The Life of a Motherless Mother

Rose Hartill

My family and my earliest times

I was born, Barbara Rose Cox, on the 21st November 1933 in Ash Street.  My earliest recollections of my childhood are of having a bath in front of the fire in a tin bath, with the aroma of bacon and tomatoes in the background; and of playing double ball with my cousin, when the wall we were playing on collapsed. 

I have a photo of my granddad Cox, who was a boatman.  In those days most coal cargoes were transported by boat.  One day my granddad was walking up Bankfields Road, Bilston, which was very lonely, and he was robbed of his wages. And you know what he did, the next time he was paid?  He put his money in his shirt tail and tied a knot in it in case it happened again.

I distinctly recall my first day at school, Daisy Bank School, playing ring-a-ring-a-roses in the hall. That was a dance - you can imagine?  I was brought home from school by my cousin William.

  On a corner near the school there stood a workshop where furniture was made by the Smallshire family.  But I only remember the shop vaguely, because in 1939 I moved to another village, Princes End, Tipton.  It was a council house. We moved in with the aid of a plank of wood, because the doorsteps were not ready.

The Second World War

In 1939 the Second World War started. How clear it is to me even now.  

At that time there were shelters which we had to assemble ourselves - I mean every tenant did.  They were made of corrugated iron, with nuts and bolts to join each section.  It was stated by law that they should be put underground just enough to cover the tops; and there was kind of a trench dug to make an entrance to the door, which was out of sight of enemy planes.  I saw one once, coming down very low, almost touching the roofs of our houses. At least I think it was an enemy plane.  We used to jump up and down on the beds in the shelters, which were made of some sort of asbestos elastic.

In one instance a resident in Legge Lane, Coseley, started digging to make his own air raid shelter, only to find clay 5 feet down in his garden.  He had to forget the idea and join the other residents in a communal shelter nearby.  Also there is a woman in Roseville Day Centre who remembers wearing an identity disc round her neck, specially made for her by her father.  She said that not everybody was in that position to have a disc made for them. She also remembers having to queue for hours "for sausages" and not getting any.  The food rations that were distributed to everyone, consisted of  dried egg in a tin, 2 oz of margarine weekly, 2oz of cheese and other products in the same proportion. 

On top of all this we had to endure a gas mask when the air raids were on, just in case there were any gas bombs around.  Luckily there weren't.  I remember my brother at the age of only 2 months being placed under the sink for safety.  The sink was attached to the wall with cement, which was the style in those days.

A number of places were bombed.  One was a local railway and another was a local factory.  But the main target was the Beans Industries in Hurst lane Tipton.  It was left unblemished.

In 1940 the war was still in progress but that seems to be in the background for me, because my grandfather died that year,  at the age of 83.  I have memories of him sitting in his basket chair in the kitchen, which was the warmest place in the house owing to the fireplace being nearby. This was used for a kind of cooker, with side ovens, and underneath was a small outlet to rake out soot.  And the fire heated the water, that hot that it became brown.  I used to go into the kitchen to fill the kettle for my mother in the front room where we lived, and granddad used to say, "put the erdan bag back by the door when you go out, to keep out the draughts.  One day my granddad said "Come and see what I have made", and there was a large tray of toffee on the table.  He sat me on his knee and together we broke it with the aid of a toffee hammer.  And we would make music by knocking spoons against milk bottles. Alas, that's all I can remember of 1940.

In 1941 my mother had to retire to her bed with asthma attacks.  Asthma was prevalent in those days.  I remember my father having to massage her chest with some sort of steaming process, with the use of flannels.  But the neighbour used to help too with the errands for her.  I have a memento in the form of a light‑shade of my mom's, which is rare now‑a-days.  Electricity was a fairly new commodity at that time.  I remember a mate saying to me "The nicest dress I had was a brocade one, which I wore when me and my mates danced around the first electric lights in Turton Road, Princes End". That must have been about 1949.  Some old houses, such as my aunt Susan's, had gas lamps, or in other words mantle lights.  I remember standing on a table and pulling a chain on one side to light it and on the other to douse it.  The house was very cosy, with two shutters on the windows outside to protect from wind and rain and frost . Oh what a cosy  atmosphere that made! 

What we used to put up our windows, when the enemy planes came over, was called black‑out cloth.  It was a relief when it was all over, after the sirens had signaled the all clear. Out of the air raid shelters we came, back into our house, because we had not been able to make a fire and it was cold.

