Dot and Gwen's memories
Dot and Gwen talked to Julia Kalminski about life in Little Wenlock
In May 2006, ahead of their 90th birthdays, Dot and Gwen got together to talk about their many years in Little Wenlock.
Dot: “I was in service for 10 years from when I was aged 15 until I was 24, from 1931 until January 1941. I was born at Cound, but my mother was a village lady. My grandma lived in the “Old Hall”. That’s where I lived for two years. I was in the village from the time I was six until I was nine years old, but I came here permanently when I was thirteen. Aunty wouldn’t let me go out to work until I was fifteen because I was so small. She used to pay 10 shillings a week rent, and when the family got down to just Sally – Aunty’s middle daughter (we were like sisters) and I – we were paying £25 a week. Aunty died in 1971 and Sally died 10 years ago.
I went out to service near Shawbirch, in a farmhouse. I started my working life there. I was with them for five years, but the mother, daughter and son lived there, and the other son had a farm up by Crosshouses. While I was there, that family moved in with the second son, so I lived in the two places. Then I came back to the village, and I worked at the “Old Rectory” for two and a half years. When it was a rectory – Rector and Mrs Howells were there.
Oh it was hard work at the “Old Rectory” in those days. It was only a little range for such a big place, and there was no electric, you had to do everything on this little range. I don’t know how we used to do it. I’ll admit the food we had was just plain food, there was no fancy stuff like you have today. Meat and only one vegetable, plus potatoes. And a sweet. I was cook general. You did the cooking, but you had to do some housework as well. I don’t know how we did it. We had to serve at table as well. You had to go and hold the dishes while they helped themselves.
There was only two of them, but they did it properly. Reverend and Mrs Howells. There was always two of us, the cook general and the house parlour maid. I didn’t have to wait on the table except when it was the housemaid’s day off, so I had to learn how to do it. I only ever had half a day off, and then you had to leave their tea ready for them. I used to have half a day and every other Sunday afternoon. Then I wanted to spread my wings a bit, so I went to Wolverhampton, to Finchfield, and I moved with the family from there to Compton. When I lived in Finchfield and Compton I used to go in to Wolverhampton to the pictures, or go round to Beatties or somewhere like that. There wasn’t much else to do. You hadn’t time to come home to Little Wenlock, not even on a Sunday, because there wasn’t the transport there is today. You had to leave their tea ready for them and all the washing up would be waiting for you when you got back.”
“Those days are gone thankfully”, says Gwen
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Dot’s return at 20
Dot: “I came back to live at home, at Aunty’s when I was 20. That was at number 15 on the corner, what is now “Witchwell Cottage”, opposite the church. Our family lived in that house for over 50 years. In those days Aunty was a maternity nurse, and she used to go and lay people out as well, if anyone was having a baby and if anyone died. There were 7 or 8 families living in the “Old Hall”, and where the hall is, was the kitchen in our day with big flags on the floor. Where the fireplace is was a big range, otherwise it hasn’t altered much. There used to be one family in each bedroom. We all lived amicably together.
My mother lived in the “Old hall”. She went out to service, like we all did, and she went to Lancashire, where she met my father. I don’t know why they came back to live here. When you’re children you don’t think to ask, do you? And when they’ve left you early on, you don’t have time to ask. I don’t know what would have happened if the war hadn’t come. I came back to the village because of the war. When you are in service, obviously, you have to live away. Even when I worked at “The Rectory” and my home was just across the road, I had to live in”.
“To get up and make the tea in the morning” says Gwen
Gwen: “I was I was married in Acton Burnell, my husband's home. His father was the verger at that church for 35 years. There’s a little tablet on the pew where he used to sit. It says John William Marston, Verger for 35 years, Gods faithful servant.
It was April 3rd 1938 when we came to the village. I was 22. I’ve been here 70 years roughly. There were six working farms here when we arrived, so there were a lot of farm workers and lots of cottages. Since then it has been built up. Where “Manor Farm” houses are, used to be a farmyard, and where “Crofters View” is, used to be another farmyard. I came from West Felton near Oswestry. My husband was gardener of “Lardon Hall”. It was taken down in the 1960’s and shipped to America, to Disneyland! The people who owned it were leasing it from the last of the Darbys of Coalbrookdale. When the house was sold, the new tenants hadn’t got any money, so they couldn’t afford to keep my husband on.
