The Story of my Life

Living in St Albans in the 20th century

Emily Ward nee Lewis

Muriel Emily Ward nee Lewis 24th June 1908-February 2000


The Story of my Life [written in the 1980s]


As a child my first home was at 34 Bernard St. a very nice home. Dad had two white doves in a dovecote and a nice greenhouse with a lovely white rose. From there we moved to a shop (Ironmongers) in Catherine St. with stables at the back. There was a sweet shop next to us (Mr. Flouris) a paper shop and shoe repairs. We had our sitting room upstairs in the front and one day I saw a big white bear outside the Pineapple [public house], two men were with it.

During the 1st World War we had soldiers billeted with us. One was William Welles. He idolised me and before he went to France he gave me a silver cross as a keepsake. When he went to France etc. he always wrote to me saying “my darling little friend Sissy” I adored him, I remember eventually I received a bundle of letters marked ‘Red Cross’ and they had undoubtedly been in the water. After that I heard nothing but I have always remembered him. I must have been about 10 years.

We then moved to ‘Sidvale’ Grange St. where we lived for a number of years, we had a very nice home--carpets in the sitting room and main bedroom and walnut and mahogany furniture. There were 8 children, 7 girls and 1 boy. In those days my father was a plumber. Trained by Miskins the builders and his wage was £13.10.0 per week. We never went without. Lamb was 2/6d, iced cakes 1d, mild 1d pint, bread 2d etc.

We then moved to 101 Dalton St. My dad bought this house and it was exceptionally nice having 4 bedrooms and we were very happy there. I often wonder where he got the money from to buy it and I have since found out he had an annuity from his uncle Walter Lewis who owned a needle manufacturing firm in Redditch, Worcs. Later on he bought a piece of land in Old Harpenden Road from a Mr. Paul and he then built 8 houses on that site. He sold 101 Dalton St. for £400 but what he paid for it I do not know. Oh! No.101 was the number of the airship which was destroyed! Here we only had gas downstairs but we switched this off by a plug on the wall which my dad invented himself. What a pity he did not patent it.

Plenty of small shops were in the neighbourhood so shopping was easy and very personal touch Mrs Cooper who had a sweet shop in Catherine St. was very kind to the kids. We used to go in there to buy ‘a penny worth of mixed sweets’. For this we got creams, chocolatos, marzipans etc. I would reckon a good half pound, wonderful. Aunties, uncles and grandparents all lived close around. Today they are spread far afield. We used to love visiting them all.

My mother came from Thornton in Buckinghamshire and my dad from High Ruthin [Roothing] in Essex; I believe this has now been renamed. One grandpa was a bailiff and one a gamekeeper.

We then moved into one of the houses he built in Old Harpenden Rd. Then 2 sisters bought one, my Auntie bought one and my brother bought one. The others he sold. Eventually he built another 4 bedroomed house [no.14] for us. This he built entirely himself with just a mate called “Mutter” a funny little chap. Although my dad only had training for plumbing he became a master builder which included everything in the building line and he was a first class electrician. He was a very clever man. He never made a lot of money because if people were poor he would do the jobs and not charge them. This house is now valued at £190.000 [1980s].

He lived to be 91 and my mother 86. We have been to the same solicitors Clark and Clark in Victoria St. for 60-70 years and the whole family deal with them I think our family are their oldest clients. With regard to moving I think I took after my dad. I have bought and sold 6 houses in my time.

As children when we were only 2 in the family my sister and I had our clothes made by a Miss Draper who lived in Hill St. Lovely dresses and little suits.

I started work at 14 as a filing clerk earning 12/6 per week. I gave my mother 10/-, had 2/6 myself and I bought all my clothes with that. My brother, who was then only about 7 used to wait for me in Woolworths every Friday (pay day) and I would give him 2d everyone could walk about in those days without fear--in fact we never even locked doors at night or when we went out.

When my brother and youngest sister were about 2 and 4 years I used to tell them stories which I made up, real scary stories and they used to be terrified. They have always remembered this.

We all went to Garden Fields School in Catherine St. Some of my younger sisters passed for the girl’s grammar school. 2 were even top of the county. My eldest sister [Ena]was brilliant. She was in the top class when she was 11 years. I remember a school inspector came to our home and asked my mother to send her to college. They could not allow her any money but they stressed how very clever she was. However my mother could not afford it. She could sing, paint, play piano and organ. What a pity she could not take all this further.

