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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 - from shops to the vote

The shops

In the Mint was a shop and there was a little old lady and her name was called Miss Gregory. She used to have a long black dress and big button boots. I used to wear high button boots and a white cotton overall with lace, with a handkerchief pinned to (the) shoulder. This lady, Miss Gregory, used to make corsets. And it used to fascinate me 'cos she had this dummy and it had an hour-glass figure. But we always used to wonder how their bottoms used to stick out; this Miss Gregory's bottom used to stick out and we never knew it was called a bustle.

Then there was Mrs Tapp who lived in Hurtford Place and when Miss Gregory gave up the shop then Mr and Mrs Tapp went into the Mint Shop. And they opened it up as a sweet shop and a grocery shop. They were nice people Mr and Mrs Tapp, and she used to make apple dumplings and sell them. You've seen the old adverts of Bisto Kids, well you'd go past her shop and you could smell these apple dumplings; she'd have them on a tray just inside the door. Whether she used to put them just inside the door to make our mouth water to ask our mums to go in and buy one I don't know.

It didn't matter if you ever ran out of anything, mother would say "Now take this money and go in Mrs. Tapp's". And it could be ten o'clock at night; it could be a Sunday morning; it could be a morning before they opened, they always opened the back door and they always served you. You don't see that now: if you go in a shop even half an hour before they close, they're either cleaning the bacon thing or they can't serve you because the cheese slicer's being cleaned; if you go in a supermarket, you're running around doing all the work.

But we used to go in the shops and there used to be chairs next to the counter and you'd read your list. And in front of the counters in the grocery shops they used to have tins of biscuits with lids on and you used to ask for half a pound of mixed biscuits and "put in lots of cream ones, please". Now I remember that you wouldn't dream of buying any cheese unless you had a taste. Well, when my Mum couldn't do the shopping any more I used to go and get some tastes at the shop. Mum used to say, "Go and bring home some tastes". I used to like mild cheese - Mum and Dad used to say that I liked soap to eat. And I used to go up and say, "Please could Mum have some tastes of cheese". And he used to put all these little bits of cheese wrapped in paper with the name of them there and I'd bring it home and she would taste and say, "I'll have a pound of that or a quarter of that". And I'd take it back and get it.

Down South Street there used to be a pork shop called Patches. My Dad used to like pork - the fathers of the families always used to have a little bit more than the others. And I used to go there with two shillings and Mum would say, "And don't you dare get more than two shillings". And I'd always get the middle cut of the leg. And you used to have what you called gribbles: for about a penny you'd get a great big bag full and you used to take them home and mother would put them in the oven and she'd get a nice lot of pork fat out of that. Then we used to eat the gribbles after - that used to be little perks for us.

Saturdays we used to go shopping 'cos that was always the best buys. And every Saturday when we did the shopping the shopkeepers would give the kiddies balloons with their names on. I used to go with my Mum and we'd go into Liptons and they used to have stacks of butter, all different colours, and this assistant used to have butter boards like cricket bats and pat it. You chose which butter you wanted and he'd pick it up and pat it into all different shapes. And it used always to fit the glass dish on Sunday. We used to go from Liptons across the road to Perks' to do a bit more shopping, then we used to go into the market. They used to sell eggs for 3d a dozen and cream for so much a quarter.

But in front of the market facing out onto the path was a tallish, fat man with a walking stick and he had a calliper on his leg and he used to sell sweets. But what used to fascinate my sister and I: you could buy drinks from him and he had what looked like a big glass bubble. You used to pay a halfpenny for this. You used to ask for yellow or orange and he'd do something or other and all the gas would fizz right through this bubble and make this glass of lemonade all fizzy. Cor it was lovely; I expect we'd think it was rubbish now.

