Oral History

Elizabeth Shaw talks about her life and times in Burbage


Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Elizabeth Shaw (ES)

Date of Interview: 17th November 1987




DW. Can we have your full name?

ES. Elizabeth Barrett, that was.

DW. Your married name is Shaw?

ES. Yes

DW. And you are how old?

ES. 95

DW. 95 this year?

ES. I've just, Last week, well 5th November

DW. You were 95. Well if we can go back as far as you can remember. You were just saying that you were born in Northampton.

ES. Yeah

DW. How did you get into Burbage?

ES. Well, My parents died and I was bought here and adopted with me aunt and uncle

DW. Both parents died?

ES. Well me dad didn’t, but I, a wanderer really, that’s past.

DW. You moved into Burbage?

ES. Up at Diamond Cottages, up Coventry Road that is. I don’t know whether it stands as Diamond Cottages now or not, but it were two cottages, but I think the man that owns them now, I think he had them knocked into one.

DW. And how old were you?

ES. How old was I? Only a few months.

DW. So we can almost say you lived in Burbage all your life.

ES. Yeah.

DW. Looking at Burbage as it were, as far back as you can remember, what would you say it was like?

ES. Well, it were a bit dreary to what it is now. All oil lamps you know where the lamplighter used to go round and light the lamps at night. Poor man he were, name of Mr. Keene.

DW. And he used to come round.

ES. Light the lamps.

DW. And put them out in the morning. How about water, were Burbage well off for wells before the water came?

ES. As far as I know, yes. [pause] I never had to go short.

DW. No

ES. Only I had a mishap when I were three. I fell over the cobblestones and crippled meself, and I got a diseased hip and I had to walk with crutches really for [pause] nearly left school.

DW. What caused the fall?

ES. Not a lot, I was only a child anyway. I was only three.

DW. Just playing. Now at that time of course all the transport was horse and cart etc.

ES. Brakes, un brakes come from Burbage to Hinckley with straw in the bottom to keep feet warm.

DW. So travelling about was a bit of an adventure.

ES. You could go then from Burbage to Hinckley for a penny.

DW. That’s an old penny.

ES. Yeah, yeah and if you had a penny you could go and spend it four times [laughs] I haven’t got me teeth in.

DW. That’s alright. How about schooling?

ES. Oh we were alright at school. Went to the local school, a Church School, that was in the middle of Windsor Street. Where the Wesleyan chapel is, well there is still a school there but they don’t have it as a day school not to my knowledge.

DW. What was school like?

ES. Alright, I got on alright.

DW. Ninety years ago.

ES. I’d got two crutches then.

DW. Pardon?

ES. Two crutches I’d got.

DW. Oh yeah. Tell me about school?

ES. I got on alright at school.

DW. You learned the 3 R’s.

ES. Pardon?

DW. You learned the 3 R’s.

ES. What’s that mean?

DW. Reading, writing and arithmetic.

ES. Oh yeah. Yeah, I got on alright at school and at work.

DW. How about the teachers?

ES. They were alright, passed on now. Course I bet they didn’t get elder than me

DW. One or two, one or two.

ES. Might be. I mean teachers.

DW. Oh no. Can you think back if anything happened while you were at school, anything amusing, anything upsetting. Anything you think would be of interest.

ES. No, not as I know of.

DW. How about when you went to work?

ES. Oh I went to work, I went to work in the hosiery factory then.

DW. As a what?

ES. Linker.

DW. A linker

ES. Picking, picking for a start.

DW. Would you explain picking?

ES. Well, it were a linking machine, it went round. It got points all the way round. You had to, you had to put the stitches on these points and then it come to a needle and it sewed um then. And then you used to have to pick what, there were about that much off. (measuring with hand)

DW. About an inch

ES. You used to have to pick it. So from then I went on the linking meself. I was on the linking when I were seventy.

DW. Was you.

ES. [laughs]

DW. Was linking at that time regarded as a good job?

ES. No, it were a very poor paid job but is a very good job now, what bit there is left of it.

DW. What sort of a wage would you think a linker would get when you first started?

ES. Eight shilling perhaps.

DW. For how many hours?

ES. Oh, all the week.

DW. 8 till 6?

ES. Yeah. [pause] They didn’t get two hundred pound like they do today. [laughs]

DW. Piece work was it?

