Sunday, December 31, 2006

I was born in Oak Cottage, Yew Tree Lane, Coseley, but later on we moved to a house at 20, Yew Tree Lane. We moved into number 20 when a couple with a teenage son moved out of there. The son gave me a basket made of wire and he used to do paintings. He had painted a picture of a swan and trees and plants on the parlour door at number 20.

Number 20 had two good-sized rooms downstairs, two rooms upstairs and a brewhouse outside. We didn't use the parlour very much, only if someone special came. Aunt Esther had friends who kept a pub on Church Road, and sometimes she would bring them to our house and take them into the parlour and they would play the organ and sing.

The downstairs rooms had high ceilings. I was always changing the wallpaper. If I went into Wolverhampton and saw some different wallpaper that I liked, I would get it. I did all the papering myself. I mixed flour and water to make a paste and it stuck well. I would paper as far as I could reach and then put a border round. I used to be painting all the while. My dad would say 'You're painting again'. I would be changing the colour of the doors.

I would make rag rugs. I would cut strips from old coats or clothers. I used a podger, which was half a wooden clothes peg, to bodge hols in a piece of sacking and push the strips of material through. The rug would go on the hearth and would be lovely and warm in the winter. I enjoyed making the rugs and it was something to do in the winter nights.

At number 20, there was a big garden out at the front, up to the main road. My dad used to grow all his own vegetables. He grew potatoes, carrots, beans, onions, cabbage and parsley. The new potatoes were gorgeous. He would get us to do the weeding. I had learnt to do the weeding at school, because the headmistress of Christ Church School, Miss Brittain, would pick a few of us to weed her garden. She would take us out of school for half a day to get her garden weeded.


In the early 1930s I liked to follow the fashions. I wore the shorter skirts when they came into fashion. I used to wear some beautiful hats. I had a bowler hat when bowler hats were fashionable. I bought my hats from a shop in Darlaston, and I bought dresses and dress material from Darlaston. I liked bright colours. I made some of my dresses. I didn't have a pattern, I just cut out the material. I made one dress with a cape to match. When fur collars were fashionable, I stitched fur collar on my coats. A fur collar would cost about 4 pounds. I wore high heeled shoes - court shoes with pointed toes.

I always liked to wear jewellery. One year my dad bought me a lovely string of pears for my birthday but I lost them.

It was only once or twice that I went to the hairdresser in Church Road, Coseley. I liked to do my own hair because then I could get it how I wanted it.


My cousin Violet and I were close friends but I was left on my own after she met Lawrence. Lawrence served at the counter of a gents' outfitters and Violet kept walking past the shop where he worked till she went out with him.

I started to go with Billy Webb. At night he would say he had to get back to lock the gates at work. One of the girls at work sent word to me to tell me that he was messing about with another girl. He told me it wasn't true, but I found out for myself that it was when I was out on my bike and I saw him with a girl.

I went to get to his house to get my umbrella because I had left it there. His sisters said 'Oh come in Florry' but I didn't. I went home and wrote him a letter saying I never wanted to see him again.

About a week later I went to Penn Common with my cousin Violet when I met Ted. He said 'If you're here when I come back, I'll bring you a block of chocolate'. I said to Violet that we might as well wait for the chocolate. He asked me to the Pat Collins Bank Holiday fair at Wolverhampton.

He asked me to tea (note - evening meal in Midlands dialect) the next week. Violet went with me to tea at Brook House. Stella (Ted's sister, Florence's brother Charlie's future wife) played the piano and their mother got us a nice farmhouse tea with eggs from the own hens.

I couldn't have wished for a better man.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Our bread was delivered by Mr Fido who had a bakery in Bradley and came round with his horse and cart. It was beautiful bread. You could smell the newness of it.

For groceries, Tommy Baker had a general shop in Yew Tree Lane, Coseley. He kept bacon and butter on the cellar shelves. He sliced the bacon and cut the butter himself. He would cut you half a pount of lard. It wasn't very hygienic; he used the same knife and the same cloth for everything. The mice used to get into the sacks of oats that he would serve his customers from. He had big jars of sweets that he'd weigh into quarters. He sold potatoes and cabbages that he'd weight out on his big scales. For milk, I'd buy tinned condensed milk. His mother used to make groated pudding that he'd cut up to sell.

