Mrs Dorothy Woodford was born in Highfields in 1921.
(1) Looking Back, Twenties and Thirties.
Born in 1921, the first 10 years of my life were spent in a small Victorian terraced house in Sparkenhoe Street. I remember we had a small front garden surrounded by substantial iron railings and a strong iron gate.
Our house was situated half way up the hill, backing onto Morrisons garage, and more or less facing Dr Beith's surgery on the corner of Lincoln Street.
I have vivid memories of my childhood home and lifestyle. The front room was the best room and had the refinement of a large black fireside rug and the family piano. It also had a white marble fireplace, the top of which was covered with a fringed cloth. The house only had gas lighting and I can well remember one awful day when I accidentally set the fringe alight with a candle. Fortunately no real damage was done. We must have been quite poor certainly by present day standards but we always had a cooked breakfast and a two course mid-day dinner. In those days there were no factory canteens and the husbands came home for their dinner.
My family consisted of my father, who was an engineer's store-keeper, my mother, and my sister Betty, 3 1/2 years my junior.
My mother was a house-proud woman and I can still see in my mind's eye the newspaper laid in front of the back room grate, and my mother on her knees with the orange & black 'Zebo' striped tin polishing the steel fender until it gleamed like silver. Often, she would send me to White's hardware shop in Conduit Street for a penny 'Dolly Dye' with which she would proceed to give curtains, tablecloths and serviettes a second and more attractive lease of life.
Every week, Mr Johnson called from Vickers Mounts to take our grocery order this usually came to well under £1, but it was quite lengthy, and I can still hear my mother saying, "A 4 and a 2 of Gram (Sugar), 1/2 of Typhoo etc etc. On one of Mr Johnson's visits he asked how old I was and I remember saying "3 1/2" "Oh", said he, "3 1/2d", which at that time I thought was rather silly!
My mother, without a sewing machine, made all our clothes, often going to W.A. Lee's store (then situated at the corner of Humberstone Gate and Charles Street) to pick up remnants for herself and us girls.
One day, never to be forgotten, my father brought home a wireless set which he had purchased from a friend for £1. This caused great excitement. Dad fixed it up in the fireside cupboard in the living room and being the eldest, I was entrusted with the job of taking the accumulators to be charged. These were quite heavy for a child to carry, and I was terrified of spilling the contents on my legs as I had been warned they contained sulphuric acid which would cause horrible burns if it came in contact with the flesh.
My mother often told me that after Wednesday her purse was usually empty, but we never went without good food and adequate clothing, though there was much patching and turning of garments.
At the bottom of Sparkenhoe Street there was a row of small shops Bamfords the butcher, Whittakers the green-grocers, Halls fish shop, Coles bakery, and opposite, Gearys the chemist, whose windows were resplendent with large bottles filled with brilliant jewel coloured liquids.
Upper Conduit Street was another source of interest. Mrs Smith ran an off licence at the corner of Gartree Street where customers took their jugs to be filled with ale. Opposite was Goodalls the grocer. My favourite shops were the sweet shop run by Mrs Norman, a large rosy cheeked woman with black hair and a jovial manner, and Mrs Markham's general shop on the corner of Framland Street.
Our Saturday pennies were spent at these two shops. For 1/2d. we could buy an ice-cream cornet from Mrs Norman liberally sprinkled with ruby red colouring. Mrs Markham's small shop was to a child, a veritable Aladdin's Cave cards of 'jewelled' rings 1/4d, necklaces, beads etc for 1/2d. Novelties galore, and Mrs Markham, a small shrivelled old lady had endless patience whilst we tried to make up our minds what to buy.
Every Friday evening, we children would look out of the front window waiting for our dad to return from work. Friday was pay day, and on his way home dad would buy a couple of kippers for tea, a real tasty treat!
Sunday was a busy day. If we had been good during the week we would sometimes find a little treat tied to the brass bedhead, usually a whipped cream walnut (then 2d. each). After breakfast (always egg and bacon), dad would polish our shoes till they shone, and wearing our Sunday 'best' we went off to morning Sunday school held in Gopsall Street. This was presided over by Miss Glover who I believe was also a day school teacher. We all sat in small classes of 5 or 6, were told a Bible story after we had each to do a drawing. At least 3 hymns were followed by prayers one of which sticks in my mind was for 2 Burmese children 'Eethet' and 'Weesoe' (spelling undoubtedly wrong), but the pronunciation is accurate! We were given a penny for collection and I can honestly say the morning collection went in the bag! Alas, when after a roast Sunday lunch we were again dispatched to afternoon Sunday school (so that our parents could enjoy a nap), I have to confess I would only put 1/2d in the other collection. I would quietly take the other 1/2d. round to Mrs Norman's shop and buy chocolate raisins (which remain a weakness to this day).
Both my parents were musically inclined and somehow found the half crown per week to send me to Miss Vines, a music teacher living in Guthlaxton Street.
My parents did their very best to instil good standards in us. We were allowed to play with certain friends in Seymour Street and Highfield Street (Gartree Street was considered to be a little lower in the social strata and friendships not particularly encouraged).
It was quite safe for children to play unsupervised in the local parks we were merely warned to be careful of the trams when crossing London Road, and told quite firmly what time we had to return home. I remember a very pleasant elderly gentleman who frequented Victoria Park, who always had a pocketful of sweets for the children. I seem to remember my mother telling me it was Percy Gee. Certainly in those days the most caring of parents seemed to have little fear for their children when talking to strangers.
