My Grandmother Winifred Willis Airey was born on January 11th 1896 in Darlington, County Durham. Her parents were Frederick Airey and Nellie (Eleanor) Eaton Willis. By her own account Winnie was a sickly child and missed a lot of school. I have never been able to fathom out what was wrong with her, she said she had no strength because she didn’t eat much, and she didn’t eat much because she had no appetite, maybe it was simply a vicious circle that she couldn’t get out of? Well, if it was, she did eventually break the circle, so much so she lived a healthy 99 years and always enjoyed her food and took an interest in nutrition.
By her own account she was quite a precocious child (in a nice sense), she was found wandering the streets one day by a well meaning lady, who asked her where she was going. “I’m going to Uncle, Aunties” Winnie replied. The lady then asked her where they lived, to which Winnie correctly replied “Lansdowne Street” which was interpreted by the lady as “lay down sheep”, but all was well in the end as her mother turned up. I have checked the address and the Aireys Sarah Anne, Joseph and Selina did live at Lansdowne Street, in fact it was probably “Airey built”. On another occasion when very small Winnie sat with her mother on a park bench reading out loud, she was most put out that an elderly man sitting near by refused to believe she was really reading as she was so tiny. I am not sure where Winnie had her primary education but am pretty sure her secondary education was at a school connected to Darlington Ladies Training College, it was certainly connected to an institute for teacher training, as they had “student” teachers all the time, she was there until she was 14. Winnie had a good command of English and a knowledge of grammar that passed me by.
Winnie had a lifelong interest in astronomy and as a young child was given the opportunity to look through a telescope in Darlington (at the college I think), she got very excited at seeing a sunspot and was also a little nervous at climbing up high to look through the viewer, so she put out her hand and grabbed hold of something to steady herself. It was only afterwards that she discovered to her embarrassment that she was holding the Principal’s tie.
Unusually for the times, but luckily for me there are several photographs of Winnie, her home and family as father Fred was a keen amateur photographer. A photograph of Winnie standing in front of the bandstand in North Lodge Park, Darlington has been included in a book about bandstands.
Winnie learnt the piano and played for dancing classes, she was also accomplished at embroidery, crochet and dress making. I still have pillow cases and table cloths that she made and she made me many outfits as a child, I didn’t always appreciate them at the time.
Winnie married William Andrew Jackson in 1925, she was an only child and he was the second of seven, Winnie got on well with his sisters, brothers and their husbands and wives, she enjoyed being part of a larger family.
In 1926 Winnie gave birth to her only child Frederic Norman named after her father who died during her early pregnancy and her cousin Norman whom she had also named but who died when just a baby. Winnie was short in height, she claimed to have been 5ft 3 at her tallest and insisted that she had only shrunk to 5ft 2, in my opinion she barely reached 5ft. Norman (the Frederic was soon dropped) however grew apace. One day when a gypsy came to the door Winnie’s mother brought her in to see Winnie because she had never seen a gypsy! The woman took one look at the baby in his pram and said “Lord love you, he’s bigger than you are.”
When Norman was one year old Winnie, Billy, Norman and Nellie moved to Widnes with Billy’s work for the asbestos company J W Roberts. Winnie did not care for Widnes, missing the greenery of the Yorkshire Dales and Durham, but enjoyed trips to Liverpool shopping, something she was to go back to in the later years of her life. After six years Billy was moved again, this time to Leeds where they lived first in Inglewood Terrace, then later at Brookfield Road, Meanwood which was the first (and only) home they owned. The war years came and many of the children were evacuated but Norman didn’t want to leave home, so Winnie home educated him and a neighbour’s child for a short while before the school reopened. During this time Winnie went to night school classes and studied nutrition, she worked in the canteen of the department store Marshall and Snellgrove where Norman worked in the gentlemen’s outfitters department. Winnie also studied botany at night school and could tell you the Latin name of many plants. She went to the pictures every week and was interested in amateur dramatics. She sent Norman for Speech and Drama lessons from a young age and encouraged him to enter poetry festivals where he won a few awards. Despite being an over protective mother she was happy for Norman to join the cubs and scouts and let him go away to camp. Billy worked overseas for several years, so there was often just Norman, Winnie and Nellie at home.
After the war Billy bought a small general “corner shop” which Winnie ran for a couple of years, but it wasn’t financially viable and Winnie was no “Arkwright”. The children used to steal the empty bottles from near the door and then return them for money only to resteal them. Billy died in his early 60s from Pulmonary Asbestosis caused by his occupation. Winnie had the house in Brookfield Road split into two flats and rented out the lower half of the house. By this stage Norman had married and settled in Maghull near Liverpool and in 1961 just a year after Billy’s death Winnie became a grandmother to Joanna Margaret.
Winnie made little delay in renting out the entire house and moving to a small flat in the Central Square, Maghull. Maghull was where Winnie spent the last 30 plus years of her life, firstly in the flat in the Square and then in a Granny flat which was built for her at 2,Hickson Avenue.
During this time she read hundreds of books, did hundreds of crosswords and played scrabble with a range of partners most of whom she outlived. She kept up her interest in astronomy and was a great Patrick Moore fan, she even auditioned for The Sky’s the Limit (a quiz show with Hughie Green) but didn’t get on the programme. She watched Countdown every day, pencil at the ready for both words and numbers. She liked snooker, particularly if Steve Davis was playing. She had a big party for her 90th birthday and made a speech and wrote a poem for Mollie and Norman’s Ruby wedding. Having been convinced she would never by a grandparent, Winnie eventually had two great grandchildren Isobel and Olivia. She spent the last few months of her life in a nursing home and was still quite bright and active until the last few weeks of her life, she died just a few months short of her 100th birthday.