Thursday 12 July 2018


Writing my Families of Fairley Terrace series has been making me think a lot about my own childhood in the 1940s. Although of course things had moved on since the early part of the century, very much remained the same. Surprisingly so, considering how far everything has evolved in the last 50 years or so.
To begin with, when I was a little girl there were very few cars on the road. I used to sit for ages on the steps at the bottom of our path watching for one to pass by on the main road from Radstock to Frome with a notebook and pencil to take down the numbers - it took a very long time to fill a page. I saw a grey one regularly - our next door neighbour - who was the Miners' Union secretary, I think, and also a magistrate - drove about in it. My uncle owned both a motorbike and a car, Sometimes he would take us out in the car on a Sunday afternoon for a ride and a picnic, often to Masbury Ring on the Mendips. And on his way back to work at the NCB offices after having lunch with us, he used to give me and my sister a ride to the top of the hill sitting on the motor bike tank! No crash helmets or 'elf an' safety in those days!

All deliveries were made by horse and cart. The milkman, the baker, the grocery deliveries, all courtesy of the Co-op.. They came once a week on a Monday afternoon, the order having been taken by a man with an order pad who called on Friday afternoons. I used to really look forward to his visits - he always played with me, doing bits of my jigsaws etc - and I clearly remember being in love with him at 4-5 years old and hoping he would wait for me until I was grown up so that I could marry him!

The Co-op was locally owned and run and had their own farm, dairy and bakery as well as the retail shops - grocery, butchers, fish shop, drapery, furnishings and a cake and bread shop with a little café at the back. They also had dozens of horses to pull all their delivery carts and wagons. Almost every evening at about 6.30 pm they would be taken in a long string to the Co-op field (behind the Football Field) which could be accessed either by the main road or by what we called 'The Back Lane', now known as Old Frome Road. My sister and I would wait at the roadside until we heard the distant clip-clop, and if they were using the Back Lane, run through the house and up the back garden to watch them pass by. We were always disappointed if they had been taken to another Co-op field in Tyning, on the other side of the valley.
The railway delivery wagon was huge, with a green baize cover and was pulled by a big cart horse. And at the other end of the scale ponies pulled trucks of coal and coal waste from Ludlas colliery at the bottom of the hill on tracks that ran across the road. Often on our way to school or home again we had to wait for them to pass. They were later replaced by a kind of Puffing Billy.

Life was simple, we played out all day when it was fine, across the fields and in the Back Lane - Off-ground-touch, hopscotch, marbles, all kinds of chases that involved someone being 'on it' and the rest running as fast as they could. When it was beginning to get dark we would play 'What's the Time, Mr Wolf?' Every summer the Methodist Chapel held a fete in a field that is now all houses, preceded by a fancy-dress parade. A lady who lived in a row of four cottages on the Back Lane made the most amazing costumes out of crepe paper. For dozens of children! Stepping into her little living room for a fitting was like stepping into wonderland, beautiful costumes hanging from every possible hook - one year my sister was Little Bo Peep, with wonderful flounces. Oddly I don't remember exactly what any of mine were, I just know nothing was beyond Mrs Bristow's talents. One of our favourite sideshows at the fete was trying to get a metal ring round a multiply-twisted wire without touching it - it was wired to a battery and a bell rang if - when! - you failed. This was set up by a gentleman named Ralph Chivers who lived with his brother (both bachelors) in one of the Big Houses on the main road.

But there were drawbacks too. Mainly, as far as I'm concerned, the lack of any form of central heating. In winter I always seemed to feel cold. We had only one fire - in the living room - and an Aladdin oil stove for warming any other room when necessary. We either sat as close as possible to the fire and scorched our legs or froze. Water for the bath was heated in a copper and dipped out with a dipper while we filled saucepans from the tap at the bottom. At school there was just one coke stove per classroom, surrounded by a fire guard on which knickers could be dried if one of the pupils had an 'accident'. Our little bottles of milk would be stood beside it to thaw. The walls of the cloakroom ran with water, and when the loos in our outside toilet block froze over paraffin lamps would be put in them to try to unfreeze them. Most of all I hated the clothes I had to wear. I have very sensitive skin and the woollen vests and jumpers made me itch so much I was constantly shivering. How I hated those vests - particularly on a Monday morning when they were clean and tight. We wore fleecy liberty bodices too and very big knickers.

Other pet hates were: Milk of Magnesia on a Sunday evening 'to keep us regular' - ugh, that horrible thick powdery spoonful (though I loved orange Minidex for Vitamin C); lumpy dry mashed potato; and, in school, having to lie down for a rest after dinner. In the first year infants' class children lay on a coir mat on the floor, but as I had a 'bad ear' my mother insisted I lay on a wooden pallet bed because of draughts coming from under the doors. I hated feeling different as well as not being used to having to try to sleep in the day. In the second year Infants' we lay on desks, so at least I wasn't singled out, but it was still a very long half-hour or whatever.

This is turning into a very long trip down memory lane, so I think I'll have to save the rest for next time. But I can't leave without mentioning some of the everyday items that have disappeared from the face of the earth but were commonplace when I was a child. Zambuc, a wonderful thick green ointment that healed almost anything, but primarily the long 'cuts' on ones fingers from constantly being in water, either doing the laundry or the washing up. Minidex, as already mentioned, Thermogene, sort of pink cotton wool for putting inside your vest if suffering from a chesty cough - my grandmother used to use it - and tiny bottles of olive oil, bought from the chemist, and warmed by the fire before dripping into the ear to soften wax. And of course Gibbs Dentrifice tooth powder in a tin, as pictured above. You wetted the toothbrush and then scrubbed it round the tin's contents to make a paste. Our bathroom had a bath and a loo but no handbasin, so in summer we washed and cleaned our teeth in the kitchen, and in winter with a bowl on a stool in front of the fire.

So you see much of the world The Families of Fairley Terrace is set in I experienced too, and can easily fit myself into the early 1900s with the help of a little imagination. Time moved so much more slowly then, now the pace of life rackets by in the blink of an eyelid, with new innovations and discoveries we did not even dream of. And I count myself very lucky to have had the best of both worlds!