by Charlotte Tate
My paternal grandparents lived and worked in two Black Country villages. Both sets of grandparents are similar in many ways, living in the same eras, of course, both had very large families, producing much of their own food, i.e. growing much of their own fruit and vegetables, keeping pigs and chickens and working hard to provide well for their children.
My paternal grandparents were both born in 1879, in Roseville, an area of Coseley. They were both religious and spoke in Biblical language using words such as, “Thee,” and “Thou,” all the time.
My grandmother’s maiden name was Florence Lloyd. She lived with her family in Roseville, where her mother kept a small general store. I do not know what my great grandfather, her father, did for a living.
Florence grew to be a tall, slender, elegant, handsome girl. She had long, thick, dark hair, piled high on her head, as was the fashion in Victorian times. Her skin was very fair, her eyes were a bright blue and her voice was deep and musical.
When she left school, she worked for a company of dressmakers and thus was able to make lovely clothes for herself at home. Her dresses and petticoats reached to her ankles, and she wore black stockings and shoes.
My grandfather, Frederick Albert Jones, was the youngest of thirteen children. He was a little shorter than granny; he was slender, muscular and very strong. At some time his parents left Roseville to keep a public house, “The Cat" at Enville.
Grandpa Jones was as dark as a Gypsy, with thick, black, curly hair and a moustache. By the time that I was born his hair was grey, but still very thick and curly. He smoked a pipe and hand-rolled cigarettes. He dressed quite distinctively, different from other children’s grandfathers that I knew. He wore collarless, fluffy, flannel shirts in broad blue and white stripes. His sleeves were almost always rolled up, showing the long sleeves of his under vest in winter. Around his neck he wore a red and white spotted neckerchief, tied with two knots. His waistcoats and trousers were made of a thick, black, heavy woollen material. Across his waistcoat he wore a thick silver watch chain, leading to the pocket where his heavy silver watch ticked away. His trousers were held up by broad blue braces and a thick leather belt, fastened by a heavy brass buckle. On his feet were thick, hand knitted, grey socks and heavy pit boots. When he went out he wore a black jacket, a bowler hat and a fringed, white silk scarf.
When my grandparents married in 1899, they were both aged only twenty. Grandpa always called granny, “Missus,” she called him, “the Master.” One year after they were married, my father, Albert Frederick was born. He was to become the eldest of twelve children. Such big families were normal then. One of my granny’s friends had twenty two children. That is the biggest family I have ever heard of, from one woman.
At this time grandpa worked as a railway engine driver. Sometime later he worked as a colliery engineer, dealing with the mechanism of the mine cages that took men, horses, coal and whatever else up and down the pit shaft.
The Jones family lived in Roseville near to their parents. Florence would help her mother with the housework and the shop whenever she could.
My father had fond memories of his young mother and grandmother. His mother, he said, would play games and run races with him. His granny would give him sweets and cakes from the shop. Both women were tall, elegant, cheerful and kind.
When Albert was a boy he would help his granny in the shop. She would pay him well for the work that he did and he would give the money to his mother to help with the ever growing family.
A baby was born to my grandparents every two years, on average. Though granny did tell me that at one time she had three little ones not walking, a new baby and two still crawling.
My great granny Lloyd provided young Albert with a type of trolley called a “dobby,” which he would push or pull to her suppliers to fetch stock for the shop that she had ordered. A dobby was a small hand cart, a large box type structure on four wheels with a tee shaped handle with which to pull or push it along.
If Albert was late, delayed on the way back from the suppliers, chatting or playing with friends, his granny Lloyd would stand on the front door step, cup her hands to her mouth and call, “ AAAAALLLLLBEEERRRRRT. “ He swore to me that he could hear her call, across the fields, a mile away and off he would run, pushing the laden dobby back to Roseville, where granny’s cakes, a cool drink of milk and money for his mother awaited him.
Children in many Black Country families were given the job of “coal picking.” When times were hard, this coal would eke out the “ boughten “ coal. The children were given a small shovel and a sack and off they would walk to the local pit to dig among the slag heaps, searching out pieces of coal. The coal pieces found would be picked up and put into the sacks. It was hard, dirty work, but such an asset to the home when money was scarce. When filled, the sacks would be loaded on to a trolley, a dobby or an old pram and taken home. Many of the coal pieces were quite small, but they burned beautifully.