My cousin Violet and me would find something to go round for on a Sunday morning. The front door would be shut so we would go round the back door and play the piano in his kitchen. He thought he was courting the daughter of Akerman the solicitor. He would dress himself up, put on his best brown boots and the would go on the train to the theatre in Wolverhampton, but nothing came of it.

Tommy Baker had a backyard where he kept coal and you could buy that from him. We would sometimes get a load of coal from Baggeridge when my uncle Harry and my cousin worked there. They both got the disease of the chest that miners got, though they carried on working with it. There was one man that I used to see in Yew Tree Lane. He was a poor old miner. He couldn't work far. The miners didn't get any compensation.

There used to be pits in Yew Tree Lane; there was one right opposite our house. We used to play on the heavy wheel on the floor and there was a big stack that was blown up. In the General Strike of 1926, miners would dig holes for coal themselves. We used to have boiling hot summers then. Aunt Esther made pop with lemons and sugar, and me and Violet would sell the pop to the sweating miners.

Aunt Esther would go to Horseley Fields where they sold cheap crockery. She would go there with a big straw clothes basket and bring a basket full of crocker back on the train. Me and Violet would go round people's houses selling the crockery.


My dad worked at the Cannon Iron foundries at Deepfields, Coseley as a moulder making gas stoves. He would fill a long ladle with molten iron at the furnace and pour the iron into the pattern. It was a hot, sweaty job. I used to make flannel under-shirts to soak up the sweat. I would buy the material, cut out the shirt and stitch it up anyhow. My dad didn't mind so long as the shirt kept him dry.

My dad would often change his under-shirt when he came home at midday for his dinner and to smoke his cherrywood pipe. He would cut across the fields and I would have his dinner cooked ready. Even though some of the men hadn't got time for their dinner, my dad always had, and he turned out better work. He would be one of the last to stroll into the factory as the hooter was going. My dad's work didn't bother him, but he was a good worker. He didn't make waste like some of the moulders did.

In the First World War, my dad worked at Cranes in Wolverhampton, making ammunition. This was war work and it kept him out of the army. If he had stopped at the Cannon during the war making gas stoves, he might have been called up. We had a shell from a hand grenade by the side of the grate.

He always liked to be smartly dressed. When he went courting my mother, he told us, the children in the street would run away from him because they thought he was the policeman.


Friday, December 29, 2006

There was a man in Coseley who had some old bikes and he'd charge sixpence an hour for us to borrow one. That's how I learnt to ride a bike, by borrowing one of his bikes on a Sunday afternoon.

When I started at the Atlas works, it was a long way to travel to work. I got a Fitzpatrick bike. I'd pay so much a week till it was paid for.

I'd go to Kinver or Clent with Charlie and our cousins on our bikes. When we got there, we would sit down for a bit, then we'd start back. I remember when me and Violet went round Clent Hills. She said 'Come on, we'll have a ride on the horses'. She got on one horse and I went on a big horse. I'd never ridden a horse and I had to hold on tight. Sometimes we would go round to farms and ask for new-laid eggs.

I remember once, Charlie and my cousin Tom and me were riding our bikes in Dudley at the back of the castle. We were going down a steep hill and Tom's bike had no brakes or tyres. He came whizzing past. The Lawtons were tough.


After my mom died in 1918, my aunt Emma looked after the family. In 1926 my aunt Emma died aged 27. I was 16 years old and I had been at work for two years. My dad said, 'Florry you'll have to stay at home'. I didn't want to because I could see my cousin Violet going to work and getting more pocket money than me.

On Mondays I used to go shopping to Bilston market because the food was cheaper there and there was more choice. I would walk to Bilston from Coseley. It was heavy to carry the shopping back but worth it. The meat was beautiful. Or I would get a picnic ham for about 2s 6d from George Mason in Wolverhampton. I would bring it to the boil on the hob on the grate, then leave it to simmer. When it was cold I would cut it for a dinner and sandwiches.

