My mother as a young woman
My mother was a scullery maid in Somerset and then moved to Wakefield to work as a cook. The railway use to move my father around a lot. They moved him up to Yorkshire and that’s where he met my mother. They were married in Wakefield, my elder sister was born there and then they moved back to Birmingham.
Couchman Road 1912
I was born in Couchman Road, it was a new house when my parents moved in. They were built on a rhubarb field and I remember my mother saying that the rhubarb was pushing the quarries up in the kitchen when they first moved in.
My mother use to make her own jam, her own pickles. Housewives use to be working all the time. Washing, the old maid in the tub, bump, bump, bump. They use to rub on the boards, some of them. One kind was a dolly, one was a maid. The dolly use to twist. It has four blades, you’d put it in the tub, similar to a washing machine with no motor. Then the wringing machine, the mangle came out. Those that were perhaps a little better off, they were the first to get the mangles. They use to do the mangling for other people. They use to do the mangling for other people. They use to have a notice in the window, "Mangling done here”. When it came to the drying, of course everyone had fires. They use to have a fire in the kitchen all day long that was lit first thing in the morning.
Now I remember cooking. You used to cook in front of an open fire on a spit. It was always the youngster’s job to keep the spit-a-going. The meat would hang in front of the fire with a big dish in front to take the fat. I remember the first gas oven my mother had, it was black inside and out. Just cast iron.
At that time, if you’d got a suite of furniture I suppose you was luicky. You use to have hard chairs, what they call kitchen chairs, in the kitchen and other rooms very often. No wooden floor, all quarry floors right through the house. People would have a couple of hard wooden armchairs I suppose and a couple of wooded kitchen chairs, perhaps a sideboard and thay was about it.
I remember my father wearing a swallow tail coat, they use to come round like that at the back like a swallow's tail and a Billy Cock, the round top hard hats with a brim on. He had stiff collars. They hadn’t used to put a fancy shirt on, they used to cover the old working shirt with a stiff front. The women's clothes, I remember they use to sweep the streets with them. Then they use to pull ‘em up at the back, fasten them with a clip so that they didn’t drag in the floor when it was wet or muddy. They got shorted during the First World War because so many women went to work. They couldn’t go to work in those kinds of garments. They had to shorten them, but they didn’t go above the ankles.
Saltley Gate in the 1950's. I remember these hats you know. I remember my mother wearing one of them. She used to wear a bonnet, lace would come all down the back there. She use to wear it in the summer.
I remember my mother, this was before the First War, going out once with one of these long dresses on with all the little shiny sequins on. She’d got a tall hat on and a veil. She thought she looked smashing. She kept looking at herself in the mirror all dressed up. Me Dad wasn’t very big and she looked miles above him when she dressed up but she wasn’t really.
When I was a child, boys and girls both wore frocks and I remember wearing a frock up till I was about five I suppose. Hair was short but we wore frocks and aprons. Boys’ aprons were different from the girls’s. Girls’ had big collars and was looser, the boys’ was a more fitted apron, tied around the waists.
There were quite a few Italians selling ice-cream, hot potatoes and chestnuts. I can’t remember their names. They had the barrel organs as well, sometimes with the monkey on. They had four, sometimes six tunes, they’d get a crowd of kids around them but never seemed to get much money.
Ice Cream vendor with monkeys, barrel and organ.
There were no fridges then, there were ice boxes. I used to get a cornet because you used to get more ice cream with a cornet. They didn’t start to sell it until about Easter and come September it was all finished. You couldn’t buy any ice cream after that because the ice cream makers, especially those in the street, they use to turn to roast potatoes and chestnuts.
Lots of things used to go out into the streets, they use to go shouting all day long. You used to see carts with salted herring on. They use to come round, “Salt, salt, salt ladies!” They’d buy a pennyworth of this salt and they’d saw you a piece off. You’d break a bit off as you wanted it. In the summer they’d come round selling fly catchers. "All alive, all alive, we catch your flies, all alive." They use to sing that. It was a piece of paper with some gum on it. You just hung it on the wall or a gas bracket and all the flies would stick to it.
Saltley has changed now. It used to be called the Village. It was all Saltley. This part only came to be called the Rock in more recent years. It was Alum Rock Saltley. Where this house is in Parkfield Road, it was Smiths Farm. There was another farm down at Shaw Hill. There’s the old school, they use to call it Anthony Road School now they call it Shaw Hill, now that’s the old name.
I remember them building Southall’s down there in among the trees, down there in the country. There was a brook art the side. Opposite there were allotments and people living on the allotments in huts, kids running around in bare feet.