Current Work

Memories of my father, Henry Thomas Joyce.


This is the first of three essays by my mother, Betty Heywood


Memories of my father, Henry Thomas Joyce.


    My father was born in the Wiltshire village of Laycock on August 3rd  1873.  He was the oldest of six children, all of whom were living in Bristol in my childhood, all of them childless, and none of them doing more than pursue mundane jobs in drab surroundings. His oldest sister Ethel, married to George Ashley, lived at 6, Moorhill Street in the  Stapleton Road area of the city, and the younger brothers, Sid and Bert lived with them,  presumably contributing to the household.  Sid worked at Temple Meads Station, and I have a vague recollection that Bert may have been employed in a cycle shop.  If not , why have I dreamt that up?  In nearby streets lived his brother Fred, married to Minnie and Florrie whose married name was Nichols.  I remember being told that Florrie had been fashion conscious in her youth, and had struggled to achieve an eighteen inch waist. The result was some sort of deformity to her shoulder.  No discussion ever took place about their total lack of offspring. After George Ashleyís death. Ethel was left alone and acquired a live-in man and a dog, which was a happy arrangement  till she died, and John tidied up her affairs and took on the dog.  So that is my recollection of the Bristol  Joyces.  I have no idea when they moved to Bristol from Laycock, though it seems likely that their mother was there with them, as I think my father supported her somewhat in his early married days.
    My father said very little of his early days in Laycock.  Can it have been an idyllic country life?  I doubt it.  There were too many of them, probably too little money, and his father who died young may have had health problems. The only glimpse of his early years is his tale of leaving school at thirteen to be employed to scare birds in the cornfields.  At some stage Henry Thomas must have decided to go to London to improve his lot. Presumably he got employment in the retail trade, in some big store, though perhaps not where he ended up as a buyer in the cigar department at Shoolbred,s (donít have a clue about the spelling of this). He probably lived in the accommodation provided for employees, as did my mother and this could be how they met, though such accommodation was strictly single sex I am sure.  They married in 1908 on January 19th.  Where they lived at first I do not know, but the area where they settled down shortly after was then a new development.  ďMetrolandĒ was pushing the suburbs out into a more pleasant area, made easily accessible by the Metropolitan Railway, which went from Harrow and beyond to Baker Street and on to the City.  Houses could be rented, a situation they must have to come to regret in later years, as they didnít take the opportunity to buy as tenants  The possibility of so doing certainly arose to my knowledge, but I suppose they didnít feel able to do so, and that has to be judged against of their financial insecurity, and a total lack of todayís well publicised mortgage market. 99 Drury Road was I think the second house they occupied. I believe they were originally in another road, just round the corner . All the roads were named after the luminaries of Harrow School ĖVaughan, Butler, Drury, Merrivale and so on. Harrow School had guarded its position on the Hill, and this development was located at West Harrow, the next station after Harrow on the Uxbridge line.  There is a gap between the marriage and Johnís birth in 1911, which may be why he occupied such a favoured position in his motherís eyes  However Wilfred was born just a year after, which was probably quite difficult, and I feel there was a decision to stop at that.  I have no mental picture of this household before I appeared on the scene in 1919.  Presumably my fatherís position and pay improved, as he rose up the hierarchy, to become a buyer and was employed at Shoolbredís which was a prestigious store located I think in Tottenham Court Road along with Maples.  I wonder if Healís took over its site.
