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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 - a child in the twenties


When we used to have baths we didn't have a bathroom but we had a wash house at the bottom of the yard, so Friday nights or Saturday nights we used to have this bath. We'd go down to the copper and bring the hot water up in buckets to the bath in front of the range, just an ordinary zinc bath with handles each end - it used to hang on the wall. We used to go into the front room and "sit quiet and don't touch anything" 'cos the front room was holier than thou, while my brother had a bath and he would get his pyjamas on and go in the front room while we'd have our baths; then he'd come in and we'd all have a dose of syrup of figs to make your bowels work for the weekend. And this was a ritual you know.


Saturday mornings in the summer we used to go down Bonhay Road and go down Head Weir. There was a man called Mr Hutchings who used to be one of the attendants there and after he left he opened up a fish and chip shop in Alphington Road, then he left there when they pulled it down and moved somewhere else. But Mr. Hutchings was there at Head Weir, and you used to go in for nothing Saturday mornings, that's why we used to go down there. My brother used to go down as well cos we were all swimmers in our family. And I remember when I was three and couldn't swim my brother threw me in the river: I can remember going under the water and I swam. And I've been able to swim ever since. But we used to go down there for training. My brother and Mr. Hutchings and some brother called Underhill that used to live near King Street, down Westcott Slip somewhere, used to train for the life saving.

Then I used to go swimming in the swimming baths; it must have been near where Curry's is now. We used to go up a lane and through the double doors and there was a cash desk. The bath was 25 yards long; it had a balcony and huts either side but in each corner they had a big room for boys and girls - they never had a hut. And they held the regatta there. And when they had regattas down at Port Royal we used to go in for them. And then we used to go in for long distance swimming we used to swim from Port Royal to Double Locks.

And I'll tell you what else we used to do Saturdays: if it was nice and all our chores were done, Mum used to make us up a bottle of lemonade and cut some sandwiches and we used to go up to Bury Meadow. And in Bury Meadow they used to have this drinking fountain and we used to play up there all day and we'd come back and go all through the coal yard which used to come out in St. David's Hill. But look at Bury Meadow now: the drinking fountain's gone. Look at the clock tower: the drinking fountain's gone - there used to be a fountain there with an iron cup on an iron chain. It used to be about five pounds in weight to pick this flipping iron cup up. You see there were all these troughs around the town for horses.

And Sunday mornings when we got up mother used to send me down to Seaton's Dairy - down the bottom of Bartholomew Street just by the iron bridge where the Crown and Sceptre Pub is, well it was just on the corner. It was run by a brother and sister and mother used to send me down for a quarter pound of cream, and we'd take our dish and this Miss Seaton used to put that dish on the scale and weigh the dish and then she'd put the cream in and I used to think "I bet she hasn't put in all the cream that should be". But she'd weigh it just dead right.

And when the milkman used to call he used to came round with a big can and he used to have pint things with a hook on the end that used to hang on the outside of the can, pints and halves and gills. Then the baker at the bottom of the Mint which was called Hills then: we used to go down in the morning to ask for two pennyworth of yesterday's cakes and buns. And we'd say, "Don't put in too many bread rolls". If you had the money you could buy seven fancy cakes for sixpence - you'd always have one over, you know. There's lots of things that they used to give you extra. You know at Christmas time when you go round to all the shops which you patronised all through the year, they'd give you something. If it was a baker's shop they'd give you a couple of loaves of bread and a nice cake for Christmas; if it was in the butcher's, they would give you a couple of extra chops or a pound of sausages; if you went in a grocer's shop they would give you, say, three or four oranges or something, just to say 'thank you' for patronising them. But you don't see it now; they expect you to give to them.

The Lido

And we used to have a lido where we used to hire out boats on the river Exe. We used to go down to the river Exe every Sunday afternoon and feed the swans. And right by the old Exe Bridge were all the rows of boats that you could hire out and go up and down the river with. And you'd see all the families out Sunday afternoons walking the canal banks. And once I remember there were some aeroplanes down there in one of the fields. I was very young and my father let me go up in an aeroplane and it looped the loop; I thought I was the cat's whiskers. He gave my sister sixpence 'cos she didn't want to go up. That was going back years ago when my mother was walking, before she was ever ill. There was always something going on; there was never nights in being bored.

