And the knickers would be washed, mangled and dried overnight
I was born in 1926, so next Thursday I shall be 86. I was born in a house just along the road here in Wakefield Street where I’m living now. We were very poor, as most people were, but we did have this habit of sweeping the front and washing the window sills and scrubbing the doorstep. It was a ritual. You were as clean outside as in. There was never even a piece of paper. And we kept chickens because that was survival, chickens and rabbits. My Mother used to say “Go out and sweep some of the grit from just out in the kerb there”, because we didn’t have roads, it was just stone and grit and we used to sprinkle that on the earth for the chickens to peck at. It was a theory that it would make their eggs stronger. Talking of the chickens, my Mother used to save all of the potato peels and boil them down and there was like a brown powder and it was just called meal and it was shaken in to make like a paste and when it was cool, God didn’t them old chickens gobble it up.
My Mother had ten children. Her first husband got killed in the First World War so she was left with a little girl and a boy and back then it was so hard to live. Then she met my Father, well he was prepared to take one of the children so he took the little girl and my Grandmother took on the little boy. My Grandmother only lived a block away, in The Avenue. She was a good Grandmother, she was. Then my Mother went on to have five boys and three girls by my Dad. When Britain had its great General Strike everybody could throw the towel in but my Mum had to get me born, so she didn’t get much of a rest I don’t suppose.
I went to Raynham Road School and that’s in just the block over the road so I didn’t have very far to go. We were very fortunate. We had the trams – we didn’t have buses – it was trams when I was a kid. Also horse carts and bicycles.
We had our churches all around, beautiful churches, many of which they destroyed. Not the war, but whether the church decided to remove them I don’t know. But we had some beautiful churches. I think in them days my Grandmother used to go, but my Mum’s hands were too busy.
My Father was “on the building” and this cement, well the chemical wasn’t good enough, and in the frost the cement would crack and so they were all laid off work. So my Dad was out of work. In the cold weather, if it snowed, he would go out to Palmers Green where all the Jewish community lived and they were very kind and he used to sweep the snow and they used to give him eggs and things.
My Mother used to take in washing and that was all she ever did. I used to collect and deliver it. I was about ten. She was never free. She used to go to bed tired. And she was a good mother, a very good mother, she never left us. In those days you’d put a penny in the gas meter. Mother would say it’s time to light up and we couldn’t afford tapers so she used to fold a piece of newspaper very thinly and light the fire and pull the chain and light it, and it would go “pwoop!” We had all clothes lines in the other roomwhere she used to dry her washing. All the time washing was hanging. And we used to sit on the towels and many of the things because you just couldn’t afford to keep putting flat irons on the gas. I used to always have burns. I had a padded cloth to hold the iron. We didn’t have an ironing board, we ironed on the table.
We didn’t have lots of clothes. We had one change. And the knickers would be washed, mangled and dried overnight with the heat in the house. We were always warm.
And Fore Street, oh Fore Street was wonderful. It was all Jewish, they were so kind, well they shared – they were good people. We had a big shop called Silesia and outside there used to be tins with glass tops with biscuits and you would pick what biscuit you wanted and then the eggs. On the one side you had all bacon and then cheese and butter. On the other side there was tea and sugar. You queued up and you were served. You got your piece of paper and you’d ask and it was put on the counter. It was a proper shop attitude as we knew it. I’d go up Leeds Street on the way, there were stalls. There was Fluffy and Mary – Fluffy that was the man with the potatoes and cabbages. Next to that there was old Polly, the mum, and Winkle selling fruit and veg. Next to that was salad, and that was Tilly. And then on the other side of the road we had Harry and Lizzy. Now Harry, Winkle and Fluffy were all brothers.
When my Mother was a young girl, on the corner of Raynham Rd and Fore St, on the High St where the Coop undertakers is now, well that was Marks & Spencer’s Penny Bazaar.
I remember Pritchard’s which was upmarket for cakes and afternoon teas. On Thursday afternoons all the shops in Edmonton shut, Thursday afternoon was afternoon off, and people might get together and have a quick coffee in Pritchards and then make their way to the West End where they used to celebrate. This was the Jewish people.
