Neston Creche – Cheshire Observer – Saturday 15 November 1890

(By a Correspondent.)

Abutting on the principal entrance of the Neston Churchyard stands an old-fashioned stuccoed residence, shaded with evergreens. Some of its windows look out through a vista of trees and shrubbery, over the low-lying meadows that stretch themselves between the gardens and the river, while others look down upon the churchyard. For some centuries this old house has echoed the sound of the church bells, as they have flung out their invitations from the tower ; and has watched procession after procession pass over the broad gravel path, and disappear through the south-west porch of the church. It has seen the churchgoers streaming into the building to return after the benediction in more leisurely fashion, while some have lingered as is their weekly custom by certain of the graves outside. Gay equipages have often times rolled up to the entrance, and the tall gates have opened wide for the bridal train ; but more frequently a solitary note has sounded from the belfry, and the processionists have moved slowly and with uncovered beads.

Many a thoughtful glance is cast at the empty house now by the Neston people, as they go by, and bethink them of the kindly faces, which until recently, looked from the windows; and of the many kindly deeds that were wrought by the hands of those who once moved about its rooms. For two generations at least its occupants preached the gospel of goodwill a gospel of few words and many deeds to the poor of Neston; and now that they are gone, and their voices are heard in the old house no more, it may not be out of place to recall one particular instance of their kindliness of heart, especially as it is just being brought to mind by the birth of an institution similar to that to which I am about to refer

A few years ago there was heard in the vicinity of this dwelling the sound of the workman’s hammer, and while the passers-by wondered, there gradually uprose, on a space of ground at the side of the house, a large iron covered room. No sooner was the last rivet driven into its place, and the building rendered taut and dry, than there began to flit into it cots and little forms, chairs tall and chairs short, chairs with rockers and chairs without rockers. There were also dolls that dressed and undressed, and dolls that went to sleep in their clothes ; horses that rocked and never got an inch farther, and horses that went on four wheels with tails and manes that would have made Bend Or weep with jealousy. There were the various other toys that go to make up the Paradise of ladies and gentlemen of tender years; and last, but not least, there were the babies themselves. These were of various sizes, of both sexes, and they were gathered in from the four points of the local compass. ” Miss — ‘s Nursery ” rapidly became, in fact, a very common term in the language of the Neston baby world ; and as for the babies they rocked horses and nursed dolls, and filled themselves so full of bread and milk and rice pudding that those of them who were beginning to ” take to their feet ” grew so fat that they had to be carried again, while others, a size larger, who had been in the habit of being carried occasionally, got so very heavy that no one could carry them, and they had to walk for the remainder of their days. Meanwhile, gentle people who had got children of their own, all but grew envious when they looked upon the day boarders at the nursery.

Now a word as to the homes of the majority of these small visitors; for it must be admitted that there are a few who could not have claimed admittance on the ground of urgent necessity. The ” bad liver ” in ” these parts ” whose conscience has kept him awake until two or three o’olock on a cold winter’s morning, or the virtuous individual whose ” bad liver ” has performed for him a similar function, may have heard in the small hours a troop of people passing beneath his window, and if he has had the courage to get up in the frosty atmosphere and draw the blind -which is not at all likely – he may have seen in the starlight a band of men and women, especially the latter, driving donkeys in the direction of the beach. Another and another regiment would pass in like manner, and, two hours after he has drawn the blankets to his nose again and settled for sleep with a half audible expression of thankfulness that he is not as the other men and women and donkeys are who have just set off to follow in the footsteps of the receding tide, the band of toilers will be nearing the scene of their daily labour. It has been weary work walking over the yielding gravel and sands in the face of a biting wind, but nevertheless the work of the day must be begun at once. Then follow hours of walking to and fro in the shallow pools of icy water, with clinging wet skirts freezing against the bare discoloured feet and ankles. Hours of toiling, and stooping, and grubbing in the wet sandbank, while the nipping frost lightly powders over the striped linsey petticoat and the closely tied shawl. The Point of Ayr Lighthouse flashes its intermittent light upon the scene from time to time; but long before the first streaks of day have been drawn across the eastern sky these Neston women will have completed a portion of their daily work. They have been seen pushing slabs of ice aside with their bare feet, as they have waded out to the black mussel patches; and they have been seen toiling at the mussels when those savoury molluscs have been freezing together in the hand-basket and bag.

What would the London seamstress say to such work as this? ” Better ‘Stitch, stitch, stitch,’ and be ‘sweated,'” one can imagine them saying, “than be frozen to death.” The poet has yet to be discovered who will sing of the “delve, delve, delve” of the Neston cockle gatherer. When he does appear, these women may begin to awake to the fact that no class of women in the United Kingdom endure greater hardships at this season of the year than do they; but they have not begun to grumble as yet. There is the same weary trudge homewards later in the day, and when they get there the improvident ones find that not only is the “cupboard bare,” but that the fire has gone out for a walk also. The bag of cockles drops with a despairing “souch” by tbe door, and “Edward” paces reflectively off to his luxurious stable and his feed of second-hand straw chopped fine. To add to the general comfort of her surroundings the cockle gatherer is often compelled to go out with a hand basket of cockles before she can raise the wherewithal for fire and food. Small wonder is it that under such circumstances she finds the temptations of a ready-made glass of rum irresistible, and that afterwards some of these poor creatures even neglect to obey the wise and carefully thought-out advice of the temperance orator.

The eldest girl, who might have been a ministering angel under such circumstances as these, has been done for by the School Board. And here the writer might ask the Bench to deal tenderly with the eldest girl cases when they come before them. The plea –

For mother dear is ill, you see,
And baby’s only good with me is not always a vain excuse,

as the writer could testify.

Under such surroundings as these it is scarcely necessary to describe the fate of the family baby, and it was to meet such cases that Miss–‘s Nursery was established. It has been a problem to many people why that creche should have had to go, but so it was. Evil days came upon it through no fault of the owner and finally it was towed off like a giant’s caravan in the wake of a huge traction engine to increase the accommodation of the Parkgate Infant School. No one thought of protesting against its departure, and the rising generation of Neston were even held up aloft to clap their hands with glee as the huge machine snorted its way up the High-street. My own impression is that the youthful boarders of the establishment began to break the commandment which forbids idolatry. There were small boys among them who entertained a larger amount of affection for old rocking horse than they did for their own father, and there were little girls who if they had been asked to choose between a certain doll with an injured expression and their mother, would at least have asked for time for reflection before giving a decided answer.

Another matter which has puzzled the Neston people not a little was why Mr Reginald Corbett should have gone all the way to America for a bride, seeing that there was a number of young ladies in this neighbourhood only waiting –.The answer to this question is just beginning to appear. If anyone had told the people of Neston some time ago that when next a creche opened in Neston it would be through the instrumentality of a lady who was at that moment a leader of society in Buffalo, New York, they would have expressed considerable doubt as to the sanity of the person giving the information. But so it is. A new creche, with Mrs Corbett as lady president, is just announced, and the Neston people are to have an opportunity of rallying around so desirable an object. A suitable house near the schools has already been taken and is partially furnished. Mrs J. G. Churton is the honorary treasurer and Mrs W. Ariel Grey the honorary secretary of what will be it is sincerely hoped a long-lived and successful institution.

see Creches in Nineteenth Century Neston