REMINISCENCES FROM HER YOUNGER DAYS

CASSETTE SIDE 4

 

Another thing that happened in my younger days, four, maybe more, young lads used to stand at the top of the alley every Saturday night. Well, they used to work in a variety theatre called Barnards and they used to sing all the latest songs what used to be sung in this variety theatre. They used to clean up and shift the scenery, they were scenery shifters. They used to do all those kind of things. I used to lie in bed and think about them and see if I could hum them if I could remember them afterwards. They used to sing one song after another. There's one come into me mind a little while ago "Any Any Any Old Iron" .

 

You keep talking about the alley. Where was that ?

 

By the side of our house. That's where me father used to put the cart during the week. The alley went down to our garden gate on the left and then up to the next road. There was a little bit of garden because that's where I grew the marrers. The front part which we could see from our windows was only small and kept for flowers. And over the house we used to have that ivy growing - Virginia creeper - it goes beautiful red and gold in the Autumn. I wouldn't recommend it, it makes your walls very damp and your yard very messy, very messy. I can remember that.

 

Another thing me father used to do on a Saturday morning - he was working (during the war) he always left me so much money to get different things, shopping, and he used to leave me the rent money. I used to put the rent money separate, but me shopping money with the list of things I had get was in a purse, may have been me mother's purse, I can't remember. Anyway, this purse was on the mantlepiece, and I always used to clean up the room before I went shopping, that is blacklead the stove - we had lino on the floor and I used to wash that over and dust, and then I could go shopping. Well I was blackleading this stove one morning when  a girl up the road I was friendly with had a brother and this brother came down, walked through the shop, it was empty by the way, the shop, and came into the living room, a thing I wouldn't ever let him do. The girls yes, but not, well this boy, 'cos I never liked him. He'd come to tell me his sister wanted to know what time I was going shopping. Well, he'd gone and I'd finished me work ready to go down to the shops and went to get me purse and it was missing. Now, I knew I hadn't mislaid it, I can't remember but I expect I was screaming me head off, because our neighbour next door shouted up, the window was open a bit and she shouted up wanting to know what was the matter and I must 'ave told her.  All of a sudden she shouted out, "Well here's your purse," and she found the purse in the garden. So she said "Who's been in," and I told her. So she said I should go up to the house. Anyway she came up with me and the sister said "My brother wouldn't do a thing like that," and afterwards, when me father came home, he went up and his mother was home then - she used to go out to work - and me father said "If he doesn't give the money back I'm having the police up." I can remember that. And he started crying his eyes out. His mother said, "Now ( I'm only surmising this, I can't remember..............) what happened to the money," and his sister spoke up, I can remember this, "He's been eating sweets all day mum." She said, "Where did you get the money to eat sweets," and he owned up to it. So me father clouted him, the mother never said anything, (he had no father by the way) and said, "Right, don't come into this house again.  If I catch you I'll put you across my lap and hit you with my horsewhip. There it is there." The boy was scared stiff. Anyway that was the end of that one. Of course I never spoke to his sister after that.  I got a clout for allowing him to come in, but as I told me father, it wasn't my fault.

 

I used to go to Sunday School, of afternoon, and sometimes I'd go in the evening. And one evening when I come home I said to my mother, "The reverent was waving a thing about as he was going down the aisle, just like that and oh it did smell horrible. And when he got down the bottom he went like that." Mum said, "You're not going there any more, that's Catholic." And I wasn't allowed to go there any more. I went to the Zion school and that was up near to me uncle's shop.

 

Can you remember what you wore to Sunday School ? What were your clothes like ?

 

Yes, I had a lovely blue velvet frock - me mum had that made - I had me photo taken in that. Mum had it made before Christmas and her and me father had their photo taken, and then  me brother, and then me, and the photos was sent to my brother out in India. You can't see the colour of me frock, but you can see the frock. And in the summer I used to wear, for Sundays only, it was a white lacy frock with ribbons through here, and I don't know if it was one side or two sides where the ribbon used to hang down. The ribbon was across the yoke, and I have an idea there was little puffed sleeves. It was made - a lady that lived in the next street used to make all my clothes, and when, me mum died and I was going to school I got picked to be the May Queen's trainbearer. We was all asked who got white frocks and I put me hand up and I was picked to do this. The neighbour next door used to do our washing and me white frock had gone into the wash, so I asked if I could have it on this day to be a train bearer for the school and she said "That's for you to wear on Sundays and no other days." It broke my heart so I told me father - he said "I'll go and have a word with her." So he came back and said, "No, she won't let you wear it, only on Sunday." So I had to tell me teacher.