Icecream from Casalucci

Then we used to go through the market down into Casalucci's, the icecream parlour. Now Casalucci was one of the nicest men that I ever knew and he was our landlord in the Mint. On Mondays when Casalucci used to come over for the rent he always used to bring over a little metal bucket full of icecream for the kids. We used to think he was the cat's whiskers. He couldn't talk English very well, he was Italian. And Saturdays we used to go down Casalucci's and buy a North Pole which was a long thing with chocolate filled up with icecream.

Then we used to go into Stilman's which was off South Street. When it was time for the shops to be shut they'd start auctioning off the meat. Course if mother said we'd have beef this week we'd have bits of beef and bones and suet and all sorts of things. Then we'd go over and get a three pennyworth of mixed vegetables and "don't put in too many potatoes": a parsnip and a couple of swedes and carrots, and we could pick two onions; I suppose because some people didn't like onions so we used to pick them out. They used to have people in the streets with big tall baskets about waist high with a great big handle and they used to pick them up and carry them. I used to think that this basket was full, but it wasn't: it was hollow so far down and at the back, that was where they used to keep their paper bags. The produce was all laid out on the top.

But Ackroyd's, which was Pinnager's, oh that was a fantastic shop. They used to have all these beautiful hats - we used to think they were beautiful - all piled up high on the side of the counter. If you wanted one they used to have a sort of a long pole with a thing with a claw on the end and if you wanted the fourth one down they'd pick them up and move them and they never used to drop them. But the most expensive ones used to be in the window on a long stick. And they used to have big glass windows and polished wood with all gold writing on and the brass used to shine like gold. And they used to have this Lampstone Rapid thing where they put the money. The cash desk was on a stage and they'd put the money in this thing and pull something and it used to shoot all up to the cash desk and they'd put the change in. I used to stay in that shop for hours.

And sometimes outside they'd have all these hats in a box and you could help yourself to them; just plain straw hats but you could get them and dress them up yourself. 'Cos always at Easter you bought an Easter bonnet - that was the beginning of summer and we used to go to Pinnager's. The bonnets were always with a high brim and a ribbon and we'd have white ankle socks with black patent ankle strap shoes and we used to put Vaseline on them to stop them from cracking. And we'd wear our bonnets Easter Sunday to church and then of course there was always the fair and we always used to end up walking down by the river. We used to wear our Sunday best only on Sunday and Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

My sister didn't like the pictures very much, but my Mum and Dad did. So when my father and mother finished their paper round we would go out. Dad had a job in the factory in Bonhay Road. He worked for Parkins; it was an iron foundry. He was a core maker, my father was. He always used to say that he made nothing: what he used to make they used to knock away. When he used to come home from work every night, he used to go on his paper round. He used to walk all up Longbrook Street, up Pennsylvania, right to the top and down the lane which came out in Cowley Bridge and then he'd walk back and come home about half past nine. And before Dad came home we used to go down to the pub in the Mint and buy a jug of beer and get it on the table ready for Dad and he'd come home and have it with his cheese and bread.

Mum and I used to go to the Hippodrome and I remember we used to go up through like a fire escape, right up in the gods for about threepence. I can't remember the names of the people that used to be on the bills but we used to have a good old singsong. And then when we came out there'd be sweet vendors and all the shops were open. Today once the shops are closed the city's dead but it didn't used to be before the war it was all alive with people every night of the week. You weren't afraid to let the kiddies out.

Policeman - friend or foe?

We were brought up in Fore Street. We used to play around the shops and we used to know the policemen. The Policemen back then, all they had to say was, "I'll cuff you under the ear" and you wouldn't do it. We used to respect them you know. There was a PC Barrett - he was good, he was. You'd run a mile from him and yet you'd always go to him if you wanted anything. We used to see the police a lot because they used to patrol up the Mint for the kiddies to cross the road. Mother used to give them a cup of tea before they went off duty and before six in the morning.

