Poor people seldom had the doctor, it was far too expensive and if they did call they were never too bothered. We were all vaccinated when we were small they used to prick you three or four times on the arm. I haven’t a clue what it was for but we used to wear a red ribbon arm band to let folk know we had been done. Made one feel quite important!
Mum faced very hard times she used to try to keep the smaller ones in bed a long time to keep them warm. She used to take in washing from ‘posh’ people to help out. Gert and Fred would go out getting wood for fuel and take greens, turnips and potatoes from the farmer’s fields. Mind you the farmers were very good they knew how poor the families were, they would turn a blind eye to it all.
After a while mum met a man named George King he said he was willing to marry her and take on her children. I can never recall mum saying she loved him, when I asked her about it she would just say he was very kind to take her and the children on. She moved from Yalding and came to live in Southfleet, a place called Westwood. She had a little boy called Roland. Mum said he had blue eyes and fair hair but he was sick with a dysentery bug she was told. Anyway he was only six months old when he died. Mum always said he was a little angel, God only lent him to her for a while. I could never have seen it that way but I think it helped mum to think like that.
Then along came another blooming girl, Gladys Charlotte, not too exciting, then another girl Ivy. Mum then moved into New Barn where Lena Beatrice was born and next, the best one of the lot ‘Betty’… Mrs Bennet our neighbour came to see me, my said the nurse told her it would be her last baby, the wall of her tummy had given up. Mrs Bennet who was born a gypsy said ‘you can’t tell me this is the scraping of the pot’. Mind you mum was forty three at that time.
By now my sister Gert was in service hoping to become head cook in the household. Violet was in service training for a ladies maid. Lil was in service doing whatever was needed.
I was born in New Barn Cottage, there were two cottages, Mum in one and Mrs Bennet in the other. There were two bungalows opposite us with Roy Morris and family in one and his Gran in the other. We had a tap for water right up at the top of the garden which was for all four dwellings. The lavatory was a long way down the rest of the back garden, ours was joined to the Bennett’s one under a big old elderberry tree. The Bennets were not fussy what they said, they helped me grow up a bit. Theirs was a big family, Flo, Jacko, Bumper, Ivy, Appy, Tilly, Queenie, Harry, Bessie, Mary, Fanny and Doffie and their Mum and Dad. Mrs Bennet had her right hand all curled up where as a child (being a gypsy) had crawled too near the fire on the grass outside the caravan and was very badly burned.
They were really dirty, they had a dog with mange and a big cat named Dripping. I used to love to go into their house, the cat would be licking the dripping out of an old chipped cup, and Mrs Bennet would give me a thick slice of bread with this dripping if the cat left any. I used to love it. I never told mum I would get a clout for stepping inside the house. They had a big cauldron, in the week it would be on the coal shed floor but Saturday it came out for her cooking, she would hang it from a big hook up the chimney. When she made meat pudding she would put flour, fat, meat all in a bowl, it looked like spotted dick. Anyhow greens, potatoes and pudding all went into the pot. I wasn’t allowed to stay for dinner.
They had a big nanny goat outside tied to a tree on a big long rope. We used to get a cabbage leaf and offer it to her we would then run fast as we could round the tree until at last it couldn’t move. It was quite spiteful if it could get to you. Bumper was always with Ivy, Lena and I, we used to play shops. One day we got a load of elderberries, chewed them small and spit them in a jar, we told Bumper it was jam, her being dopey ate quite a lot of them, then it was time to go in for tea. All of a sudden round came Fanny Bennet saying to our mum ‘poor Bumper is being sick and bringing up a lot of blood’, well no one could understand this, we certainly couldn’t, we didn’t say a word. Mum said give her a good dose of syrup of figs that will get it through her. We must have been wicked because we laughed ourselves to sleep.
One night Jack and Fanny Bennet, the Mum and Dad of them all went to the pub, right down to Betsham in Southfleet, called the Colliers Arms. It was a hell of a long way, they trudged off in pouring rain with a new baby in a clapped out old pram. They stayed until the last bell, then had to walk or rather stagger back home. Baby was left in the pram outside of the pub while they were inside drinking. When they at last arrived home Fanny had a job to get upstairs. She was very fat as well as being drunk. They left the baby soaking wet in the pram all night downstairs. The next day the poor little mite died. Mum said it had been sick before they ever took it to the pub. It was just another one to them, plenty more where they came from.
They were a real funny family. My brother Fred was digging in the garden one day when this girl, who was cross eyed, came up our path with a large straw hat on elastic in her hand and said to Fred ‘I’m Tilly’s thister’ whilst saying this she swung the hat round and it cut underneath her nose so sharp it made it bleed. Fred told her to go to the Bennet’s and went over to do some more digging, with that she just made a grab at him just where he didn’t want grabbing, he came indoors until she was well and truly out of sight. Mum said she wasn’t all there.
The rag and bone man came one day, we had kept all the old bones we had gathered from different places and he gave us a gold fish, we put it in a two pound jam jar. We used to go and dig ant eggs up from the garden to feed it but it gave up the ghost after three days.
Mind you it had a lovely funeral, we put it in a Swan Vesta match box and put grandfather’s beard in it so it was comfy, then we all, Bennet’s mob, Morris’s mob and us Kings, took it to a place of rest under the thorn hedge. We made a lovely cross with wood and silver paper and a big R.I.P. on it then made a big hole and put lots of earth on top to make a mound, then we put a paste pot on top with wild violets and daisies. We often dug it up to see if it was still there or if it had gone to heaven. We all sang there is a green hill far away. We were very sad.
We had a dog called Dandy who lived in a kennel outside, he never came in the house and was always on a chain. He was only there to keep people away. We had two cats, one was Minnie who was always having kittens and Topper. Minnie had her kittens in one of Mr Bentley’s cars, he was Captain Bentley head of the car department, and he invented them. Betty the cook came round to tell mum about the kittens. Mum said ‘oh well she will bring them home when they are big enough’. I never quite knew what happened to them we rarely saw them.
Mrs Morris was a nice lady, her husband worked on the siding at Longfield Hill. The trains would come down from the big London hotels and dump all their waste on the spare ground, he used to bring loads of stuff home like posh knives and forks, plates, dishes, cups and saucers etc. We had quite a lot in our house. One morning Jack Morris was getting his boots on for work, he found a knot in one of his laces and got a dinner fork to undo it and it came up very quickly and went straight in his eye. He went completely blind.
Their children were Hazel, Ron, Roy and Jean, they had an awful time. One day my mum heard this awful screaming coming from the Morris house. When mum arrived the baby girl two years old had crawled near the fire and pulled a large saucepan (it was an open cow grate fire) the pan had potatoes and cabbage in it which had stuck on top of the baby, she died almost straight away. Mum said it was something she would never forget. It was the worst thing mum had ever seen or heard the poor little ones cries. I will tell you more later about living in the cottage.