The next ten years after my Father died were to be a real testing time for the lessons my Father taught me. Life wasn't easy for a divorcee with four children in the 1960's, and £9 18sh was all I had in the world. So I had to think of ways to earn a little extra, and the opportunity came when I saw an advert in the ‘Star for an assistant to serve meals to students at Ranmoor from 4-6pm Saturdays and Sundays. I applied and got the job; the wage was 12/6d (62p).
I couldn't have gone without my daughter Marilyn who looked after our Peter. In fact I couldn't have done a lot of things without her help, she would only be about twelve at the time. When I look back now, I realise what a lot I put on her young shoulders. Any happiness she now has, she truly deserves.
So, I had a job! We had a uniform given us; it was a coffee coloured apron and lace-trimmed hat. There were about four of us and we were expected to wash up after serving dinner. I made good friends with Alice Ginniver, Sally Smythe and Nelly Kinder.
The first cleaning job I had was with a Mrs Foster who lived nearby. I would get our Peter to sleep in his pram, take him with me and hope he stayed asleep till I got the work done. I would do the downstairs one week and the upstairs the next. Not much humour there I'm afraid. Mrs Foster a teacher would leave a full chamber pot under the bed to be emptied although there was a bathroom on the landing. I was paid 2/6d (12p) an hour, well, every little helped.
Then Mrs Beckett who had a grocer's shop at the corner of Commonside and Springhill Rd. asked me if I would help a Mr Sermin who had a big house on Bower Rd. He had just lost his wife and lived with his son Peter. I got my Mother-in-Law to look after our Peter while I worked Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Mr Sermin was a very quiet dapper little man; he had a jewellery shop at Highfields. He told me he and his sister while on holiday in Germany in 1914, were interned for the duration, although his sister was exchanged with a German prisoner from England.
Tuesdays I used to wash and iron, it was a small Hoover washer and separate spin drier. I've never liked Hoover washers, the sleeves of shirts used to come out all tangled up. There was always about eight white shirts and loose collars. Before I came Mr Sermin used to send his loose collars to the Chinese laundry at that time at Broomhill, while all his other laundry went to the Quick Press laundry.
Thursday mornings I would do the housework. Mr Sermin's bedroom was huge. There was a bedroom suite, double bed, a large settee and easy chair, wash hand stand and chest of drawers and still room to waltz around. There was no central heating and in winter I used to put a balaclava helmet on and woollen mittens and rush around with the Hoover to keep warm. Once, in my haste to get done, I knocked a plaster statue of the Virgin Mary off a chest of drawers. Panic set in when I saw I had decapitated her. I rushed up to North's at the top of Barber Road and bought a tube of Plastic Padding I'd seen advertised on T.V. hoping Mr Sermin hadn't noticed the repair; my hopes were dashed when next week he told me I'd stuck the head on the wrong way! But he was a good sort and saw the funny side of it.
By this time I was paid 5/- (25p) an hour and got a job for a Mrs Cole at Nether Edge. I was with her for years and we became friends and were like one of the family. Mrs Beckett again asked me if I could fit in a Mr Crum at Kingfield Rd. Nether Edge. So from Mrs Coles I used to go straight to Mr Crum's. He worked nights for Sheffield Newspapers, so as I got there he would be just getting up. He would do dinner for the two of us; he was a really good cook. He had a lady friend and I hadn't been there too long before he married and I left. I really missed those meals.
I wasn't short of work for long, as Mrs Beckett asked again if I could help a Mrs Robinson at Dore for five hours once a fortnight. She was a real character, had a cheque and money lending business. She would leave soon after I arrived to go on her rounds collecting money off her customers. They all lived in the poorer parts of Sheffield and she would tell me how difficult it was to get them to pay up.
She asked me to call her Doris; she could speak as though she was born and bred at Dore and just as easily turn out blue broad Yorkshire! She hadn't married until she was forty, and had had a gay life. I think her husband had made out he was a lot more affluent than he was. They had a son in the first year of marriage and thought his duty done.
When I first started, she asked me if I liked tripe and onions as her husband and son didn't like them and she hadn't had any since she was young. So every week she'd do tripe and onions for dinner until I thought they were coming out of my head! But she was a good sort, we got to be friends, and she was always appreciative of the work I did for her. She said there weren't many who ‘bottomed’ a room like I did.
Doris knew I had been in the Land Army and asked me if I would help a Mrs Manning on Newfield Lane to keep her garden tidy. Well I knew nothing about flowers and pretty gardens, I'd been used to potato picking, threshing and sugar beet bashing. But another few shillings came in handy; I had by this time with the houses I went to, a nice little business going.
I didn't do too much gardening, more weeding. Then Mrs Manning asked me if I would do some spring-cleaning in the house. When I first went there I was surprised to see Mary Chester who cooked for them and did a little light housework. Mary had lived in Handley St. where I was born. She was the same age as our Margaret; it was nice to talk over old times.
Mr Manning had a warehouse at Sharrow Vale Rd, Hunters Bar. They used to supply small corner shops with just about everything small corner shops used to sell. They had a beautiful house on Newfield Lane, it was really a bungalow built to look like a house in keeping with the other houses. Although they had the trappings of the very rich, a Rolls Royce, luxury caravan, they lived very carefully. Mrs Manning would never waste anything; she'd make herself aprons out of old dresses. She didn't have a son till she was turned forty, and he was sent to a boarding school near Blackpool when he was about eleven. She used to show me letters from him when he first went to boarding school, pleading to let him come home. He would even run away and telephone his parents from a phone box at Dore. His father would bring him home, give him a meal and drive him straight back to school. I asked her if it didn't worry her that he was so unhappy. But she said it was character building for him.
In time Mary Chester left because she had Parkinson's disease, so Mrs Manning came to rely on me more. She had me cutting, colouring, perming and setting her hair. She seemed to think I had a flair for hairdressing as well as housework. Perhaps I ought not to have flattered myself. I suspect I was cheaper than the hairdresser's. I once papered one wall of their lounge and cleaned a huge Chinese carpet with a small scrubbing brush and some 1001 carpet cleaner. Oh! How she sang my praises!
