Socks for the Boys!

My Great Aunt Norah's wartime diaries, 1938-1948

Setting the scene

I am itching to start this blog at the beginning, with Norah’s first diary, a Letts’ Schoolgirls Diary for 1938. But before I do, I should introduce her family and set the scene a little bit more.

Norah treasured this photograph of her parents, my great grandparents, Tom and Milly Hodgkinson. It was taken on the occasion of their engagement on Milly’s 21st birthday, 18th October 1908.

Tom and Milly, 18th October 1909

Tom (1882-1945), in his dark suit and checked waistcoat, a pocket watch bulging under his jacket, is tall and handsome, with dark, curly hair, a moustache and a discernible twinkle in his eye. (It is an odd thing, that twinkle. It skipped all but one of his own children to reappear thirty years on, an appealing flash of blue, in unexpected combinations of grandchildren and great grandchildren.) Milly, seated just far enough forward to allow Tom’s protective arm to rest on the back of her chair, wears a dark skirt and a pale blouse with a lace collar and an embroidered motif to the breast; all, including the lace, made by her own hand. She is tall and well-built and her features are strong, her heavy jawline and brow balanced by the shiny sweep of a loose chestnut bun, and offset by delicate, pretty eyes and a general air of shyness.

Tom Hodgkinson came from farming stock in the Derbyshire Dales, and had been a Grenadier Guard in the South African Wars. He arrived in Castle Donington in 1910, to take a job as a postman. Two of the things we know about him are that he supported Derby County FC and he liked a good argument. He was a passionate socialist and most of all, he argued about politics. Norah and her siblings enjoyed telling stories about their father’s daily altercations with the Vicar of Diseworth and various local grandees – Major Dalby, Gillies Shields of Donington Hall – who waited to engage him in political debate as he cycled round the villages on his postal round. There were other stories about his sudden dashes down High Street in the lead up to an election, to tear down the ‘Vote Conservative’ banners that lined the road, pinned to the old oaks in Dalby’s field. And his furious response to the formation of the National Government in 1931, when he tore down a poster of Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, shoving a poker through the politician’s eye before trampling it and throwing it onto the fire, all the time roaring ‘you turncoat! You blasted turncoat!’

I can’t find an election poster for 1929, but this is one from 1923, the year the Labour Party won a record 191 seats and, through an alliance with the Liberals (159 seats), was able to form its first minority government in 1924. Please humour me with the second picture. It is from the manifesto for that same year and I like the possibility that it once adorned a wall at Hill Top.


Source: Peoples’ History Museum,
Source: Peoples’ History Museum,

Norah’s mother, Milly Leadbetter (1887-1964), had spent her childhood in a lock keeper’s cottage at Weston-on-Trent, on the Trent-Mersey canal. Her parents were also socialists, early ILP-ers in the 1890s and enthusiastic readers of Robert Blatchford’s Clarion, a lovely paper that came out of Manchester from 1891 and which carried stories, poetry and art, notably the beautiful paintings of Walter Crane, as well as news and comment. Norah used to say that her mum was rather disapproving of her parents, for while they were warm and kind and she shared their values, they neglected housework and their children, preferring to spend their days reading to one another from Walt Whitman’s poems. It is a slight diversion, I know, but the Clarion is too lovely to not post here:

a-garland-for-may-day-1895_304x397Source: Working-Class Movement Library, Salford

Milly left home to go into service at the age of 12, first of all in the household of the Mayor of Loughborough, and then in big houses in Birmingham, London and finally Derby. In all of these places, she was part of a Christadelphian community.  I haven’t yet got to grips with the Christadelphians. I don’t know where they fit into the rich and complex religious cultures of C19th and early C20th Britain. I don’t know whether Milly considered herself to have ‘married out’ or even whether it would have mattered, or how she felt when she attended Methodist and Baptist services in the village and whether it was usual to be so relaxed about her children’s lack of involvement with her (any) church.

We used to believe that Milly had found the Christadelphians while she was in service, but when I was sorting through Norah’s books after her death I found a copy of Elpis Israel (1849) by John Thomas, the sect’s founder, with the name of Milly’s father, Arthur Leadbetter, inside the front cover, dated 1862. So: there is much I don’t know, but I am interested in this gentle, loving woman and her beloved circle of Christadelphian friends – Sister Hodgkinson, they called her, in the letters that were sent to her later in life – and there will be more about them anon.

