During Christmas 2006, Brian interviewed mum (Elizabeth Carter) and her sister Eileen James about their younger days. This is the transcript of that interview, which took place on December 28, 2006, at 15 Woodside Avenue.
Eileen: I used to know a Mr Lindsey, who lived around here. I used to work with him. His mother committed suicide by putting her head in the gas oven. Then, a year to the day later, he went and did the same. Someone was sent out to call on him, to see why he hadn't come to work. She didn't get an answer and so came back to work. Then his father found him dead later - just like with his mother.
Brian: Did you know about the connection with the Cook family?
Eileen: We had a relation - at least we were told he was a relation - living across the road [in Okus Grove]: Wally (Walter) Cook. He was Dad's cousin or something. I'm not sure exactly how he was related. He used to come across and watch our television. We were the first people in Okus Grove to have a television. It was only a small one - about 12 inches. People used to come round on Sunday nights to watch it. [Note: We haven't yet worked out how (or if) Wally Cook is related.]
Brian: Here's a family tree showing your grandparents - your father's parents. This is his father, John Weeks, and his mother, Annie Hopkins. Did you know they were cousins? Their mothers, who were both called Cook, were sisters.
Eileen: I didn't know anything about that. I knew the Cooks were related in some way, that's all.
Brian: Did the family have any connection with Highworth? Mum [Bet Carter] said that you used to walk to Highworth every weekend.
Eileen: I know we used to go out walking, but I can't remember where. Dad's mum and dad lived in Highworth. Annie Hopkins [Weeks] cleaned clothes for a woman in a big house there. She only got a shilling a week for that.
Brian: I've been told that that was in Coleshill.
Eileen: Isn't Coleshill and Highworth the same place anyway, or is Coleshill on the edge of Highworth? I thought it was Highworth.
Brian: Your grandfather, John Weeks (your father's father) died in Highworth in 1909.
Eileen: Dad's father was much older than his wife. Dad lived in Highworth when he was young.
Brian: Yes, he was nine or ten years older than Annie Hopkins.
Eileen: I thought it was more than that. I remember being told he was an old man.
Brian: They married late in life. He was into his forties before they married and had children. Do you remember any mention of Fresden Farm, in Highworth? There were some Weekes living at Fresden Farm.
Eileen: No, I haven't heard of that before.
Brian: What do you know about the poultry farm in Moredon?
Eileen: Dad and Joe worked there. That was Uncle Jim's farm. There was Jim Hopkins and Harry Hopkins. I think Harry was his son. No, that's not right because Jim and his wife never had any children. I'm not sure how Harry comes into it.
Brian: What do you know about your dad's accident?
Eileen: He was hit in the head with a flogging hammer. It fractured his skull. They cleaned him up and wheeled him from the [GWR] hospital up to [no. 88] Radnor Street. The man who caused it lived in Dean Street, and he took Mum and the kids [Madge, John and Joe] in. They let them sleep on the floor in the front room.
Brian: This was while your dad was in hospital?
Brian: I thought that the accident itself wasn't very serious, but that it was the septicaemia that was the problem.
Eileen: No, his skull was fractured and it was bad.
Brian: How long was he in hospital?
Eileen: I don't know. A long time.
Brian: Was it days, weeks, months?
Eileen: Oh, months. The woman in Dean Street got fed up with having them. Mum hated it anyway. She said the woman cleaned the kitched floor with creosote or something. The smell was terrible. Uncle Jim [from Newcastle] sent a letter or a telegram or something to Mum to say that he would put them up. They had nowhere to go. They were put out of Radnor Street and were homeless.
Brian: Wasn't there anyone in Swindon to help them? What about your dad's mother?
Eileen: She couldn't stand our mum. She wouldn't take them in.
Brian: So they went to Newcastle and left him in hospital?
Eileen: They had no choice. They were homeless. They wouldn't have been given any help in those days - not like today.
Brian: But that would have left no one to look after your dad.
Eileen: He was in hospital, but I suppose he still had his mother and his brother. So they went to Newcastle. The train left early in the morning, and Mum spent the night on the station. She had nowhere to go anyway. The porter asked her what she was doing. Mum explained and he said, "I shouldn't do this, but..." and let them into the waiting room, which had a fire, and locked the door so that they wouldn't be disturbed.
Brian: How long did they stay in Newcastle?
Eileen: I don't know.
Brian: When was this? Mum [Bet] was born at 88 Radnor Street, so they couldn't have lost the house straight away.
Eileen: No, but Mum was heavily pregnant when Dad had the accident. I think she was nearly due. [Note: Bet's birth (August 1, 1925) was registered by her father, Jospeh Weeks, on September 12, 1925, when his address was 88 Radnor Street.]
Brian: And you were born in Ashford Road - number 8 - which was his mother's house.
Eileen: I know I was born in Ashford Road, but I didn't know the number.
Brian: Yes, it was Annie Hopkins's house. So she must have accepted your mum, if they went to live with her?
Eileen: Yes, or maybe it was just so there was somewhere for me to be born.
Brian: And there was another baby - Evaline - who was born in Chepstow.
Eileen: Yes, Joe was born in Chepstow, and so was Evaline.
Brian: Who was born first, Joe or Evaline?
Eileen: She was born after Joe. They say she was stillborn, but Mum told me she was born one day and died the next. [Note: We've since discovered that Evaline was almost certainly stillborn after all. Despite a very extensive search, we haven't been able to locate either a birth or a death certifcate for her, which would have been required if she had been born alive, regardless of how soon after birth she died. We know that Evaline was born sometime between June 1921 and November 1924; but it did not become compulsory to record stillbirths in England or Wales until 1927.]
Brian: Why did they go to Chepstow?
Eileen: I was always told that Dad worked in a shipyard there. But there's not one there now, is there? Maybe you could find out. [Note: We've since discovered that the Chepstow shipyard was re-established in 1917 (here is some information about the shipyard). The family moved there sometime between April 1918 and September 1920).
