Current Work

Memories of my Mother and my Childhood


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


Memories of my Mother and my Childhood


    Ethel Emily Fricker was born on January 10th 1883 at Cheltenham, Gloucestershireí the first child of William and Emily Priscilla Fricker.  Her father was a surveyor.  It is not clear to me what this actually meant, but he appears to be named as responsible for a bridge in South Africa, so he presumably had some professional know-how.  Any account of my motherís life is strangely lacking in details of her childhood.  It seems that the same is true of her brothers; people who have met them have found them just as uncommunicative. Their childhood years were perhaps too painful to recall.

    I do know that the family left Cheltenham, and lived in London. I had thought in Wigmore Street, which is in the area north of Oxford Street.  It was clear when we went on a shopping trip to that area that she was on familiar territory, but of course she lived there as a young woman, employed by an Oxford Street store. Janet has in fact located the family at less prestigious addresses Cousin Ethel gave a few glimpses of their circumstances, implying that they had a comfortable life style. And who is  Cousin Ethel? She was my motherís first cousin. with whom she kept in touch all her life. My maternal grandmother was the sister of Cousin Ethelís father.  Her surname had been Walton, and Janet tells me that the Frickers and the Waltons had lived in adjacent streets in Cheltenham.  It must be during the London period that my motherís sister was burnt and died, when her night dress caught fire. I remember her saying that her father had been burnt while trying to save her.

    The next thing we know about her family is their journey to South Africa. Someone, probably Cousin Ethel, suggested to me that their going to South Africa was in some way connected with Wilfred Rhodes. Could that be why her second son got the embarrassing name of Wilfred?  They went because her father had tuberculosis, and the better climate was thought to be beneficial. Presumably he was fit enough to work , as we have the evidence of his bridge building, but TB was a death sentence, and there was no cure. My mother did speak about the journey there by Union Castle line, but otherwise there is a blank. Clearly it must have been an awful situation for my mother,  then a teenager, as her fatherís health deteriorated and her mother became ill  Her father died in Cape Town, and her mother returned to England with her three children.

    On her return she went to her brother in Brentwood Essex.  William Walton at that time had a furniture and upholstery business in the town. In later years Cousin Ethel pointed their house out to me. I think it was called White Lions, and it had some rather feeble lions on the garden wall to prove the point He had several children of his own to support; Cousin Ethel, Mabel  and Emmie, all of whom l can remember, as well as sons, whose names I do not recall  One of the sons ran to the station in Brentwood to meet someone and died of what my mother called syncope, heart failure I presume.   Emmie was deaf from birth, and was educated at a residential . school for the deaf, where she trained as an upholstress, and came tantalisingly close to being able to speak. .  Into this household came my grandmother, already ill and of course infectious. It must have been difficult, and in due course she appears to have a different address in Brentwood. I think we know this from a will , in which she says what she would like done for her children, and appeals to friends called Heath to assist in this.  The Heaths lived in Barry, Glamorgan, where he was an engineer in charge of the docks.  Years later my mother was still in touch with them and I once went with her to visit them. I think Mrs Heath, Louie (inscribed in a book she gave me) was a sort of mother figure to my mother.  It was to them that she turned for help when she was too ill to cope during the 1918 flu epidemic


