EIGHT

Forfield Road





I got married on Saturday 8 October 1938 at the registry office in Much Park Street – quarter to twelve (twelve o’clock was the latest you could get married). Our Phyl and Wal came over from Rugby with Ann and Tony, and Bob’s mum and dad came round, and Frank and Arthur. They didn’t come to the registry office: they went straight to Glencoe Road.

I paid for the wedding myself, all the ham and stuff. Our Betty and I went the day before and bought everything, and Bob bought the wine. The day before I was married I got everything organised – all the wedding spread and everything – and my Auntie Jenny made me the cake – a two-tier cake – and that was my wedding present, because she made lovely cakes and she iced it with all the trimmings on. It was the first wedding cake she’d ever made.


Auntie Jenny et al.

(L to R) Auntie Jenny, Chris, Auntie Phyllis (Heap) and Auntie Fanny on Chris’s wedding day


Our Phyllis and Wal, our Herb and my auntie and I we went to the registry office together in a taxi, but Bob went on his own and when we got there he was already there. And then we all came back to Glencoe Road and we had this spread – his mother and them were there.

My auntie was in charge of cutting the cake, but when she cut it she did like she always did if she had a cake: she’d cut you a wedge off. So, instead of cutting little pieces and cutting them in half, she cut everyone that was there a nice big wedge of cake and of course we all had one. And then about four o’clock Bob and I went off to catch a train to Birmingham, where we’d booked seats at the Hippodrome. Harry Roy was on, one of our leading bands at the time – we’d got all his records – and we went there that evening, then came straight to Forfield Road that same night. It was too late to go away, and anyway we’d spent all our money on the deposit.


Chris and Bob

Chris and Bob at Glencoe Road after their wedding


Afterwards I had a week off before going back to work, and I went to fetch the other layer of cake to take to the girls at work. But my auntie had given pieces to all the neighbours and all sorts. When I came to look at it I said, ‘Where’s all the cake gone?’ So she said, ‘Well, Mrs Ainsley had some.’ And she’d given some to Mrs Partridge; and Sheila Degg, our Betty’s friend, her mother had had a piece. My auntie had given everybody a piece of this cake – ‘Try our Jen’s cake. She makes lovely cakes.’ There was only a small piece left, and I couldn’t take it to work because I could only give it to two or three. So I thought, ‘Well I’ll just have to not mention anything about a cake.’ My auntie was just being generous, because I was the first to get married and she wasn’t used to it – she’d cut it like you’d cut ordinary fruit cake when anybody came round to tea. When our Herb and them got married afterwards they always kept one tier.

We weren’t thinking of buying a house at first. I’d got my name down for a house off Grant Road. They were private houses, but some were rented and some were bought – the builder had kept a few just to let. They were only ordinary houses: no bay windows. The supervisor at work – his name was Buttle – gave me a reference. I’ve still got it: ‘She’s been a good worker for eleven years and I always found her very trustworthy and honest and a good worker’ – that kind of thing. And Bob had to get a reference from Wickman’s. You couldn’t just go and rent a house and hand your money over – you’d got to have references to say that you were of good character and would make good tenants. Anyway, I’d had my name down and I’d got one of these houses.

But in the meanwhile Marion, Bob’s sister, had gone round to her mother and said they were building some nice houses to let at the back of the Holyhead. This was before we knew we’d got a house for sure. We knew we were having one, but we didn’t know just which one we were going to have. So on the Sunday morning Bob said to me, ‘Would you like to go and look at one of those.’ They were more modern. They were building them to let – private houses, like this, but they were to let. Because I wasn’t too sure about having one of those in Grant Road: we weren’t planning to stay in this other house we were going to have.

So we got on the bus, but we didn’t really know where these houses were – we knew they were at the back of the Holyhead somewhere – and we ended up at the top here, in Courtland Avenue, and we were walking down trying to find this housing estate they were building. And as we walked down we could see these houses here. They were just building them, starting from this end.

We walked down and saw these houses, and there was a man on the site – a manager I suppose he was – and he got hold of us and he said, ‘Are you interested in one?’ We said, ‘Are you letting them?’ and he said, ‘No, they’re for sale.’ (In fact all these weren’t sold at first, because people couldn’t get a mortgage: people had ordered them, but then they couldn’t get the mortgage so they had to rent them out to buy them after the war.) So we said, ‘Well, we’ll look while we’re here.’

And of course when we went in the back kitchen and everything was fitted cupboards … We’d never seen fitted cupboards before – they were new, you see, and I don’t know whether you had to pay extra. And there were lovely floor tiles – that was the first time we’d ever seen oblong tiles: everybody used to have these big square ones. They were quite modern, with a black border. It was really very nice. And they had the panelled staircase instead of just plain rods like we used to have – that was a new thing as well. So we decided then to get rid of this car Bob had got, for what bit we used it, and to scratch the money together to put the £30 deposit on. And we let the other house go. When they sent and told us we’d got a house we said we were already fixed up.

Hear Chris describe deciding to buy a house in Forfield Road:


There were no pavements down here – nothing. The road was all rocks and flooded, and halfway up a brook was going through until they filled it in. As soon as this block was finished the road was going to be made straight away – you could hardy walk over it. But of course the war broke out and they couldn’t do it, so we had it like that right up till after the war. And opposite it was all just hilly hollows.