On washdays I would light a fire under the boiler in the brewhouse or sometimes my dad would do it before he went to work. I sorted out the clothes. Whites went in the boiler first with Persil and blue. I'd make a bowl of starch for my dad's collars. I'd rise the clothes in clean water and then put them through the mangle. Outside I used to put a big long line all along the yard past all the houses. I would peg the clothes out to dry.

The next day I ironed the clothes with a sad iron. I heated the iron on a stride in front of the fire. I would have two irons - one to use while the other was heating.

The fire was in a black-leaded grate. There was an oven on the side of the fire. The oven baked cakes beautifully. I put saucepans to simmer on top of the over to cook vegetables. Sometimes I would cook potatoes and swedes together.

Cleaning the grate was a hard job but it did look nice afterwards. I remember my cousin Violet coming in and, seeing how I'd black-leaded the grate, she said 'What! Have you varnished the grate?'. It was a messy job and I'd have to scrub the floor afterwards.

It was hard work but I loved it. I enjoyed my life. I was happy whatever I was doing. The only thing is that I was short of money. My dad couldn't afford to give me much pocket money.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My Grandad Ellis was a quiet man. He worked in one of the little factories near his home in Derry Street, Wolverhampton, close enough to walk to work. He smoked a clay pipe and carried a walking stick. He always wore a suit and tie. His seat was on the wooden screen by the fire. When he came in and saw me sitting there, he would plague me by saying 'Come on out of there, back to Coseley'.

His eldest son, Uncle Jim, lived in a little old terraced house in Monmore Green. After Uncle Jim's wife died and their family were all grown up, his met a woman called Pem. Aunt Esther used to take Pem drinking at the Spread Eagle pub in Coseley. One night Pem stayed the night with us at 20 Yew Tree Lane. She slept with me in our little bedroom, that you walked through to get to my dad's room.

My mom's sister, Aunt Fanny, liked her half pint of beer. She lived next door to a pub at the top of Derry Street, Wolverhampton. In the Second World War, her youngest son, Harry, was shot by one of his friends when they were practising for the Home Guard. He was killed outright and Aunt Fanny never got over it.

Another sister, Aunt Ann, died in childbirth with her third child. The baby was a girl who was adopted by a well-off family in Bilston. Our family had to promise not to have any contact with her. Aunt Fanny, Aunt Floss and Aunt Alice went and sat in the church when she was married in the High Church in Bilston, but they couldn't make themselves known.

Uncle Harry never got married. He worked at a little factory nearby and suffered from thrombosis in the legs. He lived with Granny Ellis and later with Aunt Fanny.

Aunt Alice married Aunt Ann's widower for the sake of her sister's two children. Her husband had been affected by fighting in World War One. He was a gardener and a gravedigger and didn't earn much money. When he had money, he would gamble or drink. Aunt Alice would go out and do anything to earn a little money - she would deliver babies and she worked as a cleaner at the Coliseum on the Dudley Road.

Aunt Floss lived in Coseley after her marriage to Jack Hickman. Aunt Emma looked after our family after my mother died, until she herself died young in 1926. She had had rheumatic fever when she was young and it had left her with a weak heart.

When Aunt Harriet was about 17, she fell down the coal cellar steps. Coal dust got in the wound and she died from it.


I left school at 14 and started work at the Atlas works just off Oxford Street in Bilston. The men carved wooven bedsteads and we used to polish them. I learnt French polishing. First I put the bedstead into a hot oven. Then I took it out and sandpapered it down. I put the polish on and then rubbed it off again. When it was all done, I painted the bedstead with a clear varnish.

When I first went there, I was put to work with another woman. The supervisor watched over us all working and one day she told me she wanted me to come and work with her. The woman who I'd been working with grumbled. Later on I worked on my own. We got paid according to how many bedsteads we did, but each bedstead had to be examined and passed.

I would polish big 4ft bed panels, but sometimes I did children's cots and put transfers on like Little Boy Blue. The furniture was sold in a shop in Bilston.

The owner of the works was a farmer from Gospel End called Fred Wilkes. He would walk through about once a week. The first day I was there he told me I was lucky my birthday wasn't a day later or I'd have to have stayed another year at school. Aunt Esther wanted Violet to work there and she got me to go with her to see Fred Wilked but he wouldn't take her on.

