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Breaking Point

Years ago I used to work in a secondhand book shop, which rather grandly preferred to call itself an "antiquarian" bookshop. This would suggest that piles of tattered Catherine Cookson novels and other discardables were somehow eagerly sought-after valuable artefacts, not to mention the cache of rather too saucy books hidden behind the immersion heater by the shop's prudish owners.

One day there arrived in the shop an unusual item, in the shape of a scrapbook kept by a former magistrate, full of yellowing cuttings from the local newspaper, presumably relating to cases he or she had been involved in. Amongst the sad litany of murders, arsons, suicides and assaults, one article in particular caught my eye, the very sad tale of a mother driven to an attempt to murder her three young children in the market town of Market Drayton just after the war. As the youngest child was but six months old, I am tempted to wonder if this was a case of untreated and undiagnosed post puerperal mental illness (or "insanity" as it was then known), more familiar to us nowadays as post natal depression.

This poor woman (who had been working as a stoker at the nearby air force base until just before her youngest child was born - I can't imagine a heavier or more exhausting job for a heavily pregnant woman to have been involved in) finally snapped one day, loaded her three children (all under school age) into a pram which she wheeled some way to the canal where she tipped it into the murky depths. As far as I can remember, she was seen by someone, and the children rescued - I presume there were no casualties, otherwise she would have been executed for her actions, according to the penal code of the day.

I sometimes wonder if she is still alive, those children would be in their 60's by now - were they ever told about what had happened, or did it become a family secret, never ever to be mentioned? It's certainly one of the most heart rending things I have ever read about, yet it merited just a few paragraphs in a parochial newspaper, not even the most important thing that had happened that day, in that small area, in those grim post war years of austerity. So very sad.

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