Recorded by Miss Sue Fisher
MRS.ADA HARRIS, now living at Oversley House in Alcester, is probably one of the few people in these parts whose life has really come full circle, as she now lives little more than a mile from the cottage she was born in, having in the meanwhile lived for varying periods in Birmingham, Studley and Broom before returning to Alcester.
MRS. HARRIS was born Ada Hemming at Canada Farm Cottage in 1905, one of seven children, her father then working on the farm: so her childhood was a typical country one similar to many others in the early part of this century.
ALTHOUGH TIMES were hard and money not plentiful, her mother had to keep her family on 15/- a week Mrs. Harris recalls that they never went without and thanks to her mother's careful housekeeping, they always ate well, with rabbit featuring a lot on the menu as well as the cheaper cuts of meat like breast of lamb and stuffed cow's heart, followed by nourishing puddings like treacle and suet pudding. Her father grew a plentiful supply of vegetables in the cottage garden and in addition to these wine was also made. The wine was made in the copper normally used for the washing: Mrs. Harris remembers especially rhubarb wine and parsnips and potatoes, which produced a strong clear wine, clear as water.
THE BUTCHER, Mr. Henson from Alcester, called at the cottage three times a week if needed and the baker, Mr. Fourt, also came thrice weekly. Other food and supplies were bought in Alcester, when the family walked into town on a Saturday, calling at a succession of small shops which catered for all the needs of the town and the surrounding farming community; most things needed for day to day life could be got there.
MRS. HARRIS can recall the various shops as they came to them, starting off with Mr. Fourt's bakery, situated where the hairdresser 'Stylish Corner' now is, though the actual bakehouse was up Meeting Lane The next stop would probably be the Post Office, then on Church Street, now a solicitor's office. At that time there were two grocers in the town, Buntings on High Street and Ivir. Rees's a little further down. Bowen's, then as now- sold household linen but also crockery aid china. Mr. Berridge sold shoes in a shop close to Bowen's although this would be visited less often than the other shops. Further down the High Street was Mrs. William's shop, which sold cooked meat such as brawn - and also cakes. Mrs. Harris has fond memories of the long, sugared buns sold there. There was nearby the Corn Exchange, which later became the Alcester Picture House. Burden's Mrs. Harris remembers as a small, one-roomed shop selling only ironmongery and they actually made meat and roasting tins at the shop. Across the road from Burden's in Swan Street stood Mr. Devey's fish and chip shop next to Mr.and Mrs.Crouch's, which was a sweetshop and tobacconist's- but competition must have been quite keen as there was another sweet shop next door, run by Westbury's. Keyte's the hairdresser was nearby, on the corner opposite the 'Globe' pub, now the Priory Road traffic island. Mrs. Harris and her brothers and sisters used to pick fruit such as blackberries and damsons in the summer and take them to Mr. Devey at the fish shop, where he paid them and so they were able to make their money for the Mop in the autumn. She thinks the fruit was sent off somewhere to be used for dyeing
ON RARE OCCASIONS Mrs. Hemming made the, then, long journey into Stratford - at times like Christmas. In those days children did, literally, hang up a stocking to be filled with a few unusual and much anticipated delicacies like oranges, a few nuts, sugar mice and perhaps a few sweets right at the very bottom.
BEFORE the days of radio and t.v. families made their own amusements, the children using slates like the ones at school for word games The adults and sometimes the children played cards and their father read 'Comic Cuts' on a Saturday after the visit to Alcester.
THE CHILDREN went to school in Great Alne, walking there and back, which took them about three quarters of an hour, although sometimes they would be lucky on the return journey and meet Mr. Gunn's housekeeper from Great Alne going to Alcester in her pony and trap who would give them a lift in it. When they arrived home there was always something warm to eat such as a roast apple or a warm potato baked in its skin with a knob of butter, to keep them going until their main meal eaten at 6.30 when their father arrived home from work.
SOME DAYS, the children would be sent to fetch milk from Robins' Farm, situated where the Arden Forest Industrial Est-ate now is. This was quite a long walk for young and lively children carrying milk in jugs and so Quite a lot got spilt or drunk on the way home.
ON SUNDAYS, the family went to church and as they came out Mr. Edwards, the postmaster, stood at the door with a basket of small, square loaves to be given to the people in the alms houses; these were a row of cottages on the rise between Great Alne School and 'Aln Cote' cottage. All have long since been demolished and where they stood, opposite the' modern school, is a row of new houses.
Mrs. HARRIS began her long working life at the age of 14. When she went into service at Steele's farm, where Mr Hartley now farms and where she remembers being very happy in spite of wages of only 2/6 a week. She was taught all types of house-hold knowledge by Mrs. Steele, including how to clean the stair carpet with a damp cloth in the days before the widespread use of vacuum cleaners. In order that she might better herself, she moved to a position at Kinwarton Rectory with Mr. Devonish and his sister. Many years later, during the Second World War, she was to return there to live when her father, having died, Mrs. Harris and her mother were faced with the very real prospect of the workhouse until Mr. Devonish let them have attic rooms at the Rectory. At that time Mrs. Harris worked at Rees's, the grocers, but the wages were only £1 per week. Mrs. Harris was forced to apply to the Board of Guardians for extra money but, just before they were due to call, she was offered a job at the Co-op cooked meat shop ~ Evesham Street at the princely sum of £3.l0.0 a week. Tommy Small was Co-op manager and was very good to Mrs. Harris, allowing her to cycle home to Kinwarton to look after her bed-ridden mother. Mrs. Harris worked at the Co-op throughout the War before going to an office job at the Tool and Gauge Fa tory at the Eclipse Cabinet Works. After that she worked at the Co-op at Crabbs Cross and then as a cook at Studley Needle Industries. After marrying Howard Harris, she lived at Hardwick near Studley and then at Broom. After Mr.Harris' death she moved to a lovely, sunny flat at Oversley House, the old Alcester Workhouse --- Full Circle
Summer 1990 Index
© Alcester & District Local History Society 1991