Bessie remembers how times change

Bessie Farnworth with her great-nephew David Holland
Bessie Farnworth with her great-nephew David Holland
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Bessie Farnworth has seen a fair few changes during her 107 years - from life without electricity to homemade Christmas presents.

At 107, Bessie is believed to be the borough’s oldest person and spoke to the Post as she prepares for her 109th New Year.

A resident at Tyldesley’s Hillcrest Residential Home, she recalled some of the most prominent differences and some of the surprising similarities between life in the early part of the 20th century and her experiences of the 21st century.

Growing up in a farm cottage in Atherton, Bessie remembers the widespread introduction of electricity in her hometown, a commodity one of her relatives thought would “never catch on”.

“I remember when I was a girl, we didn’t have electricity, we always had a lamp,” she said.

“Everyone went mad when it came, they thought it was wonderful. I suppose it was easier in a way. There’s been so many changes you don’t notice really, you just go along with it. We had to adapt. If you liked it then, that was alright.

Bessie was married to her childhood sweetheart Tom for 63 years before he died in 2004, aged 90. The couple had one son together, Wilf, aged 74 and two grandchildren. She is also a great grandmother-of-four and a great aunt-of-two.

Her great-nephew Dave Holland, who conducted a recorded interview on behalf of the Wigan Post, asked about when she met the love of her life.

“I had always known him since being a child,” she recalled. “Tom’s parents and my parents were great friends, we lived at the cottage, they lived down the road.

“We always visited one another’s houses. It was no different to growing up at any other time. You still went out, had friends and went to the pictures.

“There were a few telephones about but not really. You ran through to people to see them. We did have a phone at one time though, we just got on with it really.”

One of the vast differences that Bessie noted during her lifetime, is the way Christmas is celebrated. She said that although the idea is the same, she has watched it become more commercialised as the decades have passed.

Bessie said: “It is the same, but things were done differently. You’ve more money to spend now. You didn’t get much as a child you got an orange and an apple and some sweets and that was about it.

“There were no toys on Christmas Day. It was very seldom, it depended on what you wanted and what there was available but you didn’t used to get much for Christmas. You played with what you got. Skipping rope and things like that and the lads always played football. They all played football. Christmas was Christmas Day and Boxing Day. New Year was just New Year’s Day that’s all.”

“Not everybody put decorations up, it depended if they had any money to spare. You made things with paper.”

When asked if Bessie had any advice for young people growing up in the 21st century, her answer was straight to the point.

“Behave yourselves and watch what you’re doing. Nobody ever said ‘stay positive’ in those days they would just say ‘you behave yourself’.

“If you got into any trouble that was your trouble and you got out of it yourself. You just sailed along like you do now, just ordinarily.”