CASSETTE SIDE 1
1/1 Mum, where were you born ?
2 Stanley Road, Luton, Chatham On 15th July, 1905. I had two brothers older than myself and no sisters. My eldest brother was called William and the next brother, Herbert.
William was in the Territorials and during the 1914 War he was called up and went out to Mesopotamia and India. He was out there all through the war and came home about a year afterwards. He was told not to drink beer, but to keep on spirits to keep his blood up. I suppose he couldn't keep asking his friends to buy him whisky, it was dear, with the money they was getting, so he must have gone on beer. Two or three days after he was home he caught malaria and was taken to the army hospital and died in there. He was dead and buried within a fortnight of him being home.
And my brother Herbert, he caught the flu. During the war it was very, very bad. It was terrible. They was burying them three or four in a coffin, because it was so bad, they couldn't cope with them. Food and everything was short, you couldn't get anything, milk you couldn't get, Oxos or anything like that.
Your eldest brother - did he go straight into the Territorials from school ?.
It was like.... Saturday Night soldiers they was called..
What did he do before he was called up ?
House decorator, apprentice house decorator. I don't know whether he went through ..... Anyway he used to do all mum's decorating indoors. And I shall never forget that because there was a lemonade bottle on the table one day when I come home from school. Thinking it was lemonade I had a jolly good drink of it, and it wasn't, it was turps. I gave one scream, my mother run in and took me down into the kitchen and made me drink water, spit it out, and then made me drink water again. Anyway, it didn't do me much harm. It taught me a lesson not to touch things unless I asked for them..
My mum died before Herbert died. She died in St. Bartholomews Hospital on the New Road, Chatham. She went and had an operation and never came out of it.
What about Herbert, what was he, had he left school.
Oh yes, He was working at Lovibonds. Lovibonds ? Aaah!!! it was a wine merchants, he was making - is it port wine where they put the eggs in it, or is it Advocaat. Yes - Advocaat he used to make that. I used to take the whites of egg home after he had made this Advocaat. I used to go up with his dinner in a basin and then on to my father with his dinner.
Where was your dad then ? At Shorts ?
No, a steel works in Rochester, he sold his own horse and cart and his coal round and went to work there and I used to take his dinner up to a pub and I used to have a glass of ginger beer while he 'et 'is dinner.
This was still from 2 Stanley Road and you used to walk up to Rochester ?.
Yes. If I had an 'apenny over from the dinner money - my father used to give me the money to buy the food - if there was an 'apenny over I used to get on the tram so far.
This was after your mum had died then ? How old were you then ?
Twelve or thirteen, if I was that ! I had to leave school because I couldn't carry on school and all that. I did at first and I kept being late for school and being kept in. I think I was 13 or 14 when my brother Bill came home because he asked my why I hadn't gone to work on the trams and I said I wasn't old enough to work as a conductor. With the men all going to war, if I had been old enough I could have gone into the munitions or into - what was it - the rope walk in the rope factory. They was making something which smelled tarry.
Whereabouts was Lovejoys where he used to work ?
Lovibonds ? Just before you get into Rochester. Now you come up Chatham High Street and when you cross over that you're in Rochester. It was about ten minutes away from the boundary line. Near a big Picture Palace - can't remember the name of the Picture Palace but I know Lovibonds because I used to go up the passage - they knew me there - and I always had a drink of something. I used to leave my brother's dinner there and go off with me father's and call back for me brother's dirty pots and go off home.
What did you do with the egg whites ?
Oh, I used to fry them up, put them in mashed potatoes, during the war you were glad enough to do anything with 'em. You didn't waste anything.
I know that you met dad - you used to be walking past Chatham Barracks. Well how did you come to be walking past the Barracks.
When I was at work.
When did you go to work ?
Ha, now wait a minute, I gotta go back a bit because I was working first for Mr Goodwins, I think their name was. No, Baldwins, and they had a Nursery Shop, you know, where they sell babies prams, cradles and things like that. And then the other side was sweets and books. This was on the Rochester boundary line and I went there to look after two children. One was a little baby boy and the other was three years old if she was that. I had to sleep in.