I later learned typewriting and shorthand and went into the typing pool. This was at Heath and Heather. It was a very happy firm and eventually I was secretary to 3 directors. My highest wage was £8.10.0 per week. I soon saved £500 and bought my first house for £2000. Which included 4 flats. I sold the last house recently for £63,500 so my £500 gave me a good profit.

 We never had birthdays or Christmas cards. Indeed presents were few and far between. There was one small toy shop in St. Peters St. run by a Miss Allen. Everything at Woolworths was 6d and that included some clothes. One could buy anything there. We also had a ‘Penny Bazaar’ in Chequer St. where one could buy almost everything for a penny.

I think our weekly family food bill was about a pound a week. Rent was 2/11 so you see we really lived comfortably. We always kept chickens and had a nearby allotment. Butchers of course never had fridges so meat was sold fresh every day. I used to go to Mr. Parrott’s meat shop in Catherine Street and ask for ‘three-pennyworth’ of beef etc.—a bag full which would last days. My mother was a beautiful cook. For a short period we had my auntie and 2 cousins staying with us and my auntie paid my mother 7/6 per week for the three of them. We knew all the neighbours for streets around, by name, and they were all friendly.

My friends all lived around but I remember their homes were poor and nothing so lovely as ours. They all had lino on the floors and wooden chairs and tables. That was about all.

The milkman used to come round with a horse and a trap holding a large churn of milk. He also had a dairy shop in Catherine St.—Mr. Soul.

I believe the population of St Albans was 1400 and now it is 60,000.

As a child I had many happy holidays away at aunties and uncles. I frequently stayed with Auntie Sue and Uncle George who lived at Brockley Rd. London. Also Auntie Ada and Uncle Albie who lived at Battersea Park. Uncle Albie was Park Superintendent.

Also Auntie ‘Tits’ at Fairview Avenue, Reading. She was apparently nicknamed ‘Tits’ at birth because she was so tiny. Her husband was an extremely clever man who died at the age of 43. I had one uncle a train driver and another a policeman and another in the Navy. How I arrived at these addresses I cannot remember but it must have been by train. Uncle George was an RA and did beautiful painting. Many are of ships which he painted at the dockside. We still possess these. Uncle George actually painted the Lusitania at the dockside.

As children we all had jobs to do. I had to sweep the bedroom and sitting room carpets, by means of a hard hand brush and small ash pan. It took me ages but I liked doing it.

When we were young kids my dad had a big ginger moustache which he was always twirling.

I did not marry until late in life and stayed with my parents until they passed on. I had no children but a wonderful husband.

Oh! Another thing, we always went to Sunday school—first to a large hall in Bernard St. and then to St Peter’s Hall in Hatfield Rd. Of course we also went to Church on Sundays. Things are different today—very few children got to Sunday school.

Getting back to grocery shopping St Albans had small shops Sainsburys, Oakleys, Liptons, Maypole, International, and Pearks. These were ample for the small population. There were two fresh fish shops, Maddox and Mrs Smith. There was plenty for everyone. Bakers were little private baker’s shops Harrington’s, Lees, Budgens and Thrales. Two vegetable and fruit shops, Maddox and Martins. Of course there has always been the Saturday market this was mostly on the square outside the town hall. There was a china stall run by ‘Cheap Jack’. Best china, cups saucers, plates and dishes etc. all for a penny or two. Also there was another stall run by ‘Buckie Lawrence’. Here you could buy anything, mostly ironmongery, but he always sold asparagus which he labelled ‘sparrow grass’ I expect he thought that was its real name. Stall holders then were real characters. The only thing young people had to do were church socials and dances, the police ball was particularly grand. Saturday and Sunday evening we would promenade up and down St Peter’s St. One side was called ‘Half-crown’ side for the elite. The other side was the ‘fourpenny-side’ for the riffraff. This was where we met the opposite sex. My mother used to pay a hospital subscription and a doctors subscription. Indeed everyone did.

Oh! I nearly forgot my mother paid a life insurance for herself and my dad, to the Pearl Insurance. She paid one penny per week for each. I cashed these when they died at 86 and 91 but I cannot remember now how much I received. Pounds I know.

I am now very happily settled in this maisonette with my husband and I hope we have many healthy years here. My brother and sisters live around too. If I could go back to the old days I would because everyone was happy, content and had no worries or fears. Money did not mean a thing.

We have several nieces and nephews, 2 nephews emigrated to Australia and that was a big heartbreak but they are both very happy.

I have been very lucky and had many blessings. Muriel Emily Ward.


This page was added by Jan Sheldon on 03/02/2016.

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