    My arrival in January 1919 was preceded by the flu epidemic, to which my mother nearly succumbed, but which in the event failed to dispatch both mother and child.  So serious was her condition, that John and Wilfred were sent to the Heathís at Barry to be  minded, their return coinciding with the Armistice in November 1918  It has always surprised me that  my mother made no secret of the fact that I was a mistake. She was in other ways quite prudish, as most of her contemporaries would have been, and not given to speaking of her personal feelings.  On the other hand I did not feel unwanted, although the years that separated me and my brothers meant that I had little to do with them.  My father worked long hours, probably not returning till I was in bed, so it was not till I was a bit older that he became a real person to me, and I spent a lot of time in his company.  He dressed very formally for work Ė dark suit with waistcoat, across which was a watch chain, the watch in his pocket.  It was usual to wear stiff collars, and they were really stiff like cardboard and with a polished finish achieved by starch.  These were attached by front and back studs.  The maintenance of these was entrusted to a specialist company, called Collars Ltd, who provided the customer with two strong brown cardboard boxes.  Each week on the appointed day they delivered a box of cleaned collars, and collected the box of dirty ones.  More than that - they replaced worn ones if the customer indicated that this was necessary, all  at an inclusive charge.  Oh the disgrace of dirty or frayed collars!  He wore a bowler hat .and in winter he wore  heavy dark overcoat, and black laced-up boots, so it was a city gentís outfit.  Odd really for he was quite unpretentious person.  I think these rather formal clothes were demoted to gardening outfits in due course.   The Drury Road house had small back garden, and an even smaller front one, with a tiled path leading to the front door.  It was a terraced house with a narrow frontage For most of my childhood, there was no electricity, and lighting was by gas. The lampshades were of opaque glass, and the light came from gas mantles, which were delicate objects, bought as a little soft bag, attached to a ring.  Once lit, they took shape and became very fragile. In the more sophisticated examples, there was a bypass providing a small flame, which lit the mantle when you pulled the small chains which dangled down under the shade   The stairs and passage reduced the width of the living rooms, and at the back was a narrow kitchen, in which were a lot of very old fashioned ďappliancesĒ, a range which heated water and cooked, a gas cooker, a copper, which would amaze the owner of a washing machine.  It was a substantial structure, a large metal vessel for boiling clothes set into a brick or cement outer casing at the base of which was a hole at floor level, where the fire was lit, with some difficulty.  Wash day was a whole dayís job, boiling, rinsing, bluing the white items by means of a blue bag dipped in the rinse, starching and mangling through a large mangle with wooden rollers. Of course there were no synthetic fabrics so there was a lot of white cotton. Our curtains were made of a cotton fabric called casement cloth cream in colour, which periodically got the wash treatment, but in their case a  ďdolly cream ďbag was used in the rinse. The mangle took a lot of space in the kitchen, and above was a larder of sorts, hard to access, but ventilated via perforated zinc to the outside wall. It surprises me that we still found space to eat breakfast in there.
    My father was a kindly presence in the house.  He woke us with morning tea, preceded by his morning dose of Glauber salts, which he prepared in and drank from  his saucer. Quite what that did for him I do not know .He also cleaned my shoes, handing them to me warm from his hands. As I got older I was more often in his company, particularly at weekends.  He had an allotment, two at one time, and grew vegetables, enough to feed us all I suppose, though in those days vegetables were strictly seasonal Ė beware the hungry gap! The allotments were on a plot of land triangular in shape, which lay between the railway lines to Uxbridge and to Watford, and had been left undeveloped. I think I spent most Sunday mornings there with him, playing house in his shed, and making little gardens of my own.  He grew fruit and some flowers, I even recall the varieties, so that probably gave me a liking for gardening  Occasionally we climbed the fence Ė horizontal  iron railings Ė onto the rough ground alongside the track, where we dug up roots of horse radish.  This was taken home to be grated and made into an accompaniment to roast beef, strong stuff enough to make your eyes water.  I suppose I remember these forays as it was surely against the railway bylaws  I also recall going to the allotment association shed to buy gardening items, many of them now illegal like red lead to keep mice off the peas.  Then back home to lunch, taking a weekís supply of vegetables.  In the afternoon my father often took me out.  I think it was arranged that my mother got a break from my company, as she didnít accompany us.  Sometimes he took me to London, using his season ticket.  I think I found the train ride fun, and donít recall what we did in London. On other occasions we went further down the line, taking walks in country areas. Apart from this there were our Saturday evening outings into Harrow.  For what purpose we walked into Harrow in the evening, and in my memory in dark wintry evenings, it is hard to say.  Of course in those days before fridges perishable items had to be cleared, so perhaps we were after bargains, though I donít  recall any, and I feel sure that my fatherís bargains would not have been a success with my   mother!  