Being Jan Morris
On Mother’s Day I naturally think about my Mum, which leads to thoughts about my Grandmother, followed by my Great-Grandmother. I only have vague memories of my Great-Grandmother but my Grandmother was a huge part of my life. Being a mother myself I think about how different it must have been for these women to start their families - in different times, with different opportunities, different support networks and different medical procedures. Nevertheless, we are/were still all women with similar dreams, hopes and concerns about becoming mothers, being mothers and one day, hopefully becoming grandmothers. Sadly my Grandmother passed away before James was born so I never spoke to he about being a mother or asked her what it was like for her.
Instead, to celebrate Mother’s Day I decided to find some grandmothers who were happy to tell me their stories.
I have met up with three very different women who all live in Crawley. They all have ‘being grandmothers’ in common. They all invited me into their homes, and over a cup of coffee, they told me about growing up, their own parents and especially the differences between them and their grandchildren growing up.
Here is the first of our grannies, Jan Morris - thank you for sharing your story.
Jan’s parents met at GLC County Hall in 1948. Her dad was a surveyor and mother a secretary.
Jan was born at home in 1955 in Southgate, North London. As far as she knows it was a pretty straight forward birth with the midwife attending the home.
When Jan’s paternal Nan was only 13 years old, her Great-Grandmother ran off, leaving her family behind, and Jan’s Nan had to leave school to bring up her four brothers. Taking responsibility for her siblings at that early age must have been a big ask but it appears to have made her a very caring person. Jan has such warm memories of her; “She had the knack of making you feel the most important person in the world”. Nan lived in East Ham and visited them weekly to cook them a fish dinner.
Growing up, they were a very close-knit family. As well as her Nan, she was also very close to her maternal Gran who lived in Ealing. Jan’s mum stayed at home with the children until Jan was a teenager. She had one sister and they were, and still are, very close.
If you ever needed your GP they would usually come to your home. At age of four, Jan fell off the garden gate and remembers being examined on the kitchen table by their local doctor.
Her parents had created a warm safe home for them and she loved their cosy house. Talking to Jan she comes across as a very confident woman so I was surprised to find that she was very shy as a child. She would much rather stay at home than go out and didn’t enjoy going to parties. She recalls going to one across the road, feeling homesick and returning home. She couldn’t wait to start school though. She would walk the half mile there and recalls how at the end of the day the children took turns with carrying their teachers handbag to the gates - which was a real privilege!
They would spend most of their holidays staying in caravans or guest houses on the Isle of White, sometimes with cousins joining them. She also recalls going to France twice on camping holidays as a 10/11 year old. Her parents were very generous but they did not spoil their daughters; “We had to almost ‘aspire’ to things and wait to get them rather than have every wish indulged". Birthdays were always special and she especially remembers getting ‘A Hard Days night’ by the Beatles for her 9th birthday. They didn’t have a TV but would sometimes watch on a set down the road, with the only channel being BBC.
She met her future husband, Clive, at university where she studied law, and they got married in Southgate in 1979 (they'll be celebrating their Ruby Wedding in June). They lived in London and bought their first house in 1982.
Sadly her first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage. She was devastated and took a few weeks off work. It wasn’t something people generally spoke about and very similar to now, there was no offered mental health support. However, she soon became pregnant again. She remembers being told not to eat any soft cheese, but take iron tablets. Due to the previous miscarriage, she was offered a scan and this time the baby was breached so she ended up having a cesarean, staying in hospital 10 days afterwards. Once she was back home her doctor turned up to check on her. They named their first child Jon and later went on to have Rich. Both births went well and the boys were healthy although they did have a scare when Rich was only three weeks old and he was taken to hospital due to an infection.
In those days it was recommended to start your children off on solids at 3 months, and babies were always laid in their cots on their front. They were encouraged to move the children into their own room as soon as possible. Potty training was done from when they turned one, as playgroups and similar places would not accept children unless they were potty trained. The frantic weighing and bringing babies to clinics was going on then too. When children became ill the GP would visit their home, which is of course unheard of now. Jan and Clive were part of a very strong antenatal group, and although there were health visitors around they preferred to turn to their antenatal group for support.
They moved to Crawley in 1988 where Jan started working at Milton Mount school in 1998. Initially it was only for 2.5 hours per week, working with learning support for two children. She changed roles within the school and became a Teaching Assistant, and later school secretary. She thoroughly enjoyed working with the children and welcomes the fact that mental health awareness in schools has increased over the years.
She has always been so proud of her boys and their achievements. When Jan found out she was becoming a grandmother she was so excited. She feels that with being a Granny, you enjoy more of the play and adventure, and don’t have to worry so much about the other bits. Her grandchildren often stay the night and she loves having them around. They even have their own club: The J Morris Adventure Club.
In addition to her two grandchildren here in Crawley, she is about to become a Granny for the third time. “I’m looking forward to our next grandchild due in May but as they live in Australia it will be very hard not being able to get my hands on the baby and give it a snuggle!”