But I liked her, and really felt sorry for her; she had so much more than I, yet she had nothing. It was about 1968, she told me they were selling the warehouse and house as they had bought a factory in Lancashire that manufactured firelighters bleach, washing up liquid etc and had bought a huge house, which they said Roger Moore once owned. So she asked me if I would come every day to see to the central heating boiler and it was winter time, also to show prospective buyers round the house. To think a detached house with a quarter of an acre of garden on Newfield Lane, architect designed, went for £16,000.
The Mannings used to come home every Friday night until early Monday mornings. By the time I arrived the boiler had gone out and there would be a note saying "I'm sure you can use this piece of beef left over from the Sunday joint." She would stop 10/- (50p) out of my wages. I've often wondered why I didn't walk out and leave the boiler unlit and let the pipes freeze up.
I guess the Manning's was the last cleaning job I had. I couldn't get a proper job because I was classed as a single person, and would have had to pay stamps etc., also make up my allowance money the many times it wasn't paid. There was no help from anyone; I try to forget the times I've gone to bed at night, without 4d in my purse to buy a loaf of bread, until next day when I went to one of my many cleaning jobs. Another lesson from Father, they were your children, and you had to get on with it.
Those days were not all doom and gloom, far from it. Unlike today we had no one to envy, my children were the only ones at school whose parents were divorced, yet no on knew. They all had lovely Christmas presents, mainly paid for through the two catalogue clubs I ran. One was ‘Trafford’ and the other ‘Grattons,’ a lot of neighbours were my customers. The two shillings on the pound commission came in handy at Whitsuntide and Christmas.
My children knew our circumstances, they never mithered me for anything. I really was blessed with good children. I'm very proud to say my eldest son at eighteen went to Cambridge University to study the Classics. He had a grant like everyone else, he got there through his own abilities, and I suppose my support. My daughter was blessed with warmth and commonsense. She would have liked to take up hairdressing, but as there was no wage to speak of while training, she never took this up. I could have helped her more, but just keeping our heads above water, I did the best I could for us all. My second son studied art and eventually passed to Harrogate Art College. He is now a lecturer at Sheffield College and University. My youngest son, being only a few months old when I divorced, never knew his father really. He always wanted to join the army, which he did when he was seventeen. Just before his 19th birthday while serving in Germany he married a German girl with two small children and has been married nearly 22 years.
I have now five lovely granddaughters and four grandsons. I love them all.
I don't regret my making ends meet years, they very rewarding, full of humour, hard work. But Dad used to say, "Hard work never killed anyone, worry did." I don't think we are any happier or more content today with all the privileges we have.
These have been memories of the first half of my life; my father and I were left to bring up our families in our early thirties. We both remarried in our late forties.
Yes, father you taught me many lessons in life, gave me humour, how to accept your lot. We weren't perfect by any means, but we did our best.
Sunday, 4 April 2010
Flossie and I had our first leave in September; we were given a train voucher to Sheffield. We were only given two of these a year. Our pay was £1.4sh (£1.20) a week, out of these we had to buy everything but our food and lodgings. I was soon at the Cutlers' Hall dancing with my friends, telling them all about my life in the Land Army, had I milked a cow? No, I hadn't, and I never did all the three years I was in Cornwall. A few partners were left to have a good dance with, but mostly they were in uniform now like I was. Norman who was in the Navy who I hadn't seen for awhile was about to finish his leave while I had just started mine. We made a date to meet the next night to go to the Cinema House in Barker's Pool to see 'Lorna Doone.' It was the most boring film I ever remember seeing. The most entertaining thing was Norman trying to get his pipe lit, amid clouds of smoke; at least you couldn't see the screen. He didn't take me home, he lived at Walkley and I at Darnall, we exchanged addresses and wrote to each other until 1945.
Back off leave, we left Kenegie, and were sent eventually to Pencubitt Hostel, Liskeard. This was another lovely hotel taken over during the war. It was here I spent the happiest two years of my life. There were lots of American camps near Liskeard. Saturday nights a lorry would turn up at the hostel and take us to their camp. We'd dance to a band playing Glen Miller favourites, String of Pearls, Pennsylvania 6500, and Moonlight Serenade. With tins of spam, chocolates or 'candies' and cartons of 200 Lucky Strike cigarettes, we felt like film stars.
Most weekends some of us would go to nearby Looe, a beautiful place, with Banjo Pier and lovely coves. We had all made friends with Americans, they were a great crowd, very caring and thought the land army uniform very cute. I know we were all virgins, otherwise all living together we would have known. It never entered our minds to have sex, we had such happy lives with lots of fun at work and play. To be honest, the fear of getting pregnant kept us on the straight and narrow. I only had to think of my Dad saying, "You bring any trouble home!" My American friend was called Louis Perez. I'd come on a week's leave, while home I got a telegram saying "Missing you, Love Louis." Father said, "Who the hell's Louis?" When I sent him cartons of Lucky Strike, tins of Spam etc, he wrote to say, " He doesn't sound a bad chap that Louis."
There were about thirty of us at Pencubitt, some were there for just a few weeks and then were moved on to another part of Cornwall. We would help each other if we were short of anything; none of us had any money to spare. When we got our weekly cheques for £1.4sh. a lady would come every Friday night and cash them for us, insisting we bought a sixpenny saving stamp. Saturdays we would be busy doing our washing, going into town, or going to Plymouth or Looe. Although it had been heavily bombed all around Plymouth Hoe.
One girl came off leave and told us about a brilliant idea of how to get knitting wool without coupons. You bought all the little balls of darning wool you could get hold of, as these were not on coupons, then with a little water you joined the ends, rolling them together and believe me when they dried you couldn't pull them apart. Soon you would have some decent balls of wool. We all helped one of the girls to knit a bathing costume she had a pattern for. I was at Looe with some of the girls having fun in the sea, when we heard cries of "Help." Her couponless bathing costume had disintegrated in the water leaving her in the "nuddy!"
Most nights sailors from Plymouth and Torpoint would come to Liskeard. I think the Land girls at Pencubitt were the attraction as there were some lovely looking girls there, Robin Kellner, Renee Fairfax, Thelma Dobson, Jean Stanley, Doreen Hill, Marian Cross, Mary Kemp, Vera Hoskins, Alice Talling and Nell Williams all met their husbands at Liskeard or Plymouth and have all celebrated their Golden Weddings.
