Authors: Annie Groves
Tags: #Romance, #Sagas, #General, #Fiction
To my grandmother who was the inspiration for this book,
and to my lovely husband who was there at its beginning but did not live long enough to see its end.
Wednesday, 3 September 1902
‘Ellie, why can’t we go without them? If we don’t get to Fishergate soon, there won’t be any places left!’
‘John Pride, we can see everything in the procession just as well here at home on Friargate as we can from Fishergate,’ Ellie reminded her younger brother with neighbourhood loyalty. And it was true. As Ellie looked out of the parlour window of their home above their father’s butcher’s shop, she could see down into the street decorated with hundreds of yards of bunting to celebrate this, the first Preston Guild of the new century – and the first in the reign of the new King.
‘But the procession will be here soon and I’ll never see everything on the Textile Trades’ drays from inside! And everyone wants to see them,’ John protested, his lower lip protruding mutinously as he glowered at Ellie. ‘They’re going to have real
working machines, and they’re going to be the best displays in the whole parade –’
‘John Pride, how can you say that?’ Connie, the middle one of the three Pride children, cut him off challengingly. ‘Our dad’s lot, the Master Butchers, is going to be the best.
are going to have two bullocks, sheep, shepherd boys leading collie dogs, journeymen in butchers’ attire,
boys on horses,’ she announced triumphantly, ticking off the list on her fingers.
‘Oh, I know all about that,’ John fought back scornfully, ‘
I knew about it before you did, because our dad told me first and not you…and –’
‘No he did not,’ Connie denied hotly.
‘Yes he did.’
‘Will you two stop it?’ Ellie Pride demanded, a quick elder-sister frown creasing the smoothness of her pretty face. ‘Now, John, is that a dirty mark on your collar already? And just look at your new suit! You know what Mother said…’ As she tutted and fussed, secretly, and despite her newly grown-up sixteen-year-old status, a part of her positively itched to be out on the street with the rest of the excited crowd. But, of course, she wasn’t going to admit as much to her younger sister and brother. Their mother had left Ellie in charge.
A little self-consciously she touched the pins holding up her hair. She had been practising putting it up for weeks now, but this was the first time she
had been allowed to appear in public with it worn in such an adult way.
Her new dress was also more grown-up than that of one fourteen-year-old Connie, who was still wearing a girl’s starched white pinafore over hers, her long hair curling loosely down her back as she kicked impatiently at the strut of the wooden chair on which she was sitting.
Stifling her own longing to be outside joining in the fun, Ellie reproved John. ‘You know that we are to stay here in the house until our Aunt and Uncle Gibson and our cousins come round from Winckley Square, and then we are all to watch Father leading the Master Butchers in the Guild parade. Once they have gone by we’ll go to Moor Park to see the Earl of Derby open the agricultural show.’
‘Well, I agree with John. I don’t want to wait for our Aunt and Uncle Gibson either,’ Connie announced rebelliously. She considered herself far too grown-up to be told what to do by a mere sister.
John pulled a mutinous face at Ellie. ‘Why do we have to go to the showground with Aunt and Uncle Gibson, anyway? I don’t like them. Just because they live in Winckley Square and Uncle Gibson is a doctor, they think they’re better than us. Father doesn’t think so. He says it takes more skill to butcher a beast properly than it does to –’
‘John Pride!’ Ellie stopped him warningly.
John looked warily at her. He knew that there
was nothing his sisters hated more than him talking about the more gory aspects of their father’s trade, though it regularly proved to be an excellent way of reinforcing his male superiority over them. Even if he was just ten, and the youngest of the family, he was still the only son, the one who would in time inherit the family business.
Ellie, however, despite her own delicate and feminine appearance, was not someone to be recklessly baited or disobeyed. She might be all dressed up in a new frock made for the occasion by their mother’s dressmaker, and be wearing her hair up in a way that made her look disconcertingly grown up, but, as John had good cause to know, she could still outrun him and deliver a smart buffet that would leave his ears stinging.
‘Anyway,’ John added, ‘they haven’t got so much to be high and mighty about now, not with our dad being President of the Master Butchers this year, and being on the Guild Committee.’
