The London Kitchen Maid

Location : London, Thetford

I couldn't tell you the date but I was 14 and I was in service in Eccleston Square. I went there and I stayed and got on quite well. Then my sister decided she'd got a more exciting job in the Angel, the pub. But she was not in the pub and it was a sort of restaurant as well. So I went to cook for them after leaving Eccleston Square.

How did you get the Eccleston job?

Well, there was a service that would get you jobs in that sort of work. So I couldn't tell you the name ‘cause I've forgotten.

What did you enjoy most when you were at your first job in service?

I don't think you had much chance to enjoy anything.

Were you living nearby?

No I was living in Eccleston Square. There's a room at the top of the house.

What was that like, was that very basic or was that …

No, very good. And they had a housemaid and parlour maid and they were nice people. Miss N and C.N. her brother, they lived together there. And they, you know, employed us.

Did they give you any training?

Well, I didn't need any training. I just learnt to cook a little bit but then I had. As I say I was quite good as it was …

How long were the hours, were they very long hours when you worked?

Well, yeah, they were. You went to bed exhausted but it was good.

What time did you start in the mornings?

6 o'clock.

When did you finish?

10 at night.

Oh, yeah that's a long day.

Well you had the afternoon where you didn't do much work you know you just took your time over things.

Did they give you your meals?

Oh yeah.

Were they good, nice meals?

Yeah, I was a kitchen maid.

Tell me a bit about your second job you mentioned. Did you start working with your sister in the restaurant, after you finished in service?

Yeah, I was in the kitchen. I was a cook. And there was a chef there. Then I went back to see Mrs Bell the cook, where I worked before and she said, Oh she had so many kitchen maids she was sick of the sight of them. There wasn't one any good. And would I come back? So I did.

Oh that was nice, it's nice they appreciated you isn't it?

Yeah.

What was it like at the restaurant?

Oh gosh, horrible.

Was that hard work as well, was that long hours?

Yeah.

Did you live on the premises when you were at the restaurant?

Yeah.

Then where did you go on once you went back to work …

Went back to Victoria, to work. And she was so pleased!

How long did you stay there for with …?

Ooh … until I married I think, the start of the war.

What did you do then?

During the war?

Yes.

Do you know I can't remember.

Did you have children?

No, no I adopted a boy. I adopted a boy when I was married.

What was his name?

Brian Jeffrey.

How old was he when you adopted him?

He was only a tiny baby.

Where were you then, in London?

Yeah.

How did that make you feel? I bet that was lovely when you first held him?

Yeah. ‘Cause I couldn't have any of my own. He was a dear little soul. Married now.

Where does he live now?

In London [actually High Wycombe]. Do you know it's silly isn't it when you can't remember?

No, not to worry. I don't always remember things. What about Christmas, do you remember how you celebrated Christmas?

Where?

When you were married with your little boy?

Oh, no quietly. ‘Cause the war was gonna start.

What was the house like you lived in?

Oh, quite nice. Big house. One of the old houses you know. These landlords bought them and put tenants in. And I was lucky ‘cause my sister lived underneath.

What did you use to do in your leisure time? When you was younger did you go to dances and the pictures?

Yeah.

What films did you like watching?

I forget now. So many years ago! ‘Cause I'm 90 now! I've travelled a lot.

Where have you been?

Oh all over the place. Went to, the last place was New Zealand.

How long was you over there for?

We stayed with relations. Fortnight, little plus more.

Did you enjoy it, was it a nice place?

Oh yeah.

When was it that you went, do you remember?

No.

Where else have you visited?

Oh all over the place. My husband was very fond of the sun and so we followed the sun.

Did you visit South Africa?

No

Been to America?

No, just through it. Stayed there one night. We ‘ad to be locked in the rooms because it's too dangerous.

Where was you on your way to, was that on your way to New Zealand?

Yeah.

What else would you like to talk about that you can remember?

I can't remember much. Yet it goes through my mind you know.

What sort of music did you like when you were younger?

Oh good music. Not jazz or anything. I've had a very good life. Working, working hard but good.

Did you have any pets when you were growing up

Yeah.

What did you use to have?

Dogs.

Ah, they're nice aren't they?

Had Boxer dogs when I was married. They were lovely.

What were they called?

I can't remember. I gave them away, I had to give one away in the end ‘cause I couldn't bring it with me.

Oh what when you moved here?

Yeah.

Did you use to go to the coast?

Oh yeah.

Whereabouts did you go?

Do you know. Went over most places where we used to go for holiday and stay. I can't remember their names.

Was it very busy?

Yeah.

What did they used to have on the beach, did they have rides and different things?

Donkeys.