ES. Yeah. You had what you earned.

DW. You got so much a dozen?

ES. Yeah. You used to have to do some little socks, babies socks, it were toes and heels. Well the toes was only about as wide as that.

DW. About an inch and a half.

ES. You used to get hapenny a dozen for them.

DW. And how long would that take you?

ES. Oh, not long if you were quick. It were according to yourself, whether you picked it up quick or not. Its same today, ain’t it. You go to a job, pick it up quick and others don’t.

DW. You need very good eyesight for that.

ES. Yeah. But I kept on and I worked at Orrell’s, last place I worked like.

DW. Where did you start work?

ES. Murrays, Burbage, where the Barracks is.

DW. Perhaps you could tell me something about the tradition in the hosiery, about tying young girls to lampposts when they get married and decorating them up?

ES. No I never used to do nothing about that.

DW. This has come in since then?

ES. It’s only as, oh I don’t know what to call em. I don’t belong to that category anyway.

DW. I was in the hosiery and it’s happened as long as I can remember, so I wondered whether you knew how it came about.

ES. No. No. I don’t.

DW. It seems a funny tradition.

ES. Oh, they do some funny things nowadays, don’t they.

DW. How would you compare hosiery life when you first started to just before you finished when you were seventy?

ES. Oh, I liked it. You see I couldn’t do a standing up job, I had to do a sitting down job all me life. But I got on owt quick and I got on alright. According to whether you take to anything or not ain’t it.

DW. How about the attitude of your employers?

ES. Oh, some were alright and some weren’t. Employers?

DW. Yes

ES. Oh, they were alright. I got on alright with them, no complaints, I was alright. I used to behave meself that’s why.

DW. You were a good girl.

ES. [laughs] Such as.

DW. Moving on a bit now to when you first got married.

ES. I were 21 then.

DW. Where did you?

ES. At church, got married.

DW. Where did you live?

ES. Lived in, you know where Freemans Lane is in Burbage? Lived in one of those houses, going down the lane from the chip shop, they joined the chip shop. The chip shop was at the top and then we lived in the same road, bit further down.

DW. What did your husband do with employment?

ES. Well he were a miner when I first knew him but then he come into the hosiery.

DW. Well, surely the mining would have been more money than the hosiery at that time?

ES. Well they weren’t, nothing were not brilliantly paid, in them days. Well, of course the standard of living weren’t so high, was it.

DW. No, but it was easier work.

ES. You could get for a shilling what you can’t get for a pound now.

DW. So you set up home.

ES. I lived with me original mother, well lived with the aunt that brought me up, and 'er husband died of typhoid fever, and, er, she brought me up then.

DW. The setting up home, and I suppose if you can remember, it would make a lot of the modern youngsters laugh to think how much things cost then.

ES. Aye it would, you don’t get, you didn’t get into debt then like they do now. Go on the credit cards and have about a hundred pounds worth of stuff

DW. Can you remember how much the things were that you paid for setting up your house?

ES. No, cos I lived with my mother. When she died I had her things.

DW. Oh, I see. So you moved at a later date into a ready made home.

ES. I went down Lychgate Lane then.

DW. Alright

ES. Down there. I had twelve children.

DW. You had twelve?

ES. Me eldest is seventy three.

DW. Is he?

ES. Going, well soon. Going into seventy three.

DW. How old is your youngest?

ES. His 50th Christmas. 8th December.

DW. Same as me.

ES. Is it?

DW. Yeah.

ES. I bet you know him. He’s [pause] oh dear, for the bowlers, belongs to the bowlers.

DW. I don’t know any bowlers.

ES. Don’t yuh.

DW. No. What.. Can you remember some of the prices of goods and that, you know. What my mum used to call the "rashings".

ES. Oh aye, well you used to go and get, for six pence, you used to get enough meat on the bone to make a good stew. [laughs] What could you get now? Oh dear.

DW. You said that earlier on about pestilence and that.

ES. Pardon.

DW. Pestilence, these pneumonias, consumption and that. Was there a lot of it about in Burbage?

ES. Well TB yes.

DW. TB

ES. Used to be. When me uncle had typhoid fever, I caught it, but very, very slight. He were about seventeen stone, Big Jack we used to call him. And then [cough] they used to have different festivities then to what they do now. [coughs] I ought to put my teeth in.