This was after your two brothers died !
Mm, yes, a long while after. Oh yes, 'cos I had a job at the RAOB before I went to Baldwins. That was a club. Royal and Ancient Order of Buffaloes. That was my first job. My aunt got me that. Scrubbing ! I used to do the front door step first - whitening - then scrub along the passage, do the mens' bar. I used to clean the fireplace out, light the fire in the winter, scrub the floor up, dust all round the chairs and tables and put those back. Then go into the ladies room and do that. If I had chance to finish it I was lucky because the steward and stewardess, she was a lazy ***
she used to call me to wash their breakfast pots up and peel the potatoes because I could peel them thinner than she could. Then I used to go back and try and finish the ladies room and then I had to get the baby off to sleep by rocking the pram - and that poor kid used sometimes to "rrrrrrh' GO TO SLEEP . Because I had a very long billiard room to clean out and I use to have to do this billiard room before they came to iron the table because of the dust going up. I used to go there at nine o'clock in the morning and it was half past six or seven o'clock at night 'afore I finished. But after dinner - I used to get my meals there - I used to take the children for a walk. Not to take them back until half past four. And I used to help lay the tea. I had my tea and then I used to go round lighting all the fires and I was always glad when summer was there because I could go directly after tea.
How much were you paid for that ?
Eight shillings a week. And I had a glass of ginger wine on a Sunday lunch time. No afternoons off, only Sundays, and I didn't used to leave until three o'clock. I worked seven days a week. All those hours. I think I stuck it a year and it was Christmas time. And during that time I had met dad, and dad wanted to take me to his mum's in London for Christmas. So I asked for time off, I'd had no holiday and they said "No I couldn't have it". I said "well I'm leaving". She said "You'll have to give notice," so I said "I'll give my week's notice" and I left and went to London and stopped at Nana Sandersons.
Where was the RAOB CLub ? Old Brompton.
How come you'd met dad by then ?
That's how I come to go past the Royal Marines Barracks. Can you remember the barracks. Remember the terrace and the hill. Yes You'd go along Old Brompton High Street and it was just down that side turning. Middle Street it was in where the trams used to go down. So on my way to work I used to go past and I met a girl who I know and she worked in the offices, at the RE Barracks, so we used to walk up there and going to work sometimes the band would be playing in the square practising. And so one morning she said "Come on we'll have a bit of a joke". So I said "What are you going to do". She said "I'm going to stand there and chew a lemon." I said "You mean thing," and we did. She cut this lemon in half, she brought it out and there we were going slurp.............. and up in the terrace, poor dad, I'll always remember it because they couldn't stop, anyway we only done it the once. Whether word got round I've no idea but next I knew that as we got on the terrace there was a little step and I never used to bother to step up. I used to jump up and dad's bedroom was along there in the square and he could see me coming along. So he used to wave out of the window and I used to wave to him. My friend used to say, "Won't see you tonight, I expect he'll be waiting for you." Anyway I thought he never knew what time I left work because sometimes it would be half past six, seven o'clock, all according how I could get finished quick. Anyway one evening, no, one morning I was dashing along the terrace and turning round to go up the hill, (as we went up to married quarters) and I nearly knocked him over. He said, "That's right, not satisfied with waving you have to knock me over now," and that started it. And he said "I'll look out for you tonight". I thought he meant the window but instead of that he was waiting on the hill for me and that's how we got talking, like that. And, what was I, eighteen ? Ooh, I wasn't quite eighteen because I went to work for Mrs O'Neill when I was eighteen and that's how I come to get my writing case on my eighteenth birthday.
You were working at the RAOB and then you went to this nursery shop.
