|Transcript Title||Woodcock, Iris (O 2003.7)|
|Interviewee||Iris Woodcock (IW)|
|Interviewer||Jean Riddell (JR)|
|Transcriber by||Juliet Bending|
Hertford Oral History Group
Recording no: O 2003.7
Interviewee: Iris Woodcock (IW)
Date: 5th March 2003
Venue: 75 Bentley Road
Interviewers: Jean Riddell (JR)
Transcriber: Juliet Bending
************** unclear recording
[discussion] untranscribed material
italics editor’s notes
JR: March 5th 2003, just preparing to visit Mrs Iris Woodcock at No 75 Bentley Road re Folly Island. You did start on the phone to tell me that you came as an evacuee, is that right?
IW: No, I was an evacuee into Gloucestershire, when I was 10, I suppose, nearly 11, just before the war broke out, three days before the war broke out, and we went into Bibury in Gloucestershire. I think I was there four and a half years. And for most of that time I lived in lovely accommodation, because the lady had a big house and we had single beds in our room, my sister and I, this is my young sister, and...oh, bathroom, not...it was the major bathroom but, of course, we used to have to use that one -- a bath every night.
And then, when it came to coming home, I think I must have been nearly 14, and things were quietening down here, and so she said we ought to go home because I was going to start work, and she knew Mum was a widow, so she thought I ought to get back and start thinking about work. But I came back and had one term at Longmore and then I left.
JR: So your family were here to start with?
IW: No, no, my family were all in London, yes, that's right, they were all in London...
JR: That's what I thought, so -- London, Gloucestershire, and then what made you come to Hertford then?
IW: Well, my mother came here. You see, we had a family living opposite us, and Mum had a shop in London, but she had a back yard, so she couldn't get a shelter put in it. She could have had a Morrison one under the table but she wasn't keen on that. But luckily we'd got this large family over the road and they'd been so very close friends and always helped Mum when she needed someone to help in the shop and all that, you know. And their house was...at the back the railway line ran along it, and that was bombed one night so they packed everything up and came down in a lorry. And they came because the eldest girl knew the Phillips family of Hertford -- in Ware Road I think they came from -- she knew a chap that was at Aldershot, and she went to the Tattoo and met this lad, and they kept in touch.
When they came down he'd got a sister, and then she knew her as well, and she lived in Hartham -- there were three cottages before you went over the bridge and into McMullen's road (Hartham Lane?)...you know where the road comes down, there were three little cottages there, I don't know if they're still there. And she had one of those...she's got I think two children -- and she took in I think *****, she had to stay there for a while till they could find lodgings.
So that's how we came down, and gradually Mum found three rooms in...two rooms in the Folly, there was an old chap who lived there, and he used to sleep...come home to sleep, but he was lodging with the lady opposite, so we couldn't have a full house, we only had the kitchen and two rooms upstairs. And of course there was no...there was gas light...
JR: Oh, it was gas...?
IW: and when I got married it was gas.
JR: Somebody was saying the other day that there wasn't any gas in the house, it was only oil lamps, and I thought they were talking about the 1930s.
IW: Oh perhaps that might have been...
JR: I was wondering whether they remembered correctly, but anyway I'm glad to hear that there was gas, because gas came to the town in 1825...
JR: so I should think they jolly well would have had gas in 1930-something. Anyway, was it primitive or was it, after what you were used to, with the bath in...?
IW: Yes, it was, but I mean you soon get used to it when you're young, and my mother was a lovely lady, and I had two sisters, Olive and Beryl, and then there was two other girls that stayed on, and one got married to the boy Starkiss, Alma, and Beattie...
JR: Mr Starkiss, did she? The husband's name was Starkiss, was it? I've heard that name.
IW: Yes, her husband was Starkiss. That's the one she married, and then Beattie came to live with us, so there was all of us there then, and we got on all right, you know, we had...Mum was always there for us, it was lovely. So, I suppose I was there till I got married, but I went to Longmore School for just this one term, and then I went to County Hall when I left work...left school, but it was so nice, because we didn't know a lot of the girls there, and Mum was in the corner house opposite what was the shop. So they'd congregate along there, the boys would come along and we'd have a chat over the wall and it was really nice, it was just a nice atmosphere.
JR: What was the address exactly?
IW: 7...25 (The Folly – Parker), and that was right opposite the shop, *****, on the left.
JR: That was a general store in those days, was it?
IW: Yes it was.
JR: Post Office as well?