Brian: What happened to the house in Radnor Street?
Eileen: Mum said that some relation (I don't know who) bought it over their head.
Brian: According to the Swindon Directories, the next person to live there was someone called 'R Reynolds'. Does that name mean anything to you?
Bet: Mum told me that nuns used to nurse me. I asked her why, because we're not Catholics. She said they were C of E nuns. [Note: The nuns were probably from the Community of St Mary the Virgin, who had a mission house in Milton Road, on the corner of Tennyson Street. They were Anglican and did various good work around town, where they were known as the 'community sisters'.]
Eileen: Mum said, when they were going to Newcastle, the nuns said, "You should have asked us for help. I could have brought you a jug of milk a day." I know they were trying to help, but a jug of milk wouldn't have kept three kids! Dad's brother, John - when Dad was dying (at least they thought he was dying), said to Mum: "Maggie, if anything happens to him, I'll take care of you and the kids." But it was Dad who got better and before long John was dead. He had peritonitis, and it killed him.
Brian: Was your dad still ill then?
Eileen: No - I think he was getting better by then.
Bet: I know that he [John] had appendicitis, and he refused to be treated. He wouldn't leave his mother. [Note: We've since discovered that John died in the last quarter (i.e. October, November or December) of 1925.]
Brian: He might have been looking after his mother. She was ill for some time. The notice of her death in the paper said it was after a long illness.
Eileen: I think Dad was still in hospital when John died. Your mum [Bet] was born when he [their dad] was still ill. Dad's mother never liked Mum.
Bet: She didn't like Dad marrying someone from Newcastle. She said he should have married someone from Swindon. There were enough nice girls around.
Eileen: I remember Mum telling me: once, after he came out of hospital, they were out and about walking. They went past his mother's house [in Ashford Road]. She called him in and gave him a dinner. But she wouldn't let the others in. Can you believe that? He went in without them and ate the dinner!
Brian: After that, didn't you live above a shop, in Faringdon Road?
Eileen: Yes, that's right. Above Millets' shop.
Brian: That's number 1 Faringdon Road. I looked it up in the Swindon Directory. It was 'Millet, M - Surplus Supply Stores'. The Directory also lists some other people living there: G Averies, G Ausden and F W Fox. Do those names mean anything to you.
Eileen: No. I don't recognise them.
Brian: But your Dad isn't listed as living there. I don't know why that should be.
Eileen: No, neither do I.
Brian: So, after Newcastle, they lived at 8 Ashford Road, then 1 Faringdon Road. Annie is listed at 8 Ashford Road up until 1928. But she died at 1 Faringdon Road. Her death certificate says that, and that your dad was present at the death.
Eileen: Maybe she moved in with them. Maybe they all went from Ashford Road to Faringdon Road. I know that Mum said that, when Annie was ill, she would only have Mum look after her. She wouldn't have anything to do with her before, but now she was all for her.
Brian: Did she own the house in Ashford Road?
Eileen: No, she couldn't have done. That - or the money from it - would have come to Dad, but I'm sure it didn't.
Brian: The next person listed as living at 8 Ashford Road [in 1929] was ģJ E Hoganī. Does that name mean anything to you.
Brian: There's another Weeks living in that area at that time - in Eastcott Hill - Louise Weeks. Do you know that name.
Brian: In the Swindon Directories, there's a big gap. In 1927, 1928 and 1929 your Dad isn't listed as living anywhere. Then in 1930 he's at 5 Chestnut Avenue.
Eileen: I don't know why that should be. The house in Chestnut Avenue was a council house - they were probably given that because they were overcrowded I suppose.
Brian: They stayed there until 1938, when they are listed at 249 Cricklade Road. And I know they went to Okus Grove next. When was that? Where were you living when war broke out?
Eileen: At Okus Grove.
Brian: So when you listened to the radio - when they said about war being declared - you were at Okus Grove?
Brian: So you were only at Cricklade Road for about a year?
Eileen: Yes, it wasn't very long. Mum hated it. We were definitely at Okus Grove when war broke out. I can remember a woman from Cricklade Road coming round and giving us gas masks. When we were in Cricklade Road, we still went to Pinehurst School. We didn't go to Gorse Hill School. It was a long walk from there, across the fields. We used to get into trouble for arriving at school with dirty shoes - I got the stick (you know, the cane) for that from Mason [the headmaster]. But we weren't going to walk the long way and so cut across the fields and got our shoes dirty. We were billeted at Joyce Clark's mother's house in Pinehurst Road - not the little part of Pinehurst Road, the big part.
Brian: What do you mean, "billeted"?
Eileen: Well, if there was an air raid, that was where you had to go. We had to go to this house in Pinehurst Road.
Brian: Going back a bit, here's the 1901 Census. Your dad is aged eight and living at home with his parents [John Weeks and Annie Weeks (Hopkins)] at 59 Exmouth Street. His father is aged 53 and Annie (his mother) is aged 43. And there's also his brother, John, who was then aged six.
Eileen: I didn't know Dad's father was called John. I don't know why Dad wasn't named after him, but they called his younger brother John.
Brian: Annie's father was called Joseph - Joseph Hopkins. And his father was Joseph Hopkins too. Maybe that was why. Most of your dad's family lived in and around this area - Westcott Place, Exmouth Street and Clifton Street. Your dad was born at number 17 Clifton Street. There were some Hopkinses living in a different house in Clifton Street - at number 179. She was called Eva Alice Hopkins.
Eileen: That was Auntie Eva. She lived with Auntie Bessy. They were Dad's mother's sisters. They never married. I remember visiting them once.
Brian: Eva Alice Hopkins was living at 179 Clifton Street from 1948 into the fifties. Later on, from about 1951, there was also an Agnes Hopkins.
Eileen: I don't know who that was. I can remember the name 'Aggy', but I don't know where from.
