On this oral history interview you can hear memories of growing up in the Fordington area of Dorchester. Of going to the girls primary school in Icen Way and playing on Salisbury Field. Her grandparents lived next door and she lived with them for a large portion of her life. She talks about how Saturday morning pictures were a raucous affair. She loved taking her pram out as a young girl and later going for walks with a friend; her favourite walk was the Bockhampton path which leads to the Hanbury estate (now Kingston Maurward college). How as a young girl she spoke to Billy Hammett, a son of one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
How did you play as a child?
I wasn’t allowed to go out. I had two younger brothers and we weren’t allowed in the street. We had a back yard and then a garden and we were kept there. My earliest real memories was going to Salisbury Field in Fordington which was a real adventure. I was about 7 or 8. I was not allowed out of the house before that. The infant school was opposite – I used to disappear as soon as I could walk and I would go over to the school and my mother would collect me. I started school at three and a half or four. At seven I went to the girls primary school in Icen Way (now a sports hall). From seven onwards I was allowed to go out to play. I liked the swings in Salisbury Fields. I remember the first day they opened a boy broke his leg. The Beagle locked up in the evening and the swings were locked up on Sundays. It was a very tight knit community, you towed the line because someone would tell your mother if you didn’t and you’d get a good hiding. It was mostly boys who were daredevils. I liked it at Salisbury fields when they cut the grass. We would build dens and play cowboys and Indians and mothers and fathers. I loved my dolls pram. I can remember I was just 10 and the day my father went into hospital I took my dolls pram to Prince of Wales Road (they had cars with chauffeurs there then), South Court Ave was in its infancy.
I liked the swings in Salisbury Fields. I remember the first day they opened a boy broke his leg.
I was born in my grandparents’ house as my father was at sea. Grandfather had been in the Navy and was later a coastguard. They lived next door which was a disaster as my grandmother was a second Queen Victoria and they looked on me as their child. It was dreadful, she would march me into town to buy a felt hat two sizes too big and pad it out with newspaper to make it last. In summer I would have a straw hat. I asked mother why she let her do it. My grandparents marched into our house anytime they wanted and they often had words and wouldn’t speak to mother for three months – I was the go between. I look back now and think it was a strange set up but it was quite common in those days. There were an awful lot of deaths amongst children. Couples would take out life insurance as diphtheria, consumption and rickets were rife. Many young mothers died in childbirth.
I used to go to the Saturday afternoon pictures sometimes if someone would take me. It cost 3d at the Plaza and 2d at the Palace. There was only the Palace in Durngate Street until 1933. Palace did sometimes do a morning but the Plaza never did. They started with a comic film then there was news and the trailers and a break and then the big picture. It was a raucous affair. Girls didn’t shout and carry on as they do now but the boys did…and stamped their feet. Commissionaires would walk down the aisles and threaten to throw them out – they would take notice of the commissionaires. There were lots of cowboys and indians films.
We were brought up to be young ladies but when we left school we used to ape the film stars like the Zigfield Follies with perms and we used to titivate ourselves because otherwise the boys wouldn’t go out with you.
We always left the cinema in an orderly fashion – Mr Cotterell wouldn’t stand for any nonsense. If the children were really defiant they would get a cuffed ear and if they went home and complained they would get cuffed again.