Yes, and then from the nursery shop I went to work at London. Anyway, to go back to Baldwins, 'cos this is interesting, this part. Next door to Baldwins there was a public house. He was a hard working chap but he did used to like his drink, and she used to go in with him. And if she didn't, and he stopped there till closing time she used to keep banging on the wall. One night they come in and they'd been rowing I think. I'd gone to bed, the children slept in my room, and it was right top of the house. She'd gone to bed and presently I heard her screaming. She come banging into my bedroom, locked the door, pushed the little chest of drawers up against the door, put a chair on top there. I said "What's the matter, why are you doing that Mrs Baldwin". She said "He's got a carving knife in 'is 'and, he's going to cut my throat". I said, "Don't be stupid". Anyway she was, what shall I say, silly, because she used to go into the shop, she used to lark about with all the young fellows that came in, and he got annoyed with her. So she asked for it. Anyway this night he got me frightened, and he came up and he was trying to bang the bedroom door open, so I threw up the window and put my head out of the window and shouted "help" "help", "they're going to murder me". Anyway, the people in the pub heard me and, called the police. Presently there was a bang, bang on the front door. So I said "That's the police, you'ld better go down and let them in". And he said "I will if you come down". So I said "Well you go down first". So I made him go down first and I followed him down, he opened the door and let the police in and the police said "What's all this?". So I said, "Look, he's got a carving knife in 'is hand, he's going to kill his wife and he's going to kill me too". So he says, "Nah I wasn't going to kill you Winnie, but I'll kill her if I get hold of 'er". So the the police spoke to them about being sensible and go back to bed. She hadn't moved. She was still upstairs with the children of course, so I went back and told her what happened. She locked the door up again and said "Let him go off to bed and go to sleep and we'll pack a case and we'll go off up to my mum's". We was walking the street at one o'clock in the morning pushing her pram." I do find jobs anyway !"
When I told dad all about it , he said "It's the best thing for you to leave that place." So he must have wrote and told Nana and when I met him one night he said "Look, what about this advert?". It was in one of the daily papers and it was 'parlour maid wanted at Harrow'. I said "Where's Harrow", but I had to go up to Maddox Street in London to be interviewed. We went up, and when we got to this shop, you know how they put hats and dresses, just one hat or one dress and spread it out, in those days it was dear same as it is in these days, so I said to dad "I'm not going in there, it's a proper pricey place". He said "Go on," so I went in and I got taken on. She paid me train fare down to Harrow, and it was a big house and I think it was the first time, I thought it was a television room they had, but it must have been a wireless room. Anyway, it was a very big house and I was very happy down there. They had two children, they was away at boarding school and used to come home at weekends and the lady's sister lived with them. She must have had that disease that cripples you, polio, she could only walk on her knees and she had pads on her knees. The rest of her legs was all paralysed. She used to go up the stairs on her knees like it. Oh and she was a lovely lady and she used to have a little stool to sit on for her meals. She used to come out into the kitchen and have her meals with us because the lady and gentleman was up in the city.
In the afternoon in the nice weather we'd sit on the lawn and natter away to each other and then children came home - oh I'd been there about four or five months, perhaps a bit longer than that, and during that time they were home they wanted to turn the shed into a playroom. They didn't want it in in the house, they wanted this shed. Well they had an old gardener but he wouldn't be bothered, so I said well - I can't remember what the housekeeper's name was - anyway she said "I'll get some whitewash and we'll whitewash it." And we did. I cleaned all the spiders out, all the muck out, and we both got a brush and we got this all done before the kiddies come home. So on the weekend she said, "Go on Winnie, take them down and show them what we've done to their shed." Oh and they were delighted, and their mother gave me ten shillings I think it was. That was over a week's wages. Anyway, Nana wrote and said there was a job up near where she lived if I would like to go back up there, but what could I do. I was happy, but I was miserable because I had no afternoons off, but I could have one weekend a month off to go up to London. Anyhow, I thought it over and it might be because I had a look at lover's lane, and during these summer evenings I used to see the lovers going up and down, that finished me - oh back to London I'm going.
