Oral History

Reminiscing with the residents of Moat House in Burbage


Interviewed: Walter Heighway, Hilda Taberner, Hilda Wright, Phyllis Woodward, Phyllis Oliver, Sid Croxall, Lilla Taylor, Alice Poole, Stella Lacey, Jim Ison, Vera Hunt, Edna Carter

Date of Interview: June/July 2001




People we remember

Alice - I remember my parents. My mother was a very good cook. Everything was home-produced. We had butter right through the war, no margarine. My father worked down the mine. We also kept some cows and sold the milk. My father never smacked us. He had rhymes to teach us lots of things and his words hurt more than a smack.

Walter - I remember that my father said there were two kinds of people - the rich and the poor. The poor were trapped because they had to work for the rich. My parents were in service. My mother cooked for King Edward VII, at Holkholm Hall in Norfolk. My father was batman in the 1915-18 War to Sir Stanley Jackson, Captain of Yorkshire and England Cricket. Through him my parents became stewards of the County Club at Ipswich.

Vera - My grandfather was a vet. My brother used to go out to the farms with him and to visit different houses. Mother stayed behind to take the calls. He died before I was born.

Jim - My father bought ponies from Dartmoor for the mines.

Edna - My father was an engineer in Luton. He made ships' whistles. I had four sons and they all wanted to know why they couldn't have one of their grandfather's whistles.

Lilla - My mother was a bookbinder. I remember her warming her pot of glue over the fire. She did designs in gold leaf and bound books such as the Bible, and stories by Hans Christian Anderson and John Bunyan. My father worked for the Cunard Line in a factory in Birmingham, making fittings for ships.

Sid - My dad worked down the pit, at Griff number four in Nuneaton.

Phyllis (Woodward) - My grandpa, Alfred Young, drove the last horse-drawn cab in Hinckley. He delivered letters from the station to the Post Office and to the Union Hotel. When he died his body was taken to the cemetery in a horse-drawn cab.

Hilda (Taberner) - My grandfather was known as Thompson the Carrier. He drove a horse-drawn cab in Nuneaton and I sometimes went in the cab with him. The horse was called Dolly.

Phyllis (Oliver) - My father was a miner. My mother had twelve children and she adopted three more. I was the nineth child.



School Days

Lilla - I was terrified of being left when I started school. My mother took me. However, the teacher was very kind. She was very tall and I can picture her standing outside with a big bell. There were outside toilets. I also remember the headmaster of my secondary school. His name was Mr Green. He was very strict. He had been an army officer and he wore spats. One year I won a prize for growing a hyacinth. It was a book called 'Maisie's Discovery'. I also remember that when I was a senior girl I had to go to a different school for laundry and cookery.

Walter - I started school in a little village called Emberton. I remember taking a piece of toast and lard wrapped in newspaper for my lunch. A particular memory is the thrill of my first wooden pencil box. It had a special smell. I also went to Sunday School. You had to wear your Sunday best. No looking in birds' nests! I once won prize but I can't remember what it was. On the way to Sunday School I took the meat to the local bake house. They charged Id to cook it and I collected it on the way back from church. The flavour of the bread (and the meat!) was wonderful.

Hilda Wright - I remember that we had our names pinned on our fronts. The teacher had a high chair and I can picture one teacher, Miss Murch, with her small, fat legs hanging down from the chair. She was always fidgeting with her dress, pulling it down over her knees. If you did anything bad it was recorded in the punishment book.

Hilda Taberner - I remember my headmaster with a cane in his hand. We called him Tatty Morgan'. Another teacher I remember is Miss Raybold who we called 'rainbow'. I remember having the cane.

Sid - I went to school in the vicarage at the back of St. Nicholas Church in Nuneaton. I lived in Back Street near the church. I was very frightened. The teacher was very strict.

Phyllis (Oliver) - We had an inside toilet under the stairs. The bus stop was outside our house and the teacher used to catch the bus from there. Sometimes she popped into our house to use the toilet!

