Both of my grandmothers were born in 1903, and by the time they were my age it was the early 1960’s. The early memories I have of them throughout the 1960’s are deep-rooted, and I thought I’d share just how different their lives were then compared to how I live now. However, to live the way they did in the poor East End of London was normal for them, but as I look back now I realise just how little they had.
My maternal grandmother lived on the third floor of a small block of flats. Her flat had a kitchen, two bedrooms, a living room and a small toilet. There was no bathroom. The kitchen table was attached to the wall with hinges, and it lifted up to reveal a bath underneath! Years later after her death I heard that a bathroom was fitted. I would love to go back there now and see where on earth they put it!
Nan had no fridge, no phone and no washing machine, but she did have a gramophone (record player/radio) which took up most of one half of the living room. The flat was heated by open fires. If she bought milk it was the long-life variety, which she kept in a bowl of cold water. I loved staying at her flat overnight. She would take me for a walk to the local park, where we would watch open-air ballroom dancing and giggle all night, or we would visit her sister who lived nearby. Nan would kick her shoes off walking along the road, and I would run after them in delight and fetch them back like a puppy. She would make strange noises and make up words, and I miss her to this day. She was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 1967.
My paternal grandmother had 16 brothers and sisters, who all lived nearby. My father said as a child he could not do anything without one of his aunts or uncles reporting back to his mother. I remember my great-aunts as all being short, dark and plump, just as my grandmother was. Nan and Granddad lived on the top floor of a 3-storey house, and two of her sisters and their families occupied the lower floors. I could throw things out of the window to Nan’s niece Pam, who would catch them from her upstairs flat opposite. Rain dripped through the roof, and Nan calmly collected it in a bucket and thought nothing of it. They had 3 rooms; a kitchen, a bedroom, and a front room, and they brought their 3 children up there. There was no phone and no washing machine, although Nan did have a fridge. For an outing Nan and her sisters would take their washing to the local launderette and make a morning of it. As children my father and his brother slept on camp beds in the front room, and their younger sister slept in another bed in the same room as their parents. There was an outside toilet downstairs in a small yard, which all 3 families shared, and a coal-hole next door which stored coal for the open fires. The kitchen was always full of Nan’s sisters all chatting away, while Granddad would read silently in one corner. After she was widowed and all the houses in the street were due for demolition, Nan cried at the thought of having to move into a much better flat with an inside bathroom and toilet!
Both grandmothers had immediate family living close by, who offered much help and support at the drop of a hat. Nowadays younger generations of the family are much more widespread, but funnily enough none of us now live in the East End of London. It’s a different place now to how I remember it, although we sometimes do go back to visit Roman Road market. I find myself looking out for familiar faces of grandparents and aunts and uncles that I used to see as a child while wandering along the stalls with my mother, but of course they are no longer with us. I think that’s the main reason I don’t go back so often…it’s too depressing!
These days I am a grandmother myself four times over. I think I’m going to be remembered for teaching my 2 granddaughters the song ‘You Cant Always Get What You Want’ by the Rolling Stones, bribing them with a pound to drink a cup of green tea, and walking them down to the local library and coming back with armfuls of books while skipping over the cracks in the pavement so as not to disturb the bogey man. I think my eldest grandson may remember me as someone eager to make a pile-up of Hotwheel cars…