Beginnings 8

My maternal grandparents, Ernest Moore and Mary Ann Wiseman were born towards the end of Queen Victoria’s life.

Victoria, born in 1819 had become Queen in 1837 and would live until 1901. Outside of their immediate family circumstances, what kind of Britain had Ernest and Mary Ann been born into?

Victoria became Queen at the age of 18 and by the end of her reign it had become almost impossible to imagine a Britain without her.

If Ernest and Mary Ann had been able to look back to what had happened in the country since Victoria’s Coronation, what are a few of the things would they have seen?

They would know that the first photograph was taken by William Henry Fox-Talbot in Britain and disputed by the French who claimed that Louis Daguerre had taken it.

The first postage stamps had come into use and would have Victoria’s head on them for 64 years, a period that might not have been so long if John Francis’ assassination attempt on Victoria had succeeded five years into her reign.

They wouldn’t have had to work in the coal mines until after they were ten years old and thanks to the Factory Act, they wouldn’t be obliged to work more than 6.5 hours a day between the ages of 8 and 13.

They could have read the first edition of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” in 1843, which sold out completely in six days.

If they were anywhere near Gawthorpe Hall they might have caught a glimpse of Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre who was a friend of the Shuttleworth family.

The railways arrived, the first post boxes built and over in America, the patron saint of children everywhere, Joseph Fussell, invented ice cream.

If they had been able to make the long trip to London in 1852, they would have seen the first public flushing toilet. They still wouldn’t have one of their own in Burnley in 1952.

Ernest would have been shocked at the slaughter of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War but thrilled that Britain won it in 1856.

Florence Nightingale, “The Lady with the Lamp,” would have caught their attention.

Two years later they would have waved their Union Jacks as India came under British rule and the 39-year-old Queen Victoria became Empress of India.

Fifteen years on and they’d have seen the Empress wearing black after the death of her husband, Prince Albert from Typhoid, a disease that would have been a threat to them, too.

Ernest would have been relieved that he now couldn’t be made to work as a chimney sweep until after he was 10 and he’d probably have wanted to go to the first FA Cup Final in 1872. He’d certainly have wanted to emulate Captain Matthew Webb who took 22 hours to become the first man to swim the English Channel.

Whether either of them would have enjoyed hearing the news that from 1880 the Education Act made schooling compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 10, is another matter.

Shakespeare knew about schoolboys creeping like snails unwillingly to school.

Mary Ann would have been fascinated to hear Thomas Edison’s first phonograph recording of a human voice reciting, ”Mary had a little lamb.”

As the Queen’s Empire grew like a pink rash on maps of the world, they might have been pleased to see that Britain had taken control of Egypt and established a colony in Nigeria.

Between the ages of 5 and 13 they would, in 1891, benefit from free education although their young lives would be put in a bit more peril on the roads when a couple of years before they were born, the speed limit for the new horseless carriages was raised from 4 to 14 miles per hour.

As the 19th century drew to a close, Ernest could look forward to celebrating his fourth birthday in the 20th Century and Mary Ann her third.

I would have to wait another 42 years for mine.


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