And I remember various aunties and neighbours used to congregate in Mum's house 'cos she was always having cups of tea for people and my Gran used to tell fortunes. Well, by the side of the market somebody used to live there who was a bookie. And they used to say to me, "Take this money with this note", and there was never a name on it, always a funny nom de plume, "But if you see a policeman on that corner, don't you dare go down there". It was against the law, you see, you weren't allowed to do that. We used to go up to the corner of Milk Street and if we didn't see a policeman around we used to put this in the door and run like mad. And we'd collect any winnings.

I can remember my mother used to have these bags of flour and she used to make cakes for different people and there was always a taster for us. I remember some of the women that used to work for different places like Pearce's and they used to bring home clothes which they used to probably tuck under their skirts and they'd bring them home for the children. You don't even see a kiddy around today with no shoes, do you? It's a different environment altogether.

Collecting farthings for breakfast

Christmas time we used to go up and buy a chicken but there were a lot of people who were lucky to have rabbits. I remember my Dad used to get rabbits and let some of the people have them who didn't have chickens. We were lucky, we always had nice toys and that. And then we used to save farthings. We wouldn't dare spend a farthing 'cos father used to tell us that for every farthing it would buy a breakfast for a poor person. So we used to save these farthings and we used to take them to the Express and Echo and the Express and Echo used to hand them over to the farthing breakfast. And then in the paper would be our names, my sister Audrey and me, Vera, gave a hundred farthings. And then that hundred farthings would go to the farthing breakfast and that was down the bottom of Westcott Slip - they've altered it all so that now I don't know where I am - there used to be a place under the old city wall. And there's children that used to go down there and we couldn't believe it, my sister and I. And my father said to us one day, "You don't know how lucky you are". And of course we didn't know, so he took us down there one day and we saw all these children. To us it seemed like hundreds but whether it was or not, I don't know. And they had a mug of cocoa and a bun and that was their breakfast. I've seen girls with hobnail boots with no socks and a thin little dress and boys with no hair, all waiting for this farthing breakfast. And I thought, "My golly, fancy having to do that". But there was children who had to do it. I suppose the people who lived in the Mint, we were all lucky.


And Voting - now voting when we were kids, our mothers and fathers said to us, "Now you're going to take these placards out and you're going to shout: Vote, Vote for Mr. Whoever it was". We used to run up and down the roads and tell people to vote and then we used to make sure that all the people had their little red things on and we used to follow the horse and carts, sometimes it was cars. And we'd go out with our placards, red or yellow or blue and the people with the yellow wouldn't dare come over your border. And you'd have Labour written over it or Tory; well we wouldn't have tories around here - that is nonsensical you know. There might have been a few liberals that thought they were the upper crust. I remember mother and father waiting up to see the results. Nine times out of ten the tories got in which was a bad day for the workers, still is now come to that. But this is what it used to be election days; we used to have a lot of fun.

The tories lived around Pennsylvania and places like that. My father used to do the paper rounds up there and they were the most stuck up, most meanest people that ever walked this earth, 'cos they used to get their servants from our schools. A lot of the parents couldn't afford to put their children to a trade. A lot of them used to have what you call help from charity. We were lucky, we didn't have it, but we were always told we were lucky. There were some people, who used to have these charities and they used to go into Pinnager's at the bottom of the Mint and they were given a ticket to go and buy the servants' uniforms - you couldn't go out and buy a nice pair of shoes. And you were supposed to be lucky if you were put out in service. They'd go into service in these big houses in Pennsylvania. And in Pinnager's I can remember some of the people up in the corner where they used to sell these servants' clothes and I was determined not to be there. My mother used to say to me "Don't you ever go in and do that. Don't you ever go and have to wash dishes and scrub somebody else's floor; it's bad enough scrubbing your own". And I was determined never to. But it never crossed my mind to do that `cos me brother was put to a trade and the war came and I didn't go in the Services 'cos I had to look after my Dad who was in munitions; my younger sister went to Okehampton with my aunty.

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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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