AN ENGLAND THAT WOULD NOT BE UNFAMILIAR TO CHARLES
DICKENS-BUT PEOPLE WERE HAPPIER.
LOST AGE OF INNOCENCE
Saturday, April 1st-2006
Can it really be in Living
new oral history
A country where most people
Led lives of poverty
Unimaginable today…but still
seemed happier than we are
riddled with disease and forced into workhouses, rat-infested homes and filthy,
crime infested streets; these personal accounts of everyday life, conjure up an
That would not be
unfamiliar with Charles Dickens.
In fact, although these
chronicles -collected together in a new book -have echoes of an entirely
different age, they actually took place only 100 years ago.
They are the forgotten
voices of the Edwardians-and anyone who believes the old saying that the reign
of Edward VII from 1901 to 1910, was supposed to be a golden age is in for a
Here is one citizen, Edith Turner remembering her
childhood, circa 1905.
‘When my brother was three
days old my mother had milk fever. That’s when a baby can’t suck the milk from
the mother and the milk goes to the brain, where it causes something like
‘It came from worry, anxiety
and unemployment. My mother was unstable. She didn’t know what she was doing.
The more the baby cried, the more she smacked him.’
The doctor ordered that her
mother be taken to hospital:
‘So my mother was taken away
with my brother strapped to her side on the stretcher. At the same time, a
nurse carried my youngest sister downstairs, because she was found to have
double pneumonia. That left the rest of us with father.’
Her father went out selling
papers to earn a few coppers. ‘When he was out doing this. I was locked in a
room at home so I couldn’t come in contact with the landlord.
‘The landlord would knock on
the door and when he got no answer he tried to open the door to get in. I used
to lie on the floor and watch under the door to see he went away.’
EDITH, undernourished, developed
ringworm and eczema; her whole head was covered with in sores. ‘My parents were
unable to care for me. I was put in Cottage Homes, which was a place similar to
Doctor Barnardo’s, where children who they thought were unwanted were cared for
until the parents could take then again.’
‘There was NO welfare state
-recalled Anne Taylor.
‘The doctor pleased himself whether he came or not…and if
you hadn’t got a half a crown (12-and-a-half pence), he wouldn’t come in the
house to look at you.’
Children had a dose of senna pods or brimstone and treacle
each week to keep them healthy. To cure colds, Anne’s father ‘ would rub
Russian tallow and he used to rub it on our chests and since our clothes
weren’t thick, he ‘d wrap sheets of brown paper round us.
could see some of the poor little children - they came out with rickets -with
irons on their legs. Or you might be playing with this girl, same age, and see it coming -the signs
Don Murray remembered much the same: ‘When I was at school,
every class had at least two or three children who were knockneed, bow-legged
or humpbacked. There
was something wrong with at least three or four in each class.’
Children in those days lived constantly in the presence of
death and birth. Edward Slattery, born in a Lancashire mill town in December
1891, was the eldest of 13 children, of whom six survived childhood.
He watched his twin brother
and sister die of the croup -‘Somebody seemed to come and die at our house
every year when I was a boy.
‘I was 11 when I first
learned where babies came from. My mother was preparing to bake our weekly 20ib
dough, when she started to scream for me to fetch Mary O’Donnell (the midwife) …
‘When the midwife heard my
message, she ran to my mother and I followed. My mother lay on some papers
spread out on the floor, which seemed to be covered with messy blood, and Mary
was pulling a baby from her belly. She told me to go out and play for a while.’
The lower middle classes
strove to distance themselves from all this, taking refuge in the belief that
the poor were feckless and should be left to fend for themselves.
Ronald Chamberlain’s father
was a clerk in the Post Office, bringing up three children on a modest income
of £7 or £8 a week. He always wore a bowler hat and never worked in his shirt
THERE was great strictness
about table manners remembered Chamberlain: ‘No elbows on the table. Don’t put
food in your mouth when it is already full. Don’t speak while your eating. We
always said grace before a meal, and had to ask permission to leave the
‘The clothes he had to wear were equally restrictive: At
the age of five or six I had a velvet suit with an elaborate lace collar and I
can remember how uncomfortable it was.’
Yet the poorer the home, the
more inventive were the ways in which Edwardian children enjoyed themselves.
