Mrs Sanderson reminisces



Recorded on Monday, 2nd October, 1983, a wet night.


I was born at No 2 Stanley Road, Luton, Chatham, 15th July, 1905. I was the youngest, I had two brothers, Herbert was next to me, he was two years older, and Bill(William) was two and a half years older than Herbert.


I can remember when I started school. My brother Bill took me to have me name put down and left me at the school, out Luton way, a big modern school. I was left in the hall until the headmistress came out and she took me to the class and left me. If you was naughty you was put out in this hall with a big dunces hat on and with your face to the wall. She was very strict, but very kind in her way. Now, the schoolroom I was in looked right out into the country and I was always day-dreaming about the country. I don't know why, I suppose I liked it so much. Anyway I stopped at that school until I was ten.


Did you stop at school for dinner ?


No No, went home for dinner. As we walked right up to the school, on the lefthand side was a big plot of ground. During my time it was all dug up and the best girl in each class was given a piece of this ground. And I was the best girl and I was given a piece and I had this little garden. Me father brought a lot of horse manure and put over it and dug it all in for me. Somebody gave me some marrer seeds, and I put those on a little heap, me father showed me how, and he put some flower plants round - I don't know what they were. Anyway, this marrer took, and I had a beautiful big marrer and the headmistress saw it and said, "You must bring that in Winifred for Harvest Festival in the school." The day before the Harvest Festival come along, you can guess what 'appened - it disappeared. So, everybody was asked, as far as I can remember but nobody admitted it.  What they didn't know was that behind, my father's stable went that way, behind on that side was a little bit of garden where he threw all the manure. And he had already planted seeds there and I'd had a big marrer there. So I told the headmistress I'd still got one - it was in my garden at home. So she said, "Bring it" - I think my father brought it in his cart - I can't be too sure - I know, walking up the school with this in me arms everybody was saying, oh you've found your marrer. And there was one little boy who started crying, what was 'is name, mmh, and behind me come a teacher and her name was Mrs Hitchfalls, something like that. (Laughter) That was just how my brother used to laugh. He used to call me teachers pet.


I suppose I was in a way. My aunty gave me a beautiful coat, and it was plaid inside, and palish blue on the outside. I think it had a hood to it but I'm not sure about that. And this teacher bought me a scarf to match it for Christmas. That's how I got the name teacher's pet. Anyway, when this marrer was brought along and put with the other, the headmistress knew all about it and she said, "There's somebody in this hall that stole it." No I don't know if he ever came up, but somebody saw him take it, and I don't know if the teacher or the headmistress got to hear of it. Anyway it was all passed over. I think I kept the garden , I don't know whether it was six months or a year, and then you gave it up. I was about 7 then.


Another thing that happened, my father had a contract to go and cut the lawns, I don't think it was tennis lawns, could 'ave been, but there was a summer house on this big patch of ground, it was more like allotments all done out with grass and people used to use them as chalets. You know, the summer houses and all that, and my father used to go and cut this grass. One day he took me with him and me mother stood at the shop doorway. She said, "Aren't you going to stay at home and keep me company. And I said, "No, I want to go with dad." It's funny how you can think of these things afterwards. Anyway, I went with him and he was cutting the grass and I was sitting on the steps of this summer house, making daisy chains I think, anyway I could see a skylark come down and settle in the grass. I waited for it to go and it was right over in the corner, and when it got up I went over and there was a nest with eggs in it. I called my father over and he wouldn't cut the grass, he left it all there and put a note through the door of the summer house to say about it. I don't know how often he used to go up, but next time he went up, I don't know whether I went with him or if he went on his own, but the birds had all gone. I'll always remember that.


Where were these allotments then?


Oh, I've no idea. Way back in Gillingham.  All I can remember is this big patch of grass and the summerhouses was along there. He cut it with one of these scythes. You know, comes round like that with an 'andle. The grass he took home for the horse. I used to help him collect it all up and put into a bag and put it in the cart.