He didn’t want to leave Shropshire, as his mother and father were getting on, and there was a job advertised in Little Wenlock for a gardener/chauffer, so we came here. We lived in “Rose cottage” then, the oldest building in Little Wenlock. Eventually we bought it. It was £1500, which was a lot of money then. That was in 1969.
I didn’t work, I was a housewife. I was used to living in the country – “Lardon Hall” was way off the main road. It was countryside at West Felton where I grew up, too. It was just like any other village, only there were an awful lot of relatives. You had to be careful who you talked to. Dot especially had a lot of relatives here.”
Dot: “It was almost every other house. Well, it was all my mother’s sisters. I got on with all of them, although I don’t think Uncle Bert did – Aunty Kathy’s husband.”
The War Years
Much Wenlock American Plane
Gwen: ”When my daughter Trisha was born, they offered to take me to Much Wenlock hospital. It was a foggy morning, she was born in November, and when we got to the hospital the sister said: `Oh hang on, we are awfully busy!` An American war plane had crashed just outside Much Wenlock. They were bringing in the dead and injured, and it was only a tiny hospital, so they were busy. So I hung on! It was half past seven in the morning, and Norman was milking when Bill went for him. But I can still hear those American voices now. Some of the generals came after the accident. I wrote about that in Within Living Memory. I held on until half past four that night.”
Dot: “A similar thing happened to me when I went to have my operation ay the Orthopaedic Hospital. In those days we had a pre-med. They put things over your face in those days – I don’t know what they do now. Anyway they gave me this, then they rolled me back to the ward, where they couldn’t understand why I was wide awake. There had been a train crash, and they had to bring people to the hospital from that, so they had to bring me back.”
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Working on the Land
Dot: “You used to go on the back of a horse and cart to go potato picking, didn’t you Gwen?.”
Gwen: “During the war I used to do a bit on the land like that, dropping potatoes and picking potatoes. Mrs Pountney whose husband used to work on the farm, and she fell off the cart and broke both her arms.”
Dot: “There used to be Derek and Brian Goodhall living in “Wrekin View” on the corner opposite the pub, in that little space there, and they used to bring the cows down the road past ”April Cottage” into the Glebe, where the new “Rectory” is. They were always up and down with the cows.”
“I remember they kicked up a fuss, when the new “Rectory” was built on the Glebe, because they lost their land. Mrs Goodhall, their mother, was quite upset about it.” says Gwen
The First Car
Dot adds: “She went from that little cottage, to the bungalow where Mr Cole lives now. You know the little house we talked about, that used to be the post office? And then the house that stands right back? Well there’s a bungalow there. Mrs Goodhall had that built and went to live there. “The Huntsman” pub used to be a cottage. My granddad, who had been a widower for 7 years, married the lady and went to live there. We used to call her Widow Goodhall. She had a boy and a girl, and they both died of TB. Bert and Milly. He was the only one I remember who first had a car in the village.”
Gwen: “He was a nice-looking boy, wasn’t he?”
Dot: “He used to park it in what used to be the little garage that belonged to Miss Jones, where Rosemary has built her new house. There used to be a stone building there. He used to rent it from Miss Jones.”
Dot: “We had the Home Guard in those stables opposite the Village Hall.”
Gwen: “Yes, they used to get the sergeant from Donnington to come and lecture the men and drill them etc. Steve Roberts, the farmer in the village, he was late on parade, and one night he had just arrived at the door, and this sergeant was demonstrating how to use a grenade, and he dropped the pin and it exploded, and hit Steve in the eye, and he lost the sight in one eye. There was a court martial over it; the sergeant had to go and my husband went as a witness. I can’t remember what happened to him, it was all a bit hush hush.
Steve Roberts was later knight – Sir Steven Roberts. He was chairman of the Milk Marketing Board, that’s why he was knighted.”
