I have managed to track down six copies of ‘Malago’ containing stories and articles about ‘Bedminster’s Backstreets’. With the generous help from MarieJo Coutanche, who looks after the Malago Societies publications, I have number 25 – 30, published 1991- 94. I have copy typed an extract giving a background history of the Bedminster area and in particular, the area where Windmill Hill City Farm, now stands.
From the publication MALAGO No.27 produced by the Malago society.
With much thanks to all members of Malago society, for kind permission to reproduce this article.
Around Philip Street.
It is just over a hundred years ago that the report in the last issue was write. It would be difficult to recognise the same district today. The worst courts and alleys: Waters Place, sergeant Street, Street, St.John’s Buildings, etc. were demolished in the 1930’s. Bombing in the second world war left gaps in the rows of terraced houses. A landmine descending on a parachute in broad daylight in 1941 wiped out Wilway Street, killing 40 people. Massive slum clearance and redevelopment in the 1950’s transferred most of the population to new suburbs.
When the Malago society and Windmill Hill City Farm began to search for survivors of ‘East Bedminster,’ the following were located:
Sam Bollom – born in Fraser Street but the family moved to Whitehouse Lane. He was brought up by his grandmother in Phillip Street and was the sole survivor of three brothers: Fred, Bert and Sam.
The Thorne family – shoemakers of 48 Philip Street. Out of 9 children there survived at that time 5 sisters: Elsie Maud, Rosalind Edna, Dorothy Rose, Kathleen Irene and Margaret Bessie. (the two eldest have since died).
Frank Marks – formerly of 56 Philip Street and, when this was bombed, of 20 Whitehouse Lane.
Fred and Madge Stenner – of King Street.
Margery Pepperell – born 61 Philip Street.
Doreen Hicks – born 12 Philip Street.
Stanley Hynam – born 9 Philip Street.
James and Nelly White – of 76 Philip Street.
Ivy Herwig – whose father was licensee of the ‘Maltsters’ Public house, c:1905.
Eunice and Iris Thwaites – landladies of ‘The Barley Mow’ since 1929.
The colective memories of these people (some of the latter group have been meeting on Thursday afternoons up to record them) go back to the days before the first world war and reveal that much of the poverty and the strong community spirit that go with it, which was recorded in the report in 1886, survived well into the 20th century. They speak with real nostalgia for those days. The atmosphere of Philip Street was electric, said one of them. ‘It was like a village. Everybody knew each other, and helped their neighbours through hardships.’ They spoke of long families, sleeping head to toe, 4 to a bed: they spoke of the centre of life: Baptist Chapel, the ‘Band of Hope’ and ‘Christian Endeavour’; the friendly family pubs and corner shops, especially the cooked meat shop in Philip Street where you could buy udder, cow heel, tripe and ‘muggots’ (intestines) fresh from the slaughterhouse in Boot lane. Maregery Peppernell remembers a cow on the way to the slaughterhouse coming into her mother’s front door and falling down 14 steps into the back kitchen, from which it was eventually extricated with ropes, with great difficulty.
There were several fish and shops: Dean’s where you could get a bag of ‘scrumps’ (old batter) for nothing if you brought newspapers; and Prater’s where the daughter had to live next door because she worked in Wills’ and would lose her job if she turned up for work stinking of fish. (In those days, girls applying for work at Wills’ had to supply a piece of needlework, or embroidery, and a ‘character’ from Chapel, Sunday School and School, and submit their fingernails for inspection).
A great favourite was the Alway shop, a little general store which sold everything and had the words ‘LIVE AND LET LIVE’ painted over the window. There was Grandpa Ben Young who sold fruit, sweets, cigarettes and second hand clothes in his front room; and the man who went around with a pony and trap selling fish. Over all hung the familiar smells of tanneries and slaughterhouses, compounded from time to time with the very special odours from the ‘Jelly factory’ (glue), Wills’ tobacco, the malt house in Stillhouse Lane, and river sewage from the New Cut.
