Chapter One, Iris’s Story, Part six.

“Money was now a very serious problem, our savings, small as they were, had already been spent to keep us fed. Once again Mrs Mant brought in a few shillings that she and her neighbours had collected, she was wonderful. This was to be repeated by some people from the other side of Chertsey, who hardly knew us, but just needed to share what little they had—most of the people had known what it was like to be hard up”.

  “The ‘Airscrew’ company, and his workmates gave us money that had been collected for several weeks. Local shops and businesses, when they heard of the story, were also very supportive. Miss Chase, the sister of the owner of ‘Chase of Chertsey’, a horticultural firm with premises a few hundred yards away in ‘The Grange’, kept our larder stocked up for over a year. She gave us children rides in her Rolls Royce Shooting Brake, she was a very nice lady. She probably thought of us as ‘The Deserving Poor’ as distinct from a feckless family”.

“After the first few weeks, the cash dwindled, Mum had two kids under four. None of us were old enough to earn a proper wage. Although Deirdre worked at weekends in a shop called ‘The White Rabbit’—she was being taught how to be a dress maker—but she was paid very little”.

. The big problem that faced the family now, was a woman alone with six children, unable to fend for them or for herself, it was out of the question. In such a community, there would always be a person, who would come forward, not so much as a leader, but some-one who everyone trusted. A person of course, like Mrs. Salmon. It may have been her large size, or for the fact she lived in the middle of the three streets, the 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. 

 Our neighbours are people, who live in council houses for similar reasons. They are mainly large families, such as Ethel and her six children. There are other families of just two or three children, with a man working in what could be called a community job, such as a dustman or a street sweeper. These are unskilled jobs that were poorly paid, but vitally 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. In fact, quite a few were related. 

“The man from the council called, and we were all in the kitchen listening to him talking to mum, he was saying that we would have to be looked after in a council home, but unfortunately, because of the age difference, we would have to be taken to different homes. Me and Deirdre started crying, and I think the man was very upset himself. He said it wasn’t up to him, but he would try to find something better. He said sometimes children can be fostered by families nearby, but it takes a long time to set up”. 

“This was too much for anyone to think about, but when Mrs. Salmon heard about fostering. She worked out a plan, the two youngest boys were already living with her, with daily visits to their mother. Bernard could stay with Mrs Edwards, two doors away, me and Deirdre stayed with Mum, and Christine was looked after by our next-door neighbour Mrs. Lee, it was almost as if we were all still living at home. This would allow Mum to work and to earn a living”.

“The man from the council came back with another official and a nurse, she gave us all a look over. The official insisted that Mrs Salmon’s plan could not happen, but he was dealing with Mrs. Salmon, she was very persuasive, and so 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. He said they would even give the people who would be looking after us a small payment to cover their expenses, and he would come back with all the forms to fill in. The man from the council was as happy as the rest of us”.

  “At first it was very hard work for mum, she had to get a job that allowed her to be flexible, there was only one sort of job that could do this, she had to be a cleaner and by just doing a couple of hours here and there, mum was able to fit it all in. One of the jobs was cleaning for Mrs. Snelgrove, a French lady who owned ‘The Golden Grove’, a pub a couple of hundred yards away. After a few weeks mum worked for most of the time for Mrs Snelgrove, this allowed us to go to her pub when we came home from school, it was all starting to working out fine”.

 Iris went on to talk about living on such a small amount of money.

 “Before Dad died, we were generally living quite well compared with some of our neighbours. He was a foreman metal worker and made the tips of propellers from sheets of copper, a skilled job with a good wage. Many of the things that we took for granted were now just a memory. In our house, we had gas lighting through-out. In the kitchen and scullery there were also electric lights fitted next to them, 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, which was quite costly even from Tommy Garrett’s who let us have a discount”.

“There were a couple of young men in Chertsey, who had a bit of a reputation. Mum called them ‘Rascals’. Eric, lived in Barker Road and Alan his mate, lived in our road next to Pippernells shop. They took it upon themselves to help our family, they would set snares up St Anne’s Hill and sold 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 ‘Those Rascals'”.

Author: madeinchertsey

Born in 1932, this is a collection of stories of my childhood growing up in Chertsey, and some stories of my later life.

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