Dot: “He also had a lot to do with the Village Hall, he and his wife Lady Roberts”
Gwen: “It’s still the same family who farm in the village. Jim and Richard who run the farm now. Carol, their sister, does the luncheon club in the Village Hall. Sir Steven was their dad. Jim was going to retire after he was fined £4000 for polluting the brook. Effluent went into the brook from the cows.”
Gwen: “I joined in 1940 when we were making jam during the war. We used to buy surplus fruit and then we were allowed sugar. We used to keep one jar from each cooking for people to sample. Mr Williams from the Horsehay shop used to buy it. It went like hot cakes he said.”
‘This little place next to number 15 is where they used to cook it.” Dot says, pointing out a spot which is now “Wenboro Cottage”
Gwen: “There was no electricity, we used to have to take primus stoves. There was about four of us doing that. Mrs Walter Jones and Agnes Humphrey and Mrs Jones of Bay Tree, and me. We were knitting for the troops as well. I remember making pyjamas, and a dressing gown. Poor Miss Munro, she had a dressing gown to do, and there were two sleeves for the same arm – they hadn’t reversed the pattern you see.”
Dot: “Gwen’s been in the WI longer than me. I only joined in 96 when I lost Sally. But I’ve been on the committee ever since.”
Gwen: “When I joined the WI there were about 28 members.”
"And now there are about 28 now.” Dot adds
Gwen: “I don’t think it has ever risen much above that, and at times it has fallen to about 12.”
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Women Ferry Pilots
“Oh and another thing” says Gwen. “Three planes landed in the village. No one ever mentions the women ferry pilots. These three women were carrying trainer planes, and it was foggy, and they couldn’t go any further, and they brought the three planes down in a field as you go to Huntington on the left hand side., and they made a perfect landing just as if they had come into an airfield. Everybody was flabbergasted. Miss Wade was at our village school then, she took the children down to see them. That was really interesting. RAF men came from Shawbury to guard them.”
Gwen: “During the war we had plenty of buses coming up, didn’t we?.”
Dot: “We had seven or eight a day. People hadn’t got cars, and they used to use the buses.”
Gwen: “Especially the Saturday night one from Wellington. It used to be packed. People from the village used to go from the village to the pictures.”
“Or the dance.” adds Dot “You used to go to the Palais. The last bus out of Wellington used to come from Queen’s Street. Ten-past ten was the last bus. It used to come through Dawley in those days. Dawley wasn’t like it is now. There was a police station on the corner. It was our bus from Wellington you see, and the driver would say Little Wenlock people on first! And people would crush on and they would be hanging on the outside. It wouldn’t be allowed today. But at Dawley all these would get out. And if you got on at the village here it was seven pence, but if you got on at the bottom of Malthouse bank it was sixpence return, but at the village you had to pay extra.”
Church and Dancing
Gwen: “Dot and I met through church, really, didn’t we? The vicar was good at writing plays, and we were in the amateurs.”
Dot: “And we used to go dancing a lot – Old Thyme dancing. There were two gentlemen we used to go with. Ted Charley and a gentleman from Horsehay. It was just social. They say that you can’t have platonic friendships, but that was purely platonic. Just for dancing.”
Gwen: “We used to go all over the place, didn’t we? Kidderminster….”
Dot: “Yes, and Bridgnorth, and Cleebury Mortimer – I won a lot of mugs! Before that we used to belong to a dancing club, and used to on a bus all over the place. We had some beautiful meals at the “Forest Glen”.
Gwen: “Once a year we had the annual dinner dance.”
Dot: “But we have had marvellous times, haven’t we Gwen? We used to have dances in the Village Hall down at the bottom of Malthouse bank.”
Dot has many of her dance cards from those years. She says “I don’t know why I kept them, I didn’t keep them purposely. But they do bring back a lot of memories. I’ve one with a picture of the Queen on it from when she was crowned in 1953. There was another one, Sydney Thompson, used to be on television.”
