My mum was born Ellen Martha Olive Jane Axford in October 1909. She died in September 2001, and shortly before she died she wrote down memories of her childhood.
"As far as I can remember, the family house was at Kingsdown. A brick, double fronted square place, but we didn't go inside as Gran was living at Stratton. That Kingsdown house may have had more rooms, certainly more land, as that was where they had a pig who liked his glass of stout. Gran said she used to take him a glass at mid-day and hold it while he drank. Also she described the terrific snow-storm of 1881. They tunnelled through the frozen snow to reach and feed the hens. I can only guess that they had to move when Tom died (c.1894) no DHSS. So I would come on the scene in 1909.
Yes, two bedrooms, must have been fair sized, well, the one room, the other not so big - the stair well took one side away. But in Gran's room, a double bed - (two half size straw mattresses) also a single bed, and rows of boxes holding dear knows what. Clothes, bedding, - no cupboards in that room at all, a sort of built in wardrobe in the second room and double bed.
Downstairs, a cupboard one side of the fireplace half room height, fireplace a foot off ground level - gave space underneath for the ashes. An oven on a level with the fire, and a space under the oven for glowing coals to be poked in from the fire to heat the oven. But oh - those roast beef, and lamb and pork, and fruit pies and rice puddings. A weekly bake with barm from the brewery - I seem to remember bits of talk among my aunties like that, but I don't remember any baking days like that. The only thing I ever fetched from the house that owned the brewery (Arkell's) was milk from the house - the dairy and kitchen area.
Yes - the baker brought bread. There was an oven place the other side of the fire, but it was never used, could it have been meant as a source of hot water? When Gran died (1934) and I went with Betty (teaching colleague) to her home, Tintwistle fourteen miles east of Manchester on the Leeds road over the Pennines, they had a similar arrangement of ovens, and the other side did provide hot water - not for drinking - they had piped water to a tap in their kitchen for kettle water. At the Stratton house we had no civilised facilities, because we were off the road, up a footpath. I learned to drop buckets into a well - lovely water - Betty said it tasted like Epsom salts. Their water from the Longendale reservoirs, limestone moors, was really soft. Ours was from chalk, and as hard as !*!*!*! We used tons of soda, yes, hand rubbing, there were dollies and boards, but Gran used her hands. Poor things.
For household washing I fetched six buckets of water from the well, or if we had a rainy week and the rainwater from the roof was reasonably clean, we filled the wash-boiler with that. Easier on soap and soda. Gran got up at 4-30am, lit boiler fire, then dipped water into the bath to give sheets a first wash, then boil. Then progressed through towels, personal wear, oh yes- Gran wore a home-made flannel vest about half way down her thighs - yes - stays with steels in, home made cotton blouse, now she occasionally wore a red flannel waist-banded petticoat, sometimes yellow flannel - then a white flannelette, knickers - wells pantaloons, just below knee length - legs joined at the waist-band, and a frill round the knee. Black stockings tied below the knee with a bit of elastic, and a waist home made blue cotton pinny. And a cape over her shoulders and a clean apron if she went into the village. Our village Upper Stratton or Stratton St Philip - the church was St Philip's, where Uncle Archie, Auntie Susan, Olif, Lily, Kathie and Bill - well Olif and Lily really, born in Tilly's Cottages, Lower Stratton or Stratton St Margaret. I think ours would come under St Margaret because the registrar of births and deaths lived in Lower Stratton. I suppose marriages too would have to register there, or at Highworth, but weddings were held in all the churches.
In the town sewerage was gradually replacing the buckets - even when I went to Betty's home though, they still had either a bucket or a hole in the garden - oh - bucket surely, because they still had the "night soil" horse-drawn carts coming round in the muddle of the night, and the driver calling out. Where it was emptied I know not, on farms and fields I think.
There was a row of cottages built near Ironbridge, a wall was built and then walls built out from each side of that wall to make rooms, so they were called "back-to-back". The row was kept as a museum exhibit for a while, but of course it got in the way.
