I was born 2 January 1920 and as a child we lived at 26 Tixall Road were I went to St Leonard's School, there were fields all the way, no houses (during my time at school thousands of houses were built on most of the fields). We would walk to and from school, going home at lunchtimes. The toilets were outside. The school is still used.
When I left school aged 14 years I had been in the top class for the previous three years. I went to work for a firm Amies who were n the wholesale shoe business. This was situated in Eastgate Street where the Trading Standards Department is now. I did general office work. After a time I moved a short distance along the same street to ‘The European’ firm where I did typing and general office work. Eventually I worked for a firm of Cornmerchants ‘Stubbs, Meeson Co.’ In Telegraph Street. Mr Lake was the Managing Director and a very nice gentleman he was. I worked there until I married in 1941.
In 1936 the ‘Odeon’ was built in the town. I went to the opening night. It was very splendid, Jack Jackson and his Band were playing and a film star did the honours. It was a great night. The one thing I remember very clearly is the fact that I laddered my stocking on a rough spot on the seat, this was quite an expensive item then. We didn’t have a Marks and Spencer then but there was a Woolworth’s in the Market Square.
War broke out in 1939. At 11 o’clock, we had just heard it on the radio and expected it all to begin there and then, but it didn’t. I thought Bill Arnold, my boyfriend, would be called up immediately. We were at the Picture House when the first air raid siren went off and we had to go to a shelter in North Walls. We stayed there until 2am, I thought my dad would go berserk, I had to be in by 10pm. They used to do an afternoon performance and two performances in the evening at the Picture House and you had to book to get a good seat. (I have been into the Picture House recently for a meal and to see what they had done, they’ve kept it pretty much as it was and the balcony is still there).
The members of all Churches in Stafford used to go to the Civic Centre in the evenings for about four hours and make loads of sandwiches and drinks for The Forces. There were the Americans, Jamaicans, Dutch who were stationed here. It was late walking home in the ‘blackout’, no lighting and we only carried torches with the light pointing downwards. We were not afraid in the dark, only if the sirens went off. I used to try and get to the Picture House at least once a week, there was also the Sandonia on the Sandon Road, but the Picture House was nearer.
Stafford used to flood, it flooded in 1940 the fields everywhere were under water, now they’ve built houses on them, (but I’ve never known the Picture House flood until this year, I just couldn’t believe it).
I married Bill in June 1941 and we took a house at 34 First Avenue and we were there when Bill was called up on Good Friday in 1942, he was working at Hixon Airport at the time, and I was expecting my son, Keith. I wasn’t working and I hadn’t been called up myself (women were either called up or sent into the Land Army). I didn’t want to stop at First Avenue as I didn’t want to be on my own, in fact if Bill went anywhere overnight I would go and stay with one of my sisters. The husband of the lady we rented the house from, had been ‘called up’ to war, in fact he was one of the unfortunate men who did not return. Bill had been earning a very good wage and I only got £1 per week allowance (£1.10.0 old money when I had my son) Bill getting 7s 6d per week. So back home I went to my mum and dad for 12 months He was sent for 6 weeks training at Weston Supermare and was billeted in a local house. They weren’t supposed to have their wives with them, but the lady who owned the house said I could go, so I went on the train, she let me stay there for 17s/6d which left me with half a crown. It was marvellous. I was five months pregnant with Keith, - but I had a fabulous time on the prom, 6 weeks watching thousands of young men ‘square-bashing’!! The weather was fabulous.
Bill was sent to Blackpool, he came home on leave on 2 September 1942 and when he got home I told him that I was having the baby that day, I had Keith in the evening. I spent all of Bills time on leave in bed, as you had to stay in bed for almost a fortnight after having a baby then. Bill telegraphed for compassionate leave and got another week, which wasn’t thrilling for him as I was in bed for all the time he was at home. Rationing was in place and I had 60 coupons when the baby arrived, but nappies were one coupon each so they didn’t go far.
Over the next five years, Bill saw Keith on the odd occasion when he could get a couple of days leave here and there, and if I could get to Blackpool we would have a night or two together if he could get out of camp. Keith didn’t really know his father until he was five and Bill came home for good. My sister had a son, Michael, as her husband was in the Navy he didn’t see his son until he was two years old.
Bill was then stationed at Henley, as the passes were only for 48 hours leave, he didn’t really have time to get to Stafford and back, but he could get the tube to Walton on Thames where my sister lived. So I went to live with my sister, but with the bombing I was scared stiff when the sirens went off, although when we could, we would get up to London for a weekend, it was worth it to be able to be with Bill.
After approximately 1 year Bill was moved to Salisbury Plains. (I came back home to Stafford). They were preparing for “D Day” moving to different areas, under canvas. Eventually their unit was shipped over the week after following through France, Belgium and Germany. The war was declared over, he came home for Christmas leave 1945 and he was then sent to India. He was there until June 1946 and was shipped home and “demobbed”.
As we were so cramped at home my father bought a house, 271 Sandon Road, just on the corner of Fonthill Road (my son, Robert was born there). We lived there with my sisters and her son, the house had its own air raid shelter built in the garden. My sister and I went to work at Jennings the shoe manufacturer on Marston Road. I would look after her children while she worked, then she would look after mine while I worked. We did audio typing at Jennings, we had so many letters to type. Jens later moved to the Newport Road.
It was awful really, I have been watching programmes on television about the war recently, I can’t believe how bad it was. After I got back to Stafford from Walton on Thames I went to work for Paul Butters the solicitors.
