Thursday, 10 June 2010

Winifred Dean née Orford (1912-2010)

My dear grandmother died on Monday night. She was 97 and lived in sheltered housing in Hyde near Manchester. She'd fallen over a few times recently and went to hospital, reluctantly, to be checked over. They found she had a urine infection and a chest infection. She was being treated, but she developed pneumonia and died (what is it about hospitals?!).

My grandmother is largely to blame for me being political, I suspect. From her childhood experiences of poverty, she became a socialist. She wasn't very keen on trade unions, funnily enough, because she was passionate about the Labour Party and blamed unions for making life difficult for Labour governments. For her, Clement Attlee was the best leader the country ever had.

She grew up around the Walworth Road in Southwark. She was from a family that had been better off, but they had squandered a lot of it in relatively high living! Some of her relatives on her father's side were in the music hall, and they had jolly evenings in a big house in Streatham singing around the piano, and such like entertainments. My grandmother left school when her father died and her mother went out to work. Winifred had to help look after her siblings, a younger sister and four brothers. One of them, George, she used to take to see plays at the Old Vic.

The same George later worked at a printers, John Swain, in Shoe Lane (the company also had a works in Barnet). My grandmother worked there for a while as well. I have to check when she met my grandfather, Sydney Dean, a Wallasey man, but I think it was through her brothers. My grandfather was a career soldier, who also, fairly naturally, served in the Second World War. My grandmother's two daughters, Fay and my mother Elaine were born during and at the end of the war.

My grandfather was the last in a long line of Deans, a somewhat well-to-do family (that story another day!), and he was disappointed that his second child also had turned out to be a girl and that the family name would not be passed on. I understand he gave my grandmother a bit of a hard time over this. But their marriage was, I think, pretty good on the whole. My grandmother nursed her own mother Rose when she was old, the old lady lived until her death with Win and her family.

The family lived in Battersea and then Bexley. My grandfather was a postman after the war. Suburban family life was possibly rather dull. My grandmother had grown up surrounded by a large, boisterous family; she was very close to her brothers and sister. Now, my mother remembers, this small, nuclear family did not have a lot of company beside each other.

Nanny and Grandad (as I called them) retired to Broadstairs, where the family had always spent its holidays. I was born in Ramsgate extremely shortly after they moved into their big house in Rectory Road where they did bed and breakfast. All through my childhood I visited them there.

My grandmother enjoyed her new, more sociable life in Broadstairs. She was very active socially, and politically in the Labour Party. Her main activity was the Women's Section, particularly fundraising. She did this partly through selling bingo cards - we called them "swindle cards" but we always bought one when we visited.

The house needed repairs, and as they got older it occurred to my grandfather that they might be better off selling it and buying something smaller somewhere cheaper. And, probably, he wanted to go home to Wallasey. They sold the house in Rectory Road and moved up to Wallasey, to a very nice, actually quite large house in Canterbury Road. My mother liked to refer to herself as 'The Dean of Canterbury'.

Rather tragically, my grandfather died the very January after they moved. My grandmother stayed on in the house in Wallasey, probably at first too depressed by her husband's death to move, and then, as she made a few friends, some of whom became quite close, thinking she could make a reasonable life in Wallasey. She was there for nearly 20 years!

She was less enthusiastic about the Labour Party in Wallasey, which had a reputation as being rather left-wing. Independently of my grandmother, I knew some of the people involved, and I can say that she had a point. They were far more my sort of socialist than her sort of socialist, in short!

Instead, Win became more active raising money for Guide Dogs for the Blind. She was a great dog-lover, although she owned only one dog herself, as far as I know, Tuppence, a black labrador, old and cantankerous when I knew him.

Win had friends in Wallasey, but she was getting old, and even suffered a stroke (which she made a fair recovery from). We were slow in cottoning on to how old and frail she was becoming. I think we all learned some lessons about how important it is to respond and adapt to the body's changing needs, with Win as our patient guinea-pig, unfortunately! For example, when her eyesight was failing, it was only relatively late on that we explored the possibilities of the large-print book.

Win, however, was not one to grumble, and she enjoyed living in her big house 'with the high ceilings'. (She once turned down an invitation to go and live with my mother because 'she couldn't live in a house with low ceilings').

My aunt had a brain wave and worked hard to find Win a place in sheltered accommodation in Hyde, close to her. Given that she was already in her early 90s, it was lucky that Win got in. The flat in Chartist House (!), built on the site of one of the early Chartist halls, had low ceilings! But it was pleasant and had a nice view of the moors around Hyde, and a snooker hall where the lights burning late into the night fed our fantasies of lurid goings on.

I will miss my grandmother. Rather shamefully, however, I hadn't seen her since her birthday last September, when I went up for her party. A 100th birthday party would have been a lot of fun, even for Win with her failing body, but it sadly isn't to be. Win's mind was sharp to the end and she still knew how to love the people around her, and, I hope, knew that she was loved in return.

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