This was intended to be a book, but has been unfinished for an embarrasingly long time. This explains the book-worthy length of the introduction.
It is actually based on my grandmothers life story that I always felt was proof, if needed, that truth is stranger than fact. I have changed the names of the characters, but beyond that there is a limited amount of fiction and a fair bit of assumption around known facts to pull it together as a story.
From the stark limestone and granite outcrops covered in harsh grass and heather, the city of stone, red brick and grey slate can be seen pushing its boundaries ever outwards. Within the city the high chimneys of a million coal fires belch out thick smoke that settles like a mourning cloth, blackening the golden stone of austere Victorian architecture. Fresh, clear water spills from the surrounding hills to the Don Valley, running through the city in polluted fast flowing rivers and thin brooks stained the colour of rusted metal.
On the back of heavy industry and the work weary populace who labour there, Sheffield has become a sprawling metropolis. Social reform has created wide boulevards in the city centre and municipal parks. Still, women made old before their time struggle to raise children in rented poor and squalid terraces, many unchanged from Victoria’s reign despite the efforts of those who sought to bring about change. Faced with grinding poverty, life for many is hard and uncompromising, an undisputable fact reflected in the faces of the people crammed ever more tightly as the population of the city increased eight fold in 100 years.
It is 1914, a year that would change lives for ever, when for some so much had changed already. The Edwardians had been and gone leaving an inheritance of greater class awareness and a new monarch, George V. The rich, the landed classes and the Industrialists made wealthy by the labours of the poor, feast on life perhaps conscious that all was soon to change. Freed from the moral proprieties of Victoria they squandered their wealth on frivolities to relieve the tedium of their aimless lives in stark contrast to the working classes for whom so little has changed. A labourer cannot hope to comprehend the lavish weekends that are an orgy of over-eating and sexual intrigue, any more than the gentry can comprehend the labourers’ constant battle to feed an ever growing family of hungry children in a squalid terrace. There remains between them a respectful distance; an uncomprehending disregard.
At 35 Charles Henry Hardwick is just another working man, who like so many others lives only for the relief of Friday, payday. Another week in work and another week he is able to provide for his wife Mary and their two children, soon to be three. But it hadn’t always been this way. For a brief period in his history Charlie Hardwick wasn’t just another working man.
In the summer 1899 he had married his sweetheart. A tall elegant woman with a fragile beauty that was hard to pass without taking a second look. The new century had been marked by the birth of a son William, who finally made an appearance in the early months of 1901. Then, as now Charlie was a foundry worker; hard laborious work that honed muscles and determination. Then, as now, frustrations ran deep and appetites insatiable, and like so many others he relieved himself of them playing amateur football. Football was a religion Charlie was all too willing to pay homage to, but which to be a disciple of was only a dream, dreamed by millions. One day Charlie Hardwick woke to find it wasn’t a dream. The dark, airless heat of the foundry was exchanged for the expanse of mown green of The Wednesday’s Football Club. As a professional footballer he was to cross social barriers and stand shoulder to shoulder with men of a different class. The dream lasted for two glorious years and was to end as abruptly as it had started, sending him back to the foundry and reality.
1904 was a bitter sweet year; a year Charlie saw his responsibilities increase with the birth of two children he had fathered by his wife and his mistress just as the dream crumbled and died. Mary’s frail beauty had become a physical burden that had driven him to seek succour elsewhere without a thought of the consequences of his actions.Ten years later Charlie’s bitterness was deeper than most. Harsh disregard had turned to hatred of a class who had tossed him aside like an untrained dog that had soiled their pious beliefs.