Kernocks the Baker, he was a German. He was a lovely man and good to my Mother. We used to go there Saturday nights and we used to get eight or nine loaves. Yes, she used to have a big pram and she might have a penny ha’penny left and she’d say to Mr Kernock. “I think I’ll have a piece of Tottenham cake”. Now Tottenham cake was sponge. Why it was called Tottenham cake, well I can only say it was first baked up there. So it was about three inches deep and it had jam in it and on the top it had this pink icing. But not like pink icing is today, this was good stuff. Mr Kernock used to give her a lump because of all the bread she’d bought and everything. Further down, The Maypole sold butter and cheese, and they patted the butter and you’d see the water spit out of it. Every Friday I’d get a piece, a quarter pound of butter and a small piece of Gorgonzola. That was my Mother’s gift to her Mother. On the corner we had a public house and it was called the Rose and Crown.
There were big families here in the street and all kinds of people. We had a little tobacconist – called Fieldings, I think. And they were father and son. Old Polly, who was on the fruit store with Winkle, she used to see me sometimes and she’d say “girly here, go in Fieldings and get me best quality snuff. Don’t let Winkle see you with it”. Cos it was a filthy habit, but instead of smoking that’s what they did. It was all cloak and dagger. She taught me how to be like a spy. Next to that was Schenken’s. Now this was a Ladies Outfitters and this was some shop! As you walked along the street Mr Schenken would be out on the pavement there, and I can see him now. He always had his trilby hat on and he’d have a smock. They always covered themselves. They always looked like they was in business. We used to have a chat and a laugh with him. Further down you had two Butchers shops next to each other. One was Griffiths and one was Dick Smiths. The lady who was on the cash register in Griffiths was so tall and she had beautiful hair, all waved and drawn back. Everybody’s hair was tidy in the shop. It was the thing. And then when you went into Dick Smiths they were different people again. One of the men looked like a boxer if I recall, you know a broken nose and that sort. You know there was no animosity, everybody was happy to be doing business.
Kids were lively, and we all had a job to do, me particularly. Oh yes, my Mum she got a good deal out of me, but never mind I loved her. I loved what she used to plan for me. And you could go right the way up to where Wetherspoon’s is today and that was a massive Herods. Oh that had a big staircase. I used to love to go in there but oh, you had to behave. Even if you walked in somebody might come up and say, oh no you’re not allowed. But I used to creep in there. I used to just love to go up the top of the stairs. This High St was a joy to walk down.
Well we only had three bedrooms. I can remember there was my Mother and Father in the main bedroom and I had a small bed under the window in their room. The middle room wasn’t very big but you’d get a double bed and you’d get three sleeping at the top, two at the bottom that was how it was. And then in the off room you’d get a bed big enough to take two and perhaps one at the bottom. It was rough but only as you look back on it, we didn’t care.
We didn’t have a fire in the bedrooms but if it was very cold the overcoats went on top of the bed. This was our way of life and one of the worst things was “toiletries” because you see there was an outside loo. You had the parlour, the next was the kitchen, the next was the scullery, so if you wanted to go to the toilet my Mother used to have to push the window up and you’d have to cock your leg over and get out and get down. If you were a kid it seemed like you were forever falling, although it wasn’t really very far. The loo was scrubbed two or three times a week. Mother always used to have lots of water from the washing, and the toilet seat was as white as snow.
We used to go to the pictures for 1s 3d, to The Regal. It was great round here. And then further down Fore St, at the end of Edmonton and the beginning of Tottenham,we had a little Tabernacle and we used to go there on a Monday and pay a ha’penny and watch the Magic Lantern. They used to get kids to get up and dance. I loved it. I often think I wish I could have entertained people. Of all the things in this world I would have loved to play the piano.
One house in this street was a clock menders and that was a Jewish family. Many of the Jews were taken away in the war because they were interned. We had little corner shops and there were lots of fields. That adjoining street, Clarendon Road, well that wasn’t there when I was a girl – that was fields. My Grandmother lived in Raynham Avenue and if she wanted us she had a pole with a white cloth on it and she used to put that out.