Coal picking became popular once more during World War Two when fuel, as well as food and clothing were rationed. My mother was very pleased when one of my young uncles would bring her a sack of picked coal sent to us by granny Jones. It was a welcome boost to our rationed fuel when harsh winter weather arrived and our uninsulated non- centrally heated house was freezing cold. During those wartime winters in Quinton the frost would whiten the lawn and trees in the garden and be gathered on the inside of our windows each morning. My brother, John, and I would draw in the frost on the window panes, using pin heads to scrape lines in the frost to create patterns and pictures.
The last time that I saw coal picking being carried out was in the 1950’s, in the North of England. There were coal mines stretching for three miles under the North Sea being worked at that time. Some of the coal seams were exposed on the sea bed and tidal erosion washed coal pieces from these seams on to the beaches.
At low tide, boys pulling trolleys and dobbys could be seen shovelling up the sea coal. Most of it looked fine, like slack. I was told that the boys would take their sea coal to local factories, where they would sell it for burning in the furnaces.
My father, Albert, attended Christ Church School, Coseley. He was a good scholar and loved going to school. He and his young siblings were well fed and warmly clad. Many children were not so lucky. My father told me that poor children were given a free breakfast at his school, possibly paid for by a local benefactor, I suppose.
As class monitor, Albert’s teacher would send him on an errand around the school each morning. He would go from class to class, asking each teacher if there was anybody there who had had no breakfast that day. Hungry children would raise their hands and be excused from class to follow Albert to where breakfast was being served.
Like many children in that era in towns, villages and countryside alike, Albert had to take days away from school to help with the work at home. He told me that he used to cry when he had to take a day away from school. Each Monday morning he was kept at home to help his mother with the weekly washing. His usual task was to maid the white clothes. Using a heavy wooden maid or dolly, he repeatedly banged it down on the linens and cottons as they lay in hot soapy water at the bottom of the maiding or dolly tub.
Once a week, his granny Lloyd needed his help. She would close her shop for half a day and go to town to order fresh stock. Albert had to accompany her on that occasion. His job was to walk behind her, like a pageboy, holding up her long skirts and petticoats so that they did not drag on the paths or roads and become soiled.
One day, Albert’s teacher sent for his mother. The two women had been school friends and therefore had a very good relationship. Florence was worried that Albert had been naughty and disgraced the family. She gave Albert one of her hard looks as she approached him and his teacher. Her friend, the teacher, informed her that Albert had passed the Grammar School entrance examination.
Although she was proud of him, Florence burst into tears, because she could not afford to pay for school fees or for the uniform that he would have to have. By now he was the eldest of five or six siblings and there was no spare money for such an expense.
The teacher offered to pay half of the fees from her own salary, but it was still beyond their means. Albert finished his education at Christ Church School.
There were many large, poor families at that time, one hundred years ago in Roseville. The people there however were very proud, trying to conceal their poverty and manage without help.
When a woman entered my great granny Lloyd’s shop, whom she knew was having a hard time financially, she would, when the transaction was completed, add an extra sixpence or so to the woman’s change. Then she would smile and turn her back to the counter. She was well known for doing this for desperate women. The woman would therefore know that she was expected to take the extra sixpence and not be seen doing it. Thus she kept her pride. One sixpence, in those days, would have bought several loaves of bread. Both women knew that the money would be repaid somehow, by a good turn, a kind deed, or perhaps in cash when the woman’s husband was back “in work" again. My great granny was not a rich woman.
People helped one another as much as they were able, not wishing anybody’s children to go hungry. Most parents worked very hard to keep their children well fed, clothed and shod. My granny Florence made pretty dresses and pinafores for her girls, and shirts and trousers for her boys. She knitted warm clothes. She baked bread and brewed beer. She tended and fed pigs and hens. All this work went on alongside the usual housework, the shopping, cooking and the endless heaps of washing and ironing.
Grandpa Frederick worked hard, long hours at his place of work. He grew most of the vegetables that the family ate and he mended their shoes. As a sideline, he would mend service or restore grandfather clocks and wall pendulum clocks.