One of my friends, Helen Nelthorpe, celebrated her 21st birthday on July 30th 1944. We all went to town to celebrate. So there we all were in the ‘Station’ or ‘Fountain’ pub when some sailors laced my beer with navy rum. Not used to drinking I soon became legless and the next few days are a blur to this day. I know they carried me back to the hostel, up the back staircase and placed me in the bath, my mouth next to the plughole. I must have found my legs again as during the night I came down the main staircase (out of bounds to us) and confronted Mrs Bull the Warden. The next day I was helped into a lorry to go to work fruit picking, placed under a tree where I slept myself sober. I've never had another rum to this day.
Flossie's American friend was about six foot four, hugely built, and would come to the hostel and say “Is Flossie in?” in his slow drawl. Well she was a big lass too and it was something to see when they jitterbugged together. Before D-day we would all be in the lounge discussing the shortages we had with the war. Flossie's friend said, "When we get over there (France) they'll be two of us sharing this cigarette." I said, "You want to see us before pay day there's four of us sharing a tab end."
Just before 'D' day, Marian married her American boy friend. They had to have a wedding at Pencubitt because he wasn't allowed to travel far. We all clubbed together our clothing coupons we could spare, so she could have a new dress, not a proper wedding dress of course. She'd had her engagement ring sent from America in a box of chocolates. How's that for 'The Lady Loves Milk Tray!'
Tragically he was killed on 'D' day, 6th June 1944. I've often wondered what became of her, I did hear she went to live with his parents who were quite wealthy. Since we all left the Land Army, nearly all from Pencubitt have kept in touch. We have regular reunions at each others homes, all our children and grandchildren have joined in the happy times. Robin who married Paul her G1 the 18th August 1945 the week before I did has been back to England many times from America. She's been asking me for years to stay with her, as we are both widows now, I decided to go last September. When you get turned seventy and you are lucky enough to have good health you have to go for it. Dad always said your allotted time was three score years and ten, after that you lived on borrowed time. I realise I have lived the longest in my family. Mother died at 37, our Edna 17, Dad 65 and our Margaret 69. You have to live one day at a time, Dad had a saying, 'When Him above drops his hobbing foot on your "nut" it's no good saying I don't want to go.'
The war was finally over in September 1945; I had married Norman August 25th. We hardly knew each other, this period of my life turned out to be very mixed up and unhappy. We had four wonderful children together, and were a great joy to me. The lessons my Father taught me were about duty, pride, and commitment, looking after your own. But Dad, you forgot about love, and Norman wanted more than I could give him. The result was we were divorced in 1960 and I was left to bring up our four children on my own. There was no single parent allowance in those days. I had £9 plus eighteen shillings family allowance to feed, clothe and educate the five of us. Well, we managed, only with a good sense of humour! You can't have less than nothing!
By the end of 1960 my Dad really was living on borrowed time, my divorce had yet to be finalised, our Margaret and Bill had moved from their little palace on Neville St. to a brand new two bedroomed maisonette on the Rolleston Estate. Why, she had more than I did, a bathroom. They had a son in 1947, by the time he was two she went to work at Stanley Tools at Rutland Rd. She still piled the chairs on the table and ‘bottomed’ a room; she got a gas copper and still boiled her ‘whites’ and starched almost everything. She would swill the landing leading to the forty-eight steps after she finished washing, and curse as she swept the whole staircase. "Some of 'em must have been brought up in pig styes." She took a motherly concern about my children. But they always enjoyed going to Auntie Marg's even though she'd give them a piece of her mind if they were naughty. My daughter used to go on the bus every Sunday for her dinner and a bath. I'm sure she looked on her as the daughter she never had. I don't think our Margaret realised how hard it had been for me to divorce Norman. She was of the old school, no matter what unhappiness you had, you put up with it. It was at this time in my early thirties that I missed my Mother more than at any other time in my life. I had no one to talk to or help me. There was only seven years between us, it seemed a lot when I was seven and she fourteen. Our Margaret had had a hard life and she had enough without my troubles.
He had passed no strong religious beliefs to me, he said your religion was the way you lived, you could only do your best. He had said the bible was the greatest fairy story ever told. As a family we never went to church, but we knew right from wrong. I think religion was too complicated for him, the bible contradicted itself too much. You came into this world with nothing and after your allotted span you left with nothing, whether we shall all meet in the hereafter is a mystery no one has proved. I think my Dad was wise to say "They'll be a time when there won't be a time, and that will be the Time!"
Our first few weeks in the land army were very hard; at times we thought our backs were breaking. The farmers thought at first we city girls would never take the place of their farm labourers. But with our hard work they really did appreciate all we did. I loved harvest time, no combined harvesters then to complete the job in one operation. The sheaves would have to be stooped so they could dry out, then gathered and fed into the threshing machine. This was a huge throbbing monster we had to stand on top and feed the sheaves into. The farmer's wife would bring food out to us, and we would stop long enough to eat our Cornish pasties and saffron cakes. We would be ravenous and not all farms fed us generously. Most of the time we had to rely on the packed lunch from the hostel, and this was never enough for us. We had our rations like every one else; I suppose we had more eggs, cheese, fruit and vegetables.
Potato picking was a backbreaking job, you would have to fill and carry 56lb sacks to be weighed then carried to the horse and cart. The farmer would store potatoes in an out building and cover in straw. In wintertime we would be called upon to sort out these "potato pies" as they were called. It was a stinking job if some of them had gone rotten, and then we would be troubled with rats.
Some land girls lived on farms and not in a hostel, and would be required to milk by hand the cows twice a day seven days a week. Cowsheds are notoriously cold, especially in winter. I kept away from cows as much as I could. I never saw myself as a rosy-cheeked milkmaid. Nearly all the farms we went to were very poor; it is only since the post war years that farmers have had a much better standard of living.
Handley St. started just off Spital St. and at the other end came out at the top of Spital St. opposite Bramber Place. At the bottom was Jackson's shop, they used to sell sweets, bread and cakes, sewing cottons and needles and lovely Tizer and Dandelion and Burdock. You could get toasted teacakes (sweets) sherbet and liquorice sticks, bonbons, tiger nuts, marry-me-quick, all for about a penny a quarter.
