Monday, April 13, 2009


"What I can recall of her life, I wouldn't wish on anybody," said my dad, Christopher, of his mother, Lucy Cater.

She had been "shamed on all sides," thrown out of her home, and told to never darken their door again, when she became pregnant. She had no where else to go but to a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers and when her time to give birth came, she bore a baby boy in Dudley Road Hospital in Birmingham.

He never knew her, or saw her, for the first 5 years. His grandparents brought him up in the slums of Hockley, in Birmingham. The conditions were appalling. One memory he had was of his grandmother, Mary, an Irish woman whose maiden name was Royle, sticking her finger in a can of sweetened condensed milk for him to suck on.

The place was alive with fleas. It was a terraced house and there was a cellar and an attic in which he loved to play with wheels and pedals and bits of machinery.

The toilets were down the road; public toilets with one cold tap.

There was also a communal laundry room, with a boiler and a mangle (wringer) and dolly tub, which was a tub with a wooden dolly, to swirl and agitate the clothing. After the washing it was the thing to have a bath in there. It was very primitive, but the community feeling was great and everyone "mucked in together" and helped one another.

Everything was very crude and poverty stricken and they really didn't know where the next meal was coming from.

Lucy, in disgrace, worked in a sanatorium as a cook. It was cheap labour, but she had no choice.

It was there that she met and married the elderly, widowed gardener, named Leonard Parkes, whose family Bible I still have. His first wife's name was also Lucy. In the Bible, his birthdate is recorded as 1849, so when Christopher was born in 1921, he would have been 73. I believe that Lucy was 17--a difference of 56 years. The photo at the top left of the page, is Lucy, and on the back is written, "Parkes," so I believe that it was taken after she married Leonard Parkes.

After he died, she had to move from the house she shared with him, and once again she was on her own and destitute.

It was at this point that the boy was sent to live with the mother he did not know. His aunt Agnes (in the photo, with Lucy,) took him to Wassall Grove, a mile and a half outside the village of Hagley, where he and Lucy lived in a cottage on Haywood's Farm.

They lived in abject poverty with Lucy working for the rector for half a crown a week and eating whatever they could get. Sometimes it was rhubarb stew on a slice of bread.

Lucy was a member of the Salvation Army then, and she would play old revivalist records. I have her old Sankey hymn book, given to her, "On April 18th 1918, by a friend," it says inside the cover. That was 3 years before my dad was born. She used to frighten her boy with the story of Daniel in the Lion's den.

Later they moved to a schoolhouse and she married Peter Thornburgh, a brutal man who knocked her about and knocked her little boy about too.

Dad always wished he could have met his father and asked him questions, but Lucy refused to her dying day to tell him who he was. Although she named him Christopher Leslie, she always called him Leslie, a name he hated. Later on he learned that she had worked before his birth, for a jeweller in the jewellry quarter of Birmingham, named Leslie Holland, and his aunt Agnes said that he was his father. This was never confirmed.

Although his stepfather wasn't a loveable man, he was the nearest thing he had to a father, and he asked him numerous questions, especially when he found out that he had fought in the 1914-18 war. But some of the things he told him, he wished he hadn't, for they didn't reflect well on him if he actually did do them.

Eventually Lucy had three more children: Frank, Sidney and Patricia and still lived in the schoolhouse with Peter Thornburgh many years later when Christopher began a family of his own.


Angcat said...

These are fabulous stories Belinda, albeit riddled with struggle and sadness.
Yet look at the Lord's faithfulness as He has brought redemption to the children and grandchildren of Christopher Cater.

You have such a wealth of heirlooms from your parents and grandparents.

Thank you for sharing.

Belinda said...

Thank you Angela. Posting these on Mondays, is giving me the nudge to actually do it. I have so many handwritten notes held together in bunches. :)

Dave Hingsburger said...

How does it come to be that there are those who gracefully live in disgrace? I love the pictures of her, she has a gentle beauty. These stories are wonderful.

Joyful Fox said...


I enjoyed reading about Lucy and second all that was said by Angcat, and Dave. What a rich treasure trove are these stories. What beauty and grace are found amongst incredible challenges.

I wonder what were Lucy's joys, her regrets, her dreams?

When wrote down as story, her history, we have a sum total of the struggles of her life - apart from the times and culture of the day. Was that when Charles Dickens was writing a Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations? The time of work houses, extreme poverty when people first began to move from the country to the city? Is it after that, when citizens began seeking a better life for their families in the Americas? I'm looking for perspective here.

How was she viewed by others then?

Enquiring minds do like to know. Ah, I do enjoy history. I love learning about people, individually and socially. King Solomon spoke so wisely when he recorded in Ecclesiastes, "There's nothing new under the sun...but to seek God, stand in awe of HIm, and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person."

I am so looking forward to next Monday. This is a wonderful idea Belinda. Thank you.

Belinda said...

Hi Joybul,
Lucy lived from just after the turn of the last century--at the start of the 20th century. It was after Dickens's day, but still the vestiges of that day and age clung. It was a difficult time for the destitute, with few social supports. And judgement was harsh on those who bore the result of actions they had no part in, like my dad, who bore the stigma of "illigitimacy," a word I hate.
As for Lucy's hopes and dreams, I wonder too.