Hard times came to the Jones family when Frederick, like many men, could find no work. My Grandpa heard from somewhere that there were jobs to be had at a coal mine in Wales. I do not know which pit town it was.
Granny Florence packed Grandpa a large bag of food and he proceeded to walk to Wales in search of work. There was no money to spare for train or ‘bus fares. I do not know how long this walk took him. On the way he slept rough, under hedges or inside a barn if he was lucky. When he arrived at the mine he was told that there were no jobs. Disappointedly, he turned back and began the long walk back to the Black Country, empty handed. By the time he got home, his boots were worn out.
Coal and coal gas were the only sources of heat and power in most homes when my grandparents were young one hundred or so years ago. Each large town seemed to have its own gasworks where coal was distilled to extract gas, tar and coke from coal. A gasometer holding the gas was a regular seen landmark from where gas would be pumped under pressure through pipes to each home. Coal gas lamps lit the streets, gas lights lit the homes and gas cookers were used in many houses.
Every room had a fireplace but the living room fire would cook the food and boil the kettles to heat the water. The old fashioned range-type fireplaces were very cleverly designed to make the most of the heat from the living room fire.
These cast-iron, gleaming, black leaded and tiled fireplaces were pleasing to the eye as well as useful. They were normally surrounded by a tall fireguard made from narrow iron bars, fronted with a lattice of very thick corrugated wire and topped with a shining brass rail. Many households had a “Sheila maid” hanging from a ceiling beam above the fire, where clothes were dried and ironing aired.
To one side of these fires was a roasting oven, where joints of meat, casseroles and roasted vegetables were cooked, one could also bake bread, Yorkshire puddings , cakes , pastry and jacket potatoes there. On top of the fire was a hinged hob where one could boil a kettle to make tea or boil vegetables. Sometimes the hob would be pushed to one side when the glowing coals were needed to fry bacon and eggs for breakfast or cook a large pot of stew. When this occurred the fire would first be raked level to receive the big iron pans and pots of food.
Some grates had a small water tank on the opposite side of the fire to the oven. This small tank could be pulled out like a deep drawer and be filled with a bowl or two of water. The water there soon warmed and could be drawn off at will with the aid of a small brass tap at the front. This drawn warm water would be taken through to the kitchen with which to wash the china after a meal or taken through to the washhouse and be used to wash one’s hands and face. The men would draw this water to shave with. There was no hot water on tap then, each sink had one cold water tap and no other.
I used to love to watch my grandpa shave when he came home from work each evening. He seldom shaved in the morning.
First he would go into the washhouse and assemble his shaving kit, which comprised of a white bone china shaving mug which had a round cake of shaving soap in the holder on top of the mug, a badger-hair shaving brush and an open razor. He would go into the living room and take a kettle of hot water from the hob and a warm face towel from the fireguard and bring them both back to the washhouse.
The shaving mug would be filled a little of the warm water from the kettle, the badger-hair brush was dipped into it and rubbed on to the soap making huge amounts of lather. He would then apply the lather with the brush in a circular motion over his cheeks, chin and neck. While the hairs of his beard softened beneath the lather, he would sharpen his pearl handled, open razor on the strop which hung from a hook beside the washhouse sink. He would then proceed to scrape the sharp blade carefully across his face and neck, removing the lather and beard growth. When this was completed he would wash and dry his face, ears and neck. Next he would carefully wash and dry his shaving kit and put it away. Sometimes, he would finish the process by trimming his moustache with scissors. I wonder to this day how he managed never to cut himself shaving.
Ed’s comment - Thank you Charlotte for this delightful article, with your attention to detail and descriptive prowess one could almost be there with you. Just to explain to the members this is the email I had from Charlotte prior to the article
I hope that you and Iris are well. After you had read the stories that I wrote for you about my maternal family history i.e. the Masters family in Birmingham city and Quinton village one century ago, you expressed an interest in reading some history from the paternal side of my family. My paternal grandparents lived and worked in two Black Country villages. I hope that these stories too are what you are looking for. Best wishes to you both, Charlotte Tate.
Click here to go back to the Oracle page.