The Weald of Kent, Surrey and Sussex

The life story of a very ordinary person
by Ella Mary Harman
published by a private contribution from Fred Harman in 1970

Note
Occasion notes to the original document are made by Fred Harman and are depicted as italicised and inside [ ]

To most people I suppose in the small village of Rotherfield in the county of Sussex the 18th March 1893 was just another day not unlike the rest but for my mother Mary Harman (nee Benson) it was a red letter day.

At last after a string of six boys she had produced a little girl. In spite of the fact that it meant another mouth to feed it seemed to bring her some happiness for she wrote to her eldest daughter [Ella's older sister was Louise Marie] "you have a lovely little sister with a round face and very fair hair".

I was the ninth child - one had died at birth and a small brother [Frank Robert] had died at six years long before I was born. 'Would it be the last' - I am sure my mother had wondered but six years later another girl was born into the family [Christine Helen]

So I had two sisters - one was the eldest and one the youngest - of the family. Above me were five brothers coming down in steps of about two years or less. I grew up with very little contact with my sisters. My eldest sister was working away from home as a nanny to a private family and she came home only once a year for a short holiday. My younger sister was delicate and in her early childhood was subject to fits so did not lead a very active life. My daily companions were therefore my brothers and in consequence I grew up to be rather a tomboy. I played all their games and their friends were my friends. As I grew up I always preferred boy friends to girl friends. I thought boys were much more reliable and above board. Girls I thought were rather deceitful, jealous and catty. Later in life I had many girl and woman friends and proved that my early conclusions were not always correct.

My mother was a Yorkshire woman [Mary Benson was born in Aldborough, Yorkshire and her father & mother were Francis & Hannah Benson]. How she came to the south I never discovered. I knew very little about her family as she died when I was sixteen. I knew only that she came from a very good background. I remember my mother telling me of a visit she once paid with her mother to a relative who lived in a large house surrounded by park land in which there were deer. Her people were I believe small farmers but we never met any of them except for one of her sisters who also lived in the south. Later many of her family emigrated either to Canada or Australia. Her family name was Benson.

Several years later when I was in my teens an advertisement in the national press came to my notice. A firm of solicitors were trying to trace the heirs of a Colonel Robert Benson from Yorkshire who had died intestate leaving a fortune of over eighty thousand pounds. Mention was also made of three brothers who were also dead. I had in my possession a funeral card of one of these brothers. I made tentative enquiries and was told all claims must be made through a solicitor. There would be many claimants with a greater right so I pursued the matter no further. There were also stories of wealth on my mother's maternal side - large sums of money which had been taken out of the country. These stories were too vague to be believed and certainly no money ever came our way.

My mother was a lady in every sense of the word - small and gentle in speech and manner and never lost her temper or her charm. In contrast my father John was a strict disciplinarian rather dour and of uncertain temper. He ruled the house with a rod of iron and we children were rather scared of him. My mother Mary too was completely dominated by him but nevertheless she always remained a buffer between our father and us. Looking back I feel he was always fair-minded in his dealings with family and the outside world and he was a terrific worker. No doubt strict discipline was needed with five growing boys not to mention a tomboy daughter in the family and I am sure it never did us any harm.

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