Whatever the reason off we went into the after dark world, my father smoking a cigar, and me seeing Harrow in changed conditions.  It got quite alarming to me, when at a certain street corner he would excuse himself, leave me briefly while having a quick half pint in a local pub. I stood waiting anxiously in the doorway of a little ironmongerís shop till he reappeared After this interlude we continued our walk round Harrow, which seemed quite different from its daytime appearance.  It was after all a respectable middle class suburb, but in the late evening drunk customers would come staggering out of pubs, like lager louts of the nineteen twenties, except that they were not the young generation.  He made a habit of these quick pub rushes always pretending that he had to lose liquid not take it in.  The same routine happened when were on holiday at Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight.  We would leave the beach to go back to lunch, but as we passed the Albion Hotel on the front, he would excuse himself, saying that he would catch us up along the way. I suppose he had a tendency to white lies, preferring that to making an issue of things.  Certainly he avoided any confrontation with my mother, and much later on , when they had moved in with John and Ethel , he was subjected to overbearing behaviour from John. Jason witnessed one of these episodes, when his efforts to help in the garden came in for a nasty reprimand, which he chose to ignore, but Jason was shocked. Jason of course was on the receiving end in his relationship with his father, and thought it strange that such an amiable person should be treated thus.
    I must have been about ten years old when Shoolbreds fell on hard times.  My father then got a job as manager of a cigar importers business, with a retail shop in Throgmorton Street. I suppose the financial crash of 1929 may have triggered business failures.  I vaguely recall anxious conversations about his change of job.  It was the occasion of another of his little white lies, this time about his age (he must have been about  fifty five) and this came to light much later, when  questions  about his pension contributions revealed the discrepancy. In fact their pension provision was woefully inadequate, and I realised that and worried about it as time went by but to no avail.  I am much less vague about the location of the shop, because I went there, another Saturday outing.  It was probably in a building owned by the Stock Exchange. It was a high class tobacconistís specialising in cigars. The cigars were of a quality that made them unacceptable to smokers of cheap brands!  They came in cedar wood boxes of which we have a few relics, but it always gave me a supply of elegant boxes for pencils. And then there were beautifully made little cedar wood cabinets, with two doors and a drawer below, and all that to preserve the cigars in perfect condition. All of these had a delicious aroma of cedar wood, all from Havana I suppose. Because of its location and its clientele the business was vulnerable to the mood of the stock market, its profitability rising and falling to match. His business contacts provided gifts at Christmas.  I remember large raised pies and whole Stilton cheeses, more than that I picture them in the sideboard, and I wonder how quickly we consumed them and how they remained fresh.  We were quite used to consuming food not of the freshest.  Jasonís mother had eggs sent in quantity from the country, and  I remember them on open trays in their kitchen for weeks on end. Despite his employment my father smoked little, a pipe sometimes, and a cigar occasionally, cigarettes not at all.  Nor did any of his children smoke, and remained lifelong non-smokers  Shortage of money didnít preclude a few treats. Occasionally we went to a restaurant in Soho called Pinoliís, to which I attribute my liking for scallops! Now thereís a thought, as meantime Jason with a high earning vegetarian father was ignorant of such delights, but he caught on fast!  We had other little rituals such as a bank holiday outing to picnic on Chorley Wood common, and for such outings my father would wear a boater, to show that this was a high day, and it must have been just at the time of his birthday.  Despite the rural setting a man was there with the notice ďThe end of the World is nigh.Ē Clearly this impressed me at the time.   The Isle of Wight holidays were certainly enjoyed by me.  We went there several times, always to the same house.  At that time it was usual to take apartments, an arrangement whereby the landlady let the rooms and prepared the meals from food provided by the tenants.  We stayed with a Mrs Yandell, renting two bedrooms and a sitting room/dining room.  I remember it as a pleasant sunny house with a garden with fuchsias and a lippia citriodora, my first experience of crushing those delicious lemon scented leaves.  We went by train to Lymington, then  by paddle steamer to Yarmouth, where there was a long pier made of widely spaced wooden slats through which I had an irrational fear of falling.  An open topped charabanc delivered the passengers to their destination house by house. We had only to tell the driver we were for Mrs Yandell.  On arrival there was our ďluggage in advanceĒ a trunk on the landing ready for us  We settled down to a daily routine, which started with a morning at the beach.  It was not a good sandy beach, but we swam and played there, the parents sitting in deck chairs on a raised area where there were also huts for changing  At the end of the morning. my father sat me down, fetched a bucket of sea water, and carefully rinsed and dried my feet.  Curious that I remember this, just as I recall the cleaned school shoes.  Then back to the house, my father having his habitual dash into the Albion en route.  Mrs Yandell was a good plain cook as .