At this point my mother was eighteen, and her brothers were younger.  I suppose that the .Waltons and the Heaths did their best for the children.  My mother got employment at Debenham and Freebody in London, and lived in a hostel for employees.  I am not sure when her brothers left for Australia, or where they were prior to that. What is clear is that their departure was a parting for ever severing her last family links.  I do know that Annie, the wife of her brother William stayed with her in Harrow when her brother went to Australia, and that was not till  1910 or so.  At the turn of the century  my father was also working in London, and living in a hostel in Gower Street.  Janet can be more precise about all this having found their details in the census returns. They married in 1908, by which time she was twenty-five, and my father thirty-four.  I presume the marriage involved saving enough to furnish a house.  Certainly we still have some embroidered items, made for the occasion by a friend. My mother had no family to support her, and I know that by then my fatherís mother needed financial support from them.  It was usual to rent rather than buy, so presumably there was no difficulty in finding a house at West Harrow.  It was the time when that area was being developed, and the Metropolitan line made it an easy half hour journey into London.  I think they moved from their original house into 99, Drury Road.  This house, my childhood home, was a typical Edwardian terrace house .It had casement rather than sash windows, which probably makes it later than 1900.  A lot of such houses have been lovingly restored in recent years, but it was small, a tight fit for the five of us, and the kitchen was narrow and cramped, with a range, which could do some basic cooking and heat water a built-in copper for boiling washing and a large mangle. and a gas cooker  In these cramped conditions my mother cooked very well.  We ate in the dining room at the front of the house, where a dining table was inconveniently close to the wall.  In fact we lived in that room.  There was lino, green lino,  on the floor, two uncomfortable chairs by the open fire, and a set of dining chairs round the table.  The furniture was probably of quite good quality, having been acquired from Shoolbredís a high class store where my father worked. My impression was that he was able to buy things  which hadnít sold, which explains some odd items of furniture, such as their large brass bedstead, resplendent with knobs and finials, with provision for hanging side curtains, a real monstrosity in my eyes. The drawing room was rarely used. At the back sunless side of the house, it also had chairs and matching settee covered in tapestry of a dull greeny grey, again good quality but unattractive items in my opinion and the red carpet was so durable that it was still in use when John and Ethel set up house in Shropshire,  proof of its quality!.  Upstairs John and Wilfred shared the back bedroom. There was a small bathroom at the back, and a small bedroom at the front, which was mine.

John was born on May 14th 1911, Wilfred on May 30th 1912. My birth in January 1919 was a rather unwelcome event to the family.  It was preceded by the winter of the Spanish flu epidemic, which killed millions of people throughout Europe, and my pregnant mother caught it. It must have been a real crisis for them, as I am sure that she would not lightly have decided that the boys, aged only seven and eight should go to South Wales, to be cared for by her friends in Barry, the Heaths.. I think they went under the care of the guard of the train, and returned on November 11th 1918 the day the war ended.  My mother was thirty-six when I was born, my father was forty-five.  For those days they were old parents, and I think they seemed it. I can remember boring visits to local friends of hers, where I was expected to be good and sit quietly,  while they had their conversations.  One of these visits was to the Palmers, and on these occasions Mr Palmer, a red faced man, whose nose bore the evidence of too much alcohol, would go to his cupboard and get out a tiny sample jar of Marmite for me, a proper Marmite jar, but dollís size He was a salesman for the product, and he certainly caused me to develop a life-long addiction to it.  I should not leave the impression that my mother kept me constantly in adult company. Quite the opposite is true, and I feel I was lucky in childhood in being in an environment where playing out of the house, in traffic free streets was normal and safe. I played outside with children from neighbouring houses, and we were not short of things to do and games to play. In my early years Drury Road ended soon after No 99.  There was a little bank, a strand of barbed wire and then fields, later developed extensively till West Harrow joined South Harrow. But in those days we all clambered under the wire and into the fields to play, and I still remember that field aglow with golden buttercups and red sorrel. We also played in the streets, seasonal games, hoops, whips and tops. skipping and hop-scotch  These were all played with gusto and some skill.  A whip and top was not easy to operate, and the skipping was accompanied by rhymes and chants, or performed at speed by those who were good at it. There were pollarded London plane trees, and we hooked ropes round  the gnarled tops of these and swung around, incurring bumps and minor injuries. At other times  we hit tennis balls against the wall of the house at the end of the terrace, and as the boys of that house joined in, nobody complained  In summer if it was hot, we also went to the local recreation ground, and used the paddling pool as a  free bathing pool, shallow and I imagine horribly unhygienic. In company with my street friends, I twice had a brief attempt at church attendance, very brief indeed.  The church was near, and I was first lured to the Sunday school, where I was given a stamp of religious significance to mark my attendance. When they found they had not enough of these to go round, it was taken back, causing me to feel permanent disillusion with the established church, from which I never recovered!  Or could it be that Sunday outings with my father were more fun? I also went once to the Band of Hope.  I donít know how old I was, about eight or nine I guess, old enough to realise that signing the pledge to abstain from alcohol for life was not a good idea. I still think the church has  peculiar views on sin and morality, but that concluded my church attendance  No television of course, no radio till I was about five, and then not capable of entertaining a roomful of people. There was a so-called catís whisker to tune it , earphones to listen and batteries, wet and dry to power it. Do you think all that sounds boring? It certainly wasnít; probably a lot more fun and a lot more healthy than hours of TV or computer games. It just seems a pity that it is not possible any more