Brian: This is your dad's grandfather's [Joseph Hopkins's] house. By this time, Annie Hopkins was married and living round the corner in Exmouth Street. But her parents still had three grown-up children living at home: Elizabeth (Bessy), James (Uncle Jim, who later had the poultry farm at Moredon) and Eva. They're all unmarried. Bessy is aged 33, Jim is 31 and Eva is 24.
Brian: What about your mum's side. What can you remember about going to Newcastle?
Eileen: I went there a few times - more than Betty, because I was a bit younger and she was probably working by then. I remember Auntie Lizzie. I remember going to see her when she was ill. And there was Auntie Ginny (her name was Virginia). [Note: Subsequent research has failed to find any trace of a Ginny or Virginia in census records, and it seems probable that she was christened Jane.]
Brian: Here's the 1901 Census. It's for Gateshead. You know that your Mum really comes from Gateshead, not Newcastle, as people think.
Eileen: Yes, but Gateshead and Newcastle are very close. It's just over the bridge from Newcastle to Gateshead. But they lived in Newcastle - Rye Hill - later.
Brian: Yes, but in 1901 your mum's family were living in Gateshead - 156 Lower Cuthbert Street. Your mum was actually born at 47 St Cuthbert's Road. These are two different places.
Eileen: I can remember the name, but I'm not sure where it is. But later they lived at 44 Rye Hill. I can remember that.
Brian: By 1901 your mother's father was already dead. He must have died quite young. Your mum was quite young when he died - less than 16.
Eileen: Yes, Mum said he drank himself to death. He fell down the stairs.
Brian: You mean that that was how he died? He fell down the stairs and died?
Eileen: Yes, I think so. I know he drank a lot. He had a pony and trap, and he would go to the pub and get drunk and then the pony would take him home, because he knew the way home.
Brian: I heard that before - from Mum [Bet]. In 1891 his occupation was ģcartmanī. I don't know what that is. Maybe that's why he had a cart?
Eileen: I don't know.
Brian: The 1901 Census says that your mum was 16 and a dressmaker.
Eileen: I didn't know that - that she was a dressmaker.
Brian: Still living at home is James, their son - Uncle Jim. He's still single and a machine minder. Then there is Elizabeth (Auntie Lizzie).
Eileen: Auntie Lizzie married Jack Shield. He was a miner. He used to come in with coal dust on his face.
Brian: Yes, it says she's married, but her husband's not there.
Eileen: No. He left her. They had a daughter called Mary.
Brian: Yes, she's living with them.
Eileen: Yes, he left her - went off with another woman. They divorced later. They went to court. The judge asked Mrs Shield to stand up, and two of them stood up - Auntie Lizzie and this other woman. The judge said, "The law in England says that a man can only have one wife, so there can only be one Mrs Shield. Which one of you is the real Mrs Shield?" Then the other woman then sat down. I think he went back to her later. And I can tell you a story about Mary. She had a daughter - Millie. But she wasn't married, so Millie was brought up believing that Lizzie was her mother - that's what they told everyone. They didn't want people to know that Mary had had an illegitimate daughter, so everyone - including Millie - was told she was really Lizzie's daughter.
Brian: But Lizzie was really her grandmother, not her mother?
Eileen: Yes, that's right. Mary later married Bob Lyle [possibly spelt Lyle?] But he wasn't Millie's father. I think Lizzie might have had another daughter too, but I'm not sure. Millie was about Madge's age. She married Doug Chalmers, a petty officer in the Navy. This wasn't during the war. I think they had children, but I never knew them.
Brian: Who was Joey Moffat?
Eileen: I'm not sure of the connection. He was related to us. He was a very good footballer.
Bet: One of the Sheffield clubs wanted him to sign, but he wouldn't.
Brian: One of the big clubs?
Eileen: Yes, I don't know whether it was Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday, but I think he was spotted by a scout or something when he was a kid - too young to sign probably - but they wanted him to go down to Sheffield and he didn't want to go. Mum had a letter from Mary. That's how we knew about it - I remember her reading it out.
Brian: How old was Joey Moffat?
Bet: About our age.
Eileen: He was between Betty and Joe's age.
Brian: And what relation was he?
Eileen: I don't know. A cousin or something. His mother's name was Annie Moffat. I don't know who she was. She could have been a daughter of Lizzie's or Mary's - Lizzie's probably. She died when Joey was very young. Uncle Jim kept Joey in money.
Brian: What about Auntie Ginny?
Eileen: Yes, Mum had another sister: Ginny (her name was Virgina).
Brian: But she wasn't living with them in 1901. How old was she?
Eileen: She was between Mum and Lizzie.
Brian: So, she would have been aged between 16 and 22 in 1901, so she might have been married by then?
Eileen: Yes. Her married name was Rudge. I think she had a daughter, I think her name was Mary - Mary Rudge.
Brian: What about Uncle Jim? He wasn't married then, and he was 30.
Eileen: No, he never married. He was a sidesman at the church. And he had some shops.
Brian: But the Census said he was a machine minder.
Eileen: Yes, he owned the shops but he never worked in them. Lizzie worked in one of the shops.
Brian: And didn't your mum work in a shop?
Bet: Yes, because she told us the story about when the mad woman came into the shop when she was serving and she thought she was going to pick up the knife and attack her, but she managed to persuade her to go home when her son came in. Mum said, ģBetter take your mum home now, sonī, and he did.
Eileen: Yes, I remember Mum saying she worked in a shop. It was probably one of Uncle Jim's shops.
Brian: So what happened to the shops? If Uncle Jim never married, what happened?
Eileen: I heard that Lizzie gave too much 'tick' and so maybe he lost them?
Bet: Do you remember when we went there, we went to the seaside - Whitley Bay and Cullercoats?
Bet: I wrote an essay about that and won a fountain pen at school.
Brian: Does the name Wicks mean anything to you?
Eileen: What: W-i-c-k-s?