Of course the air raids were not forecast.  One of my mates, named Gordie, a nickname for Gordon, when there were not any raids about, used to shout to his mom "The Germaners are coming" -  not Germans, I ask you! And he would put his gas mask on and then wait for all the excitement. 

Gordie and I used to play in the cornets, which was a nickname for cornfields, and we would go blackberry picking, me and Gordie. When we got home with the berries we would put them in a bottle and get a shaven stick and podge them until we had lovely juice, like the Vimto that you can buy in a bottle nowadays.  Talking of Vimto, whenever I needed a drink I would go over the road to a neighbour's, a Mrs Bentley, who sold Vimto and crisps, and I seemed to neglect my meals later in the day and every day.

Another memory was of me taking vegetable peelings over the road to a neighbor named Mr Thomas, and I received a few dolly mixtures.  That was a pleasure in those days.  One day the same man, Mr Thomas, threw a bowl of water over us for making a noise while playing.  But I can't remember whether I stopped taking the peelings.

There were quite a few bombs dropped in Princes End;  for example, one was dropped near Princes End railway station.  The intention of the Germans was to bomb the Bean's Industries, but they missed.  In 1996 I was told by a retired music teacher that her sheet music and a few other things landed in the street because of the blast.

Another bomb was dropped near the railway in Bradley, Bilston.  Again the Germans failed to hit their target but a courting couple was killed while standing against a wall.

After the war, in 1946, I remember my playmates and I ganning" which was our word for spying on a courting couple" and watching a couple courting in a very deep hole where another bomb had been.

My mother died of asthma in 1944.  I remember her being carried out of the house on a stretcher, with her New Testament in her hand.  She died in hospital.  I was only twelve.  Afterwards by father looked after me, in a fashion.

And a very important time in my life was away from the hustle and bustle of my own home, where my brother and younger sisters were. My aunt kept me busy, starching the laundry, which was done in the brew house. That was a building at the back of the house, which was used for a laundry room by means of copper boiler, surrounded by a small brick wall and a gap underneath to light a fire to heat the water. The water came from one tap only, and that was cold. But the laundry was immaculate.

Another of my chores was cleaning the brasses, two of which were coal scuttles at the side of the fire.  The fire heated a small oven for baking, which in those days was done in oblong tins for cakes; and if you wanted bacon it was cooked in a dutch oven - a half-cylinder shaped utensil, with hooks on to put the bacon on to face the fire. The dripping dropped about 10 inches on to the bottom of the pan.  It was used for sandwiches and was delicious, not like the dripping that the butchers make today.

After the war.  School.

In the year 1945 the war ended and there were flags flying out of the windows to celebrate.   I remember a large one flying out of ours, about 4 feet long.  Also we had street parties and ate jelly and cream, which was a luxury then. My brother-in‑law, Ben Hartill, was a parachutist during the war.  He did a total of 25 years service but he never talked about it.

I went to Ladymoor School in Broad Lanes in 1946.   I had to do some domestic science.  That involved learning how to launder.  I had a lovely teacher, a Miss Mansfield.  To this day I have remembered how I was taught to rinse clothes.

In the same building there was a cookery section and I remember having one day made a jam tart with a trellis pattern on the pastry.  Miss Mansfield took it round the school to show the pupils.  I think it was because I had about of crying because of my mother dying and she tried to cheer me up.

While on the subject of food, I never stopped at school for my dinner.  I used to go to my Aunt Mabel's, about 10 minutes walk away, because it was quicker than going to my own home which was half hour's walk.  My Aunt's chips were the best I ever tasted.  I don't know how she achieved such perfection.  Maybe it's because she'd been in service when she was young.  That was a regular occurrence in those days.  I remember once she opened the larder door and a lovely wedding cake, a three tier one, was in front of me.  She had made it herself for someone's wedding.  She also did all the knitting for her own family, and her nephews and nieces etc.. One thing I couldn't understand is that her son Jack was always in his workshop in the garden doing woodwork  He must have been absorbed in his work like I am now writing.

Now I turn to my Aunt Lil in the next street.   My first memory in that house is of crying for my cousin Thelma's pedal car.  And I remember Thelma pushing it over the bridge towards Prince's End where I lived.  I remember Aunt Lil put lovely meals on, she having a big family as well.  I can't remember eating anything in Aunt Lil's only enjoying the atmosphere.  Alas, two brothers have since died in that family.  The one I remember used to practice piano playing in a room on his own.  I may be wrong-  I hope I am - but the other brother was in the Navy and someone told me he had a disease from the sea.  The last memory of my Aunt Lil Corbett is of her lying in bed ill and refusing to go in bed for her ailments.  She said to me "Don't leave it another two years, Rose, till you come again".  But I never saw her again.  That was in 1973. I am beginning to wonder why I never went back.  Maybe I was embroiled with my own problems.

