Chesham Vale in the twenties and thirties
I was born in 1920, in “The Vale” a very small village just outside Chesham with about 24 houses and one Public House “The Black Horse”. Also in the village we had a small chapel which we would go to every Sunday afternoon. Sunday school teachers would walk from Chesham to teach us.
I had four brothers and three sisters, Mother and Father making ten of us, all living in a two up, two down cottage and all fed and clothed on one wage. We always looked neat and tidy. Sometimes an older sister would grow out of a coat, so it would be turned up for me, I was ever so pleased I liked it better than mine!
We had no electric, gas or tap water in our small cottage, Father would draw it from the well. We used about two tin bathfuls a day. We also had a very crude toilet, which the council supplied us with free disinfectant for, in the cold dark nights Father would have the task of taking the four girls up to the top of the garden to the small brick structure that housed our toilet, this brick building was about eight feet high with two bricks left out to supply fresh air, no windows! Father would carry an old empty jam jar with a candle stuck inside, a piece of string tied round the jar for a handle to light our way up the garden and we would take this in the toilet with us as there was no light inside. We didn’t have a bathroom, we did have a copper boiler that boiled the white clothes, sheets etc. with a place beneath it to burn fuel, we filled the copper boiler with cold water and also used this boiler to supply us with water for our weekly bath, when the water was heated we would use a large enamel jug to scoop the water out and into a large tin bath on the floor. For light we had paraffin lamps down stairs, one in each room, to go to bed we had a candle in a “candle stick” we had to blow it out once we settled down to sleep.
Porridge was one of our favourites for breakfast especially on cold winter mornings, great with jam on. About midday to one p.m. a proper hot meal, then about four thirty to five p.m. for tea we would have paste sandwiches sometimes with banana in and also marmite and Mother’s very own home baked cakes. My younger sister and myself had to keep the bedroom tidy and she would stand one side, me the other to make our bed and fold our nighties up nicely, put them under our pillow, we had to share a bedroom with two brothers, one younger, one older, but boys and men didn’t do housework things in those days.
I was nine or ten years old when we first had a radio, before that we would play ludo, snakes and ladders, cards or dominoes, sometimes we would just chat very quietly of course, our house before the radio was very quiet!
My Father kept chickens. He also had an allotment at the back of our small Chapel so we were never short of vegetables, you name them he grew them, even flowers so Mother had flowers from him as well as our wild ones. In the spring time we would pick blue bells, violets, primroses, cowslips, horse daisies, periwinkles and honey suckle from the hedge rows. Mother would put them in vases on the windowsill. We also used to pick baskets of dandelion heads, because Mother made dandelion wine, just snip the heads off. We also used to go blackberry picking so Mother could make jam, pies and puddings. We used to get up at six o’clock in the morning to pick mushrooms when the fields were fresh with dew.
We played when young, hoop, top, skipping and hopscotch. Ruff and tumble football with the boys as well as cricket, although we didn’t get chance to bat much, the boys saw to that!, we also played in the fields and woods climbing trees and swinging out on the boughs.
When we went out we did not have to worry about locking the door, our Co-op delivery man would just come in and leave the groceries on the table for Mother and shut the door behind him! The baker would do like wise with our bread order, crime was rare. Our milkmen would measure our milk out in Gills – 4 Gills in 1 Pint – this would be poured into our own jugs, the milk bottle was unheard of and we could only obtain milk from the milkman. He delivered the milk in a small two wheeled horse and cart which had a little step at the back for him to get to his seat to reach the horse’s reins, at the back of the cart were two very large milk churns. The only milk we could buy from a shop was condensed in a tin and was very sweet.
Another delivery we had was coal for our only method of heating, it would be used for cooking and in the fire grates. We would make our toast by putting the bread on the end of a fork and hold it up in front of the grate bars to brown it. In the summer Walls ice cream was sold to us by a man on a three wheeled bike which had a large square box on wheels containing the ice cream, Mother would take a basin out and have four penny worth for herself and Father while we children would have cornets which cost two pence each (old pence). This was quite a lot of money!
We knew all the delivery persons by name, we lived in a very friendly environment.
I started school at Townsend Road Infants. From five to eight years of age our classes were mixed. At eight the boys went to White Hill School until eleven and then to Germain Street School until fourteen when they left to go to work. The girls went to White Hill from eleven to fourteen. There was no bus service through the village in those days, we had to walk to school.
You had to be very naughty to get the cane. I can’t remember any girl getting it. If we were late we would have a hundred lines to do, for instance “I must not be late”, and for speaking in class the same thing, a hundred lines. We were too scared of the cane to do anything really bad. My favourite lessons were, dictation, music, history, sewing, knitting and science. We also had arithmetic (as we knew it), drawing lessons, painting was a subject that I liked along with spelling which I loved.
When at White Hill School we had domestic lessons at Germain Street once a week. We were taught housekeeping such as how to lay the fire in the open grate and how to lay the table. We had to take sandwiches and a slice of cake for school dinners and sit at our desks to eat them.
I can remember that while at White Hill School there were two playgrounds, one for the junior boys and one for the senior girls. Playtime games at White Hill were mostly skipping and chasing. I got to like Drill as it was called then which is called P.T. or P.E. now.
I went to work at the age of fourteen years at Lewis’s Brush Factory just up the side road opposite The Nashleigh Arms Pub. I always loved housework so I decided to answer an advert “Wanted Housemaid”, I got the job and left the brush factory, my boss said “if you don’t like it you can always come back”, I did like it, but missed my freedom, as I only had half a day a week and a separate night a week off, the money was wonderful and the food delicious and I got on well with The Lady of the House, the cook and the chauffeur, but I went back to the brush factory and eventually the 2nd World War came and I was sent to High Wycombe on War Munitions, not my choice but the government’s. We had to go into lodgings as the bus service was too poor for me to travel home to Chesham Vale each day, the government paid some of our rent for us. I found out I could get special exemption and return to Chesham, because having lost my mother at the age of eleven years I had been cooking and cleaning for my father and brothers ever since and now they were finding it hard to care for themselves, so I went before a “Court Tribunal” and I was allowed to return home.
I went to the British Legion dances sometimes, there were two cinemas in Chesham, The Astoria in the Broadway and The Embassy in Red Lion Street, sadly all gone now. Sometimes we would go to The Regent cinema up in Amersham-on-the-Hill. On sunny days we would stroll sedately through the avenue of elm trees in Lowndes Park pretending to ignore the boys! Our family couldn’t afford holidays so instead we would have the odd day out at the seaside by local coach.