A snatched moment from life on the farm.

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There are photographs like this one hidden away in tattered albums or pushed to the back of drawers in houses all over the country. There is nothing special about it, but it is a favourite of mine and someone once thought it special enough to be enlarged and mounted on card. It shows my maternal grandmother, Annie Maud Shipley and her daughter Edie. I am guessing from looking at my Auntie Edie that it may have been taken in the early nineteen thirties. A single daughter would have been a surprise to them as the husband and father of the family Robert came from a family of twelve but there had only been one baby born apart from Edie, George who did not survive infancy. My mother Nancy, Edie’s only sibling, was born twenty years later than her, well after this photograph was taken.

Edie is a much loved but uncosseted only child and she has been dressed in her best clothes, probably hand sewn. This was a farming family in a small hamlet on the Vale of York and having a photograph taken would have been an event in itself, something that you prepared for, talked about, and waited to see. Annie is also dressed in her best but that outfit is not new- the belt has seen some wear and the shoes are carefully polished but well worn. There was no money for luxuries. It is very touching how they have just taken a kitchen chair out into the yard, plonked it down and posed. These kind of shots would usually have been taken in a photographers studio but doing it this way was a way of saving cash and it made a charming second best when a special record was wanted. It is carefully posed- look at Annie’s crossed ankles and Edie’s hands behind her back- and this gives it a sense of occasion that belies the informal setting. There are other photos taken around that time- especially at harvest- so I think there must have been a camera around and someone who was interested in photography has been asked to make a special effort.

Most moving to me are the faces. My gran looks older than her years, although she didn’t change much. That’s what the hard work of farm life, both inside and outside the house does to you. There is a calm confidence in her eyes and a serenity that I remember well from when I was a small child. My Auntie Edie has the shy, kind look of a solitary young girl who doesn’t see people very often but who is willing to do her best and pose for her mum. She lived in another tiny village very close to where she was born all her life, doing a mixture of farm work and domestic service, married but remained childless, loved her half acre of garden, kept chickens and grew vegetables and never travelled very much. I think that you can see in her expression that she is going to stay close to home and live quietly. Family was very important to her and she stayed loyal. I was very fond of her and spent a lot of time with her later in her life, sitting quietly with her dog.

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