Iris’s Story, 16th April 1934.
Tuesday, the day after what would be the most tragic day, that the families who lived in this little group of houses, will remember for years to come.
These are mostly people, who live in council houses for similar reasons, they are mainly large families, such as Ethel and her six children, and others who are families of just two or three children with a man working in what could be called a community job, such as a dust-man or street sweeper, unskilled jobs that were poorly paid but important just the same, so the rents were reasonable, and controlled.
Despite, or maybe because of this variety of neighbours—all just about getting by on their meagre wages—there has always been, what could be called a kinship, after all quite a few were related by marriage or were actual relatives.
In such a community, there would always be a person, who would come forward, not so much as a leader, but as some-one everyone trusted.
A person like Mrs Salmon: it may have been her large size, or for the fact she lived in the middle of the three streets: Pyrcroft and Lasswade Roads, and Cowley Avenue. Whatever it was, no-one would think of challenging her, she always seemed to have the answer to any problem.
Iris, continues her story, she has been very tearful as it all comes back to her, she has probably not spoken about that day for years, and now, still so fresh in her mind, every moment remembered, such as the next morning at breakfast.
“Deirdre, was utterly heart-broken, she was always the special one, Daddy doted on her, they had the special love that the first-born has with a parent. At breakfast she talked about the feeling she had yesterday, she kept saying”.
“I just knew there was something wrong with Dad, he looked very sad and tired”.
The porridge that morning was hardly touched, everyone was so quiet, with just a burst of sobbing from one, then all the family.
Much of the day followed this pattern, a happy home destroyed in an instant, things could never be the same again.
Once again, the neighbours were at the door.
“Do you want anything up the shops, Ethel”.
Mrs Wade, her very good friend—they were both midwives, and had helped deliver each others children. Mrs Wade was Donald’s God-mother, she was there at the door, with a bowl of eggs, she always had a few eggs for us.
Mrs Salmon came round with the two boys, they were still unaware of what had happened, but wondered why all the tears. She fell into the chair as she always did, the children giggled as she nearly fell out of it, the castors were broken and the chair was very wobbly, the only laugh that would be had today.
Money was now a very serious problem, the family savings, small as they were, had been spent to keep the family fed, no work for the last few weeks meant no wages.
Mrs Mant, although living a little further away, brought in a few shillings that she and her neighbours had collected. This was to be repeated by some people from the other side of Chertsey, who hardly knew the family, but just needed to share what little they had, this was not a wealthy town, but most people knew what poverty was.
The ‘Airscrew’ company, and his workmates gave the family money for several weeks, Local shops and business’s, when they heard of the story, were also very supportive, in particular, Miss Chase, the sister of the owner of ‘Chase of Chertsey’, a horticultural firm, with premises a few hundred yards away, in ‘The Grange’. She kept our larder stocked up for over a year, and gave the children rides in her Rolls Royce Shooting Brake, and generally treated us as a good cause, probably thinking of us as ‘The Deserving Poor’ as distinct from a feckless family.
Charlie’s father came over from Shepperton, he was a broken man, he had lost three sons, all under thirty-five, in less than ten years. One a seventeen-year-old, an apparent suicide, although the family disputed this. An ex-sailor aged twenty-nine, who died from an accident while in the Navy, and now his only remaining son had died, he also lost two boys in the first few weeks of their lives.
Iris, had no time for her Grand-father, she said he was only interested in ‘Wine, women and song’. She smiled as she added, “And not too much of the song bit”.
She went on to explain this comment.
“George Conrad Luz Weguelin” spelling out his full name as if he was criminal, about to be charged with a terrible crime.
“First of all, coming from a rich family, he lived on ‘private means’ well into his forties; having benefited from money left to him by his father, a retired colonel in the Indian army, and from a wealthy uncle. Living the life of a wealthy man, he played about making model yacht’s, and spending his money on dubious patents, including folding furniture, and rigging equipment for boats”.
“But, the worst thing about him was his total disregard for his wife and family of four children. In the next village, within cycling distance, he had a ‘Paramour’ with another four children”.
“Eventually, his money ran out, and he had to find work to support his two families”.
Iris took a sip of her favourite Sherry, she shook her head as she recounted this story.
Here was a man, ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’ unable to help his dead son’s family, having fritted away a fortune on his own pleasures, and a family that once was reasonably comfortable, now facing destitution, in just one generation.
The death certificate, stated that Charles Weguelin died of a heart attack, brought on by his recent influenza. And probably going back to work before he was fit to do so.
“After the funeral, Grand-dad, rarely came back to see how we were coping, he died two years later, we had never had anything to do with his other family”.
After the first few weeks, the cash dwindled, Ethel had two children under four years old, no one in the family were old enough to earn a proper wage, although Deidre worked at week-ends in a shop called ‘The White Rabbit’, she was being taught how to be a dress maker, but for very little money.
Another problem now faced the family, a woman, alone with six children, unable to fend for them or herself, although still supported by some neighbours. The authorities, in the name of the council called, the children would have to be looked after by a home, but not all together, they would have to be seperated. This was too much for anyone to think about.
Step forward Mrs Salmon, she had a master plan, the two youngest boys were already living with her, but with daily visits, to their mother. She found other neighbours, who could do the same.
