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

Mrs V M Dean - The Twenties & Thirties


We were brought up in Bartholomew Street, in Hurtford Place - it was like a tenement place. You'd go under this archway and there was a doorway to the right and to the left three storey flats. In the yard they had two little cottages on the left but all the way round the yard was cottages: there was Granny Snow, Mrs. Balsall and her son and in the corner was somebody called Mrs. Lear who had a daughter called Ivy. And next to there was three toilets and they had a tap coming up on a lead pipe outside the wash house.

Now around Bartholomew Street there was Hurtford Place and then on the corner was Brays and all along there till you got to Mary Arches Street was houses. And between the houses was another alleyway where there was more cottages. And up Mary Arches Street was a lot more cottages. And there was always people. In Friernhay Street which was at the back of the Mint was another block of cottages and every cottage had lots of children.

Mother died when I was thirteen and I looked after a family of five when I was nine. Father made a box for me to stand up to the copper so I could scrub the clothes. Neighbours helped but they couldn't help all that much 'cos they had families to bring up. You see they all had four, five children. We were lucky: my mother only had three of us. My mother was an invalid for three years before she died. She started to be ill when she was 39 and died when she was 42.

Then we were in Hurtford Place we used to play in the cemetery. There were the catacombs: we didn't know what catacombs were actually and we used to play down there when the park keeper went away. There were iron gates but we could go in underneath.

There were sort of shelves in there and when we used to shout, it used to echo. And then on the corner of the cemetery they used to have bonfires there bonfire night. In the other part of the cemetery there used to be a beautiful church - I think it was called Allhallows Church and we used to go up there picking buttercups.

Mary Arches School

I was born in 1924 and I went to school when I was four. We used to go to school in Mary Arches. My Granny used to live up Mary Arches and I remember we used to dive into Granny's before we went home, for a piece of bread and margarine with brown sugar on.

There was a teacher called Miss Glyn and she used to have a motor bike. She had a friend who was another teacher and they used to wear leather hats like an old fashioned pilot's hat. We used to think them the cat's whiskers: for women to ride a motor bike, that was something, that was, 'cos it was something to see a motor car - it was all horse and carts.

And there was Miss Sally Webber. She was the headmistress and she was strict as anything. But she was a fantastic teacher. Funnily enough when I went to live up at the Precinct after my son was born and he was born in 1956; after he went to school I was walking along the by-pass and somebody shouted to me behind my back, "Vera Martin" And I turned automatically right around and said, "Yes, Miss Webber". And it was my old headmistress.

Very strict discipline in that school: you wouldn't dare be late; you wouldn't dare answer back. If you were late you had to stand by the side of the class so that all the children could see you. And you knew you were going to have the cane for being late.

We had curtains to divide the classroom. It was a big classroom in the senior part of the school and probably we were doing sums - it wasn't called maths then. Miss Webber used to teach the senior girls and she would say, "What's three nines?" "What's ten fours?" And if you didn't know the answer, the answer you didn't know you had to write out fifty times to make sure you knew it. So always when we were going to have sums with Miss Webber we'd always swat up our times tables. But while we were there doing sums, behind the other curtain there was somebody either talking geography or having singing lessons. So you were trying not to hum the tune they were singing and trying to add up.

It was freezing cold sometimes but the teachers always used to stand in front of the fire lifting their skirts up at the back and there was we sat freezing. And we used to take our milk money with us. We used to have a mug of milk and it had malt in it and it was horrid; we used to have to pay for that. My mother used to say, "You've got to drink it", and we'd take our halfpennies to pay for it. Course there were lots of children that didn't have it - we were lucky really.

But when my mother was ill I was allowed to go to school half an hour late in the morning and go home half an hour early in the evening. I used to have special homework to do to make up for it. Miss Webber used to help me with my work a lot, 'cos she knew my Dad and she knew I couldn't come to school so much. I never missed school but I was never there as long in the day.

I left Mary Arches 'cos they changed it to an infants' school so I left there in the middle of my school days and I went to Episcopal School - that was nice but it wasn't the same. That was a posh school 'cos they had a gym and you had a classroom for every lesson and you had cookery lessons. When we were at Mary Arches School we had to do housewifery, as it was called. We used to have to go down to Holloway Street School because they had a sort of a kitchen in there: all these girls from different schools that didn't have any kitchens used to go down there.

And also, down Northernhay Street there was a big house and it had a garden and we used to have to go there to learn housewifery. We'd be there all the time to learn how to run a house: you used to have a dolly in a pram and they used to put mustard on the dolly's bottom and we used to have to bath it and change its nappy.

Living in the Mint

And there used to be the Mint School - that was for boys and that was a sort of technical school and there was St. Wilfred's and St. Nicholas School, a Catholic school.Well, we left Bartholomew Street and we went to live in the Mint. We had a house in the Mint. The first house we went into we had four rooms; in the second house we went into we had the whole house. When we were in the first house there were six rooms altogether and we had the four bottom rooms. Through the passage and out behind there was a cottage and in the corner was a wash house.

And in that cottage I remember a man and he was a soldier in the cavalry; he was called Mr. Bartlett. He had some sons and I used to help him polish his spurs. And I always used to wonder, "Why does he bandage his legs up?" until my father told me it was called puttees. He looked super he did, Mr. Bartlett.

Then when I went out for a drink only last year, up to the Pack Horse Inn, there was this man sat in a corner and he had ear rings and gold rings on his fingers. We were talking and said, "You weren't born here". And I said, "I was born in Bartholomew Street and I lived in the Mint".

"What number in the Mint did you live"? "I lived in number five first".

"You didn't, did you?"

"Yes I did".

He said, "How far back can you remember?"

And I told him about this soldier and he said, "And I was that soldier". And that's him, Jock Bartlett.

And then on Sundays we used to go to church. At the top of the Mint is the vicarage. Father Long used to be the vicar. There were two big double doors and inside there was a mulberry tree. They used to have a tennis court and a drive that went around and in the middle was a fish pond. We used to go up there and we used to take these mulberries off the tree. But you couldn't sneak in very often 'cos the doors used to creak, these great big doors: they used to have a round iron ring through a handle and you'd turn this and creep in. Well, on the left hand side was a high hedge and at the end of the hedge was the start of the drive and there was the mulberry tree so you had about ten to fifteen yards to get from that hedge to get behind this mulberry tree. But if Father Long ever caught you, woe betide - he'd make you do penance or 'something'.

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© 2007 Jenny Lloyd

This memory of growing up in the twenties and thirties Exeter is taken from the contributon by Mrs V M Dean to the People Talking project that was compiled 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.

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