IW: No, not a Post Office, just a little general store, Mear I think his name was, Mr (John) Mear. Opposite us was Mrs Watkins and her family.
JR: Really? Well, Mr Ted Watkins is being interviewed next week on this very subject. I expect you'd be quite interested to hear what he says!
IW: Oh lovely, yes, I would, yes. I always see him, you know, 'Hallo, little Iris,' he says. He's a nice man and his wife's nice, and then Daphne -- that was the girl -- she lives in Bengeo, she married a boy Groves...
JR: Is that Daphne Watkins?
IW: Daphne Watkins.
JR: Her sister? Groves, right.
IW: And her dad, but he's dead. And an elder boy, but I don't know what happened to him, I think he was in the Fire Service or something.
JR: We'll find out next week.
IW: Yes, 'cos Ted'll know all about that. What else can I tell you?
JR: Who were your friends? Did you get any friends...? You were rather late into the child friendship range, weren't you.
IW: Opposite us in Thornton Street there was two families round our age -- one was Eileen Gain...do you know Eileen Gain? (probably Game – four households on the "island").
JR: I expect so.
IW: She's going still...and Joan Gain. So I was friends with Joan and -- I mean, I wasn't old enough to go to the dances -- but when they went dancing on a Saturday night, they told you to come over to our house for a cup of tea, and they'll talk over what went on the night before, you know, and chat about it, and so they were quite friendly. And then there was the girl Shelford -- do you know the Shelfords? You haven't heard of those?
JR: No, I don't think so.
IW: Oh Betty Shelford's still about, she's married again, but -- her husband died -- she's married again, so she lived there as well. So they were another two girls we knew. And there were the Gain girls, another lot of Gain girls -- Peggy and Jean Gain. There was the Beans -- I think her name was...it's not coming to me...it will do -- she had a daughter. So there was a little group of us around, you know.
JR: What year were you born in?
IW: '29. And my Mum used to play the piano, and we always used to go to the Barge for a drink in the evenings or at weekends or something like that, and of course we'd only drink shandies, we weren't allowed anything else, we didn't drink shorts, nobody seemed to drink short drinks in those days, not round there. But this pub was one large dining room, you know -- big table, chairs all round it, and there was a little public bar on the other side, and we used to go in there, and New Year's Eve Mum would play the piano and everybody'd be singing. We used to have real parties there. And when there was a VE celebration, they had a bonfire in that bit round in front of the house in the road...
JR: This is in front of the Barge? Of your house?
IW: No. Yes, that's right, in that square, in there we had a bonfire. And they lifted the piano over the wall and Mum played the piano there! [laughs].
JR: Oh, outside, did she? Did you have a street party then as well?
IW: I can't remember, I don't think we did, no, I don't think we had a street party. But I always remember that night when she was out there, and everybody was singing, she used to play all the old songs, and people used to come and give us something in those days, you know. When we were at home, we always had a party Boxing Day, and they all used to come down to our house, Beattie and all the others, they'd to come down, and we had two sittings of Christmas...Boxing Day lunch, she always cooked turkey and that, you know...chickens not turkey. And we'd go in and have jelly and blancmange at night [laughter] and everybody had to do a turn at those parties, so that was quite good.
JR: So they did a song, did they, a recitation?
IW: Oh, a song or something, yes. All the parties in London were like that too, and so Mum never got rid of New Year's Eve, and we always used to have New Year's Eve together. When we came up here, my sister took that over. So it was New Year's Eve at her house.
JR: So your sister married Mr Starkiss. Where did she go?
IW: No, no, that's Alma Starkiss married Bert Starkiss. She was one of the girls who came with us. But the other one was Enid Starkiss and she lived on the estate, she came from Wales and she came down, she married the other boy Ron. That's how that came about. They were very close.
JR: They stayed in the town, did they?
IW: They stayed up...as far as I remember they moved up here, they may have lived with the mother-in-law first, or mother, I think they did, and then they got a house in Tudor Way, so we were very friendly with her as well. She only ***** three years ago and we were always together, so we were a little group we knew for a long time. But I do remember coming home and going into the Folly, and we had electric light *****, we had a generator, and we had all mod cons, a big boiler -- one of those big round boilers -- in the kitchen, so there was a bit of central heating.
When I came home -- she'd sent us home a couple of times before, to get used to seeing Mum again, and to have a bit of a holiday, she was a lovely lady, very sort of withdrawn, she was the boss, if you like, she was really...her husband had been a -- in the foreign service and he was in the Sudan, and she was his lady -- when we came home, we had this lovely house, a lovely garden, but I came back to the Folly and I can't tell you what that was like. I walked in and it was dull -- gas lights! My sister was in the kitchen, so when anyone went to the loo my sister was there, and there was a boiler, for your water, to do your washing in.