Phyllis (Woodward) - I went to St. Peters Catholic School in Hinckley, which was just across the road from where I lived. I wasn't frightened because all my friends went there. We had to say prayers and the priest (Father Joseph) used to come on Shrove Tuesday and give us a test. Then he granted us a half-day holiday. I remember the 'nit nurse' coming and checking our heads and nails. One of the teachers I remember is Miss Hall. She used to pull the hem of your skirt down if it was too short. I also went to Sunday School. My teacher (Kath Powers) is still alive and living in The Limes.

Linda (care worker) - I made a coffee table at school with tiles on the top. I remember that we were all in love with the art teacher. Another thing that stands out in my mind is that on Friday afternoons there was a film show in the hall. It was 3d to attend. Fashion, for instance in shoes, was important. I felt humiliated because I was the only girl in my class who wore round-toed shoes. The others all had shoes with pointed toes.

Stella - I cried when I started school. I was an only one so I was very upset at leaving my mother. I remember the teacher saying ‘I’ll take her’. I didn't dare to be naughty because you were put outside the door and my uncle, who was the caretaker, would have seen me.



Working Lives

Sid - When I was younger I lived in Parly in Bournemouth. At one time I had five businesses - a sock and stocking factory, a fruit and veg. shop, a timber company, which supplied firewood and sawdust, which went to the poultry farm.

Linda (care worker) My first job was at Argee's in Earl Shilton, making lingerie for Marks and Spencers. Every now and again Marks and Spencers would check the work and if there were any faults all the work would be rejected. After I was married I went to Barbara Nicholls, folding and bagging stockings.

Hilda (Taberner) - I worked at Fennells, a haberdashery shop in Queens Road, opposite the Gas Works. We sold ribbons, cottons, lace and elastic by the yard, shuttles for tatting and all sorts of other things. The assistant made out a bill and the customer paid the cashier who sat in a box with a hatch at the side of the shop. During the war I drove an ambulance.

Phyllis Oliver - I worked as a maid for a wholesale confectioner. We were married after his first wife died. I had two stepsons, one of whom was killed in the war. I drove a van, delivering sweets to shops. During the war wholesalers had to have coupons to get supplies of sweets from the producers. The sweets in the shops were stored and displayed in big, glass jars. There were all sorts, including bulls eyes, humbugs, butterscotch, pear drops, Pontefract cakes and many others. Later I worked at Grove Road Junior School in Hinckley, helping children to read and write and also teaching them to swim.

Lilla - I served in sweet/ tobacconist's shop. Then I changed trades to become a dressmaker. I learnt the trade in a factory and then I went to work in a private shop in Solihull. In the factory we made dresses for Lewis's and I remember crimping and embroidering the collars. All the seams were bound. I got 6d for making a Macclesfield striped dress. In the shop we used fabrics such as georgette, morocain, Donegal and Harris Tweed (for costumes and coats). I remember that edge-to edge coats were popular at one time.

Walter - I never had a home because my parents were in service. During the 1914-18 War I lived with an aunt and uncle. In 1925 I went into the Air force. I was an apprentice technician in Trenchard's and then I was posted to the parachute squadron. I was responsible for getting R101 airships out of the hanger onto the mooring mast, at Cardington in Bedfordshire.

Stella - I moved around a lot, doing different jobs and gaining experience. My first job was at Armstrong Siddeley in Coventry. Then I moved to Alfred Herbert's (also in Coventry) and they later moved me to Queens Road in Nuneaton. After that I went to work at Argent Mills in Westfield Road, Hinckley. I was the only one in the office there and I had to do everything. Finally I went to work in the office at a factory in John Street. I loved the job. I lived nearby and I used to run through the alley to work. However, the wages were very poor. When I complained to the boss he said 'You're non-productive.' After the factory closed I didn't work again.

Hilda (Wright) - I did dressmaking at a ladies' outfitters in the West End of London. When the war came I went to work in a factory, polishing gun sights. I would have liked to do something more interesting, but my sister was a forewoman at the factory and she thought she was doing me a favour by getting me a job there.