So I said that my father was poorly and I'd have to go and look after him. So she said "Why can't you get someone in to look after him, I'll pay for her." So I said "I think my father would rather have me at home." I didn't know what to do or say. Anyway, home I went. Before I went the housekeeper had been turning out the kiddies wardrobe and there was a lot of children's clothes. Nana Sanderson's friend Mrs Churchman had twins and they was about the same age as the girl where I was working, and all these clothes were girls, and they were jolly nice clothes as well. So she said "Did I know anyone that would like them?"so I said I I knew somebody where my young man's mother lives. But I don't know how I'm going to get them there unless she meets me in London and takes them." So she done 'em up in a big parcel, and there's me with me tin box - we had little tin trunks then - I expect you've heard about them - and a great big parcel and another.
Arthur, dad's brother, was supposed to have met me in London, Nana gave him the money for the busfare to bring me home, Arthur goes in and has a pint of beer and forgets to come up, so I gets to London and don't know my way. Anyway I go up to a taximan and asked him if he could tell me how I could get to Fulham. He said, "Jump in, I'll take you," so I jumped in - it took all my months wages - anyway when Nana came in of a night-time I told her all about these clothes. She had a look, "She says these are nice, I'm not going to give these to Mrs Churchman, she'll only pawn them and Dad might as well pawn them and have the drink as well." So that's what happened to all those clothes. It made dad laugh when I told him anyway. Then I went for an interview at Mrs O'Neill's and got taken on there, and so I stayed there. I was only at Mrs O"Neill's for two or three months when my birthday came along and never expected anything and when she wished me many happy returns of the day at the breakfast table when I was waiting on she handed me this writing case to keep my love letters in.
This was on your 18th birthday ? What was the address mum?
4 Pembroke Villas, in Kensington. You know where Olympia is ! It's before you get to there, you come down past Earls Court Road. It goes off there, Warwick Gardens is the next road where Madam Phillipa lived. She was Mrs O'Neill's mother. And her sister lived with her mother as well, Mrs Roebuck.
Mr O'Neill was a composer wasn't he ?
Yes, well he composed his own music and conducted it at the Duke of York and Shaftesbury Avenue. He also gave music lessons at the Royal Academy of Music up in the city and Mrs O'Neill was a music teacher up there as well. and also she gave lessons at home.
Can you remember any of the pieces that Mr O'Neill wrote ?
Oh yes. He wrote Mary Rose, that's one. That's where the island is in the mist, where the girl got lost in that. I had a ticket for the first night for that. They used to.............what was the name of that actress.............Fay Compton ? ........... Fay Compton. What was his christian name ? Norman O'Neill.
Geoff That's right. Born in London 1875 and died there as a result of a street accident in 1934. Quite true. Aged 59.
Is that all he was Geoff ?
Geoff He carved out a special niche for himself as a theatre conductor and composer. Many of the most artistic dramatic productions in London owed much to his direction and the incidental music provided by him. Adene O'Neill, his wife, was a well known pianist.
He was a very nice man. He wasn't stuck up, because one night , I don't know whether it was the first or the second time I'd been up, she gave a musical concert at Wigmore Hall in London, I went up as cloakroom attendant thinking there would be somebody else there and I was just going to help. But I was the only one there. And Aunt Flo came up to help me. When they came in their mink coats and all that you had to be very careful where you pinned your cloakroom ticket, where you pinned it on. So you either put it down the bottom part or just inside. I tried on a couple of minks but they didn't mean anything to me in those days. They do now though. Anyway, when it was half time they all went for refreshments, Mr O'Neill came through and said "Have you had anything to drink Winnie?" I said "No Sir". "Nor to eat?" "No Sir." "Didn't anyone come through to look after you. Wait a minute, I'll go through." And he went and brought me back a plate of sandwiches and a cup of coffee. First he said "Have a drink of wine?" But I said "No Sir, I'd rather have wine." And so the next time I went up .......oh and this first time Madam O'Neill gave me a little saucer and she put a florin in it and she said "You'll find they'll all put money in there Winnie." So I wondered how much she was going to take out of it because she was a bit of a meany. Anyway, at the end of the night, she told me ......... Mr O'Neill come in ............ "You have done well tonight, put it in your pocket." So we had a taxi to go home, and Mrs O'Neill said "Winnie's paying the taxifare tonight, you didn't see all the money she got." And Mr O'Neill said, "NO.... and don't talk like that." He said "Have you got change for a pound note Winnie." "Yes sir, I think so," and he said "Don't be silly I'm only pulling your leg."
