The Making of Her

by Anna Aysgarth

The Making of Her by Anna Aysgarth

When forced to leave school to become a parlourmaid to the Groves, the richest family in the Yorkshire mining town of Hope, Lily has little idea of how her life is about to change.

When war breaks out in 1914, Jonathon Grove, Lily’s employer’s dashing son, joins the newly formed Royal Flying Corps and while on leave, seduces Lily and leaves without knowing that she is pregnant. Neither her father nor the Groves want anything to do with her, but with the help of a friend, Lily’s able to travel to the Yorkshire Dales to stay with Annis Clayton.

Lily begins to help Annis in making creams and lotions and sees the potential for selling them to a wider market than the local farmers’ wives.

When they team up with Ian Steele, the local pharmacist, they establish a business that expands beyond Lily’s dreams.

Everything looks set for a happy ending when she and Ian admit their attraction to each other, but Jonathon’s return into Lily’s life complicates matters.

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Release Date: November 22, 2022

Genre: Historical Romance

~ A White Satin Romance ~


The flowers were already wilting as she crammed them into the jam jar, but she couldn’t help it. That was the trouble with bluebells; they had looked stunning earlier that morning as she had walked through the woods. They had stretched before her like a living blue carpet. She had breathed in the scent, surprised something could smell so sweet so close to town, where the smell of smoke and dirt were dominant. Part of her wanted the moment to last forever, because she knew that from today, her life would change.

“What lovely flowers! Bluebells are my favourite,” a voice said softly. Lily had not heard the classroom door open.

“Yes, Miss Hodgeson. I only picked them this mornin’, but they’re already dyin’.”

The teacher walked further into the room, her movements, though efficient, caused her petticoats to rustle beneath the long, black skirt.

“No,” her teacher agreed, “they don’t last long, but they are very beautiful.”

“They’re for you, miss.”

Miss Hodgeson smiled, her rather stern features softening. “Well, that’s very kind of you, Lily. Thank you.”

Lily took a deep breath. She did not return the smile. “I wanted to give you something, miss. Only I didn’t have no money.”

“Any money,” Miss Hodgeson corrected automatically.

“Any money,” Lily repeated. “Anyway, I wanted to get you somethin’.”

Miss Hodgeson leaned forward to catch the scent of the flowers. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Lily.” It was not surprising seeing Lily in the classroom so early. Although teachers were not supposed to have favourites, Lily had been difficult to resist. She loved learning, soaking up as much knowledge as she could. She was always the first child to arrive in the barren playground and the last to leave.

If things were different, the teacher thought, Lily would possibly have gone to university.

She and Lily’s mother had persuaded her father to let her stay on for three years or so as a pupil teacher. But things were as they were. Lily lived in a small Yorkshire mining town on the edge of poverty; her parents could neither afford her education nor had her father any interest in doing so. They needed the money she would bring in to help feed the rest of the family. Like most of the girls in the school, when she left at the end of the year, Lily would end up at the factory making shirts.

“The thing is, miss, it’s my last day today. My dad has got me a job. I’m to start tomorrow.”

The teacher took a step back and looked at Lily in surprise. “What do you mean your father has found you a job? You’re a bright girl, Lily. You passed the scholarship. You should have gone to the grammar school. I had hoped that with the help of the tutoring you might be the first girl from this school to go on to university.”

“My dad don’t hold with schoolin’ for girls. Says it’s a waste of time. In any case, we couldn’t afford it, and that’s that.” Lily wiped her nose with her sleeve. She had promised herself she would not cry, but the thought of leaving school filled her with a sadness she couldn’t explain. Miss Hodgeson had opened Lily’s eyes to a world beyond the grimy, crowded, mean streets of the misnamed town of Hope in which they lived.

Miss Hodgeson could have wept with her, but she had learned she could not interfere. The lives of the children in her care were often precarious. Mining communities were close-knit; they looked after each other. But many parents struggled to feed their children and put shoes on their feet, so who was she to judge what was for the best? She knew Lily’s father had been injured in an accident, and that meant that the little money Lily could earn would be needed now more than ever before. She also knew that if Lily’s father wanted to take her out of school, that is what he would do. In fact, it was a wonder he hadn’t done so sooner. With almost any other parents, she would have gone to their home and tried to change their minds, but with the Russells, she knew Lily would suffer if she interfered.

