Chertsey Tales, Chapter four, Money.
As I have been writing Iris’s story for her, I realise how lucky we were to be living on a few streets that many people thought to be on ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’ How wrong they were. Our neighbours were amazing, they were people who had next to nothing themselves but still, they came forward to help us in any way they could. Iris starts again telling her story in her own words. Borrowing a phrase, I’ve heard from someone; ‘These were ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’
‘There was Mrs Mant, who lived near Pipp’s, she brought in a few shillings that she and her neighbours had collected. She was a wonderful woman, mum didn’t know her all that well, but she kept it coming for a few weeks. This was also done by some people from the other side of town, who didn’t know us at all. The workers at Charlies factory collected money every week and together with the help from neighbours we managed to get by.
‘I think most of the people around Chertsey had known what it was like to be hard up. Everyone was just getting back to normal after the depression. Perhaps it was the thought of a young woman trying to look after six little kids that touched their hearts.
‘Miss Chase, the part owner of ‘Chase of Chertsey’. A factory a few hundred yards away in ‘The Grange’. Kept our larder stocked for nearly a year. She gave us children rides in her Rolls Royce shooting-brake. She was a very nice lady and probably thought of us as ‘The Deserving Poor.
‘After a few days we were visited by a couple of ladies who organised a sort of poor aid. This was paid for by the local shops, Doctors and businesses, and the church.
‘Money was meted out by these ladies; they were well-meaning women doing what they thought was best for our family. But before anything from the poor aid was passed on, there was a sort of unofficial means test. The ladies would have to see if there was anything a family like ours would not really need and could be turned into cash for us.
‘They quickly picked out the items they thought were a luxury. They ransacked the place—there is no other word for it. Dad was from a reasonably well-off family. We had some nice bits and pieces, which had been passed down to him. Plus, some furniture he had made himself. He was also a clock repairer in his spare time and had collected some nice clocks.’
Iris paused for a minute, probably thinking of our mum having to watch all the nicest things we owned being sorted out and taken away to be sold at auction, it’s still making her so angry.
‘All that was left of anything nice was a glazed china cabinet, a medicine chest, and a dresser, these were all made by our dad. ‘Even the clocks were taken and sold. Mum insisted on keeping the big picture and dad’s new lathe. Everything else was sold to anyone who wanted it for a few shillings. The money this raised was pitiful, it hardly lasted a few weeks. The only ‘finances’ we had was the money collected for mum, but this was all counted.
‘Mrs Salmon was in the kitchen when the man from the council called, we were listening to him talking to mum. He was saying some of us might have to be taken into care. This meant we would have to be split up. The girls going to one home and the boys to another. Me and Deirdre started crying, and I think the man was also very upset. When Mrs. Salmon heard all this, she was so angry. She went straight down to the council offices and created such a scene. That’s when she was told about a fostering scheme—it’s all she needed; she already had a plan.
‘You and Don were already living with her during the day; Bernard could stay with Mrs. Edwards; Deirdre and I stayed with mum, and Christine was looked after by our next-door neighbour Mrs. Lee. The man at the council said it couldn’t happen like this, it had to be done officially.
‘Mrs. Salmon’s visit to the council worked though. The man came back the next day with an official and a nurse. She gave us all a look over and said we were a healthy family. Although the official still insisted the fostering plan couldn’t happen in such a haphazard way.
‘Mrs. Salmon was very persuasive, and so they allowed her to put her plan in place. Anything would be better than splitting us up. He said that he would arrange all the paperwork, and the people who would be looking after us would be given a small payment to cover their expenses.
‘Mrs. Snelgrove, who owned The Golden Grove Pub, was very good to us, she let mum work in the pub all day—some cleaning and a bit of cooking. This allowed us to go to her pub when we came home from school.
‘There were a couple of young men in Chertsey, who had a bit of a reputation. Mum called them ‘Those Rascals’. Eric Turner, lived in Barker Road and Alan Knight, his mate, lived next to Pipp’s shop. They took it upon themselves to help mum, I thought they were great, a bit like Robin Hood. I couldn’t understand why mum called them rascals. 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 they collected from the fields early in the morning. They regularly gave us a free rabbit, but mum still called them ‘Those Rascals’.’
‘The following few weeks, things were working out, but it was not all plain sailing. Deirdre was very badly affected and was having nightmares. At one time mum had to take her to the doctors, she was completely inconsolable
‘Deirdre was named after the heroine in the Irish play they had just seen at the Addlestone Co-op hall. ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’. and she turned out to be just like the young woman in the play, tall and slim with the palest of skin and jet-black hair. I have always been surprised that they chose Deirdre for her name, they were both superstitious and interested in all sorts of mythology. They must have known as well as being the name of a beautiful woman, it also means sorrow. The name of play should have told them this.
Deirdre would carry the sorrow of losing her dad for the rest of her life. After many years of reliving that terrible day, she could stand it no longer, and took her own life—just like the heroine in the play’
Chapter five, Grandad Weguelin.