“To be parted from your house…”

Today, some papers for some family history research I’m doing arrived. Last July, I discovered the story of two elderly sisters who took their own lives following the local council’s decision to designate the area they lived in a ‘clearance area’. The ladies had lived in the same cottage all their lives and the council just wrote them a letter telling them their home will be demolished.

I can’t imagine the distress this would cause anyone, let alone two sisters in their seventies who had known no other home than the one they were born and brought up in. Their predicament reflects that of E M Forster’s Miss Schlegel in ‘Howards End’, with whom Mrs Wilcox sympathises: “To be parted from your house, your father’s house – it oughtn’t to be allowed. It is worse than dying.”

The sisters had lived in a close-knit community, formed among the residents of many cottages, houses, pubs and shops along narrow lanes in a small market town. The council condemned the whole area as unfit for human habitation and, in demolishing it, destroyed close community ties and a significant proportion of the town’s heritage, neither of which could be replaced by the blocks of modern ‘luxury’ flats that were soon to be constructed on the site.

Anyway, the documents I received today make difficult reading, providing an agonising glimpse of the sisters’ situation. I just want to go back in time and stop the council in its tracks – these ladies kept themselves to themselves, they never did any harm to anyone, why did such a horrible thing have to happen to them, so traumatic that they decided to end it all.

After reading the documents, I dashed off to visit a friend – I was there yesterday as well, helping her write a nomination for a colleague of hers to receive an award. When I arrived, we went straight on to see a friend of hers to check what we’ve written and get more information. We had a very warm welcome and enjoyed tea and cake, with a proper tea service, cake forks, serviettes, etc. It was very quaint. This chap’s home struck me as quite unusual – there were lots of trinkets and some nice-looking old family photos around, and some more modern ones of the royal family! It was good to chat to someone I wouldn’t normally see, and I wish I had talked more (still lacking confidence, after all these years).

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