Mrs Becher's Diary


Miss Kearsey and Jack Piggott

A vision arises of a grey face with watery blue eyes – the cheeks flabby and ingrained with dirt – a husky breathless voice, deep toned and grey hair thin and ill kept. She was often to be met with on the road in her very old and shabby grey clothes. She always had a kindly smile and her body was emaciated – I should imagine with semi-­starvation.

The story has it that she and Jack Piggott were sweethearts. He was tall, good looking and a soldier. She waited years for him amd when he returned from India suffering from the effects of sunstroke, he had no need of her. She poor soul, remained faithful and devoted, but her sorrow affected her brain. She lived alone in one of the cottages in Victoria Road. (Cabbage Row, one of the slums of Tylers Green) and took in quantities of religious tracts which she would give to the children on the road and she cared nothing for their ribald laughter of her.

Some years ago, she fell very ill. Her landlady, Mrs H Wheeler, wanted to help her but for excellent reasons of her own she did not wish to be seen taking her provisions. In response to her request, I agreed to take them, and for a little while I visited Miss Kearsey almost daily.

The filth of herself and her home were unspeakable. The Doctor told me he had met nothing to equal it during all his time in the slums of London. It was necessary to sprinkle myself with Keating’s powder before each visit.

She lay or sat by day and by night on a couch covered in rags. Every now and then she would reach for a basket underneath this bed and take from it a dirty cup. She told me that this was her “food”. It looked like a little bread and milk mixed up with scraps of other things and I think she just added to it without removing the remains or washing the cup. This then, was her food during her entire illness. Starvation probably brought down her temperature but it also made her lightheaded and I have sat and listened while she told me that God was speaking to her through the wall. His voice ran round the fireplace

and told her strange things if she listened. It was so secret that I had to bend over her while she put her face closely touching mine and whispered gibberish in my ear. Every time the neighbours poked their fire in the next house it was to her the voice of the Almighty full of dread warnings.

Her story is bound up with that of Jack Pigott and when he lived alone she used to bring him dishes of food and give him the only attention he ever had.

Piggott lived with his mother and a widowed sister in a cottage across the Common which has now been demolished to make room for the red brick buildings belonging to Barclay’s Bank. The old mother with her keen eyes and a masterful spirit was bedridden for a long time before she died and the sister married again most unwisely, and when Pigott was left alone, his mind, never very strong, gave way more and more. On moonlight nights he would stand on the Common shouting the most absence language. I think he was quite harmless but the children were a little afraid of him as they met him in the woods and commons. He once told my small daughter that she was the prettiest little girl in Tylers Green.

Finally he neglected himself so much that he ceased to be even decently clothed and when it was cold and he had no wood, he tore down the woodwork of the cottages to kindle a fire, – doors, cupboards and even the staircase.

When it became necessary to certify him and to remove him to the workhouse, his going was stormy and he fought them on the Common. In the end it was the Vicar who was able to persuade him to go and the familiar, slovenly figure, known to most of us as “Piggotty” unkempt and unclean was no longer seen in the village.