Bert (Dolly) Gray, Mrs Renee Gray

Discussions of childhood on the docks and slum clearances

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Bert Gray (BG): I, I was a boy in, I was brought up in, in a place called Joy Hill in Hotwells.

Q: I know it. I worked in the Folly [inaudible] at one time.

BG: Did you? Well why they called it Joy Hill I don’t know, because I never had much joy there but still, and of course we were very active running around the docks, right to the Cumberland basin. Especially when the orange boats used to come in and all that. Because you could smell the orange boats. And of course we used to run around and call out to the crew, and they used to break a box open and throw the oranges out to us, you know. And also when the tide was very high, there in the basin, it used to come right up over the quay wall and that’s when the big, when the city boats used to come out there on, on a neat tide. They couldn’t come up because they never had enough water until the neat tides. They used to go into Avonmouth then. But when I used to go, I remember when I was a lad, I used to go out with my mum and dad and my brothers and sister, if my dad had had a good week’s work.

Q: He worked on the docks as well, did he?

BG: My dad worked on the docks, yes. Yeah he died at 48 from pneumonia then, because he used to work in the dry dock painting, in the dock bottom at, at Avonmouth. For Jefferies .

Q: Do you reckon that, that was the cause of his pneumonia?

BG: Well that was the cause of it, I think, yeah. Yes he got cold, you know, and wet, because it was always wet there. When I first started I went there but I didn’t stay there. They offered me a job there but I stayed there for about ten weeks, then I said ‘no’ it was too much, because your feet were always wet and it were terrible. Anyway we used to go for walks on a Sunday, Sunday evenings if he knew the tide was right and if it was a nice evening. So we all used to go down, we were all dressed in our little bit of finery and all walked down the road. And there were literally hundreds of people, I’m not exaggerating, down doing the same thing as us. All, all…

Q: All dressed in their finery?

BG: All the neighbourhood, all the neighbours, and they’d stop, mother and dad would stop and have a little chat. This was before the days of the Portway. The Portway was not open then. And we walked down and of course, invariably one of Campbell’s steamers were there… And of course all the coastal traffic used to come up on a Sunday evening for the Monday morning start in Bristol. Like the Monmouth Coast and to Strume, down [Axel Strume] [ph] and all those sort of things. And the Scotch boat and of course the cattle boat, the Skerries. And so it, it was quite busy there.

Q: This, this walk on a Sunday in your finery, was that a time when boys and girls might get to meet each other?

BG: Well yeah, oh yes, yes, yes. We used to walk down, down as far as the port, perhaps if, if they weren’t too tired, we’d walk down and go up over Bridge Valley Road onto the Downs and then walk along the prom and all of them down that way. Otherwise it was, as I say, if my father was pretty flush, we’d go up the Rocks Railway and go that way.

Q: When it was still running?

BG: Yeah, when it was still running, yeah.

Q: You said in your letter, you can remember the wreck of the…

BG: Oh yeah, the wreck of the Ettrick, yes.

Q: That was 1924 I think.

BG: Yes that’s right, yes, yeah, yes I was, I was about six or seven years old then, I think, yes.

Q: Can you describe what it was like when, when a ship was wrecked in the river like that? I mean obviously it would be a matter of great curiosity but were people upset by it?

BG: Oh yeah.

Q: Did it seem to have an effect, really?

BG: Oh yeah, well everybody bar the people of Pill, of course. Because everybody in Pill had a new pair of boots cos that was what she had. And we’d done pretty well with sweets and chocolates and things because that was, that was her cargo. She had sweets, chocolates and boots and things like that. And she, and she was one of the many that, that on that night, that ran aground. But she unfortunately overturned, you know, she capsized. So they towed her up the river capsized and they beached her opposite Clifton Bridge Station and of course a lot of people used to go over there and have a look at her then. Go across the ferry because there was a ferry there at that time. And they used to go across the ferry and have a pennyworth on the ferry and go across and have a look at her. But it was all, it was all of size, I suppose she was about, she’d be about 2000 tons I should think, you know.

Q: I’ve seen a photograph of her. She went turtle, didn’t she?

BG: Yes, yes, she turned turtle, yes, yeah. And that’s, that’s where they beached her and they finally broke her up there.

Bert talks of the place where his mother grew up in Hotwells and how it is now

BG: Now you see that photograph?

Q: Yes.