    I do not know where John and Wilfred went to primary school, not I think to Vaughan Road, where I was sent at the age of five.  By then they were at Marylebone Grammar School.  I have often wondered about this choice of school  for them. One reason may have been the advice of a neighbour who taught Latin there, or perhaps they failed to get into Harrow County School. So they did the daily train journey to Baker Street, and at the age of five I went to Vaughan Road.  I was to say the least a keen pupil.  Until I had the indignity of having measles at about fifteen years of age, I had never had a dayís absence from school, despite, or perhaps because of the fact that my mother cared lovingly for my health, giving me Vyrol a malty product, strengthening medecine, and other unwelcome medication like Syrup of Figs and mysterious grey powders for other problems, real or imagined. Vaughan Road reception class would be a surprise to a five year old today. It wasnít fun, and it wasnít meant to be. The Infantsí department of this rather grim Victorian building had a good lay-out, in that all the classrooms opened off a  square central hall. There were open fires with guards round them, and on wet days there was much drying of our wet clothes.  No cars to get there, so  we all made our own way on foot  I think the classes were quite large, thirty or so in infants, but forty plus, not far off fifty, in the junior school, and we all sat at little desks in rows facing the front, and failure to attend to the reception class teacher Miss Cook was not tolerated. Right from the start we learned to read and write, the reading system was phonetic, for which I am duly grateful when I see the problems which Jason has, never having been taught in this way. It is odd that a good system was in place more than eighty years ago, and that a lot of stupid ideas have been introduced in the years  between. There was certainly no idea that small children had to be indulged., or nannied.  If you misbehaved, you were in trouble, even to the extent of being kept back after school.  My memory is that it worked, and that there was a peaceful atmosphere, in which to learn, in contrast to the chaotic arrangements in schools now. This all sounds a bit Dickensian. Vaughan Road Junior school was in an adjacent building, and this accommodated pupils from seven to fourteen, because those who failed to pass the eleven plus examination remained there till they reached school leaving age. That must have been a depressing state of affairs, and it was this miserable outcome for children labelled failures at eleven,  which made the comprehensive system seem preferable. However I passed, and went on to Harrow County School.

    Attendance at the county school involved buying quite expensive items of uniform.  A blazer and a gym slip had to be bought at a tailorís shop in Harrow, where you went to be measured and fitted, and this produced an unnecessarily large bill. The gym slip was an unattractive garment of navy serge, with a square neck and three box pleats at the front and back, round which you wore a girdle.  It was of course unwashable, and the serge developed a shine from being sat on. Under this you wore a white blouse, again of distinctive design which also came from the tailorís shop, at a high price. The blazer was brown, and there was some pink involved in the badge and the girdle. To make it even worse in winter you had to wear a potty shaped hat of black felt, with a pink and brown hatband, and in summer a straw hat, made by stitching a length of straw, which had an urge to rise up into a conical shape. Black stockings were worn, woollen ones, and we used to ink our legs to conceal holes, and wipe inky rulers across our knees producing curious stripes. You can see that after all these years I can get quite indignant about this awful uniform. Perhaps it was designed to make us unattractive to the boysí school, which was not on the same site, and whose times were designed to keep us apart.  It didnít work, did it ? Having moaned about the uniform, I have to admit that the way they organised their intake of pupils would now be considered exemplary. We were put in classes alphabetically, and in due course were setted by ability for some  subjects, leaving us in classes for others. Not so enlightened was a system of directing the higher achievers away from science.  If you were good at French, you did Latin; if not cookery; if you could manage Latin, you did German, and that was the end of science. I think there was a serious lack of teachers capable of teaching science, and they did seem an uninspiring bunch