Lily looked at her teacher with eyes wiser than they should be for a child of sixteen. “It’s no use, miss. My dad’s made up ’is mind. I’m to go into service at Mr. Grove’s. It’s a good position. I shall be a ’ousemaid. Who knows? One day, I may be a lady’s maid or a ’ousekeeper.”

“I’m sure you will, Lily. You work hard and be ambitious.”

“Well, anyway, I just wanted you to have the flowers as a thank-you, like for the books you lent me and all the other things you taught me.” Lily stopped, knowing that if she continued, she would cry. The long experience of being the daughter of Joey Russell taught her that crying, especially over something she could do nothing about, changed nothing. And it usually meant an extra beating.

Miss Hodgeson nodded and, to spare them both the risk of further embarrassment, said briskly, “I have to go out and ring the bell now. Check the inkwells, please, and fill them. Each pupil will also need a sheet of lined paper and blotting paper for our composition lesson.”

Lily looked around the classroom, savouring the brief moment of silence before the other children came tumbling in: the windows that were too high for even the tallest child to be distracted from their work, the cream-and-green walls, the tall teacher’s desk and chair overlooking the rows of desks, the slates neatly stacked on the shelves, and the rows of well-thumbed history books that had captured her imagination as she had learned about the Ancient Egyptians, Boudicca and The Romans, and the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. She breathed in. More than anything, she would remember the smell of chalk, cabbage, and children. After today, she would no longer be part of this world. Her childhood, such as it had been, would be over.

Although Lily wanted time to slow down so she could savour her last day at school, it seemed to speed up. English, mathematics, history, geography, music, and art flew by at twice the speed they normally did. At the end of the day, Miss Hodgeson handed her a small, brown, paper package tied with string.

“It’s nothing much. I know how much you enjoyed it when I read them to the class. I thought you might like to have your own.”

Lily’s eyes shone as she hugged the books close to her chest. “Thank you, miss. I won’t forget you.”

Her teacher smiled. “Nor I you, Lily. Now off you go, and remember that whatever you do in life, do it in the best way that you can.”

Lily smiled to herself as she walked down the hill. She had never owned a book before, and now she had two. Her smile turned to a frown. She would have to be careful when she got home, or her precious possessions would be taken from her. There were no books in the house. Her father said books were a waste of time and they had more important things to spend their money on. If he found them, they would no doubt end up at Uncle Joe’s at the end of the street. He would claim he had to pawn them to buy food for the family, but she knew from experience, they would see little of the money. And if her father didn’t find them, her brothers would, and they would take the books just to torment her.

Lily had wondered on more than one occasion whether she really belonged to the same family. She was the only one who had any interest in learning, but a look in the small square of mirror in the kitchen had confirmed that she was. Her auburn curls, green eyes, heart-shaped face, and small nose were exactly like her mother’s. She did not know how she came to be tall, but it was yet another thing for her brothers to pick on.

She quickly looked up and down the street as she turned the corner. There was a small gang of lads kicking a can around, but her brothers were not among them. Tucking her parcel down her skirt and wrapping her arms around it, she walked quickly towards her house. It was one of the shabbiest on the narrow street amidst a long terrace of brick houses that were broken only by the entrance to a backyard or other equally rundown streets. No blade of grass or tree was evident as far as the eye could see. Front doors opened directly onto the street, while the back doors led to small yards that held communal washhouses and toilets.

Her mother looked up from the range as Lily entered the house. The baby sat on her hip sucking the end of a wooden spoon. “Here, take Emily a minute. Your dad’ll be back in a minute an’ you know what he’s like if food’s not on the table by the time he’s taken his boots off. If you think she’ll settle, put her down, and then come down. I need the potatoes peeling.” She thrust the child at Lily and turned back to the smoke-blackened pan.

Lily took the child without comment and carried her up to the bedroom she shared with her brothers and sisters. She lay her youngest sister in the drawer that served as her crib before taking her precious package out from her skirt and quietly opening it, careful to keep the brown paper from crackling. The walls of these houses were thin enough to hear a conversation going on in the next house. She caught her breath when she saw the titles: David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. Miss Hodgeson had read the stories to the class, but now she would be able to read them for herself. Carefully, she wrapped her books and placed them under the mattress of the bed she shared with her sister.