But he was like that. When you saw him with titled men there was no put-on. He was just the same. Like when they used to come go out into his studio, and I used to open the door and announce them. And he used to say, "Oh Winnie will you make a tray of tea and bring out to us please." I used to put it on a little stool beside of him. He did used to suffer with his legs. Ulcerated. And he used to have special crepe bandages and he had a machine to roll these bandages up. He had a stool to put his legs on. Now he came along like that and I used to put the tea right aside of 'im. And the desk where he used to write his music, that had a wheel on and the back used to come up so that it was like that. He was a very tall gentleman, and I used to put that there, and he had a stove there and put everything handy so that he shouldn't move. I remember .... who was that man who made In Town Tonight. Cole Porter ! No ! Coates, Eric Coates. He used to come in and he used to take his hat off, put his hat on the hall stand, put his walking stick in the hall stand, "Mr Coates". If madam wasn't in I used to take him down to Mr O'Neill and he used to go down there and on the way down he would say, "I'd like a cup of tea please Winnie." When I announced him I said, "And would you like some tea sir," and he'd say "Yes, I'll have a cup Winnie." "Well Mr Coates wants a cup." So I used to take them out their tea. But of course they used to say "Where's the tea girl," but if madam came in during the time they'd had their tea, she used to say, "Oh, don't make a fresh pot, perhaps they haven't drunk it all, I'll go down and have a cup of tea with them." Anything to save, because we would have had the pot of tea when it came back. Annie's mother used to come up and have tea with me when it was the cook's day off, and Mrs O'Neill said "I hope you're buying your own tea Winnie, when you have your visitors here." I said "Yes madam I do, and my own cakes and milk." 'Cos cook used to do all this and hide it away from her..... "Don't let me think I'm letting you buy tea just for a person." Any way Annie used to bring little Annie up and Arthur used to come in the pram and they used to come round the back way.
They had two children didn't they ?
Yes, Yvonne and Patrick. Yvonne would have been nice looking but she had a big mouth. I used to say that when she smiled it went from ear to ear ...... poor kid.
Did she get married mum ?
Yes, her husband worked on the Times. I don't know if he was a journalist or whether .......... I think he was a journalist. Now that's going back some years and whether she's still there or still alive I have no idea.
What was his name ?
Hutson..........Hudson. Mmmm. And Patrick, I know he married. Miss Bridges her name was. They went to live at Teddington, whether they had any children I don't know. Oooh, yes they did. They had two to me having you. Mrs O'Neill could never understand why her son could have two children and me only one. They keep you poor Winnie......."Yes Madam, that's why I only want one." "Agh, You'd better tell Patrick that !!!" I used to make Nana Sanderson smile about this. Anyway, Patrick was an easygoing fellow.
What did he do when he left school?
Well, he went to work for Bertram Mills Circus going round from town to town abroad putting up posters and booking up places where they could perform. When they come to London he used to give me tickets to go there. Now he left there, and somebody he got in with wanted him to go partnerships in an advertising thing, you know, their own business. And I don't know whether it was 100, 200 or 300, I don't know. Anyway, his Grandma gave him half and his parents gave him the other half. He went up to the city and done this, and during the daytime he phoned up to say that everything was settled and would I tell his parents he wouldn't be in to dinner that night. So when they came in I gave the message. Next day Patrick went off to work, this fellow he was going into partnership with didn't turn up. Patrick phoned through and said was mother or father there. I said no. So I said "You sound worried Mr Patrick, everything all right?" He said, "No Winnie, it isn't, my partner's done a bunk with all the money." I said, "Oh, Mr Patrick, oh dear." He said "Yes". I can remember it now, standing in my little room where I did all my washing up because the phone was there. And then Mr O'Neill came in, and I said "Hang on Patrick, I think Mr. O'Neill's just come in." Mr O'Neill shouted down, "Anything wrong Winnie?". I said, "It's Mr O'Neill sir," so he came down and I went out and shut the door into the kitchen. The cook was there and she said "You sound worried?" I said, "There's going to be trouble in this house" and when I told her she said, "Oh my goodness." "I said I'm taking the whisky and soda up, he'll be wanting some." So I took it up and put it in there, and as he's going up the stairs he shouts out, "Winnie!, will you bring up the whisk and soda." I said, "It's up there sir." "Good Girl!"
