mill in Littleborough. However, the chemicals used were quite severe and I developed boils on my neck. Finally, the boss Mr Tattham said I would have to leave due to the acid used.

I then went into ‘service’ for Mrs Harvey; but the lady kept giving me “medicines for my feet”, so it was time to move on again.

“I then went to work at Laws in the role of finishing. Following on from that job, I went to work at Lydgate (still part of Laws), still doing finishing work. I was here the longest in those younger years. In those days work was aplenty, and you could leave a job at one factory in the morning, and start a new job either that same afternoon or the following morning elsewhere.

“Then, the war came. Everyone had to ‘register’, but they wanted someone to work at the diphtheria/scarlet fever hospital, so I went to work there. The job didn’t last long, as they started to inoculate the children.

“Next, I moved into engineering; I would catch the 6am train to Manchester, then the bus to Cheetham Hill. It was here that I had to learn how to read a micrometre; my job there was a grinder.

“The war was horrible: the siren was awful. Mother was terrified, and we had to bring the bed downstairs each time. I still laugh regularly when remember apologising to a lamppost during the blackout!

“My sister Vera and I would have to call at the pub to collect father on our way home from dancing. This was commonplace as regards children and their fathers at the time. Money was in very short supply, and dancing was a good way to socialise for little cost.

“When we were dancing at events, you had to ensure you didn’t wear the same dress as last time; so it sometimes called for some creative needlework and some swapping of dresses with my sisters.

“It was when working at Holroyds that I started going out with Jimmy.

“Mother duly found out, and because I was RC and Jimmy wasn’t, she tried to break us up. “But we carried on anyway. Father was supportive to me as he hadn’t been RC but had converted to marry Mother; but I always said to Jimmy that I would never force him to change as I loved him as he was.

“Then rationing came in and times became even harder. My mother was a wonderful cook and would bake cakes for the soldiers in return for excess milk, butter and sugar.

“When Father Brosin died, everyone in the village got a day off work and walked the streets of Littleborough.

“Jimmy and I got married in 1946 when I was 25 years old. Jimmy was in the RAF and ranked AC2 (Airman). We then lived at 11 Durn Street. Not long after, we needed to spread our wings, so to speak, and Jimmy got a posting in Cornwall.

We set off; him on the motorbike and I was in the sidecar. I cried all the way to Cornwall – I had never been away from home and missed everyone terribly.

“Jimmy said I could just stay at our new home or go out and explore while he was at work; but that was boring, and after a few days I enquired about work at the local shop. I was directed to a local mill just down the road and was taken on there and then. Jimmy was most surprised when he returned home that night to find out I’d not only found a job, but already started work!

“The manager was a bit snooty and asked if I knew how to use a broom. He did a demonstration from the corner to where I was stood, and I just thought, “I probably know more about cleaning than you do, so I will show you up!”

“Upon reaching me, he said, “so that’s how you do it”, to which I replied, “you’ve missed a bit over there!” He knew then, that I knew, and didn’t challenge me again.

“We took the opportunity to move to Australia under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme. All such migrants were called ‘Ten Pound Poms’ due to the payment of £10 processing fees to migrate to Australia, and Jimmy again got a posting out there. The journey by ship was awful, and I was sick every single day for the full six-week sailing. I had never been so glad to get on solid land on our arrival.

“I got a job there in a home, nursing. After four years, I found Australia just too hot, and we relocated to New Zealand, which was a lovely country, and we settled in straight away. Jimmy again got a posting there. I started a job at a home in Remuera, looking after wealthy people. I recall there were no buses, and it was a long way to walk. The lady owner always made a meal and left it for me, for which I was very grateful. It was her mother-in-law that was blind. The job was only three days a week, which wasn’t quite enough for me.

“I lost my Jimmy to cancer in 1974 aged just 50. He had just recovered from a heart attack, but he was just too frail to pull through. I nursed him at home until the end. After Jimmy died, I took a holiday, and upon my return, I tried to carry on living there, but found the house size and its memories just too much and needed to move away.

“I moved to Kaitaia and took a taxi to the hospital to apply for a job. This was where I met Jackie and Norma in the kitchens. They were from Darlington on the English North Coast. I didn’t have any money to buy a meal, but they both shared some of their lunch with me – a friendship was thus formed, which remains true to this day.

“I got a job in the hospital working nights – but Jackie and Norma worked days, so we saw little of each other whilst at work, but met up plenty outside of work. During this time, I stayed in the nurses’ home.

“Unfortunately working nights meant I started with problems sleeping – something that was to remain with me for the rest of my life. I soon became very settled and decided to buy a small house at Taipa. It had a lovely deserted beach in front, and Jackie reminds us that one night we three even went skinny-dipping.

“Jackie had just passed her driving test, and she and Norma borrowed a car one day to come and visit, but none of us could find the lights on the car at the end of the evening, so they drove home in the dark. Luckily, there were not many cars on the road in those days.

“I had to learn to drive in New Zealand while in my 50s; I didn’t like or want to, but it was necessary in order to get around. I passed on the third attempt!

