Big family adds up to 767 years

The 11 brothers and sisters pictured before Esther died. They are (from left) Billy, Betty, Archie, Joan, Sally, Esther, Alan, Janet, Mavis, Carol and Raymond.
The 11 brothers and sisters pictured before Esther died. They are (from left) Billy, Betty, Archie, Joan, Sally, Esther, Alan, Janet, Mavis, Carol and Raymond.

THERE are big families about and then there are those whose combined ages add up to an impressive 767 years!

Sally Cunningham (80), of Roman Bank, Saracen’s Head, has done the maths and worked out that she and her nine surviving brothers and sisters have achieved that magnificent number of years between them.

The large family grew up in Whaplode Drove, the gap between the youngest and the oldest meaning that all 11 children weren’t at home at the same time. Sally admits: “It was crowded. We lived in a three-bedroom house and there was a double and single bed in each room and a little box room with a little bed in it. Mum and dad had a room downstairs. We were crowded, but we were happy.”

Annie and Edward Abrams had Joan first of all, now 87 and living at Wyberton, and she had three children, and then along came Archie a year later, and he had two children and is now living at Coates near Whittlesey.

After a break of a couple of years, Esther arrived, and she would have been 84 but she sadly died in 2005. Esther had five children and lived at Moulton Chapel.

Then came Raymond (82), of Oakham (one child), Sally (two children), Betty (77), of Whaplode Drove (four children), Billy (76), of Spalding (one child), Alan (74), of Gosberton (two children), Mavis (72), of Spalding (four children) and Janet (67), of Gosberton (three children).

Youngest of the brood was Carol Smalley, who is 66 and lives at Deeping St Nicholas, and who has one child.

Tragically, Carol was born seven weeks after the death of her father, aged 44, from cancer – Carol believes as a result of a kick from a horse.

Edward was a farm worker, a horseman all his life, who lived for his horses, and Sally remembers as a child him waiting for her to come home to help lead the horses across the field.

Carol says wistfully: “I always wished I’d known my dad. I always said I would never leave mum and I didn’t. She was mum and dad to me. All my sisters got married at 19 but I said I wanted to stay and look after her. I was 22 when she died and mum was 67.

“After Dad died Mum brought the rest of us up and we were never hungry or cold and always well dressed, although they were perhaps hand-me-down clothes.”

Both women have very fond memories of Annie, known around the village where she helped out on the land as “Mam Abrams”. “She was the sort of person people would come and ask for help and she would always say yes,” says Sally.

“She was everbody’s mum and you couldn’t have wished for a better mum,” agrees Carol.

Naturally, there were fights and siblings would fall out, and – something that will come as a shock to teenagers able to lock themselves behind a bathroom door for privacy – baths were taken once a week in their mother’s bedroom in front of the fire. “By the time the last one had it the water was perhaps getting a bit thick,” jokes Sally.

They stayed close, enjoying family Christmas parties in Whaplode Drove chapel where the oldest would dress up as Santa Claus, and each family bought presents to put under the tree to make sure every child had a gift to take away.

The brothers and sisters are still close, although they are not all able to get together as much now as they once did.

However, Sally does have one precious photograph of them all, taken before Esther’s death, and when they do meet up they are all able to share beautiful memories of a happy childhood.