Memories of living in Over St
Lilian, the landlady's daughter, Violet's mother and Violet herself aged 7, at 49 Over Street, 1933
I lived in Over Street for a time in 1933 when I was seven years old. Recently I toured the area (and other haunts of my childhood) with my daughter, son and three young grandchildren and we all really had a good time together.
We lived with the Marten family
The houses in Over Street looked very much the same outside but I did notice that one had knocked the two ground floor rooms into one. Mum and I lived with Mr and Mrs Marten at No 49. They had three daughters: Dolly the eldest, Kitty and Lily. I think Lily was about 12. We had the small furnished room at the top of the stairs and the girls shared the top front room. I was an only child and really envied their closeness.
The photo shows me aged seven on the right, together with my mother and our landlady's daughter Lilian, sitting on the steps outside No 49 Over Street in 1933.
In the photo I am wearing patent leather shoes. They were supposed to have ankle straps but as they were second-hand, the straps were missing, so my mother had punched holes with a tin opener and had threaded laces through.
The dark basement
I remember the basement of the house as being very dark. I think there was a room under the pavement and a scullery that led to the back yard. I suppose that is called a 'patio' now! Also a coal cellar was down there. I was there once when a delivery of coal crashed down from the pavement. The unexpected noise was frightening and the dust unbelievable. Maybe my memory is wrong but it seemed to me that cellar was only guarded by a few bits of wood - nothing to contain the dust.
The dustmen were filthy
The dustmen of those days had the right name. They used to be filthy, mostly because of all the ash they collected. They would walk right into the house, through the passage (no-one had 'halls' in those days) with the bin on their shoulders, ripping what wallpaper was there. The passage was a meeting place on a wet day. Kids came with their comics to swap and we all sat and read.
Usually we were street kids. Lily taught me ball games like 'Queenie' and how to do handstands against the wall. I remember on a Good Friday someone came with two very thick ropes and we played 'Hot Cross Buns'. The mums on the street turned these huge heavy ropes as we ran in and out of the 'cross' made by them standing in the four different positions.
On Sundays Mum didn't work, so in summer sometimes we went to Devil's Dyke on the train for 6d return. I can only remember going to the beach once, with some older girls, and because I got into difficulties under the pier by falling into a deep hole under water, Mum banned it after that.
Going to school
I attended St Mary Magdalene school in Upper North Street but before I was taken in there something strange happened. There was a school in Frederick Place with a Miss Pink as head. I think it was called St Nicholas School for Girls and I was sent there (I think) with Lily. I don't know how long I attended and I have no memoires of the inside or the teachers. The odd thing was that there was a fee of 6d weekly and Mum normally couldn't even have considered it. Nor could the Martens. How and why did they send at least one of their girls there? I wish I'd asked my Mum in later years.
Everyone I knew was poor
At one point Mum worked at Plummer Roddis department store in the kitchen. I think she earned about £1 weekly but I'm not sure. She was the sole breadwinner. The only money coming in was what she earned. It was the 1930s and nearly everyone I knew was poor. There were no 'benefits' in those days. What there was they called the 'Means Test'. This meant that if you did claim for financial help, a council officer would call to see what could be sold. If you had a piano (as many houses did at that time), that would have to go first. We had nothing of value to sell anyway and Mum tried to manage.
Probably we paid 4 to 6 shillings rent for our room. Mrs Marten gave me a hot meal when I came home from school at dinner time, for which Mum paid, and then there would be coal, gas light and a few coppers for insurance. Mum never ever made me aware of her money worries. She must have prayed she wouldn't be taken ill, although luckily her health was generally good.
What we ate
There didn't seem to be the fixation with health that there is now and we weren't constantly bombarded with advice. As children most of us only saw fruit at Christmas, or in the gutter when the street market had packed up for the day. However, we did eat lots of vegetables, although maybe that was cancelled out by the suet puddings, cheap fatty meat like mutton, and dripping. We didn't eat a lot of sugar but we did have condensed milk and sugar on bread for our tea. Tomato sauce on bread was good too.
An active life
Perhaps we got away with it because of our life style. People walked everywhere, they scrubbed, mangled, polished etc. The kids climbed lamp posts, skipped, hopped, ran and jumped and also walked everywhere just like their parents.
My mother became ill
However, the dreaded day came when Mum was ill and unable to work. She had been fitting in another job as well as her kitchen one. I don't know why - maybe they had cut her hours. I remember someone saying she used to leave her first job wringing wet and then rush off to the second.
They held out a helping hand
Anyway it was the first time I'd seen her unwell. We were in our room when Mr Marten called out: "Violet, your dinner's ready" and I found him waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. "What's Mum eating up there?" he asked. I had to confess I didn't know and that shames me now. "Here's what you do. Go back up, pretend you're looking for something and see what food she's eating." I overplayed my role and Mum was puzzled: "What do you want, duck?". I managed to pass it off and ran back down to him in the kitchen, where I announced importantly that she was just going to make some toast on the fire. Without more ado a hot meal was dished up for her. I followed on his heels and Mum's face was a picture. She was overwhelmed with the kindness. "But I can't pay you, Mr Marten." "You get that down you, never mind about payment" he said. This was a family that didn't have much themselves, yet they held out their hand in help. I often wonder whether it was his own meal that he gave away. I'm sure Mum made it up to them as soon as she could.
We never met them again
Once we moved away from Over Street we never met the Martens again but over the years that kind act was told and retold. Mum never forgot the Martens and neither have I.
[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 198, May/June 2009]