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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 14-Aug-14 11:00:22

Life in a vicarage

Moving from Newcastle to a smaller, tight-knit mining town at the age of seven, Barbara Fox quickly found out what it meant to be "the vicar's daughter". While new friends were fascinated with the comings and goings of the vicarage, Barbara found herself fascinated in turn by the workings of a small, insular community.

Barbara Fox

Life in a vicarage

Posted on: Thu 14-Aug-14 11:00:22


Lead photo

Barbara sitting on her dad with her sisters on Embleton beach, Northumberland, where she still spends her summer holiday. Barbara is on the right.

I never intended to write a book about my childhood. It seemed ordinary by the very fact that it was my childhood, even though I was aware that others found things about it unusual.

When I was seven years old we left our suburban home in Newcastle to move to Ashington, Northumberland, 17 miles north, where my father had been appointed vicar of the town's largest parish. Ashington's fame then lay in its coal mines - there were five in the town alone at the time of our arrival in the late 1960s - and its footballers, its most famous sons being the Charlton brothers and their relative Jackie Milburn.

Though a large town it was close knit, united by its common profession. Like most north-easterners, we had miners in our family too, but that was irrelevant. In our big house that stood next door to the church, in my father’s job, in the way we spoke - not Geordie enough - we stood out as being outsiders.

One of my earliest memories from then involves calling on a neighbour with my mother at one of the terraced houses that most people lived in, not realising that front doors were rarely used. I remember a great kerfuffle of things blocking the doorway having to be moved, a harassed voice asking who was there, and finally a laboured opening before the polite smile of the owner. Oh, the shame of getting something so wrong! I just hoped that no one I knew had witnessed it. We used everyone's back doors after that, walking straight in, as our own regular visitors did when they came to the vicarage.

Everyone in my new school seemed to know who I was and to have some claim on me. It was like becoming famous overnight, but not in such a pleasant way.

Everyone in my new school seemed to know who I was and to have some claim on me. It was like becoming famous overnight, but not in such a pleasant way. My teacher expected me to know all the answers in our scripture lessons. I didn’t understand why. For the first time in my life, I had a label - "the vicar’s daughter" - and I hated it.

While my friends were fascinated by life in the vicarage - by the constant comings and goings, the ringing phone and doorbell, the extra guests to be accommodated at the table - I was just as fascinated by theirs. By the back lanes that were their playgrounds, by the outside toilets and the kitchens with the old-fashioned ranges.

Our town was grimy with smoke and soot but it was also a magical place with the possibility of adventure. An abandoned mining village lay behind the churchyard (I was sure there were fairies at the bottom of the garden), and a ghost lived in our gloomy attic. We sometimes heard her footsteps on the stairs, though Mum insisted it was "just the pipes".

Ashington has changed. The pits have closed, people have come and gone, and a new estate has been built on the old village. But almost four decades after leaving, the voices from those days are as clear as ever.

Barbara's book, Is the Vicar in, Pet?, is published by Sphere and is available from Amazon.

By Barbara Fox

Twitter: @Gransnet

Mishap Thu 14-Aug-14 12:31:12

Try being "the doctor's wife" in a tiny village. People (including the retiring partner in the practice) were quite shocked when they realised I had my own career and was not queuing up for the various charitable committees that they had me ear-marked for even before I arrived!

And people expected that I would know their medical details and ask how their piles/sore throat etc were going on - and get offended if I didn't! - of course I knew nowt! - and had no desire to. But I always knew when someone had something embarrassing wrong with them because they would start to avoid me!

granjura Thu 14-Aug-14 12:39:47

Both here Mishap- the Doctor's wife and living in a Vicarage, in a small village ;)

When I went to Uni when our youngest went to primary school- people nearly fainted. And I swear the woman in the Harry Enfield dinner party is based on my experiences in the 70s- when one was expected to leave the table to go and powder one's nose (no.. not the modern version) and leave the 'chaps to have proper discussion with the cigars and port'.

WBundecided Thu 14-Aug-14 12:40:56

My Mum couldnt stand being the Policeman's wife in their small village. People bashing on the door to use the phone, report a problem, whatever time of the day or night, and of course not everyone loves the police.....She was also expected to answer the phone when Dad was working, take messages etc., and caused upset when they found out she was working elsewhere in her own right.

granjura Thu 14-Aug-14 12:43:15

The other Doctor's wife in the village always dressed up to pick the kids up from school, as 'it was expected of her'.

I can watch it again and again- and it transports me right back:

Galen Thu 14-Aug-14 12:53:25

Doctors daughter was as bad and the as doctor myself I was still Dr B's little daughter.!

Mishap Thu 14-Aug-14 13:02:41

When we first arrived in the practice in about 1975, the retiring partner and his wife invited us for a meal. First of all I tactfully had to refuse all the offers of the charitable committees, which did not go down well, and both my OH and I looked aghast when the men were taken to the next room for the port - I was left in the clutches of the disapproving ladies!; oh, and a lady from the council estate crept in and did the washing up, making sure that no-one saw her - it was positively feudal!

granjura Thu 14-Aug-14 13:36:16

1975 too here- yes I'd forgotten about the invisible lady who came to 'do what had to be done'. It was just ghastly. 'Glad' I am not the only one to have experienced this. Having come to the UK for the rock scene and Jimi Hendryx at the Isle of Wight- the steam coming out of my ears and every other part of me- was just too much. Going back to Uni a few years later saved me from utter despair and boredom.

Puddly Thu 14-Aug-14 18:50:38

It was no fun being a police mans daughter moving around Mid Wales attending 10 different schools . Not everyone liked a policeman,especially as in one memorable case when one of my class had been taken into care. I knew nothing about it !!!

Penstemmon Sat 16-Aug-14 11:19:20

Granjura perhaps you were in the next tent to me on the IoW!!!

granjura Sat 16-Aug-14 15:27:04

Tent!? that was for the posh people up the hill ;)

I was in centre about 50m back from the stage- a sleeping bag but no tent. Lucky it didn't rain... The sister of one of my Swiss friend was in a tent on the hill- and with 500.000 people there, we managed to bump into each other in the awful (more than awful...) WC queue. Small world.

janeainsworth Fri 22-Aug-14 20:01:02

I really enjoyed reading your blog Barbara - partly because I live not far from Ashington and partly because the feeling as a child of being different resonated with me - in my case, my Dad taught at the school I went to until I was 11 and I was very aware of being regarded differently - something it took me years to get over.
I'll look forward to reading your book smile

granjura Fri 22-Aug-14 20:14:19

'Being different' can be a very good thing in so many ways- and lead to great things perhaps. Something we've often discussed with our adults daughters. They were both bulied about it at some times in their lives- and got over and beyond it.

janeainsworth Fri 22-Aug-14 20:19:51

Quite possibly, granjura, it just didn't feel like that at the time hmm

Maniac Sat 23-Aug-14 15:06:11

Our first home was in Morpeth,DH taught at Ashington tech and DD1 was born in Mona Taylor hospital-Bedlington?
After 2/3 yrs- as Lay reader DH went to theological college,Cambridge and was ordained so I became a curate's wife for six years.Two very different parishes Liverpool and Hants.DH then went back to teaching .
I hated being 'different' and the children (3) got lots of attention,sweets and presents!
I must ask them to read your book and comment on how it was for them.

rubysong Sat 23-Aug-14 23:56:04

granjura and penstemmon interesting to hear you mention Jimi H at the isle of Wight festival. DH had a ticket (in fact he still has it) but didn't go as he was in the RN and was made duty that weekend and couldn't get out of it. Something he's still grieving about.