On the other side of Sparkenhoe Street the houses were rather bigger and my best friend lived in one of these. She was Joyce Hart, a Jewish girl who was a descendant of Sir Israel Hart, one of the city's past benefactors. The Harts had a maid called Florrie as Mrs Hart, (Joyce's mother) helped in the family radio business. Florrie would be detailed to take the three of us to the 'Vicky' Park, and I remember she often seemed rather disgruntled at the responsibility!
As an only child with both parents working, Joyce was a lonely child and I was often invited to tea. I received these invitations with mixed feelings. I was only used to mother's home-made cakes, and the cream horns and chocolate eclairs gracing the Hart's table were temptation indeed! On the other hand, Joyce's father wore a little skull cap at the table and this for some unaccountable reason scared me a little. Joyce loved to have tea at my house as she so enjoyed my mother's home-made fancy cakes and jam tarts.
Sunday afternoons after Sunday school, with parents rested and in an amiable frame of mind were quite social occasions. My parents were friendly with a couple Alfred and Edith Wilson, their daughter Doris was about my age. They would arrive at our house complete with music case and music, and after a wonderful tea of John West salmon, salad, peaches and cream we would be regaled by piano duets by my father and his friend Alfred, followed by my mother singing such songs as 'Come back to Erin', 'Land of my Fathers', 'There's an Old Fashioned House in an Old Fashioned Street', 'Annie Laurie', 'Robin Adair', and one which even today brings tears to my eyes, 'Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree the Village Smithy Stands'. How safe and loved we felt on these family evenings! The following Sunday, complete with our music we would reverse the process and join the Wilsons at their house in Copdale Road. There wasn't any transport, so we walked both ways.
Sunday was the one night of the week we were allowed to stay up for supper usually cold roast and pickles or (what I preferred) bread, cheese and pickles, though mother was convinced that cheese at night was too indigestible for a child.
Apart from the usual childhood ailments Measles, Chicken Pox, etc. we were rarely ill. All good parents made sure their children were 'regular' with a weekly dose of syrup of figs. In spring we had a course of sulphur tablets later followed by brimstone and treacle (a gorgeous concoction) to clear the blood! In the winter we had a daily dose of cod-liver oil and malt, or Scotts Emulsion which was in a fascinating bottle with a label portraying a man carrying a fish over his shoulder almost as big as himself. If we seemed a bit below par mother would buy a bottle of Parish's Food, said to be full of iron, and therefore disastrous to teeth if not cleaned immediately after taking a dose. Talking of teeth reminds me of the excellent advertising done by Gibbs. There was Giant Decay's fearsome monster out to destroy the ivory castles (teeth) of children who did not regularly use Gibbs Dentifrice. Apparently, this made the ivory castles to dazzling and gleaming that Giant Decay fall back in despair!
My father was very particular regarding the type of newspaper allowed in the house. The Daily Express was acceptable, as was Titbits (though mother had some reservations). The Mirror and News of the World was definitely out! We children had the Children's Newspaper every Saturday which I recall was a most interesting publication.
Until I was 11 I attended Medway Street school. The headmaster was a kind fatherly man called Mr Garner. With one or two notable exceptions the teachers were also kind, well mannered and as much concerned with our behaviour as with our academic progress, but by example rather than harsh punishment. I remember Miss Dirks, the infant teacher, who took the scholarship class (Standard 5) with both gratitude and affection.
Somehow, my parents always managed to take us to the east coast for a weeks holiday. As funds were low, mother and we girls travelled by either coach or train. Father would set off in the early hours of the morning on his bike- he was always there to meet us on arrival. In Gorleston-on-Sea we had rooms with a Mrs Watson. Mother would take quite a lot of provisions from home (having accrued a 'store' in the preceding weeks) and Mrs Watson would do the cooking for us all. Father, being a Norfolk man, always insisted on Yarmouth bloaters for breakfast. On the last night of the holiday we would be treated by our parents to a sit down fish and chip supper in a sea-front cafe joy indeed!
Soon after, I passed the Scholarship as it was called, and was accepted as a pupil at the Wyggeston Grammar School. This auspicious event coincided with my father's promotion at work. I can clearly recall my mother, unable to contain her delight telling us children, "Don't broadcast the fact, but your father's a £5 a week man now!" This put us above the threshold to claim for any help with school uniform, though I'm sure my parents would have been too proud to ask anyway! Somehow by scrimping and saving I went off to Wyggeston with all the necessary kit.
Although in retrospect I regret not making better use of my opportunity, I'm grateful for the all round education I received. We were proud of our school and our uniform, which far from causing class distinction did much, in my opinion, to iron out the obviously very different backgrounds of the pupils.
English was considered the most important subject, we were taught the correct way of writing letters, job applications, replying to invitations, etc. From subsequent experience of communications I have received in my business career, this does not seem to have quite the same priority today.
One other memory of my childhood springs to mind November 5th. Every year my father would bring home a small selection of fireworks Catherine Wheels (duly pinned on the line prop), Roman Candles, Jumping Jacks and the like. After the display in our small back garden, we would then do the rounds of all the side streets in the neighbourhood where bonfires would be alight in the middle of the street. I suppose it must have been a bit risky, but I don't recall any fire getting out of hand.
Then carol singing, the week before Christmas! Quite a few of the houses in Highfield Street, Severn Street and St Peters Road had servants and we usually did pretty well on these occasions.
Looking back over 60 years the enormous changes which have taken place are almost unbelievable. Conceptions of 'poverty' today bear no relation to that of the Twenties and Thirties. One cannot, and should not, try to put the clock back nor should one hanker after the past too much, but in retrospect those years of my childhood provided a background which has stood me in good stead ever since.