Eileen: Yes, Mum said we had relations called Wicks, but I don't know who they were.
Brian: In 1891, Ann Weeks (your father's grandmother), was living in Haydon Street. Her daughter - Anna Weeks (your dad's aunt) was married to Henry Wicks. And they were all living in the same house. Also living there was a Franklyn Weeks. Have you ever heard of him. He was your dad's father's brother - your dad's uncle.
Eileen: No, I've never heard of him.
Bet: Can you remember Walter Ponting? I can remember visiting him once with our Dad - somewhere near County Road. Who was he?
Eileen: Yes. It wasn't actually in County Road, but somewhere near there. I think his wife was called Agnes. I wonder if this was Aggy. I think she might have been Harry Hopkins's sister. I don't know. I think they had a boy. I think he was called Roy. Harry Hopkins had a son called John and a daughter called Doreen.
Brian: Who was Harry Hopkins? Was he something to do with the poultry farm in Moredon Road?
Eileen: Yes. I thought he was Uncle Jim's son, but they didn't have any children.
Brian: Uncle Jim is your father's mother's brother - your dad's uncle.
Eileen: Yes, Uncle Jim and Harry Hopkins lived next to each other. They both had poultry farms.
Brian: In the 1940s and 1950s, there were two Hopkinses living in Moredon Road - at numbers 46 and 46a. They both had the initials JH. One was probably James (Uncle Jim). Maybe the other was Harry, but Harry was his second name.
Eileen: It could be. I don't know exactly how he was related. As I said, he couldn't have been Jim's son. They never had any children.
Brian: There's also a Helena Hopkins living at 40 Moredon Road later.
Eileen: That's Auntie Lena.
Brian: It says 'Helena'.
Eileen: Yes, but everyone called her Lena.
Brian: There is also a mention of 'The Bungalow, Moredon Road'. Does that mean anything to you?
Eileen: That must be Joe's bungalow.
Bet: Joe had their house. They didn't have any children, so Uncle Jim's wife promised the house to our Joe.
Eileen: I think they sold it to him cheap or something. I think Lena might have moved out and Joe bought the house.
Bet: When Lena was dying she sent for Joe. She said that Jim hadn't paid them much when they had worked on the poultry farm, and she wanted to make it up.
Brian: And what about Harry Hopkins? Was he married?
Eileen: Yes, he was married to Ida. She came from Stroud. She talked a bit funny, and she was a bit of a funny woman.
Brian: Can you remember when you lived in Cricklade Road, and you had the gypsies living in the field behind? Can you remember their names?
Eileen: They were the Bucklands and the Walkers. Sally Buckland married a Walker - her married name was Sally Walker. The Bucklands were proper gypsies I think. I don't think the Walkers were proper gypsies. There was a woman called Mrs Buckland. She was killed on Blunsdon Hill. She was going up the hill when her caravan broke away and she crashed down. I think Granny Buckland was her mother. Granny Buckland also had a son - Joe Buckland. Joe Buckland had two children - Linda Buckland and Francis Buckland. Sally Buckland (Walker) had two children - Nelson Walker and Derek Walker. There was also a Naile Walker, who married a woman called Doris.
Brian: Where did they live?
Eileen: In the field behind Cricklade Road - right behind our house. We just went out the gate at the bottom of the back garden. They were right there. I can remember they used to have lots of relations turn up there - all the other gypsies. The Edwards were there, but I don't know if they were related. They parked their caravans in the field and went and got drunk in the Duke of Edinburgh. We watched them coming out.
Brian: And what about the story of them having hedgehog for tea?
Bet: Linda Buckland asked me to tea. But Mum wouldn't let me go. Afterwards, Linda said it was a shame because she had had hedgehog for tea.
Eileen: They used to cook the hedgehog in clay. They would wrap it in clay, then cook it, and when it was done they would take off the clay and all the spikes would come with it. I saw them do that. Linda offered me some, but I wouldn't eat it. It smelt like pork, but I wouldn't eat it. Linda said it tasted like pork. Sally Walker had a daughter called Tilley. She had half of her fingers missing - from the knuckles - on one hand. I think there was something wrong with her.
Brian: I always imagined you lived in Cricklade Road for a long time. But it was only a year. You seem to have so many memories of that time, and you can remember all the names and everything.
Eileen: Yes, but we were out playing all the time, and we went to school with Linda and Francis.
Bet: Do you remember Bill Bowler?
Eileen: Yes, but he wasn't related. He was just a neighbour.
Bet: He was the postman who used to read all our letters.
Brian: Where was this, in Cricklade Road?
Eileen: No, he was the next-door neighbour in Chestnut Avenue. He used to read our letters and tell us what was in them.
Bet: Dad told him he'd get him in trouble if he carried on doing it.
Eileen: I didn't like Dad very much. He was strict and I was a bit frightened of him. Bet and Joe were his favourites.
Bet: I remember once he took me to the Grove for a meal. Mum had a go at me later because he didn't take Madge too.
Eileen: I remember once - after Ted and I we were married and living with them at Okus Grove - Ted found Dad's wage slip. He always went into the toilet to count his money, and he dropped his wage slip there. Ted found it and said "Look, your dad's left his wage slip. What shall I do?" I told him to just put it back where he found it and don't say anything.
Brian: Your dad was a boilermaker...
Eileen: A boiler maker and plate layer, we were always told.
Bet: He worked in L2 shop. It's in the Outlet Village now.
Eileen: Yes, that's right.
Brian: Was he deaf? I read that all the boilermakers eventually went deaf.
Eileen: No. He wasn't deaf - he was hard of hearing, but not deaf.
Brian: Why didn't Uncle John follow his dad into the railways?
Eileen: He didn't want to go into the factory. He worked at the Arcadia instead. He was first or second projectionist or something.
Brian: But he did go into the factory later?
Eileen: Yes, after the war. Dad said he could get him in, and he got him a job.
