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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 M J Whitehead - born in Stepcote Hill


I was born at Stepcote Hill in 1897, so you can tell I'm 80. I remember some things of Stepcote Hill. I used to run up and down the steps, down through the centre. There was an old lady who used to sell winkles; she'd sit on a chair and pick 'em out. I can picture that, young as I was.

I always remember, 24th May which was Empire Day. And we used to all come, girls with their white dresses with red, white and blue ribbons in their hair, and the boys all nicely done. And we used to have the Maypole there - we used to go round the Maypole, boys and girls. We'd all stand after and we'd have the Union Jack up on the staff and we'd all sing "Flag of Britain proudly waving over many different seas". And we used to sing it with gusto; it used to be lovely but they don't do that now.

He's gone to Paradise

My two brothers went to St. Nicholas School. The oldest of the two was Archibald and the other was Christopher. Well mother took Archibald away from the school 'cos he was getting older and sent him to Paradise School and when Christopher went to school on the Monday morning the nuns asked where Archibald was and he said, "Oh, he's gone to Paradise." And they all prayed for him, 'cos they thought he'd died.

When we were in Friernhay Street, Christopher, who was years older than me, was put to his trade as a saddler. My grandfather was a saddler and he had his own shop near the corner of the Mint in Fore Street Hill. We used to hear father tell us a story about it. It caught fire and my father said that in they days the firemen pumped with a pump and if they didn't have the beer to drink they'd stop. Course the business was lost and it went right down. When Chris came out of his apprenticeship as a saddler they offered him such small money - and he'd put in seven years and my father wanted him to be a saddler, so he went as a saddler in the Army. He went to the 1914 war and came back alright.

But when this brother used to come home from work, he'd give me threepence to go to this lovely cake shop, there in Fore Street - there's a post office there now. Beautiful cakes; it was two sisters that kept it. He'd tell me to get a seed cake. And he used to give us the money to call at the farthing packet shop and that was in Preston Street. This person used to make it all herself - all hard boiled sweets. For a farthing you'd get the waste, all sorts.

Fifteen children

I think my mother in all had about 15 children but she reared four boys and we three girls. She fostered two children as well. The girl, we always call her our sister, must have been about four weeks old when my mother took her. The priest at the church asked mother if she would have her. Lovely little baby she was, really handsome.

My father wasn't a Catholic; he was Church of England, not that he went anywhere...... We three girls were christened Catholic. My mother's mother was real Irish Catholic and whenever a child was born she used to come in and carry on and they had to go to church and be baptised right away. But only one of the boys was baptised a Catholic and that was my oldest brother.

My First Job

I left school at the age of 13. And my first job was for a Catholic lady up at Pennsylvania. I went there as a little servant. I had 1/6 (1 shilling and 6 pence) a week and my food. Sundays and all I used to go. And Sundays, my father, dear of him, he used always come to meet me. I don't know if you know down the bottom of Longbrook Street, there's a railway bridge - father used to wait there for me to come along. I worked further up in one of the big houses there. And when I got home, mother always had my roast dinner for me. Some nights I used to sleep there. The husband was one of the big noises of Home and Colonial Stores. I used to sleep there when he was away. I slept right at the top.

When I left there I worked for a sweet factory in Friernhay Street. They used to make sweets and cordial and they were called Allpan. They used to give us a packet of sweets when we'd finished of a Friday. They had a chemist shop in High Street and their private house was in what we call the Walk.

Carts used to come right up Friernhay Street in they days and I used to be afraid of my life to pass if there was a horse there. Up above there were some houses and there was a family there called Moxey and one of their sons used to repair shoes. My mother used to make us take them there. Next to their house was a lady called Mrs. Noble who used to make beautiful corsets. As you came further up was a policeman that lived there and I used to go in and do some errands for his wife. Further down where Wheaton's men would come out from their work and where I worked the sweets, there was a big yard and a house up over and an Italian lived there. He had a daughter and she was called Maria Casanelli - she was handsome. Her father and her brother used to take a cart and he used to sell Ocky Pockies. "Penny a lump, that's the stuff to make you jump," he used to shout out. It was like a solid piece of ice. This girl used to go sometimes with her father. After they left there, the Frenchies used to come there with their onions.

I remember St. John's Church in Fore Street - it's not there now, very old church. Sundays for services the bells used to peel out a hymn: Now the Day is Over. I used to love to hear that, beautiful it used to be. We used to go into the cemetery and my grandmother and grandfather is in a vault there. We used to go in there and play but Daddy Hogg used to chase us out. Then we'd run down Exe Street and we used to love to go and see the horses in the horse pond, in Bonhay Road. And sometimes if we didn't go into the Cemetery, we'd go down the Walk and down over Barbican Steps and at the bottom was houses and there was the horse pond.

Bonhay Pleasure Ground

And across there we'd go to the Bonhay which was a playground. And if we were going there, for tuppence or threepence we'd pay for a pram off of a woman that lived in Smythen Street and we'd take the children in that and a bottle of lemonade or something. You had to take the little children. There were two big guns in the Bonhay and many a time I've been up on they. Then there was the water. You weren't supposed to go but we used to go in the water. We used to have lovely times there.

Local Characters

In Friernhay Street there used to be a man called Mr. Parsons - we knew the girl and boy. He used to sell fish and go out around with the fish in a barrow. He'd go down to the old fish market that was down the Quay and get it. They used to bring the fish into St. Davids and the men used to go down to the train and then bring it back to the fish market. Saturdays outside the Lower Market where George's Hall is now, for sixpence the beautiful fish you'd have.

And we used to go in the market and play and the policeman in there used to be Daddy Pearson and he used to wear a peaked cap. And he'd have a little cane and if he saw you in there running, he'd be after you and tip you with en. He was a devil. And there was another man who used to be in there quite a lot. We used to call 'e Blind Bob - he was a great big fat man. I think he used to live in Smythen Street and I think he used to go there for somewhere to take him out of his room.

Miss Luke

There was another character and she was Miss Luke and they said she was a lady and I don't doubt that she was. She was very tall and a bit eccentric. She used to write letters to herself. She used to run after the postman when she seen him and say, "Have you got my letter? Have you got my letter?" And she used to have a lovely black capeskirt right down and a bonnet. And under her cape she carried a jug of milk with a saucer. And every cat she saw on her way she'd take the saucer and pour out the milk. And some of the children used to run after and pull her cape and she used to scream. She lived up a passage which went up opposite Mary Arches Street School.

Catch 'em live

And then there was Mr. Belcher. He used to sell., when it was summer, fly papers. "Catch 'em alive," he used to cry. There was a gentleman called Mr Stone and Mrs. Stone and they lived in the Priory and kept a chemist shop in Fore Street and if any of us seen 'em coming we'd run to the Priory Gates, great big gates and open them and he gave you a penny for it. Lovely man he was.

And Mr. Loram kept a big fruit shop in Mary Arches Street and if the oranges had something wrong with them, he'd put a big cardboard box there in the street and the children could go and get them. And if you went in the shop and the oranges was a little bit soft he'd give you a bag full for about a penny. They were lovely people.

When we left Stepcote Hill we went to Mary Arches Street, and from Mary Arches Street we went to Friernhay Street and from Friernhay Street we went to Commercial Road. There were these two cottages that we rented. And the stench from the soap factory was dreadful. Mother complained but they said as long as we smelt that we'd never die. We got used to it, but sometimes it used to be dreadful.

© 2007 Jenny Lloyd

These memories are taken from the contributon by Mrs Whitehead 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.

Stepcote Hill Stepcote Hill where Mrs Whitehead was born in 1897.Fore Street Hill Fore Street Hill..

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