Working Lives

The London Kitchen Maid (1934-1940s)

Location: London, Thetford

Lila’s family moved to London after Silkworth colliery where her father worked closed and at 14 went to work as a kitchen maid in Eccleston Square, Victoria. Apart from a short time working in a restaurant with her sister, she worked there until she was married at the beginning of the second world war. She also remembers her village childhood.

In service in London

When the mine closed we came to London. I was still at school. When I was 14 I went to work in Victoria. Eccleston Square. And I stayed there for years.

I lived in a room at the top of the house. I was a kitchen maid. They had a housemaid and parlour maid as well. A lady and her brother lived together there. They were nice people.

The hours were long. You went to bed exhausted but it was good. You started at six o’clock and finished at 10 at night. But you had the afternoon where you didn’t do much work, you just took your time over things.

A lot of the staff had families and went home for a day or half day off. I did when my parents had moved to London. My father was a commissionaire. Very smart. My mother went to work to cook.

We didn’t get Christmas and Bank Holidays off. But we got a proper Christmas dinner with the pudding and the cream afterwards as well? We ate in the servants’ hall. They had their friends.

They would buy us dresses, whatever you wanted. Would ask  : ‘What would you like for Christmas?’ Could have a dressing gown, all that sort of thing.

Once my sister decided she’d get a more exciting job in the Angel, the pub. So I went to cook for them in their restaurant after leaving Eccleston Square. And there was a chef there. I was in the kitchen. But it was horrible at the restaurant, hard work. I lived on the premises.

Then I went back one day to see the cook at Eccleston Square. 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.

Married life

I stayed there until I married I think, at the start of the war. We adopted a boy as a tiny baby, cause I couldn’t have any of my own. He was a dear little soul – married now.

We lived in a big old house. Landlords bought them and put tenants in. And I was lucky because my sister lived underneath.

We went to dances and the pictures. We went to the coast for holidays with our son. There were donkeys on the beach.

We had had Boxer dogs when I was married. They were lovely. I had to give one away because I couldn’t bring it with me when I moved here.

I have travelled all over the place. The last place was New Zealand. We stayed with relations for about  a fortnight. Stayed one night in America on our way to New Zealand. We had to be locked in the rooms because it’s too dangerous.

Remembering childhood in the village

We had a fairground that used to come every year to the village where I was living when I was young. I didn’t like the candy floss – I don’t take sugar. 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.

We had one shop, where we used to buy our sweets. Just had a penny pocket money at the weekend. I didn’t like mint or violet sweets.

The village shop used to sell everything. Green grocery and groceries. I used to like going over there at the night time and helping. I was quite young but I enjoyed it.

There was a separate post office and lots of village pubs. They were more for men.

There was a church but we went to the Wesleyan chapel. Used to have anniversaries, where we used to have to have a nice new dress you know. My oldest sister was good. She always bought me a very pretty dress. White silky material.

Some of the girls would sing and some would decide which charity. I didn’t sing in the choir, I’ve got a voice like a foghorn. My sister 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. We 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.

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

Eliza (Lila) (1920-2011) talking to WISEArchive in Mundford on 12th May 2010.

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