 

What ! The neighbour who did the washing ?

 

I suppose it was really jealousy because her daughter wasn't picked because she was in the same class as me. She said she wasn't going to wash out the frock again if I dirtied it. She had three daughters. There was May, Nellie and Ginny. Ginny and Nellie was proper toffee nosed. They lost their father. He had cancer of the tongue. She had one son, David. He was younger than me. She used to work in the Picture Palace cleaning up.

 

Afterwards when we were grown up and I was going to work, I used to go off to work with her of a morning. I always knew if I went down with her I wasn't late.

 

I've jumped from my childhood now to when I'm older.

 

When did you start going to the cinema.

 

Oh! I used to go there when I was young. When I was about 7 or 8. We used to pay a 1d. That was quite a bit before the war, they used to have children's matinees at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. No sound, just the old joanna. They had one film on there, I'll never forget it. It was called the clutching hand. And this hand, no matter where you was, if it touched you you'ld fall down dead. So you can picture us kids, every time, "The Clutching Hand!!!!!". It frightened the life out of me.

 

If I didn't go to the pictures in the afternoon I used to save me pocket money, I got 2d pocket money, we used to go off to Barnards, the theatre where these lads worked, and we used to pay threehalfpence to go up in the gods. We used to go across to Woolworths which was opposite there for a ha'porth of sweets. Now, May, our friend used to work on the sweet counter, so we used to go across and get a big bagfull and change for threepence. LAUGHTER. We had icecream with the money we got. That was a regular thing - she only used to work in Woolworths Saturdays, only on Saturdays. I believe they tumbled to it and she got the sack.

 

That was in the days when nothing was more than 6d.

 

Yes, but there was  what we called the Penny Bazaar as well, nothing more than a penny. Then it went up 2d, 3d, until it was sixpence. Of course we had a nice big Picture Palace, the Odeon. No organ, just the fiddler and the piano. Of course, when I went out to work, for this club, they used to have a poster and they was given a pass. They never used it so they used to give it to me. I could go anywhere in the cinema with this pass so I used to go up in the posh seats. And that's when I started courting Dad, and if there was a good picture on he'd say , be early tomorrow night. So I used to get the pass and he didn't have to pay for me. He was all for that. I was going on for 17 then. The day I met your father - do you remember the terrace - we used to come along with a girl, she worked at Old Brompton. Well we used to come along there and as we looked down across the road where the Royal Marine Barracks was, sometimes the band would be playing, practising like there, and we used to stand for a couple of minutes pulling faces and poking our tongues out at them. So one day we went and sucked this lemon, much as I disliked lemon in those days, and the poor conductor looked round and saw us and........................ Your father was looking out of the window laughing 'is head off. This went on for quite a while, and I was dashing round the corner to go up that little hill where we used to go up to go to the married quarters, and I nearly knocked 'im over. He said, "You're late." I said, "Mind your own business." He must have noticed what time I come home of a night, because he was waiting at the bottom when I came down and he said, "No need to rush. I'm waiting for you to apologise  for nearly knocking me over."I said, "You'll wait a long while." Anyway, he walked right along the terrace and that's how we first met.

 

After the lemon do he used to look out the window and whistle and wave of a morning, or even if he was on a parade. If I was a bit late, he said that what used to attract him was that you never stepped up the steps, you used to hop. I met him when I was nearly 17 and we didn't get married until I was 21. He'd been in Bermuda 18 months in that time. That's when he wrote and asked me to go out there and work. I'll watch it !!!

 

How did you come to leave the club?

 

Well, as I said, I never had a holiday and when I met dad he said he'd like to take me up to meet Nana Sanderson and stop up there. Nana Sanderson wrote and asked me if I'd like to go up for Christmas, Arthur and Annie was working at Chatham  and I knew them and Annie was a little girl then. My father wouldn't let me go,  so I said, "If you don't I'll leave home all together. Anyway, I went - do you know - my father - even to this day I'll always remember it - he had the police to check up to see if I was at Nana's. Nana Sanderson come and said, "Hey, I've had the police out for you." "Why! what's the matter?"  And then she told me. The old devil! Of course dad knew him. Anyway, we stopped for Christmas and I told them at the club that I was going away for Christmas and they said they'd have to get another girl in my place. So, I said, that's alright, I didn't mind. So, I didn't go back there after Christmas. I went up for me insurance stamp card, and they said they'd sent it. Waited and waited and the insurance man kept asking me for it, and I told him what they kept saying and he said if it doesn't come within a week we'd have to do something about it. It didn't come so he went up to see them and they still told him they'd sent it in the post. Eventually he must have gone to the Post Office 'cos I remember filling a form in but I don't think it was ever found. I don't think he sent it, I don't think he put the stamps on.

