"We had money once..."
A fateful meeting of two girls, who shared more than a name
A trunk was recently discovered, in a secret room in Blakesley Hall. We do not know who put it there, or why. In it, we found diaries, a family tree, and portraits, which together revealed a heart breaking tale of a family torn apart, divided by class but connected by blood.
This is the story, as we have pieced it together from the various documents.
All the events and characters in this story have been made up. The rest, of course, is true.
THIS EXHIBITION HAS BEEN CREATED BY OUR TEAM OF EXPERT ARCHIVISTS
AT ARCHBISHOP ILSLEY CATHOLIC SCHOOL, BIRMINGHAM
In 1730, newlyweds William and Hyacinth Fernsby took up residence at Blakesley Hall. Their family quickly grew, as to them were born three sons, Albert, Jack and Richard, the latter holding a special place in his mother’s heart.
At age 18, Albert was struck with typhoid, and tragically died. As time went on the family recovered from this early tragedy and the remaining brothers stepped up to their roles in running the farm. Richard was a kind and benevolent man and treated the farmhands with kindness, spending many hours with their families.
It was during this time that he met and fell in love with Lizzy, a poor girl from the nearby village of Yardley.
Although the Fernsby family were good people, they could not approve of this partnership, Richard had a choice, the farm or Lizzy, he followed his heart. He never returned to Blakesley Hall and lived a happy and contented life with the poor farm hands in the local villages. His only regret was that all ties with his beloved mother Hyacinth were cut. He remembered her by the beautiful flowers he planted in the garden and by remembering her by name within his new family.
He learned later that his mother was heartbroken by his departure from the family, and within a year had taken to her bed. Her death soon after was said to be of a broken heart. Her remaining son, Jack, ensured that the name Hyacinth lived on in the Fernsby family.
Years later, a young poor girl, with a name the same as the flowers that grew in the small cottage garden, gained employment at Blakesley Hall. She hated this life of service and dreamed that the stories of her great grandfather Richard, passed down through generations, were true - that they did have money once.
On Day One of her new job, she met a girl, of similar age, that she felt she had known all of her life. Not only that they shared the same name, Hyacinth.
On the hottest day of the year in 1801, they would open a chest, that would reveal they shared much more: a history and a heritage...
Oh how I am in great grief, my lovely son Richard is being disowned. I hold back tears as I write this. He has chosen to marry a poor girl, she works in an orphanage caring for poor children. My husband William has decided that lizzy is not worthy enough to carry on the family line being as poor as she is. I am distraught and don’t know what to do. Me and Richard have always had a special connection and I cannot lose him. Yet if I go against Williams' order, I would be at risk of losing the rest of my family. I married a kind, caring man, not a stubborn, miserable man. I want Richard to choose us but he already made his decision. He is leaving the family tomorrow with lizzy. William has already torn our family tree apart, my poor Richard's line is gone. Forever. I want to scream in anger, my heart cannot take this agony. I’m broken. I just want my family back…
My husband has fallen ill with a terrible disease. Typhoid… He has a tremendous fever, cough and aches. I’m afraid of how long he has left with us. My mother in law, Hyacinth, is already suffering with the disownment of William that I am sure any other tragic news should put too much strain on her heart and she may… oh I cannot say it. Nevertheless, Albert isn't getting any better. The doctors and I fear that if he is exposed to anything that could put him into shock he may pass. What should I do? I cannot remarry for that would be seen as adultery in a way and our children… how does a widow care for her poor children all alone? I will be sure to ask William for some money. Oh how melancholy it is with the thoughts at the back of your mind, anxiously anticipating every second of the ticking clock that my Albert may put to sleep forever. I mustn't dwell for too long. Farewell,
It has been a dreadful few days. This morning, the beautiful sound of the birds and chickens filled the silence around me. These days, I have almost no time for myself. Raking the hay, feeding the chickens, cows and pigs. All the time I wish that I was rich, but that dream quickly fades away, as each day passes. My mother is sick, so I have to spend my days taking care of her, watching die. It shouldn’t be like this, having to watch your mother die, the one who took care of you when needed her most. Today was the hardest of all days. I had to walk all the way to the well to get water. Not only that, I had no food to eat today, since a bunch of crooks creeped into my farm and vandalised everything. No one should have to experience what I experience. It shouldn’t be like this, ‘We Had Money Once’.
You can find out more about the real history of Blakesley Hall, here: https://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/blakesley