Preston’s famous Guild celebrations went back to the time when the town had been granted its Guild Merchant charter. As the Guild ceremonies were only re-enacted and celebrated once every twenty years their occurrence naturally generated intense excitement in the town.
‘You know that Mother wouldn’t like it if she could hear what you are saying,’ Ellie reproved her brother. ‘Aunt Gibson is her sister, and you know that Mother was –’
‘One of the beautiful Barclay sisters,’ Ellie’s siblings chanted in unison.
‘Quickly, Connie, Ellie. Come and look,’ John demanded, scrambling from the chair he’d pulled up to the window to stand on the windowsill itself and crane his neck so that he could look down the street. ‘There’s a photographer waiting. I bet the procession won’t be long now.’
‘John Pride, come down from that window right now,’ Ellie began, but John wasn’t listening to her.
‘When I grow up I’m going to be a photographer,’ he continued importantly.
‘You can’t be,’ Connie objected. ‘You’ll have to be a butcher like Dad. All the Prides have been butchers.’
‘Not all of them,’ John argued. ‘Uncle William isn’t.’
‘No, well, that’s because he was the younger brother and, anyway, he’s a drover and not a photographer and you can’t be either –’
‘Yes I can!’
‘No you can’t.’
‘Can, can, can…’
As John jumped down from the window and reached out to tug on Connie’s hair she let out a shriek and tried to box his ears.
‘Stop it, both of you,’ Ellie commanded. ‘Otherwise I shall send you to your rooms and you will miss the parade completely.’
‘You can’t do that; you aren’t our mother,’ Connie objected fiercely. ‘Anyway, I don’t think it’s
fair that we aren’t allowed to go to any of the balls,’ she announced, strategically changing the subject, but not before she had aimed a quick triumphant hidden kick at John’s shin. ‘Two of the girls from school were both going to private dances.’
‘Private dances are different from public balls,’ Ellie reminded her sister wearily.
Connie was like quicksilver, her moods and reactions changing so abruptly that it could be exhausting just trying to keep pace with her.
‘You know that Mother and Father can’t have a party of their own because they will have to attend the official ball, with Father being President of the Master Butchers this year, and on the Guild Committee. And because of that he will be too busy to take us to any of the subscription balls,’ Ellie explained patiently, though she was aware that Connie knew this as well as she did.
‘Aunt and Uncle Gibson are having a private party, though. I heard cousin Edward talking about it after church last week. Why can’t we –’
‘Quick, quick. The floats are coming!’ John’s excited cry brought his sisters hurrying to press their noses up against the glass.
A roar of excitement from the crowds massed on the pavements below greeted the arrival of the procession. Ellie was every bit as excited as her younger brother and sister, even though she tried not to show it. After all, this was her first Guild celebration too.
For the first time in the Guild’s history, because
of the huge number of displays, the procession had been split into two parts: the Textile procession and the Trades procession. The Textile procession was the first to parade down Friargate.
The Prides had been butchers in Preston for close on four hundred years, and Robert Pride was every bit as proud of his family tradition as his wife Lydia’s family were of their more ‘gentrified’ professional status.
‘Just look at that,’ John cried out as a huge horse-drawn dray lumbered past, filled with pretty female millworkers in immaculate outfits weaving at their loom.
A little hesitantly Ellie peered over her brother’s shoulder.
The cotton millworkers were considered to be lowest in the town’s workers’ pecking order, and Lydia Pride had never allowed her own children to mix with them. Some of the millworkers had been foundlings, and the threat of being condemned to the workhouse was never far away from the poorer paid.
Ellie had been warned by her mother that she must behave in a grown-up and ladylike way; that she must always remember that she would be judged by her behaviour as well as by her position in the town’s society. She must never forget, Lydia Pride had told her daughter, that although her father was a tradesman, she, her mother, came from the town’s professional class.
Ellie’s grandfather had been a solicitor, and his
elder brother had been a judge. Lydia’s sisters had all married within their own class, and Lydia was determined that her two daughters would be brought up as ‘young ladies’, as she had been.