 

Anyway, then I got this job at Baldwins on Chatham High Street, right on the Rochester entrance. Twice they sent a letter down asking me to go back and work at the club, and my aunt who got me the job in the first place asked me to go back. But I said "No, I should have been entitled to a holiday which I never got, No, I'm not being made a makeshift." So I got this job at Baldwins. One side they had sweets and the other side babies prams and cots. That was to live in and I had to look after the two children. One was about three and the baby just over a year old. I used to do everything for them - the washing, a damned hard job, clean the house down. She would have got me on cooking, but I drew a line there. I said I didn't know how to cook. I used to bath the babies, put them to bed and do the washing in the evening, hanging it on the clothes rack in the kitchen. He was very fond of his drink, and next door was a pub. And one night - she used to go in there of an evening - she come home and said about him being very drunk. "I'm coming to sleep in your room tonight Winnie. Move one of the babies into the cot," 'cos sometimes I used to have them both in my bed as they used to wake up in the night and wake me up. So we moved the little one into the cot and then she come and moved in. We barricaded the bedroom door with a big chest of drawers and then he came up and said, "Open this door and come on out." She said, "Don't answer 'im." So anyway, I think we did unblock the door and she went out to speak to him and he had a carving knife in his hand and I went to the bedroom window screaming, "HELP, POLICE, HELP!" And then went to the front and screamed there and of course the men in the pub came out. I told them what had happened and they got the police. So that quietened him down. He came to the door and he said, "You've no business shouting out." So I said, "You go downstairs and put that carving knife down." I must have had the nerve of old nick.

 

I often think about this. He was a tall ginger haired man and he done a smile and his wife had  gone back with the children, so I said, "Go downstairs or I'll push you down." Down he went and of course, bang, bang on the door was the police. So I made him go to the front door and the policeman come in. He said, what's the matter, and so I told him. He took the carving knife away from the man and told him what foolishness and things. The policeman said to me, "You go back upstairs now and go to bed. So went back upstairs and waited for this Mr Baldwin - he went into the spare room and shut himself in - this was about three o'clock in the morning - we got dressed and we went off to her mother's. It was about half an hour's walk pushing the pram.

 

Right, I was courting your dad - I must have been tired or something - and I was telling 'im all about it. "Oh," he said, "Pack it in, you don't want a job like that." He'd been reading a paper - I don't know what it was - about somebody wanted down at Harrow. But I had to go to London for interview. It was down Maddox Street and she had one of these hat shops where they put one hat in the window, 2 guineas, phew!  I went upstairs to have this interview, a very nice lady, and she promised to buy me my uniform, gave me my trainfare, and told me what day to go down and I'd be met at the station. So down I went. Dad couldn't really - 'course we were only courting then - Dad wouldn't believe that I would do it. I'd only been on a train once and didn't know me way about London anywhere so I went down and he said, "Now you write to me and tell me how you get on." Got down there, I was met at the station, went to this big house, it was a big house too, I've got a photo of it.

 

I used to say they had a room that had nothing else but television in it, but it was radio. And it was all on one side of the wall. I don't know if he was one of these hams. I can remember that the stairs went up from the hall right in the middle of the room and there was a balcony round, and the sister of this lady, can't remember her name, was paralysed from the knees downwards. She used to go around on her knees, she had big things on her knees to help her along. I'll always remember the first time I saw her going up the stairs. I wanted to go up to help her and Olive the cook, she was a tall girl, grabbed hold of me and pulled me back. "She doesn't want you to help her, she's very independent and can do everything herself." When she had her meals she had a little table and a cushion or a chair, and she also had a high chair which the husband used to put her on it.  She was very nice and of a morning when we used to have our morning drink she used to come in and sit there. Of course they were asking all about me, and they had a boy and a girl, the girl ten or eleven and the boy a bit younger.