they say, and it was all nicely served in the sunny dining room.  Then bread, butter, and some sandwich filling (fish paste for example) were brought in and my mother made sandwiches, which we took out with pieces of home made fruit cake, and a flask of tea.  I think we often went onto the downs, pleasant grassy slopes with chalky hollows, which were shelter from the breeze on cooler days, though my memories of these holidays are very sunny.  To get to the downs we passed Farringford the home of Alfred Lord Tennyson, then occupied by his descendants.  Sometimes we went further afield to Colwell or Alum Bays, the latter having sand of various colours to collect.  This holiday arrangement finished when John and Wilfred grew older and had other ideas, and strangely I recall no more holidays, except one when we went to Hythe in Kent, and from there John and Wilfred left on a school trip to France from Folkestone. Incidentally Wilfred must have been given that name after Wilfred Rhodes. The spelling check doesnít like it , nor did he. Hythe and the house we stayed at were grey and boring, quite unlike the Isle of Wight holidays.
    When John and Wilfred left school at eighteen, John worked first for Shell and went to Birkbeck  College after work to do a degree in chemistry. Wilfred was first employed at Eagle Star Insurance Company, where he initially intended doing an actuarial qualification, but he then took the entry examination for Customs and Excise and spent his whole career there, getting to an exalted and well paid grade, and receiving a CBE on his retirement.  Fred Bath got an OBE, so one can judge by that what civil service grade they occupied! At this time we were still in Drury Road and I was at Harrow County School. The Customs job took Wilfred to various locations, but John still lived at home, where friction between him and me was increasing. I am surprised in retrospect that my mother didnít curb his overbearing behaviour. Then came Wilfredís marriage, which was certainly a blow to my mother. I am sure my father knew he was powerless to console her, which says something for where he stood in her affection.  Equally my attempts to persuade her to come to terms with what had happened were futile. My father must have felt quite unable to restore happiness in the house. Time reduced her distress, but not before I had learnt something of her possessive love of her children. She had said to me that it was as bad as if he were dead.
    In some way this marks a change in the household.  John got a degree, and a job in a laboratory carrying out tests for the Air Ministry at Kidbrook and this is where he found Ethel. At this point a move from Drury Road was planned.  Did my father want it?  I think he probably just gave in.  He lost his allotment, he spent money he needed to keep, and he took on a higher rent, he was ageing and insecure, but my mother had begun to express discontent, as long term neighbours moved away. Perhaps they thought John would be a contributor to the budget. I can remember worrying about it.  Already my fatherís health was deteriorating.  He was always liable to attacks of gout, which despite all the jokes about it being caused by drink and indulgence, really is not.  His drinking was very moderate, a beer or stout enjoyed surreptitiously in a pub, or at home,  but the gout was very painful, causing swelling of the feet and legs. This is a form of rheumatism, and in due  course the attack passed off.  More serious was a minor stroke which occurred before we left Drury Road.  One morning he found that his dentures didn't fit well.  It was not said that a stroke was the cause, and no medical advice was sought  This is of course before NHS. Perhaps he might have avoided the strokes which followed in later years, if he had had good advice. Against this unpromising background the move to Pinner was planned.