Everything had a place and a place for everything and everyone knew their place. This was a favourite expression of my grandmother. I was brought up like a naval rating. Everything was based on routine. I went from Sunday school to church then came home lunch at 1pm. Back to Sunday school at 2.30 in best clothes and then I could go for a walk with a friend – we’d walk miles. My favourite was the Bockhampton path which leads to the Hanbury estate (now Kingston Maurward college). Sometimes we’d come back via Stafford Road and the other road through the village and back through Dark Hill and that’s the road where the houses are built for the staff working at Kingston Mauward. One Sunday I was lumbered with my two brothers and one of their friends and we were in Oddy’s meadow (where steam engine is). I liked to pick flowers for mother near the edge near the river where cows stood in stream. My brother fell into one of the bogs and I was blamed. Another Sunday we were in the field where the Dorchester Show is held now and there was a goat was roaming around loose. My brothers were about 8 and 10 and they annoyed this goat and they had to run. We were allowed to roam across fields, public footpaths not really known. All the land belonged to the Hanbury estate. Sir Cecil Hanbury had a path made of gravel from his house to Dorchester because he like to walk into Dorchester. The path was immaculate and everyone walked it. There were no gates. Everyone walked in those days, no one had bikes until they worked. My brothers started work at 12, one at Freeman Hardy Willis and the other at Timothy Whites. We all got jobs after school hours and on Saturdays. The brewery employed quite an army of youngsters after school and summer holidays who were paid 3/6d to clean the kilns where they roasted the hops.
Families couldn’t get you out to work quick enough. Boys were very hard on their clothes. Those who needed the money got jobs and then they might get a bike (1/6d a week). The average wage was £2 with rent about 10s a week. The rent of the house in Hardy’s Avenue was 7/6d a week.
Were there many children playing in Salisbury Fields when you played there?
Yes, everybody’s community stayed within that community. Children from St Georges Road seldom came to Salisbury Fields.
What happened if a strange child came?
They were not welcomed and they probably didn’t come often. There was a real community spirit. Men were very loyal to certain pubs. Grandfather wouldn’t go to the Union Arms (now the Quakers) as he didn’t like the landlady. If the landlord said the wrong thing they wouldn’t go in.
Would you play with different age groups?
Yes we would play with different age groups. I’m really talking about the period between 8 and 12 there was an emphasis on discipline and work. When I went to my father’s funeral I was 10. When I came back to home the first thing grandmother said was ‘Now you’ve got to help your mother’. I had to help get the meals and I was sent on errands and did most of the shopping. We had to shop everyday as there were no fridges. I wasn’t allowed to run the streets and I had to go for walks with grandmother. I remember the Centenary of Tolpuddle Martyrs in August 1934. We were walking down Holloway Road, I was 9, and there was this little old man sitting in his doorway on a stool. My grandmother knew everyone and talked to him, he must have spoken to me and Grandmother said ‘Now you can say you spoke to the son of one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs that was Billy Hammett’. He was the son of James Hammett and he ended his days with an Irish widow lady in Holloway Road. Grandmother wanted to know what was going on and had he been to the Corn Exchange? No one had told him about the Centenary celebrations and he never went to any of the festivities.
My childhood was different, I realised that as I grew older. The day you left school you were an adult and had to dress and behave as an adult. Young ladies don’t do that, young ladies don’t do the other. I was groomed to behave like that. When you went for a job where you lived and how you spoke counted. You learned to drop your Dorset accent or your Dorset words. Another interesting thing I was born only 6 years after the First World War and injured service men would sit in South Street with pictures on the pavement. I can vividly remember men on the road walking to get work in the 30’s during the depression. They would carry a billy can and knock on the door and ask if it could be filled with tea and could you spare some bread. If there was a policeman they wouldn’t dare as they’d be in prison . Mother would say ‘Move on round the corner’ and she would take something for them and encourage them to move on. She would fill the can and give some bread even though we were very hard up. We always did things for one another.
Where was your local shop?
There wasn’t a local shop only a sweetshop cum grocery shop. My mother shopped mainly at Liptons because her brother had worked there and her mother had shopped at Liptons. It was in South Street two along from Woolworths (now Poundland). Grocers, greengrocers, tobacconists etc stuck to what they sold. We had to pay cash. A tin loaf was 4.5d. The log man came on Saturdays and sold apples in the autumn. All the tradesmen became friends. The baker used to walk in when mother was bathing us on Saturday mornings in front of the fire and stand there chatting.
Mother had been in service and was very particular about certain items even though we didn’t have much money. Grandmother had Camp coffee, mother said ‘I don’t want that chicory stuff’. She got coffee ground which was a treat for her, she wouldn’t drink Camp coffee. One of her great treats for herself was an egg custard in the oven after she’d made the Sunday lunch.