Polly Oldham, whose father worked for Blackburn Corporation remembered playing
games with old buttons and swinging hoops round her waist.
‘We played in the street.
The organ-grinder used to come round once a week, and we’d go and dance on the
flagstones to the music. The boys used to dance as well.
‘Then a rag and bone man
used to come round with a peep show. You’d give him rags, then he’d let you
look through a little hole, while he was pulling a string to make these dolls dance.
At Christmas, Polly helped hang the stocking up, ‘and we’d get a toffee pig, an
apple, an orange, a bar of chocolate and a little toy - and you could buy a
little doll then for tuppence, with a black head…The boys would get a whistle
or a flashlight and a new penny.’
For a farthing there were
lots of things one could buy,’ recalled her contemporary Florence Warn.
‘There was a strip of toffee
called Everlasting, which it was not; a braid of liquorice which broke into
strips and we called Wiggle waggle…sweet shrimps, white or pink fondant mice -we
girls were a trifle squeamish about eating these.’
The Easter procession in
London’s East End had a cart with a barrel organ and another cart with a big
dancing bear, but the winner was always a yellow cart with yellow flowers from
With the children free to
roam at will in those days, those who lived in the countryside found their own
Rose Bishop recalled roaming far and wide over Salisbury Plain,
‘with no restrictions of any
kind and seeing no one but an occasional shepherd. In due season we went in
search of pewit (lapwing) eggs to take home for breakfast or filled our baskets
Joseph Keate, tired after
chasing butterflies, would ‘sit on the grass, dig out a square hole, put some
twigs across the top and catch grasshoppers-of which there were hundreds.’
School started at the age of
five. Every child had to go, even if, like Edith Turner, they had no shoes or
socks. In Northumbria, John William Dorgan went to the local colliery school
instead of the grant maintained Church school, which his parents couldn’t
‘On Monday morning, every child in the school had had to
pay four pence. That was an enormous
amount of money in those
days. Usually I didn’t have it, so I had to walk to the front of the class and
put my hand out. [And by golly- it hurt!]
‘I received four good straps on the hand. Girls who couldn’t
afford the fourpence got the same.
About half the class used to get the strap every Monday morning. Because
they counldn’t pay.’
only arrived in 1905-06.
Children thought nothing of walking miles to the
schoolhouse. They boys arrived in
gangs, a happy gang or a fighting gang.’ Recalled Mr Patten, also from
‘You carried your “bait” - bread and dripping, bread and
butter and a tin bottle of tea. You
gathered in the playground and had great fun until nine-o-clock when the schoolmaster
blew a whistle and you ran into your classes’
Slates and chalk were used in class and for homework -and it
rained on the way to school, and the chalk washed off, it meant the cane.
Slates were horrid things thought Mary Allison -‘they used to scrap when you
wrote on them.’
‘We had to bring in our own rag to clean them, but
sometimes we used spit to wipe the writing off.’
Nearly all boys’ schools made liberal use of the
blackboard pointer and cane.
Teenagers developed a largely innocent curiosity towards
members of the opposite sex.
Ted Harrison loved the
joywheel at the fairs on Hackney Marshes:
‘ It was a flat wheel and it
spun you round and we used to like it because you could see the girls’ knees
and their drawers…bloomers that came just above the knee. They were the latest
Another new thing was fancy
garters. Some of the girls were daring -on the bottom of their petticoats they
used to wear a little bit of lace that would show under the skirt. That was the
enticement, you see. It used to get them a free drink at the pictures or a fish
and chip supper.’
Office life was much more
stately. There were horse-driven trams and buses, but most people walked to
work, wearing a stiff collar, tie, bowler hat, heavy boots and carrying an umbrella.
Typewriters were only just
coming in and the telephone was a luxury for the very few, so everything was
written by hand, including bank ledgers.
City streets, mostly cobbled,
were cluttered with horses, pulling carts, buses, trams and the two-wheeled
hansom cabs, and were filthy with horse manure. Boys collected it in pans and brushes and put in special containers. At night cleaners hosed down the streets.
These lives were incalculably different from the
Edwardian upper classes, whose food, heating and sanitation were no worse than
those of most British people today.