James and Nelly White told us that their mother, Alice, was the ‘Bedminster Barrow Girl’ ‘She had a hard life’ said Nelly. She worked every day in all weathers until she was 70, and thought nothing of humping hundredweight sacks of potatoes of coal.’ She never had a holiday and yet she always had time for others. Battered wives with black eyes and bruises, thrown out by their husbands, could always find a refuge at 76 Philip street. ‘They were always put in MY bed.’ said Nelly.
Ivy Herwig and her neice, Winifred Harris, remember three well-loved characters in the Philip Street community:George Sanders (whose photograph is below),granny Maria (pronounced Mar-I-al!), and Lizzie walker.
George Sanders in the invalid chair which he designed for himself, and which apparently was copied by others.
George Sanders (1860-1928) lived all his life in Stillhouse Lane, a turning off Philip Street. His mother, Rebecca, had six children and was left a widow at an early age. Little seems to have been remembered about her husband, who was always referred to as ‘Gran’s Husband’. ‘The family consisted of four girls: Susie, Agnes, Elizabeth (my grandmother) and Mary (known as Polly); and two boys: Jack, who died as a young man, and George, the much loved Uncle George of his many nieces and nephews including the three children of my mother LIly’ says Winnie. ‘When George was s small child he developed what was thought to be measles, but was in fact polio, known then as infantile paralysis, which made him a cripple for the rest of his life. His father, realising that life would be difficult for him, made sure that he had a good education. He wrote in beautiful copper-plate hand in the days when many older people could not read and write, those who received letters would come to him to have them read, and he would help them with replies. Later he was apprenticed to a chair maker, but did not carry on this craft, apart from designing his own invalid chair – a great innovation – the wheels being made by the local bicycle shop, as all cycles in those days were custom built. It is said that doctors sent relatives of other handicapped people to see this chair, so no doubt others copied his example and became more mobile and independent.
Ivy’s eldest brother, Henry, recalls regular visits to the cinema – The Gem in Carey’s Lane, on the corner opposite the Empire Theatre. The manager regularly reserved a seat next to the aisle for Henry, and allowed Uncle George to sit in his wheelchair, parked in the gangway.
‘The family remember him best as a shoe repairer. he had a small workshop in the yard of his mother’s house, and from the window at which he worked could see into the road and beyond the malt-house to Victoria Park. Children of the family spent many happy hours with him, watching as he deftly soled and heeled shoes and boots. As pattern paper he used railway timetables, known then as the Bradshaw. Taking the thin sheets he placed one on the sole of the shoe, quickly rubbed round with a file, leaving the pattern to be cut out in leather with a sharp knife. Next he put small tacks to hold the leather in place, finishing it later with ‘heel ball’ (for the benefit of younger readers, this is now used for making brass rubbings). in later years rubber heels came into use. One sort was a circle of black rubber with a metal centre, which could be screwed to the shoe and the rubber could be turned round to give even wear. Children learned a great deal from him, as he was a great reader. Using the clock face he had made we were taught to tell the time before we started school. He could also mend clocks and watches, so when people had an old-pocket watch they passed it on to him. The reward for boys being able to tell the time was the gift of a renovated watch. A story is told of one small nephew who went with uncle on a Sunday morning ‘walk’ in his chair. reaching Redcliffe church the child looked up at the large clock, took his own watch from his pocket. and said ‘That clock is right, ‘Uncle!’
‘My brother Norman must have bee the last child he taught to tell the time as he was just under school age when Uncle George died. Norman surprised the teacher at South Street when she sent him out of the room to ask the time from the headmistress, enthroned on her desk in the hall. The five year old told his teacher that he had no need to ask anyone to tell him the time as he could do that for himself!’
‘Another skill we were expected to acquire before going to school was to tie bows in our shoelaces. This teaching task was undertaken by Aunt Susie, the only single sister in the family. She, like George, had an interest in shoes, but by selling them – first at Mr. Beake’s shop opposite Bedminster Police station, and later in London where she eventually took over from Mr. Beake. Children used to sit on the floor at her feet and learn to tie bows, using the silk laces in her smart patent leather shoes.