“Lily, what are you doing up there?” Her mother’s irritated voice was shrill. “These potatoes won’t peel themselves.”

“Just settling Emily,” she shouted back. She then ran down the stairs before her mother came looking for her.

As usual, the meal consisted mostly of potatoes, carrots, and onions. Mrs. Russell did the best she could with the money they had, but even when her father had been able to secure work of skilled roofing jobs, there never seemed to be enough. Now that her father could no longer earn a full wage and her brothers were getting bigger, they all knew the constant pangs of hunger. She reflected on her conversation with Miss Hodgeson, who encouraged her to pursue her education. Lily knew that in reality, it was not for the likes of her. Her wages would make the difference between the family managing to survive until her brothers could go down the pit or going to the workhouse. It wasn’t called that now, but a workhouse was a workhouse, however they chose to say it.

She picked up the knife and began to peel. “Mum, what will it be like? At the big ’ouse?” Her mother paused and looked up from the range. “You’re to be a house parlourmaid. Mrs. Grove’s housekeeper will instruct you. It’s mostly dusting, tidying, serving meals, washing up, and looking after the things the family needs. There’ll be a lady’s maid as well who looks after Mrs. Grove. Perhaps you could do that one day, though you’ve never shown any great talent for sewing. But it’s better than being a housemaid. That’s what most girls from around here do if they don’t go to the factory, and that’s hard work, believe you me. If it wasn’t for your father, that’s what you’d be doing.”

“Why? What did Dad do to make me get a better job?” Lily asked, making the most of the chance to talk. Her mother rarely had the time or the energy to have a conversation; there were too many clamouring hands and mouths taking up her attention.

Her mother gave the pan another stir before turning and sitting on the wooden stool next to Lily. “When that scaffolding collapsed and your father fell from the roof, it was because the foreman had told the apprentice to put it up while he did something else. The apprentice had never done it before, and the foreman didn’t check the work. The lad hadn’t tightened the bolts properly, and when your dad was climbing up with the slates, the whole thing collapsed. The foreman tried to blame the apprentice, but the men went to Mr. Grove and told him the foreman was always cutting corners. Not only that, when Mr. Grove investigated, he found out that the foreman was cutting corners so he could steal materials as well.”

“I still don’t see why he would offer me a job because of that,” Lily said, taking the peeled potatoes over to the sink and emptying them into a pan of water.

“He didn’t. It was only when your dad went to see him and demanded compensation that Mr. Grove offered him anything at all. Your father threatened to go to the papers about the foreman; Grove didn’t want the scandal of people thinking his buildings weren’t safe, so he offered your dad a job for life at the yard. Your dad tried to get jobs for the two oldest lads, but Mr. Grove said that the only other work he had was at his house, and that’s how you got the job. Now, we haven’t time for chattering. Set the table. And remember that when you’re working, they won’t be paying you to talk.”

As she finished setting the table, a thought occurred to Lily. “Mum, how do you know about housemaids and parlourmaids and ladies’ maids?”

Her mother turned once more, tucking the wisps of hair that had escaped from the tightly drawn bun she habitually wore. “I wasn’t always married to your father.”

Lily expected her to go on, but she didn’t. “But—” she began.

“That’s all, Lily. You ask too many questions. Now go and call the others. Your dad will be here in no time.”

Lily collected the tin plates and mugs from the shelf and started to put them on the table. She stole a glance at her mother, who was pulling loaves out of the oven. They were not close, not like some of her friends were with their mothers. When she stopped to think about it, she knew more about some of their mothers than she did of her own. Her mother was not from Hope, that she knew. There were no grandparents or aunts or uncles. That was why, as soon as she was able, she was expected to help with the house and her younger brothers and sisters. But she only recently noticed that her mother didn’t speak like everyone else in Hope. She sighed as she placed the last of the spoons. She could ask, but if her mother had wanted her to know, she would have told her.

As ever, her brothers and sisters appeared in the street when the food was on the table. Their father came through the door just as his wife was spooning the watery stew onto plates. Lily cut the bread into thin slices while her father took off his boots and washed at the kitchen sink. The other children stood behind their chairs until they were told to sit down. When everyone was served, there was silence, broken only by the sounds of cutlery scraping across plates. There would not be any left over, but no one complained about the meagre portions or lack of a scraping of butter for their bread. They knew there were others in the street who had even less.

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