How many horses did your dad have?


Only the one. I can't remember it's name. Thinking about this the other day, it was funny, I was giggling to meself. You know, I must have seen something on television, and I've got more knowledge of the animals now, but if I went in to feed that horse I use to be scared stiff. My brother used to stand at the stable door laughing at me.  "He won't hurt you."  "He will." He used to move over towards me and go hee hee and show his teeth, laughing at me. I'm sure that's what it was now, knowing I was afraid of him. And I used to say, "Come and get me, come and get me." And he used to say, "Get over and smack him on the rump." Anyway, I'd dump his food and dash out. My father used to laugh at me as well - when I used to put his food there and dash out. Mother used to cook all the peelings and all things like that, and then put linseed and bran and mix it all in together on a cold night. She used to say, take that down to your father for the horse.


Was the shop on a corner and there was an alleyway and that led round to the back ?


Yes, that's right. It was a kind of a hill, a little slope, and it came right the way down and as you got down to the bottom there was big double gates and he used to go straight in there. But the cart used to stop at the top, like the slope, and me father had brakes I suppose on the cart.



Where did you keep the coal?


We had a big shed. When me father weekends wasn't using the cart, he used to go down and there was no doors, it was just open, but it was all covered in,  and the cart went there, and next door it was the shed where all the coal was. The coal came from the wharf. I don't know if it was Chatham Station or where, no idea. But he didn't used to bring much coal home. He used to sell most of it.  He got a big coal bell, ringing. And that stood in the shop. He used to collect it from the wharf in sacks and deliver it all round the streets and houses where he used to sell it each week. He'd just ring his bell and the people would come out. He didn't keep much in the shed. The only time it would be in the shed was at weekends, like Sunday they used to come and say, can we have seven pound of coal or whatever it was, fourteen pound of coal and they'd bring their own sack and me dad used to go down and weigh it up and charge them for it.


We had a big shop, I suppose it was a big shop. On that side was all sweets and groceries, and on that side was greengrocery. A double fronted shop with the door in the middle. Me mum used to look after it on her own. The people used to know when my father went out, and used to come in and say, "Mrs Webb, can you let me have so much and so much." On the sweet counter we'd have, like you see in the shops now, the tin trays of toffee. Different kinds, treacle .....You used to bang them with a hammer. If me mum run short, my brother and I used to go, quite a way, up to where it was made and bring these small tins of toffee back. My brother used to bang a corner off. He used to say "I'll tell mum your dropped it." I can see him now picking it up. I used to cry, "I didn't do it, you did." He used to say, "Here you here's a bit for you."


You had this shop. What was behind it?


There was a living room with coal fires. There was three bedrooms up above. One over the shop, one in the middle and one on the outer part. There was a kitchen and another little room. We used to use that in the winter. In the summer we went downstairs. There was the cellar, then another big room, and then the wash-house. It was on a slope.


What sort of furniture did you have?


Well I know the settee was one with a..........and then straight along - horsehair. Then there was the big armchair with the cushion on, that was me father's. Then we had like wooden chairs round the table, a big long table. My place was there with the oven, there was a big cupboard there, I think it had a glass door, that one, and then a cupboard underneath it in the alcove. The other alcove had a door leading into the shop, and there was the stairs going down into the basement. We had gas laid on, but when two little girls were killed by blowing out the gaslight in their bedroom, my father had it all cut off.


What sort of lighting was it?