    The house in Pinner was rented, but it was new, in a road of new houses. Their small reserve of money bought some new furniture and carpets.  Strange that at that point they moved into a four bedroom house.  I think this was about 1935 or 6.  I certainly went to school in Harrow from there, having a preference for a steam train, if possible. John and Ethel married soon after that, not a white wedding. Ethel was quite tall and elegant, and I think she had a rather nice dress in a shade of apricot.  They lived at Northwood Hills, the next station after Pinner.  It was also possible to walk there across fields from our house. My father used to take walks with our dog, yes dog or rather bitch. called Jill, an Airedale.  The dog knew his little ways, and would encourage us to go to the nearby pub, where she obviously enjoyed the company.  She would pull us to the pub door, wagging her tail with pleasure  Jason assisted in the dog walking, particularly after I had had some embarrassing moments trying to take her out when she was on heat. A number of dogs would follow, and it was impossible to discourage them.  I recall trying to carry Jill to save her from their attentions, and she was an Airedale, a good-sized dog.  Jason enjoyed the challenge, and would wait till we had a good following, then hide round a corner, or in a side road till they appeared, and rush out at them with fierce shouts, and that worked.  I bet the pill has made life easier for bitches and their owners!  It must have been the autumn of 1937 when I started at Bedford College, travelling to Baker Street station, from where it was a short walk into Regentís Park  I had a state scholarship which paid £150 a year.  As I lived at home I was not allowed to have the £60 which was the sum awarded from a scholarship won in the London Intercollegiate Examination, though this was paid to me in my final year away from home.  This may sound a small sum of money, but it was the  best you could get at  time when the county councils paid grants of just £40 a year. Compare my grant to Jasonís starting salary at ICI of £280 a year, with a PhD and you can see that I was not hard up and needed no help from my parents, though they provided food and lodging.  Jason meantime had already finished two years at Imperial College, and by the time I was at Bedford, his relationship with his father had become so difficult that he was living in Earls Court, in Neverne Square, which is probably now an expensive area, but he occupied a scruffy bed-sit, at first on his own and then .with Roland  From . Neverne Square he moved to  an even grottier bed-sit in Colehearne Road, still Earls Court. In my memory there was a smell of stale  cabbage and uncleaned lavatories about the place, despite which we spent many happy Saturdays there. The down side was returning to Pinner late at night, when my walk from the station was like something out of Crime Watch, ominous footsteps behind me, and strange figures lurking in the dark  And what did my parents think of all this? It is odd in retrospect that my mother appeared not to disapprove of our relationship though she didnít feel at ease with Jasonís teasing.  My father liked Jason I think, partly because he had no highbrow pretensions, which John and Ethel had in good measure.  Jason remembers asking my father to show him how he did such good parcels, in particular how the string was tied so tight and so skilfully  So he showed him , more than once, but each time at the end there was a quick movement of the hands, and Jason was none the wiser.  That amused my father.  It remained his little secret.  At this period I was aware that he was tired and sometimes if he was late, I would walk towards the station to meet him, feeling relieved when he came in view.
Then came the war. Bedford went to Newnham College, Cambridge and the students were billeted in reluctant .households in Cambridge. I donít remember being involved in my parentsí decision to move again, but it was to a smaller house in Rayners Lane, and I think this was a short time before the war. Some features of that locality were quite memorable, like the full grown lion kept in a garden, behind which we passed when dog walking. There was also the revelation that a bungalow a few roads away had housed some important Russian agents.   Jason dug a hole in their garden for an air raid shelter, for which corrugated iron segments were available as a cover.  Later they acquired an alternative to this damp outdoor refuge, a sort of table with a strong metal top under which you could sleep.  This house had no phone (domestic phones were unusual) but next to the garden fence stood a call box, and it was from here that my father on one occasion tried to phone the off-licence without success, and so in frustration dialled 999.  I am sure that the year that I was in Cambridge saw a further decline in his health.  He was well into his sixties and conditions in London were difficult. Jasonís Ph.D and my degree came to an end in the summer of 1940, it was the moment to get married and move on together.  This can hardly have come as a surprise to anyone who knew us, nor was it a sudden announcement on our part. However no sooner was it a real prospect than my mother was full of bitter recriminations, which were to continue for months.  As had happened when Wilfred married, my father seemed powerless to influence her, though he seemed to accept our plans with good grace. I now think that it was a sad moment for him. I moved out of his life and he had to live with my motherís all pervading discontent with the situation. It is no exaggeration to say that, as she wrote us on an almost daily basis, complaining of my deserting her, of her general disapproval, sparing no words to express her disappointment and frustration. The letters just kept on coming, and I find that even now  recalling this brings back a painful  emotional experience.  My father who wanted peace and quiet, must have known what she felt, and how damaging a line she was pursuing,  and was unable to persuade her to do otherwise  To some extent time mended the rift, but long after, when she said to me that all that was in the past, I looked back on it with the same sadness which I still feel as I write it now
And so we went to Manchester, and that was isolating in a way that is hard to understand today.  
