A grandmothers story

This little chapter was written by Mrs Jean Offen formerly Walker around Xmas 1999 for her grandchildren.  Jean was responding to their questioning "Grandma, what was it like when you were a little girl in Palterton"

This is her verbatim account, "warts an' all".  Photos will be added soonest.

This year I'm going to tell you the story of my wonderous childhood.

First I want you to imagine a world where there is no electricity, hardly any cars and very little money.  You may think that sounds awful, but I assure you it wasn't, I suppose it was a case of what you have never had you never miss.

I was born in Palterton in the middle of a harsh winter in 1934.  My mum gave birth to me at home, as most mothers did then, with the local midwife to help, there was no going into hospital for ordinary folk.  I grew into a weedy child, because like Sophie, I didn't care much about food, but I was surrounded by love and kindness.

My Aunty Mary (West) lived next door.  She was a big fat comfortable woman, who was always good for a cuddle.  One of my favourite things was to snuggle my head into her enormous breasts, especially when my mum was cross with me.

My Aunty Rose and Audrey lived just the other side of the jennel, Audrey was four years older than me and I adored her.  She put up with years of me following her around, trying to copy everything she did and had.

We lived at 43 Main street, which was then called 3 Orchard Terrace, Palterton.

There was my mum and dad and my big brother Tom.  The house was comfortable but not posh, we had three bedrooms, but no bathroom, a front room, which was nicely furnished, with a 3 piece suite, a carpet square, and line round the edges, but no one was allowed to go in there except at Christmas.

The main living area was the Living Room.   This had a tatty leather suite, a big table (which on occasions could be made even bigger) and umpteen chairs, 4 of which matched, and the side board, which is now at Aunty Jane's.  The room was dominated by the big black range.  This provided the heating in the form of a huge coal fire.  The cooking facilities, which were a side oven, surmounted by a hob, and a trivet which swung over the fire, and which seemed to permanently hold a boiling kettle, to provide tea for everyone who stepped over the threshold, on the other side of the fire was the water boiler, which was filled with buckets of water carried from the one cold water tap in the kitchen.  The whole contraption was worked by a series of dampers, which transferred the heat, as required from the oven to the boiler.  About 3 feet up and over the whole length of the range was a rack, which did wonderful things, it warmed plates, aired clothes, dried peed knickers, kept food warm, rose bread, and dried her^s from the garden, often all at the same time. high up and over the whole thing was the mantelpiece, which housed Mum's best things and over that the mirror which only the tallest people could see into.

A huge fire guard stood in front of the hearth, this was not only protection from the fire, but a clothes dryer and a seat for all the adults.  The height of my ambition was to grow tall enough to get my bum perched on the fire guard along with everyone else.

The kitchen was not like any kitchen you know, it had white washed walls and two long shelves along one side, which housed the cast iron pans and cooking equipment, under the window was a big brown stone sink into which ran the one and only tap.  In the corner was a built in copper.  It was brick built, with a large copper vessel let in, underneath which was a space for a fire to be lit to boil the water to wash the clothes.

Washing day was a very busy day.  My mum got up very early to light the fire under the copper, then fill the copper with water, meanwhile she sorted all the clothes, dragged in the washing machine, (this was a luxury owned by few people) and was jointly owned by my mum, Aunty Mary and Aunty Rose.  They had each paid 6d (2.5p) a week for a year to buy it and each had the use of it on a different day of the week.  When sufficient water was heated to fill both the washer and the copper, wash day could begin.  The famous washing machine was filled first with best white clothes, the lid went down and mum stood and worked the handle on the top, back and forth to agitate the clothes, when they had been given sufficient time, they were mangled, then put into the copper to boil.

Load followed load, getting darker and dirtier with each pile, until finally my dad's pit clothes went in and after that the water looked like black ouze and was at last discarded.  It was very arduous work, my mum would be dashing about like a loony, as each load was washed and mangled, the whites were boiled and mangled, they were then rinsed in the sink, then mangled again, and then weather permitting, pegged out on the line.

I loved the days when it rained and the clothes had to be dried indoors on the fire guard and a double fold clothes horse, because I could take my best toys and make a little house in the square between the guard and the clothes horse.  Even now I remember that lovely feeling of away from it all, that I experienced in my little hideaway.

At the end of the day, with the clothes all dried and folded ready for the next days ironing marathon, Mum would light the gas lights, shout Dad up to get ready for work - my Dad always worked on the night shift at the pit, and we would have a wee while listening to the radio before we saw him off on the pit bus.

Although we had no electricity, we had a radio.  It was housed in a special cabinet that was about 4ft long, 4ft high and 18inches deep and it had 4 doors, you opened up the top 2 doors and there was the radio, with its dozens of knobs and tuners.  In the bottom sections were the lead accumulator batteries, 4 of them each as big as a car battery, 2 were connected to the radio, and two were on standby.  This was necessary because they had to be taken to Frank Audis to be re-charged for a day when they went flat.  As I got older, it was one of my jobs to take the batteries to be re-charged, and if you didn't carry them very carefully, the acid spilled out, and if I got any on my clothes, it of course burned holes, and I got a good hiding from my mum.

I didn't like ironing day, because my mum used to get very irritated, and when I think back, it was no wonder.  The irons she used were flat irons, which were heavy cast iron things about the same shape as the ones you see now, but they had to be heated on a little shelf attached to the bars of the fire.

The temperature control was to spit on the sole, and if the spit rolled off in balls the iron was hot enough, the main danger was of the iron getting smoked, then black soot would be transferred onto the beautifully washed clothes and my mum would swear.