Once the works organised a coach trip to Church Stretton. He had a lovely photograph taken. I wore a beautiful white dress and we sat on the side of a hill.


At one time, the Atlas works were short of work so I had to look for another job. My cousin Violet worked at Sankeys at Bilston. She told me to go for a job there and to tell them that I was an experienced welder. So I went to the canteen at Sankeys where they were interviewing for jobs and said that I was an experienced welder, even though I didn't know anything about welding.

They gave me a job. I was given a cylinder and a pipe. I looked around and watched what the others did. We were making parts for aeroplanes. I had to get one pipe hot and the metal melted to weld the pieces together.

When the Atlas started up again I went back to work there.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I was about 12 when I started to learn to play the piano. I had lessons with a music teacher called Mr Caddick. I would go to his hous once a week after schoo, before I went home, for a lesson. If I went wrong on the keys he would tap my fingers. After a time, my dad couldn't afford to keep up the payments so I had to drop the lessons.

We had an American organ at home that played beautiful music. Once when I went in Tommy Baker's shop, his brother told me he had been listening by our window to how nicely I could play. But I wasn't satisfied with the organ when my cousin Violet had a piano, so my dad went to Stantons, a shop in Owen Street, Tipton and changed the organ for a second-hand piano. The piano didn't play as well as it should, though Stantons got someone to try to repair it. I would buy sheets of music and I could play hymns. I used to like to play hymns because they were easy reading. I could play all the Christmas carols. We had many a good night when all my friends came round and I would play the piano for them.

Many years later I had a piano in the front room at Kings Road, Sedgley. I used to play the Blue Danube Waltz. I tried to show my sister Violet how to play but she couldn't.


My dad's parents, Granny and Grandad Lawton, lived in a little old house in Harding Street, which was the next street to ours. Grandad Lawton was a moulder at the Cannon Iron Foundries. He was a quiet, gentle, gentleman. He always wore a hard hat and a suit.

In 1925, when Grandad Lawton was dying, Granny Lawton asked me if I wanted to go up and see him. She said 'Come on, I'll take you to see your Grandad'. She took me up to the bedroom. I don't know if he was dying or already dead when she took me up.

After he died, Granny Lawton stayed in the little old house. After a time, when the old houses were being demolished, Granny Lawton wouldn't let them demolish hers. Part of next door was demolished, but they had to leave some of the wall because it was propping her house up.

There were no pensions in those days. Granny Ellis used to go to the overseer to try to get a bit of parish relief. They asked her sons to each give her some money, but there was only my dad who said he'd give her something. He couldn't afford much.

She would run errands for anybody for a copper or two. When people had a load of coal delivered and dumped in the street, Granny Ellis would take it up the side of their gardens to the shed where they kept the coal.

She was a very quiet person. It was my dad's suggestion that she come and have a cup of tea with me every afternoon. She would sit on the old wooden screen and drink her tea. The kettle of water was always on the side of the grate so it was ready to make the tea.


The Lawtons lived near each other in Coseley. My dad's oldest brother, Harry, lived next door but one to us in Yew Tree Lane. He had a big family.

Another brother, Jim, lived next door but one to Granny Lawton in Harding Street. He paid about 5 pounds for a cottage that would soon be demolished.

Another brother, Ernie, lived next door to us in a little old cottage. His wife was Aunt Esther. They had a pig sty at the side of their cottage. One year Aunt Esther was keeping cockerels in the sty and fattening them up for Christmas. One morning just before Christmas, she got up and found that someone had taken the cockerels. You could see the sty from the road and someone must have been keeping an eye on them.

My dad's older sister, Lizzie, lived near the Rainbow pub. He husband was called Richard Turner and he was a boatman on the canal. He worked on the barges and they carried coal. They had several children. One of their daughters had a goitre in the neck. She went to the doctor who sent her to the Royal Hospital. She had an operation and died in the hospital. She would only be about 15.

My dad's younger sister, Susan, married Joseph Slater. When she was in childbirth with her first child, she was so poorly my dad took her to the Royal Hospital, but she died. The baby was called May.

