By Dorothy Mitchell
Key Themes: fictiion, relationships, family, society
Hollybeck is set in the early 1900s, and is a story about how two friends, Emma Watkins and Trudy Spence, take unexpected paths in their lives. Both girls start from similar working class conditions, but whereas Emma flourishes, Trudy has a mental breakdown due to being raped and becoming pregnant, and she is institutionalized. The book also tells of the intermingling of rich and poor, between those living upstairs and those living downstairs in the Hollybeck House. The story reflects various aspects of humanity including its struggles, pains and triumphs, and shows how Trudy Spence’s loved ones deal with her declining health and mental illness.
About the Author
Dorothy Mitchell was born in 1938 and lives in Evesham in Worcestershire. She has published two novels entitled One For Sorry, Two For Joy and The Willerby Grange Secret, two poetry books and various children’s stories. Dorothy draws on her experiences in life and writing in a similar vein to Catherine Cookson and Maeve Binchy.
Emma was awakened by the sound of Tommy the cockerel. His raucous morning squawk did it every time. He may be happy to start another day, but on a freezing cold December morning, Emma just wanted to stop in bed, pull the thick blanket over her shoulders and stay snuggled in the warmth.
“Emma, come on love, it’s time you were out of bed. It’s almost six o clock.”
“Ok Mum, I’m coming.” The girl looked towards the window, where the curtains didn’t quite meet. Emma could see the thick coating of ice that had once again formed overnight inside as well as out. Taking the shawl from the bottom of the bed, Emma slung it around her shoulders and shuffled shivering over to the window. She breathed on the glass in order to look out, at the same time rubbing with her finger, trying to melt the thick ice, but she could make little or no impression. Emma walked over to the jug and bowl situated on the old dresser. The girl shivered as she reluctantly removed her flannel nightdress. She began to pour the almost frozen water. Sara Watkins walked into the bedroom.
“It’s all right love, I’ve brought you some hot water.”
“Oh thanks Mum, but I didn’t want to disturb you this morning. I know what Mr Cartwright is like. He treats you like a skivvy. All he thinks about is his precious pub and making money.”
“I know all about that love, but we need the brass as well. It’s a good job you’ve been taken on at the Mill. Now come on, you don’t want to be late. Wash and get dressed. I’m doing toast and dripping for breakfast. I’ve put some in your tuck box. Try to get a hot drink at break time.”
Breakfast over. Sara and Emma set off for work. One to Hollybeck Mill. The other to Feathers Ale House. Overnight snow had fallen thick. High winds were causing drifting. Mother and Daughter, dressed in warm attire to shield themselves against the harsh conditions, went their separate ways. One fifteen year old knowing very little of life. The other in her late thirties, knowing a great deal. Would Sara be able to shield her daughter and prevent her from similar pitfalls that she herself had encountered during her own young life? No, probably not. All Sara could do was guide and love her precious girl.
Emma trudged up the hill towards Hollybeck Mill. The time was almost six-thirty. She would just make it. But oh, wasn’t it cold. Snow that had fallen overnight was thick, feeling much worse because of the high winds which were blowing the still falling flakes hard against uncovered flesh. Emma was finding it difficult to see where she was going, snow stung her eyes and ears making the going treacherous. It was difficult to keep a grip on the cobbled stones hard-packed with snow. But she must get to work by seven! So head down, Emma battled the elements and arrived at the mill gates as the mournful hooter screeched out its command.
The mill workers jostled and shoved as if eager to start work, the truth being that they would rather be inside the hell hole than outside in this atrocious weather. At the moment, it was the better of two evils.
“Hello Trudy, you made it then?” The girls linked arms. “How did you manage right from the other side of the village?”
“I had to. Me Dad made me. I set off at half past five. It’s all right, don’t worry. I’m better off at work.”
Emma pressed her friend’s arm. “You poor thing, you’re soaked. You’d better get out of those wet clothes. I’ll go and ask Jim if you can dry them by the brazier.”
“Yes Lass, dry your own while you’re at it.”
“Thanks Jim.” Emma liked the foreman. He was a good sort.
And so another noisy day began at Hollybeck Mill. Emma stood at her loom, the doffers and twisters doing their work as the mighty machines spun the cotton. The massive leather belts snaking past her at terrific speed scared her. They drove the machinery that drove the bobbins that were to take the freshly spun cotton from the looms. If Emma was honest, everything about Hollybeck Mill was daunting, from the sheer vastness of the building to the thunderous noise of the mighty looms as they transported cotton on giant bobbins hour in, hour out.
Emma looked along the line of the noisy beasts and caught sight of Trudy on her own section. The girls made eye contact and smiled at each other.