All the shops you needed were in Spital Hill; there was Mattocks the butchers where our Margaret bought all our meat. Pam Mattock saw she never went short of meat during the war. You could get a leg of lamb for about 3/6d (17 1/2p) rabbits about 1/- (5p) these were hung on a rail outside the shop. Not many shops had refrigerators just iceboxes, sawdust covered the floor. At the end of the day all the assistants had to scrub every wooden block used for chopping and cutting the meat up. Don't forget no one had fridges in their homes. All perishables were put on the stone table in the cellar; we had galvanized meat safe. Not only was coal kept in the cellar there was always mice. We had mousetraps all over the place, especially in the kitchen. Often you'd hear a trap going off, one less, but there were always more of the little beggars.
Above Mattocks was Wigfalls, every young bride's answer to her dream home. You could get a dining and bedroom suite, rugs (no fitted carpets then) lino, an Acme wringing machine, just about everything needed to set up home for about 10/- (50 pence) a month over 2 years. My Father got our first radio in the thirties from Wigfalls. It was a ‘Bush’ a marvellous set; it was the first thing we had after having electric put in the house. That alone was a miracle to me, to have electric light at the flick of a switch. If I were on my own at night I'd ask my Dad to make sure there were enough pennies in the meter. When we had gas light if the penny was running out it slowly got darker, but with electric you had no warning. No way would I have gone in the dark cellar to put a penny in the meter.
Then there was Bevans the drapers, where you could join their clothing club. You could save a few pence a week and spend it at Christmas and Whitsuntide.
It wasn't too far to walk to the Market to buy fish, meat and vegetables. They were sometimes not of good quality. Dad would say if you wanted anything cheap from the Market, you had it to pinch. If you went last thing Saturday nights for a joint of beef, they would wrap it up in steak and tie it up with sausages!
Above Bevans was the Coliseum picture house. A lot of black and white films we watch today, we thrilled to in the 30's and 40's. There was Deanna Durbin in ‘100 Men and a Girl,’ ‘Three Smart Girls’ and many more. Judy Garland and Micky Rooney in the Hardy Firms, Robert Taylor, Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, and Katherine Hepburn all were favourite stars. There was a change of films twice a week, one film was shown Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, another for the rest of the week. You paid 3d in the pits, 6d in the stalls and 9d in the balcony. You could have a night out for under 2sh/6d, twenty Players cigarettes 11 1/2d, and pictures 9d and chips and fish 4d on the way home.
At the corner of Spital Hill and Spital St. was Blaskey's the wallpaper shop. Before the war most people would paper the living room just before Christmas so it was nice and bright for family parties. Mothers and Grandmothers would have been busy cutting up old suits etc. into strips to make into pegged rugs. Dad used to say he had three suits, one he wore and the other two in the rug.
Below Blaskeys was Wilds, with a sign boasting "FRESH FISH, NEW LAID EGGS, RABBITS." There was always a queue especially Fridays, always a popular day for having fish. A nice piece of cod, mashed potatoes, steeped peas and parsley sauce (not your packet stuff) a feast of a meal. Then a rice pudding done slowly in a fire oven, with a lovely brown skin on top.
Next was Miss Peck's sweet shop, you could get 20 Players cigarettes for 1/-. We would stand and gaze in the window at the wonderful display at Christmas time.
My memory of the shops on Spital Hill may not be clear, but I think the Quick Press dry cleaning shop came next. Our Margaret knew someone who worked there and they would ‘borrow’ a dress someone had brought in for dry cleaning and go to a dance in it.
Then there was Edna May's hat shop, very expensive. I only remember buying one hat there and it was my wedding hat I had when I first married in 1945. It was a navy blue two-piece from Anne Leonard’s.
Further down was a tripe shop, where you could get a penny worth of tripe bits with salt and vinegar in a paper. Newspaper was used to wrap up most things; today's food inspectors would have been horrified. There was thick seam tripe also honeycomb, which used to hold the vinegar in its pockets. Cowheels would be added to stews and casseroles, with chunks of home mad bread to mop up the gravy. If no one were looking you would lick the plate clean, saved on washing up!
So with all these shops on Spital Hill you had all you needed close by. The nearest we got to a supermarket I suppose would be the CO-OPS, the Brightside and Carbrook and the Sheffield and Ecclesall. Every purchase you made the assistant would give you a little check slip with your own check number on. I can still remember mine 73398, my mother's was 6524, and my Mother-in-law's was 11397. You would draw the ‘Divi' at Whitsuntide and Christmas. I found it a Godsend when my children were young.
I used to run errands for Mrs Tyerman, who lived next door to us, every day, fetch her the 'Early Bird,' a racing paper she used to pick out her winners. There were no betting shops in those days and at the end of street corners were bookies runners who illegally took your bets. Mrs Tyerman would have had me take her threepence each way bets, but she knew my Father wouldn't have allowed it. She would give me a penny a week for running her errands and with a few empty bottles to take back to Jackson's I was able to go to the Coliseum Saturday afternoons with my friends, Evelyn Walker and Rose Robinson.
The pictures were all silents, of course, with Buster Crabbe, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and beautiful Mary Pickford. If I had three pence I went in the balcony, as downstairs you would be covered in debris thrown over by those privileged to be in the 'posh' part. There was always a cowboy film, they would joke the horse muck had to be cleaned out before the next performance.
At five I started at Pye Bank Council School, it was quite a walk every day. There were no school dinners, so it was quite a rush at dinnertime, as we always had a hot dinner which our Margaret did every day. When I was about eleven I went to Burngreave School, which was very modern in those days. There were some wonderful teachers, Miss Exley, Miss Evans, Mr North, Miss Laverick (she used to nibble at the chalk!) and the head teacher, Miss Yeats. She was a great one for discipline, woe betide anyone stepping out of line, everyone lived in fear of her.
We would call for our friends after school, and play at ‘five stones’, ‘in and in’, skipping with a huge rope from the greengrocer's off an orange box. During the month's school holiday in August, a few of us would take a bottle of water and some bread and jam sandwiches and walk to Roe Woods and picnic. If we had the halfpenny tram fare we'd be a bit more adventurous and go to Rivelin. We'd paddle in the stream, get soaked to the skin and try to dry out before coming home.
