On grandfathers and their special role in our life

Granddad Knowland was a rough cut Irishman. He never told me that he was a protestant, but Mum told me he used to march in the Orangemen walks. So they escaped due to the religious conflict I suppose, I only know scant history of his life; I know that he was brought to England when he was a toddler, that the family immediately changed their name from Nolan to Knowland. He did however relate a story of being thrown in the canal so he could learn to swim. His brothers must have been a pack of tearaways as they left him to literally sink or swim. This was in a dirty old canal in the middle of industrial Bristol.

First memory of him in my life was being was being pushed along a country lane when I was three. We had escaped to the country and lived on a strawberry farm for a couple of years. Granddad came to visit then returned to help with the clean ups after bombs dropped. By this time he was no longer working much, his original trade of glassblower collapsed during the depression. So life which my mother told me had once been very comfortable became a lot harder as she grew up. My grandmother was a strong woman, never soft or gentle, I never knew her gentle side anyway. I think Grampy was under her thumb, but have a feeling he escaped now and then. Grampy had the sort of face that looked lived in, he wore tweed jackets and good shoes, and told us how they used to pawn the Sunday suit when times were tough. He loved his garden and I remember his prize dahlias and the huge tomatoes ripe and warm in the greenhouse, that smell takes me back even now.I was the first grandchild and was thoroughly spoiled by granddad. He let me twirl his wispy hair into curls and plait it; he once answered the door with three plaits stuck up on his head. I am sure he liked a drink and had some wicked ways. For me though he was always entertaining, he read endless stories from Enid Blyton books, and I drank it in; became lost in the world of books. He was never able to see how his influence helped me. I wish he had not died when I was 10, as a few years later I received a prize for my English composition. Gramps would have loved that.

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My other granddad came from Somerset, played cricket and was a wood carver. His claim to fame was making the chair for the Welsh Eisteddfod. During the First World War he was gassed and bore the scars, yet he lived until he was 90. Then he only died because he fell from an apple tree he was climbing. The family had a bakery in Knowle Bristol, and until recently the carving on the wall said “Sage Baker”. For a while the family made money as shopkeepers. Research of his family has taken me back to 1700, the name Albert which he carried and was given to my father has been carried on, my second name is Alberta and two nieces have the same name. Jesse another family name goes right back to the start. He was a wonderful gardener and I suppose his gift to me was observation of nature, and loving patience with all he met. He was a hardworking man, gave his time and energy to anyone who asked. When we lived on an acre of land in the country he came out on the bus worked all day and only asked for frequent tea breaks. He loved to prune trees, cut grass, and listen to my nonsense. Again I was spoiled he just called me “Jacko”. And indulged all my crazy schemes. I remember he called my gran; ‘the old firm’. His final years were spent working on the garden for the Nuns who lived opposite. His lovely smiling face was always the same, I never saw him angry, never heard him raise his voice, he was a gentle peaceful man. I have a terrible a sadness though about his end. I had three children under four when he died, and couldn’t get to him, now when I look back I realise the person I am now would have found a way. I would have somehow found a baby sitter, it is my one regret.


Tell us about your own grandfathers. What were they like?