Oil lamps, on the table, with big long glasses, and one in the shop hanging up. You could pull it down or push it up. I don't remember much about the shop because when me mum died. She'd been poorly for quite a long time. I can remember the doctor keep coming and in the end she had to go into hospital. And then me father told us she was having an operation and him and Herbert went off up to the hospital to see her. This was when it was a wintry night, it was in January, 7th January. The wind was blowing up the back stairs, whooh !, it frightened me. We'd shut the shop off and it was all locked and me father come in the back door and he always used to shout, "it's only me." And as he come up, me brother Herbert was crying and so was he. And then they told me my mum had died. Now, when I went up to see me mum, on the Sunday it may have been, and she'd been speaking to me, anyway, as I walked down the ward she called me and I went back. She looked at me and said, "You'll be a good girl and look after your father", and that was her last words to me. She was taken into the operation room and never come out. Stoppage of the bowel I believe it was. I know she couldn't go to the toilet. May have been cancer of the bowel.


After that Dad had to sell everything in the shop and shut the shop up.


Was it very popular?


Well Geoff, if you could have seen, one of these old chest of drawers, well it wasn't old it was walnut very highly polished and stood there until my father died. It stood about that height , about four feet, and there was two small drawers and three long ones. The two bottom ones were filled with bills owing. ("Another Aunt Dolly")  Me mother, they used to come in,  Mrs Webb can you let me!!. Anyway, me father got so fed up with keep saying make them pay and I can remember him going into the shop on a Friday night, that's when the dockyard men used to get paid. They'd come in and get some groceries, and dad had already seen them come and knew how much they owe, and when they come to get their change dad used to say, "I'll keep the change off what you owe me." So people stopped coming after a while I suppose. I know me mum was looking through the crack of the door and laughing her head off. I often see her do that.


How old were you when your mum died?


Eleven, Herbert was thirteen, and William was fifteen. Apprenticed to a house decorator. He was decorating the little kitchen out on the ground floor, and I had to go and get a bottle of turps - I think it was turps -  and it was in a lemonade bottle. I had to get a bottle of lemonade as well. This is another thing I remember. I put them both on the table and I don't know whether I asked him if I could have a drop or not,  but I got hold of the lemonade bottle and it wasn't lemonade, it was turps. I screamed, me mother rushed downstairs, put me head under the tap and told me to keep drinking and swill me mouth out. It taught me a lesson. After that, my brother Herbert left school. He went to work for Lovibonds, the brewer.


What can you remember about Christmas when you were young?


I don't know if I have told you. She had a treadle sewing machine. I used to get on that, and it had a cover on it,  and I used to put the hymn book on there, and Mum used to take the rubber off the big wheel, ands I used to treadle this and be singing making out I was playing the piano. So they got me a piano for Christmas, only a little one. Me brother was banging on it and he broke a note, so my father said he had to save up and buy me another one. I don't think he did - I don't remember it. Do you know, even with that note out I still used to be playing and singing away. We always had a Christmas Stocking. But when me mum died dad lost all interest. We had to make our own Christmas.


You say there was you, two brothers, mum and dad. What about aunties and uncles ?


They never bothered about us. When me mum died they came to the funeral and me aunt Annie (mum's sister) wanted to adopt me. Me dad said, "Who's going to look after me?" and thinking about what me mum said I stopped with me dad. They washed their hands of me then. But me father's sister that lived at Gillingham, she was deaf, she didn't come over, but I was always sent over to see how they was getting on. She had two daughters and a son. "Whipping", that was one of the daughters' names. Me aunt's name was McGee. You know Henry McGee on TV. Me uncle was Irish, but me aunt wasn't. She was my father's sister.  I can vaguely remember another aunt, I don't know whether it was his mother or me father's mother or his sister but she was a very stout lady. 