Did you have a ride on them?

No.

Did your son?

Gosh no. Too, too old I thought.

Did they have fair grounds as well on there?

Yeah. We ‘ad a fairground that used to come every year to the village where I was living when I was young.

What sort of things did they have?

All sorts.

Did you have Candy Floss and different things?

Mm. I didn't like it. Didn't like the Candy Floss. And I don't take sugar.

Do you like chocolate?

Got an Easter egg in the cupboard in the drawer. I thought I'd give it to somebody who'd got a child you know.

Can you tell me what the shops were like?

Oh we had one shop, where you used to buy our sweets.

What sort of sweets did you used to buy?

Whatever, whatever we had money for. Which wasn't much, a penny! Had a penny pocket money at the weekend.

What was your favourite, what did you use to like to save your penny up for?

Depends what sort of shop. Not mints.

You didn't like those?

Not particularly.

What about Violets, did you have Violet sweets then?

Yeah. I didn't like the … I didn't like the scent.

What was it like in your greengrocer's shop? Did you used to buy in bulk?

No, just buy cans of this and that you know. Whatever I wanted. The village shop used to sell everything. You know green grocering and groceries. I used to like going over there at the night time and helping. I was quite young but I enjoyed it.

Did they have a post office in there as well?

No. No had a separate post office.

Did they have a village pub as well?

Oh yeah. Lots of them.

Did you ever go?

No.

Was that more of the men's place?

Yeah.

Did they have a church?

Yeah, a chapel though. Only went to the chapel ‘cause there was a chapel Wesleyan. Used to have anniversaries, where we used to have to have a nice new dress you know. Tiered seats.

What sort of dress did you wear?

Oh, depending on what my sisters would get for me. My oldest sister was good. She always bought me a very pretty dress.

What colour was it?

White.

Was it a silky material?

Yes, as far as I can ‘member. We had … some of the girls would sing and some would decide which charity. Be something, you had to be taught.

Did you used to sing in the choir?

No I got a voice like a foghorn. My sister had a lovely voice.

Was she in the choir?

No. But she had a lovely voice. She married a chap who had a very good voice and he was a pianist as well. So they used to sing together. It was lovely. Then we used to live in a house together. Had a flat upstairs and they had the flat downstairs and could hear them on the piano. And she would sing. And he had a nice voice as well. He used to sound like Richard Tauber.

Did you like reading when you were younger?

Yeah. Used to smuggle my books in to the bedroom and read under the cover.

What sort of books did you used to read?

Oh all sorts.

Did you like adventure ones?

Uh huh. It hasn't been a very exciting life but a good one! Never thought, never thought I'd live to be 90!

The mine closed and then we came to London. (Lila's father was a miner). I wasn't at work then I was still at school. Then I went to work in Victoria. Victoria, Eccleston Square. And I stayed there for years. Then I went back one day to see the cook where I lived. She said "Have you got a job?" I said "Yeah." And she said "You wouldn't mind giving it up and coming back." So I thought about it. And I did. She said she had girls who were absolute rubbish. They didn't want to work.

Did you use to have social get togethers at the big house when you worked there?

No. No it was all work. But good. Bought us a lot of lovely presents.

What sort of things did they buy you?

Dresses, whatever you wanted. Would ask you know: "What would you like for Christmas?" Could have a dressing gown, all that sort of thing.

Did they ever get perfume for you?

No.

Did you meet up outside of work at all?

Not very well, not very much. ‘Cause they're a lot older than me. The parlour maid was Miss Wills.

Did a lot of the other staff have families?

Yeah. They'd go home for a day off you know. Or half days it was.

What did you use to do on your half day off?

Go home .'Cause my parents had moved to London. My father was a commissionaire. Very smart.

How long did it take you to get home?

Not long on a bus. ‘Cause my parents lived in London. My mother went to work to cook.

What days off did you use to get, did you use to get like Christmas and Bank Holidays off?

No.

What sort of food did you use to have?

What when I was in service?

Yeah.

Good. Very good.

Did they give you anything special to eat on Christmas day?

No, proper Christmas dinner.

Did you get the pudding and the cream afterwards as well?

Yeah.

Did they let you have a nice tea as well?

Uh huh. Oh they were very good really.

Where did you eat that, did they let you eat with them or did you have to eat in …?

Oh no not with them. Oh we had servants' hall.

Even on Christmas day?

Uh huh. Well it was better that way 'Cause they would have their friend.

Oh you felt more comfortable did you there?

Uh huh.

How was your health, were you very healthy when you were young?

Yeah. Usual childhood ailments you know. But nothing very much.

Did you have Measles and Mumps?

Yeah. We'd catch them at school.

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