Saturday, 13 October 2007

Nanny Povey

My paternal grandmother, known to me as “Nanny” lived at 12 Robertson Road, Eastville, Bristol.

That’s where she had lived with my paternal grandfather George Henry Povey. He was a plumber and gas fitter, in business on his own.

He died in 1939 when, riding a bicycle, he was struck by a car on Church Rd, St. George, Bristol.

Nanny would have been about 59 years old when her husband died.

Only my oldest sister, born in 1937 remembers him.

Nanny lived in increasing poverty in her house which had an overgrown back garden, a conservatory, and the plumbers’ workshop where I played with old tools and barrels of “red lead”.

She subsisted on a widow’s pension, and by the time she died was living in the one inhabitable room of that house. She had no money to fix it up, nor did my Dad, her only child.

Nanny was a Bennett, (a last name derived from the Benedictine Order of monks). She was born near Easton Road, and her father had been a coal miner (there were surface coal mines in Bristol in the 1870’s/1880’s). She had been Sarah Bennett before her marriage, but was always known as Sally.

Nanny was proud and stubborn, and was not close to her siblings. I knew two of them - Aunt Polly who lived in Hanham (which made her very grand), and Aunt Carrie (Caroline).

Nanny would have occasional disagreements with my mother, and for a time she would be “persona non grata” in our home. Nanny would then lurk in our neighbourhood, certain to be spotted by one of the older children. We would say “Nanny wants to come into the house”, and Mum would always say “yes”.

I loved my Nanny, the only grandparent I knew. Despite her poverty, she could always be counted upon to give me, and my twin, thruppence or six pence which we would spend across the street at Hooper’s Sweet Shop.

There the shop assistant would make us giggle as she would always say “threa-pence” (as in “threat’), or “foe-pence”.

Once, to my later shame, I conned Nanny out of five shillings, (maybe one sixth of her weekly income) to buy a haversack which I so desperately wanted.

Around the corner from Nanny’s house, on Mivart Street, was an off license where , in post-war reconstruction, I first saw a sign for “Coca-Cola”. I had not the slightest idea what it meant - I had no context for those words.

Nanny shopped at a Grocery on St. Mark’s Road. The owners were a bit suspect as they were Roman Catholics, and sent their only child, a daughter, to St. Nicholas of Tolentine Catholic School.

But oh the smells. Flour, biscuits, tea, sugar and other dried goods in wooden barrels or tins - each to be scooped out and weighed.

And here are some final memories of Nanny.

She told me how she had seen Queen Victoria in a parade in Bristol, and had been given a “penny bun” that day.

Even my youngest brother Martyn, six years old when she died, can remember her saying “make haste” rather than “hurry up”.

She attended “Spiritualist” meetings in the hope of receiving messages from her late husband. These meetings were led by one “Mrs. Bowden” .

My parents, in their Plymouth Brethren days hated “Spiritualism” , and Mrs. Bowden in particular.

With hindsight I came to understand that Nanny was never a “Spiritualist” . She was simply a lonely widow.

In later life Nanny “accepted Jesus”, thus the Plymouth Brethren Elder Ernie Cox was able to preside at Nanny’s funeral. He even preached (at length) at her graveside, on a day which was pouring with rain.

Between the ages of (say) 13 and 16, I would stop by Nanny’s home on my way to Fairfield School, and make a coal fire in her one habitable room

On the way home I would again stop by and stoke and re-fuel the fire.

I claim no credit for this as I was horribly and self consciously “good”

But I am now glad that I did this, even as a self-righteous young Plymouth Brother

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