How easily one new fact can illuminate our ancestors’ lives. For the launch of our Faber Academy Anthology in June 2012, I wrote the following fictionalised piece, which was based on the serendipitous discovery that my great grandparents had attended the same event several years before they married, and may well have met there for the first time.
January 1861. Laura was looking forward to the afternoon. Father had given permission for her to take the carriage, with her sister Ellen, and attend the unveiling of the first Christmas tree in the neighbouring village of Festiniog. She’d seen Christmas trees before, but this was for the schoolchildren. For them, a couple of wax candles was a treat in itself. The sight of several dozen, flickering on the branches of the huge fir tree brought down from the wood by cart, erected in the hall, and revealed in all its shining splendour when the curtains were drawn back, had them all gasping in wide-eyed delight.
Half the neighbourhood was there, proud to be doing their bit for the children, enjoying the novelty, meeting and greeting each other with greater or lesser familiarity.
Laura was seventeen and beginning to know she was attractive; Ellen was fifteen, and beginning to know she was not. On the way home she asked:
‘Who were you talking to just before we left?’
‘Tom Casson,’ Laura answered, ‘his uncle is George Casson, the banker and quarry owner. He’s joined the bank in Portmadoc.’
In truth, Laura had thought him a little self-important. He’d been brought up in Liverpool and seemed to have some regret at leaving that city for the more homely amusements in Merioneth. She’d asked him what he would miss the most and he’d burst into a breathless account of a Bach recital he’d been to in St George’s Hall, the latest architectural gem of the city.
‘And the organ!’ he’d said. ‘One hundred speaking stops!’
This meant nothing to Laura, though she noticed how he changed as he described it.
It would be seven years before Tom Casson came courting Laura. He did not remember they’d met before. But she retained a clear memory of the young banker whose face lit up like a Christmas tree when he spoke about music.