I had a fortnight off work. I wanted a week to get the house ready, because we only had the key the week before, and we came up here and it rained every day. We used to come up here, and sometimes Betty or my auntie would come with me and scrub all through, and then the next day we’d come up again and bring all the mud back in again. It was heartbreaking. All thick mud – you know what it’s like on a building site. Anyhow, we got the carpets laid. We lived in the front room.

So the day before – or it might have been the morning of the wedding – I remember writing a list out for Betty of what I wanted from the Co-op, in Empress Buildings. Because Betty took over my job of doing the errands when I was too old to do errands. (You could never get our Herb to do anything – he was always messing about with his motorbike: his hands were always covered in oil, so he couldn’t do anything.) My auntie told me what I wanted, and I put on there ‘gravy’. But my auntie said, ‘Well, to make the best gravy you really want cornflour.’ So I crossed that out and put ‘cornflour’ down. We brought all the groceries up here before, on the Friday, and everything was laid out, the bed made up and everything for us to come home to when we came back from Birmingham.

The next morning I got my piece of beef out and potatoes and was doing all right. But then Bob said, ‘Well, how about the gravy?’ I said, ‘Oh yes, I’ve got some cornflour there.’ He said, ‘Where’s your gravy browning?’ We used to call it Queen’s Gravy Salt – it used to be in a block – and of course I’d put that down. But when my auntie said, ‘Cornflour makes the best gravy’ I thought she meant it was better than this gravy salt. He said, ‘Cor, you wanted Queen’s Gravy Salt!’

Of course I’d seem my auntie use it, but I think she was trying to get me a bit posher – she never used cornflour, but I think she was thinking, ‘Oh well, she’ll have the best’ – that kind of thing, as I was paying out for it. He knew more about the gravy than I did!


Queen's Gravy Salt

An advertisement in Chris’s copy of The Book of Recipes by ‘A Practical Housewife’ (‘with the compliments of the City of Coventry Gas Department’)


When we had the gas stove, there was a new one just come out that I had, a New World. I wanted one that didn’t look like a gas stove, because with these fitted cupboards I wasn’t having them spoiled and when you weren’t using it you could drop down an enamel top.

Our back kitchen really looked quite big then, because all the cupboards were on one side with the sink, and the copper – there were no washing-machines in those days – was fitted in the cupboard where I keep the soap powder now. I had a table-top mangle – but not straight away. I had an ordinary table for a bit and a mangle on a stand, an Acme, and I used to put it in the shed and have to drag it out, because I didn’t want the back kitchen mucked up. I liked the space. You could have a chair in there.

Win was married a few months before me, and their kitchen was small. And she said, ‘Oh, you’ll be able to have your dinner and your breakfast and that in your back kitchen. You won’t have to spoil your dining-room if you have a table in there.’ So I thought, ‘Smashing!’ And I got a table – this ordinary table – and I said to Bob, ‘You could perhaps have your breakfast in there.’ Well, he hadn’t got married and bought a house to have his breakfast in the kitchen, that was for sure! So that was soon scuppered, and we never did have our breakfast in there. And then we decided to have a proper table mangle with a top on. And then I had a washing-machine – it was called a Slaxon, with an agitator. And we had the gas cut off from underneath the sink, because we didn’t want it leaking

When I got married I decided to carry on work for a little while as the foreman said if I did he’d give me Saturday morning off. In those days everybody worked Saturdays. Bob was still at Wickman’s then, and in the new year they decided to move to Canley. We’d come to this side of the town because Bob wanted to be able to get home for his dinner. Anyway, one of the fellows at the office decided to start up freelancing on his own and asked Bob if he would go with him, and he worked for him till the war broke out. It was hard work there but good money, and with me working we were able to buy a three-piece suite for the front room and a piano. But the fellow Bob was working for was a conscientious objector, and when the war started he had to close down, so Bob went to the drawing-office at the Daimler and was there till the end of the war, and I gave my job up in about November 1939. As Bob said, if he was called up I would have to go to work, so I might as well have a rest while I had the chance.


Bob

Bob


When I worked at Gosford Street after we got married was the only time Bob had to stay dinner. He had to stay dinner, and I stayed dinner. (Win was working at the GEC, and sometimes Win and I used to go to Owen’s down below and have a snack at lunchtime.) Then we used to come home and we used to get the meal ready between us in the evening.

In those days, when we were first married, we always had egg and bacon for breakfast. They’d have been horrified, my auntie would or Bob’s mother, to think you hadn’t had a cooked breakfast before you went out to work in the morning. It was only the poorest of the poor – and you felt really sorry for them – who had to have bread and jam for their breakfast. You had to have a cooked breakfast. And you always had a cooked meal at dinner-time as well. Tea, that was different: there was always a bit of cake or something – nothing particular. I can’t remember anything particular. You’d have cooked meat sometimes.

My auntie always laid the table every night before she went to bed – or I would lay it – and she used to get the frying-pan out ready for my uncle. And I started that with Bob. The day that Bob died was the first night I hadn’t put the tablecloth on the table in all my married life – because it was the early hours of the morning – and I’ve never put a tablecloth on at night since: I wouldn’t put one on then. But before I always laid it ready, because he used to cook his breakfast after I’d gone to work.

When I’d left work he used to cook his own breakfast and bring me a cup of tea in bed every morning. He never used to want me to get up with him in the morning, and I was always used to having a cup of tea in bed. He was always the one who would get up and make a cup of tea – right up till he died.



Contents | Previous chapter