Londoners went on outings to watch the wealthy display
themselves: to see Mr Leopold Rothschild,
a rich, sociable landowner, driving his tandem of Zebras in Hyde Park, or to bow
as the aged Queen Victoria drove slowly by.
When Lady Charlotte Bonham Carter went out in the evening
she took either a four -wheeler or a hansom cab: ‘One’s parlour maid whistled
for them. If you wanted the four-wheeler,
she whistled once, but if she wanted the hansom cab she gave a double whistle.
The hansom cabs were very delightful.
Ronald Chamberlain remembered seeing the first motorbus: @It must have been about 1907. Somebody shouted:
“Quick! Quick! Quick! Come and look!
There’s a bus without a horse!”
It was a primitive thing running along in Islington, making an awful lot
of stink and noise, but everybody stood up to look.
In the same year the police set up the first ‘speed trap’
to catch any motorist, doing more than 20 mph.
Three officers would stand at markers, 100 yards apart
along the road. Each would wave a white handkerchief as the car went past,
noting the time on their watches.
time would be divided to calculate the speed of the vehicle.
Coal provided nearly all
of Edwardian Britain’s energy.
When George Cole left school at age 14, he signed up at
Seaham Colliery in the North East:
‘I left school at teatime, had a drink of tea with my dad,
walked up to the colliery, signed on and started work the next morning at ten
minutes to five’
Miners took bread and dripping down the pits because butter
or meat quickly went rancid from the gas. For the same reason, no smoking was
allowed; miners chewed tobacco instead. They wore wooden clogs, corduroy
trousers and a woollen shirt.
‘You took your dinner wrapped up in newspaper and you used
that as toilet paper,’ said George. ‘I took jam sandwiches to eat, and a bottle
of cold tea, which I kept in a tin box.
You didn’t wrap it in a handkerchief because if you put it on a prop on
the side, the rats would have it.
In the Cotton and Steel Mills, the pressure was
unremitting. ‘You had to pay tuppence a week to brew your own tea,’ recalled a
cotton weaver. ‘At Christmas, some mills would carry on - there might be a bit
of jollity but not a lot. You were just
keen to earn your money. They had a holiday on Christmas Day, but we never got paid for
Jack Gearing was an apprentice waterman on the Thames,
carrying horse manure from London Streets for farmers to spread on their
had to sign an age-old pledge to:
‘faithfully my master
serve, his secrets keep, not waste his goods, nor commit fornication, contract
matrimony, not play at cards, dice, tables, nor haunt taverns or play-houses or
absent myself from my masters service, day or night.’
But Edwardian England was still largely rural - a farmer kept
two cows on his farm at Notting Hill Gate - and there was always summer work
threshing or hop-picking, not to mention poaching.
If there was no work, Harry Matthews in Wiltshire went to
the workhouse on a Friday afternoon, and if the charity assessors swallowed his
story, they gave him tickets to exchange in the local store for bread and cheese.
‘If you couldn’t get any work, they used to give you a
ton of granite to crack up and put on roads, and they used to pay you 15 bob
OF COURSE, there was no refrigeration, so butchers had to
sell their meat at auction before they closed, late at night. Pigs used to scream because they were put in
boiling water alive, to make the meat whiter.
It was said:
‘You can eat all parts of a blinkin’ pig.’ Tripe was
popular, so were pease pudding and faggots.
Smoked salmon was relatively cheap, so were oysters, and the muffin man
came round at 4pm with a huge tray on his head.
Other than working in a factories or as shop assistants,
most girls who left school went into service, working long hours for a few
shillings a week, with a half day off.
Chamberlain’s father in Islington paid five shillings a week out of his earnings
as a Post Office clerk to a little girl straight out of school, who would get
up at 6.30am, make some porridge, light a fire and then work hard right through
the day until she went to bed at 9.30pm.
Apart from life at the very bottom of the social heap, the
struggle was not so much for money as for status.
Ray Head’s father was a policeman ‘and was moving from what you
might call the upper labouring class to the lower middle class.’ The result was that he built his own house in
cost £250 and had a kitchen, dining room, two lounges and three
bedrooms but no inside toilet or bathroom.
