Irene Remembers

Ellen Marion Irene Boyd was born in Northwich, Cheshire, in 1907 and spent much of her early years at The Beeches, Whitegate, with her family. She became ill as a child and spent time in a number of hospitals including Guy’s, London. All this was to no avail; she became crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and eventually almost completely paralysed, apart from a little movement in her hands which enabled her to write — provided someone else was there to furnish her with pad and pen. She walked for the last time when she was ten, at a time when her youngest sister Norah was learning to walk:

While Baby Norah finds it easier and easier to master the complicated art of walking, Irene finds it more and more difficult to keep it up.

The new edition of Irene Remembers is now available, with archive photographs, a family tree and additional information on the cover. Price unchanged at £7.99.

a book of incandescent spirituality

The book contains a detailed account of Irene’s childhood and youth, beginning with her birth and continuing until she becomes an adult, at which time her experience of life has become so painful, her suffering so great that she can no longer remain a child. Her formative years are over. Irene does not tell us what happened during the remaining fifty years of her life, though there are numerous small hints in the text.

She scarcely even tells us what she herself feels as she stands on the brink of maturity, but we can see that her future will not be marred by any backward-looking or selfish impulse. Irene seemed able to turn sorrow and disillusion into enlightenment, resignation into compassion and empathy. This is a book of incandescent spirituality.

With no rancour, Irene recounts the disappointments, privations and abuses of her childhood and adolescence; with no bitterness, she recalls the unmitigated tortures inflicted on her by (no doubt well-meaning) doctors; with no spite, the foolishness of the child who remarks ‘Don’t you ever get tired of sitting in that chair all day?’; no jealousy for the activities of her siblings, who clearly have their own crosses to bear. With characteristic self-effacement, uncompromising humanity and sublime spirituality, Irene remembers and tells all.

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THE BOYD FAMILY circa 1917

One remarkable thing about this very remarkable book is the way in which the style of writing changes ever so gradually as Irene develops over a period of some twenty years. At the beginning Irene is a baby and so she describes her infancy in deceptively childlike language, but do not be deceived: in later chapters she addresses her adolescence and youth in the most intellectual and philosophical manner.

Growing up in a truly beautiful spot, in the bosom of a cosy, well-to-do and well-respected Cheshire family, should have been idyllic, yet the story is harrowing — even shocking. The idyll is marred by the presence of a sinister inanimate character. Witness this extract:

Irene and Nancy and Muriel share a big double bed now, and though they sometimes struggle for the bedclothes and complain "You’re sticking your big bottom in me!" they collaborate in all sorts of bed games. They have plenty of time for these since they go to bed, winter and summer, at six o’ clock, to give Mother and the neighbours "a bit of peace".
Playing School is one of their games. Irene is the teacher, of course, and sets them sums on toilet paper, purloined from the bathroom. If Nancy and Muriel get the sums wrong she raps their knuckles with a ruler like a real teacher.
They also play top-tails over the bottom of the bed. The footpiece is an iron scrollwork, higher in the middle than at the sides and topped with three brass bars. Once as Nancy upended in a top-tail over one of these bars Mother, appearing with the Stick, found her just in the right position for its application.
Irene sometimes said that the bed was a Desert Island and the bottom of the bed was a Cliff where the three Castaways scrambled for Seagull’s Eggs. If you fell onto the linoleum you were Drowned in the Sea.
The bedside rug was a Lagoon. You sat on the Island and fished with your toes. As Irene had the longest legs and prehensile toes she usually caught the most handkerchief fish.
Another method of fishing was for the Castaways to lie on their faces on the Island and, supported on their hands, lean out across the Lagoon towards the Open Sea where Fish were swimming. A quick grab could often catch one without the Castaways falling into the Lagoon.
The trouble for Irene was that her elbows were beginning to be stiff and bent. The trouble for everybody was that too many bumps into the Lagoon would summon up the Stick. Afterwards they would stand in front of the long mirror on the door of the wardrobe and count their stripes.

a popular writer and poet

Irene Boyd was a popular writer and poet, well known and well liked in the localities in which she lived. But, all things considered, it is remarkable that she wrote anything at all, let alone prose and poetry worthy of publication. She attended primary school and enjoyed it very much, though even this was interrupted by lengthy hospital treatment, but was unable to attend secondary school, which dashed her dreams of the grammar school.

Her body scarcely grew or developed from the age of ten so that, as a mature adult, she weighed only around five stone. Unsuccessful and ill-advised operations and treatments resulted in her body becoming rigidified, so that she could not even sit up and had to remain supine, her head characteristically tipped permanently forward so that she could see people and relate to them.

educated herself from books

Unable to attend secondary school, she educated herself at home. Nonetheless, she proceeded to a remarkable lifetime achievement. As a young person she began publishing short stories and poems. By necessity she educated herself more or less entirely from books, any books, whatever she was able to beg and borrow from family, friends and neighbours. At one stage during adolescence these books constituted a major part of her life, which is why in telling her story it became necessary for her to describe the books to which she had access. On the basis of her studies she applied to London University to read for an external degree in Philosophy and was accepted — at a time when few even able-bodied women gained entry — and, what is most remarkable, in time she became able to satisfy the authorities that she had reached a sufficient standard to be awarded her degree.

turned lives around

On the strength of this qualification she became able to offer her services as a private teacher or tutor. She lived for much of her life in a home for the incurably ill — Mauldeth Home at Stockport in Manchester — where she had a small summerhouse in the grounds. She received her pupils, visitors and friends in this setting. Her warm encouraging presence inspired others in many ways.

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Irene Boyd outside Mauldeth Home in 1976

Indeed, from her horizontal position she became able to turn other people’s lives around:

"It’ll be all right now! I know I can do it!" young people would tell their desperate parents. "If Miss Boyd can do it, I can do it!"

the best hotels

Her income from teaching supplemented the ongoing earnings from her writing and enabled her to travel, and she made a point of always staying at the very best hotels. Mauldeth Home must have seemed a prison to some but Irene was able to turn it into a useful base, one from which she could get away. There was never any shortage of nurses and young people who were happy to accompany her. She died on Christmas Day 1977.

Her autobiography Irene Remembers was her major full-length manuscript and she intended it for publication, but it was not published in her lifetime. It has now appeared for the first time. Irene remembers… And we remember Irene.

The Cover art was crafted by Rene Maycock, and you can read more about this by clicking HERE

the complete story

Irene Remembers has been edited by Margaret Swift from two versions that are in existence. Great care has been taken in amalgamating these to protect Irene’s original words and ideas. Nothing has been added and nothing taken out; only the ordering of material has been changed, as necessary to avoid the repetition that would inevitably have ensued had the two versions simply been bolted together. Everything is included, appearing once only. When she prepared the later of the two versions for publication some forty or more years ago, Irene omitted certain passages ‘to protect the living’ but we are sure you will agree it is now ‘high time’ for the complete story to be told

What people have said about Irene Remembers :

I found the book to be illuminating from both a local history and a family revelation point of view: an honest account of the strengths, weaknesses and the ties of love, commitment and obligation which bind a family together. I am in awe of Irene’s accomplishments and triumph over adversity

- Helen Avraam, Whitegate, Cheshire

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Book Details

Irene Remembers

Irene Boyd


Age Range
16 Years +


(Uk Delivery : £1.49)