This is 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 what was to be the first chapter of a book. .
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.
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 1901 the new century had been marked by the birth of a son William, Then, Charlie was a foundry worker and football was a religion he 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 seasons and was to end as abruptly as it had started, sending him back to the foundry and reality.
It is now 1914 and Charlies daughter Emma is too young to understand all that was happening around her. At nine life at home with her mother, father and elder brother, continues as normal in a two up two down terrace in Little Sheffield..
Later that year as the world recoiled to the echo of a gunshot in Sarajevo Emma would recoil at events at home. Just as the outlook of the nation would forever be coloured by its devastating loss, so Emma’s life would forever be coloured by her own personal loss.
From beneath the wheels of the trams rumbling up and down Sheaf Street, the River Sheaf appears to disappear again feeding the industry that has sprung up around it. Sawmills, timber yards and wood stores rub shoulders with iron and steel works, cutlery and tool makers and, wound between them, gatherings of homes press around courtyards lined with water closets.
Beyond its high red brick walls lining the cobbles of Pond Hill, Ponds Forge seems peaceful, but inside metal flows in red rivers and showers the air with bright red rain. Cloth and flesh sears as it falls and curling the thick leather of heavy boots in the intense heat. Men scurried like Borrowers in the choking air at the bidding of a ferocious fiery demon whose searing heat roasts exposed flesh and fills throats with the choking phosphurous stench. Blackened faces peer through clouds of smoke and steam, guiding molten metal into waiting crucibles and manoeuvring glowing sheets through rollers with huge pincers like cloth through a mangle.
Charlie Hardwick dropped the head of his long-handled pincers to the ground wearily, sending a shower of dust up from the hot earth of the foundry floor. Sweat pouring from his brow, he lifts his frayed cap and drags it across his forehead leaving streaks of black ash in place of sweat and giving out a long, rasping breath. Unhooking a bottle from his belt, he takes a long swig of warm water. Then, bending to pick up his rough woollen jacket from a pile of sand, he swings it over his broad, aching shoulders to make his way to clock out.
“I bet tha wishes tha was back playing footie”.
Charlie swung round to confront the voice, metal segs ringing out on the damp cobblestone of the forge yard, stopping the owner of the voice dead in his tracks.