JR: A kind of copper?
IW: A copper, that's the word, yes, it was a copper. Mind you, I had a good seat when everybody was there -- they'd sit on the copper, a seat [laughs].
JR: No bathroom?
IW: No, no! No bathroom, we used to have a tin bath.
JR: So that was brought in, was it?
IW: That was brought in, yes, that was a good night, because there was the four of us all bathing, and that was always a bit of fun, you know. Mum used to sit there doing her knitting or making blankets or something, and we'd have a laugh, yes, it was good. So really I think they were quite happy days when we were in the Folly, but it was a shock to the system -- I had to share a bed again, you know, and that sort of thing -- 'cos you used to in those days, but we'd been used to something different. But it's amazing how quickly you get over it.
JR: Yes, well, some families -- this particular family that we interviewed last week -- one of them is now Mrs Camp...Mrs Daphne Camp came with them, she's not actually closely related to them, but we think there's some relationship in the back...
IW: There was a Camp family -- they lived down Thornton Street.
JR: Yes, I wonder if that's Betty Camp?
IW: Yes, that's Betty, she must be my niece's friend, Betty.
JR: Yes. I was interviewing Betty Camp, who was I think Betty Bradshaw...
IW: Bradshaw, that's right.
JR: ...and her sister Chris Quarry was Chris Bradshaw -- those two...sisters, but the other Mrs Camp, I mistakenly thought she was related to Mrs Betty Camp, but we think there was some relationship way back, with the husbands, but we're not quite...coming from Hertford Heath or somewhere. But anyway, they both ended up on Folly Island, the two Mrs Camps.
IW: My husband, when he came back from the Army, he went to live with his father and old aunt, and he wasn't there for very long, but he never looked any different -- he always had his old cap on and that. And Auntie Kay -- I think she might have had Parkinson's or something like that, she used to tremble a lot. She went to church regularly on a Sunday, morning and evening, she was quite a nice lady. I didn't know them very well, though, even though I married their son [laughs].
JR: He was their son?
IW: Pop was my husband's son (father?), no it's his aunt. She wasn't married, she was a spinster.
JR: What happened to his mother then? Did she die?
IW: She died early, yes. She died while they were abroad, I think, and there was George and Bill Woodcock. And Bill used to collect the rents down the Folly, he worked for Crozier's, so on one side of the road he collected the rents, and I don't know who Mum gave the money to for our lot, I'm sure! [laughs], but that was part of his job. But Bill got married, as soon as, well, before he came home -- I was ***** when they got married, and so they went to live with her mother...the Miltons, they came from up Bengeo, and then George -- we were married, and we were lucky because we weren't thinking of getting married. We'd got engaged at Christmas -- this is just between you and me, this is not history, I don't think!
JR: No, the bits...we don't use the whole tape, we just use the bits we need, but it might be something leading off from what you were going to say that leads into somebody else.
IW: Well, Bill lived down in Port Vale (opposite the Millstream, Port Hill), and Becky, and he used to collect the rents down there as well, and he heard that there was a house going next to him, so we had to move quickly, and he said, 'Do you want the house, it's only six weeks so we'd better get married, so we had six weeks to prepare a wedding and we got engaged at Christmas! Anyway we lived next door to them in Port Vale after that, till we got a house, and we'd got the two boys, we got the council house -- luxury, luxury, yes!
JR: Everybody says that, yes! I should think it was. So you've been in this house ever since?
JR: So who was he collecting rents for, in the two different places?
IW: I don't know who the lady was...I think there were two ladies that owned the properties, but through Crozier's -- I think I'm right in saying...I've got a odd feeling that those houses along there were...two ladies that owned them. I can't remember who it was that...and she...and he collected the rent for it, but I don't know who owned our houses, I just don't know that at all. I don't know who collected the rent, but it wasn't very much, a few shillings.
Then, when Mr Parker died, Mum got the whole house, you see, and just after that they brought in the thing where landlords had got to improve their properties or they couldn't put the rents up. Well, the wall was coming away from the roof, so they had all the side of the roof down, and the wall, and they built it all up again, and then we started getting it together. My elder sister -- she's very good at decorating -- she decorated it all. We had our first three-piece suite, which was ever so posh [laughs], and it was comfortable, really nice, by the time we got some electricity going.