Hardly any working- class houses had bathrooms. In towns
people bathed in tubs; in the cities they went to public baths.
In May Pawsey’s street, people ‘didn’t have baths in our
houses so we all ran down on Friday nights to the Chelsea Town Hall to line up
for a bath for tuppence.
‘YOU WERE, in a cubicle and they put the hot and cold water
in from outside, so you had to be sure the temperature was right before you let
the ladies shut the door.’
Women waged a constant battle against children, drunken
husbands, coal smog, paraffin grease and dilapidation to keep the house
scrubbed and the shirts white.
the rats!’ exclaimed Ethel Barlow.
‘You’d be sitting in the house and all of a sudden rats
would come out of the fireplace. We never got rid of rats until World War I.
‘The Germans dropped a bomb on the donkey stable at the
back of us, and we found that the rats had a big tunnel under the earth and
made into all the houses. We dug some
more and found a big drain hole in our front garden. When we opened it there
were thousands of them’
Health care was makeshift. Broken arms and legs were set by
the doctor on the kitchen table; you had to be in dire straits to be stretchered
to hospital. When Emma Mitchel’s mother was ill, she would run to the chemist
foe a sixpenny leech.
are voices, which are not heard in this book:
The voices of rapists and child molesters, murderers and
madmen. But in the inner cities and the rural hinterland their presence must
have been felt.
Arthur Harding, who himself had been through Borstal,
reminds us that ‘there were plenty of child murders and people were afraid to trust
their children to other people’.
The notorious Amelia Dyer strangled six children with white
tape and was hanged at Reading.
‘On top of that, we were living in the midst of criminals
and thieves. I can remember we would always put something against a door -fix the
Windsor chair under the lock. That would stop anyone opening the door at night.’
There were two classes of girl according to Harding:
‘There was the prostitute pure and simple. With her, you take
your coat off, hang it up and she’d get ready to go to bed.’
The others ‘were girls in Spitalfields who’d give you a ‘fourpenny
touch’ - a knee-trembler’.
‘All the world is changing at once.’
remarked Winston Churchill, but in fact, the real changes would not begin for another four years,
with the onset of World War I. It was
in the wake of the War that the Edwardian age seemed golden.
What emerges from
these hundreds of forgotten voices is not change but continuity -the essence of a national character, which survived
2 World Wars
* * *
[Font altered-bolding & underlining used -comments in
Lost Voices Of The
Published by Harper Collins
Monday April 3-2006 at £20.
order a copy for £16 (plus £1.95p&p) call 0870 161 0870
* * *
[Latest Addition - June07]
Daniel Hannan - Forming an OPPOSITION
to the EU
WITH THE ONLY PARTY WITH A MANDATE
TO SET YOU
TO RECLAIM YOUR DEMOCRACY DON'T VOTE
FOR THE TRIPARTITE PARTIES IN WESTMINSTER
SMALL PARTIES THAT SPEAK THEIR MINDS
WITHOUT SPIN AND LIES.
[All underlined words have a
|Elections in the British
One Party State
If you vote Conservative, Labour,
Lib-Dem, UKIP or the BNP, you'll be voting for the EU dictatorship.
All five party leaderships are EU controlled. That's why your vote
doesn't make a difference - all these five parties have the same
policies: the EU's policies.
The 17 most senior
politicians in the Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour parties,
including Ken Clarke, Francis Maude, Cameron, William Hague, George
Osborne, Nick Clegg, Brown, David and Ed Milliband, Ed Balls, Peter
Mandleson are Bilderbergers, the 140 strong band of ultra senior
Freemasons who are bribed by the EU to build the EU dictatorship.
No Bilderberger, Freemason or Common Purpose graduate should ever
be allowed to hold public office.
UKIP and the BNP are honey traps to neutralise activists: UKIP is
riddled with Freemasons and Common Purpose like a cancer, and the
BNP controlled by the Edgar Griffin (father) and son Nick
Freemasonry family. The 350,000 freemasons and the 40,000 strong
Common Purpose Organisation are the (mostly unknowing) foot soldiers
of the EU in Britain. (Which makes the BNP the easiest party to
clean up - get rid of the Griffins, and put in a real anti-EU
details go to :http://eutruth.org.uk
ADDED - MAY-2012