'My royal job offer was scuppered by mum's stroke'

Growing up, Winifred Espin had no running water. If she needed water, she went outside to use a pump near her home, at that time a cottage in Crowle.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 11:04 am
Winifred Espin, of Rossington, has celebrated her 100th birthday
Winifred Espin, of Rossington, has celebrated her 100th birthday

Her dad worked on a farm in what was a very rural area, and one of her favourite places in her home village at the time was the picture house, its cinema, as long as she had the money to go.

At the age of eight, Winifred moved to Doncaster, when her dad got a job at Rossington Colliery. The pay was better than on the farm, so he took up a job in the boiler room, and the family moved to Rossington.

Winifred Espin, of Rossington, has celebrated her 100th birthday. She is pictured with daughter Jean Jones

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She left school in at the age of 14, and had to find work straight away.

She described her first job as 'skivvying', and went on to work at the Grand Northern Hotel, in Bradford. She moved away from home, but was close enough to Doncaster to make visits back to her family.

During her time at the hotel, she put in an application for a job with a royal connection. And she was offered a job at Windsor Castle, where her duties would have potentially involved looking after the King.

"I was excited, but a bit apprehensive about going away so far from home," said Winifred. "I was in Bradford, but I was able to come home for days."

But Winifred's plans for a Royal job were soon in tatters - after her mum suffered a crippling stroke. The illness left her mum paralysed on her left hand side, and Winifred had to come home to help look after her, mixing the caring with a cleaning job in the village.

But her life was thrown up in the air again in 1939, when World War Two broke out. Winifred was one of a number of women sent from Rossington to work at a munitions factory in Chorley, Lancashire.

Her job was making cordite, a material used in cartridges for rifles and shells.

"They found us places to live in the area," she said. "I remember working with the yellow powder that we used to make the cordite. It left your hair and your skin yellow. And it was dangerous work. I heard of someone killed in an explosion."

Winifred's time in the factory was cut short though, when her mum's doctor said that she would have to come back to care for her.

But the war brought tragedy for Winifred. She had two brothers serving with the Royal Artillery. Ernest and Jack Seymour.

Ernest was captured in Italy and put in a prisoner of war camp. But he never returned, dying in the camp in Italy. The story was that he had been shot attempting to escape.

Jack survived.

With the war ending in 1945, Winifred got married to her sweetheart Wilfred. Wilfred had briefly been in the army during the war, but was sent back to Rossington when they discovered he was a miner who was needed at the colliery.

Her mum died in 1948, and Winifred then worked picking fruit and vegetables for a local farmer, and later at Rossington Hall, at the time a school, where she remained until she retired.

Tragedy did touch the family again though. Winifred had three brothers who also worked down the mine, and the youngest, Sam Seymour, died in the 1960s, killed in an underground accident.

She mixed her work with bringing up a family, with the couple having a son and a daughter, who she and Wilfred brought up at the family home on Gattison Lane. She now also has five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Wilfred died in 2001.

She may have missed her royal appointment as a young woman - but she did finally have an invitation to Buckingham Palace for a garden party five years ago - and this week she received a card from The Queen congratulating her on her 100th birthday, on May 12.

She marked her birthday with a party at Rossington Hall, where she had worked for so many years, She also had a trip out to Crowle, to look at the village where she was born. Her old street, Common Lane was now Commonside, and the family cottage is no longer there.

"The best change I've seen in 100 years has been the running water," said Winifred. "We used to have to fill a bucked from a pump. Now we've got a hot and cold running water.

"I'm not sure what the secret of living to 100 is. Perhaps it is hard work?"