We didn’t like going to Grandmother’s, her food was awful but we didn’t dare say anything. When Woolworth’s opened Grandfather would buy a pound of liquorice allsorts kept in a tin on top of the dresser and every morning before going to school would be given three sweets. On Wednesday and Saturdays they would buy 3 halfpenny buns and we each had one for tea. I was always on the dot because I slept in my grandparents’ house from when I was 7. It happened because in 1932 Grandfather took me to Dover to see his parents and my mother had someone visiting. I never went back to sleep at home. Grandfather couldn’t get used to an empty house, he liked to have someone there.
How old were you when you played with the dolls pram?
I had it when I was very young, I must have been about 3 or 4 when I got the first one. Then I got another and was still pushing it out when I was 10, that was when childhood really finished.
Did you have a radio?
We didn’t have a radio when I was very young. My mother’s brother went off to the Navy and when the war finished there was a reciprocal arrangement and he went to the Australian navy for seven years. He went there in 1922 and I was always hearing about this mysterious uncle. When he came back to England he brought my grandparents first wireless with an accumulator (early 1930’s). Grandmother had a Dorothy bag and in the bag was the accumulator and she would take it to Jewell and Norcombe in South Street to be charged. She would take one battery in and take another back. We had no electricity until after World War II. My grandparents had oil lamps and my parents had gas downstairs and candles upstairs and it stayed that way until after Second World War. My grandparents got electricity about 1947 or 48. We didn’t have a wireless until the war, it was a radio relay – for people who couldn’t afford a radio. My mother’s pension went on the rent and got she got £1 a week on the parish. The radio relay had the home service and light service. It was operated from Lorne Road, someone had a centre and houses were wired up to it. They also had a shop in High East Street. Mr Brown in Coburg Road organised it and had quite a few customers. There was a box on the wall and you could tune in. My grandparents had a proper wireless that uncle bought so if we wanted to listen to anything special went in there. At start of the war mother let one of the bedrooms and we were able to afford 1s 6d for radio relay.
Did you have any other toys?
I had dolls and a dolls pram. The pram was given by a neighbour. There was money available when I was little. There was my father and my grandfather who was comfortably off as he’d worked 22 years in navy and 9 years in coastguards. He was still comparatively young, he would have been in his late 50’s. He was able to earn a small wage and then he came on to the old age pension and so he had three pensions.
Did you get pocket money?
I earned money by doing errands. I used to get 2d a week from a neighbour for doing shopping. There was no money available for pocket money. Occasionally family used to visit and then you might get 6d, that would be the most you would get.
Did you join the Guides?
No I wasn’t interested and anyway I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.
What did you do at break time at school?
In primary school I played ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’, skipping and hopscotch.
At 14 I left school. I didn’t go straight to work for the first six months I studied book keeping at night school then I got my first job at Boon stores which was quite close to where Boots is now. I left there and went to the Iron Foundry in the office and got 10s a week. Most went to Mother and I was left with 2s 6d.
Did you buy clothes?
No they were rationed. I remember buying a 6d box of face powder from Woolworths and my grandmother threw it on the fire. She gave me 2s6d to buy some corsets. I bought a roll on but grandmother made me take it back. Grandmother’s favourite expression was If the old queen were alive she wouldn’t allow it. When uncle bought a television she was outraged. Ideas took a while to filter down. Dorchester was a backwater people who came down from London beyond the pale.
What did you do as a young adult?
I didn’t do anything really until I joined the Wrens. For a while there were no cinemas and no lights because of the war. The town was alive with soldiers and I was not allowed out. When I did walk round the Frome innocently with a soldier I was seen by brother who told my mother and I was banned from going out. When I went to dances I had to be in by 9.30pm. I never stayed out late until joined Wrens and then I had to be in by 10.00pm except for one night a week when we could stay out until 11.00.