I always had friends to call on, besides Vera Finney, Rose Robinson, Irene Senior there was Evelyn Walker, Gladys Hewitt, Edith Cook, Peggy Rackstraw, Stella and Joan Hirst, who all lived on Handley St. except Vera Finney who lived on Spital St. I remember one of Vera's sisters was evacuated during the war and I think she never came back to live at home after the war. I know Vera emigrated to Australia with her husband and she had five children. I heard Vera had died quite a few years ago. I often wonder where they all are now.
Further down Handley St. there lived Bob and Vincent Barlow, Vincent a really good-looking lad, joined the Navy when he was barely seventeen. Very early on during the war he lost his life on H.M.S. Polyanthus, he had only just got married and the poor girl was left a widow and later had a son she called Vincent. Every year since, she has put a memoriam in the ‘Star’ on the anniversary of his death.
My friends always liked coming to our house, Dad made them laugh, and would ask them silly conundrums like, “If it takes a man a week to walk a fortnight, how many yards of tripe does it take to make an elephant a waistcoat?” We would play 'seven spoons' some Sunday nights when Dad had gone out for a drink. You would put all sorts of horrible things in each spoon, one would be blindfold and you would ask what number spoon they wanted. We would dress up and put some of our Margaret's make up on. She always used "Evening in Paris" perfume. I don't know if you can still buy it today. The bottle was dark blue glass and under the stopper was a little rubber plug. The times I've lost the rubber plug knowing I'd have to find it before our Margaret found out. Mary Rackstraw and Gladys Chambers used to come to our house to get ‘made up’ before they went dancing, as their fathers didn't allow them to use makeup. As a finishing touch they would get a match and put the end in the soot from the chimney back and press a black beauty spot in a fetching place on their face. How romantic, they would come in at night looking like chimney sweeps.
Not many people went to the hairdressers; you could have a Marcel wave, or a Eugene perm. This used to resemble being under torture with all the trappings you had to endure. We would have curling tongs you put in the fire to heat. Often, if the tongs were too hot you'd find a piece of hair singed to death. Some fancy tongs used to make your hair look like corrugated iron. We had Kirby hairgrips, dinky rollers and the wonderful invisible hairnets that kept your pageboy hairstyle in place. Then there were the snoods, these were sort of open crochet, definitely not invisible and would be worn at work or even to a dance. Some would copy the hairstyle of Veronica Lake the actress, whose long blonde hair would cover one eye. But there were so many accidents in the factories that they were ordered to tie their hair back.
Jean Harlow, another famous actress well known for her blonde hair, would have everyone peroxide their hair a silver blonde colour. But you had to know how long to keep it on or you would have disastrous results.
Of course as you got older you wouldn't be seen without a hat when you were dressed up. I remember I had a Deanna Durbin skullcap; this resembled the skullcaps that Jews wear.
My father was a tall, good-looking man with a ready wit and humour and could have had his choice of widows anxious to marry him. His comment would be, "Run and play your Daddy's not here." He did get a bit serious with one called Daisy, she and her Mother kept a tiny house window shop, at the top of Spital St. I secretly hoped he would marry her, selfishly thinking of all the free sweets I would have. I think our Margaret put a stop to that little romance; she had by this time the full run of the home and didn't want another woman taking over. Being only thirty-seven when widowed, he never brought another woman home until ten years later when he remarried. He used to say, "I'll see these lasses grown up before I get married again." He did, too, I was seventeen when he remarried in 1943, to Lily who worked in the office at Hatfield's steelworks. However they managed to meet, let alone get married, I'll never know, as my Father always enjoyed a drink, while Lily was teetotal. As our Margaret was married by this time, he decided to give our house up and take me to live at Lily's house at Darnall. I was never happy there, and I don't think my Father was either as he missed his pint; all the humour went from him. She never encouraged me to call her Mother, if I wanted to say something to her, I would stand before her to speak sooner than have to call her anything. She had the first automatic washing machine we have ever seen and the sheer luxury of a box room converted to a bathroom. After having only a tin bath in front of the fire for so long, but the novelty soon wore off. I suppose Lily was a good woman in her way, but she liked a clean and tidy house, cooking made too much mess in the kitchen. My Father missed his old friends and neighbours at Handley St. It is a lesson still true today, that possessions don't make up for happiness. Three months later I was in the Women's Land Army, but that is another story!
Everyone knew my Father as 'Cobbler' as he used to mend shoes for all the street in our cellar. He could make an old pair look like new, he charged one and sixpence for sole and heeling, ninepence for heeling. His leather for the family mostly came from Hatfield's where he worked as a slinger. Many is the time he would come in from work pretending he'd hurt his back, and the hospital had put him in a plaster jacket. I would be all concerned, our Edna and Margaret being older were not so gullible. He would then reveal from around his chest a leather belt cut down from a machine from Hatfield's. These leather belts were oiled and excellent for driving machinery, but when used for repairing shoes, they made black oiled marks everywhere you walked. I used to get into real trouble at school; Miss Exley made me change into my plimsoles. As some children had no shoes at all to come to school in, at least I was well shod! Our Margaret bought her own bit of leather for my Father to do her best shoes.
There were many lessons of life my Father taught me, for although he was kind, I never remember him ill-treating us, and he could be very strict. All my life I never remember answering him back, neither do I remember him cuddling me. But I knew he loved us all. He had a lot on his plate, not only had he lost his wife in 1932, by 1937 our Edna died aged seventeen from T.B. Also, at this time, our Margaret was in hospital with pleurisy. I went to live with Aunt Lizzie, my Father's sister, for a few weeks. Although these were sad times in my childhood, families all pulled together through thick and thin. My Father saw we had enough to eat, new clothes at Whitsuntide. He used to give Aunt Lizzie a £5 Provident Clothing cheque for Crossley's to clothe all three of us. There was nothing new for a year. In the meantime things were taken up, let down, taken in, let out, and everything that could be knitted or crotched.
Every weekend after my Mother died, he used to take me to Aunt Lizzie's. She used to look after me while he went to 'The Park Hotel' for a pint with my Uncle Charlie. They were well known in all the pubs in Pitsmoor and Hillsborough for their entertainment. Father had a powerful singing voice while Uncle Charlie although not being able to read a note of music could play anything you asked him. Often they would walk in a pub of a Sunday night where a piano was playing, the lid was quickly shut, as my Father with his trilby hat on, his mac over his arm, he looked like a typical plain clothes policeman. Then after a pint or two they would start their turn and be on free beer for the rest of the night.