DW. You’re alright

ES. Such as the clubs, the Blue Club and all them sort of clubs. At Whitsuntide, they all used to gather together and they used to walk the streets and have a band, each club, Whitsuntide that were.

DW. What was the Blue Club?

ES. Well it were just a club of gathering people weren’t it.

DW. What a Friendly Society? A club which you save money in?

ES. It were a club. You were in the club.

DW. A drinking club?

ES. No, no.

DW. A club where you saved money in for Christmas or things like that.

ES. Well, I couldn’t tell you really, I didn’t belong to such as that. But they all used to. You know how they walk through the streets.

DW. Yes

ES. Well they used to walk like that, the people.

DW. So was it a sort of a Friendly Society? Was there many such clubs in Burbage?

ES. Oh, three or four. There were the Foresters, there’s Foresters now int there.

DW. Is there things that happened in Burbage sixty years ago that don’t happen now, traditions or like you were just saying, the walking of the Blue Club.

ES. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been one to mix a lot with the people. I couldn’t tell you how the people is down here. There is a centre but of course I cant go only when, if somebody comes and takes me in a wheelchair, so I don’t associate with none of them.

DW. Do you think that the world has changed for the better from what is was when you were a young girl?

ES. No, not in some respects, its vile.

DW. Could you elaborate.

ES. Well there weren’t the attacks, the shooting and the knifing as there is today. You could go out, you could let your children go out and know that they would come back. You can’t today. You can’t yourself.

DW. Well, do you think that it’s just that such things are more publicised now to what they used to be because of the easiness of commercial radio.

ES. Well as I say the television has took a lot of it off and as puts a lot on as well. So as half the kids as see what's on television think they can do as they like, don’t they. They think they can do the same as they’re doing on there. [pause] I used to go church in the morning and school. Church in the morning, school in the afternoon, church at night, every Sunday. But you don’t get that now, do you?

DW. Not with a lot of people, no. Now you can remember the old Workhouse.

ES. Yes, I can.

DW. Tell me a bit about the Workhouse.

ES. Well I could tell you that the waifs and strays used to go there at night. But tramps, don’t get tramps now. Well I suppose there was a few about but still I don’t know. They used to go at night and they have a nights rest and that, and used to have to chop wood, and they used to come round, the inmates of the workhouse, used to come round and sell bundles of wood.

DW. So they had to earn their...?

ES. Yes, keep.

DW. Keep.

ES. I very often used to get up in a morning, and we used to have a tap up the entry. Very often you used to see a man washing himself under a tap. Then he’d come wi’ a dirty old can asking for some hot water. We used to have to boil the water then on the fire, not have all the modern luxuries you can get today.

DW. Did you have to do all your cooking on the fire?

ES. Yeah. In the ranges. Got ranges.

DW. You mean by ranges, where you used to have a fire, you used to have an oven, hot plates and all things at the side.

ES. You wouldn’t remember them.

DW. Oh I do, me mum used to have one.

ES. Did she?

DW. I remember me mums. She used to have an oven and a plate warmer she used to call it, beneath the oven.

ES. Oh aye.

DW. She used to pull a little lever out and open the oven so the heat could go in.

ES. Ah, I did that once and there was a joint in the oven and I got the fire too high. I lifted it up and whoof it come out at me. We didn’t have any meat that Sunday, it got, were burnt up.

DW. A burnt offering? Looking, I mean I know er, the world has changed quite a lot. The quality of life has changed but there is not the communal feeling now as there used to be.

ES. No. We had neighbours then, neighbourly, don’t know what it is now.

DW. Everybody used to help everybody else.

ES. Ah some of them. Not everybody but more or less.

DW. Can you...

ES. I can remember as well, the cruelty. If anyone done anything wrong, they used to then, different to what they do now. They get away with murder now. But I know a boy, he was next to me having a piano lessons. He were first and I’d come next. And do you know that boy had six strokes with the birch for stealing a gold sovereign. They don’t get that now which they ought to do.

DW. You are all for capital punishment?

ES. Yeah. Well in that respect, they ought to have more punishment to teach them, to do better.

DW. You think, then, the decline in the moral standards is because of a lack of discipline and punishment?

ES. Well, yes it is.

DW. You believe in spare the rod and spoil the child?