Brian: But not as a boilermaker.
Eileen: No, he was just a labourer. He never did an apprenticeship or anything.
Brian: So Joe went in instead?
Eileen: Yes, he started his apprenticeship straight from school. But then he was called up. He was one of the first to be called up. He was only about 19 or nearly 20. It was in 1939.
Bet: He started off as an engine room artificer. Then he was a petty officer, then he was made chief petty officer.
Brian: So he never finished his apprenticeship?
Eileen: No. By the time the war was over, he was too old to finish it. It was supposed to be five years. I think what he did in the Navy might have counted towards it or something.
Brian: What did he do in the Navy? Where did he go?
Eileen: He went all over the place. He went to America and Bermuda. He told us a story about when he was in Bermuda. He said he was walking along the road when a black man stole some money off him. He chased after him and told a black policeman. The policeman chased the thief and eventually caught him. Then the policeman ran off with it!
Brian: He was also involved in the D-Day landings wasn't he?
Eileen: He said he landed tanks and supplies.
Bet: It was Landing Tanks or something.
Eileen: That's what he said - he was landing tanks on the beaches.
Brian: So he wasn't in the big ships shelling the beaches, he was in a smaller one, landing tanks on the beaches.
Eileen: Yes, but they couldn't have been that small, if they were landing tanks. He said the noise was terrible.
Brian: Did he stay in the Navy after the war.
Eileen: No. He was a bag of nerves when he came out.
Brian: And afterwards he went back into the factory.
Brian: So Joe and John both worked there together?
Eileen: No. They didn't work together, not in the same place, but they were near each other. That's when they weren't talking to each other. Joe said he saw John walking through the factory and he just ignored him.
Brian: What did Uncle John do in the war? Did he go abroad?
Eileen: We was in the Royal Artillery. And I'm sure he was transferred to the Black Watch. But he never went abroad. Joe used to tease him and call him a fireside soldier. He was stationed in Looe and Falmouth and at Pendennis Castle. He was never posted abroad though.
Brian: How often did he come home?
Eileen: They only came home about once every three months.
Brian: What happened to Stan's parents?
Eileen: His mother was burnt to death in a house fire. He wasn't very old. He said he remembered seeing the neighbours rolling her up in the mat to try to put the flames out.
Brian: It was a house fire? Did the house burn down? Or was it a chip-pan fire or something?
Eileen: No, I don't think the house burnt down. I think it was a fire in the house. He was taken in by a neighbour - Mrs Bown - in Omdurman Street. She brought him up. She was very strict with him. She looked after him, but she was very strict. He was in the choir - a choirboy - at All Saints Church. He had to be in early when he went out. He was in the Boy Scouts - you know - the older ones. He sometimes used to wear the uniform when he courted our Madge. His older brothers and sister were taken in by another family, but they couldn't take him. He was the youngest. He went to Sanford Street School.
Brian: Where did he live before? Where was the fire?
Eileen: I think it was in Omdurman Street. Mrs Bown was a neighbour. That's where she lived.
Brian: Who were his brothers and sisters?
Eileen: There was Arthur (he was in a wheelchair - he'd had frostbite in his legs in the war) and Ted. He also had a sister, but I can't remember her hame.
Brian: And what happened to his father?
Eileen: He was killed on the railway line. I don't know what happened. It was all very tragic.
Brian: Who died first, his mother or his father?
Eileen: I think his mother died first.
Brian: When was Stan born?
Eileen: He was about two months older than our Madge. He was born in the November [18 November 1915], she was in the following January [21 January 1916].
Brian: Where did Madge work?
Eileen: Her first job was in McIlroys. She got ten shillings a week. She had to wear a black dress with a white collar.
Brian: She worked in the shop, not in the offices?
Brian: How did she meet Stan?
Eileen: Marion Mapson worked with Madge. Her boyfriend was called Pop Plyer. Pop was Stan's friend, so the four of them went out together.
Brian: Where did she work next?
Eileen: Nowhere else. She gave up work when she got married and they moved to the Isle of Wight, during the war.
Brian: But she worked on the mobile shop later?
Eileen: Yes, but that was much later.
Brian: Where did Stan work on the Isle of Wight?
Eileen: Stan worked at Saunders-Roe - building the flying boats. He finished his apprenticeship in the factory and went over there. It was a good job. They paid well. They got married in the Isle of Wight. Mum and Dad went but we couldn't go. Madge always promised us we would be her bridesmaids, but she got married during the war and we couldn't go.
Bet: You had to have special permission to travel to the Isle of Wight.
Eileen: Madge never liked the Isle of Wight. She got homesick. I remember one Christmas they were going to come home but it was too foggy and they stopped the floating bridge. Madge had presents and things, so they and another couple hired a tiny boat instead. They came across from the Isle of Wight to Southampton in a little rowing boat! They lived in York Road, East Cowes - in a flat in a house owned by Mrs Luckett. She had a daughter called Gladys.
Brian: And that's where they met their friends, the Coxes?
Eileen: Harold Cox came from Swindon. He went over with them. But Irene was from the Isle of Wight. There were a lot from Swindon all went over together. Charlie Reynolds went too. He owns the paper shop in Lower Stratton (he's still alive - he's 93 and still does a paper round - he was in the Adver recently). Charlie married another Isle of Wight girl - Phyl Reynolds. And there was also Ginger Winslow. Phyl Reynolds had a sister called Claire. Claire and her husband, and our Madge and Stan rented a big house called 'Mayotta'. I can't remember the name of the street.
Bet: It was a big house. It had servants' bells and things.
Eileen: I think that's what happened - loads of people rented out their big houses during the war.
Bet: That was where I got machine-gunned. There was a big cinema at the bottom of the road. We got machine-gunned when we came out. We ran up the street, knocked on a door and, when a woman opened it, we just ran in - pushed past her - without asking.
Eileen: I got machine-gunned too; not then, but another time.