Mrs O'Neill came in for lunch, and there was a lot of talking going on in French and I'm waiting on table and can't understand a word and I'm getting so annoyed. Anyway, after lunch, she told me all about it, and I said, "Well, I am sorry madam. What's he going to do now." "The best thing he can do is to join up like your young man Winnie. Make a man of him......." Poor Patrick! Anyway, he didn't. I don't know what he did after that. He had several different jobs, and then he caught the 'flu. His young lady, she was a Catholic, she used to come over and spend the afternoon or day with him, and this particular afternoon she shouted down, would I take tea up to them. So I took tea up, and as I was coming out the door I heard the key going in the lock. Ha Ha, high jinks going on. So I came out, and quite a long while afterwards I'm going up the stairs when madam comes in through the front door and she goes into the lounge to look at all her mail. So I flew off up the stairs and gently tapped on the door and said, "Mr Patrick, may I come in for your tea things." She came to the door, and I whispered, "Madam's just come." She hands me the tray, and I said "Thank you Miss Bridges." Madam was just coming up the stairs, I could hear her coming up. Next day Patrick says, "You'll make a diplomat, thank you very much Winnie." I told the cook about it and she said "She'll catch you out one of these days." I said "I'm young meself, what wouldn't I say if my future mother-in-law came in and caught me."
Mr Patrick gave me those fish knives and forks that you've got, as a wedding present. And of course poor Yvonne ............. we went down into the country. They had this country house at Dewhurst, it was called Lewesley ???. They had a big pond in the garden, and a little bridge over this pond, and poor Yvonne she had to go to Guildford to school, boarding school, and she used to come home at the weekend. And one weekend her mother and father had gone off to France, and she came into the kitchen and said "Winnie, can you swim." I said "No Miss Yvonne, I wish I could." So she said, "I want to swim, all the girls at school can swim but not me." So I said, "Why don't you get your brother to take you to the swimming baths, and teach you to swim." She said,"He won't do that - I'm going to swim in the pond." So I said, "Don't you be in that pond if you can't swim, I don't know how deep it is." So, of course then cook said, "But can't you hold her while she's swimming. I said, "I tell you what Miss Yvonne, I'll tie a rope round your middle and stand on the bridge and hold you. Then you can go up and down." And she did. You see she could only go one way, 'cos I couldn't run across the other side of the bridge, so she had to go up and down. Anyway, she done that, but it was all covered with weeds, it had never been cleaned out. So when her mother come home and she told her mother, I got a racket then for doing such a dangerous thing.
They had two houses in London then ?
Yes the town house and the country house. I went there just before I was 18 and didn't leave until I was 21. And another time they'd gone away and - all this was before Miss Yvonne had gone to school - she had a nursery governess, a Canadian French girl, but she was a very nice girl. Odelle her name was, her surname, what was her other name - I can't think of it. Well, anyway, we went for a walk across the fields and we come across a very old house, and the gardens was all overgrown. And this house was up for sale, and there was every amount of Rhododendrons there, any amount of them. And I said, "What about taking some back and decorating the rooms up for madam to come back to." "Coo, that's a good idea." So we both got a lovely big bunch and we were going out of the gate when somebody said, "You can drop that lot, and I want your names and address." It was the one who was looking after the house, I suppose. So he said ...........TAPE ENDS.