Dot: “One time when I was on my bicycle and had just gone past the pub – it was dark – I saw something shining in my lights and I thought it was a dog’s eyes. But I’d got to get to work, so when I went past, it wasn’t a dog’s eyes, it was a man lying on the side of the road. I think it was the studs in his shoes that were shining! When I got into the bus I was joking about it and someone must have reported him, because later the police came to my work to ask me about it. They’d picked him up. He was drunk I suppose, and sleeping it off. Later on at a dance, a man from the coal site came to ask me to dance, which was really unusual. He said `It was you who reported me, wasn’t it ?`!!”
They show me a photograph of the village school. It closed in the mid fifties.
Gwen: “That’s the inside of the school, where the two school cottages are now. You can see it was there because there’s the church.”
Dot: “I went to school on two occasions. When I was here the first time, between six and nine, and then when I came back to Aunty’s, when I was 13, I went to finish off at the school.”
Gwen: “We always used to have a rummage sale to fund the Christmas party at the school. This was quite an event. I don’t know when it stopped being a school. The years go by, and you forget you know.”
Dot: “There were two classes, they went up to Standard 1 – you had Standards in those days – then Standard 2 to Standard 6. There was a partition, and two teachers.”
Gwen: “One for the infants, and one for the older ones. Miss Wase used to walk from Dawley! And Mrs Hobbins (Lady Roberts mother) was further still, she was down Dawley Bank”
They both have happy memories of it.
Gwen: “The girls used to be on this playground, and the boys used to be on the other one. They were divided by railings. Both my children went to school here and my daughter had a scholarship for Coalbrookdale High School.”
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Dot: “We used to have whist drives and dances. We used to have socials, didn’t we Gwen? When we used to play musical chairs and all that sort of thing.”
Gwen: “They don’t have that know. Television has spoilt it all.”
Dot: “There is still a lot going on in the village though. We play bowls every Wednesday night in the Village hall. We’ve been playing bowls since 1988. They used to have a maypole as well, at the “Old Hall”. Jo Hamilton came in 1966, I think. In the “Old Rectory” there used to be a yearly garden party.”
They have a photo of one – Dot and Gwen know all the people on it – but not many of them are here any more. Gwen is on there, and Dot’s Aunty Esther Humphrey.
Gwen: “We were well into our 70’s by the time we started playing bowls! We were in the league, used to go to St. Georges, Shrewsbury, and the college in Shrewsbury. No teams come here know, some boys who joined later went to university, and they lost interest. You have quite a few, you see, in case someone can’t make it.”
Dot : “They had a party for the Coronation, in the Village Hall. They had a party for the Silver Jubilee.”
GKN 1940 – 1976
Dot: “I left the Wolverhampton area when war broke out, to work at Sankeys in Hadley for 36 years.
I was working on war-related things in the tool room. That was were they started everything from scratch, from a small or large piece of steel, to the finished article. I worked on a bandsaw and filer. It was a bandsaw that took a 9 foot saw. Sometimes the men would cut a job and I’d have to file it. One went on my finger and flattened it, and it hasn’t been the same since! I worked on that for about 6 years. And we used to have to work nights of course. Once they asked me if I could go and work in the stores at night, to cover for the elderly man who usually worked there and who was sick. In those days you daren’t say no, you had to do as you were told.
So of course after that I often had to go there when he was sick. And then whenever a lady in the stores fell pregnant, they would send me there again. I preferred my own job. Eventually somebody upset me and I went up to the office and asked if I could have my own job back. He said `Why keep a dog and bark yourself?` and I never went out of the stores again. And in those days we weren’t very well paid. One day the superintendent came in and asked `how much do you get a week, Dot?` And he knew really, in those days you got paid in a packet, and you could tell to within a ha’penny what you got. And he said he didn’t realise I was getting so little. And he promptly gave me a raise of 22 shillings, which was a lot of money. I was earning just over £2 a week when I started. I went into the orthopaedic hospital to have an operation on my feet, in 1943, and when I left I was getting £9 a week. That was what annoyed me. I was a real Jekyll and Hyde the last few months I was at Sankeys, because it was just the time when the ladies started to get the same wages as the men, more or less, so of course I’d just started getting a decent wage and I had to leave!”