At the corner of Handley St. and Spital St. there was a pub called "The Griffin." Mr and Mrs Mosforth kept it for years. I think they had two sons; one was called Jeff and his wife Amy. My Father used to take me with him some Saturday nights, and I was allowed to sit in the kitchen, where there would be another girl or boy for company. Father would bring us a packet of Smiths crisps all with a little blue bag of salt, and with a glass of lemonade we would have a right little fuddle. The Mosforths also had a huge parrot in a cage; it had a foul temper and could swear like a trouper. We would torment it and Mr Mosforth would warn us he'd open the cage and the parrot would have us for supper!
Often on a Saturday night some of the neighbours would gather round our piano and have a knees up. We must have been a bit affluent at this time, as our Margaret had piano lessons with Mrs Blenkinsop, the footballer's wife. I recall the lovely walnut piano inlaid with mother of pearl on the front panel, and woollen stockings wrapped round the legs to protect them from scuffs and scratches.
It was while our Margaret was having these piano lessons that Mrs Blenkinsop noticed she was twitching and wasn't well at all. It was found she had chorea or St. Vitus Dance, as we knew it. I don't know exactly how it came about but she was sent to a sanatorium at Liverpool for a few months until she was better. My Father paid 7sh-6d a week for her, while she was there Father and Uncle Charlie went to Liverpool to see her. A normal parent would have gone by bus or train in 1930, but Uncle Charlie always tinkering with everything that moved had acquired a Morgan motorcar. It was a miracle it ever reached Liverpool, but it never came back. Neither did Father and Uncle Charlie until the next day. They had sold the Morgan for the price of a few pints and had hitchhiked home.
We weren't short of talent on our street, Tom French from two doors away was expert with the nick nacks and spoons, Jim Streets on the mouthorgan, Mr Tyerman on the banjo, and of course Uncle Charlie on the piano with Dad singing and telling his jokes. I was packed off to bed early doors, too young to hear the grown up talk. I would creep down from the attic and sit on the landing, listening. I couldn't wait to grow up and do my turn!
I have always loved singing, although never had the opportunity to sing professionally. When on my own, I would pretend to be Deanna Durban, reaching the high notes just like her, or so I thought. Dad often said "I'm going to send our Dorothy for singing lessons to Italy when I can afford it." I thought we were quite posh when Dad bought from Mrs French a His Master's Voice gramophone, complete with records. They were mostly classical ones, none that I could sing or dance to, but one I well remember was ‘In a Monastery Garden’ by Albert Kottelby. This record must have been an early L.P. it brought extra special pleasure because my father, after making sure we were in bed, would put the record on, race up to bed and there we would all listen to it. Then, we would wait for the record to go off by itself! How we marvelled at it. Our Margaret would help me to buy records of Deanna Durbin, Bing Crosby and all the dance bands for 6d from Woolworth’s. Dad, thinking we would wear the gramophone out, would take the needle out and the handle to work with him!
When I started work at fourteen at Bassett's and earning, I would go with Vera Finney, Rose Robinson to Lilian Day's dancing Saturday nights. Always looking older than sixteen, we would go in the interval to the 'Bay Horse' for a Green Goddess. This cost 10d (4p). One Sunday coming home after having his lunchtime pint, he said, "I saw old Charlie so and so in't Bay Horse, and he said 'You know your Dorothy was in here last night drinking a Green Goddess?' I said, 'You're wrong, because if it was our Dorothy she knew I would kill her!'" How was that for child psychology, because I didn't go in for a long time.
This Charlie it seems had a very ugly wife. Dad said, "Charlie would sooner stop at home than kiss her goodbye." These tales he would tell to people with such humour. He'd tell the day Charlie's wife invited him to Sunday dinner, and when he wanted to give her a bit of something, she objected, "Nay, Harry, don't bother, just give kids a bob each." As he said they had ten children, 10 shillings in those days would have paid the rent twice over!
Father had words of wisdom about most things in life, and would give advice freely on health, finance, and religion and sometimes sex. Married life and the bedroom activities were never discussed openly. Many wives never expected to enjoy lovemaking. Father told the joke about Lady Astor saying to her husband on their honeymoon, "Do the poor people do this?" when told they did, she replied, "It's much too good for them!" Why Solomon a wise man had a hundred wives and slept with his Father. These were his naughty jokes, as I got into my teens all I knew about sex was that it meant trouble!
Until the last ten years of his life when he was ill with emphysema, he had never been to a doctor, and as he would say, he was strong as an ox, and had an iron constitution. He insisted every Friday night I had some sennapod tea, some evil and nasty sulphur tablets. For good health, you had to keep your bowels open and trust in the lord! No water left after the greens were sieved was thrown away. With pepper and salt added he said we would thank him one day for our good complexions. He was right, too, we never had to bother about spots in our adolescence.
Like most children I hated 'greens,' cabbage, sprouts and the like, and would try to get out of eating them. One day I asked Father if I eat them all up would he give me a penny? To which he replied, "If tha' can eat 'me for a penny, tha' can eat 'em for nowt." When you had a bad cold, or a fever, you had a Beecham's powder stirred in water on a saucer. I used to do the same for my own children, and my daughter when she was first married gave her husband the powder on a saucer. He asked why she didn't put it in a cup for him to drink. "Oh, you can't have a Beecham's powder in a cup, my Mother's Father always had it like that." For a bad cough he would put in a cup two spoonful of black treacle, a little best butter, a dash or two of vinegar, some brown sugar or honey. Put the cup in a pan of hot water, until it was hot, hold your nose and drink it. It didn't taste nice, but my word it stopped you coughing. As our Edna died of T.B. I had to attend Queens Road. clinic. Mrs Malkin who played such a big part in my childhood after my mother died used to take me to the T.B. clinic for my Scots emulsion, Parishers food and cod liver oil and malt. She used to keep it at her house and give it to me daily. Having no children of their own, they would treat me as one of their own. Our Margaret told me years later they asked my Father if they could adopt me, of course I never knew this. Mr Malkin was a manager at Swift Levics and considered well off. They had best steak and when they were in season garden peas and strawberries, which I shared with them. Mrs Malkin used to lend money to people in the street, and would charge 1/- in the pound commission. I used to stay with her some Saturday nights while my Father went for a drink. I used to dress up, have my 'baby' in a shawl, sit on the bottom step of the stairs and pretend I was in a motor car and tell my chauffeur where to go. She let me play with a huge leather handbag that had pounds and pounds in it, also hundreds of silver sixpences and threepenny bits. We would listen to 'Paul Temple' on the radio, how I loved those Saturday nights. At about 10.30 a knock would come at the door and my Dad would say, "Anyone here belonging to me? Come on let's have you up dancers."