Friday was a busy day too, in the late afternoon - early evening the market came to Bolsover and we caught the bus to go and do the shopping.  I remember most the winter Friday afternoons, when the market was all lit up by oil lamps, and it was magical, all the lovely things on display, sweetie stalls and toy stalls, clothes and green grocery, shoes and biscuits, the whole market place, which incidentally was the proper market place, was alive with people, the stall holders shouted their wares as they used to do.  When Mum had spent up, and bought us our treat, we caught the bus home.

Then with the shopping all stored away, it was time to drag in the big tin bath, because Friday night was bath night.

The most exciting day of the week though, was 'Shit Cart Day'.

A little explanation is necessary I think, you see, there was no proper sewage, and so there were no flush toilets.  Instead there was a long building along the top of the back yards, which was divided into 6 separate lavs, each having a wooden seat with a hole in, beneath which was a chute, which dropped into a communal gathering area which ran along the back of the row of lavs.  In the end of the building facing onto the lane was an opening, into which everyone in the 6 houses threw their ashes and rubbish.

Every week the shit cart came, it was drawn by a horse and accompanied by half a dozen (6) men, one controlled the horse, one got into the back of the cart to spread the load, and the rest went through the opening and started at the far end, shovelling the shit towards the opening and finally into the cart, then using stiff brushes which tended to squirt up liquid, gave the whole place a good clean out.

They always seemed to arrive at our premises around lunch time, and they would hand us kids their mashing cans and tell us to ask our mothers to put boiling water on the mixture of tea leaves and sugar therein.  If the weather was fine they would sit on the bank and eat their lunch, letting us kids mind the horse for a while.  If it happened to be a cold or rainy day they all hopped back inside the opening and ate their lunch there.  We saw nothing odd in this, it was many years before I got to wondering if any of the poor men ever saw middle age. ^

There were quite a lot of kids lived on our row and on Main Street, and regardless of weather we were always turfed out to play.   Well there was no television and not much room for getting under foot, so play was an outside thing. We had some great games, like Tiggy, Sardines, Tin Can A Lurky, and of course football and cricket.  I hated cricket, because being the youngest I always had to field and if they deigned to let me have a bat, they would put Tom or George on to bowl and get me out first ball.  I hated rounders more, because no one would have me on their side.

In the winter and dark nights, we loved to follow the lamp lighter around the village.  He would come along with his ladder and flint, and lean the ladder up on the arms of the gas lamp, the go up and click his flint and the light would go on with a pop. we followed him half way around the village, but only the brave followed him onto the other end, where we were forbidden to go, because that's where the "scruffy folk" lived, and we weren't allowed to play with them, under pain of death or a good hiding from your Mum.

Milk didn't arrive at your door as it does now, nor could you buy it in the supermarket, because they hadn't been invented yet.  We collected our milk twice a day after milking time from Wooley's farm.

It was one of my jobs from being about 4 years old to trot off to the farm with 1 or 2 enamel milk cans and get the milk.  I used to like to go early whilst the men were still milking, and go down to the cow sheds and watch them.  The milk cans had lids like small beakers and for a treat you would often be rewarded with a lid full of milk straight from the cows teat.  It was delicious, still warm from the cows udder and sort of frothy.

When you consider all the processes that milk has to go through today to be considered safe, it's a wonder that we survived.

A wonderful time of year in the village was Harvest time.  All the kids loved it and everyone tried to help.  There were no tractors or combine harvesters, a horse pulled the reaper, which cut the corn, followers gathered it up and tied it into sheaves, then along came the next gang who stacked the sheaves into stocks.  These were then left for a couple of days to dry out.  Then came the real fun time, loading up and leading the corn home, this was done on horse drawn carts, one man with a pitchfork threw the sheaves up onto the cart where another man stacked them neatly, until the cart was so full the poor horse had a job to drag it.  This was where being the littlest had its advantages, because I was allowed to ride on the horses back to and from the fields, all day long.  Other men with dogs and guns followed the progress of denuding the fields, waiting for the rabbits to run.  On a good day they would bag dozens, and we'd all have rabbit stew for dinner, for days.

Incidentally it was during the war or maybe just as it ended that the first tractor came to the village and Woolley's farm.

It was in late 1939 that the cables were laid for electricity, but apart from electric lighting it didn't make much of an impact, because then the war was on and you couldn't buy any appliances.

When the war came only two persons in the village owned a car, and that was Sandra Sudburys grandad Mr. Thacker and Mr. Turner.

I was about 13 years old when we had our house modernised and finally got rid of the big black range.  It was replaced with a big beige enamel range, but that had a back boiler, so we had hot and cold water on tap.  We still only had coal fires for heating, but luxury of luxuries the 3rd bedroom was converted into a bathroom, and the kitchen was fitted with an enamel sink with a double draining board - tres posh, and Mum got a gas cooker, she also had an electric iron by then, and a very crude electric washing machine but automatic washing machines, dryers, television, microwaves, fridges, freezers electric blankets, videos PC's and all things electronic were still light years away, although at about that time my friend at school became the proud possessor of the very latest thing,- a Biro pen.

Acknowledgenment to Mrs Jean Offen formerly Walker.  Sadly Jean died February 2008.

Note: My comment:  I lived at the "scruffy end" of the village.

A grandmothers story


Email: ronstan@richardsbygonetimes.co.uk

Home Page: http://www.richardsbygonetimes.co.uk/

Created 2 December 2001
Last updated: 3 March 2008