Iris and Deirdre, stayed with their own mother and Bernard and Christine, were looked after by their next door neighbour, Mrs Lee, it was almost as if they were living at home.
This allowed Ethel to work and to earn a living.
The official from the council said this could not happen, but he was dealing with Mrs Salmon, she was very persuasive and he allowed her to put the scheme in place. He obviously thought it would be worth a try, anything would be preferable to splitting this family up.
At first it was very hard to work it all out, Ethel had to get jobs that allowed her to be flexible, she had to be a cleaner, by just doing a couple hours here and there, she was just able to fit it all in. One of the jobs was cleaning for Mrs Snelgrove, a French lady who was the land lady of ‘The Golden Grove’ a pub a couple hundred yards away, after a few weeks Ethel was employed by this lady for most of the week, allowing her to look after the kids when they came home from school, it was all working out fine.
Next, a visit from two members of the local ‘Poor aid’ committee, they called to see what they could do to help. The ‘Poor Aid’ was a voluntary organisation, set up by local business people, doctors and some of the wealthy people in Chertsey. They were both ladies who had the best intentions, but their job was to help the poor to help themselves, in Ethel’s case, the only thing that could be done to help, was to see what there was in the home, that in their opinion, was not essential for this family to thrive.
Charlie, was a very industrious man, he was an expert carpenter, he would use the scrap timber, that was left over from his work at the ‘Airscrew’, propeller makers, to make some nice furniture. When the ladies came to see what could fetch some money at auction, they were very fair, and ignored these items, but they really went to town on the rest of Ethel’s home. Some of the furniture, pictures and fine crockery were all taken, these were things that had been handed down to Charlie, from his parents, including a large painting of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’—it was said that one of Charlie’s Uncles was on that charge, they were a very military minded family—all these were more of sentimental value than for the purpose of raising cash. Even some clocks that Charlie had refurbished and were ready for sale were taken. The money raised was pitiful, hardly enough for a few days.
Iris went on to talk about living on such a diminished family income, before the passing of their father, the family were generally living quite well, compared with some of our neighbours, Charlie was a metal worker, he made the tips of propellers out of copper, a skilled job, with an above average wage. Many of the things that were taken for granted, were now just a memory, as Iris carried on with her tale.
“In our house, we had gas lighting through out, in the kitchen and scullery there were also electric lights along side the gas lights. Because of our new situation, the gas lights were always used, simply because the gas meter took pennies and the electric meter needed shillings. Another reason was the poor light that the electric ‘globes’ gave, compared with the very bright gas mantle”.
“The trouble with the gas lighting, was that if it was switched on and off many times, it would damage the fragile mantle, so it was often left on all day, the gas used in this way, was cheaper than replacing the mantle, which could be could be quite costly”.
“There were a couple of young men, in Chertsey, who were always up to no good, mum called them ‘Rascals’, one, Eric Turner, lived in Barker road, the other, Alan Knight, lived in Pyrcroft Road next to Pippernell Izzi’s shop, they took it upon themselves to help Mum—not with stolen goods or anything like that—but they would set snares up St Anne’s Hill and sell the rabbits they caught for a sixpence each, they also sold the large mushrooms that they collected from the fields, early in the morning. They regularly gave us a free rabbit! But Mum still called them both ‘Rascals.
Iris, now that the saddest few days of her life have been told, went on with Ethel’s earlier life.
“Alan, you probably don’t know this. Mum, as a beautiful young girl, had an affair with a soldier and had a child, she was sixteen. The child was adopted’.
“She worked in Bleriot’s factory in Addlestone, next to Lang’s Propeller Works, where she met Charlie.
Two years later they were married, as you know,they had six children and we were a very happy family living in Chertsey, with lots of friends, until that day in 1934 when everything came crashing down”.
“Mum was amazing, she worked every hour of the day to keep us all together, something she could not have done without all these friends”.
In 1937, to help things out with the cost of everything, Mum takes in a lodger, he has come down from Yorkshire and works for the council as a painter. His money really helps and at last things are looking up, that is, until the ‘Poor-aid’ ladies found out about Fred, and stopped the little payments they have been making.
Iris looks over her glasses.
“I never really liked Fred, he was very familiar with Mum”.
In this, Iris was right, they become partners.
For my part, he is great, he is very handsome, he has thick, dark curly hair, with grey bits in it and very blue eyes.
He must have been some man to have taken on a broken family of six young kids. I never called him Dad—it was always Fred or his nick-name, Yorkie.
He was a brilliant cook, and knew lots of tricks and jokes, he sometimes made me laugh till I ached.
I can remember the excitement in December 1937, when my Mum gave birth to a son.
David Peter Weguelin—despite being Fred’s baby, his legal surname had to be the mothers name Weguelin, he was a true Weguelin as far as we were concerned.
David’s early childhood was dogged with illness, he spent some time in hospital, it turned out to be TB in his leg, we were all tested and Fred was also found to have the disease.
Both Fred and David were sent to TB hospitals, for several weeks at a time,
Once again money was becoming a problem.
Fred, although still ill, managed to carry on working, with just a week off now and again for treatment in Milford Hospital.
He was a real tough Yorkshire man.