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

Mrs F M Coles - the Newcombes of Preston Street

We had numbers 27, 28 and 29 Preston Street. We used to rent these rooms for 2/6d a week, all furnished. Mother's shop was in Preston Street too: we had a big windowed front room and a big windowed bedroom and between the two rooms were two little double doors. Mother turned the front room into a shop. Up over again was more rooms that mother used to let out: 2/6d. a week; 6d or 4d a night.

Hard bake

I was the one that made all the black and white hard bake. I was only a child but you worked then from the time you were 7 year old or before that. I used to get up 5 in the morning and get the sweets ready for Central School in Rack Street. All the black bake and white hard bake had to be made before the kids went off to school: farthing packets.

Now I'll tell 'e what tools I used to use. In mother's kitchen there was a recess. I had a paving stone from the pavement on this cupboard there; I had a glass jam jar; a clay pipe which you could get for three a penny; a lump of suet and an old, a very old saucepan; me brown sugar and water, that's all it used to take. Me pipe was to see that it was done. But twas a very old stove, an old-fashioned one.

You'd boil up your sweets, just the water and the sugar. You'd just put your pipe in, put it in the jar to see if it'd come out of the funnel: you'd know then that it was done. If it was still sticky it'd mean still giving more heating in case I shan't get it in time for the kids for school. But then I had to make the black and white bulls eyes out of that. I had an old floor board, two old floor boards, put up on the wall, knocked in with a chisel. And that's where I used to twist me sweets. From your saucepan you'd put it on your paving stone; you'd rub your hands well with suet; you'd catch it over one end and over the other end till it's quite cool enough; throw it on the chisel, bring it down, throw it up and bring it down. That would turn it white, a creamy white. I've got to hurry cos I've got another lot still boiling. Then I'd turn the black around the white. Perhaps mother would help; us was only tackers then.

Very old children

After us come out of school it was either ways us had to unload a load of coke that father had already got in the morning. That's what me and me brother did when us was 8 year old; us was getting on by then. Years ago we were very old children. Unload a ton of coke and coal before ever you went to school or it had to be done in the dinner time. There were some toffs about in they days and every Saturday they'd like their coal delivered. Me brother and meself used to go out with that coal on our back. 22d for a quarter hundred weight of coal and perhaps you'd get a farthing for it.

Sweet parents, lovely parents

I had a dressmaker as I was the eldest daughter and father used to think me something, though I was covered in bruises: I used to get plenty of they with the strap cos you couldn't laugh. If you had a laugh at table, - 'e'd drop tools, up over, buckle strap. A Mrs Watkins used to live in King Street and she used to make me a new dress every week. She used to have cockles and winkles and all that kind of thing; course father liked snails and I liked snails and we used to have half a bag and mother used to do them.

I used to be cleaned all up and sent up the yard where father 'd be milking the goat; us had goats and all in that yard, chickens, a donkey each - it was a big place. And he'd take the milk that he was milking and he'd put it all down over the front of this frock, if 'e didn't like en. And I'd have to walk in then to me mother and put on one of me old frocks. Mind they were sweet parents, lovely parents.

Out to work

I went out to work when I was 13 on me birthday. I went up to Lloyd's Tobacco Factory, top of South Street and I got a job for 2/- a week.

I had very long hair and before I could start I had to put me hair around me head and pin it up, cos you weren't allowed long hair. I was there 3 months and then I had an extra 6d so I had 2/6d a week. My mother's went up to 2/- and mine went up to 6d. Now with that 6d I had to buy me own hair ribbon and me own hats. Well, you could do it, cos you could go in and buy a nice new hat for 2d, or 3d. If ye was lucky you could get one gived ye. There'd be a box - outside, "Help yourself." You'd take two and you could make one look pretty out of the two, you see.


When I was 15 I met me husband. Well, I only went out with this boy once. It appears somebody saw me. Me father called me over the carpet: I wasn't to dare to go out with another boy and I had to marry that man. And I didn't marry him till I was 24; courted him for nine years; never had no engagement ring. As my father was dying he made me promise that I'd marry him. That was courtship then.

Leaving home

I worked at the tobacco place till I was 16. From then on I was getting fed up, fed up with home and fed up with doing the different things that I had to do. I left home. But I only went in the Waverley Hotel in High Street - that's gone, isn't it? They wanted somebody to live in and I lived there all in as a chamber maid. But I was only there six months. Christmas was the end of the six months and my father sent me up a lovely parcel, sugar eggs and sweet carrots, all that sort of thing. Would I come home. Well, I went home again. Service was very nice then but you had to work very, very hard; you'd be cleaning the silver at 10 o'clock at night.

© 2007 Jenny Lloyd

This memory from before the First War is taken from the contributon by Mrs F M Coles 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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