Brian: How often did you go to the Isle of Wight to visit them?
Eileen: I spent five weeks there. Our Madge wrote and asked permission. When I had to go back to school, I was scared because I thought Mason would have a go at me. Mum took me back and we went to Mr Mason and she explained that I had been in the Isle of Wight because I was keeping Madge company. She told him she was scared that he would have a go at me. Once Mum had gone, he sent for me, and had a go at me! On the Isle of Wight, there was a woman called Mrs Payne, who brought black market stuff. I don't know where she got it, and it was twice the price, but we had things that others couldn't get.
Bet: I didn't go much. I was at work and so it wasn't easy for me to get the time off. Dad didn't go much either. He said he didn't want to go over there and get shot at.
Brian: Did they come back straight after the war?
Eileen: Stan came back and worked in the factory. Harold Cox stayed. Charlie Reynolds came back and bought the paper shop in Lower Stratton - opposite St Margaret's Green. Liam did a paper round from there. But I don't think they came straight back. Pat was born in Swindon, but I remember them going back to the Isle of Wight with her, and she was aged about two - well, she was a toddler.
Brian: Where did you work, Mum. I know you worked in Broad Street Co-op first (after the draper's shop and Comptons).
Bet: Yes, I worked in Broad Street, then the Kiosk. I was transferred there because the woman who did that was called up for war work. She was in her thirties, but I was only 14, so I couldn't, and I took her place.
Brian: Where was the kiosk?
Bet: Along Fleet Street. Opposite where Wilkinsons is now. There was Peacocks, a cake shop, the kiosk, a butcher's and a grocer's (East Street Co-op).
Brian: That's where Duck, Son and Pinker is now.
Eileen: That used to be along by the station, and Edgar's wife's family used to own all those buildings.
Brian: That's right, but they moved along the road a few years ago, opposite where Stead and Simpson was, what's now Wilkinsons.
Eileen: The Henry Street Co-op was one end of the street and East Street Co-op the other.
Brian: And you worked in different Co-ops didn't you?
Bet: Yes, I worked in a lot of the shops along there, and in other Co-ops too.
I worked in the cake shop with Mrs Marsh and Mrs Gardner. Did I tell you about when I pinched the half a pound of butter? There used to be this bloke who looked over us all the time. I wanted some butter, and I would have paid for it, but there was rationing on, so they wouldn't have let me have it if I had paid for it. Anyway, I kept my eye on this bloke, and slowly moved this butter across the table and into my pocket. We used to have these white aprons with a pocket in, and I dropped it into the pocket. Then I went out the back and put it in my coat pocket. I was terrified that it would melt or someone would find it. But they didn't and we had butter that night, which was rare because of the rationing.
Eileen: I've worked in most of the Co-ops in Swindon. They'd send the youngest ones to go and cover wherever they were short. I worked in Henry Street Co-op. I worked for Mr Hale. Remember him? And then you worked for Dubber.
Bet: Yes, Mr Dubber was at East Street.
Eileen: And it was Mr Hale at Henry Street. And his first hand there was Mr Lyndsey - he's the one I told you about - who committed suicide.
Brian: How long did you work at the kiosk?
Bet: About two years. That's where I started smoking. They would be queueing up in the street before we opened during the war. I tried and then I smoked from then onwards. I had to hide it from our Mum and Dad though. Our Dad used to come around to the back door, knock three times, and then I would sell him his black shag. That's what he smoked.
Eileen: There used to be a Co-op cafe there too.
Bet: Yes, we used to go around there and get cheaper food, because we worked there, we got it cheaper. But we could only eat it out the back of the shop.
Brian: Where did you work when you got married?
Eileen: You worked in Wise's didn't you? Making cakes. They used to make cakes for Marks and Spencers.
Brian: Was it actually called Wise's then.
Eileen: Yes - down the bottom of Meadowcroft, in Green Road.
Bet: Yes, the boss gave us some flour and currants for our wedding cake. He did it on the quiet. He brought it round to Okus Grove.
Eileen: Then you worked in the NAAFI.
Brian: Where was that? Was that what became the Plessey canteen down Kembrey Street?
Bet: Yes. We used to make cakes for the soldiers at Cirencester. They used to have lorries come and take them. Sometimes, after we finished, we would go there too. One day, after we'd laid out the pastry, a load of bees came and settled on it. We couldn't get them off. We asked the boss what to do. He said, "You'll have to do something, they've got to go." So we just rolled it up with the bees still in it. And that's what they got - bees and all.
Brian: And that's what eventually became Plessey's canteen, and you worked there with Madge, on nights?
Bet: Yes. I can remember, when we started, one of the blokes told us that all the workers were convicts who were allowed to work there at night. He told us to be careful. We believed him at first.
Brian: Did Madge work anywhere else?
Eileen: Yes, she worked in Stratton hospital for a while.
Bet: Yes, and I did her job once when she was on holiday. She could only go away if she could find someone to take her place. She asked me and I said "No." I couldn't work in a hospital. But then I worked there, in the kitchens. I wouldn't move from the kitchens because I didn't know where the mortuary was. I just did it for two weeks.
Eileen: After that, Madge had John, then she worked on the mobiles [the Co-op mobile shops], when John was about five or six. Ted also worked on the mobiles. So did I, later.
Brian: What was your first job?
Eileen: In the Co-op on Commercial Road, until I was about 16. Then I worked for Rose's butchers, in Gorse Hill. I worked in the pork shop. That's where I met Ted. He worked there, making sausages. Rose's was two shops next to each other. There was the pork shop and the beef shop. The pork shop sold sausages, black pudding, bacon, that sort of thing. The beef shop sold red meat. But you could also buy pork in the beef shop. The beef shop was run by Joe and Will Rose; the pork shop by Chris and Frank Rose. They were four brothers. Next door was an optician's shop, which was also Rose's - that was run by Donald Rose, who was Frank's son. He was almost blind. None of the four brothers' sons went into butchery, as far as I know.
