Tilly describes a tough childhood in Mile Cross before a long and happy marriage, full of singing and dancing.
Childhood and happy schooldays in Mile Cross
I went to live in Mile Cross when I was about five years old. We lived at the Gildencroft because we were Quakers but then my dad was thrown out because he worked at the brewery and he smoked. They were very strict then and they didn’t believe in it, so we weren’t recognised as Quakers any more. So we went to live at 78 Bolingbroke Road at Mile Cross. It was a new three bedroomed house and it was lovely. Lovely garden. Nice kitchen, living room, front room. Nice bath. There weren’t a wash basin, there was a big old boiler, or a geyser, and you used to have to light that up and the water run into the bath if you wanted a bath. The separate lavatory was next door and you went into it up a step. My brothers used to sleep top and tail in bed, and my sister and I had the little bedroom. We shared a bed as well. They were beautiful those houses, lovely houses up there. All the same, with proper bathrooms.
When we went there there was my eldest brother, myself, my sister and my mum and dad. All my younger brothers were born at Bolingbroke Road, three of them were born there. We had a beautiful garden. My dad did all the flowers and all the vegetables and he used to make us go and water the garden.
We lived right opposite the Boundary pub and when we were children we used to go round there and play with the children of the people who kept the pub. Men and women went to the pub. They used to sit outside and pass the kiddies a drink at times. Opposite there was Chambers the fish and chips shop, and coming down there was two little cottages, the first was Barnes’ butchers where we used to go and get the old faggots. Used to have a basin and bring it home hot in the basin. Used to give me sixpence and you got a whole big basinful. From there we used to go in Fenwick’s, which was a general store, and get some groceries and our sweets.
Every night I went over to Wirrals, all groceries and sweet shop and fruit, and help them clear all the fruit away and take it inside. I was a bit rude sometimes because I used to nick some to take home to my brothers. I really was! I’m being honest here! He paid me a little. We were very hard up. We never had much money. We were the hard done kids, I’ll tell you! We had to work hard for what we got. To keep my brothers I used to have to go scrubbin’ out offices and doin’ little jobs. I used to work for the doctor who lived up across the church where the bread place used to be, up that way. I didn’t get a lot of money. Only got a few pennies for what you done.
I went to Dowson School and I wore a gym slip and blouse. I loved school. Loved gymnastics. I loved being there. I had a little old bike. Used to ride to school on it and they all used to laugh at me because I was always getting punctures. They always laughed about my bike because I was still a joker and teaser when I was at school, and I used to lark about all the while. I was a naughty girl at school but they all loved me. I had a lot of friends. They used to say ‘Here she come’. Oh yeah, I got on well at school. I did well at Dowson School. Very nice school that.
I used to go down Sloughbottom Park with a lot of my friends. I played netball and I loved it. Yeah, we used to muck about there quite a bit. We used to have sports days, have runnin’ days. Oh, I enjoyed that. I was a good athlete.
‘Our little girl can sing!’
I used to get up and give my friends a song. When I was a little girl my mum and dad took me to see my Granny and my Granddad up Stepping Lane, and when I got up there they said to me ‘Sing to Granny and Granddad’ which I did, and I sang ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’. I was only a little girl and they hold my hand and I sang it to them and my mum and dad turned to each other and said ‘Our little girl can sing!’. And I could sing! I sang as a little girl and all my life I’ve sang to people, in Spain, in England, everywhere I’ve been. At school I used to get up and sing in the class. I was a singer then. I loved it, I really did and I didn’t really worry about standing up in front of people. I was always a bit conscious though. I stopped singin’ to the women over the road about three year ago and that was the last time I sang. My lungs were bad and I couldn’t get my notes properly, so I just packed up singin’. That was about 80 years I was singin’. I used to sing in the bars in Spain and the last time was when I sang ‘My Way’, and the whole bar went quiet and everybody clapped and my husband was that proud! I’ll always remember. It’s a good memory, that. It was beautiful.
Running the home at 13 years old
My mother was very ill after she had my young brother. She had cancer and I was 13 when I left school because I had to nurse her. Did all the housework, all the cleanin’, looked after my brothers, brought my brothers up. My dad was alive then. Nurse Cavell used to come in and inject my mum twice a day. They used to for cancer in those days. And then we lost her. She was laid to rest in our front room. They used to bring the coffins home and put them in your front room. People came to pay their respects.
