Monday, 11 February 2013

The amber glass beads

Do you like amber?
Do you like amber glass?
Do you like amber glass beads - with a little bit of history thrown in?
Here's a little morsel to tempt you with.

For as long as I can remember these beads have been around. When I was a child they were kept in a box with mum's 'best' jewellery. I knew that they were special but never really knew their exact history. Many years ago I borrowed them, for whatever reason, and have (accidentally) never managed to hand them back! Since then they have adorned my various dressing table mirrors where there translucent richness has reflected back on itself tenfold. 

This is Harriet.

She was my great grandmother. I always knew her as Nanny, and to mum she was 'Nan'.

My actual grandmother was Irene.

Sadly Irene succumbed to a bout of tuberculosis, age 22, following the birth of her third child. Mum was thirteen months old at the time. Nanny had ten other children yet, at the same time as grieving for her daughter, took mum in and raised her as her own. Great Grandad earned a modest wage as a printer but with so many mouths to feed there was never a lot of money to go around. But Harriet was generous to a  fault. Whatever little they had there was always enough to share. The house was always full and there was always food on the table. The step got scrubbed and the stove was 'blacked'. She was a proud, down to earth woman who would stand no nonsense!

Here she is on the left with Auntie Blod (yes, really) and an adorable pup!

Mum was evacuated to the nearby Cheshire countryside when she was three years old. Her life then became one of collecting eggs and acres of grass and fresh air - a vast difference to the inner city Liverpool she had left behind. By the end of the war she was to return to Nanny who, by then, seemed like a stranger. Nanny knew that mum might struggle to adapt back to city life but was determined to be the best mother she could.

 Mum at the bottom right with a proud Nan behind - V.E. Day 1945

Mum remembers Nanny as having two outfits for 'best'. According to the occasion it would either 1) a brown woollen pin stripe skirt suit or 2) a black taffeta dress ( top photo). There was never any dallying over what to wear - it was one or the other! Similarly she had her jewellery - short glass beads or long amber beads.  Sadly I can find no photo of her wearing the amber beads but here they are

As a child I remember going to visit Nanny on a Saturday. The house was large and packed with dark furniture. We never went in the parlour at the front unless it was a special occasion. Instead we would follow the smell of 'scouse' (Liverpudlian hotpot) toward the scullery and find Nanny in her favourite chair next to the blazing fire. I would sit at the table by the window overlooking the small back yard and draw, or read my comics, while mum and Nanny would put the world to rights (I always knew there was a scandal when voices would suddenly turn hushed!) As Nanny got older she retreated more and more into that wonderfully warm and cosy room. Instead of dragging herself up two flights of stairs in an old draughty house she decided to stay by the fire. She sat in front of an old sideboard and it seemed to me that it contained everything you might ever need. She would open one drawer and it would contain neatly folded parcel paper and some string. Another would contain old ribbons and trimmings, dutifully saved from past clothing, presents or flowers. A third contained old letters and cards.There was one drawer that I never got to mooch around in. This was were she kept her essentials - brush, 'lippy' and beads. I remember glimpsing the amber beads from time to time and thinking that they must be real gold.

 Looking at them later I could see how well they had been cared for. As something she treasured you can see how Nanny had adopted her 'make do and mend' philosophy. A couple of bits of knotted string and some 'irregular bead formation' makes me wonder how often they must have been rethreaded - and what event had led up to them breaking in the first place?

For now though they hang ceremoniously on my mirror. A reminder of a real lady - strong, resourceful and kind. She lived until the ripe old age of eighty nine years old and swore her longevity was due to her daily bottle of stout and twenty Benson and Hedges ciggies. We'll leave her in the snug of her favourite pub and raise a glass.

Cheers Nanny xxx


  1. What a lovely story to go with your treasured beads!
    Angie x

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your family history and the story of the beads. After losing my grandparents I inherited a huge amount of written stories of ancestors lives, photos and even a number of CD's from a museum that my grandfather was associated with, where he had spoken about his experiences in London during the War. I am so grateful for all the memories they have left for future generations. One day I will put together the book that he never managed to finish. Treasure the beads and the memories, they are with you forever. Take care. Chelx

  3. Thank you Chel - that's just given me goosebumps! Mum also inherited a lot of her family history and we are currently tracing the family tree to try and fill in the gaps. No Kings or Queens as yet but I do think it's so important to keep these memories alive - once gone they are gone forever. It sounds like you are the guardian of an absolute treasure trove - I'm sure you'll do it justice xx

  4. What a lovely post - I love the weaving together of photos and artefacts. Nanny sounds an inspiring woman. Thanks for commenting on my blog - I am now following yours!

  5. What a beautiful post. Nanny sounds like she was an incredible person. The beads are beautiful, something to really treasure.
    M xxx

  6. Lovely post ... your Nanny sounds like a wonderful woman ... so lovely that you have something beautiful to remember her with ... Bee xx

  7. What a lovely post. Your nanny sounds like she was an amazing woman.

  8. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing such a great story and the photos too. The beads really are something to treasure. Elisabeth x

  9. What a lovely lovley story, and i love your little blog space too, thanks for stopping by at 'the Nook', always lovely to hear from new readers.
    x Pixie

  10. I have seen beads like these in antique shops and often wondered who had worn them. They are beautiful, and I do love amber and amber glass. How wonderful that you have something to remind you of the amazing women in your life. Minerva ~

  11. Hi, I do like amber and the necklace is beautiful,lovely story to go with it too!Kind regards Pam.

  12. The beads are beautiful. I adore amber and I love the family history that comes with your necklace. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Gillian x

  13. Hello ..You have a lovely blog ..I have an old amber necklace that belonged to my Granny but alas it is broken ,It is on my list to try and mend it (her name was Harriet too)
    So glad you have found me and thank you for your kind words
    Thea x

  14. What a fantastic story and so well told.

  15. I thoroughly enjoyed that story, thank you so much for sharing.



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