Prince Street Families

A woman, her brother, and her son

The Lord Mayor’s Christmas fund and the trips to Beeses tea gardens – life around the docks

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A: But in those days, I mean life was hard anyway.

Q: I know, I know, but I…well.

A3: They used to wait for the Lord Mayor’s boots at Christmas.

A2: Well I mean all the families did that. Our family, although we went to the church school of St Nicholas which was a damn good school and a damn good church, our main church was either the Seamen’s Mission or St Stephen’s church in the city. I mean the seamen’s church, as I say, we went there every Sunday. But the Seamen’s church was where they all got married and where all the children were christened.

A3: Yes.

A2: And at that time there was a lot of charities given out from these churches. I mean you may say, “What’s [born] [ph] it?” when I was talking to here. Because at St Stephens’s church they had a lot of merchant adventurers that belonged to the congregation, and there was money put there to the poor and I think it, once a year they used to give a guinea to the parishioners, I think.

A3: A lot of money then.

A2: But…

A3: And they would pick out who used to…

A2: Yes.

A3: And then from St Nicholas we used to have, mother used to have a ticket, I think it was five shillings and she used to buy two tea towels every year, two tea towels and half a hundredweight of corn. That was gifts.

Q: For the five shillings?

A3: That was included in it.

Q: She’d be given that ticket once a year, would she?

A3: She’d be, yes…

Q: At Christmas?

A3: There is a name for it, but I can’t quite remember.

Q: Right. What was the Lord Mayor’s boots?

A3: Pardon.

Q: You said the Lord Mayor’s boots earlier.

A2: Oh that was in the Lord Mayor’s fund.

A3: Oh that was the Lord Mayor’s fund.

A2: I mean they still carry on every year now, don’t they? The Lord Mayor’s Christmas fund.

A3: Christmas fund.

Q: Yes I know that, yeah.

A2: Well that was what, if you, if you…

A3: If you were lucky.

A2: If you had those circumstances, the poor and that, then you’d be able to get a pair of boots or a pair of shoes for your family. From that fund.

Q: Oh right, okay. Would they actually issue the, the footwear or…?

A2: No they’d give you…

Q: Or you’d get the money?

A2: A kind of a voucher or something like that.

A3: That’s right, a voucher.

Q: Then you’d go out and buy them.

A2: Yes, that’s right, then you’d go and select whatever it was you wanted.

Q: Right, okay.

A2: And [inaudible]

A3: Well that was…

A: See another thing, see, in those, the school that we went to, a marvellous school. And every year, once a year on Ascension Day, because a lot of the old boys were merchants, now Mr Brown, he owned the Sand and Gravel Company on the Grove. Now my headmaster, they used to arrange with him that they would get one of their barges and one of their tugs, and all the children in the school would go down on the docks at the Grove, go on the barge, they would tow us up to Hanham. And they would supply us with a bit of tea up there and bring us back.

A3: Beeses Tea Gardens.

A: And you see…

A3:And Tucker’s used to supply the oranges and all the fruit for us.

Q: What was the Tea Gardens called?

A: Beeses Tea Gardens.

A3: Beeses Tea Gardens.

Q: Beeses?


A3: We used to relish the boat…

A: Oh they’re celebrating, is it their 100th or 150th year this year?

Q: Up at Hanham is that?

A: Yes, on the river bank.

Q: Whereabouts on the river? By the loch?

A3: That, that’s… [all talking at once]

A: You put in alongside.

A2: And that’s the…

A: You put in along the tea gardens, you’d get off the barge and they’d have some sports, some races and they’d lay a tea out for you, back on the barge and then back to the, back to the sports.

Q: That’s a nice day out.

A: Once a year.

A3: And that was it. And we used to have thruppence or sixpence if we won, you know, at the races.

A2: That was, that was in the races, yeah.

A3: You know, the races, that was given by the, but always the fruit from Tucker’s.

A discussion of air raids and sheltering during WW2

A: That’s where the school was. I was the last pupil to go to St Nicholas.

A2: Yeah, it was bombed.

Q: Were you?

A2: Yeah, it was bombed.