“The instructor had great patience. Sadly, he died of cancer sometime later, and I nursed him whilst he was in hospital. I did lots of knitting at the hospital to keep awake – whilst all the other nurses fell asleep! I was well known for my coffees to get the geriatric patients off to sleep. I remember having to put their teeth into a dish to get them clean, and some got mixed up! Some people thought it was funny, and some not...

“One nurse there was Maori, and could sleep stood up – fascinating! We got on great, but then she moved away, and I was on my own again. The first job on shift was to write down who was in, and the second job was to get the dinners at midnight. The other staff resented me because I was English, even though I used to wake them up when the operating doctor (Dr Trees) called between midnight and 2am. We had to stand to attention for him. He was English too – he died of prostate cancer while I was there. I would finish shift at 7am and sign out.

“When the hospital job finished, I was offered a job in Therapy by Dr Trees, but I hadn’t passed my driving test at that point.

“Upon retiring and returning to the UK in the early 1980s, I rented a house back in native Littleborough. It was a two-bed back to back on Spring Vale Terrace with a private garden area outside. This I planted up over the years, and made my own little oasis where I could sit out if the weather wasn’t too hot. Inside was rather sparse, but the landlord, Mr Milne, let me have three-weeks rent-free in order to furnish it as I wanted, this included actually putting a kitchen in.

“I have always loved to entertain, and have been thrilled when Jackie and Norma have both been able to travel to me so I remained here in Littleborough living independently until Easter 2018, when I was taken poorly and Nigel found me collapsed in a chair at home on Good Friday.

“He arranged for me to be admitted to hospital immediately, which saved my life. After a month in hospital, he arranged for me to go into residential care at Oakland Care Home, as I was no longer able to look after myself independently. It was like a hotel, and I soon settled in. With the assistance of the staff, I was soon up and walking again, as I had lost my mobility whilst being in hospital for so long.

“I have to admit to being good at talking and making friends, so soon settled in and again would help others where I could. There was a lady called Molly who was eight months older than me, and despite her very limited hearing and poor sight, we had many a good chat and reminisce about years gone by in Littleborough – where she originally came from too.

“Some months later, Kathleen joined us too, and we became great pals and if I was having a day in my room, Nigel would wheel her down in a chair (as she couldn’t walk far) so we could share a good hour of fun and laughter. She came from Dearnley – just down the road from where I grew up, and although there was over a decade between us, we had lots in common.

“Alas, as happens late in life, she passed away last year, and I have mourned her loss ever since.

“Latterly, both my eyesight and hearing deteriorated to the point where I could no longer watch the television, nor hear a lot of what was said to me. I was sad to lose contact through my regular phone calls, but local friends would still pop in, and Nigel would keep me up-to-date with everything on his very regular visits, and could even email my long-distance friends on his phone whilst we were sat together, and read out the replies they had sent back - all quite amazing, I have frequently said he would be lost without it.

“Despite all this, I still have kept all my memories, and can recall virtually everything right back to being a little girl.”

Mary never expected to live to the ripe old age of 99. Indeed, the last few years were a struggle for her, and she would often say to me, “you can live too long, Nigel.”

As direct family and friends of her age also died, her circle of friends grew smaller and latterly, Mary did drop to a low point around Christmas, New Year, and (yet another) birthday each year, before perking up from mid-February onwards, and looking towards the summer days.

She particularly enjoyed snooker, tennis, skiing, and the Olympics when on the TV, and was disappointed when her eyesight deteriorated in her mid-90s, preventing her watching those favourite sports – though she was still able to listen in.

I have known Mary for around 30 years, and very well for the last 15, as I used to collect her rent for her landlord and help with repairs around the house. It has been a privilege to share part of her life with her. She always kept a good record of friends and family in her address book, and when she was admitted to the residential home in 2018, we went through the entire book to make sure we let everyone know her new address.

There was nothing wrong with Mary’s memory, as each name revealed a story as to how they had met, what they shared, but sadly most of them ended with, “...and they died in...”

To give us an insight into her own family, her mother and father were Katy O’Brien and Harry Sutcliffe. Mother died of a stroke and heart attack, and Father died of blood poisoning from a cut he received at the Foundry. He didn’t tell anyone and died of septicaemia. Grandma (dad’s mother) died of dropsy. Father couldn’t afford to pay for the funeral and was sent to prison, sewing mailbags. Mr Hey from the Foundry paid the bill and brought him home.

Mary’s brother, Jack, died early in his 50s through recurrent chest infections; he had a coal-bagging job. Her other brother, Jim, died in 1992, aged 67. Her sister, Vera, died the following year in 1993 of throat cancer – she was a heavy smoker. Her other sister, Frances, died aged 91 whilst living in South Africa in 2004.

Mary would like to thank all her friends who have stayed in touch throughout the years, especially Jackie and Norma who have followed her progress since those days in New Zealand, through to both living in Littleborough and Oakland’s Care Home, and have travelled a long way here to celebrate Mary’s life, her nephew Colin and wife Maureen (and cat Tisha) over in South Africa, nephew James and wife Rose in Lowestoft, and great nephew Tony from Manchester.

A huge thank you to all the staff at Oakland Care Home, also to all the Doctors and Nurses at Fairfield General Hospital.

Finally, many thanks to Holdens Funeral Service for making the journey as smooth as possible.

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