Janet Freestone

My name is Janet (Jenetta) Emma Matilda Freestone and I have lived in No 3 West Street with my family all my life. I was born in Geddington and was christened in the village church in November 1863.

My father was James Freestone and he was quite a remarkable man. He married my mother Mary Ann, in Newton church in 1848 and during his life he became a skilled artist and is credited with inventing, amongst other things, a toy known as the zoetrope and the ‘French piano’.

Janet Freestone with her harp and the ladies of her music group at the rear of her home what was then No 3 West Street and is now part of No 1. Back Row: Edith Woolston, Mabel Smith, Flora Patrick. Seated: Doris Bateman and Constance Afford

He was always curious about the world around him and with the Duke’s support became the patent holder for a switching machine for gas street lights. Even when he was over 60 years old he persuaded a local watchmaker to take him on as an apprentice because he wanted to learn how to build the clock  mechanism himself!

He always encouraged us children to learn and develop our talents. My brother Joseph was a member of the Royal Academy and enjoyed recognition as a landscape and portrait painter as well as a stained glass window maker. There is a window in the church designed and made by him.

Joseph was also a photographer and a printer, loved the theatre, played the violin and was a keen reader. My father had to ask permission from the Duke to strengthen the upper floor of our cottage because he had so many books up there!

One of my sisters, Julia, became a professional milliner and then a dressmaker to the Royal Court in London. After her husband died she stepped into his role and became the first female Registrar in England. (Janet was listed as the deputy registrar for Kettering in Kelly’s registry in 1910 and 1914.)

I am the youngest and music is my first love; I learnt to play the violin and then mastered the harp which is a beautiful instrument. I compose music too and tutor individuals as well as running a village music group for ladies. I love the summer evenings when I can open the cottage windows and play my harp or violin, and my neighbours come and set up a street dance to the music.

West Street Geddington looking towards The White Hart c. 1910

My  father’s interest in clocks has also been passed down to me and every Saturday evening I walk down Grafton Road to Boughton House, to carry out my responsibilities of winding the beautiful house clocks and ensuring they are keeping good time.

In 1916 I paid 4d a week to the Duke for my rent; but by 1947, the last year of my life, it had increased to 9d a week! In 1930, due to my long held tenancy the Duke was kind enough to offer me the cottage for the price of £75. I declined as I did not feel it right to take up his offer. I have remained financially independent through my music teaching and have lived alone since my mother died in 1916 so my needs are simple.

I have never married and some villagers in my later years thought me rather old fashioned because I always stuck to the Victorian tradition of wearing black. I don’t know it yet, but I will live here until 1947 and will hold the Estate record for the longest tenancy by one family in Geddington.

Janet’s life spanned a period of great change and in many ways she represents the less visible but none the less influential role of women at this time. Her family life introduced her to religious and political thinking, science, music and the arts. She was financially independent and yet used her domestic skills of sewing, spinning and rug making to create a welcoming home. She contributed a great deal through music to the cultural life of the village, often playing in concerts in the school hall or The Oddfellows Hall, but was never the public face in the bands at Jubilee celebrations and the like.

She saw two world wars and must have mourned many neighbours and friends. Perhaps that explains the preference for wearing black. She saw the emergence of female emancipation and in her life reflected its ambitions. She was highly literate and was prepared to take on official responsibility as the Deputy Registrar.

She had no inhibitions about gender limiting her interest in things scientific or mechanical, yet she showed great deference to the social hierarchy of her day and would not presume to purchase her own property. She died a relatively wealthy woman, having left a legacy of music, style and graciousness and, according to one resident, the memory of the 3d a week she was paid as a young child to draw Janet’s water from the well at the cross!

Acknowledgements must go to Monica Rayne (Geddington As It Was) and Melvyn Hopkins (Geddington at War) for some of the material drawn on in this article.

This post is part of a series about the Women of Geddington.

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