On finance, he was very clear. If you can't pay your rent one week, you certainly can't pay two! Why, there's no disgrace in poverty, it's a bit inconvenient at times. I can always go upstairs for a pound and come down without one, as usual Dad's sayings. When I had the chance to go to the Cutler's Hall before one Christmas to get a free doll, because I hadn't a mother. When I told my Father, he refused to let me go, saying we wanted no charity, when everyone in the class had a free gift I could have one. A lesson in life that I appreciated years after when I was left with my own four young children to bring up.
You never forgot you were working class, although we tried to live a bit better than some of our neighbours. We always had a tablecloth on, never a newspaper, cups and saucers, never jam jars. Some families where there were lots of children never got to sit at the table to eat. The Father would have priority at meal times and would give the top off a boiled egg to a lucky child. Father had no time for the snobs at Fulwood, he said they were all lace curtains and lettuce; we chucked more off our tablecloth than they put on it. If he were alive today he'd see some of the working class had gone to live at Fulwood, while some of them at Fulwood had joined the not so well off.
As I recollect those days, it must seem to be all doom and gloom with a very stern and unfeeling father. But it was not so, in the early 1930's, most everyone was in the same boat. There was high unemployment, no National Health Service that protected you from the cradle to the grave. If you were lucky you went on to further education, no one I knew went to University. By your own efforts you went to night school or did an apprenticeship course to give you a chance in life. "Dorothy," he said, "you came out of the wrong bedroom, you were born with a shovel in your hand not a silver spoon in your mouth!" No chance for me to go on to further education in English and History that I did so well at school.
As I had just started work at Bassett's in the August 1939, war was declared in September. There was full employment; the steel works were working full blast. Food rationing started, slowly we saw familiar things begin to disappear, coupons for everything, and the black market flourished. I worked at Bassett's from 1939-1943 when I left to go in the Land Army. I started in the packing room earning 12/6d a week, this was a monotonous job packing cartons, and the tins of liquorice allsorts. By the age of sixteen you could work 48 hours a week. You would get your wage Fridays if you weren't allowed to work Saturday mornings. I always brought my wage packet home unopened for my Dad to give me my 2/6d spending money. I always managed to go dancing every Saturday night, and perhaps see a film if there were any bottles to take back.
By 1943 I was in the cream paste room run by Clarrence Hodgetts and was paid another shilling a week to run a machine making liquorice allsorts. You wore white overalls and a white cap, which had to cover your hair. We used farina to stop the paste sticking to the rollers. By the end of the day you would be covered in the corn flour like powder, and resembled Abominable snowmen.
In winter we had to see that the blackout shutters were put up, also you weren't allowed in the factory without your gas mask. It was well known to bring an empty gas mask to work then fill it with misshapes we were allowed to eat at work. Good job Hitler never used gas. After the Sheffield blitz, I remember walking through the Wicker, seeing tramcars sliced in two then walking to work. I didn't enjoy my time at Bassett's, but then all my life I have been compensated by good friends I have worked with.
By December 1939, our Margaret had married Bill Fox; already he had been called up, as he was in the Territorials before the war. I thought he was the image of Robert Taylor. When he came home on leave, I had to go in the attic in a single bed next to my Dad's, as they of course had the double bed. At fourteen you never knew about the facts of life, it was a mystery. I never knew where babies came from or how they got there. Vera Finney's mother seemed to have a baby every year; we noticed her Mother and Father went to bed together every Sunday afternoon, so wondered if that could be the reason. Vera being the eldest daughter and a year older than me was more worldly wise than I. It was her that told me about 'starting' (menstruating) I must have been about twelve when I told our Margaret I thought I had 'started.' She gave me a piece of sheeting, a length of bandage, and two large safety pins and said when they became soiled to put them in a bucket of water to steep. Then on washdays they were rinsed out and boiled in the copper, ready for the next month. What a performance! No bathroom, only the kitchen sink, yet we kept ourselves clean.
By 1940, our Margaret had to go to work at Kayser Ellison's, steel inspecting to help the war effort. She still did all the cooking. I had always helped her with the housework and ironing. Our Margaret taught me to iron everything, dusters, towels etc. She would starch almost everything; she said they kept clean longer. Dad was proud of his shirts, he always looked smart. The only time he wore a muffler and flat cap was to go to work. He now worked twelve hour days at Hatfield's, no longer did he come home with a belt around his chest! He could now afford to buy his leather, while he still mended shoes in our cellar; he only did for the family. I was at Bassett's at Owlerton earning 12/6d a week, Dad gave me 2/6d spending money. I had to buy stockings and various other things I needed. I would walk from our house, through the Wicker to Nursery St. to catch the tram, 1 1/2d fare, to work. We used to have workers' playtime in the canteen at dinnertime. Many's the time I've got up and sang the popular songs, 'I'll be seeing you,' 'Because you're mine' and many more. Friday nights would be 'AMAMI' night; the tin bath would be filled in the kitchen from the copper. You didn't linger long in the winter; you could have kept a dead body a week in that kitchen. I would put dinky hair curlers in, and then when it was dry, I would do it in a pageboy style. Saturday nights, Vera, Irene Senior and I would be off to the Cutlers' or City Hall to dance the night away to Bernard Taylor and his band. Jitterbugging was only allowed downstairs at the Cutlers' Hall, my favourite dance was the slow foxtrot, and you had your steady partners, and got to know each other’s steps. Sometimes the sirens would go and you had to stay until it was 'all clear.' Father would be anxious till I arrived home, but he never stopped me going. War or no war, you just had to get on with it.
