Elizabeth’s diary recalls early 20th century life

Linda Fonseka has written a book from her great grandma's diary
Linda Fonseka has written a book from her great grandma's diary

She grew up in Essex and was one of 15 children, before moving to Brinscall to work on a farm and raise her own family.

Now, the extraordinary diary of a middle-class woman who fell in love in the Northern countryside is being brought to life by her own great-granddaughter.

Linda Fonseka, 62, was so moved by the story of Elizabeth Jane Dixon, she decided to pen her own book about the lives and loves of her ancestors.

She explains: “Elizabeth kept a diary everyday from 1907 to 1932, and she was such a beautiful writer.

“The diary was passed down through the family and as I got older, I started to read it more and more, and it moved me to tears at times.

“She talks about life on the farm and the characters in the village.”

Linda has used the fascinating journal to write her own book, The Diary of Elizabeth Jane Dixon, which is being launched in Brinscall in a couple of weeks’ time.

She writes about Elizabeth’s upbringing in Harlow, Essex, where she lived in a large house surrounded by lots of land.

She tells how as a girl, Elizabeth attended Harlow School and later went on to become a tutor there, but her family moved to Kirkby Lonsdale for work, and she eventually got a job teaching children in a farmhouse in Kendal.

There, she met Thomas Dixon, who was the farm foreman, and they soon married and moved to Brinscall when the nearby Marsdens Farm, on the West Pennine Moors, was calling out for a tenant farmer.

“Elizabeth was well spoken and well educated,” Linda says.

“Whereas Thomas was a real Cumbrian guy, and he did a lot of wrestling. He was a big guy.

“They were like chalk and cheese, yet they really loved each other.”

The couple raised 12 children, two of whom tragically died in France during the First World War, and most of them worked in the mills.

The family relationships are the main focus of Linda’s book, which consists of three short stories taken from collections of entries in the original diary.

The first tale is called ‘Elizabeth and Thomas’ and is about how the couple met. The second is ‘Olive – a granddaughter’, about one of Elizabeth’s grandchildren who died when she was just seven.And ‘A Day on Mardens Farm’ offers a look into the day-to-day lives of Elizabeth’s children on the farm.

“I never met her myself,” Linda says. “She died when my dad was 10 years old, but I enjoyed reading her diary and just thought about writing a bit myself to develop her story into a book.

“Last year the Countryfile team filmed my father and I outside the ruins of the farm, and it was aired last Easter.

“We talked about the diary, and that’s where the idea came from.”

The book has been published by Carnegie Books based in Lancaster, and is being launched at the Oak Tree pub in Brinscall on April 1 – Linda’s birthday.

Now a grandmother herself, Linda hopes the book will appeal to schoolchildren and locals in the area.

It will be for sale in the Post Office, The Cottage Tea Room and the Londis Village Store in Brinscall.

And what became of Elizabeth? She passed away six months after Thomas did, and they are buried together in the grounds of Heapy church, where their grave stones still stand.