Phyllis (Woodward) - At the age of 141 went to work at Stockwell Head Hill (which is now the Concordia Theatre) making men's shirts and pants. When the factory closed I went to Davis's doing tabbing and cutting on ladies' cardigans. During the war I worked on munitions at Riley's in Holliers Walk.



Memories of War

Phyllis (Woodward) - I remember the bombs landing in Hinckley. Fourteen people were killed in Merevale Avenue. A landmine fell by the railway in Sketchley Fields. Some incendiary bombs also fell at the Sketchley works. My brother worked in the fire brigade there. Then he went into the air force. I was an ARP warden. I had to go out checking the streets when the sirens went off. Girls in the hosiery factories had to do fire watch. Everybody had to take their turn. There were evacuees from London and from Birmingham in Hinckley. I particularly remember a little girl from London who went out for a walk with me. She shook like a leaf when a plane went over. I shall never forget her.

Lilla - I remember the bombing in Hinckley and in Bolton Road, in Small Heath, Birmingham. There were bombs all over the place. I went out one night and everything was on fire. I worked assembling, testing and packing gas masks. Every fifth or sixth night I had to do fire watching. I had to go to Nottingham to learn to use the hose and the stirrup pumps. My brother lived on the South Coast. Down there they were under attack from doodle bombs. There were big guns (nicknamed 'Big Bertha') that fired from the coast across to the continent. My cousin was one of the gun operators and he was deafened by the noise. Rationing made life difficult. Each person got Is 2d per week for meat, which equalled one chop. My brother bred rabbits and killed them to provide meat for us. I got married during the war and I had a wedding cake that had cardboard on the top with braid round it, instead of icing. British restaurants, run by the Women's Voluntary Service, provided cheap food. You could get a dinner and a sweet there. Miss Pickering ran the British restaurant in Wood Street, Hinckley and there was another in Hawley Road (also remembered by Phyllis Woodward). You could collect your dinner if you wished and take it home in a dish or basin. Firms also ran canteens for their workers, which provided them with cheap food.

Walter - I lived in Farren Road in Wyken, Coventry during the war. I was bombed out there. My parents, who lived in Ipswich, were also bombed and when I went to Luton to visit my wife's family, during my one weekend off in the month, I was bombed out there. I later moved to Wolvey and there we had evacuees staying with us. I was seconded from the air force to train pilots in the flying school at Anstey Aerodrome. I remember a German plane coming down at Witheybrook one night and how cocky the crew were. You had to immobilise cars at night. I remember being challenged by the police one night about a car belonging to a New Zealand lad who was working with me. They threatened to take his car away unless he immobilised it. He'd had trouble with it so he said 'If you can start it, you can have it!'

Alice - I worked in a hospital in London. They dropped incendiary bombs round the hospital. I remember one bomb-destroying house after house and the bombers coming down low and machine-gunning people who were walking. There were also buzz bombs. You heard the noise and you counted to ten, waiting to see where they would land. One night, when the fire officers were not on the hospital premises, the doctors put a fire out and were told off the next day for doing the fire officers' job! During the one-hour meal break we had a rule that nobody was to talk about the war. One night I went out to the theatre and message was given out on stage that there was bombing in the area and people should leave if they wished to. When we went out to catch a taxi the driver asked where we wanted to go. He said 'If you are brave enough to go there, I am brave enough to take you.' Although I remember the difficulties of rationing I also remember making tasty things out of nothing and that the war brought out the generosity and kindness of people.

Hilda Wright - I also lived in London. I remember the whole city being alight. It was a Saturday night and everything was so clear. I was very fortunate. Although people all around us were bombed, we were not hit. Each morning you would ask 'Who got it last night?' When you went to work you wondered whether the firm had ben hit and whether you still had a job. Were your colleagues alive? But life went on.

Hilda Taberner - I lived in Croft Road in Stockingford, Nuneaton. I drove an ambulance. Coventry was very badly bombed and I saw things that I don't want to remember. I was called out all hours of the day and night. I had to pull people out of fires. Not being able to do anything to help little children was the worst.

Phyllis - I lost one of my stepsons in the war.