 

I had to keep the rooms clean, wait on at table, they never used to come home, she was in the city at the shop and he was on the stock exchange. They had a beautiful garden and kept a gardener and at the bottom of the garden there was a shed. The kiddies were talking one day about using the shed as a play den. I believe I've told you about that.

 

Then Nana Sanderson wrote to me about Mrs O'Neill wanting a house parlour maid. Would I like to go and work in London. I was feeling homesick and a bit lonely down there and if I had an afternoon off I didn't know where to go, being a stranger. Once a month I used to have a weekend and I used to go up to London, it used to cost me all the money I'd saved to go up there, so I didn't know what to say, so I said that me father was ill and I had to go home and look after him. They offered to pay a woman to go in and look after him, so I must have suited them. They didn't want to lose me. Anyway, I went and they had a lot of the girls clothes, and boys. Mrs Churchman's had two or three girls and I knew these clothes would fit and the boy.s clothes would've fit Charlie. So there was me lugging me tin box and two great heavy parcels. Uncle Arthur was supposed to have met me at the station when I got to London. He wasn't there, he was in the pub boozing spending the money Nana gave him to come up and meet me. So I had to have a taxi as I didn't know me way, and I was stony broke when I arrived. And when Nana saw the clothes and talked about giving them to Mrs Churchman, she said, "Oh no, they'll only be round at the pawn shop in the morning, we'll give 'em to dad, he can take them round to the pawn shop. It'll keep him in beer money. Save me giving it to him." LAUGHTER. And to think that I brought them all that way. Dad often laughed over that, he said "You was a proper mug." I said, "Thats what a kind heart can do."

 

"So you went to work for Mrs O'Neill then, did you?"

 

So I went round to Mrs O'Neill.

 

"You must have been very impressed, having come from Luton and just worked in all these places where you were a slave, to suddenly go and work for these very wealthy people."

 

I don't know Winn. I just took it all in me stride, It didn't ..........You must have got a bit of a thrill out of it ...........I suppose I did...........when you arrived at Harrow and saw the size of the house -you must have been very self confident in those days - you'd had a very tough life so probably nothing worried you .......I don't think it did, I don't think anythink bothered me. As long as I was happy in me work, and you know, well treated and appreciated, I didn't mind what I done. And Mrs O'Neill, she begged and prayed of me one day when I was phoned up to go back to Harrow as the cook had gone into hospital with appendicitis, and they was without anybody and would I go down there. So I said "I don't know much about cooking....."  "Oh Winnie! we know you know more than that." She even raised me salary to much more than what Mrs O'Neill was giving me. And the cook of course was listening in, I told her all about it, and she must have told Mrs O'Neill. She told me, "I believe you're going to leave us, please don't." And then she told me she'd raise me money. I'd done that twice  ......LAUGHTER .... I couldn't work it again could I. So I was only earning a pound a month when I first started, five shillings a week. I think I got up to two pounds a month - I was well off then.

 

Annie's mum - we used to go up to Selfridges - now and again - and I'd treat 'em to a tea. Little Arthur was a baby then, and Annie, we used to have a tea and, you know, it was ... We got home and Arthur used to say he'd had to get his own tea, we used to look round the shops. Ann's mum used to love looking round the shops like me and say what we would like if we had the money. When we got home we used to tell Arthur all about it. He used to say, "Don't get too big ideas into my wife's head, she can't afford that kind of thing." Then some weeks I used to go with Aunt Flo down to the Granville, that was another theatre, musical theatre. We used to have an evening down there or go to the pictures. If I didn't go home to Nana Sandersons, next morning she'd be up to know where I'd been and what I'd been up to. The cook used to say, "Your future mother in law's downstairs. You'd better go down, she wants to know where you was yesterday, you didn't go home."

 

If I had a cold or anything, I used to stay in bed and the cook used to bring me hot drinks up. And we had an electric fire and a ring in the bedroom, and she used to put that on. Anyway, one day I went up to Hyde Park. There was something on up there and I'd gone up on me own. I'd gone into Lyons and had me tea in there right at the corner  ..Hyde park Corner House? ....Yes, that's right. Then I'd gone back to O'Neill's and when I told Nana this, she said, "That's right isn't it, you're not telling me a lie." When she'd gone, the cook said, "She's not your mother, go where you like." And then of course, one of my old boyfriends had been round to me father and got me father to tell him where I was working. He wrote, he lived in London, he wrote and said he was coming up for a weekend, could he come and see me. So I told the cook about it. She said, "Oh, I don't know what Ma Sanderson going to say about that." So I said, "I'm not telling her." She said, "I wouldn't go Winn. If you're quite happy with Bill, I shouldn't mess around." But somehow I wanted to see him, and somehow I didn't. So I wrote back and told him my father had no business giving him my address without my consent. Now, whether the cook had told Ann about this, the next time I didn't go - where did I go then -

 

Was it just once a week that you used to go and see Nana?