A: Yeah, very last one.

Q: When was that?

A: It was 19…43?

A2: 1943?

A: 1940 it was bombed, wasn’t it? On the blitz, the first blitz.

A2: No, it was, no ‘cause I went about 1943.

A: Oh well you might be right, all right. I thought it was the first [inaudible], I was the last pupil.

Q: And you said you used the old gap as an air-raid shelter during the war?

A: The next door to it.

A3: No, the next door, there’s a seven…

A: [Lickrich] [ph] Hall?

Q: Oh yeah, this is all part of it now.

A: That was the, that was the air-raid shelter.

Q: Was it?

A3: Right down there, they used to do for using it, you done underneath the, but cooking. It was terrible because they were bombing the docks. You used to run from Prince Street, all of us in night-clothes, all the whole family and people around. Down the steps and down under there, we used to shelter in there night after night for years.

A2: Then all the families round there went down there, didn’t they?

A3: The Davis’s, the Davis family.

A2: Most of the families.

A3: They were another big family.

Q: Was it, was it very packed?

A: Yes it was.

A3: Yes it really was. And it was arched, all arched, and we all had our own little cubby hole. Mattress on the floor.

A: And we went, and those days under the almshouses, didn’t they, where they went?

A3: That’s right, yes.

Q: Did they have cellars did, did they?

A: Yes.

Q: Were they, were they very damp down there?

A3: They were cold and…

Q: ‘cause I mean it’s, it’s the old marsh area isn’t it? And I mean I know sometimes the river can come up?

A3: But in there, I suppose it still is now, but it was like cubby holes, it was all arched, when it came.

A: It was all arches like, well it was cellars.

A3: Stone steps down there.

A: It was cellars.

A3: Cellars it was actually. But we spent all those years during the war down there.

A: That’s where we went if she locked somebody out, but she’d kill me for saying it.

A2: Hit him on the top of the head with her high-heeled shoe. It’s her bare fist now, though.

A: We used to get a good, there used to be a good crowd down there. Not, when I was home on leave I went there, you know.

A3: Yeah, we used to have a good singsong. Sing songs.

A: But I knew where to find them if there was an air-raid on, I knew where to go.

A3: Yeah, aye it was our place.

Q: And you’d stay, you’d stay there all night if need be?

A2: Oh yeah, stayed there for days.

A3: Oh yeah we did that all through the war. Oh yeah and we’d come out on a morning and run back home to Queen’s Square. And the sirens go again, you all had to run back again.

Q: Yeah. I was a little boy in London during the war. I can remember that. But my memory, admittedly I was only tiny so it’s not very good, but was that we’d spend maybe two hours, you know, and then you’d get the all-clear and you’d, you’d go back home. I don’t remember spending all, maybe we did, maybe we did.

A3: Well living by the docks, they were bombing all the time. And they did bomb the Co-op, the licensee of the Garrick’s Head, they used to run down the shelter under there for some reason. Whether they were home guards, guards or some, you know looking out for the incendiaries. And it hit them, they were flooded out, they had to swim for their lives, didn’t they Ken? Up there.

A: Yes.

Q: Right. Did…

A3: There was nothing to, we’d ran up Prince Street and they’ve come down and machine-gunned us at one time. Lived round the corner…

Q: Aero, aeroplanes, aeroplanes that were…?

A3: Oh yes, yes.

Q: Machine-gunning?

A3: Yeah you can hear the [inaudible]

Q: You as you went along the street?

A3: You heard the bullets, sitting as you went…

A: There were a few bombs dropped in Prince Street, weren’t there?

A3: Yes.

A: Which didn’t go off.

A2: And there was three, there was three…

A3: And there was one outside our house.

A2: There was, right up the centre of Prince Street they dropped the bombs, right up to Prince Street Bridge that side. And one bomb dropped in, you know there was an old garage it was passed by the health service, the health building, and it didn’t go off…

A3: There was three others.

A2: And an army disposal officer came up, went in the building, as soon as he got in the building, [silence suggesting disaster], and he went with it. But the last bomb that fell was at Prince Street and they never found it, it’s still there. So be careful when you go through there.

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