I’ve been burying myself in the archive in the run up to Christmas and these first few days of 2015, working my way through a wonderful set of letters that have entered the archive on an indefinite loan. The loan includes letters, photos, and post cards belonging to the Greg family, and were in the care of Madge Greg until her death in 1992. The photos and postcards date to WW1, which was fantastic for us to continue our research into the Greg family’s experiences, but even more excitingly, Madge had inherited letters belonging to her great-grandparents, Robert Hyde Greg and Mary Phillips, as well as some that belonged to Robert and Mary’s children, and Robert’s siblings, from the 1820s to the 1840s.
Yesterday I started work on the set of letters that belonged to Samuel Greg Jr, written to him whilst he was on his Grand Tour of Europe, and I quickly realised with a jolt that the letters were all from his siblings and related to the recent passing of their mother, Hannah Greg.
The letter that I transcribed yesterday was dated February 15th 1828, from Samuel Jr’s elder sister Agnes, who it seems, had previously not been able to face the prospect of writing to anyone, unlike their younger sister Ellen:
“Her heart indeed is so full that I have been glad that she has been the most frequent correspondent. Mine has been too much shut up to be a satisfactory one, but sorrow & succeeded dependence must ultimately whatever may be their first effects bind us closely together.”
Hannah had died at Quarry Bank on 4th February at the age of 61, in her bedroom, after several bouts of sickness. Ellen recalled that Hannah had suffered from an “attack of Gallstones”, and that Dr Holland believed her too weak to recover.
Agnes wrote to Samuel Jr that their eldest brother Thomas Tylston Greg had travelled from London to be with the family, and recalled they had spent many evenings discussing their memories of their mother, and her final weeks:
“More particularly concerning Mama’s late illness on recalling things that she has said & done during the last months which now seem to say that she was more aware than we were of the approaching change. Upon the whole we had thought her better & in better spirits since Christmas than sometime before, & our evenings more particularly had been cheerful. She had read aloud a good deal & talked more the last Sunday evening. The last evening that she ever sat with us indeed, she seemed particularly cheerful… I distinctly remember her saying that she did not envy the young, particularly those who were only commencing their career, & had all the business of labour of life before them, that Old Age had many privileges.”
Agnes believed that Hannah had over exerted herself at the beginning of the year:
“She had not been out except on the flags, & it was while walking… that she caught cold which was the more immediate cause of the illness we imagine, a fortnight before however, she had tried & overdone herself & perhaps that had more to do with it than we were aware of. She had been to Church in the carriage in the morning, & to Chapel in the afternoon, after which finding Papa inclined to talk, she walked with him in the gardens for a very considerable time, the conversation was at the time a relief to her mind & she seemed to have enjoyed it but was tired & low during the next few days.”
It seems that the Mill workers, who owed a great deal to Hannah for their comparably better treatment and education at Quarry Bank, were sensitive to her condition in her final days, and Agnes’ report has me imagining the workers walking past Quarry Bank House on their tiptoes or very slowly as to avoid their clogs making their usual noise:
“The Mill Bells never rang during the whole of the last week of Mama’s illness, nor do we recollect hearing any noise. Papa sent word afterwards to express how much he was obliged.”
The siblings were all concerned about their father, Samuel, but all were relieved as:
“Papa is better than we could have hoped, the 3 last days he has been in the Mill & Mechanics shop, & is much interested in a loom the model of which he is making over, where he has been sat two weeks until a late hour. The weather too, tho cold is favourable to him & his health is tolerable, the children too are now an amusement, & the preparations for Robert’s building [Norcliffe Hall], at times he is silent & low, but much more generally is employed & his tones & manner cheerful. Reading is a great resource & we have been fortunate in having some interesting Books.”
Agnes continued her letter with some gentle mocking of Samuel Jr’s love life whilst on his Grand Tour, and expressed her hopes that he would still be able to enjoy his time in Europe despite Hannah’s passing. After Agnes had signed off, Ellen and their sister-in law Mary (Robert Hyde Greg’s wife), squeezed in a couple of lines of their own:
“My best wishes & prayers are with you dearest Sam, you dwell in my thoughts as if present, perhaps more so, a better friend with you may He bless. Yours always, Ellen.”
“Let me show you in my own handwriting that tho’ absent and distant you are still very kindly remembered & during a late time of trial been often thought of by Mary P Greg.”
I know this hasn’t been the cheeriest of posts to kick off 2015, but I felt it showed how close the Greg family were, and how they always looked out for one another, even when they were scattered across the world. It also continues to show the importance of our cataloguing project, and adds to the excellent insights we have gained into the personal lives of the Gregs and the workers.
I can promise you a much more upbeat post at the beginning of next week, relating to the same loan, which helps us finally complete a piece of Greg family history that I have been exploring since early 2013!