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Article taken from "A Fifties Childhood" by Susan Manton
A Fifties Childhood: My Mum

Mum's Wedding Group Photograph
Mum's Wedding Group (from l to r) Walter Keech (uncle),
Kit Dixon, Beatrice Carr (auntie), Dad, Mum, ?, Grandad Carr.

My Mum was Lillian Rose Keech (nee Carr), born on 3rd May 1908 . She was one of eight children, four girls and four boys (Elsie, Lillian, Beatrice, Doreen, Alfred, Frederick, Arthur and Ronald). Grandma was Susannah (nee Potts) (after whom I was named) and Granddad was Frederick . They lived in a very small terraced house with three bedrooms. ( 5 Blinco Road – now demolished). I remember the house very well and even as a child thought it was small. Sleeping arrangements were four girls in one room and four boys in another – the third, at the front, being occupied by Grandma and Granddad. The rooms were only big enough for one large bed and so there would have been four to a bed, two at the top and two at the bottom. Grandma and Granddad’s room had a large brass bedstead and a wash stand complete with china bowl and jug.

The stairs led off from the main room but had a door at the bottom to seal off draughts. The main room had a cooking range fireplace where a fire burnt continuously. There were ovens both sides of the range and the kettle boiled constantly on the fire. A large table dominated the room giving little space to move around. Granddad had a large wooden armchair (like a rocker with legs) to the left of the fireplace, next to a huge wireless (radio). Grandma had an old squashy leather armchair, covered with a blanket, on the other side of the range. A rag rug was in front of the fire. The room as I remember it was always like this. It never changed in all the time that I knew it.

The front room was hardly used. A huge wooden dresser with mirror backed glass cupboards each side filled one wall. The best china was kept in this. The piano was kept in here. My Mum learnt to play but I’m not sure about any of the other children. I never knew that they did and certainly never knew of any musical talent amongst them. An Aspidistra stood on a “What-not” in front of the one window, which was screened by heavy lace curtains. A heavy chenille curtain kept out the draughts from the front door which led straight out on to Blinco Road .

There was a scullery with running water and a meat safe with a grill to keep out the flies was opposite the back door. There was no bathroom, but a shared toilet down the yard. How on earth ten people lived like this I don’t know but I suppose this was the norm in those days and so it was not unusual. By today’s standards it seems unbelievable but maybe people learnt to be more tolerant to each other by living in such close proximity. There was certainly a much closer sense of community and everyone looked out for each other. My Mum started working, in a factory, at the age of twelve. It wasn’t actually lawful for her to do this but they needed the money. She was told to say that she was just running errands if she was challenged. She never was. I suspect there were many others doing the same thing.

Photograph showing Sue's mum in fancy dress
Mum in fancy dress with hand-painted
feathers in 1918 entry 66a
All the family were educated at Newton Road School . Mum always used to say she wasn’t clever, but when I think back, I know this wasn’t true. She just didn’t have the opportunities that we have now. She recalled how they all had to stand on their chairs at school and could only sit down when they had answered a question correctly. She said “I was always the last to sit down”. She only ever had one book as a child. This was given to her at Sunday School by “The Miss Dentons” (wealthy factory owners). She treasured this book and learnt to read it off by heart. There was no money for proper toys and so dolls were made using pegs and odd pieces of rag. They played shops with old beads and pieces of glass that they found outside.

As Mum was one of the older children she had jobs to do at home. They all had their own places around the table for meals and as Mum sat near to the pantry her job was to hand round the plates that were on a high shelf. One day Mum reached up to take down the plates, overbalanced and the plates flew over her head on to the floor. She didn’t say how many were broken but it would have been a disaster.

On Sunday the joint of meat would be taken to the local baker’s shop to cook in his large oven. Everyone did this. Mum went to collect the meat at dinnertime. Finding it rather heavy and hot to carry she decided to rest on a friend’s wall on the way home. The roasting tin tipped up, landing the meat in the friend’s front garden. Mum was horrified. She quickly looked around, picked it up, dusted it down and replaced it in the tin. No-one was any the wiser.

Grandma was a very tiny lady – she couldn’t have been five feet tall. She had very tiny feet – I think they were a size three but they were very wide. Her hair was long and thin and she twisted it into a bun at the back of her head using long hair pins to secure it. I remember her as a quiet gentle lady.