Gwen: “Lots of people we knew have left the village, and lots have died. But we’ve seen it grow up, haven’t we? 80 houses have been built since we came here. All those down Spout Lane were the first to go up. My house was one of the oldest, wasn’t it? Except the one right down Bragger’s Hill. “April Cottage” was there, and the “Old Rectory”, but “Rectory Hill” wasn’t, nor the ones further down Witchwell Lane. “Windy Ridge” wasn’t there. The next one to the “Rectory” was “New Buildings Farm”, now called “Crofters Farm”. There was another house, that’s “Bay Tree”, also a little cottage, they shouldn’t have knocked that down. The two modern houses were built on the grounds of the “Bay Tree”.”
Dot: “The next one was the shop. You couldn’t ask for the wrong thing. They had it. You name it. It’s altered beyond recognition. They had bacon hanging up, they’d let it down and cut you some bacon off. Before Aunty moved up here, we used to live at “Moors Farm”.
We had a good-sized family, we used to take 10 loaves at a time! We used to wash out those flour bags, we used to carry the bread down in that.”
Gwen: “Wash day used to take all day. It used to be a terrible day. You had to light the boiler, to heat the water. We had a line and clothes horse in the kitchen. We had one of those driers on a pulley. We had an old Raeburn from Ted Chamley who worked at the Aga works. That gave us hot water. We used to bath in front of the fire, once a week! We had the bathroom built while we were at “Rose Cottage”.“
Houses and Pubs
Dot: “We had to move from the “Old Hall” when my grandma died. I don’t know why because I was only a child, all the families had to split up. Uncle Jack and Aunty Lillian, my mother lived in Number 16 then, it wasn’t “April Cottage” then – just number 16, Little Wenlock. “White Cottage” used to be two cottages. There were no street names.”
Were there lots of pubs?
Dot: “So they said. There was the “Swan Farm”, demolished in the early seventies that was supposed to be a pub. There was the “Ring of Bells”, was that “Witchwell Cottage”? And there was one called the “Shoulder of Mutton” that was down Dog in the Lane. Then of course before “The Huntsman” on the bottom road there was the “Spread Eagle”
Gwen: “People used to have to go down to the ”Spread Eagle” to pay the rent, before Lord Forrester sold it. Because a lot of the village used to belong to Lord Forrester of Broseley, and then he had to sell it because he owed £25,000 in death duties when “Rose Cottage’ was sold along with many other cottages in the village. This was probably about 1919.”
Dot: “In our day hardly anybody moved away.”
Gwen: “Walter Jones who used to live in “Windy Ridge” used to say `people who come into the village leave it a lot richer than when they came`.”
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The climate has changed they both say. “We used to have severe winters,” Gwen says.
Dot: “There used to be snow up the Wrekin Road until Easter. One year there was snow on the ground in June. When it was icy I used to have to walk to Horsehay to get a bus. I used to have to go out at 6.30 in the morning. I had to have a torch. And I think I was one of the original joggers, although I didn’t call it jogging, I called it trotting. I couldn’t walk because I was terrified of dogs. They didn’t tie them up in those days. At the “Spread Eagle” they had an Alsatian and a sheepdog. When I was on my bicycle, the sheepdog used to chase me. One day I was looking round to see where he was and I hit the hedge and came off my bike!”
Then and Now
Dot: “There were lots of lorries going up and down in those days, ruining the roads. They were taking clay from here to the Potteries. There was clay as well as coal-mining – you see it down Buildwas Lane.”
Gwen: “It’s good that we don’t have cows wandering along the road like we used to! A dangerous cow is worse than a bull. We used to keep a smallholding at “Queen’s Head” at West Felton, and we had a cow from Oswestry market. It was a beautiful Ayrshire, it had beautiful horns. It was a nice-looking cow. But we had a footpath through the field, and she would chase women. Not men! She was dangerous, so she had to go back to market.”
Dot adds: “The people are not as friendly as they used to be when we were a little village, because everyone knew everyone else.”
Gwen: “And if there was anything wrong they would be the first to come and help.”
Dot: “I don’t know half the people in the village now.”
Gwen: “It’s since we lost the village shop. You used to meet people there.”
Dot: “It wasn’t that we used to gossip or anything, but the shopkeeper would always know who people were because she was dealing with them.”