After their marriage, Tom and Milly set up home in a ramshackle cottage adjoining the Nag’s Head pub at Hill Top, Castle Donington, on the border of Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Hill Top was a scattering of farms and cottages, almost a hamlet in itself, just south of the main village, to which it was joined via High Street, the rather grand main Ashby-Nottingham road. With its big Regency houses, High Street reveals Donington’s past grandeur, its heyday as a Georgian market town, and in the early C20th as now, was in stark contrast to Hill Top and much of the rest of the village.

If you would like to get your bearings, please take a look at the map below. We are close to J24 of the M1, just south of Derby (9 miles) and Nottingham (13 miles), and north of Loughborough (11 miles) and Leicester (22 miles). Ignore the red pin below (which is for The Priest House Hotel at King’s Mills; I can’t seem to find a map without it) and follow instead the road from Castle Donington in a southerly direction towards the A453. Hill Top is situated just before the shaded area that is now East Midlands Airport. (To the west of the airport and to the north of the road that runs from Melbourne to the A453 is Donington Park Race Track, venue for Monsters of Rock and more recently, Download).

Castle Donington

This is a recent picture of the Nag’s Head, taken from High Street at the junction of Diseworth Road. The Hodgkinson’s cottage, long demolished, stood where the flat-roofed extension stands now, its shared yard now the pub garden.

Nag's Head, Hill Top, Castle Donington

Tom and Milly married in January 1911, and the first two children came fast: Dennis in January 1912 and Helen, my gran, just thirteen months later. Family lore has it that Milly had a heart condition, and was told by the doctor to slow down on the child-bearing front. It was seven years before Richard arrived, in 1920. Here they are, those first three children, in a photograph taken in 1922:


Two more children were to follow. Next was Frank, in September 1922, surely in the running for the World’s Most Beautiful Baby award:

Frank 19230001

And then there was Norah, who arrived in March 1925. Here she is, aged about 7.Norah c 1932

And here they all are, in the summer of 1938, at the start of our story. All except Dennis, that is, who was in lodgings in the south of England where he was training to be a pharmacist with Boots the Chemist.

Hodgkinsons 1938

You can see Milly and Tom have dressed up for the occasion. At each end are the younger boys, fifteen year-old Frank looking shy and a bit awkward, Birdy (Richard), just 18, relaxed and smiling. Helen and Norah stand in the middle, in cotton dresses and ankle socks, both tanned and squinting in the sun.

1938 was an exciting year for Norah. She turned 13, began writing her first diary – and she fell in love with a prince…


12 comments on “Setting the scene

  1. Michelle Grant
    May 7, 2013

    Fantastic! What a rich treasure trove of material you have here. I love the bits you fill in for us. I’m into this, how often will you be updating?

    • Alison
      May 7, 2013

      Thanks Michelle for the comment. Am really glad you like it. There’s always that uncertainty about whether the material is really only interesting to the family involved! I am hoping to keep them coming fairly regularly at first, but a bit shorter than this one.

  2. Louisa
    May 31, 2013

    An historical account mixed with humour and personal insight. You can tell this woman/girl fascinates you and you draw the reader along with you.
    Cheeky hints for the next chapters could keep us guessing and help you think “what next” while still in the zone even when time escapes you.
    I am definitely a fan. Thank you xx

    • Alison
      June 2, 2013

      Thanks Louisa, really glad you like it! And hope one day soon to hear more about your nan’s Land Girl diaries…

  3. Dear, you write ” In all of these places, she was part of a Christadelphian community. I haven’t yet got to grips with the Christadelphians. I don’t know where they fit into the rich and complex religious cultures of C19th and early C20th Britain, or indeed, how they were different then from the same community that gets such bad press nowadays.”

    Where and how does the Christadelphian community gets a bad press. We do know lots of Americans do not like non-trinitarian Christians and would do all they can to damage the reputation of Christadelphians. We also are aware that like in many religions and denominations there may division and different groups not liking each other or not be prepared to help each other. such division or schisms are naturally very bad and we would say not a Christian example.

    But Christadelphians are normally neighbour loving pacifist people who prefer to live according to the commandments of Christ and the Commandments of God. So we wonder where and why they are getting a bad press.