At first I had to be at home to do the housework and do the best to feed them and that. I was very young but I’d always been taught to manage from a young girl. I’d helped my mum when she was alive. She shew me how to cook and what to do, and talked to me ‘cos she had her bed down in the front room and I used to help her out of bed, carry her to her chair and put her dressing gown on while we were waitin’ for the nurse. My mum used to make me get down and polish the old floor, the old lino. Oh my God! We had to keep the outside very clean as well. People used to polish their doorsteps. We had to scrub all the steps, keep ‘em all clean.
The neighbours were very good and they used to help me. Oh yeah, I remember them all. They used to ask if I was gettin’ on all right. They did have children my age who played with my brothers most of the time. When my dad died they brought him home, like my mother, had him in the front room. I mean everybody congregated when they knew that we’d lost my mum and my dad. My eldest brother was good and helped. Then he got married and left, and then my sister who was only 18, left and got married, very young.
I done the washin’ on a Monday and I had a beer crate to stand on and a big old tin bath. I had a big old copper what we used to boil up and a scrub board and I used to have to stand up there all day doin’ all the washin’. I had to put it all into the copper and boil it all up on gas. We had a big old mangle outside. I always remember, I weren’t married to W then, but he used to come and mangle the old washin’. We used to use the old blues too, and I had one of them flats, ‘cos we had an open fireplace with two little hobs on and you used to close them up, get the flats hot, get them off and iron with the old hot iron. We had a gas oven, a little old black, dirty gas oven and we used to do the cookin’ with that.
Nights out at the Lido and finding a husband
When I was young we used to go swimmin’ at the Lido and then that was covered over as a dance floor. We used to go down there night times when they had dances on. Foxtrot and waltzes and ballroom dancin’. Americans from the bases used to come, there was all sorts. Ooh, met lots of boys down there! There was always a live band. We used to get dressed up and I’d go to a jumble sale to pick out what dresses I could find. They didn’t have charity shops then but they had jumble sales and if you could find somethin’ you were pleased. You used to renovate it up a bit and make a nice dress out of it. Sometimes my sister had better clothes than me so I used to borrow hers. And that’s how I lived.
After my mother died I met my husband. He was a local boy and he was in the Military Police up Britannia Barracks. I met him down at the Lido. My dad did give me away when I got married but he never wanted me to marry him because I was engaged to a sailor. I didn’t break my engagement, I was told the sailor, who was in the War, had died when his submarine had sunk, so I thought he’d passed on. So with that I met my husband and fell in love and we married. I remember my dad sayin’ ‘That’s the wrong man. You shouldn’t have got married’. I remember him sayin’ that, but I had a beautiful 60 years with him.
My mother was 40 when she died and my dad was 50 when he died of cancer. When I first got married we stayed on at Bolingbroke Road to look after my dad until he died. Then the Council put it over to us I and we had the house to bring up the children. We were living there for a while and then, as the boys were growing up, my husband was still in the army and he had to go away at times so I was there with the boys. After I was married I worked at Howlett & White’s down Duke Street, and Baxter & Webster’s. I used to go down there on my bike. When W and I went up to Lancashire we took my little brother with us and brought him up. My eldest brother took over 78 Bolingbroke Road and so that house was in our family name for years.
Looking back on a long life
Mile Cross was a very nice place. I remember the two bowling greens they had at Suckling Avenue, Rye Avenue, Kirkpatrick Road, Norman School, I remember all them. I did have a hard childhood and worked hard all my life actually, ever since I left school. I was brought up hard and worked hard. As a landlady I worked very hard. We moved from the Mitre on Earlham Road to the Royal Oak at Ormesby which was a hotel as well as a pub and we worked hard there. I had people coming in for bed and breakfast and fed ‘em all. I used to sit them all down and, at times, I catered for a hundred odd people. I did all the cookin’, all the cleanin’. I had staff come and help me plate up and I used to serve it all out myself, and I used to set all the tables up. I had four girls come in and help set up.
I am proud of my life. I’ve had a good life, a lovely life. A wonderful husband I had, he was a good man. I’ve lived to a ripe old age. I ain’t grumblin’. I’ve had a marvellous 91 years, I have.
Maude (Tilly) (b. 1918) was talking to WISEArchive on 9th November 2009 in Norwich.
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