I remember the trams. There were some boys that used to come from somewhere and they used to put some halfpennies in the tram lines and if the trams went over them the right way they could come out the size of a penny and they'd put them in the slot machines and buy a bar of Nestles chocolates. Course if the tram didn't go right it would spoil the halfpenny and you couldn't spend it in any case. And then there used to be a man called Taffy Fulford that used to come along with sweets - we used to think it fantastic. We used to give him jam jars for the sweets.

Now you could go into Mary Arches School two ways: there was an entrance in Mary Arches Street and one in Garden Square. Garden Square was full of cottages with little postage stamp gardens in front with little railings. And I remember when we had a halfpenny given us we used to come out of school, specially on a Friday, and go down Garden Square and turn to the left. There was a baker's shop and if you went in there you could ask for a halfpenny bag of waste and it used to be all waste of ginger snaps. You used to spend your halfpennies a farthing at a time: you could have a farthing's worth of so much and a farthing's worth of something else.

And there used to be a fish and chip shop down there and you used to get a piece of fish and a pennyworth of chips and a pennyworth of peas. The whole lot used to come to about threepence or fourpence. And there was also a workman's cafe at the top of North Street, The British Workmen, and we used to go in there with a basin and mother would give us sixpence - on a Monday this used to be, wash day. It was nearly always meat and boiled potatoes on a Monday for dinner. If we didn't have any meat left over from Sunday we'd take a big bowl and a cloth for six pennyworth of beef and gravy.

Wash day

Each house had its own wash house and we used to get all the rubbish, cardboard boxes and things from Tapp's, the shop, and save our own boxes and paper and then always Sunday nights we would go down and fill the copper. Course there was never such a thing as Persil and Tide; I think we used to have a wash powder called Rinso, but mother used to have this soap and grate it and she'd also put handfuls of soda in the copper that used to be filled on Sunday night, Then all the whites were put in this copper with the soda and the soap. Then the fire was laid. Well then, early Monday morning, as early as four or five o'clock up mother would get. And I remember as though it were yesterday, she used to say, "Dear God, don't let it rain". She'd get up, light the fire and once it was going, put coal in it. But if the wind was in the wrong direction the fire wouldn't light and the smoke would blow down and all the smut would go over everything.

On the top of the copper was a great big wooden lid with a great big handle and in under the handle you used to keep your poking stick. Then you used to wait for the clothes to boil and pick them out in a dipping bowl. It was a round bowl, the same sort of zinc as the bath, with a handle on. You used to dip the water out to put in your bath that you were doing your washing in. And you'd have another bowl and dip your sheets in this bowl and cart it over to the bath and scrub it. I've still got my mother's scrubbing board now - it's only a plank of wood. Then there was a bath outside the wash house under the tap on the wall and you'd let the water run and that was running all the time.

The whites were scrubbed, then boiled, then rinsed, then blued and it was put through the mangle every time. But that's what used to happen 'cos I've done it. And we starched what had to be starched. I remember my father used to wear dicky fronts and they were like a baby's bib - they used to do up with a tape at the back. Mother had the same ones as his shirt so that if his shirt got dirty he could put this bib on and put another clean collar on. So actually they probably used one shirt all week with lots of little bibs and collars.

The coloureds were done afterwards in the copper. I remember once, I'll never forget it: I had a red, velvet sleeved dress and it had a white lacey collar and white cuffs. And it was a Monday 'cos you always did washing on a Monday, never on any other day. And I came home from school and I went into the wash house - this was when we lived at number five - and mother was in the kitchen getting dinner. There was the washing bubbling away and piles of all the different clothes on the floor. I remember I picked up my red dress and I thought, "I'll help Mum" and I put it in the copper with all the sheets. And everything was pink and the only thing my mother was worried about was "Whatever will the neighbours say:" I remember I had the cane on my back-side and I never sat down for a month.

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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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