From the Publisher
When Lenna Bickerton left school in Northwich, Cheshire, England, at the age of 14 any plans for her future were dashed when her father lost his job and struggled to set up his own greengrocery round. Financial pressures frustrated her hopes of becoming an art student and like scores before her, she had to take what work was available with no prospect of training or bettering herself. When she married her beloved Jim in the mid-1930s, in common with most young wives, she automatically forfeited her own job to become a fulltime housewife and mother. It was not until the early 1980s that she was able to combine her twin loves of writing and social history by penning her early memoirs, spending hours discussing the old times with her late mother, then nearly ninety. Extracts were published in the now-defunct "Northwich World" and the librarians at Northwich were so impressed that they arranged to have two copies of the manuscript typed up and bound. Lenna kept one and the other was placed in the reference library. It was read by many local history enthusiasts and used by Northwich schools as a source for projects. More than a dozen years later, in 1996, the book was published as a paperback called "Memories of a Cheshire Childhood". It has been reprinted three times to date and has made the 81-year-old writer a local celebrity. It tells how Lenna spent her early years during the First World War living with her grandparents in the close-knit community of Lostock Gralam. Her mother, a young war widow, worked in the nearby ammunition factory and afterwards in domestic service in Manchester, travelling home on the Sunday afternoon "dripping train" to see her daughter. When Lenna's mother married again, the small family eventually moved into one of the first council houses to be built at Rudheath - a piece of good fortune they regarded as little short of a miracle. Lenna still lives on the same estate. In her book Lenna describes life in those far-off days through the sharp senses of a child. Her memories are vivid: duck eggs for breakfast, dancing to Granddad's gramophone, a near-tragedy at Hesketh's watermill, her schooldays, the sights and sounds of old Northwich, the smells of wild flowers, busy boat traffic on the Trent and Mersey Canal - and the menacing "Ginny Greenteeth." The young Lenna roamed the fields, woods and flashes around Lostock Gralam and Rudheath in a carefree way any modern child would envy. She says: "Boredom was a word we never used in our childhood. Our imagination came into play to make up for the lack of material things and, most of all, we had freedom to wander at will in the countryside." Hundreds of people have read the paperback since it was published and now Lenna can hardly venture out without being stopped by fans who have enjoyed her memoirs. A Yorkshire academic has compared her with Knutsford's famous Victorian novelist Mrs Gaskell, and she has received many letters of appreciation including one from the principal of the college in Bergen, Norway and another from a fan in Gibraltar. Local primary schools have used "Memories" as the basis for history projects and, at the other end of the age scale, it has been read to elderly people at a geriatric day centre. Lenna has also been asked by a Mid-Cheshire oral history project to discuss her book with local old people to boost their reminiscences of life in the old days of salt and alkali manufacturing - with a view to recording more social history about the area. Copies have gone to Australia, Canada, Norway, Gran Canaria and France, and in this country to individuals and bookshops in Oxford, Portsmouth, Sheffield, Eastbourne, Norwich, Gloucester and Wales - as well as Manchester and the North West. "Most people tell me that once they started reading they couldn't put the book down," said Lenna. "Nearly every time I go out, people talk about the book and say how it has stirred memories of their own. Young people enjoy it because it shows a way of life which has changed for ever." The book is illustrated with Lenna's family photographs and with old photographs from the archives at Northwich Library and the Salt Museum in Northwich. Lenna is busy writing the sequel which should be out next Spring.