JR: The houses are now rather nice, aren't they.
IW: Very nice, and...£240,000, the bungalows *****...£230,000, £240,000, and the houses on the river. In fact, I'll get the paper, I'm pretty certain.
JR: Yes, I believe you!
IW: I couldn't believe it when I saw it myself -- 'Good God!'
JR: 'Cos the most they've got is three bedrooms, is it? Some of them have got...the majority of houses have got two, haven't they?
IW: Yes, they might have three, I don't know, because I didn't really know anybody down by the river-side part, but they were just small houses like ours. Most of them had been, you know, revamped, and they'd got bathrooms and things built on, and I think they're probably quite nice now, but I haven't been down there for a long time.
JR: Now when you were down there, there were...the bridge going from the end of Thornton Street towards Hartham was operational, was it? Could people drive over that bridge?
IW: No, no, it was only a walking bridge...yes, the houses were there and the bridge went over there...so you went down by the houses and over the bridge, and then down the steps and through to Hartham where the river was.
JR: I don't know why I thought you could actually get out that end by car or by a vehicle, but you could...not...no.
IW: Not everybody...very few people had a car or a vehicle.
JR: Yes, I know, I meant delivery vans and things. But the other bridge, the one that led you into Bull Plain -- the main bridge that leads into Folly Island by Bull Plain -- was that rebuilt in your time there, or was that later? Because I know that...I heard a story ages ago that...
IW: There was a sort of underpass thing, wasn't there? If it was a bridge, there was somewhere you could walk underneath as well, I've got a feeling, yes.
JR: OK. I heard a story years ago from somebody whose sister-in-law had had a house fire on the Folly, and -- actually the neighbours put it out in the end -- but apparently the fire engine could not get over that little bridge leading from the end of Bull Plain, and after that they realised they'd have to make it bigger for the emergency services. But that was probably after you'd left that area.
IW: There was only a small footbridge as far as I remember...
JR: Going the other way towards Hartham?
JR: What about the allotments...were they there then? Did you have one?
IW: Yes, they were there. No, but my brother-in-law did, he was round the corner, and my sister lived down there too. You see, she'd got a house down there.
JR: What, in Frampton Street?
IW: No, in the Folly. And Gerry and Olive lived there. So it was quite a little community really.
JR: Were the streets made up when you were there?
IW: No. I think the bit that -- as far as I remember -- the bit past the Folly was, but the rest of it was not.
JR: Because we have reports of huge potholes in the road all the time, particularly when it rained it was rather...somebody nearly drowning in a puddle [laughter].
IW: And it was nice because it was tree-lined and they used to be cut and they used to look used to look lovely in the summer, and it was quite nice to live down there with all the trees coming out and that, along Thornton Street.
JR: Blossom trees, yes. And they've got those neat little gates and fences round them all, haven't they, in Thornton Street.
IW: They have now.
JR: Now, wasn't that an earlier feature as well?
IW: I don't think so, not as far as I remember. I do remember seeing them blossom and thinking how nice it was.
JR: Did you know anything about the history of the Island at any time?
IW: No, I didn't. Have you found anything about it?
JR: Well, there is a little book written on it, which...what is going to happen is that this book is going to be re-published and updated, and then that together with the exhibition is going to be launched next January. They're just people's reminiscences really, of living on the Island. Can you remember any characters, or any incidents, or funny stories, or any kind of stories...?
IW: There was a family called the Reynolds -- they lived down there. Mrs Reynolds was a fine old lady, and we always used to have chickens off of her, she used to keep chickens.
JR: Which road did she live in?
IW: Thornton Street, at the other end, towards the river, and she had lovely big chickens, capons you know -- beautiful.
JR: There wasn't a great area of garden, though, to each house, was there?
IW: Not in our house there wasn't, no, I don't think there was all the way round.
JR: Did they vary a bit, some of them?
IW: On our side they were all the same size, my sister's was a bit longer, I think, than ours -- she lived next to Mrs Plum. And the neighbours were so good. I mean, Mrs Watkins would come over and see Mum, or you'd see them both at the gate talking, and Mrs Plum was a regular visitor, she used to call in and see us a lot of times. She was very nice, she had two children, and the girl -- Hazel, I think her name was -- she went over to Australia with her husband. And then Mr and Mrs Reynolds, they -- not Reynolds, Plum -- they went out as well to stay with the daughter.
