Of peg-legs and false teeth

My Great-Grandparents on the Isle of Man
My great-grandparents a long time ago.
The elderly couple on the right are my mum's maternal grandparents (and Uncle Fred's in-laws), Frederick Michael Rotheram and Ellen Sarah Rotheram (née Heyward)—known to her friends as Nelly.

A quick Google search of information given on the sign behind them reveals that they were on the Isle of Man when this photograph was taken. Judging by their apparent ages and the style of the vehicle on the hillside in the background, I would guess that the photograph was taken some time in the 1930s.

I didn't know that there were any surviving photographs of my great-grandparents until my mum's cousin loaned her an envelope full of old family photos earlier this year. I have just spent the afternoon making copies of them with my digital camera.

My Great-Grandparents
There they were again!
Frederick and Nelly met while they were both servants of Lord Leverhulme (of Lever Brothers Soap fame). Frederick was a gardener and Nelly was a maid. Frederick's mother, Bridget Kelly, was from a well-to-do Irish family, but had emigrated to Britain and fallen on harder times, having run away with a household servant (who was presumably Frederick's dad).

I don't know much about Nelly Rotheram, other than she died of throat cancer, aged 60.

In 1958, at the age of 82, Frederick accidentally stuck a garden fork through his foot. He didn't like to make a fuss, so he didn't seek medical help until gangrene had spread throughout the entire leg. His leg was amputated on 6th March of that year—my mum's 21st birthday. Despite his age, Frederick survived the operation: they gave him an artificial leg, and he lived for another 11 years, staying with my Uncle Fred and Auntie Lucy.

The amputation wasn't the last of Frederick's medical emergencies. One day, he discovered that his false teeth were missing. By a process of elimination, he and Auntie Lucy deduced that he must have swallowed them while eating his steak dinner in front of the fire—he hadn't left his armchair since then. In a blind panic, Auntie Lucy rushed him to hospital. The hospital said there was nothing wrong with him. The next day, Auntie Lucy found the melted remains of her father's false teeth in the embers of the fire. Frederick had encountered a piece of gristle while finishing off his steak and had spat it into the fire, along with his false teeth.

About ten years ago, I pretty much freaked out my mum. I told her about a vague recollection I had of sitting on a besuited old man's knee at Uncle Fred and Auntie Lucy's house, and being fascinated by his leg—there was something funny about it. Which is when mum told me about my great-grandad and his peg-leg. Mum had thought I was far too young to remember him. She was right. It pretty much freaks me out too.

My great-grandfather died at the age of 93 in late 1967 or early 1968, shortly before my third birthday. He is special to me because he is the oldest person that I can remember having met (in terms of date of birth, that is; in terms of birthdays achieved, at 101 and counting, Uncle Fred makes his father-in-law look like a young, peg-legged whippersnapper). According to the maths, my great-grandfather must have been born around 1875. Not only does that make him the oldest person I can (or will) ever remember, it also makes him the only person I will ever meet whose lifetime overlapped—albeit briefly—with my hero, Charles Darwin.

I am extremely glad to have any sort of recollection of him.


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