by Christine Henderson
When Agnes Threlfall moved into number eighty, we neighbours on Castle Hill did what we always did, standing about, watching the goings-on from our windows and doorways. Then some of us offered our assistance, as the old woman looked rather frail, and seemed to be on her own, perhaps a widow.
She accepted our help, albeit with some reluctance. Perhaps she realised that by offering to help unload her belongings from the cart, we would gain admittance to her new home, and also have the opportunity to assess her meagre belongings.
Young Thomas Bland, trying to look important, held the horse’s slack rein, though the horse was busy munching from his nosebag, and didn’t look like he was going anywhere. Other children crowded round, getting in the way of the carter, Nehemiah Turner, as he carried in the few heavy items; a wooden chest, a rickety table, a rocking chair, the mangle, and the wooden bed-frame with its lattice of knotted cords to support the straw-stuffed mattress. We neighbours, those whose offers of help had been accepted, carried in the less bulky items; the colourful patchwork quilt for the bed, the chamber-pot and wash-stand, the spinning wheel, the home-made peg rug to go in front of the fire. Then there were the separate wooden boxes for the salt, the cutlery and the candles, the iron pans, and the heavy stoneware crocks for storing food.
Agnes, looking rather weary, took her more personal belongings into the house herself. Ann Lister, a widow who lived nearby at number eighty-one, lit the fire in the grate, so that Agnes would be able to cook her evening meal. Then she hung the box containing the precious salt on a hook near the fire to keep it dry. She checked that the sand hadn’t fallen out of the cutlery box, as without it the knife blades would quickly go rusty. It would soon be dark, so she fitted a candle into the candlestick, and made sure the spare candles were fastened in their box, to keep them safe from rats and mice. After that she shooed the rest of us away, sensing that the old woman would want some privacy to get herself settled into her new home.