Oh, the other lady, Mrs Savage, at the end -- the first house on the right going into the Folly -- was Mrs Savage, and then there was Mrs Plum. And Mrs Savage had a daughter, and a son I think, Mrs Savage -- I haven't seen her about lately but she lives on the estate.
JR: Do you think, if you had -- if the houses there had been modernised -- you'd have like to have stayed there?
IW: I don't see why not, because -- people change and neighbours go...I don't know, you can't really say whether you'd have been happy then. My Mum stayed down there, you see, when we married, and someone went down to see her every day. And eventually she came up to Calton House.
JR: It's very central, isn't it, that area, and also near Hartham, so for children it's a fairly safe place to go.
IW: It's a nice way, to walk along the river to the station as well.
JR: Well, of course, you were past the age of playing out in those days, but was there a lot of playing in the street going on, by the children? Was it fairly safe for them?
IW: I think it was fairly safe for them, yes. But I'm trying to think what they...I don't know, I don't remember seeing...Beryl must have done something like that, but I can't remember that.
JR: We've done Bert Whiting -- he was to do with a family that ran the Unicorn, I think. His grandfather, was it...?
IW: I don't know what the relationship was, but when I was there I think he was living in the Folly.
JR: Yes he was. I think he was living with another family actually.
IW: Yes, that's right. But they were Whitings...there was a District Nurse called Whiting, that was one of their relations, that's right, and Nurse Pont -- you're bringing back some memories now! He's a lovely man, he runs the Bengeo Gardening Club, and although he's not very fit himself, he's lovely, really nice.
JR: Did you ever have any accidents that happened when you were there...water-based accidents...did anybody fall into the river, and had to be rescued?
IW: Oh, I do remember somebody who had...I don't remember whether he died. He was in the pub one night on New Year's Eve, and he fell over the railings -- it had railings on the side -- and he went out, and I can't remember now whether he died but he certainly ended up in the river.
JR: So you don't remember if anyone fished him out?
IW: I don't remember at all, but somebody else might remember it.
JR: It seems likely, doesn't it?
IW: That was New Year's Eve.
JR: Who were the staff of the Barge?
IW: Mr and Mrs Saunders -- Mrs Saunders ran it, and she had a son who lived down on Thornton Street, and his wife. And when they declared that the war was over, Olive was at a dance, and everybody was out. She came in and said, 'Get up!,' she said, 'Get up! Get out of bed! The war's over! The war's over!' So up we got and got dressed, and went outside -- not a soul! And after a little while people got to hear about it, I suppose, and -- I can't remember his Christian name -- but he came along and he said, 'Mum's going to open the pub!' That was about 2 o'clock in the morning! And so everybody went up and had a drink at the pub! [laughter]
JR: I don't remember that...obviously I was little, war -- yes, when peace was made, I suppose it could happen any time of the day or night, couldn't it, because of other people's time zones, yes. So it didn't matter about not having a licence?
IW: I don't think anyone cared about having a licence at that time [laughter], except on that day the only shop that was open was the fish shop -- he opened up. All the shops were closed obviously.
JR: Was it because of the peace being declared?
IW: Yes. I'll tell you what happened there -- this is a bit of interest really, it's not about the Folly -- Mum wandered...everyone wandered out to get up into Bull Plain, and there's lots of people there. And my Mum...Mrs Reynolds, and she said, 'Come on, Eve, we'll go and have a drink.' And she said they were knocking at the door at 10 o'clock, of the pub -- I don't know whether they ever got there [laughs] -- but when she'd gone to get the fish, all he'd got was tripe. Well, we never had tripe.
JR: This is the next day?
IW: No, the same day. She brought that tripe home, 'cos she'd got nothing else. Oh, it was awful. Nobody ate it [laughs]. We weren't used to that.
JR: So the shops closed because it was a national holiday or something...?
IW: I think it was.
JR: So what was everybody doing? Were they out on the streets?
IW: Just wandering round talking to people.
JR: It must have been a terribly anxious time, particularly for mothers. Then the black-outs could all be thrown away -- wonderful for you! What about when they had -- you talked about VE Day before -- did you have all the bunting up and all the flags?
IW: Oh red, white and blue. And Alma got married on that day, it was 8th May, so it was the day we had her wedding. Mum had a big patch of lily-of-the-valley in the garden, behind a holly bush, and it was the only think that grew there, I think, and they were beautiful lilies-of-the-valley. So between us we made up all these lily-of-the-valley buttonholes, and tied them up with red, white and blue ribbon.
JR: That was a good idea.