Gran used to go to the nearest butcher in the town on a Saturday morning to buy a joint; was roasted on Sunday, eaten cold on Monday, perhaps Tuesday or cut up and boiled with onions and herbs. When we were about seven or eight years, we didn't get a cooked meal - we were sent to bed before Uncle came home from work, so I don't know what happened about meat. What I do remember - and doesn't my mouth water - a half side of bacon hanging in the larder - cupboard under the stairs - and Uncle stropping a knife on his razor strop, and slicing bacon rashers. Coo! We did now and then on a Sunday morning have a wee bit of bacon and egg. Gran sold eggs when she could. We had our own vegetables. Lovely potatoes, greens, peas, beans, apple trees, red and black currants - she bought plums and pears locally.
How folk shopped in our village, we mostly went into Swindon, where there were sizable branches of some of the London stores. For her skirts, Gran used to ask for a book of patterns of cloth - do you remember "serge", my gym dress was made of serge. I think Gran bought the lengths of material, and a local woman made them. Gran made her own skirts - buying the lengths of cloth from the firm's travelling salesman. She made her own cotton blouses too, shoes much the same, though nearly like catalogues now, your travelling salesman shewed pictures of the various styles etc. and you bought what you thought would do. Actually too, my aunts in service would accept "cast-offs" and we would receive a box, brought out I think by a railway delivery van, hopefully some would fit reasonably comfortably.
Of course the people in the towns lived pretty well as we live now, except the buses and the trams were fewer, and didn't come into the villages. There was about 1½ miles where I lived to the tram - and one carried one's own shopping, so most edibles - bacon, sugar, dried fruit, were bought at the local store.
Even after marriage and living here in Wellington - rationing and all - my local grocer weighed out sugar, dried fruit, etc. as he flicked wasps off the counter and remarked "If God hadn't made insects and things - He could have had two days rest!"
Oh - when babies were still tiny, they were often put to sleep in drawers, suitably blanketed of course, and there were wicker-basket cots - also wooden ones. Bigger folk slept four in a bed, two at top and two at bottom so that you tickled feet. Bed was hilarious until a "big stick" was threatened. Have you seen the "black houses" in Scotland and the Islands, "But and Ben - just two rooms with recessed beds? They looked very short, and the skins may have been warm, but were they ever cleansed?
Combinations came in when I was about seven or eight I think, a sensible garment in one way, in that the whole body was warm, then girls wore cotton knockers on top. I don't remember Gran changing her mode of underwear at all, and I can't remember her wearing a coat. Mt dresses for week-days - in the village school, were of cloth with a cotton pinny - often a cream coloured starched Holland (coarse cotton) on top. Clean on Monday morning, and I was supposed to keep it clean all week!! On a Wednesday morning I'd nip into the loo, and turn it inside out. But if Gran was standing where our path came out into the road - just opposite the school, she'd shout at me to go back and put it right. "You shouldn't let it get so dirty then!"
All sorts of knicker styles and boys trouser and collar styles came in. Then long and short stockings - I had to knit mine till I went to the secondary school in the town, and gym frocks and long stockings to the tops of my thighs. At 12/6 a pair they were lovely, but I'd be sure to fall and have the knees out of them, and the darning wool went green with washing before the stockings did. We tried to make four pairs do for a year, and me playing netball on a concrete playground every dinner hour!
In my first teaching post I was lodging in Winterslow, seven miles east of Salisbury on the London road. I cycled four miles or so on that main road, then about one mile downhill, and one mile or so uphill, and the house was on one side of the road as it went over the crest of the hill. The church was on the opposite side. Tuesday night bell-ringing practice. I've forgotten how many bells they had. Mr King used to say, about 9pm, "That'll do". I think there were four or so gas street lamps in the village, but we had an Aladdin lamp, and cooking was done over two paraffin stoves, and a paraffin-warmed oven. The loo was a water-cleaned pan, and a cess pit in the garden.
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