Brian: Did you work in the shop?
Eileen: Yes, to start with, but then I worked in the beef shop office. I was doing the book-keeping - doing all the takings for all the shops. They also had a shop in Ferndale Road (down by Bailey's Corner) and another one in Rodbourne, I think. I worked with Frank Royle, father of Pat Royle, who married Joan Rew - Julie's auntie. Then I worked with Joan in Garrards.
Brian: Was that your next job?
Eileen: Yes, I worked in Garrards. They made pick-ups for record players. I did soldering. I got married when I was there. And we lived in Okus Grove. After having Peter [17 December 1952], I went to work in Henry Street Co-op.
Brian: Where was Ted working?
Eileen: He left Rose's and worked for Padget's - another butcher's shop in Euclid Street. He was about 18 when he was there and should have done his national service. But the owner of the shop wrote to say that he couldn't replace him in the shop, and his national service was deferred for about a year. But he eventually went in and he was in the military police. He did his 18 months, and when he came home we got married. [Note: Padget's was at 41 Euclid Street].
Brian: When was that?
Eileen: 3 March 1951.
Brian: That was only a couple of weeks before Carol was born.
Eileen: Yes, Betty was right out here at the wedding.
Brian: Where did Ted work next?
Eileen: He worked at Baxter's in Gorse Hill. He was there quite a time. Then he had his own shop.
Brian: Where was that?
Eileen: In Beatrice Street. His brother, John had the shop, and a house attached to it. Ted rented the shop off him when John moved to Purton.
Brian: Not the house?
Eileen: No, just the shop. But then Ted had his accident.
Brian: What was that?
Eileen: He had a bad accident and nearly lost his arm.
Brian: Was it a car accident? What happened?
Eileen: A car accident. Actually, it was when he was doing the rounds from his shop. He was coming home, at about 11.00pm and had all the takings with him. He was driving along Cricklade Road and signalled to turn right into Okus Grove. In those days, the indicators weren't much good, so he put his arm out the window. Just then, an American bloke was riding his motorbike, and he must have got confused or something, and he overtook him - while he was turning. His arm was pushed into the broken window glass and he was cut to ribbons. He lost a lot of blood. He was cut right down the length of his arm. His arm was all shredded. There was a St John's Ambulance man, who just happened to be passing. He was just on his way back home - to Penhill I think. Anyway, someone got a sheet, and this St John's Ambulance man used it as a tourniquet and stopped him bleeding. He saved his life really. He would have bled to death. Two fellas came round and said, "Is your husband a butcher?" When I said "Yes", they said he'd had a bad accident and I'd better go with them. So, they drove me to the hospital. They stitched him up in the operating theatre. I saw him being wheeled out. He was still unconscious. The doctor told me he was lucky the other doctor hadn't been on duty because his arm was in a bad state and he would probably have just amputated it. I couldn't do anything else, so they told me to go home. But I had no money with me. I had just jumped in the car and didn't bring any. But someone had brought the bag of takings from the car, so I used that to pay for a taxi home. Later he went to London for operations on his arm. He had all the tendons severed, and when they sewed them back, two of his fingers were a bit mixed up. If he had an itch in one, he had to scratch the other. He also had a crook in his little finger after that. It was front page news: "Swindon man has over 100 stitches after accident."
Brian: When was this?
Eileen: It must have been about 1954 or 1955.
Brian: And he couldn't work for a long time after that?
Bet: You got some compensation didn't you?
Eileen: Yes, we did get some. Not very much. He couldn't do butchering for a while after that. You need to use a lot of force with your arms and he couldn't do it.
Brian: But he went back to butchering later.
Eileen: Yes, but it took a long time for his arm to get better. First of all, he had it up here, in a sling. They had to keep cutting tendons and pulling it down until eventually he could use it again. He went to work on the mobiles for a while.
Brian: How many people worked on each one.
Eileen: Ted was a driver. But you'd also have one or two people serving.
Brian: Did you work on there with him?
Eileen: No, I never worked on there with Ted. But I did work with our Madge. I remember when I was working on there, Ted had left. And these women came on and said "Where's Ted?" Madge told them he had left. They said, "Oh, we're not coming on here if Ted's not here!" Madge said, "You'd better be careful what you say. This is his wife." They said, "No, it can't be. He told us he wasn't married." They refused to believe he was married and I was his wife!
Bet: I don't know how you could have worked on there.
Eileen: On the mobiles? No, I liked working on the mobiles. After Ted left I went to work on them, with our Madge. Mr Baker - he was in charge, sort of inspector of the mobiles - sacked me, because he didn't like it because Ted had left.
I went to see Mr Bright, the boss, and he said that Baker didn't have the right to do that; it wasn't his job to hire and fire, so he said I should go back and carry on, ignoring what Baker had said. But I told him I couldn't do that - Baker would make my life a mystery. So Mr Bright gave me a job in Broad Street Co-op instead.
Brian: What was Ted's date of birth?
Eileen: March 24, 1930. He was about two and a half years younger than me.
Brian: And where did Ted work next?
Eileen: He was a policeman at Plesseys - you know, on the gate, and patrolling, to make sure no one was pinching things. But eventually he went back to butchering - back to Baxter's.
Brian: And where did you work next?
Eileen: I moved on to Henry Street Co-op. Then I was pregnant with Roger, and I left.
Brian: Is that went you went on the milk round?
