Colville Street Family

Mum and Dad told me they initially lived in a little unit in the old Miller’s cottage opposite St. Georges Church in Cromwell Street. The windmill was demolished in the 1880s. I can recall Mr Medhurst and his son Owen, who rented another section of the cottage. Mum told me that Mr Medhurst and Owen spent a lot of time with me and made me quite a few wooden toys. They were both joiners and carpenters and I still remember a large wooden top with a handle and string, and when the string was pulled the top would spin. I can’t recall a Mrs Medhurst.

We moved to Number 5 Colville Street because it was a shilling a week cheaper (ten cents).

Not sure how long we were there, but I guess a year or so. Then came the chance to move next door to Number 7 because that had town gas connected. Mum must have been over the moon because she no longer had to boil a cut down kerosene tin of water on the wood-fired stove (our only cooking and heating source) but could heat water for washing and bathing even in summer without the wood fired stove being alight.

The house was very small. Three rooms, two on the ground floor, the front one for Mum and Dad’s bedroom, and upstairs a larger room as the kids’ bedroom. The other downstairs room was the living room, which had the stove, the kitchen table and chairs, and the kitchen dresser to house all the crockery and cutlery. There was a very draughty lean-to protecting the back door and this gave a bit of shelter to the bathroom. There was neither a hand-basin nor taps, only one water tap in the yard over an open ‘sink’ and the toilet was right at the back of the yard alongside the woodshed. I can remember, while still very young, being washed of an evening standing in a dish of warm water on the kitchen table (in front of a lovely warm fire) and Dad saying, ‘we will wash up as far as possible, down as far as possible, then wash possible.’

Electrics were extremely limited. I can’t recall power points, only a central light fitting in each room to which adaptors were plugged and leads running from there to power a radio or an electric iron. Guess by now Mum would have had one but I remember Grannie Mac always using flat irons heated on her wood stove.  Dad’s brother-in-law, Keith Bomford (Jean’s husband), was a radio technician and built a radio for us. We hid it in a corner of the room on a high shelf with a curtain over the front to avoid detection. Radios had to be licenced and a fee paid but we managed to avoid that. The ‘wireless’ as we called it had glowing hot valves and I loved standing on the arm of a chair with my head under the curtain listening to my favourites ‘Dad and Dave’ and ‘Yes What’ with Bottomley, Greenbottle and the Headmaster Mr Pym.

Two doors away at Number 3 lived Dad’s parents, Grandfather and Grandmother Foster with some of their largely grown up family. We used to see them regularly but for some reason I don’t remember feeling totally comfortable when I was in there. This could have been because Dad’s youngest sister, Auntie Jean, was very ill with tuberculosis and died within a year or so. Auntie Jean and her husband Keith had a baby daughter Beverley who was a similar age to my sister June. Mum would spend a lot of time looking after Bev as a baby and continued to do so for many years.

I don’t recall going out at all with Dad’s parents. They never took Graham and me anywhere. Maybe it wasn’t the thing to do in the 1930s? They were also probably feeling the pinch of the depression in the 1930s and felt a little house bound. I remember going in to Granny Foster after school one day and asking for a slice of bread, butter and jam. She said I could have bread and butter or bread and jam but not bread, butter and jam together.

Dad, on the other hand, would always be taking us out to the show, regatta or into town. The regatta was so exciting, with the ground all full of tents. The water events, particularly the racing speedboats were great, but I got a bit scared when we stood in front of a boxing troupe stall and saw all the big boxers lining up challenging all comers.  Mum told me that one day my nose started to bleed and Dad used up all our handkerchiefs and everything else he could find, including the lining out of my nice fairly new coat, until it finally stopped. He never thought of finding the First Aid stall to ask them to help. I guess that was a sign of the era again. You seldom went to doctors – only to the school dentist – and almost all medical advice was given by family, friends or the local chemist.

I must have been in my early teens when Grandfather died and we changed houses with Grandmother. She moved to Number 7 and we were able to spread out into the magnificent Number 3. The two conjoined houses (Numbers 5 and 7) were built of brick circa 1850s as were Numbers 36 and 38 Hampden Road.  Number 3 Colville Street, however, was a relatively new building, conjoined with number 1 and was built of modern red brick at the turn of the century (1900). It had four main rooms with a small kitchen/dining room at one end, a very basic bathroom with a wood fired chip heater over the bath and a Huon Pine wash trough sharing a tiny space.

The other significant item in the back area was a wood-fired washing copper that always smoked the house out whenever it was alight, invariably once a week and almost always on a Monday, which was the traditional washing day. Like all the other houses in the area, the toilet was in the furthest corner of the backyard and usually alongside each next door neighbour’s toilet. Dad’s brother Jim would joke that we could talk to our neighbour through the toilet wall if we wished. We had pieces of newspaper hanging on a string to use as toilet paper. Mum’s mother Granny Mac had the first toilet roll I had seen and this seemed very flash to me.

The four houses in Colville Street, Numbers 1,3,5,7 as well as Numbers 36 and 38 in Hampden Road, were all owned by the same landlord, Mr Merchant. He would call fairly regularly on Saturday morning for the rent. He would often stop for a cup of tea and a talk. Mum would keep the rent money in a small tin on the mantelpiece over the wood stove in the kitchen. He did very little for his tenants in the way of maintenance and the houses were quite basic, even for the 1930s.