Stoney Stanton Road

I don’t remember my grandparents, but my mother’s mother was Lydia Wells, born in 1856 in Coalville, near Leicester, who in 1884 married Albert Hawkins, a painter and decorator from Warmington, near Banbury.

Lydia Wells

Lydia Wells

They married in Warmington and then moved to Stoney Stanton Road in Coventry – number 206, just before you get to Cambridge Street. It’s altered a lot now, because they’ve made some of the houses into shops.

They had six children. My mother, Marian, was the eldest, I believe, then my Uncle Harry, my Uncle Fred and a twin who died at birth, my Auntie Fanny and my Auntie Daisy. Uncle Harry might have been older than my mother – I’m not quite sure whether my mother was the eldest or Uncle Harry – but there was only about eighteen months or so between them.

Marion Hawkins

Marion Hawkins, aged about twenty

I think Uncle Harry was the first to get married, to Flo Whitehead, and they went to live in Springfield Road. Then, soon after, my mother got married, in 1909. She married Albert William Barnwell, who came from Rugby. Of course Rugby was only like a little village then, and Rugby people used to come to Coventry to work. My father’s parents were Charles and Amanda Barnwell, who originally came from Willoughby, between Dunchurch and Daventry.

Marion  and Fanny

Marion Barnwell (née Hawkins) and Fanny Hawkins

My mother was engaged to someone else before that – I think his name was Clemens – but they had a row and I think she had my dad on the rebound.

When she got married my mother would be about twenty-three. They went to live in Harnall Lane, just round the corner from Stoney Stanton Road, and their first child, Phyllis, my elder sister, was born in February 1910.

When my mother got married her mother, Lydia, was very ill, and my mother nursed her. Then in September 1909 Lydia died and my mother used to go round and help look after them in Stoney Stanton Road. Auntie Fanny had just started work, and Auntie Daisy was still at school, so my mother used to lend a hand, as her father was still at home and was still working. Then her father died, only a couple of years after his wife, and by then I believe my mother was expecting Les – my brother.

Fred Hawkins

Fred Hawkins

In the meanwhile I think Uncle Fred must have joined the Army, because when his father died there were only the two girls at home. Auntie Fanny was about seventeen, and Auntie Daisy was about fifteen.

Fanny and Daisy

Fanny (L) and Daisy

I think both Auntie Fanny and Auntie Daisy worked at Courtaulds (of course my mother didn’t work – married women didn’t go out to work then), but they weren’t earning enough money to be able to run a house, and they couldn’t have had the rentbook anyway – they wouldn’t have been allowed to change it into their name, because they were too young. So my mum and dad decided they’d give up their house in Harnall Lane – it was only two bedrooms – and take over the one in Stoney Stanton Road. I think they’d just about gone there when Les was born, in September 1911.

Phyllis and Les

Phyllis and Les in Stoney Stanton Road

So my mother and dad took over the house and the two sisters went out to work and everything went on all right for a while. I was born there on 14 December 1913. There was just over two years between me and Les.

Then, of course, in August 1914 the First World War broke out, and my dad was called up, into the Pay Corps. That was his line of business – office work (though he was also a very good cook – he always cooked the Christmas dinners, always cooked the turkey, Auntie Fanny said. And fancy stuff – he made lovely pastry and so on). He was in France throughout the war, more or less, and we didn’t see much of him, though he used to come home on leave.

When my dad was called up, my mother, we children and her sisters carried on living at Stoney Stanton Road.

Auntie Fanny sometimes used to go dancing with a friend, Nell Green, and it was at the place where they used to go dancing that she met my Uncle Bert. She knew his brother, Edgar – he used to play the piano there – and he introduced them when Uncle Bert was home on leave. (Nell Green married a pal of Edgar’s – they were all friends who used to get together; the dances were more or less a get-together.) I think it was during the first few months of the war, no more than twelve months in. Uncle Bert had been in Ireland with the regular Army, in the 5th Lancers – he used to ride horses – and had only just been transferred to France when he got shot in the arm.

About twelve months after they met they wanted to get married, but with him being in the Army they’d got no money, and so my mother decided they could get married and live with us. They got married on Christmas Day 1915.

Of course there was still Auntie Daisy there, so Auntie Fanny and Uncle Bert had one bedroom, my mother and two children shared another, and Auntie Daisy had to share with the other child. In 1916 Uncle Bert left the Army and went to work on munitions at Alfred Herbert’s, where he’d worked before he joined the Army.

When she’d been married about eighteen months Auntie Fanny had a baby, but it died after a couple of days. And then she became pregnant again, and Herbert was born in October 1918. There’s nearly five years between Herb and me.

After my auntie had Herb she had some trouble – the afterbirth never came away properly. This was after the Christmas – after the war had finished and I’d had my fifth birthday – and she had to go into the hospital again, because she was in pain with her stomach. I think it would be February time she was in hospital. My mother was at home and was looking after Herb – who was just a baby, of course. Meanwhile, shortly before Armistice Day, Uncle Harry had caught the bad flu that was about and he died in a few days, on 7 November 1918. Harry wasn’t in the Army; he was working, in Coventry. He only lived just off the Stoney Stanton Road. Uncle Fred was in India.

