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Some books belonging to Mora Ilbert, Christmas 1890

Tom Winnifrith
Sunday 21 March 2021

Last night, I discovered two more boxes still unopened since our move to the Welsh Hovel two years ago.  Within them, there is an old photo of the rev David Cochrane, my great great grandfather, looking very dour and stern as one would expect of a respectable cleric from Donegal. There was also a copy of The History of the Royal Military Canal by my Grandfather Sir John Winnifrith, signed and addressed with love to me. I tried to say how interesting that is as subject but the Mrs was not entirely convinced. I shall try again tonight, it is bound to put her into a good mood before bedtime.

And then, inter alia, there was a set of thin hardback books by an obscure author each addressed to Mora 1890 from one or other member of the Ilbert family. Daddy (Sir Courtenay), Mummy and her various sisters. I had a quick read and thought how much more advanced was the reading material for teenagers 130 years ago.  And then I checked again. Mora (Margaret), my Great Grandmother, was eight in 1890.

Even Olaf might well have struggled with these books aged eight. It is not that Mora was especially brilliant although the Ilberts were a clever lot, it is just that kids – certainly of that class – were taught to read and write far earlier than kids are today. That is what we term progress.

And there is another thing: I am not sure if this was a Christmas or a Birthday present. But this set of small books would have been her present and I bet she was thrilled. The Ilberts could have afforded much more but kids did not expect much more. I think of the piles of presents for Joshua underneath our Christmas tree and feel rather ashamed. But I fear the boat of consumerism has, in the case of Joshua, already well and truly set sail.



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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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