Sarah Mickleburgh (1852)
Born Sarah Bowden and believed to have been born and raised in the Scarning/Wendling area she was, in the custom of the day, put into domestic service at the age of 11 Her working day would commence at 5.00am when she would blacklead the grates and light fires as necessary before taking round jugs of warm water to the bedrooms of the family members and assisting cook to prepare breakfast. She was then making beds, cleaning etc until putting in the hot water bottles at bedtime. Food was provided with a meagre wage and she was allowed a half day off every two weeks with each six months a whole day to visit her family. One wonders how they found time for courting but it was while working in the Brisley area that she met and subsequently married Thomas Mickleburgh.
It is thought that they lived in Dodmans Lane all their married lives and raised five children, Alice, Thomas, Jane, Lillian Born (1879), and Bobbie together with their eldest grandson Harry who was born of Lillian in 1897. Harry was my father and it is to him that I owe much that I learned of Sarah. She outlived Thomas by several years and it was during this period that I have clear memories of frequent visits and longer stays with her in Horningtoft during the holiday periods.
Although she thought a lot of me, Sarah was a very strict and sharp tongued woman and when I stayed, without my parents, during the Harvest holiday she would threaten that if I misbehaved “Old boney will get you." As a boy I always thought that boney was some ghost from the Horningtoft churchyard but I now realise that in her childhood the threat used referred to Napoleon Boneparte.
In her younger days Sarah would regularly walk to Derham or Fakenham markets and walk back with her baskets full of shopping but when she got older, kindly neighbours would offer her a lift in their pony and trap.
Sarah was an ardent member of the chapel community and as well as regularly attending services she undertook much of the organisation, cleaning and general maintenance. There was no regular preacher but each Sunday the service would be taken by a preacher on a local circuit basis. It was the practice for the ladies of the village to provide a meal for the preacher before the service and again this was undertaken on a rota with occasional competition to entertain a particularly distinguished speaker. These occasions usually required a visit to Fakenham for something extra special and of course the use of the best tea service. Thomas loved to drink tea but never from a cup. He always had a filled pint basin which required him to hold it between both hands. On one occasion, when a particularly important preacher came to tea Sarah put out a cup for Thomas who protested loudly that he wanted his basin. He got his basin but was in the doghouse for quite a spell afterwards.
Sarah and another lady in the village provided an unofficial, lightly paid, service as midwife, district nurse and undertaker between them handling every birth and death in the area over a period of many years also nursing many people through serious illnesses.
I recall many times when she would go to bed fully dressed as Mrs.or Mr. X was not expected to last the night and when she got the call she would walk over to wash and prepare the body before rigor mortis set in.
Sarah could not read or write and when as a widow in the early 1930s the postman would bring her a letter from her daughter Jane in Scotland he would open and read the letter to her and then, with paper and envelopes that she always had to hand, would sit down and write an immediate reply to her dictation. She would then give him 1 ˝ old pence for the stamp and after getting her a bucket of water from the well he would have a cup of tea and go on his way by foot or bicycle. Those were the days when to be a postman was a highly regarded position usually achieved only after serving as a Telegraph boy and subject every morning to a postmasters inspection parade to ensure that their uniforms were immaculate and boots freshly polished.
The baker and most tradespeople would all get water from the well for Sarah and there were many occasions when she would say to me ." Hull that half a bucket of water on the garden boy, the oil man or the fish man will be here in a minute and he will get me a fresh one." I was never allowed near the well as it was considered dangerous but the routine was always the same. If the bucket came up with a frog or more often a newt in it, the contents were tipped back and the process repeated until a clear bucket was raised.