IW: They're coming back...all these little memories are coming back. Everybody was just having a chat and a talk and a wander around, and everybody celebrated in the evening, I presume.
JR: What industry was there on Folly Island?
IW: There's three houses at the end, and I think they were McMullen's houses, I don't know.
JR: At which end?
IW: The Hartham way.
JR: Hartham. What -- over the little bridge and round the corner? Hartham Lane?
IW: Hartham Lane, that's right.
JR: Yes, I think those have got...the Unicorn is still...that was, is still there but I think between the Unicorn and coming round the curve to the footbridge there were more houses there, is that right?
IW: Yes, I think there were.
JR: They've all gone. I think Eddie Roche was telling me that the Hartham Lane cottages extended right round to Folly Island. I had thought they were farther up the other side of the Unicorn going towards Old Cross where McMullen's newish premises are now, but apparently not, they were down lower.
IW: The smell from the brewing -- every morning you'd go out and smell that.
JR: Was it brewing every morning?
IW: It must have been very often anyway. I just remember this smell of malt and that sort of thing, yes.
JR: Of course, you'd have to get it now on a Monday or Tuesday, I think but not the other days of the week. I usually think, 'Oh, they must be brewing up today.' So I think they brew every week rather than every day. They've got more equipment, haven't they, it takes longer to do. So round by...as you came over the Bull Plain bridge, nowadays there's a new development there with small flats and houses. It used to be Cooper's Yard. What was there in your time?
IW: That's right. There was one office which was...I'm trying to think what that was for. There was an office -- his daughter used to come to the Red Cross, but I can't remember her name...it's on the tip of my tongue but I can't remember it. But her father was the manager or something there...
JR: Of Cooper's?
IW: No, not of Cooper's, it was... And also before you get...opposite the first house in the Folly, going down on the left, there was a man called Mr Meade (Mead?) and he had a junk place...
JR: Scrap yard?
IW: Scrap yard, that's right.
JR: We tried to interview him, but he tended to be a bit elusive. It wasn't that he didn't want to do it, I don't think, but we just couldn't contact him for some reason -- he was always out.
IW: I should have thought that old boy would've gone by now, because he was quite older than us.
JR: Well, this was when we first started, I think, say seven or eight years ago.
IW: Well, maybe it was. I know my nephew used to go over and always Mr Meade was playing with him or helping him. 'Oh, I'm very fond of Mr Meade,' he'd say *****.
JR: You don't remember any stables being on that little Hartham bit, that little...the bit near where Cooper's yard is?
IW: I don't know, I just wonder perhaps whether old Mr Meade might have had a horse and cart, ***** I should imagine so.
JR: He might have done, yes.
IW: I still can't remember that man's name, but I know it was an office of some sort.
JR: So where did the Folly Islanders do their shopping?
IW: Oh, it was in the town. There were lots of butchers, and grocers' shops and...
JR: Well, you didn't get a lot of stuff from that little shop there.
IW: No, it was more of a convenience shop, you know, but I think the majority of the people went into the town.
JR: And were the lights on Folly Island -- were they lit by hand, in your time?
IW: Oh yes.
JR: They were? Somebody came round and did that, did they -- what, every night? Do you know who he was?
JR: I just wondered if it was Alfie Mansfield, that's all, who used to do that?
IW: It may well have been.
JR: He worked for the Gas Board, *****, a lamplighter.
IW: My brother-in-law might know that -- he worked for the Gas company.
JR: Oh did he? ***** Alfie's no longer with us, but we did interview him earlier on, luckily. So what do you think of it now down there, and all the parking -- you read about it in the papers.
IW: Yes, you do, terrible for parking, I should think, now everybody's got cars, it must be very difficult to get a car in there. Haven't they stopped it?
JR: Well, I think the trouble is -- this is my philosophy -- I think if you go to an area where you know parking's going to be difficult, you've really got to think twice about owning a car, particularly if you live right in the town centre. I don't think there's any...I don't think you really can go to a place and expect to take with you a couple of big cars and live in a little cottage -- I really don't think you can do that -- and then complain that there's nowhere to put them. After all, you brought them there, and it's a nineteenth-century development where cars didn't exist, so you can hardly expect to find a place to put it now. But that's only my rather narrow look at it really! [laughs] But it's always as though it's their right to have a parking place, isn't it.
IW: You can't expect that in a place with those small houses. I'd love to be inside one and see just what they've done to them, because the first ones that were done were when Mrs Plum's house was and they went along there -- Connie Moules (née Whitmill?) lived in one of those too.