The McGees lived in Richmond Road, the trams went down, and it was right down near the bottom. It was her daughter that got me the job at the RAOB Club. Me uncle was a member there. When they used to have committee nights, they had so many knocks on the door like the Masons, something like that. Anyway it was a big room that they had this meeting in, all tables and chairs, but there used to be a lot of money left around on the floor. Only perhaps pennies or ha'pennies. They'd dropped it and never bothered to pick it up. The manager of this club, or his kids, he had three, used to go and pick all the money up before I arrived. The secretary - I always had to go and clean his room up - and one Sunday morning he came through and I was just putting all the chairs on the tables to sweep round the room. And he said, "How much have you picked up today?" So I said, "No, I haven't picked any up." Mr May, or the children have been in.  He said, "That's your job to do all that." Anyway, I don't know if it was the same week, this Mr May had lost an eye, he had a false eye, he said, "What's the idea of telling the secretary I've picked all the money up." "Well, he accused me of picking it up and asked me how much I'd got. I thought I had to give it to him if I picked it up." He said, "It's not yours."  So, after the next meeting the secretary asked me how much I'd picked up, and I said, "I haven't picked it up. Mr May picked it up you'd better go to him for it" thinking I had to give it to him.  So, next time all the money was left on the floor. I couldn't get in. The secretary come and he said, "Oh I'll let you in." He'd taken the key so that Mr May couldn't get in. He said "There's a lot there, so take your time and go round and put it in your pocket. That's to help because you clean out the billiard room and clean my room out, and it doesn't come into your pay from the club." The club used to allow me so much, and they used to put something like two shillings on, and they always gave me my dinner.


He always kept it locked after that and if I couldn't get in I had to go up to his room and he'd give me the key. That got up Mrs Mays nose. She said I don't like the idea of you going up to his room. I didn't understand what she was getting at as he was ever such a nice gentleman so I said, "What do you mean Mrs May." I was about fifteen, sixteen then. Well she said, "He's a man that you've got to watch." My uncle was a member there, so I went over to my auntie who'd got me the job and I told her all about it. She said, "Filthy old bitch," she was up in arms about it. She said, "I'll sort her out."  Anyway, whether it was that night or a couple of days after she come out and she said, "I don't want any trouble from you, telling your aunty what I've said and not said." In walked the secretary, and he said "What's all this," and I was on me hands and knees scrubbing the bar floor. He said, "Get up, you don't do that. You have a mop and pail to do that." "Mrs May won't let me," I said. "Never mind what she says you must and mustn't do. You go and get the mop and bucket."  "They said you don't clean the floor enough with a mop and bucket, you leave it too wet." I thought, I'm in for a good one 'ere.


Anyway, I went and got it, it was a jolly big room where I had to do it. I had to light the fire and lay it in the winter, bring in coals, empty the spittoons, which wasn't my job. The things I had to do in there was directly I arrived wash up their breakfast things, get the baby to sleep by rocking the pram, then I had to do all me own work. Oh, before I got the baby to sleep I had to do the bar, whitewash the front step, wash all along the passage, and then the other work I had to do after I'd got the baby to sleep. That was the ladies room, ladies only, I had to clean that out which had another firegrate. That was another thing - if he hadn't put the copper on before I arrived I used to have to put the copper on. They were a lazy pair. They really took me for a ride afterwards. If there was no billiard room to do, or the secretary's room, she used to tell me to sweep all her stairs down and wash her back stairs. Clean up her room, do the vegetables. I can say that from the time I got there at eight o'clock until I took the kids out at two or halfpast in the afternoon I was on the go all the time. When I come back from taking the kids for a walk I used to have to lay tea up, then after tea I had to go round lighting all the fires. I should have left there at five o'clock, but it was always six or halfpast. I got eight bob a week for that. Seven days a week. Never had a day off, only Sunday afternoons. I should be off at two o'clock but it was often three before I got out. That's what you call hard work.


(Geoff) I was surprised when you said they still had spittoons? When did they go out?  (Winn) I can remember them in clubs and pubs, yes definitely. I can remember seeing them and saying to mum and dad, what the heck are those. Like little brass bowls set into the wall.


No, these were on the floor Winn. A round thing like that and they had a lid on with another little round hole. You had to wash it all out and scrub it. I used to put them in the copper after I'd finished with the water. He used to tell me I'd wear all the enamel off.


It was open during the day was it ?


Oh yes, lunchtime and night time. They opened half past ten in the morning.