‘Norman’s chief recollection of uncle is that of a day in the workshop when he was being taught how to become a boxer. Enthusiasm got the better of him, and he fell over, cutting his head on a bucket. Pausing only to grab a towel and her purse she picked up the child and ran to the main road at East street, intending to get a tram as far as the General Hospital. Seeing that this was a crisis situation, a man passing in a horse and trap gave them a lift to the hospital. This, Norman says, was the only time he had a ride in a horse and trap – once again thanks to Uncle George.
‘Another adventure Norman recalls was the day when a cow escaped from the slaughterhouse next door to ‘Gran’s’ and got stuck in the passage of her small house. It seems that life in Stillhouse Lane was seldom dull and uneventful!
‘Our memories of Uncle George seem to be all happy ones as, despite his disability, he seemed to live a very full and contented life. He had many friends, read widely and, thanks to his love of the chapel in Sergeant Street, was a man of great faith.
‘One of the books he left us is a copy of the Apocrypha, my favourite passage being from Ecclesiasticus Chapter 38, which ends by saying of craftsmen ‘They maintain the fabric of the world, and their prayers are about their daily work.”
‘Lizzie Walker, neighbour and close friend of my great-grandmother, Rebecca Sanders’ said Winnie, ‘was a local midwife. She confided her story to Gran, who told it to my mother.
‘Lizzie was a foundling and had been abandon on a doorstep. Her life then followed the usual pattern of such children in Victorian times: cared for and brought up in an orphanage until she was old enough to go into domestic service, where she no doubt learned about midwifery and the care of infants. Romance came her way when she saw a young man looking up at her as she stood by her mistress’ window. Sadly, I cannot remember any details of this love story, but they did marry and settled in the Philip Street area.
‘In the days of long families she was much in demand as a midwife and her snow-white aprons were always ready and waiting for the next confinement. For a modest sum she delivered the baby and then called twice a day for the two weeks ‘laying -in’ period, to care for the mother and bath the baby. By modern standards it seems odd, but at this time the only rest period a mother had was after the birth of a child. With a close-knit community, neighbours and relatives would rally round to care for the rest of the family. It was said that Lizzie never lost a mother and that her husband kept a book as a record of all the children she brought into the world. When the certification of midwives came into being, provision was made for some of the existing nurses to qualify, but by this time Linda was too old. Although she could no longer deliver babies, many still liked to have her with them for after-care. When my sister Nora was born in 1911 the doctor was needed, but Lizzie was there too. As he left he gave her a tip and she kept exclaiming with joy: ‘He gave me a shillin’.’
‘Granny Maria’ (Mar – I – al) was a well-known character because of her small shop in Stillhouse Lane, just beyond Woodchoppers Alley. No one knows how she became known as ‘Granny’ as she was a single lady. She could not read or write by conventional standards, but had her own accounting system, by which everything was written up on slates fixed to the wall. Her chief commodity was ‘tea-fish’ (salt cod) imported into Bristol in large quantities and a well-known part of most people’s diet. This was the accepted meal on Good-Friday, when it was served with white sauce, chopped hard boiled egg and mashed potato. The price of each fish was shown by the number of notches cut with a knife through the skin on the fishes’ backbones. For children she sold boiled rice, sweetened with dried fruit. They would take a container along and she measured out the rice in a tea-cup, which had lost it’s handle. Why those two delicacies were so popular it is difficult to imagine, but it seems that the shop itself had attraction for children in particular, like Ivy, largely because of the ‘death-cards’ which decorated her walls. These were like a greeting card and were supplied by undertakers as part of the cost of the funeral. They were quite beautiful, with suitable sprays of lilies and a cross on the outside, while inside there was usually a verse of poetry or scripture, extolling the virtues of the deceased and, of course, giving the details of the death and burial. Usually these were only sent to ones ‘nearest and dearest’ but because of Granny’s mania for collecting them, it was usual for people to send her one, whether she knew of the dead person or not. It was said that at Christmas she decorated this collection of cards with colourful paper chains.
By Anton Bantock, with Winnie Harris, Ivy Herwig (and others)