No phone and very little possibility of travel. .Already when I was in Cambridge it could take hours to get to London, and after 1940 air raids were always possible and travel was discouraged. There were posters saying ďIs your journey really necessary?Ē I am sure  my fatherís commuting to the city became difficult, presumably too the cigar trade must have declined.  Ethel got a job as a programme engineer at the BBC, and in due course my parents gave up their independence and moved in with John and Ethel.  After a time at Leatherhead in Surrey, they were back in North Harrow in Norfolk Road  At the time it was probably the only possible option for my parents,
 and my mother found herself in charge of the house and cooking while Ethel was at work. There was at that time  no Catherine nor seemingly any likelihood, after several years of marriage In fact we found them so aloof and so preoccupied with formality that children didnít seem likely.  My father had given up work. This was, I imagine a combination of his deteriorating health and a decline in the cigar business. The errors about the pension must have come to light, but his employers provided a small pension.  He was able to work in the garden, and it was at this time that he was apt to incur Johnís displeasure if he made the wrong decisions.  Johnís garden in that house was grossly overstocked, all with good expensive plants.  He had never been able to resist browsing through catalogues from good nurseries, and it didnít stop at browsing! It was a small garden, but it was almost impossible to walk round for plants and trees, some very fine peaches, and very productive.  I think with my fatherís help they also had an allotment, so he was not forced to be idle.
    We moved back to the London area, to Romford in the winter of 1947/1948, and it became more possible to see them in Harrow, though we still had no car, and it was a long tedious journey across London. Undeterred my father came to see  us probably in the summer of 1948.  I went to meet him at Gidea Park station, and was shocked to find him looking tired and old. He had gone to all that trouble to see us, and to bring a basketful of raspberries. That year he had a major stroke, which left him paralysed on one side, and unable to speak. He was in bed from then on, and although seemingly immobile,  he fell from the bed and broke his leg. I went to see him at a small hospital near Northwood, run by nuns, where I suppose the treatment was palliative, and in due course he went home. He then developed gangrene in the paralysed leg, which had to be amputated. This was carried out at University College Hospital, and he survived the operation.  I went to visit him there. There was no recognition, and I hoped he was as oblivious as he appeared to be. After a time, when there was no change and he had recovered from the surgery, the question arose of moving him. I think the Hospice in Mare Street was suggested. Am I right in thinking this was the hospice established by Cicely Saunders at the very start of the movement? My mother didnít want to accept this, understandably, as  she would have problems getting there And then his condition deteriorated, and he died. I canít put  date to that but you can.  You (Janet) were a small baby, minded by Jason on the day of his funeral, which was a very impersonal ceremony at Goldersí Green Crematorium, where a plaque was put on the wall, and a rose bush planted under which the ashes were scattered
This account has inevitably ended sadly, but our memory if him is of someone who enjoyed life.  We can remember him dissolving into uncontrollable  laughter on one occasion at Weybridge when I fell in the river when punting. I feel sorry that his moments of uninhibited laughter werenít more frequent, not enough fun and too much anxiety.  I think it was not easy to make the move from country boy to city commuter. His sons both made it into better paid and secure jobs, and we were the first generation to get into higher education  Looking back on it, I think that at the time I was not aware of how fond he was of me, or I of him. He has certainly left me with nothing but agreeable memories of the time I spent with him.

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