Minnie Frisby (b.1877): An Introduction

‘By musing and living in the happy past, I am able to forget much of the very painful present.’ (I:1)

Minnie Frisby was born on the 19th July 1877 and was the seventh surviving child of ten. She lived in Worms Ash near Bromsgrove. She began her memoir appropriately named Memories at the age of 65 after being ‘bedridden for five years’ and ‘crippled with arthritis’. (I:1) Minnie is content about taking the reader on a journey from childhood to adulthood and discloses the recurrent mischief she found herself in!

Wilkinson, R. The British Isles, Sheet the British Isles
Wilkinson, R. The British Isles, Sheet the British Isles.

Minnie describes how her father would, ‘idolize and spoil [her]’ (I:1) regularly. In her eyes, it was her father that was the hardest worker. She recalls how the family had a nail shop and also grew watercress. Minnie saw her mother as a typical housewife, however, she was also the local midwife and herbal healer. Due to Minnie describing herself as ‘the invalid of the family’ (I:6) her mother cured her many a times with herbal remedies.

Minnie reveals her pride at her family’s most popular source of income ‘the watercress beds’ (I:3). She tells of how people would come from all over just to buy their produce. Living on a farm meant there were animals to care for. Minnie remembers Poll their first horse who was not only the farmhand she was also responsible for collecting the deceased paupers and bringing them to their burials on time.

Unfortunately Minnie Frisby led a life that she did not necessarily want. She describes how she wanted to be a teacher but was forced to leave school at fourteen and enter into Domestic Service with the Tapp family moving away from home. Minnie’s sister became a widow and it was Minnie’s responsibility to help with her shop. Minnie lived with her sister for a number of years. Later on she became interested in dressmaking and recalls the many beautiful garments she made.

Sander's Circus big top c. 1900
Sander’s Circus big top c. 1900

Through Memories Minnie tells us a lot about working class leisure activities. From a young age she remembers the excitement of the circus coming to town. Even as an adult she would look forward to its arrival regularly being scolded in work for looking out of the window. Minnie describes to the reader how to make the perfect whip cracking sound, ‘twirl it in a little curl and then give it a quick, short smack.’ (I:12) Through this image the reader gets a strong sense of Minnie’s vibrant personality as she talks to you as a friend.

However, later on in life Minnie discusses how she rekindled her relationship with God and became the parish harmonium player. She also expands this opportunity by becoming a Sunday school teacher. Finally allowing herself to accept her vocation and become the teacher she had desired as a child.

Minnie reveals little about her married life although, she survived her Golden Wedding Anniversary much to her surprise, ‘I never thought that I should be here till now… and my Golden Wedding Anniversary reached and gone…’ (II:27).

However, I think the reason for the lack of information of her married life is because she is happiest in the past and it is where she is in the prime of her life. Minnie Frisby’s Memories read as a stream of consciousness and can therefore be difficult to follow as she jumps from childhood to adulthood regularly.

Nevertheless, Minnie’s account provides humour and appreciation of life however, it is coloured with sadness as she is approaching her final years. Memories is a typescript written between 1942 and 1951. She splits her work into two books. The typescript comes to a close with ‘Lines of Comfort’ by a Jean Norton who concludes Minnie’s memoir. She ends with the most beautiful lines which I think show Minnie for what she represents:

‘Laughter, and patience and wisdom, and pity for those in distress, then may God’s blessing rest on you, and give you great happiness.’(II:27)

 References:

Frisby, Minnie. ‘Memories’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:250

Image References:

Wilkinson, R. The British Isles, Sheet the British Isles (Accessed: 6/10/14)

Sander’s Circus big top c. 1900 (Accessed: 6/10/14)

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