Scarth Minna Cairns (nee Cromack)

Minna Cairns (nee Cromack) Scarth

An obviously highly literate woman, Minna was born in Leeds on 28 April 1886. Minna is the short form of this German female form of William – Wilhelmina – which was then fashionable; there is some hint of a Polish, possibly Jewish link and, of course, part of Poland was then within Germany.

Her younger sister was Hattie, who gave Minna a book as a present and inscribed it to “my teacher”; evidently Minna was either actually a teacher or had a natural talent for communicating to young people. Alice Cromack was a relative (possibly a much older sister, aunt or cousin) who married one Samuel Sykes Webster. Their daughter Enid Hartley (senior) was Freda (Hartley) Watters’ mother. (See separate entry.) Minna appears to have been something of a mentor to Freda in the development of her love for culture and politics.
Minna married Harold (known as Henry) Scarth in 1925, who five years her senior, and they lived at Ern Scar, Rodley, West Yorkshire, midway between Leeds and Bradford. (Recorded in 1939 as 18 Petrie Street, Pudsey, when Henry is described as a retired Ministry of Labour civil servant.). Family lore has it that Freda often visited her in this picturesque setting. For Rodley is a village on the north west outskirts of the city of Leeds in England. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal passes through it, running parallel with Rodley Town Street. Many of the stone built industrial buildings and mills that once lined the banks of the canal have been demolished and replaced with modern flats. Some mills and industrial buildings survive, though many are in a desperate state of disrepair having lost their roofs and windows. Today, the village is also home to Rodley Nature Reserve, a wetland reserve built on the former site of a sewage works.
In 1938 or 1939, Freda was involved in the “Youth Peace Foundation”, seemingly in some leadership role in Yorkshire moors walks and possibly weekend schools. This may have been actually or part of the British Youth Peace Assembly, which by this stage was campaigning against conscription. The body had been founded on the initiative of the Young Communist League, initially to fund the Spanish Youth Foodship to the Spanish republic in 1936-7 during the civil war there. The BYPA also campaigned on the issue of refugees from all fascist territories.
It seems likely that Minna’s tutoring of world events in the late 1930s was critical to the development of Freda’s politics. On the evidence that Minna at some uncertain point gave Freda as a present one of William Gallagher’s (the Communist MP) books of autobiography, “The Chosen Few”, that she and her husband had acquired in 1940, it may be concluded that she (possibly her husband, also) was either sympathetic to, or even a member of the Communist Party, or was at the least an enlightened woman who knew of Freda’s early leanings and wished to encourage them. Freda’s joining of the Women’s Land Army within weeks of the invasion of the Soviet Union, when she could have joined months earlier, may even have been encouraged by the older woman, since many progressives were unsupportive of war efforts during the phoney war phase.  
On Minna’s death, in London in June 1965, her family gave some of her carefully collected and treasured books  to relatives (from the fly leaves of which much of the above is gleaned and it is possible perhaps that this was when the Gallagher book came into Freda’s possession also). Either way, it is evident that Minna had befriended the young Freda at an early age and encouraged a bent for literature, novels, plays and poetry in her.
Clearly, Freda looked up to Minna and rated her highly, as evidenced by the fact that name of her great aunt (?) was still treated with some reverence by the Hartley family years after her death. No more is currently known about her.

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