I was at GIRO, our recycling centre, when Pauline introduced herself. She is one of my Facebook Bitchin’ Chickens followers, but I’d never met her before. We got to talking and she mentioned that she had an old sketchbook with drawings of chickens. Never one to turn down the opportunity to check out chicken stuff I arranged a visit to her place.
She has not one, but two, identical sketchbooks – the kind of nondescript scribblers that we used as children. Turns out they were used by kids: her great-grandfather, Alfred Clark, and his brother, John, her great-uncle.
It’s a delightful collection of drawings – mostly chickens, a few pigeons, woodland birds, and local buildings including their home, Red Load Farm. Looking at them made me think of the days when children used their hands and were taught skills: whittling, playing musical instruments, needle work and the ‘domestic arts’.
I’m always amazed when I see the level of skill demonstrated in samplers made by very young girls. In the days before television, computers and electronics children (and adults) spent their time on domestic chores, which, in many ways, were outlets for creative expression.
John’s scribbler, dated 1886 when he was 15 years old, mostly contains sketches of fancy pigeons and buildings. Alfred, three years his junior, drew different breeds of chickens and then, for some unknown reason, interspersed between them, are pictures of what must have been exotic animals at the time: rhinoceros, oxen, beaver, bison, zebra, hyena and guinea pig. They’re not Michelangelo’s youthful doodles, but they do represent something charming and nostalgic.
Pauline is a genealogist and provided me with some background and photos of the two brothers.
John Clark (1871-1942) and his brother, Alfred (1874-1955) were the youngest of nine siblings brought up in Redmayne House, on a 16 acre mixed farm near Gressingham, in the Lune Valley in northwest Lancashire, England. They worked on their family farm and then in 1890, both brothers moved south to farms on the outskirts of Darwen, a small cotton town to work. Alfred was a cowman and John worked with horses, which were required before the introduction of mechanical tractors.
In 1890, Alfred was living in Arkholme at Red Load Farm, a Grade II listed building built in 1722, which is still standing today. John had found work on a nearby farm.
In 1904, Alfred got married, settled in Darwen and bought a confectionery shop.
Alfred had three daughters. When his eldest left home in 1933, he and his family moved to Rishton, where his other two daughters started a bakery. By all accounts he was a stern man and the family remembers there wasn’t much joy in the house until Pauline’s father came to court her mother. He lived in Rishton until his death in 1955.
John continued working as a farmhand and died in Darwen in 1942.
Pauline was kind enough to scan a sampling of the chicken drawings from the sketch books. I have added some notes about the breeds. The first sketch is by John, the remaining drawings are by Alfred. Enjoy!
All photos and sketches courtesy of Pauline