by Mary Robinson, Special Collections & Archives
The Belmont Mill archive contains business and personal documents of the Perry family and Belmont Mill, Co Offaly from the 19th to the 20th century. In 1959 Henry Robert Perry bought the mill and passed it to Thomas and James Perry in the 1860s. The archive includes the personal letters of Thomas Perry, his wife Harriett, their children Ernest, Wilfrid, Mildred and Eleanor (Mary) and extended family. Within the archive are a number of letters and notes from the Perry children to their mother and later grandmother spanning the years 1881 to 1918. The topics include Christmas greetings, birthday wishes and thank you notes.
Some of the most tragically entertaining letters are from Ernest Perry to his mother Harriett Perry. Ernest is in boarding school in Chesterfield but longs for visitors, especially his mother and father, ‘my dearest mother…if you want to prove your love to me you must
come to see me’. He tries to settle in and even writes ‘if I get on well you must leave me as long as possible’. He tries to enjoy school by ‘joining in the games grandly’ but notes he does ‘ever so much better’ in his lessons after his mother visits.
The three things he most looks forward to are seeing his mother on Saturday, the holidays and ‘…when I shall be done school and shall go home to help father’. He pines for Belmont and even suggests his mother must try and get him into a day school ‘I would not mind walking the six miles and when it was wet I dare say I could go in a tram’.
Ernest’s sister Mary (Eleanor) feels somewhat similar. She writes from her school and feels the loneliness of being away from home. Although she doesn’t know many of the girls, ‘one or two have been kind’ to her. In one letter she apologises to her mother for being ‘so silly’ when she came to visit. Mary was in a frightful mood but it was only because she ‘dislikes being away from home so much’. She later writes ‘my own mother, please do not think of me as being always miserable’, she realises school will get better and by the time she comes home next summer she will be ‘an accomplished young lady’.
The family appear extremely close and the children certainly miss home when away at school. This does not change for the next generation. Jens Edmond, a niece of Ernest, writes from Farlington House school in Haywards Heath, ‘oh I am so simply longing to see my dear old mummy – I never knew how much I loved home, till I left it’. She is busy having a great time preparing for the school play and loves ‘dashing around in Japanese dresses’ for the rehearsal.
The letters are very intimate beginning with ‘my own mother’, ‘my own precious mother’ ‘my dearest granny’. But many are playful and depict the closeness of the family, for instance Jens signs off a note to her granny saying ‘everybody sends their love to the old lady’ and in another she admonishes granny as a ‘naughty old lady’. We’re not told what granny got up to but according to Jens, she is ‘too old to do those sorts of things’.
Jens’ artistic touch appears on some of her letters with an ornate Christmas greeting on one and a depiction of their fun in the snow with a homemade sled in another. Little sister Honor shows her artistic side with small sketches for granny. Her notes, mainly in purple crayon with big letters, thank granny for sending birthday money, and give an explanation of what she’ll spend it on.
These letters give a touching glimpse into the daily life of the younger generation of an extended and busy family. It is a nice addition, giving a fuller picture of a family found in among business records, administration and accounting details.