Then my mother went to visit my auntie in hospital one day, and when she came home it appears that she had the flu and she died quite quickly – in two or three days. This was either in February or the beginning of March 1919 – 8 March always sticks out in my mind, and they said she’d taken some pancakes in to my auntie, because she fancied some, and apparently Pancake Day was on 6 March that year.

Anyway, they sent a telegram off to my dad, who was still in France (they didn’t all come home when the war was finished, because they had to wind everything up), but they couldn’t find him. Then, the day before the funeral, he just happened to come home – they’d just discharged him. And of course he was just in time for the funeral. He hadn’t known my mother was ill before – the telegram had been following him around as he was on his way home.

Soon after that Auntie Fanny came out of the hospital. (Auntie Jenny – Uncle Edgar’s wife – had been looking after Herb since my mother died, until he was about six months old.) Well, there wasn’t really room for us all then, because my dad wanted a room – it was his house, really – so when she came out of the hospital my auntie and uncle went to live with his mother for a little while in Oxford Street, off Payne’s Lane. They went to live there, and Auntie Daisy and my dad managed the best they could with the three kids for a little while.

Of course Auntie Daisy didn’t want to be landed with my dad and us three kids at her age – she would be in her twenties by then I should imagine. She had always wanted to be a nurse. She couldn’t leave Courtaulds while the war was on, but now she decided to go to Gulson Road Hospital to train. So my dad decided to go back to Rugby to live. He took my sister and my brother with him to live with his mother, but I went to my Auntie Fanny’s.

My auntie and uncle had moved by then and had got their own council house at 31 Alliance Way, up Stoke Heath. They’d only just got it. I couldn’t have gone there otherwise, because it was only a two-bedroomed house where his mother lived. I wouldn’t have wanted to live with her anyway. Later I used to have to go and see her every Sunday and take her two shillings from my uncle. She resented me because she said that if they hadn’t got me to look after he could have given her more. She was more important – I was only related through marriage.

I can only vaguely remember my mother. I had just started school, just after Christmas, and I don’t think I particularly wanted to go, because my mother had got this baby to look after – she was looking after Herb as my auntie was in hospital. I remember she took me to school, and so I’d behave myself she took me to a cake shop and asked me to pick my own cake out for my lunch. And I told her I wanted a worm cake. (I didn’t live that down for quite a while actually – it was always coming up in conversation: ‘Our Chris wanted a worm cake.’) That was a seed cake. I’d never seen one of them before, and it looked like worms to me. I can remember standing in the shop – I can see the shop now – it was just inside Cambridge Street, and I remember as you went inside the door there was a little recess and the glass counter was there and you could see all the cakes, and I could see these cakes with the little dots on them and I thought they looked different. I can remember that. And I know this lady was with me, but I can’t see her – I can’t see her face, but I know she was my mother.
Hear Chris describing wanting a ‘worm cake’:

And I can also remember – I was only little – the trams going past the house, and facing us there was a lady who was very friendly with Auntie Fanny and my mother; her name was Miss Newton. She was a spinster, and I remember she’d got an iron gate at the front. Uncle Bert was fond of photography and he wanted to take a photo of us to send to my dad in France. And I remember us standing on the doorstep – my mother and the three of us side by side – and I can distinctly remember my uncle having to go over the way and wait for the trams to stop for him to take this photo. He took it from Miss Newton’s garden, you see, because our front garden – we had a front garden – was only about four or five feet, and he couldn’t stand in the middle of the road.

Marion and children

Marion Barnwell with (L to R) Chris, Les and Phyllis in Stoney Stanton Road

I can remember when my auntie had Herb at home, in October – they had the babies at home then – and my mother helped to confine her. And I remember up in her bedroom she used to have a dressing-table in a corner and I used to go up there and play behind this dressing-table. It had a big mirror and you could get behind it – I remember playing behind there. And I can remember going up the stairs that went in between the front room and the dining-room.

Anyway, my auntie and uncle didn’t stay at his mother’s very long and they got the house in Alliance Way – I think they must have had their name down before, because they knew they couldn’t stop in Stoney Stanton Road when my dad came home, so they more or less got it straight away. So of course they moved in there, and then my dad decided to go back to Rugby – he wasn’t going to stop in Coventry with no one to look after him.

But it appears, my auntie told me once, that my mother was worried about the flu after her brother had died and people were all dying of it, and she more or less asked my auntie and uncle to have me. Whether she’d had a feeling about it I don’t know, but she always said, ‘If anything happens to me, you’ll always see our Chris will be all right, won’t you? I don’t want her to go to the Barnwells.’ A funny think to say, but it was something she said. So my auntie said it was more or less automatic that I went to them in Alliance Way. And my dad went to Rugby and I didn’t see him again then for a long while.

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