BG: Now my wife, my wife was born in that right there. And that, that there, my grandmother. … Hagget’s Cottages, Gibraltar Rock.

Q: What, was it bombed?

BG: Gibraltar Rock. No, they pulled it down.

Q: Did they?

BG: So-called slum clearance and they were better houses than what, what are left now. The reason they pulled it down was because they had a tap outside. They never had no in, inside water, so they pulled it all down. There were, there were cottages went all the way down there, down there, Hagget’s Cottages. And her grandmother lived in the top one and then she lived in the next, on the next level, and then there were cottages all the way, Mrs Green, number one, two, three, four…five families lived there all the way down, running all the way down the slope. Yeah, yeah. Gibraltar Rock and Hagget’s Cottages. I’ll tell you where it is now. You go to the end of Clifton Wood Road now, there are some new houses, there, there are some modern houses built aren’t there, on the right hand side?

Q: I know them, yeah.

BG: Yeah, well, just there, there’s a little place going down, a little lane going down alongside just before you get there. Well that is where Hagget’s Cottages was. And Gibraltar Rock.

Q: The, at the time you were a boy, like any boy anywhere, you just grow up where you are, but looking back on it, you must think it was a good place to grow up?

BG: Oh yeah, yes it was, because I mean, in, in those days, you must understand, the, the, the whole place, Hotwells, was populated in those days. I mean you had North Green Street, South Green Street, which is all pulled down now. And I, I, the, I, I was gonna say the minimum amount of, of families, of children in the family there, were at least six.

Q: Really?

BG: Yeah, in the family. Six children.

Q: Now hold on, there’s one thing, somebody told me that there was a large Catholic population in Hotwells in those days, would that have to do with the large families?

BG: Well I don’t, I, I, I, I couldn’t say, now I couldn’t say. But I know, I know that our immediate neighbour just around the corner in, in, she had eleven.

Q: How did she manage?

BG: Goodness. I don’t know how they slept, to be honest. But, but that, that was, I should say the minimum of families were, were average about six. And along the other end, where my wife’s father used to live, George Priest the coal merchant. That was her father.

Q: Oh I, yes, I know that name.

BG: That was her father although she didn’t, she, she never knew her mum. I mean her mother left her before when she was only a baby in arms. But that was her father. And there was a family there called White. Now they had, oh goodness, I, I know they had, for a fact, I know they had five brothers working on the dock, without the sisters as well. And of course there were little alley, alleyways going up there, little courts and alleyways going up there, all, all that round there. The fish and chip shop, there was, it was all there. Mr Burrows with his medals every, every Remembrance Day, with his bowler hat. He used to go out and on parade. And of course and the Priest family, they were rather big you see, they, they…and they settled down there, the Priests and the Collins’s, they, they settled down there as well.

Q: How many in your own family?

BG: Five.

Q: Did all you boys go and work in the docks?

BG: No, I’m the only one.

Q: You’re the only one? Do you go back there now at all, to Bristol? Look at your old areas, Hotwells, around there?

BG: Well the last time we went up there, it was, it, it was a bit seedy. I mean Hotwell Road is run down, all to the devil now, isn’t it? Because when we, when I was, when we were children, Dowry Parade was farther along. I mean if you go along and look up, you can still see a part of the advert up there for Ashton Gate Brewers. There was a public house there, the Dowry, Dowry Hotel. And there was also a grocer’s shop there, as well, on the end. So you can imagine…

Q: Just on the corner of Dowry Parade then?

BG: Yeah, yeah, on, right, right along on the corner, so Love Street was only one tramcar wide. If the tramcar came down, nothing else could go up.

Q: Really?

BG: Yes, it was only just…

Q: That’s the waterfront [inaudible] isn’t it?

BG: The, no, as you walk round the corner into Hotwell Road it is now, that was only one motor car wide.

Q: It’s about five now.

BG: Yes, yeah, that was all it was, yes one motor car wide. There was all sorts there. There was a Chinese laundry, a pork butcher’s shop, a huge, on the, on the side of the flats, there was a huge fishmonger where at Christmas, they used to hang all the turkeys and the ducks and the geese outside, you know. And there were one, two, three, butchers’ shops there and a chemist. Where the bookmaker’s is now, there was a chemist. There was a baker’s shop, there was a, there was all sorts of shops there. And that, but that was all it was, it was one, one, one, if a horse and cart was coming down, then the tramcar had to follow along behind him or wait for him to go.

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