Posted by: billpurdue | July 28, 2012

Lynn Knight and Chesterfield

There are many books of personal reminiscences from the 20th century, but Lemon Sherbert and Dolly Blue: the story of an accidental family is rather different and stands out from the rest. It’s by Lynn Knight who chronicles the lives of her great grandparents, grandparents and parents, but there’s one thing that separates it from most other family histories. Apart from being very well written, it’s the word ‘accidental’ in the subtitle that is significant. The author’s great grandfather, her great aunt and her mother were all adopted.

 

It is also fairly local to the Chad area – North Notts and NE Derbyshire – which also makes it specially interesting for me. Lynn Knight’s ancestors lived in Wheeldon Mill near Chesterfield, now part of the village of Brimington. Her great grandfather Dick was three years old when his parents, fairground workers, decided to emigrate to America and handed over their son Richard to a Chesterfield barber named Joseph Nash. Dick married Betsy and, having one daughter, Annie, already, they decided that they could adopt a girl from the Chesterfield Industrial School. So Eva, originally also named Annie, came to live with the Nash family. Annie married Willie and at the age of 37 they decided to adopt a daughter through the auspices of the National Children Adoption Association in London. Her name was Clara and she was only 8 months old and, under the name of Cora, she became the first child to be legally adopted in Chesterfield under the new Adoption Act of 1927. Cora is the author’s mother. Before the act came into force, adoptions were much less regulated affairs and adoption papers for that era are hard to trace. The attitude at that time was that the adopted person should make a fresh start and forget about their origins.

But this book is not just an account of adoptions and who married who. It’s a vivid and evocative tale of the three generations living in a poor area of the Chesterfield Borough. The fact that three of the people in this dynasty were adopted has made very little difference in the long run.

I hesitate to use the overused adjective ‘heartwarming’, but if any book can be described in this way, this one can. On the rear of the paperback edition, no less than Man-Booker Prize winner, Hilary Mantel, is quoted as saying that the author “shows with great eloquence how social disadvantages need not negate emotional warmth and individual hope”. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will recommend it in my next Chad column in September.

[Atlantic Books £8.99 pbk 9781848874176. Includes a list of historical sources and some photographs]

 

Lynn Knight has also written a biography of one of the most prominent ceramic designers of the 20th Century, Clarice Cliff. Her pottery designs were all the rage before the Second World War. On her website, Lynn Knight says she wanted to know more about the woman herself and the women who bought her pottery. [Bloomsbury £20 9780747578284, also in pbk.]

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