    During this period the move to Pinner took place.  Neighbours had left Drury Road, and my mother certainly began to feel dissatisfied with the house, complaining that she would never leave there except in her coffin .I think also that John and Wilfred were in favour of a move, for no good reason, as there days at  home were coming to an end. So we left for a newer, bigger house at Pinner, and a liability my parents didnít need.  Then comes my graduation, my marriage and my motherís reaction to all that, which I have told already, and prefer not to repeat. John had married, and Wilfred had caused  great distress to my mother by marrying without telling her.  Her anger at this was put aside, and I remember her entertaining them at the house in Pinner, and feeling unsure of how to handle this difficult situation. About this time a decision was taken to move again, to something smaller, near Rayners Lane station. This was just before the war, and in that garden Jason dug a hole and erected  an air raid shelter. In due course they had an Anderson shelter in the dining room, a sort of reinforced table, under which to take cover, a better idea than a damp hole in a cold garden. My father was tired and unfit, and when Ethel started work at the BBC, my mother and father moved in with them in Norfolk Road, North Harrow, where my mother ran the house and did the cooking in Ethelís absence. My father suffered a stroke, which left him unable to speak and paralysed, after which he was bedridden, and my mother cared for him with the support of John and Ethel, till his death. During  the period in Norfolk Road. Catherine, daughter of John and Ethel,  was born, and my mother became involved in her care.

    Johnís job then moved to the Manchester area, and they moved to Derbyshire, to Chapel Milton, near Chapel-en-le Frith, on the edge of the Peak District.  It was a quite large house, in a big garden.  I went there with Peter and Janet on one occasion, when Ethel and John were away on holiday, and I think we went to some of the caves, such as the Blue-John, which are a feature of that location. Then Ethelís parents needed support and they moved in to the household.  It was always a rather formal atmosphere. All the years they were in the same house my mother and Ethelís mother never got to Christian names!  I think perhaps it was easier to preserve a peaceful household, because it was not ďdoneĒ to speak your mind, and a polite formality prevailed.  For sure John and Ethel did a wonderful job in caring for the older generation, only for Ethel to end up alone in her old age.  Thatís life! The formality was reinforced by Ethelís parents having worked in an upper class household, he as chauffeur, she as housekeeper, and this established a routine of how things had to be done. Ethelís father died, and the two elderly mothers remained, and became companions for several years.

    Then Johnís job moved, and he worked at Harefield.  They bought a house in Moor Lane Rickmansworth, not far from Moor Park Golf Club, though the house actually backed onto a less prestigious golf course. Mrs Addicot, Ethelís mother, and my mother used to take the dog for walks on this golf course. It was a large dog, a Gordon setter, and it was very good at finding golf balls, and they would display their collection of them in a kitchen drawer. I wondered how many had been found in the rough, or whether the dog took balls which were really in play.  We shall never know. The household continued in its well ordered way,  till my mother fell downstairs and broke her hip.  She was in her late eighties, and it seems that no attempt was made to repair the damage, and she became bed-ridden, with all that that condition involved. From time to time I went to be with her, if Ethel needed to go out. She was uncomplaining, and she still read, but had no other entertainment. Listening to radio, except perhaps for serious music was discouraged in that household. and I feel she had lost all interest in it, and I donít think television in bedrooms was at all usual. This state of affairs continued for some time, till the prospect of Johnís retirement caused them to think about moving to Church Stretton.  They still had the two elderly mothers to consider, and it was decided that they would all go there. By then both mothers had been part of the household for many years. However to ease the transition period and the upheaval of the move, they arranged for my mother to be taken into the geriatric ward of the NHS hospital in Watford for respite care, and that was duly done. It was a curious arrangement; Ethel and her mother went to Church Stretton, but John remained to work out his pre-retirement time at Harefield, and went into lodgings. My mother deteriorated rapidly.  She was ninety one, and since the fall had been quite immobile.  I used to go every Saturday from Hornchurch to see her. The hospital kept elderly patients clean and well cared for, but there was nothing to live for. It was grim. Her escape seemed to be in fantasies, the other beds being occupied by celebrities whose biographies she had read. Finally she had a stroke, and the last time I saw her she was attached to drips.  A nurse told me that they were obliged to do this, though it might seem better to let patients depart this life. Her funeral was at Rickmansworth at a church where John had been an active member, and yet it was the same anonymous service as usual.

    As you may detect I havenít enjoyed writing this last section, which is inevitably depressing. I will read it through and decide who really wants it. It was done at Judithís request, and may add something to Emmaís enquiries about family history


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