Another memory was of playing with sledges on the Big Hilly in the snow. They named that the Big Hilly because there was a lot of rubbish from foundries to make it a kind of mound, then of course the grass grew on it.  I remember one bad winter in 1947 when there were one foot drifts near the Star Foundry at  Batman's Hill, Tipton; and there were one foot drifts in the middle of the road.  And yet I never missed a day's school.  I loved the snow.  I used to bring small bottles of milk home for my sister and brother.

Before I left school I had a little job helping the hairdresser, Mrs Howell, in High Street, Prince's End.  When I came home from school I used to go to the hairdresser's to sweep the floor and sometimes put the Eugene curlers on the women's heads to perm them.  And I remember one day I had to go in the back room to get some ammonia solution and I saw the stair's door move. I was rigid with fear. I thought there was a ghost there. 

I think it stems from the fact that my cousin Charlotte used to say that she had seen the devil whenever she looked in the mirror.  Luckily the mirror was a small one fixed on the wall because she had burn scars on her legs - but I cannot remember how she got them. Also there was a distinct smell of snuff in their house.  My Aunt Harriet used to sniff the snuff to clear her nose and head.  On one occasion when I visited her she used to use the commode, that's a sort of chair with a hole in to put a chamber in for a toilet.

Well later in the day she was in the kitchen and saw the washing on the move going round in the machine and remarked that it was flying in the wind. She asked me if I was the nit nurse, I don't know why it seemed silly to me at the time, because the chemists had just started selling some rubbing lotion called Night Nurse and I used to make a merry quip about it when my husband was in bed and asked if he wanted his chest rubbing. That brings to mind when I used to have to go to the phone to tell the personnel man at work that he could not attend and that I felt like a mouse on a wheel.

Out to work

1947 was the year I left school, without any scholarship whatever because my father could not afford me to take it.  My first job was at Flavell's in Princes End.  I worked on a varnishing spindle, varnishing chair legs.  When I came home for my dinner and looked through the mirror I was covered in spots.  I looked like a leopard.  I did not go back.

In 1948  I started at the Star Foundry on Batm's Hill Road in a job called core making.  There again I had a bout of crying about my mother dying.  But at the same time I felt a little comfort in that core shop because there was an old fashioned coke fire directly behind me and Evelyn, one of the girls in my shop, used to stoke the fire and make the coffee, the old Camp coffee in a bottle. You don't see much of that nowadays.

Not much more to tell about my stay of 19 months at the Star Foundry, except that I had a 30 shillings Christmas box and a cup and saucer as a Christmas present.  I made the biggest mistake of my life in 1950 in following my mate to another core shop, Thomas Green in Webb Street, Coseley.  It's knocked down now of course.  The job was very tiring, consisting of hot shells that had been in a very large gas oven containing sand, the shells that is.  The shells were first put on top of a core box which had been rammed with a stick.  There was a pattern at the bottom of the box and when it was turned upside down and knocked out with a using a mallet.  It was piece‑work and I got good money but all of a sudden I was making a lot of scrap cores.  I think it was the mix in the sand that was wrong.  But that did not last. I think they sorted the sand mix out

Most days I reached work as the first one and switched on all the lights, because my dad used to get me up early before he went to work.  His job was a pit collier and he used to walk to work down to Himley Road, Dudley from Prince's End.  I could hear him walking down the road with his wooden clogs on from the house.

Talking about sand I remember once being run into a pile of black sand by a chap called Jimmy Boden.  It terrified me, the sand that is, but I never reported him.

My next memory is of working on the bath traps - those z bends on the baths. There was a girl called Joanie Worrall who was better me at this job.  Therefore the forewoman gave her the job.  But I think there was some favouritism somewhere.

Then I was so full of tension I slapped one of my best mate�s face over her conversation over a cake.  Joan Anderson lived opposite me down Turton Road, Prince's End, Tipton.  Talk about trial and error!

All of a sudden I was put on a job making little bottles of cores, standing by the nicest person you could ever wish to meet.  Mrs Simms was about 4ft high in high heels and there I stood in my size 8 shoes next to her. 