JR: Yes, in fact I did Connie for Sele, but I didn't at that time know we were going to do Folly Island. So I may go back to Connie and ask her, so...yes, she'll be a good one.
IW: This is not relevant really, but [laughs]...well, it isn't relevant but you can cut it out! When I was expecting my son, my first son, she was expecting as well, and I went to Ware and ordered a Pedigree pram. And every one was black or navy in those days, but this was coming out -- dark green. And when I went to collect my pram I had to have a black one because she's got my green one. And I always say to her, 'Well, you're awful! You've got my pram!' [laughs]
JR: Oh, so she went to get one and chose yours.
IW: Because her baby came earlier, she got my pram.
JR: But you'd ordered the green one?
IW: We always had a laugh about that.
JR: Oh. Did she know it was yours then?
IW: I expect so, because I probably said, 'You've got my pram!' We had to have a smile about it.
JR: When she was buying it, did she know it was already ordered?
IW: I don't know.
JR: Oh well, perhaps they didn't tell her!
IW: They used to have to get them in as they could, you know, because they didn't have big supplies of them. You ordered them and hoped to get it when the baby was born.
JR: Yes, you didn't have to have it straight away, did you. They kept it till you had a safe delivery. Even I remember this! [laughter] Some of those old prams were lovely, weren't they, really nice for the baby.
IW: I've seen a few of them about again, the tall ones. They were usually -- what were they called, posh ones?
IW: Marmet, that's right. Tall ones, yes. But having a little house in Port Vale, we couldn't really have a big one. In the houses in Port Vale, they were tiny.
JR: Could you pull it in over the threshold easily?
IW: Well, it was straight into the front room, and then there was three steps down to the kitchen. But it was a nice long garden there.
JR: Yes, but could you get to the garden without going through the house?
IW: Yes, because there was a door round the back, down to about three doors away, and you could use that as your back entrance.
JR: So what number in Port Vale were you?
JR: So now Marjorie Penney (Penny?) -- it was her father then who had the office on Folly Island?
IW: Yes. I can't honestly remember -- it was a nice brick building, and there was a sign outside but I can't remember what it was he did, but he had that. And next door to that was the Cooper's yard, I think.
JR: I think he was quite an important person at All Saints', wasn't he?
IW: He was an important person at All Saints', that's right, always a very smart man.
JR: 'Cos his wife, I think, had come -- or they may have lived there, where I'm talking about, then -- his wife lived at the first house in Park Road.
IW: Marjorie lives on the estate here.
JR: Yes, she does -- it's Marjorie -- I just can't think of her name!
IW: Here we go again! Do you find that? I'm on the phone, 'I can't remember that', and suddenly I remember it and I ring my friend back and say, 'That's what it was!'
JR: We'll remember when the tape's off, but it doesn't matter...we know who we mean.
IW: She's a very clever girl -- she makes...lovely toys she used to make. We used to, when the boys were...my son was at Sele, John went to the Grammar School, Phil went up here, and we belonged to the Friends of Sele -- and we used to have what we called 'a knit and natter night' once a week, and we made toys and all sorts of things for the school. And we had a big bazaar at Christmas, and we used to meet as I say on a Thursday night, I think it was, every week. And that was our night out. And we'd go to the Griffin and have a drink after we'd done it. Oh, we had some good nights there! We used to run the dancing...not run them...yes, I suppose they did. But we always did the sandwiches, get things ready for those sort of things up here.
JR: But did you know her when you...? Did she come down to her father's office, do you know?
IW: I didn't know her then. I don't even remember her when I was at school, but then I was only there for one term, you see, so I didn't get to know them all, but it was the Red Cross -- the lady, Mrs Baker, where they've got the travel shop, in Fore Street, that was Mrs Baker's tobacco shop, and the sweet shop, ***** -- but she was the Commandant. And Mrs Brooks was in it too, she was a lady, a well-known lady in the town, I think.
JR: She was mayor, was she?
IW: No, she wasn't, she might have been the sister of the mayor, but she was some relation. And she used to have us sit round there in the evenings to do sewing and that, a little craft evening, when I was a kid -- when I was 14, 16, something like that. I was in St John's when I was in Bibury. But we used to make jolly good things, and Marjorie used to come to that, and she'd got into toys, she used to make lovely toys, we had people in there who could do practically anything, or specialised in things. Except me -- I was always the wiper-upper, you know. Mary used to sit and sew. My sister was very clever at sewing.
JR: Was she older than you?