If your Mum died when you were eleven and your dad closed the shop, did you carry on living there.


Yes, but we didn't use the shop. After a while the landlord took it over and reduced me father's rent. It became a secondhand shop.


2/652      Your dad carried on with the coal business, did he ?


Yes, right up to the 1914 war. Then he thought he was going to be called up. He went and sold the horse and cart and his coal round. He went to Maidstone, I think it was, to join up and for his medical I suppose. Only he come home and didn't pass because he had a defective eye. He used to work in the dockyard in his younger days and a bit of steel went in 'is eye.


What did he do then ? You would have thought that he would have gone for his medical first.


Well, thinking of it, when he died and thinking over the past, I thought well the poor old horse was on its last legs, he couldn't afford to buy another horse that  was pretty sure. Although he used to have a little leather bag, about as big as that, and you could tie round the top, and that used to be full of golden sovereigns.


Where did he keep this bag?


Where do you think !  Hanging on himself. He used to drink. He spent them. When my brother died he left some money and he said it was for me. Me grandma wanted to put it in the bank or invest it and me father wouldn't. He went to draw it and I never got a farthing. He promised to buy me a pair of shoes. He took me down High Street and when we come to the shoe shop he said, "You don't want any shoes," and left me there with a penny or twopence in me hand and went off.


You can remember your grandma ?


Oh yes. Me mum's mum and me dad and  me grandpa. They lived in a - oh I suppose - it was a shop that sold everything. Sweets, cheese, bread, it was called Fortpit road. Yes, up near Chatham station. They were called Wells. And it was bombed 'cos I went up there when me father was taken ill and sent to hospital at Shoeburyness.


What did your father do between the two wars?


He went to Rochester and got a job there in the iron foundry. And it was driving a horse and cart with loads of iron or something. Anyway, that was when I used to take his dinner up to the pub.  Did you come through Rochester when you was .......     Now, you come right down to Luton - I used to walk all that way - took me brother's dinner to Lovibonds which was, oh it was in Rochester, but the entrance to Rochester. Chatham was this side and Rochester was there but it was all on the same road.


When you were at school did you have to take any exams?


I left school when I was eleven, when me mum died. I kept staying away or I kept being late because I used to cook the dinners and by the time I had mine, if I had time for one, by the time I got to school I was late. I remember me father having to go to the Education Committee at the Town Hall and I had to go with him. This was during the war. And I left the big new school. I was taken away from there because I threw a pancake up and it stuck to the ceiling and I was made to go up and scrub it off. I used to love cookery lessons. Do you know even then they used to have that yellow soap to scrub all the tables, we always had to scrub our own table,and I used to think ooh it smells nice and fresh. This was pancake day and she said, "Toss 'em, toss 'em high." And up it went. And I had to get a pair of steps, stand on the steps, and scrub it off, and she hit me across my arm with a ruler. It brought me arm right up. So, of course I went home crying, I suppose it was painful. Me mother, flew up to the top on the Luton Road, to catch her coming along there 'cos she used to walk there this teacher, me mother got on to her, took me down to the Town Hall and showed them down there and then kept me away from school and sent me to a private school, Mrs Kay I think her name was. She was a doddery old devil too. It was just like a little church hall where we sat. Honestly I knew more about the schooling than what she did. The school I had gone too was a brand new school, you know. And when I got home I can picture me brother now, "Herbert. What did you learn at school today?" "Oh, noughts and crosses." So me mother said "I'm not paying for you to go, sixpence a week."


Did you go back to the new school then?


Well, afterwards me father wouldn't give me the sixpence, so she told me I couldn't go to school any more unless I paid. So me father went and put me on to a school right near, nearer home anyway. And the same thing happened there, I was late going. So I had father got permission to keep me home. So I stayed home then.


To go back to after me mum died, the neighbours roundabout were very kind. You know, they used to help me. Not my father, he wasn't liked at all.