Joseph Slater wouldn't have anything to do with May. Granny Lawton brought her up. I remember once when Joseph was riding his bike past Granny Lawton's house, he should to her 'Good morning ma'. She shouted 'Have you ever seen a monkey ride a bike?'

May used to play with us. She was a very quiet girl, like my sister, Violet. When May got married, she and her husband lived with Granny Ellis for a while.


Monday, December 25, 2006

When I was about 9 I had a large abscess in my mouth. The side of my face was swollen and very painful. Aunt Esther took me to Dr Waddell who lanced the side of my face and poured out the pus. He was very sharp and it hurt a lot. He gave us a note to take to the Royal Hospital. Instead of going to the hospital, Aunt Alice took me to a dentist who removed the infected tooth that was causing the trouble.

Dr Waddell was very strict. He allowed no talking in his waiting room. When Granny Lawton was old and sick and very frail, he told her she had to be ad his surgery by half past eight in the morning or he wouldn't see her.


We had a neighbour called Mrs Homer who was a very religious lady. She had grown-up children but she was very fond of me. She would call to me if she wanted me to do anything for her.

When I was nine or ten I used to take her husband's dinner (note - midday meal in local dialect) to him at his work in Bradley in my school dinner hour. Mrs Homer had cooked the dinner and put it in a pudding basin with a cloth over it. Mr Homer would be waiting upstairs at his work. I would hang his dinner on a hook and he would pull it up.

Mrs Homer would pay me a shilling a week.


They were very hard times. The pawn shop in Coseley was near to Darkhouse Chapel. Mrs Grainger, who lived next door but one to us, used to server in it. My dad would send his suit to the pawn shop on a Monday to pay for the rent. He would get the suit out again at the week-end after he had been paid for the week, but he had to pay extra to get the suit back.

I have gone may a time for Granny Ellis to the pawn shop in a street off Dudley Road, Wolverhampton. She would send me with a bundle of clothes. I wasn't old enough to hand the bundle over myself. Someone older in the shop would sign for me to get the ticket.

People would pay Granny Lawton to take clothes to the pawn shop for them. She would sit with me and wait for people to finish their washing before she could take it to the pawn shop. One day, when my dad was going back to work after his dinner, he saw her pushing a pram with clothes in it. He pushed it along for her and told her 'You ay gonna do this no longer.'

Charlie and I would go coal picking on the coal banks by the cornfields in Coseley. We would take a bucket and fill it with our bare hands. People would give us tuppence or three halfpence for a bucket of coal. They were glad of the coat.

The first time I hung my stocking up at Christmas, I was afraid to go down in the morning in case Santa Claus was coming down the chimney. I let Charlie go downstairs first.

At Christmas I would get an apple, an orange and a new penny in my stocking. One Christmas I remember getting the book 'Daniel in the lions' den'. I didn't like it. It wasn't a girl's book.

One Christmas I had gone to stay with my cousin Gertie in Wolverhampton. She had her stocking filled with little presents and I watched her open them. I got nothing, but it didn't worry me.

When I was older, I would make our Christmas tree that wouldn't cost anything. The grocer would give me a couple of hoops that were used to keep the orange boxes together. I would tie the hoops together, one inside the other. I'd get some pretty paper and cut it into narrow strips and twirl it round the hoops. I'd hang up the hoops for our Christmas tree. I'd hang apples and oranges and sugar pigs from the 'tree'.


None of us children had toys. We made our own things to play with. We all played in the streets. There was no traffic.

We played skipping or spinning a wooden top. We used to draw hopscotch squares on the floor with a brick and hop from one square to another. We played at jumping the rope and we played with a bat and ball.

We would play out in the street at night, around the street lamp. A man used to come round every night with a pole to light the gas in the lamp.


I used to go to visit my granny Ellis in Derry Street Wolverhampton. I'd go up the entry and in the back door. The front door was on the street and there was just a brick yard at the back. The front room (note - parlour) wasn't used much, but later when Gertie had her young man to tea (note - evening meal in Midlands dialect; dinner was the midday meal) she would take him in there. He was something of a snob.