Dot shows me a photograph: “That’s Judith, who I regard as my carer now. She’s the one I to go to if I’m in any trouble. And she fetches me down to their place every week, in Leegomery. She was my Aunty’s eldest daughter’s daughter, but her mum died when she was only 15 months old. Dinah, she was a lovely girl. That was her mum before she was married. So Aunty, Sally and I looked after Judith.”
Wrekin / Forest Glen
Gwen used to walk up the Wrekin
“I’ve been through the Needles Eye, as well. Dot used to climb up there too. We used to go up the Wrekin quite a lot. I don’t think I could do it now though! We used to come down this side as well. It’s all stony, and I once took my sister down this side, and the heel came off her shoe, and she laughed so much she wet her knickers! There was always a house half way up.”
Dot: “They used to have swings and a donkey ride. There used to be a shed on the side selling home-made bread and home-made jam. You could go in and have light sandwiches, nothing like at the “Forest Glen”
Gwen: “The Forest Glen” used to be at the base of the hill. It’s a pity there isn’t a café there now. They’d do a roaring trade I think”
Dot: “We’ve had some marvellous meals there. We used to go to dinner-dances. And it was home cooked meals. We used to have it in the dance hall, and then go down a couple of steps to have a drink while they cleared the hall for the dance. The dances always finished at a quarter to 12.”
Gwen: “The war memorial used to be in the garden of “Wenboro Cottage”. When it was sold they decided they wanted the war memorial moved, and it was moved to the churchyard. It was moved when the Rochelles were there. But Mrs Wilkinson was telling me about the war memorial, when it was built there was an awful lot of unpleasantness in the village then, because they wanted to put it in the churchyard, and the people belonging to the chapel objected. I can’t understand that. The churchyard is for everyone, isn’t it? The church hasn’t ever been closed. Even when they were doing repairs. Unfortunately it’s locked now because of vandals. Someone tried to break in one night.”
Dot adds: “They tried to break in one night when we were at number 15. Sally’s dog was growling and sally told her to shut up, and then we realised why she’d been growling. There were marks on the door”
Where were the Doctor and the Dentist?
Gwen: “We used to walk to the doctors surgery in Dawley. The dentist was down at Wellington.”
“When I worked,” says Dot “I used the one in Kings Street, Dawley, it was Mr Bullock. He used to live in the village. But when I retired the bus didn’t go that way, so I changed over to Wellington. It’s called Oasis now.”
Gwen: “Wellington has changed so much, and it’s sad to see the shops closing. I suppose that’s because of Telford. I prefer the little shops.”
Dot: “We only go to Wellington now. But KwikSave has been sold to someone we don’t know. And I don’t think they’re going in for the better quality stuff. I do a lot of baking, and the other day they hadn’t got a bag of flour of any sort. No dried fruit, no caster sugar, no icing sugar, no brown sugar, no Stork margarine.”
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“We always used to keep pigs and poultry.” says Dot
“Every house used to keep a pig,” Gwen adds, “and we used to kill them in rotation, and share the pork around.”
Dot: “And Mr Goodhall the butcher used to come to the house to slaughter them or take them to his place.”
“And after he died, we used to send the pigs to Norgroves at Dawley” says Gwen
“And they’d bring the bacon and that over to you, and everything was used.” Dot says. “Even the bladder was used as a football. Gwen’s got a picture of a pig on the wall.”
Gwen: “Yes, it was the Little Wenlock pig, our pig at “Rose Cottage”. It used to jump up onto the wall to see what was about.”
Dot: “The Lunch Club is the third Tuesday in the month. We’re going out to lunch tomorrow, that’s the Bowling Club lunch.”
Gwen: “Yes, down at the ”Valley Hotel”
Dot: “And the hairdresser is coming at quarter past one. We lead a very busy life!”
Gwen: “Bowling on Wednesdays.”
Dot: “And very often I go to Horsehay to bowl in the afternoon as well. And I’m a member of the WI committee.”
The Village Hall and Playing Field Committee would like to thank Dot and Gwen for sharing their memories with Julia Kalminski who kindly wrote them down.