Sid - I didn't fight in the war because I was a skilled engineer and I was used to make munitions at Standard Motor Company in Coventry. When the factory was bombed and lost its roof we had to carry on working in Wellingtons because of all the water everywhere and the danger from live electricity. In my spare time, throughout the war, I was a voluntary ambulance driver.



Fashions of the 1950s

Remembered by: Lilla, Hilda Wright, Hilda Taberner, Walter, Phyllis Woodward, Phyllis Oliver and Sid.

Different periods of fashion were remembered. We talked about the 2nd World War when material was scarce. Lilla remembered buying some flour bags and making a dress out of one and a tablecloth out of another and Walter remembered parachute silk being highly valued.

In the fifties hooped skirts were popular, with underskirts made of layer upon layer of starched netting. You had to be careful how you sat down and when nobody was looking you fluffed them up!

Every one remembered that in their childhood days they had clothes for the week (far less than people have nowadays) and their Sunday best. On Mondays some people would pawn their best clothes until the next weekend. Walter remembered burning his best Sunday suit, using a magnifying glass to reflect the sun, and getting into a lot of trouble.

There was a lot more home sewing. Lilla remembered making trousers for her little brother out of an old coat. She also made her wedding dress from material that she got from the place where she worked. It had a bustle at the back and shaped sleeves, which went down over her hands. Hilda Wright remembered having a dress made from figured satin, which she thought was 'the cat's whiskers'.

We talked about different styles of shoes, about the fact that styles in men's shoes haven't changed much over the years, although at one time boys and working men wore hob-nailed boots. We remembered how stillettos (the higher the better!), which were popular for women at one time, ruined the feet and often floor coverings, such as lino, as well.

We noted that hats are not worn as often as they used to be. At one time ladies always wore hats and men wore bowlers, trilby hats or flat caps. Phyllis Oliver told us that she always wore a beret because she cycled a lot. Gloves were also worn by ladies, even in summer. Watches, however, were for the elite, and they were pocket, not wrist watches, and worn by men. Up until the 1960s, trousers were not worn by women, except at work, particularly during the war.

Overall we decided that 'what goes around comes around'!



Changes in diet

Remembered by: Lilla, Hilda Wright, Hilda Taberner, Walter, Phyllis Woodward, Phyllis Oliver and Sid.

We talked mainly about the food we had during and immediately after the 2nd World War. Everybody remembered queuing for bread, which was paid for with coupons, and the small amounts of food that were allowed per person (for example, for two people, 2oz. of fat, a quarter of tea and a lib bag of sugar per week).

Hilda Wright said that her mother always asked for a corner bit of cheese, so that she got no rind. Fat was difficult to come by and people remembered asking for odd bits of bacon that had fat on them when they bought a few slices. Lilla said that they had a goose at Christmas because they got a lot of fat off it and remembered that her family used to swap some of their tea for fat, with a family across the road.

Walter remembered that petrol was also rationed, as were cigarettes, which tasted horrible .'Phyllis Oliver told us that they kept chickens and you also had to have coupons for chicken feed.

Although fish wasn't rationed it was scarce and you had to queue for it. Hilda Wright's mother-in -law lived in London, near Leadenhall Market and managed to get breasts of lamb without coupons, so Hilda ate a lot of lamb!

Several people remembered friends or relatives receiving food parcels, but no-one was certain where they came from (America?).

It was agreed that people tended to be healthier in those days. They didn't eat too much and they had to do more physical work. Miners got more cheese, because of the physical nature of their jobs, but Lilla remarked that women didn't get anything extra, despite the hard labour involved in housework in those days.

It was noted that there wasn't a lot of foreign food, although Spam was imported from America. Food was home grown and preserved (eg. Salted beans and bottled fruit). Walter remembered the Vicar of Wolvey commenting on his allotment. ' You and the Lord have made a good job of that' he said.' You should have seen it when he had it to himself!' replied Walter.

Walter told us that during the First World War allotments were set with corn, which was thrashed to feed the chickens. The corn was put on a piece of hessian in the back yard, on a windy day, so that the husks would blow away and it was bashed with hazel sticks.