Eileen: Yes, Roger was about six months old. I applied for a job, but I hadn't passed my [driving] test. I was due to take it a week or two later. The manager said he would give me the job if I passed my test. Then he said, if I promised I would pass, he would take me on straight away. So I actually started a couple of weeks before passing my test. I took the test in October and, although I stalled the engine, I passed - first time. The examiner asked me why I had stalled, and because I told him exactly why, he overlooked it and I passed. Ted had begun teaching me to drive, but it always ended in rows. So he went and taught his younger brother, Harold, and I had lessons. And in the end I passed and Harold failed! I had my own milk round of 800 pints. That was 800 pints of ordinary milk, but on top of that there was half-pints, gold top and red top and all that. Then I did another half round - another 400 pints, plus the other sorts. I had to get up at about 4.30am. I got to the dairy about 5.30am because everything had to be loaded up ready to go out at 6.00am. One day, on the way to work, I got stopped by the police. I was in Ted's van because he had my car for some reason. The policeman asked me the registration number, but because it was his van, I didn't know it. He got in the car and started asking me questions. I was a bit scared really. I told him he was going to make me late for work - which he did - I was late. When I got home and told Ted, he said he shouldn't have got in the car, so we went down the police station and complained. I told them where it was, and what time it was and everything, and they said I was right, and he shouldn't have got in the car. He could have been anyone. I know he was in a police car and everything but you never know. I was a bit worried.
Brian: How long did it take to do the round?
Eileen: I usually finished about 1.00pm.
Bet: I couldn't have done that job. I don't like getting up early.
Eileen: I enjoyed it. It was lovely in the summer but horrible in the winter. When I started, Ted said: "I'll give you a month." So I was determined to keep doing it. I did it for 12 years in the end. I kept saying I'd give it up, but I kept on. What made me give up in the end was, I got the flu and was off for a couple of weeks, and at the end of that I said, "That's enough, I don't want to go back to that." I can remember that the milk checks, which were only made of thin metal, would freeze to the steps when it was cold. We had to tap the milk bottles on top of them to get them off the step. I remember one day finding a note. I had to go back to the milk float to read it in the headlights because it was still dark. It said, "Young man. Would you kindly refrain from climbing the fence?" I wrote a reply saying, "Firstly, I am not a young man. And I'm not in the habit of climbing fences at six o'clock in the morning." We used to step over a low wall or something, but I didn't climb over fences.
Brian: Where was your round?
Eileen: The first one was Commercial Road, Westcott Place, Sunnyside, Grosvenor Road - around Kingshill. Then I would go back and fill up and do Dean Street, Birch Street, and that area.
Brian: Where was the dairy?
Eileen: Colbourne Street.
Brian: Was it the Co-op dairy?
Brian: So you had to go all the way to Colbourne Street to fill up?
Eileen: Yes. And the floats were hopeless in the snow. They didn't have the power to get going, the wheels couldn't grip. Sometimes people had to come and dig us out. One day, in the snow, the float slid, and I was going sideways down Dean Street. I thought to myself, "I hope to God I don't touch one of these cars." Sometimes they sent a lorry out and we had to do the round with that. But it was hard lifting those crates up there. The crates were 56lbs. And the handcrates we carried were 28lbs. And it's not as easy as people think, because they thought you just drove the float around. But really, if you think about it, you had to walk backwards and forwards to the float all the time, then drive it on a bit. Once, because of the snow, I didn't get home until about ten at night, and I'd been out since six in the morning.
Brian: Later on, you had a different round. I can remember Roger, Graham and I coming to help you a few times - around Headlands Grove.
Eileen: Yes, I did have a round around there. And I had one in Ferndale Road.
Brian: Where was Ted working? Did he ever work at his brother's shop in Cricklade?
Eileen: No, he never worked for Harold. He did make some sausages and things, but he never actually worked there. He went to work at Marston Meysey. That was for JMT. 'J' was for 'Jack', 'T' was for 'Tom' and 'M' was for 'Marion' - Tom's wife. But the 'M' was also for Jack's wife too, I think. I think her name started with M, but I can't remember her name. He used to drive around - a big heavy goods lorry - making deliveries. One day, when he was driving to London, he noticed he had lost his ring. He had a ring with a big black stone in it. He thought it must have got lost in the meat somewhere. But when he got back and parked the lorry, he looked down and saw the ring stuck in the tread of the tyre. It was just luck that the wheel stopped that way and he saw it. And the ring wasn't damaged - it had gone all the way to London and back stuck in the tyre. But the stone did fall out shortly afterwards and I had to have it reset.
Brian: I've got the cutting from the Adver - the report of your dad's funeral. Can you fill in the gaps about who all the people mentioned are? Mum's already told us some of them.
[The following is the full list of the people identified by Mum and Eileen.]
- Rev JC Hawksworth [Vicar of St Philip's and the brother of FW Hawksworth, chief mechanical engineer at Swindon Railway Works]
- Mr H Hunt - Harry Hunt - a workmate, possibly his charge hand
- Mr D Lamden - Donald Lamden: a workmate
- Mr McGill - foreman, L2 Shop (no more details known)
- Mr R Webb - inspector (no more details known)
- Mr Eagles - shop steward (no more details known)
- Mr D People - workmate (no more details known)
- Mr S Gealer - Sammy and Nellie Gealer were nextdoor neighbours (they lived at 24 Okus Grove)
- Mr E Summers - might have been a workmate, possibly called Ed Summers
- Mr H Smith - a workmate: Harry or Harold
- Mr W Morse - might have been a workmate, possibly Bill Morse
- Mr Shail - actually Pat Shails - a neighbour from across the road, who also worked with Dad
- Mr R Lukins - unknown
- Mrs Coombs - a former nextdoor neighbour who lived at 20 Okus Grove (the house later occupied by the Pollingers (see below))
- Mrs Pollinger - nextdoor neighbours (they lived at 20 Okus Grove), originally from London, who moved to Swindon during the Second World War
- Mr & Mrs S Hobbs - Stan Hobbs, a friend from the factory, who lived in Dores Road (near Pam Cook - possibly number 25)
- Roland and Harold [James] - Ted's brothers
- Hazel and Denis Akers - Denis was Mum's former boyfriend, who was later our insurance man
- E & R Courtney - lived at Pinehurst - Mrs E Courtney worked with Mum in the Co-op
- Dulcie - worked with Dad during the war