Lily Ivy Agnes Wood Clarkson by Linda Clarkson Pagnini
The pretty lady in this photo, Lily Ivy Agnes Wood, became the wife of Arthur Clarkson, a Barnardo boy who is well-known because of the horrific abuse he suffered on an Ontario farm. The author of this story is the daughter of Lily and Arthur. Linda livens this story with many quotes from her mother. Lily’s love of story-telling meant that her children knew about their parents’ British past. Her sense of humour comes through in Linda’s anecdotes.
Rose McCormick Brandon
When my mother, Lily Ivy Agnes Wood, was three years old her mother died. She went to live with her paternal grandmother and maiden aunts in Manchester, England. Her grandmother was a stern, deeply religious woman who had birthed 14 children and raised 9 of them to adulthood. One of the two maiden aunts who lived in the home was kind, the other cruel.
The household was a strict one. Mom told of having to peel potatoes and if she cut the peelings too thickly, she had to eat the cooked peels. She told of one Christmas when, because she had misbehaved, her grandmother showed her the presents she would have received if she’d been a good girl. That year, her stocking was stuffed with coal. The only books allowed in the home were the Bible and the classic novel, Pilgrim’s Progress. Once, Mom borrowed a book from a school friend. She would sneak “down the yard to the privy” to read its forbidden pages. Her grandmother discovered the forbidden book and destroyed it. That caused Mom to lose “one of the only real friends I had ever had.” Despite her grandmother’s harsh rules, Mom loved her and said she was good in many other ways.
At 7, Mom suffered another severe loss when her kind aunt died. The remaining aunt resented Mom and constantly complained about “that wretched child.” Because of her complaining and the grandmother’s advancing age, Mom was placed in Rosen Hall, a Home for Girls in Manchester. This decision hurt Mom’s grandmother, who often walked miles to visit her in the Home. Mom wasn’t happy there and she decided, on her own, to volunteer to be sent out to Canada. Her grandmother at first refused to give permission for Mom’s emigration, but eventually she was persuaded to sign consent papers.
On May 14, 1911, Mom arrived at Marchmont Home in Belleville. Immediately, she was sent to work for a Mrs. Peppiot, whose first reports of Mom were full of praise. But by winter of that year, Mrs. Peppiot reported that Mom had run away once and was “acting strangely” ever since. Mom was removed from the Peppitot home on January 2, 1912. As forthcoming as Mom always was about sharing her stories with the family, she refused to give details about this episode in her life. But, she mentioned that some of the men where she worked were not “good.” We believe she was sexually abused, perhaps by more than one employer, since she later asked to be removed from another farm owned by a Mr. Buck. When asked outright about abuse, Mom simply said it didn’t bear talking about and she was just “glad I survived.”
Mom’s final placement was at the Newton farm near Tweed, Ontario, in 1914. She “worked like a mule” at this farm but she was happy there and came to consider the Newtons her family. She and my Dad continued to visit them several times a year until the Newtons passed away.
While at the Newton farm, Mom met my Dad, Arthur Theodore Clarkson, a Barnardo boy who worked on the nearby Francis Brown farm. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Newton were sisters. When Mom first met Dad, she said she “wasn’t very impressed by him.” He, on the other hand, was smitten and called on her often before he joined the Canadian Army in 1916. Mom wrote to him while he was overseas and after Dad returned to Canada, he proposed. Dad’s younger brother Cyril had remained in England. Dad sent him passage money to travel to Canada. He arrived in time to be best man at Mom and Dad’s wedding on March 7, 1919 at Sydenham United Church in Kingston. Cyril looked forward to making a new life for himself in Canada. He traveled west where there was need for good workers. Sadly, he drowned in British Columbia in 1920. Dad seldom talked about Cyril. The loss of his only brother must have hurt him deeply.
Mom was as talkative as Dad was quiet. An ardent storyteller, she kept our family of six children laughing, and crying, with stories of her childhood. She was a perfect mate for my hardworking father. They eventually established a home in a Detroit suburb. Mom was a great cook and loved to bake. She was never without a book or a hand-work project. Every baby born into the family went home from the hospital in a sweater and bonnet knitted by Mom. She stored a number of baby layettes so that every grandchild born would have one of her creations, even after she was gone.
After Dad’s death in September 1973, Mom stayed in the family home for 7 years before moving to a smaller house near her daughters. After a marriage that lasted more than 50 years, adjusting to life alone wasn’t easy but she carried on with resolve and acceptance. That was her nature. Mom’s education stopped when she left England but she was a voracious reader and accumulated a wide range of knowledge on many subjects. Mentally sharp, she kept up with politics and worked at crossword puzzles until her death in June 1987, 12 days before her 91st birthday.
Many children who came to Canada as part of the British Home Child Immigration movement were unloved and unwanted orphans who hoped for a better life than the one they left behind in England. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for either of my British Home Child parents. They left people who loved them but couldn’t care for them and went to live with people who neither loved or cared for them. In some cases, they suffered cruelty. They left grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to live in Canada completely alone. As bereft of kindness as the early days of both my parents were, they never forgot the meaning of love. They found strength, faith and courage to create a large and devoted family.
Mom and Dad, two sad lonely children together established the roots of a family tree which today includes 7 children, 16 grandchildren, 32 great grandchildren, 17 great, great grandchildren and 2 great, great, great grandchildren. The entire clan manages to assemble once a year at Christmas. Most importantly, we all love and respect one another, thanks to a mother and father who taught us, by example, not only how to build a family but how to truly appreciate having one.