Granddad had a small holding and kept pigs and hens in addition to growing fruit and vegetables and so although they were poor they had a good supply of food. Grandma baked her own bread and made jam. Milk had to be fetched each day from the farm. I am unsure of Granddad’s main job but I believe that it was connected with the shoe industry. As this was the main industry of the town this was where most people worked. He worked on his small holding in the evenings and at week-ends and the boys helped out. My Uncle Fred was especially interested in pigs and later became a pig farmer, running a farm called “Eastfield Farm” right at the top of Newton Road . Granddad was a member of the “Athletic Club” in Newton Road , and went there most evenings. They had a cycling team and had Fruit and Vegetable shows. Granddad was involved in both of these. He always took home a bottle of stout for Grandma and she continued to drink one glass a day before bedtime every day until she died at the age of ninety three.

Granddad suffered from indigestion and always had a box of Rennies in his pocket, chewing throughout the day like sweets. He always tried to get you to eat one but after the first time you didn’t fall for it. He often gave me a threepenny bit to spend. Grandma and Granddad were married for over sixty years.

A short time after Granddad died, the houses in Blinco Road were condemned and Grandma was re-housed in new “old people’s” bungalows in Grafton Road . This was a great upheaval for Grandma who for the first time in her life had a bathroom and electricity. When Mum took her vacuum cleaner up to the bungalow to help with the cleaning Grandma ran out of the room shouting “Turn it off! Turn it off!” whilst covering her ears as she went. She was worried that it was going to explode. After a while she got used to it and began to enjoy a life of mod-cons. She loved her kitchen and spent a lot of time cooking. She still made jam and lived there on her own until she died, aged 93. My Aunt Else lived across the road and kept an eye on her and Mum went up every Thursday and cleaned through for her. In her old age she began to enjoy sitting reading and Aunt Else borrowed large print books from the library for her. She never had a television and rarely listened to the wireless.

To us busy folks today, sitting still by the fire enjoying a book or just doing nothing - thinking back over your life - would seem boring but to Grandma who had worked extremely hard all her life this was luxury indeed. I can’t imagine having so many children. One baby died and so this would have been nine pregnancies. No disposable nappies, no washing machines, no running hot water, no electricity, coal fires to be kept going, meals to cook. No wonder Grandma enjoyed the luxury of not having anything pressing to do when she got older. She always wore a wrap-a-round pinafore – one that she did her jobs in during the morning and a clean one to sit in during the afternoon in case visitors came. In the olden days you didn’t visit in the morning as that was when all the jobs were done and Grandma still thought that this was how it should be.

Grandma had a dog - Sukey - a black cocker spaniel. She was very placid and although I have never really liked dogs very much she was always very calm and let me play with her without barking or upsetting me. Our next door neighbour, Mrs. Timpson, also had a golden cocker spaniel, Timmy, who used to sit at the end of the entry looking up and down the street. Sometimes I would take Timmy up to the paper shop in Queen Street to get the Evening Telegraph for Mrs. Timpson. My Aunt Else, who lived two doors away from Grandma , had a dog called “Paddy”. He was a kind of terrier. He would howl if Aunt Else went to see Grandma. It sounded just as if he was calling “Else” which is what Grandma did when she wanted her.

One of Mum’s school friends was the sister of H. E. Bates, the Rushden author. She had a swing in her back garden and Mum was invited round to have a go on it. Much later a colleague, Madge, who worked with Mum married H.E.Bates and moved to Kent . Mum and her friend May Dickens were invited down for the week-end. This was Mum’s claim to fame – spending a week-end at the home of H. E. Bates. She said he was an interesting man and when they all went for a walk he pointed out and told interesting facts about the countryside.

I don’t know where Mum met my Dad as he lived in Irthlingborough but I do remember her telling me, that before she had actually met him, she saw him walking along the town one day and said to her friend “He looks nice”. She obviously got to know him quite well later on as they were married at the Independent Wesleyan Chapel in the High Street on 22nd December 1935 . Mum had attended Sunday School there from an early age and became a Sunday School teacher.

On her marriage she was presented with the silver tea-pot, milk jug and sugar bowl that I still have in the china cabinet to-day. When I was young we used the tea-pot every Sunday, but I never remember using the milk jug and the sugar bowl. The church was a very big part of her life and she was a member there for over seventy years, taking a very active part in all the different areas of the church. In her later years she began to write poems, mainly for use at the Women’s Auxilliary meetings on Thursday afternoon, which, considering that she left school at twelve, makes me feel very proud of her.

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