 

I used to have Wednesday afternoon and every other Sunday afternoon I used to have out. But it was mostly Wednesday afternoons I used to go home. And if Nana had got any darning to do or ladders to run up for Aunt Flo, I used to sit and do those.

 

But you lived in at O'Neills?

 

Oh, Yes. This boyfriend, I never saw him, he never wrote again.

 

Dad wasn't your first boyfriend then?

 

Oh, by no means!  When I was living at home, me father let half the house to a Mrs Whiting and she had a brother, Alf I think his name was. A nice lad, I went out with him, but I didn't seem to take to him. And then, the pub where my father used to go sometimes, the son used to come and see if he could take me to the pictures. I went once or twice and then me father warned me not to go out with him. He said, "He's no good and no good to you neither." And then I had this little sailor boy from the barracks. I got introduce to him by May. Her father was in the Navy and he brought these two lads home - I don't know why - but May came round and asked if I'd go round there, and she was telling me on the way round about her father bringing these boys home. They want to take us out to the pictures. I didn't mind if they was paying, yeh. I kept company for about a year with him, but he began to get serious, and I wouldn't be engaged, so he wanted all his letters back. And I said, "I've burnt 'em," and he said "You haven't because you keep telling me differents things I put in 'em." So I gave him his letters back. We had a lodger then, and when I told her she laughed. She said, "Well I don't blame you Winn, you're only young and want to see a bit of the world before you settle down." I said, "I wouldn't marry 'im, I don't like 'im that much." So that was another one went. Then I had an RE, a driver, he used to drive the horses on the carriages, the carts, and I went out with him for two years, I think, No........ Anyway, he deserted, and he left his uniform, which I didn't know, in a paper parcel, and he asked me to keep it, and like when he come to meet me again he'd come for it. And the next I knew there was the police banging on our door wanting to know where this uniform was. Me father was up in arms, and I said "I didn't know what he'd done," I didn't know it was his uniform. So he said, "What was he dressed in," and I said "Civilians which he sometimes used to come in." "But he wasn't allowed to  wear civilians." It was only uniform. Anyway, they caught him and I can remember seeing him in Chatham High Street and he come up and apologized for all the bother. And I said, "Yes, and I nearly got a damned good hiding from me father." Anyway, I never went back to him.

 

Oh, I had two or three boys after that. My friend Babs, her brother, and one of the lads down the street, he'd been called up. He used to bring a pal home, or a couple of pals. If it was him and a pal, they used to come round for Babs and me to go off to the pictures with 'em. But, I didn't care for any of 'em, never got serious with them. Dad was the only one.  I remember I was working at Baldwins, and one Sunday - last time I'd seen him he said we'd been invited to tea with Mr and Mrs Austin. Austins, when they got married, he'd had a bachelor night out, and he'd burnt his trousers with a cigarette. His wedding was at the weekend and this was during the week so he asked dad if I could darn them, 'cos in those days there were no shops where you could take them. Dad said, "Do you think you could manage it." "I don't know, I may pull 'em up a bit." Well he said, "Do your best for him." So I darned it all over, what I done they used to have turnups in those days so I undone the turnup and pulled some threads out and stitched the turnup back and darned that, pressed it and gave 'em back. Dad was very impressed. Anyway we was invited out to tea at this place and I can remember this, I went in a blue pleated skirt, and a blue knitted open jumper, and it came right down and was drawn in round the waist. And when your father met me at the Town Hall, he said "You can go back and change, you're not coming in that to the Austin's." And I said "Why? It's nice." He said, "I don't care, go back and put your blue costume on." Back I had to go. I was dopy. Put me blue costume on and me white silk blouse and that was better. I don't know whether I wore a hat or not. During the meal, he told his wife then that it was me that darned his trousers. And she said, "I'd like to know what they got up to that night," but I said "I shouldn't worry, it's too late now."

 

END OF CASSETTE - SIDE 4