IW: Yes, there was four years between all of us. There was -- actually, Mum didn't marry till she was 28 -- and in that time she had...in 13 years she had five kids, because she had...Olive was the eldest, and then we had a baby called John -- no, Lawrence -- and then there was me. No, the first baby died just after he...he didn't last very long, he died in three or four days...
JR: This is Lawrence?
IW: No, Lawrie's the one that survived, no it was John that died.
JR: But you had John and Lawrence then, too...
IW: There were two boys, then me, then Lawrence, then Beryl. But Lawrence...I had a crisis or something, and in those days you used to have steam kettle, when the baby got chesty, they put him up in the room with a steam kettle, but of course it didn't do them any good, and he died, he was four months, which was sad. So she was left with the three girls, and Dad died when he was 41, so she had a hard life, my mother -- a good Mum though.
JR: So it was up to her to do everything and find you somewhere to live?
IW: Absolutely. But we did have good neighbours.
JR: Did she go to work?
IW: My Mum? When we got down here. She didn't work while we was in London because we had this little sweet shop, a corner shop. It didn't make much money...she came out with more debts owing to her [laughs] than she made, I think, 'cos we always had 'Put it on the tab,' you know, 'We'll pay you next week.' You couldn't argue because they wouldn't come in the shop again [laughs]. But when she came here, I forget what she did first of all. I think she worked at the Blackbirds and used to do the cooking there. And then sometimes the lady -- Mrs McWhirter, she was -- she'd say to Mum, 'It's my night off. Would you like to do the bar?' So she helped in the bar as well. And then she went to work in the café, that's still there, in Market Street -- you know, next to the fish shop?
JR: Railway Street.
IW: Yes, Railway Street, before it gets to the fish shop, she worked in there, with the cooking. And after that she went to work in Bengeo, for a Jewish lady, and she did cleaning for her, you know -- but everybody got on well with my Mum.
JR: So she had to work to keep the family?
IW: Well, she did, and she'd always let you borrow something, but you always had to pay it back. If you wanted a coat, you could have it, but she made you pay it back, we were never allowed to sponge on her, which was good. But you'd get to the end and she'd say, 'That's the end and here's so much back,' but she made us pay our way. It's brought back some memories, talking to you! And when you remember people's names after all these years...I can't remember what happened yesterday! [laughs]
JR: I think names, from my point of view, names are the worst thing, I can't remember names -- I can remember some sometimes, unexpectedly I'll come up with a name, or a name from the past, or suddenly pop out of nowhere, and I think, 'Who was that? Oh yes, I remember them.' This happens, I think, it's just the ageing process, I'm sure.
IW: I'm sure you're right there. It's a comfort to know that everybody...a lot of people are the same! [laughs]
JR: Yes, but funnily enough it doesn't happen with me with dates, I'm perfectly all right with dates, I think, but it's no good having a date if you can't relate a name to it. [laughter]
IW: That's quite right. They've been having a reunion, I worked for the War Agricultural Committee, and I was there till I married, and that was at Brickendonbury we were then.
JR: Did you go up there much?
IW: We did, I used to cycle up there.
JR: Is that...? Mrs Whiting worked up there, didn't she...Brickendonbury?
IW: I don't remember her being there, no, not Mrs Whiting. But -- I've lost my train of thought! -- they started having a little reunion. Of course, there are not very many of us left now, but we've been going up there. And the first week we had a badge with our names on and that was lovely. After that we didn't, and -- I knew them but I couldn't remember their names -- awful! It's quite nice having these little reunions, but they're getting less and less and less now.
JR: Less people, or less come, or falling by the wayside?
IW: Well, they're getting a bit too old. Some perhaps travel quite a distance, you know. So we were in County Hall for about a year or so, then after the war we all moved up to Brickendonbury.
JR: Well, it could have been that Mrs Whiting left before that time though. I'm just thinking when she was there...she was definitely there...
IW: I thought she worked for a solicitor, I don't know what makes me say that.
JR: She might have done afterwards but she certainly was up there at some point. Yes, towards the last years of the war, I think.
IW: That's when I was there. She was in a different department, although I practically knew everybody, I think. Sometimes it comes to me and I think, 'Now what was his name?' -- you know, the officers, because I worked in the Inland Revenue too, in the valuation office, but I had to go to Stevenage for that...I worked for a while in Sovereign House, and then we all had to go over to Stevenage. I get out a photograph and I think, 'I know him, but I can't remember the name!' [laughter] And then it'll suddenly click.
[rest of tape blank]