Francesca Marie Murtha/Clarke.
Frankie was my Dad’s favourite grandchild. (apologies to Lee, Casey, Adam, Warren, Kirsty, Marnie, and my own son Kieran) Just as my sister Pat was his favourite daughter. They were the eldest of their generation. Pat was born in 1943 and Frankie in 1960. All three were similar. They were stubborn. They could be gobby. They could cut you with a look. And they all had a heart as big as the moon. They spent their lives helping other people. Often at their own expense.
It might come as a surprise to some but Francesca Marie to give her full name was born a Murtha in a Catholic mother and baby home in Derbyshire. We were living in St Mathews Estate at the time. Pat was training to be a nurse. She was a stunningly beautiful young woman just like her daughter became. I remember her at night carefully folding stiff linen fabric into an elaborate nurse’s hat. One day she came home and told Mam and Dad that she was pregnant. As the song at the time said she was only 16.
Having a baby outside of marriage was viewed very differently in those days. It was regarded as a scandal. Families were stigmatised for it especially in the Catholic faith. The women were blamed not the men. What is new? Because of this, Pat was sent away to Newcastle to live with my aunt for the first six months of the pregnancy.
When she returned, she was sent to a mother and baby home in Borrowash until Frankie was born. The main purpose of these homes was to put babies up for adoption. Around 500000 babies suffered this fate in the 1950/60s. It was planned for Frankie to be adopted too. Although I am sure it was not what Pat wanted. Sadly, she had little say in the matter. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her.
When Frankie was born, she was very ill. As they watched her struggle to survive, Mam and Dad realised that they could not part with her. She melted their hearts. So Pat brought Frankie home to be our sister. I was 8 and my brother Andrew was 4. For the first few years of her life that is how we saw her, our little sister. Part of our family. Strange as it seems now, we didn’t question it.
Soon after this we moved to the Palmerston Arms, a pub next to Taylor school. Frankie moved with us. Then we moved to the Three Cranes Hotel on Humberstone Gate. Again, Frankie came with us. It was here that Pat met John and they were married. Frankie became a Clarke. John became her dad and he raised her as his own. Frankie still visited us regularly and went on holiday with us. We still regarded her as our little sister. She always will be.
I often think of what might have happened if she had been adopted. All our lives would have been very different including hers. We are all here today because she was not. We have all benefitted from that. We have all benefitted from knowing her. We have all benefitted from having her in our lives. It was her fate to raise such a beautiful family and my heart goes out to Chantelle, Chay and Cairo. It was her fate to be friends to so many. And as the radio tribute showed last week, it was her fate to be loved by everyone.
Don’t think too harshly of my Mam and Dad’s reaction before she was born. The world was very different then. They loved Frankie dearly. They regarded her as more of a daughter than granddaughter until the day they died. They were there for Frankie as she was always there for them. After all she was their favourite.
So, Frankie, as Mam and Dad said all those years ago as we all went off to bed. Nan night God bless. May the God who you so devoutly believed in, who sustained you through your darkest nights, now grant you eternal peace, once more in the arms of our family who have gone before.
When she became ill, I sent Frankie a poem by Maya Angelou. It is called,
Still I rise.
I would like to read the final verse. It seems appropriate for today.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into the daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Rise in glory Frankie.
Tommy Murtha 2022.