Different methods of cooking were also discussed. Lilla remembered using a hay box in the 2nd World War, which was slow but effective. Phyllis Oliver remembered the coal fire with a hob at each side. On one side the kettle would be kept boiling and on the other the porridge was kept warm - a dish which her brother particularly liked! The old cooking ranges had no temperature control, so you just had to guess cooking times.

Shopping was different too. Everything was sold loose. Folding the bags that contained the food was agreed to be an art!

There were no fridges but nothing was thrown away. 'We ate everything that was going' said Hilda Wright. The Sunday roast lasted two, and sometimes three days. Monday was washing day - cold meat and bubble and squeak! Any cold meat left over was for dad's supper.

However, it wasn't all privation. Yorkshire puddings every Sunday were remembered, steamed puddings - jam roly polys and spotted dicks- and home made mince pies at Christmas.



Entertainment

Remembered by: Hilda Wright, Hilda Taberner, Phyllis Oliver, Phyllis Woodward, Walter and Lilla.

We talked first about the radio. Everyone remembered the 'cat's whisker', a needle connected to a wire, which you moved to find the station - a delicate operation! People also remembered that, at one period, you had a large battery in a bottle, called an accumulator that you had to get charged at a shop or garage. It could take up to two days, which meant that you would miss your favourite programmes during that period. Radio programmes entertainers recalled included:

It was agreed that the radio held families together because everybody sat down together and listened. Hilda Wright said 'We talked about things we'd heard on the radio' and Hilda Taberner ' We learnt a lot through the radio.'

The magic lantern was also remembered. This was a box with a light inside, which contained a series of pictures that went round and round as you turned a handle and were projected onto a small screen.

Games were mostly educational and many including counting or using a dice. Toys were few and far between and often handed down through the family. Favourite toys remembered were:

Outside games were also remembered - playing with a whip and top, five stones (or 'snobs' as Phyllis Woodward called them), iron hoops with handles to push them with, skipping with a piece of old washing line, conkers. Hilda Wright remembered throwing balls against the wall at the side of a shop in her road and annoying the people who lived there!

It was agreed that there was not much space in most houses for children to play inside and that, with no television or computers, children played outside much more than they do today. However, it seemed that boys had much more freedom to roam than girls. Walter remembered fishing for frog’s spawn and tiddlers, setting snares and traps for moles, robbing birds' nests and picking armfuls of bluebells, many of which were dropped on the way home.

Girls were more home-based, learning to knit and sew. French knitting was remembered - using a cotton reel with nails on the top and a hairpin to pull the wool through. Hilda Taberner made reins for a baby from her French knitting. Lilla wanted to be a ballet dancer and made a patchwork ballet dress out of scraps of material! Concerts were also improvised and girls played May queens with a piece of mother's curtain and a daisy chain.

Nevertheless, girls were involved in some outside activities. Lilla remembered a trip on the tram for 5d to the Lickey Hills to pick bluebells and skipping every morning to get rid of chilblains. Hilda Taberner remembered skating on the canal. Different activities were very much linked to the seasons.

Everybody remembered going to the cinema, particularly the special shows on Saturdays for children. Hilda Taberner remembered that her aunt used to sit in a small glass box at the front of a cinema in Hinckley and sell the tickets. The doorman, Billy Hay ward, was very strict and kept the children in order. Lilla recalled going to a cinema in Birmingham with her brother. She was afraid of the dark and he had to hold her hand all the time, so he refused to take her again!

Tom Mix and Tony', a cowboy show, was remembered by everybody. Walter remembered that the music was played on the piano and was always the same. The film was beamed from the back and children made hand signals, creating shadow shapes on the screen, before the film started.

Finally the annual visits of the fair and the circus were remembered. The same families would return each year. Phyllis Woodward particularly liked the brandy snaps and the coconut shies.

Overall, our conversation indicated that children's lives have changed a lot over the last century, with most children today having a wider range of entertainment available to them, but, in many ways, less freedom that their grandparents had.


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