ES. Yeah, I do. If you seen a policeman years ago and you weren’t doing what you ought to do, he’d used to clip your ears. Well a policeman now ‘ud get summons himself for that.

DW. You think that was a good thing?

ES. Yes, I do. You’d respect a policeman more than what they do today. Instead of that they stab ‘em now. Wicked. Wicked world.

DW. You can remember what? Two, maybe three, wars?

ES. Two.

DW. Two.

ES. And me husband were in one, were in World War 1 and he had some shrapnel in his ankle. I had a letter on the, I come home from work for dinner, I had a letter saying he were alright. I had another one when I got home at night saying he were in at North Etherton Hospital, that is where City General is now. And you couldn’t go then, you had to have a horse and cab take you up.

DW. How long did that used to take?

ES. How long what?

DW. How long a journey?

ES. How long a journey? Oh I don’t know. He had to go for appendicitis.

DW. No, I meant when you went to visit him, did you go and visit him?

ES. Yes. Seen some hard times and some good times. Some as you don’t like to talk about. I used to go out to go to work at half past six. We used to come at half past eight, breakfast till nine. Very often used to see that drunk man in the street. They used to open the pubs then early and tuppence for a bottle of Guiness. Get kailied on a shilling.

DW. That was before licensing laws weren’t it.

ES. Yeah.

DW. Pubs used to be open all day?

ES. Ah.

DW. Do you think it is a bad thing to go back to that?

ES. Well yes. I don’t believe in a lot of drink.

DW. There is one point of view that says that if the pubs were open all day, then they wouldn’t go there and gulp it down because.

ES. There was no sense to it.

DW. No, because they could take their time so therefore there wouldn’t be the drunkenness about.

ES. No, I mean look how much a pint of beer is today. Oh, I got told about that last night. [laughs] . My husband got killed in the war. Well he didn’t get killed in the war, he got killed with a bomb.

DW. What, the Second World War?

ES. Yeah.

DW. Where was he?

ES. Got Coventry. Bombed Walsgrave. He worked at Ansty and they were putting on a propeller on an aeroplane. They got a big, like, well say spanner, I don’t know what you’d call it, and the man, the other side to me husband, let his hand go, let his end go and it hit him in the eye. So he came into Walsgrave Hospital. Now, when the nurse came to see me, as he were in there, came from Ansty. She said I feel guilty, she said because your husband was best in Coventry. If we’d have got a car then, he’d have said he wanted to go to another hospital, they’d have taken him to Rugby. On the night that I were there, the last night, er I said I’ll try and get you out of here, get you transferred. I went for the matron but she were in the operating theatre and she couldn’t come, so I said well I’ll see you next…. I’ll see you next then. Ah I did. They were killed that night. Nurses, doctors, patients as well. Left me with five going to school.

DW. That was, that would be a big struggle to...

ES. Pardon

DW. That would be a big struggle to bring them up.

ES. Aye, it were. I had to work hard. That’s where the linking came in. A man come to see me from the government. I had to answer questions about as long as that, which I did and you can understand me doing it, can’t you, cos I mean I can reckon now. He says, “May I brush my shoes?” Fetched me out of work, from up here, from Sketchley Road right down to Lychgate Lane. So I said “Yes, you can if you wish”, so he brushed his shoes and says, er. I’d been two weeks without any money at all from the government. So, er, he says “I think I ought to leave you a little something”. I said “Well, if a man in your position doesn’t know, I said leave it, and if I want anything then I’ll borrow.” “Oh no, no”, he says, “I’ll leave you two pounds, four and six.” What were that, two pounds four and six?

DW. Well it wouldn’t go anywhere now but how far did it go then?

ES. Well it didn’t go nowhere then for five kiddies going school.

DW. It wouldn’t even feed half of them

ES. I’ve had to work hard that’s.. but I will say, this hard work don’t kill you if you’ve got your health to do it. As long as you work, keep yourself respectable, well, you’re alright.

DW. What do you think you attribute your long life to?

ES. Faith.

DW. In what?

ES. Well what do you have faith in? God don’t you.

DW. You think it's your faith that’s in...

ES. Yes I do. Good living, plain living and hard work and faith.

DW. And that’s near the end, I can hear it kick in.

ES. Can you. Talking too long then.

DW. Well no.


Interviewed by: David J Wood.

Transcript by: Pat Ludgate.

Edited by: Jean Wood.


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