It was a little strange how I came to work at Evode, I was working in the Income Tax Office when I met up with Marjorie Tonge (her maiden name was Simkin and later she got married and lived in Gordon Avenue, she was sometimes known as Ivy). I had known Marjorie when we were little girls, and when I bumped into her, I was doing part time at the Income Tax Office and said I was happy there but they didn’t pay a lot (I think it was about £3 10s) so Marjorie said “come to Evode and do invoicing” she quoted how much I would get (about £4 a week), and it sounded easy, so I applied. Mr Hadley interviewed me and I got the job. I can still see Mr Hadley now, he was not slim, he wore glasses and had dark curly hair, he was a very nice person, very good.
I started at Glover Street about 1952 or 53. The office at Glover Street was on the left, the chemical factory was on the right. Mrs Wood, Dr Simon (we always called him Dr Simon) and Mr Forman worked upstairs in the office. My job was on invoicing where I worked with Margorie. I did the invoicing for the chemicals side of the business, another girl Sybil Howe did the invoices for the Dove Polishes then Marjorie checked them. We had no gadgets for counting up, it was all done by hand, but Dr Simon was so clever he could just look down the page and add it all up, he was a marvellous mathematician, One day Majorie made a mistake, an invoice was £1,000 out, and as the invoices came to thousands of pounds, it was an easy mistake to do, but Dr Simon sacked her on the spot, she pleaded for her job, and then her husband came to the factory and pleaded too, but Dr Simon said that if one mistake had been made, then other mistakes could happen too.
Pat Howard (Geoff Howard's sister in law) also worked in our office, but I can’t remember what she did. Don Ferguson, Eric Nixon, Mr Hadley and Ron Dale worked in the office next to us. Mrs Wood was the Managing Director, she was ever so small and slim, very dainty she was older than me, she worked upstairs with Dr Simon and John Forman, John was a very nice man. I think he may have been a Director and seemed to have more to do on the dove Polish side. We saw more of him. Mrs Wood’s secretary was taken ill and she found out that I could do shorthand-typing, so I had a change of job working for her. Also typing letters for Don and Eric, which were always the same, sales publicising. No mistakes, or rubbing out, they had to be typed again. Dr Simon would send the work back it had to be absolutely perfect. It was all manual typing, not electric. We worked so fast and so hard we had no time for chatting or talking about what other folk did, but people popped in and out of the office for orders and despatches. We could hear music from the factory, they used to have the radio on, but we were too busy. I think they expected you to do 100 invoices a day, you weren’t told to but it was expected, you had to work them out and then type them, there was no time for stopping, you just did the work.
I saw more of Dr Simon when I worked upstairs, he was told that I was the Invoice Lady, he would wander in occasionally and say “Good morning”, I imagine he spent most of his time in the factory, he didn’t discuss anything with you. I used to look in the factory, but it was very dirty and smelly and I’m not one for getting dirty!! There was a very strong smell of the polish in the factory. The factory used to flood when the River Sow burst its banks, but that never happened when I worked there.
There were some German workers in the factory, I think they had been prisoners during the war, I remember one fellow, I can’t recall his name, he lived in a road just off Beaconside. Mr Forman had been interned during the war, and I believe that Dr Simon was too, but that was before my time at Evode. A lot of German people from Stafford were interned during the war.
I worked from 9am until 4pm, but that was called part-time then!! We had proper lunchtimes, some went home for lunch, and others brought sandwiches if it was too far to go home, and we had tea-breaks too. There was no canteen, a lot of firms in those days had canteens but Evode didn’t. We had some social events, I think it was mainly people from the office and factory people who were over the workers. We worked all day on Christmas Eve, we didn’t finish early unlike today, we didn’t have any parties or anything like that in the offices, we just worked. Dr Simon was a strict man, we were almost scared of him, if you saw him coming you wondered what you had done!! We used to have our Christmas dinner at The Swan Hotel in the town, and our spouses came too. I can’t remember Dr Simon at any of the dinners, but he used to bring his children to Glover Street, but they went into the office upstairs, I don’t recall seeing his wife at all.
We had to type 6 copies of each invoice using carbon paper, I’ve just been on a computer course and what used to take us hours to do is now done in minutes, computers are wonderful, - I can’t believe that all the things that I have had to learn to do in my life can be done with computers so quickly.
I left Evode after about 18 months, I left to get more money! I had sent my application off and went for my interview during my lunch time - you didn’t ask for time off, they would sack you if they knew you were going for another job. At the interview they asked me to do a typing test, so I sat it with 6 others and after half an hour they said the job was mine. So I began working for the County Council in the School Health Department, moving about 2 years later to the Children’s Department, which later became part of the Social Services. I was an audio-typist (I did shorthand when required). I used headphones, the machine was like a gramophone which played on plastic 48 size records. I don't know whether audio-typists are still used, if they do I am sure they will use smaller equipment. Later I stopped typing and became a clerical officer.
I retired from the County Council in 1980 after 26 years service.
When I left Evode I only ever saw Don Ferguson again once. I’ve never really seen any of the others I worked with, I think that they have all passed along now, in fact I don’t see many of the people that I have worked with over the years, only big friends, but I did bump into Dorothy Cain who also worked in our office (I think she did letters, but I know she didn’t do invoices and only Sybil and I did those) I also bumped into one girl from Evode who remembered me because of my nails, she said she remembered me as always having beautiful nails, I still do my nails once a week.
I used to drive, I have driven for about 50 years, but have given it up about three years ago, I do miss it. I used to whiz round seeing relatives, I have 2 sons, 4 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren My husband died in 1997.
18 November 2000