My Mother's Memories
My mother loved to tell me stories of her childhood, which always enthralled me, as life was so different then. Listening to her was almost like travelling in a time machine to have a glimpse of a world long since vanished.
Her birth came as somewhat of a shock to her parents, who were both in their mid forties and had a grown up daughter, Christobel. They'd also had twins, who died in infancy. My Grandfather's family came from Liverpool, and he was an indirect descendant of the artist, George Stubbs, while my Grandmother came from Shropshire and was brought up in a rural area, where she remembered having to go to fetch water from the well every day.
My mother was born in Cheshire and came into the world in the family home, with only a neighbour to offer assistance in November 1913. My Grandfather was a foreman at a soda ash plant, which made the family comfortably off compared with some off their neighbours, though even their home had no indoor lavatory, the floors were covered by linoleum rather than carpets, food had to be cooked in a coal powered over, and lighting was provided by gas. People feared being ill, as medical bills were expensive, and infant mortality was high. My mother was lucky to survive early childhood, as she twice contracted diphtheria.
The arrival of a young sister was something of an embarrassment to my Aunt Christobel, for if she took my mother out in her pram; she was often stopped by neighbours, saying things like "Aren't you lucky your parents didn't throw you out". Having a child out of wedlock was a dreadful stigma in those days, and my mother knew of a lady who'd given birth, while her husband was away during the first World War, who once the war was over, was forced to send the child to live with a neighbour. She was only able to see her daughter on the rare occasions her husband was out, and was shunned by some of the neighbours.
My mother remembered how badly the country treated the disabled soldiers. War veterans, who'd lost limbs in the fighting, were forced to survive by going from house to house singing hymns in the hope of receiving a few coins to avoid starvation. The widows of the men, who hadn't returned would make kettle holders to sell, in an attempt to support themselves and their children.
Large families of ten or twelve children were common, and food was often scarce. My mother had a school friend, who would come home from school in the lunch break, and be given a piece of bread to dip into a pan of dripping. That was her main meal of the day.
She had a playmate called Ivy, who came from a large poverty-stricken family, and was so hungry, she would beg the other children to save her their apple cores to eat. My Grandmother would often give her a sandwich. Ivy would run errands to try and earn food, even for an unpleasant old woman, who rewarded her either with a piece of bread spread with lard, or half a lemon.
Milk was delivered by horse and cart, and the sight of a car was rareity, as the only one in the area, was a large chauffeur driven vehicle owned by the chairman of the soda ash company. The children could play safely in the road, and seeing the car was a cause of excitement. Telephones were almost unknown , and my mother was thrilled to be allowed to see a telephone at her father's workplace, as a special treat ,when she was eight.
The soda ash company also had a private railway, which ran behind the houses, and the children enjoyed playing there, putting a halfpenny on the track for the train to flatten, and taking lumps of clay from between the sleepers to make teacups for my mother's favourite doll, Lady Belinda. My mother once had a fright when playing by the railway, as a man appeared and asked her to go with him. Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to run home and tell her parents, who tried in vain to find him.
Two women in the street were bitter rivals and would fight with each other, a spectacle much enjoyed by the children. The combatants both wore old coats and hats indoors and out, summer and winter, and would try to pull each other's hair out!
My mother told me that different games were popular at different times of year and there was "Hopscotch time"," Hoopla time" and "Whip and Top time". Hopscotch was by mother's favourite and she used to demonstrate it me until she was well in her sixties!
My mother reminded me about the poverty and hardship, her neighbours endured, whenever I complained about not being able to afford some over priced toy with my pocket money. She taught me to think of those less fortunate, as her mother always tried to help those in need. Despite all the hardships, she had fond memories of her childhood and I loved listening to her stories.