There were so many places to go dancing before and during the war, I must have been to most of them. There was besides the Cutlers and City Hall, Glossop Rd. Baths, Greystones, Endcliffe Hall, Days, Eversley House, to name a few. Then there were the "Free and Easies" at the workingmen's clubs, a favourite being The Dial House Club at Wadsley Lane. We used to go Friday nights and ask a member to sign us in. It used to be packed, with Sonny Fletcher the M.C. encouraging us to get up and dance. There would be a prize for the couple in the spotlight when the music stopped. The young man who asked you for the last waltz invariably asked to take you home. It was all so romantic; the poor lad had a long walk back home after only having a kiss or two. There are a lot celebrating Golden Wedding Anniversaries today that met at these dances. It is a pity that there are no places you can go to today to do ballroom dancing, the waltz, quick step, slow foxtrot, tango. It is now line dancing, sequence and just standing waving your arms about they call jiving. Mind you our elders thought we had St. Vitus dance when we jitterbugged so I suppose it hasn't altered really. I know sequence and line dancing is very popular, but it doesn't appeal to me somehow.
When Bill came home on leave he and our Marg would go to the Coliseum first house, 9d in the balcony. Then they would have the last hour in the 'Griffin' with my Dad. Bill had a good singing voice too, he and I used to do a duet together. When they married in December 1939, I had my first pair of silk stockings. I'd saved Gossager's soap coupons up to get them, I felt very grown up. Bill came safely through Dunkirk, and we all celebrated. In time he was made company sergeant major, and looked even more like Robert Taylor.
Just before Dad got married to Lily in 1943, our Margaret got a back-to-back house in Neville St. I think if she had known, she would have stayed at Handley St. it was a lot better house. It was a hovel when she took it, but she soon had it looking like a little palace. It had a minute kitchen just big enough for a small old sink, with a brass tap on top of a jutting lead water pipe. The walls were all crumbling through age, as they must have been built in the Industrial Revolution. The cellar steps and stairs were so steep; Dad said you needed a rope round your waist when you fetched a shovel of coal up. These back-to-back houses were really death traps if fire broke out you wouldn't stand a chance. But our Margaret was house proud and spotlessly clean. She loved washing with her tub, peggy legs and rubbing board, she had a big iron wringing machine with wooden rollers. Of course everyone did their washing this way, unless you used the corporation washhouses, or if you could afford it, send your washing to the laundry.
Our Margaret used to do Mr Highfield's washing for him every week. He lived a few doors away, and the poor man had curvature of the spine. I used to take his washing back, and had to bend right down to talk to him. One time our Margaret said, "Tell Mr Highfield when he goes ta' closet to wipe his behind on newspaper and not his pants!" It was my job to cut newspaper into squares and thread them on string to be hung in the outside lavatory. The things we take for granted now, toilet rolls, toothpaste, disposable nappies, bathrooms, central heating, I could go on and on. No wonder mothers never went out to work, some of them looked old women at forty.
Although she worked full time at Keyser Ellison's, she still went through the motions of washing and ironing, cooking, cleaning. This continued all of her life, but she wouldn't have had it any different. She was a wonderful sister, and the only Mother I knew. She died of lung cancer at 69, I still miss her so.
When war first broke out, Father said it wouldn't last six months. How wrong he was, he would never go to shelter when the sirens went, he said, “If a bomb had your name on it, it was no good hiding!” The night of the Sheffield blitz the bombs were dropping early doors. Mrs Tyerman's cellar next door had been reinforced and so a few houses had to go there. There was an escape door leading from house to house so that if Mrs Tyerman's house got a direct hit you would be able to escape through the doors. Talk about lambs to the slaughter! A bomb dropped on a house a few doors away, it shook us all up in the air, and the coal, and we all emerged after the all clear looking like black men. We had no gas, water or electricity, Christmas was two weeks away, but we trimmed up and as usual made the best of it. We learned to live with rationing, fatless, eggless cakes, God knows how they were edible, but eat them we did. Mothers queued for tripe; oil to cook the Yorkshire puddings made with dried egg. I'd like to see today's fancy cooks provide a good meal with the bare ingredients they had. 'Dig for victory' had everyone growing their own vegetable. Allotments, always popular, became even more so. Parkland was turned over to growing all they could. Nothing was wasted, there was a war on, and it became a way of life. Servicemen and civilians alike were killed and maimed, but life went on. Father and our Margaret were working on munitions; I was at Bassett's doing my bit providing liquorice allsorts for the troops! Dad still went to the 'Griffin' or 'Cromwell' for a pint, our Margaret still cooked, washed and ironed after work at Kayser Ellison's. She seemed all her life to have this love affair with housework. She always seemed to be 'at it!' With a cigarette in her mouth she would pile the chairs on the table and really 'bottom' a room. She would get through thirty to forty cigarettes a day, if she could get them. I was smoking by the time I was fourteen, when she came in from work she would have loads of half smoked cigarette ends in her overall pockets. I used to help myself, have a smoke on the top of the tram on my way to work. It was a pleasure, and so grown up to smoke, no one thought it did you harm.
By early 1943, Dad had surprised us by taking our Margaret and me to meet Lily at her house in Harrowgate Road. Darnall. She had roasted a rabbit, and told us that the hotels charged a fortune passing it off as chicken. We only met her once more before they married on March 20th. Dad had sold all the furniture at our house to a dealer for £5. I missed my friends, and the neighbours. Mrs Malkin had died in September 1939. She was a great loss to me. But my Aunt Lizzie had always been there for me too after my mother died. As I was seventeen I was due to be called up in the services or work on munitions. Dad took me to Hatfield's and said I could get a job crane driving, and I wouldn't have to leave home. I took one look at that cabin in the roof and decided that was not the job for me! One of my friends at Bassett's, Mary Coyle, had already volunteered for the Women's Land Army and had got posted to a farm in Leicestershire, so I decided to do the same. I came home from work one night and Dad said, 'You've got your calling up papers for Land Army, and they're sending you to France! It turned out it was to Penzance, Cornwall. Well, the farthest we had been was to Cleethorpes or Blackpool, whoever had heard of Penzance? My uniform came and I was to travel in it, green jumper, brown shirt, green tie, corduroy breeches, woollen socks, brown shoes, and a lovely hat that made you look like Roy Rodgers. We caught an early tram from Darnall to the L.M.S. Station, workmen teased me with farm noises and wished me well. Dad as usual had everyone laughing, but I'm sure he was going to miss me so much.