    • Socks for the Boys!
      February 16, 2014

      Thank you for your comment. Re the bad press: it is probably an ill-chosen phrase (by me) but when I was researching on the internet I came across a number of groups of people who feel difficult about their Christadelphian childhoods. It was’t an objection based on schism – more they wished they had been raised more ‘in the world’. I was interested – not least because my great grandmother was very devout (and a peace loving woman who lived by the Bible, as you describe) but she didn’t marry a Christadelphian nor did she raise her own children to attend the meeting (they went to the local Baptist Chapel). I am keen to know more about Christadelphian communities in Britain in the late C19th/early C20th.

      • It is true several youngsters may have found it difficult to have been raised under the Law of God, not having been free to have indulged in lots of drugs or a lot of sex with different people, or not having been allowed to go out steeling or doing things a lot enjoyed by growing up teenagers. Some may become frustrated by it.

        Though you may find that by Roman Catholics, Baptists, Evangelists, Jehovah Witnesses and other denominations in Christianity as well as by the several Muslim and Jewish denominations.

        Because being such a small community and having several sorts of groups, there are also can be found very free and liberal groups but also very conservative groups. Mainly in Australia there still exist very very conservative Christadelphians.
        In the United States of America you may also find very conservative groups like the Brethren, Amish, a.o. who prefer to keep to old traditions. There you also shall find that youngster would become confronted with the new developed materialist world and could be tempted by it. does that make those groups bad? Or does it make the rest of the world bad? None of the two.

        Everything has to be seen in the right perspective.

        The problem for believers in only One God, is that this God has given the world Laws, which they want to follow. By following the commandments of God, always there will be clashes, for children, adolescents, juveniles and adults alike. that is what Jesus is talking about, when he knows that he and we do live in this world but should not be part of it.

        Every Christian, be it a Christadelphian or from some other denomination shall have to make a choice.

        Because several Christadelphians may live in isolation there exist a danger that they withdraw on their own. In some regions there exist very conservative Christadelphian groups which like to overprotect their flock, and that is always bad and dangerous, because it mostly turns against that community. some also may have been stuck by the earlier century.

        For more knowledge about the 19th century Christadelphians you best take contact with the Christadelphian Bible Mission in Great Britain.
        The Belgian Christadelphians might have a large library, but to look into the works to find more shall consume much time. In case the jammed website of Mr. Ampe, Christadelphian World is back for public viewing, you might find some information printed on it, as well on the website of the Brothers of Christ or Broeders in Christus, where soon a series shall be started with historic elements about the Christadelphian community, next to the already existing articles.

        Whatever religion, be it Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Hindu, there always has to be the ‘golden midway’ to bring up the children and to guide them to the teachings of that religion. In all religion and in all time there will be clashes between one generation and the other, that is part of humankind.

  4. Christadelphians
    February 6, 2014

    to get to know more about our Sister Hodgkinson you may contact the CBM or the Derby ChristadelphiansMill Hill at the Christadlphian Hall, Mill Hill Lane DE23 6SB, Derby.

    To come to know more about Christadelphian we would like you to invite to come and have a look at the different Christadelphian Websites. (You may find links on one of our sites).

    For us it looks strange that we are getting somewhere bad press. Please do enlighten us.

    • Socks for the Boys!
      February 16, 2014

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve replied to part of it above, so here will just thank you for the address. Do you hold records of members from the early part of the last century? And do you know if there was a meeting in Long Eaton as well as Derby?

      • Christadelphians
        February 16, 2014

        We are just a very small community in Belgium and keep records from our own country, but not as such from the other countries. For those we do have only what is written in the Christadelphian books. And that is an immense library, which we do have here available, but would demand much time to look into. (Good work for historians.)
        The Christadelphian Bible Mission is the best place to go for advice. But recently we ourselves are also doing research in the London scene and in the development of the Christadelphians. Perhaps we can come up against something of your interest. But this would take time.

        We do hope in England they shall be able to help you better.
        Good luck.

  5. Socks for the Boys!
    February 18, 2014

    Thank you for pointing me to the Christadelphian Bible Mission. I will look them up in the future. I did visit some Christadelphians when I was a student and wanting to understand more about my great grandmother. Since then I have done some historical research into women and faith/different religious communities and it is something I’d like to pick up again in the future. I have decided to remove the sentence about the ‘bad press’ received by the Christadelphians from my post, as I take your point about there existing communities of differing degrees of strictness/liberality and think now it was an unnecessary characterisation.

  6. Pingback: the extraordinary adventures of ordinary girls | Socks for the Boys!

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This entry was posted on May 7, 2013 by in diaries, working-class family life and tagged , .


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