Mrs Betty Hoyland was born in Highfields.
The house in which I was born and spent all my early childhood, was a red bricked Victorian cottage which stood in a row with five others, like small red peas in a pod. The district was considered good class. In the larger houses which faced ours across a small cobbled road, the wealthier families employed maids and nannies for their smaller children, or in some cases both.
As I remember, this period of the very early Twenties seems to have been something of a quiet backwash of the Victorian age. I can just remember what must have been the last of the muffin men coming along the street at four o'clock in the afternoon, and sitting on the arm of our best settee in the front room waiting for the lamplighter to come along with his long pole to light the gas lamp which stood on the end of the pavement in front of our house.
It never once occurred to me that really, we were quite poor people. My mother was a very thrifty woman with good dress sense who somehow always managed to look genteel. To keep us dressed attractively, all our dresses were made by her own hands for she had no sewing machine. One of the tortures of my life as a small girl were the long brown stockings which we wore every day, with a lighter coloured pair for Sundays. These were held up by buttons and tapes tied onto liberty bodices which I hated, I used to long for the first breath of warm spring sunshine to be able to go into short socks and sandals.
I had one elder sister who possessed beautiful long dark curls which were wetted and put into curling rags every night, and each morning she appeared resplendent at breakfast with long dark gleaming 'sausages' bouncing on her shoulders. I thought she was quite beautiful. Her name as Dorothy May and we slept together in a big brass knobbed bed, and every night we used to make up stories to tell. Our favourite one was how we would manage to survive if left on our own, and how much it would cost us to eat. We had worked it out to the last detail, and had come to the conclusion that 5d. each would suffice our needs!
Our greatest friend was a Jewish girl who lived in one of the large houses opposite to us and wore button boots. We played together at all the seasonable games as they came around, whip and top, hoop and stick, shuttle-cock and battledore, and dressed and undressed each other's dolls. Pocket money as such was unknown. Sometimes we had a halfpenny to spend, or perhaps a penny when we would run round the corner to Mrs Normans' sweet shop to buy some home made ice-cream, watching her dive into a big tub behind the counter with a spoon, and bring out a delicious primrose coloured concoction, and wait for the magic words, "Would you like some flavouring dear?" We always did, and she would then pour some sweet red syrup on the top of the primrose nectar, and our heaven was complete!
My mother had an elder sister who lived on a farm, and she used to send us boxes of violets, primroses, and daisies in the spring. These we used to arrange in empty fish paste jars along the scullery window sill. The pleasure we derived from these flowers stayed with us for days, and when they faded we pressed them in a large heavy book called My Empire Story.
Next door to us and divided from us by a tall brick wall, lived our neighbours, three spinsters, they were not related. The house belonged to one of them, and the other two worked and lodged with her. They had a shaggy black dog called Ben and a snow white cat called Toss. They were all really nice, but their house was dark, and full of shadows. The eldest one worked in a high class drapers in the city and sometimes used to bring us boxes of odd buttons home to play with, and on special occasions would make fancy bonnets for my best doll. The other lodger was a small wispy woman with glasses, and we used to call her Pethwick, why I don't really know, it certainly was not her real name. The owner of the house was a sharp voiced, jolly little woman. In her front room, (the darkest of them all) she used to keep a square flat box of tangerines each wrapped up in silver paper. Sometimes she would ask us in, and then, with excited shivers running down our backs we would brave the dark brown hall and the bead curtains which clattered behind our backs as we passed through them, and be invited into the best room to be handed a tangerine. When we came away, we felt as if we had braved some deep dark forest to reach Aladdin's cave which held the gold and silver treasure in the square box.
One Saturday afternoon when our neighbours were out, my sister and I were playing ball in the back yard, and the ball bounced clean over their garden wall next door. We called and then my father (then much younger), climbed nimbly over the wall. To our horror a loud crash was heard, and my father appeared once again with our ball, but looking rather shaken. He had knocked two pots of geraniums down which had been hanging in wire baskets on the other side of the wall. The rest of the afternoon my sister and I spent in stunned silence at the bottom of the garden. We were quite sure (although we did not confide our thoughts to our parents) that at any moment a large policeman would appear and take our father away to prison where they would lock him up and make him wear a dreadful suit with arrows painted all over him, and we would never see him again and we would all starve! But all ended well. At tea time my father came in with two new geraniums in pots to replace the ones which had been broken, and the next door neighbours seemed to think it was all rather funny!