Directly in front of me a moulder used to sing to me.  I  remember the song which was "A bird in a gilded cage".  At that time I thought I was in a cage, because of having to do the sort of job I did not like! But there was no option in those days - you had to do it and sing along.

In 1950 I left.  I again listened to what my mate said and left my job at Thomas Green's and went to work at the Bean's Industries at Tipton Road, Dudley.  I was put on what you could call a blacking job, using a paint brush and using some sort of black lead that we used to polish fire fenders with.  The leaded sand bottles were cores used to make to make castings for Seddon Atkinsons lorries - which are still on the road now in 2004, thanks to my good work!

One day I walked into a conveyor belt and I know why!  It was because I had started courting - that's what they called it in those days.

Courting and marriage

My neighbour, Mrs Morris, used to stand by the fence and say "Rosie you will have to do something".  Now there's a mixed up person if ever I saw one.  She used to entertain youths around her house to play cards.  One of these youths was someone I went to the cinema with 5 years before.  Someone told me he was going to Mrs Morris's and when I said to him Shonna that is, I told him I did not want to go out with him again.

Anyway that was before I met my boyfriend on the back of a coach on a trip.  Soon after that coach trip I agreed to meet my boyfriend by Allen's works at the top of High Street, Prince's End.  But I did not turn up.  That must be why he turned up at my dad's and mom's doorstep.  I must have solved all this worry because I remember looking through the landing to watch him come from his mom's house, in the same street.

His mother was a charming person, who died at the age of 86. The first memory I have of her is when I clocked on at the Star Foundry in 1948 and she used to walk along another path nearby to the then Bradley's of Bilston, now Beldray, who make dustbins and household items.

Still being a motherless mother, life carried on as best it could.  My two sisters and one brother, living in a cramped kitchen with me and my dad, because he had some lodgers in the front room.  Our aunts wanted to take us into their homes when our mom died but dad would not hear of it.  He slowly tired of his work down the pit and went and got a job at the Brymill Steels, Bloomfield Road, Tipton, sweeping up.  But he was only there a year and he had ulcers develop in his stomach.  Then he had an operation, then a liver cancer set in. It was terrible to watch him suffer. He was nine weeks at home, then they took him to hospital.  But he got worse and the last words he said to me were "Look after your brother".  My brother used to have convulsions when he was young but I am pleased to say that my father did not see how my brother degenerated with drink, because his kidneys packed up and he was a no hoper.  On this day in 1997 my sisters and their families are doing fine and my brother has a lovely daughter, but no son to carry on his name, Cox.

I got married to Joseph Hartill in early 1953.

Children and work again

I re-open my memories of 1953 ,when I was pregnant with my first son.  He was born on the 16th August 1953.   If anyone had a baby on the Queen's wedding day, you had a gift from the Queen. But I missed it. I bought a maroon coloured pram which lasted for my next two children. 

My next memory is of my second son with heart trouble.  He suffered with it a long time but he overcame it.

In 1962 I started work part-time again, after being married nine years.  It was a very frosty winter.  It was that bad we had the water freeze in the pipes because of a broken window in the bathroom and the council were slow in repairing it.  My job was called "tapping" on a slurry machine and it was a messy and smelly job with oil. 

My next job was with Cannon Industries at Deepfields, making radiants for gas fires  for six shillings per hour - that would be 30 pence today's money.

I again fell pregnant but I retuned to work when my baby was 3 years old and soon after I moved into my first home of my own in 1969.  That was the year decimalization came in.  

The Author and a Friend

Me and a friend at the Methodist Church drop in centre.

Anyway, when my husband retired he was invited, and me too, to have a drink with his workmates.   I received a lovely bouquet of flowers at the door from the personnel man and he asked me if I was coming to the do.  I never went.  My husband went and he received two watches and a tankard with inscriptions on that his mates had remembered about him.  But I can still remember the look on man's face when he came to pick him up for the get together.  He looked aghast, to say the least.  You see when my husband used to leave home at 12.50 pm, when he was on the two to ten shift, he seemed at such a pitch, on the ball you could say; he used to cook some roasted potatoes in their jackets and they were black. Therefore I do not know what they were like inside.

Not much else to tell except everyday mundane things.  But my eldest son got married in 1974 and that was a lovely celebration.  The disco manager said !Let the  groom's mother do the Spanish calypso alone on the dance floo". So I did.  My second son got married in 1982.  That was a lovely occasion too.  

The Author

Me at Mandy's wedding, 13th September, 1997

 

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