Following on from yesterday’s post about my family’s move to Devon from Lancashire, I thought I’d continue with a post about my childhood in my parents’ newsagent’s shop, even at the risk of boring you witless!
Many people consider only children (such as myself) must be lonely children, lacking siblings to play with. I can say quite categorically that I was delightfully happy as an only child, I had plenty of friends who would come to tea or with whom I would spend Saturdays drawing and painting; a very good friend and I would spend hours drawing and painting, always fine ladies in historical costumes, or we would play endless games of Monopoly. Furthermore, my cousin from Lancashire (two years my junior) would come to stay in the summer for several weeks and we had a lovely time together, screaming with laughter at the silliest of things, as children do.
In the photo above you will see that from an early age I had a fascination with cosmetics. My dressing table was covered with little pots of cream and bottles of scent, flasks of talcum powder and my dressing table set of brush, mirror and comb. I later had a much nicer dressing table set in which floral petit point had been encased in a sort of Perspex and edged with gilded metal of some kind, it was really quite beautiful. In the photo above I was about seven or eight years old, already experimenting with my mother’s lipstick. I am wearing my summer school uniform dress, a brown and white gingham check, not the most attractive of garments, but this was 1952 and rationing was still in force. I expect the uniform was based on what materials were available for making uniform garments.
I always liked clothes, even from an early age, and I was fortunate insofar as an aunt was a tailor, not merely a dressmaker. She made me several outfits, one of which I’m wearing above, which was in a light grey woollen material, and with it I’m wearing a beret which my father insisted it should be worn thus (on the side of the head) and not pulled on like a pancake, which seems to be the way berets are worn today, with the welt showing. I think I was about eight in this photograph.
Although my parents were always busy in their shop, I was never bored. There were always customers to chat to, plus my Grandfather and Uncle came to live with us in the mid-1950s, so I had four adults to talk to when not at school. Living with four adults certainly makes a child grow up quickly, but I enjoyed our conversations and I will say this for my family … they always considered my contributions to the convesations, I was not ignored as being a mere child.
In the summertime – and summers then did seem warmer and sunnier and longer – my mother would often take me to the beach. Dad would look after the shop for a couple of hours and after our lunch Mum would pack up a basket with some tomato sandwiches, a flask of tea and perhaps some fruit cake or biscuits, and we would head off to Oddicombe Beach, the nearest beach to our shop. It was a long walk down the cliffs to the beach, and an even longer walk back up the steep twisting road, but if it was really hot and we were very tired we would come back up on the Cliff Railway.
Here I am, returning with Mum from such a trip to the beach. My dress was seersucker in shades of pink. I think Mum’s dress – I’ve forgotten the colour but I think the belt and bag were red, as were her sandals – would look quite fashionable today. Dad was always ready with his camera to snap us at times like this.
And here I am on one of the local beaches, although I’m not sure which one, and I’ve no idea what I was doing! Playing some game or other, making up a pattern or a seaside garden with shells and pebbles or even a pebble meal using sticks as knife and fork! But I was certainly very engrossed in whatever it was!
When I was 13 I started at the local girls’ grammar school. I had failed my 11+ examination because I had recently changed schools and my education had been severely disrupted. But there was a second chance in those days, and aged 12 I sat the examination again and this time I passed. Although it was a grammar school and such things as needlework and cookery (referred to on the curriculum then as Domestic Science, it sounded better that way!) were considered not quite the subjects for a grammar school, the early years, i.e. the first, second and third years, took these subjects and they were most useful. I enjoyed cookery, but I can’t say I enjoyed needlework, but I learned how to use a sewing machine, how to cut out a pattern, and how to make simple dresses. Here I am wearing one I made in a bright yellow sailcloth cotton. The pink belt is one that actually belonged to another dress, but I liked it with the bright yellow, so wore it with this dress as well. Here, I’m about fourteen, heading towards fifteen I think. This pathway has now disappeared with rockfalls to the sea below, but it was a favourite walk around the cliffs of a summer’s evening with our Corgi dog.
Here, above, I am with our dog on Babbacombe Downs one summer evening, c1958, wearing a yellow skirt and a patterned top in shades of green and gold. The evening sunshine was in my eyes … yes, summer evenings were long and pleasant in those dim and distant days.
As I grew older my parents would take me with them to various social events. They were members of the local Conservative Club, the Sailing Club (although they didn’t sail) and the Golf Club, and above you will see me (holding a glass of Babycham as well as my father’s pint of beer while he takes the photo) with my mother (on the right) in a lovely midnight blue tulle dress. My own dress was very pretty – a pity you can’t see it, for it was pale sea green tulle with little bootlace straps. This was taken at the Golf Club Ball when I was fourteen. I had had ballroom dancing lessons by this age, and could manage the waltz, quickstep and slow foxtrot. The cha cha cha hadn’t yet become a fashionable dance for such occasions. Such accomplishments were de rigeur in the 1950s.
One day, when I was fifteen, I arrived home from school and found this pretty blue and white hound’s tooth dress laid out on my bed. Mum had bought it for me in the local ‘gown’ shop (a lovely shop where there might be just one lovely item on display in the window; it would’ve been considered ‘common’ to stuff the window with all kinds of garments!) I was delighted with it and I wore it for many years, even including when I was first married. I loved shirtwaister dresses, they were so easy to wear and yet so very feminine. Although they aren’t distinct I was already wearing ‘heels’ and this pair were dark holly green leather.
I was now approaching adulthood, and it wasn’t long before I was dating and eventually meeting my future husband. But my childhood in our shop was most enjoyable with customers to talk to, a bedroom that I didn’t have to share with a sibling, books, comics, newspapers and magazines to read, paints and paper to amuse me, and endless supply of things such as Basildon Bond writing paper, coloured inks (green was popular at the time), friends to invite to tea, a nearby beach to enjoy, and seaside and country walks to take with our dog. Our shop wasn’t grand, it was rather ordinary, and my childhood was by no means exceptional. But it was filled with fun and laughter even though my parents worked very hard and were often tired. I look back on my childhood as a very happy time in my life.
Until next time.