Over there my Grandfather had the horse grazing during the day, they had goats and they had a little trap out there. My Grandfather was a poacher in the early days. They used to have loose boards in the kitchen where he’d drop things and the police would go after him and they knew but they never used to make anything stick. Life wasn’t complicated. Then they started to build the Underground and my Grandfather started to go down there, they got infected with the compressed air down there . My Grandmother, being as she had been in service, was a wonderful cook. And if the flag went up I’d wonder what Granny had baked for us. Mum used to bake but it was plain. Granny always did special things, like a tart, and she would lattice all the top…oh blimey.
We had no fridges. We had what they called a safe on the wall with wire mesh and we’d keep things in there. At Christmas Grandfather would come round and ring the necks of the chickens. We never feared it cos we were trained. They were for food, they were not pets. That’s your survival. Grandfather used to kill the rabbits and they’d hang and dry outside because it used to be cold at Christmas. We’d pluck all the feathers out of the chickens. Oh that was a lovely mess, cos you’re doing it in the house in a big bath. We used to grate the bread and make the mix with the stuffing. And I used to be fascinated. My Mum would have the sharpest blade. Well kids couldn’t handle it today.
But then the war came and it changed our lives. Everything went to pot. You had to have a dug out and there weren’t chickens anymore and you missed your eggs. But then we had a ration book and my Mother was getting an army pay book for 3s 6d. She was never given 3s 6d in all her life. She was lucky if she got 1s 9d or two bob, for a bale of washing. My mother had time at last, but she still did all her washing.
I was almost fourteen when the war broke out and then I had to go to work. We were all fourteen and my teacher wanted to me stay on. She said I was capable of things but my Mum said, “no she’s got to come home and work, we need food on the table”. And I went to work at a factory over at Bridport Rd. It was called Dunlop and they were making the uniforms for the army. I was a bit nervous that first morning and a needle caught my finger. I can’t remember exactly how, but I did get away from there. It was very difficult to get away from a job then. I went to work at the chocolate factory – now that was up my street. Like most people, I liked chocolate but you soon get fed up with it. And that was in Dyson’s Rd, they were called Jamesons. We made the Dairy Maid chocolate, and that was a beautiful milk chocolate caramel. I worked there for quite a while. If you misbehaved you got suspended for three days, which happened to me I’m afraid. My Mother used to say to me when I was little, “why don’t you behave yourself” and she was still saying it when I was about sixteen.
Now we was all in bed when the Alcazar was bombed, there must have been a noise before the bomb came. We heard it cutting through the air, because I remember sitting up in bed and then we all heard the explosion. It ruined the Alcazar. Oh it was a beautiful cinema, and at the back they used to have wrestling.
In Raynham Rd they had an oil bomb, and oh that was messy, it was ghastly. There were people died with a direct hit near here because they were trying for the gas works. We were forbidden really to listen to Lord Haw Haw, but people did. You can’t stop them, you can’t go round every house. It used to break through, and it used to say….what was it..something calling, something calling… then he used to say who he was – Haw Haw. He was an Englishman and he said, “you didn’t have it very good did you tonight”, and it was creepy. They never did hit the gasworks. They got close, but never close enough. It was uncanny really.
We used to hear the Ak Ak guns here in the street. But we stopped going down the dug out because of the condensation. My Mother just thought we’d all be ill, so we slept under the table and we were very fortunate. Yes they fell very close and there were lumps of shrapnel in the road when we were going to work the next day. There was a gun, a massive heavy gun out towards the Cambridge High Road and there used to be a gun go through this street to defend the gasworks. It was a big factory area and we did take our share of bombs and there was quite a lot of damage done one way and another. And Haw Haw used to say the names of the streets and Mum would say, “turn that bloody thing off”. He used to name all the streets. Well all I can say is the Saints were with us. It was bad.
It’s not safe here now, I would move tomorrow if I could get somewhere. I am very unhappy. And people just drop their filth on the street. I think we were happier in the war.
Maisie Dyer, Edmonton resident