Beneath the window, Friargate was thronged with people: those standing watching the procession and those following it, the latter being a boisterous crowd of apprentices and schoolboys, in the main, out for the kind of mischief her younger brother was quite obviously itching to take part in, Ellie recognised.
Their maid, Jenny, was standing outside on the pavement with several other girls. Lydia Pride had taken Annie, her cook, with her when she had left to go to Moor Park, where she and the other wives were in charge of organising one of the refreshment pavilions, in this, the hottest Guild Week in living memory.
Ellie had noticed the thin curl of her Aunt Gibson’s lip when her mother had mentioned her refreshment pavilion duties.
‘My dear Lydia,’ she had exclaimed fastidiously, ‘surely it would have been better to have brought in caterers! Alfred insisted that I have our small party catered.’
‘Robert wanted to make sure that the meats that were served were of the highest quality,’ Ellie’s mother had responded in her gentle, well-modulated voice, ‘and he says that the only way to do that is to oversee the ordering and cooking ourselves. It seems that some of the more unscrupulous
caterers provide very inferior food. And, after all, in view of Robert’s trade…’
‘Ah, yes…trade,’ Ellie’s aunt had sighed disdainfully. ‘It is such a pity, my dear –’ she had continued, stopping when she realised that Ellie was listening. But Ellie knew what she had been about to say. It was no secret to the Pride children that their mother’s sisters felt she had married beneath her.
Absently Ellie glanced at the float passing beneath the window. The young workers on it might be immaculately dressed today in their pinafores and caps, but everyone knew about the unpleasant, often dangerous, working conditions and low pay that these women had to endure, whilst those who owned the mills lived in the town’s biggest and finest houses.
A group of rough-looking young men were running alongside the float and, without meaning to, Ellie discovered that she was staring at one of them. The sun was shining down on the thick dark curls of his capless head. She could see the sinewy strength of his muscular arms through the soft cotton of the shirt he was wearing – open at the neck, she noticed, before her face coloured in self-consciousness. There was something about him that made her feel odd…excited, nervous, tingling with the sudden rush of unfamiliar sensation invading her body. That feeling made her angry with herself and even more angry with him for being the cause of it. His skin was warmly
tanned, as though he worked outside. Was he perhaps one of the railway workers who had been responsible for adding the extra platforms to the station to cope with the influx of visitors come to enjoy the Guild Week celebrations?
Preston’s Guild Week was famous throughout the country – and even further. It had been in the papers that visitors were expected from as far afield as Canada, Australia, and even New Zealand.
It had taken the committee organising the celebrations nearly two years to plan everything. Ellie could well remember her father returning from his meetings in either a state of high exultation and triumph, or deep despondency, and one of the committee’s most spectacular achievements had been to obtain the offer by the new electric company of free electric lighting for the event. People would come from counties away just to see that, Robert Pride had forecast excitedly.
Leaning a little closer to the window, Ellie gazed at the young man below her, her dark blue eyes becoming darker, and her soft skin a little pinker, her lips parting as she breathed faster, caught up in a sensation she herself did not understand.
As though somehow he had sensed her curiosity he suddenly stood still in the street and looked up at the window.
His eyes were a curiously light silver grey, and there was something about him…Ellie gave a tiny little shudder before snatching her gaze away from his. He had no right to look at her in that…that
openly bold and…and dangerous way. No right at all.
‘Ellie, why is that man staring up at us?’ John demanded.
‘Silly, it’s because we’re girls,’ Connie answered him, preening as she tugged on her ringleted curls and coquetted openly, giggling when the stranger suddenly swept her a deep bow, and then reached into his pocket to remove three coloured balls, which he proceeded to juggle expertly.
‘Oh, look at him, isn’t he clever? Ellie, I want to go down and give him a penny.’
‘No, you mustn’t!’ Ellie protested, horrified.
‘Mother would want me to. You know she’s always saying that we should be charitable,’ Connie insisted smugly. ‘Come on, John.’
‘What? Waste a penny on him? No fear,’ John refused sturdily. ‘I want to buy myself a toffee apple at the park.’
The procession was moving on, and the ‘juggler’ was being urged to join it by his companions. Connie laughed and clapped her hands together as he returned the juggling balls to his pocket and swept the Prides another bow.