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Exeter Stories

Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous story │ Next story >>  │

Mrs K. R Pollard - A Mary Arches Street Childhood


I was born on the spot of the White Lion (then probably the White Ball) in Mary Arches Street. Where they've got their bar underneath was my mother's cobbled cellar, where we used to have our toilet and copper. She used to stand down there and do her washing under the grating, no light behind - we didn't have any light down there. You know these gratings in the road, well the daylight used to come down there and that's where she did her washing. When it was raining she used to get soaking wet.

I never went to school on Monday morning - always kept home Monday morning, stood on a stool to help with the washing. I was stood to the bath with the dirtiest washing and then I'd pass it to my mother's bath, then she'd carry it over to the copper. It was pitch dark down there. There were toads hopping about in the damp.

By the church was a cemetery. And the Synagogue is still there. Outside the Synagogue was our play area. There's two little pillars, still there now - they used to look huge to me. We always made sure of being there when the Jews came, with their black top hats. We used to sit there and wait for them to come out and they threw you a penny. My friend's mother used to clean the Synagogue.

In Synagogue Place was a big mattress factory and there was a big fire there one night. I remember this fire very well, 'cos the little girl that I played with, lived opposite in the Synagogue House, was burned. The flames went across - it was very narrow you see - and she'd got burns on her arm.

Woolworths

In between Milk Street and the Old Market was Woolworths, the first Woolworths. Everything was sixpence. They sold scooters - sixpence for the bottom half and sixpence for the upright part. And it took me in my memory - time as a child is different - nearly 12 weeks to save the shilling. I bought the bottom part first. I thought, well I can sit on the bottom part and move along. Then I had to save to get the top half. And I was scared stiff they were going to sell out before I could get the top half.

I got my money in the market just across the road. You didn't worry about traffic 'cos 'twas only the trams, horses and carts and you did get the odd car. There was an old man who kept a stall inside - he had a peg leg - called Hookway. I used to work for him carrying his sweet jars - he used to have sticky boiled sweets - down Smythen Street to Evans and Gadds. They were the chemists and used to take all the sweet jars in. I used to have to take them down there and when I got back I used to have to tidy up his stall: he used to sell bootlaces, clay pipes and sweets. It was all put in together. And he used to say to me, "You can either have an everlasting strip or a humbug or you can have a halfpenny." I used to weigh it up in my mind where I was going to benefit from all this. You see, I'd say, with a halfpenny I could buy two everlasting strips 'cos they were a farthing each and he was only going to give me one. So I nearly always took the halfpenny.

If I was saving for a scooter I put it back, but times I wasn't, I used to wait for Casalucci to come round with his icecream cart and take my cup out. You'd get a cupful of icecream for a halfpenny and he'd stick a waver in the top. And you just sat down and made a meal of it.

Reading Comics at the Market

When I could first read - I used to love reading - there used to be a man in the market and he sold second-hand comics: Schoolgirl's Own, Billy Bunter and I used to stand over that stall so often reading. He said to me one day, "This don't belong to you you know. Have you ever thought of buying anything?" Very often he used to say it to me, "Have you ever thought of buying anything?" I'd move up and read, and he'd come up again, "Why don't you try buying something?" He got used to me and eventually didn't take any notice.

I used to go through the market to school 'cos I didn't go to Mary Arches Street School. I couldn't get in there - there was too many children. I had to go down to Central. Although I was born and bred in Mary Arches the school was full. Come the age of four it was compulsory to go to school. You couldn't stay at home till five like now or you were summonsed. So my parents had to take me to Naval Rack Street College so I went through the market every day. And I saw Hookway everyday in the dinner hour. There were no school dinners and my mother didn't have much for dinner - bit of bread and marge - so I used to spend my time there, standing on a stool, 'cos I was only a little tacker.

On Saturday nights, the market was open till nine, dead packed - it was a real market. I used to spend hours in that market. We used to jump from stall to stall when it was empty, and when it was full we'd crawl underneath to see if anything was dropping. There was this old lady who'd sit and sell chitlings and when she served anybody we used to sit and pick up the bits that dropped, as soon as they were cold, and put them up the leg of our knickers. She never once caught us - whether she was drunk or no, I don't know.

The West Quarter

The West Quarter were even worse off than us - some of them were starving. Some of the people I know who're well off now, starved when they were children. People didn't realise the starvation that went on. But, you see, the quarter, as we called it, people always used to say it was the roughest part of the town, roughs and scruffs. But you take it from me:    I've never seen anyone's name in the paper that's committed a crime from down there, real, nasty crimes that is - they might have done ordinary little things that anybody can do, but I'm talking about real crime. They all seem to have gone on and done well.

When I used to go to school I used to stand there, down where the old Bath and Wash-house place was in Rack Street and watch them rowing. They're fighting and rowing and us kids would stand and watch it all and we'd clap. They'd be nearly killing each other and you go down the next morning, you'd see 'em all talking together as if nothing had happened. Darn good row and finish. You see they really loved each other.

The back of Stones the Chemist in Fore Street came out by our back windows. We had no back entrance but we could look down and see the factory girls working, making up their medicines. I used to take some kids up the top room where my mother used to hang up the washing and watch the women and used to make all sorts of faces at them. And they used to put their fists up to us. But that was our pleasure - if you saw them in the street you wouldn't dare do nothing like that - they'd flip you round the ear.

As a child I never knew that Ladysmith Road or Oxford Road existed - I didn't know it was on the map. I do remember my parents saying, "You are never ever to go down Longbrook Street." And I often used to wonder why and it wasn't till I got older when of course I realised that it was the elite. It was like walking into Buckingham Palace you might say. Now unfortunately it is becoming the downer area of the city. Years ago all those big houses employed servants - Bedford Circus and Southernhay and Dix's Field was all the elite. We were scum compared to them, or they thought we were. Pennsylvania was a snob area and you wouldn't go up there. If you was a child there, you'd be chased off, otherwise you had to raise your hat to them as you walked up through, specially West Avenue. You might as well say, past the bottom of Longbrook Street, going up Pennsylvania was taboo.

When my mother died we were living at Burnthouse Lane. I was twelve when she died giving birth to my sister. We had to move 'cos our house was pulled down. When we went out to Burnthouse Lane she used to walk in 'cos there were no buses. She used to walk in to every service, ring the bells and clean the church, right up to when my sister was born and she died. I think she overdid it. I'm not exaggerating but the church was packed and so were the streets, for the funeral at Mary Arches Church. And the clergyman put his purple cloak over the coffin and they don't normally do that. I went into the church the other day - of course it's all altered 'cos it was bombed, but the font's still there where I was christened.

© 2007 Jenny Lloyd

These memories are taken from the contributon by Mrs Pollard to the People Talking project that was created by Jenny Lloyd in 1976.
The full transcript, and other People Talking memories are available at the West Country Studies Library or the Devon and Exeter Institution.

Mary Arches Street Mary Arches Street in the 1960s. The central building was the relocated Stones Chemist after the war. The building is now Butlers, and was the site of the White Ball and Golden Ball pubs. Photo courtesy of Dick Passmore.

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