Granny Ellis had a big family living there. In those days they didn't bother too much. If they had some bread and cheese they would be satisfied, though granny Ellis would always cook me a dinner.

When I was about 8 or 9, I'd walk with granny Ellis to the shops in Wolverhampton. She would be wearing a long black skirt the same as she always wore. There were nice little shops on Snow Hill. There was a wet fish shop where she might buy me some shrimps.

There was a chemist where she used to buy a box of special cream that she liked to put on her hair because it was a bit thin.

Also on Snow Hill, the Agricultural Hall was a picture house where later I went to see films like Danny Boy.

The trams went from Wolverhampton to Bilston. You could sit on top of an open tram. Later the trams were connected to overhead wires but very often the tram would come off the lines and we would have to wait for the conductor to connect it up again before it would go.

When I was very young I started Sunday school Darkhouse chapel, Coseley. We had to climb a lot of stairs to the room that the little ones used. I went with my cousin Violet and a girl named Annie Elwell.

At the Sunday school anniversary I was a singer on the top platform. The choir was opposite. An elderly neighbour would give me something to wear for the anniversary - a pair of gloves or some beads. The girls were dressed all in white. I had long fair hair. My aunt Emma would comb my hair straight then curl the hair round strips of material. When the strips were taken out I would have lovely curls. Everyone used to talk about what lovely hair I had.

We had prizes for attending Sunday school. In 1918 I had a copy of the book 'Her Benny'. It was a lovely book. When my mothers was very ill I showed her my prize. I bent over her bed with the book and said 'Mom, look here'. She said 'Florry, I can't see'. She was very very ill. (note - she died during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Much more on that here. )


On my first day at school, my mom and my aunt Esther took me and my cousin Violet together to Christ Church school. The first thing I saw was a big rocking horse and I thought we were going to have a nice playtime here, but we didn't get to use the rocking horse much. That first day, the teacher gave me some coloured counters to play with.

School wasn't very nice. The teachers were very strict, even with the youngest classes. Not all the teachers had been to college. They were nearly all 'Misses'; there were no married ones. One was called Miss Cross - I thought she had got the right name. The headmistress had her house next to the school.

We were taught to write at school, but it was my dad who taught me and Charlie our copperplate handwriting. The girls had sewing and knitting lessons, though I wasn't too interested in sewing or knitting. We used bits of calico for sewing little stitches. When we learned to knit, we learned 'Needle in, wool over, pull through and slip off'.

I was always in the A class and Charl was in the B class. Our sister, Violet, was very clever. She passed the exam to go to Bilston grammar school and the teachers wanted her to go. But there was no way my dad could have afforded it. In those days, you had to pay for all the books, the uniform and all the other things you needed at grammar school, and my dad was bringing up three children without a mother.

Our school dressed up for May 24th 1919, the Empire Day after the end of the First War. Aunt Esther made dressed with red crosses on them for me and Violet to dress up as nurses. We walked with two other girls dresses as nurses at the front of the parade. The teacher dressed as Rule Britannia and sat on a high chair.

When we had a month's holiday from school in the summer, we would go off and play in the fields. We would catch butterflies and bees. I would pick the bees up with their wings and put them in a jar with some clover. I'd let them go after a bit. The fields in Coseley had buttercups and daisies. We would pick the daisies and make daisy chains and put them round our necks or heads. The fields were private. They belonged to Mr Bagnall who kept cows on them and sold the milk. Once Mr Bagnall came running after us. We ran away but he caught my sister Violet and held on to her. As soon as he had gone, we would be in the fields again.


One night in the First War, my aunt Emma was with Charlie and me at our house in Yew Tree Lane, Coseley, while my mom and dad had gone to Bilston with my aunt Esther and uncle Ern for a drink and to go to the market.

We were sitting in the house when suddenly the house shook from under us. Emma ran outside.

Our mom and dad came running from Bilston and said a Zeppelin was over us. It dropped bombs on Tipton and people were killed. We heard it was brought down before it got to the coast.



This project is intended to put online the memories of a young working class woman from the English West Midlands from around the time of World War I and afterwards.