When Ernest Edward Loades was eighty in the early 1970s, he wrote about his eventful life which started from humble beginnings in Poplar before he worked in service to some members of the aristocracy before leaving the UK for the sake of his health to live in Australia.
In the next part of Ernest’s ‘memories’, we find him entering the world of work in Chrisp Street Market and sees the other side of life by meeting some of the aristocracy on a summer holiday in Somerset. I have used some postcards from the period to give some idea of the market and Maiden Bradley.
When I was about 12 and a half, I got a job – Friday nights and all day Saturday – at one of the biggest provision shops in our local market (Chrisp Street, Poplar)- Coppen Brothers. We got a big lump of cake and a cup of cocoa for supper on Friday nights; dinner, tea and cake again on Saturday, and the wages were one and sixpence a week, for the long hours of 6pm till 11pm Friday night, and 8am till midnight on Saturday.
I had a reasonable good time, and all 8 or 9 other boys had to do was to look after different stalls – bacon, eggs, cheese, fresh and salt pork, poultry etc and pass goods up to the men on the scales . I finished up on the bacon stall working with the leading hand- Charlie Shaw. He was a good friend as the following story will show. The shop was owned by two brothers – Frank who did the buying, and Walter who ran the shop. Walter was a very decent sort of bloke, but Frank was a real pig. Perhaps he had been buying and working among pigs so long, that he had grown like one.
He never knew one of the boys names but if he shouted out: “YOBO!”, you were supposed to run to see what he wanted. If you were an “also ran” in the race to get to him, he would sarcastically ask why you were not at your stall looking after things.
Now, down the back of the shop was a big cold room and the boss decided that if anybody had to work in it they were to keep the door closed because the ice was costing too much.
After working in there for 10 minutes things got pretty cold and you were glad to get out, but that was nothing to “Uncle”. He had a big sign put on the doors: “Anybody leaving this door open will be dismissed”; and another: “If you find this door open SHUT IT”.
I was going down the yard one day and there was the door wide open and to save some poor devil getting the sack, I pushed it too. About a half hour later I of course was back on my stall with Charlie when through the shop came ” Uncle” roaring like a bull swearing that he was going to cut somebody’s heart out, and he had the knife in his hand to do the job. He was making straight for me when Charlie said, “Run boy, he’s after you!”
I didn’t wait to find out what it was all about. I ran up the street with ” Uncle ” in full pursuit, first turn to the right to get to the back gate of the shop.
Only the little gate was open. That was big enough for me. I went through at a run and shut it behind me. The boss was outside and he nearly blistered the paint with his language. I went back to my stall and asked Charlie what it was all about. He was laughing his head off and said I had shut “Uncle” in the cold room. Other men also were enjoying the joke. The boss was making sure I did not get a chance to run away the next time he tried to get me. He crept up behind me and made a grab, but Charlie saw him and pulled me out of his way. He told the boss that I had only obeyed his own orders and he was at fault for not closing the door. Of course he said I was sacked. He would have put me off then, only he wanted to get his money’s worth out of me and we were only half through the day. When Walter paid me that night, I said “goodbye” to him. He asked the reason. I told him that I was sacked.
He said, “You come back next week. It served the old So and So right. It might teach him that what was right for the men should be good enough for the boss”.
I worked there till I got a permanent job, but I do not think the boss ever loved me.
When I was 13, I came in contact with the aristocracy for the first time. It came about this way. There was a charitable organisation called the Fresh Air Fund whose activities were to give children from the towns a fortnight’s holiday in the country during the Summer (August) holidays.
You had to pay according to your means. If you were too poor, you got the holiday for nothing. Mother paid 8 shillings for me. This included all travelling expenses and board at cottages or farms. Well, I was sent to Maiden Bradley, Somerset which was part of the estate of the Duke of Somerset, in fact one of his big houses was at Maiden Bradley. I was placed with three other boys at the cottage of one of the hot house gardeners at the Dukery. This couple also had a son who was a footman at the Dukery and practically all residents – 200 or so – were connected with the estate. There were also quite a number of farms which were included in the Ducal properties.
The people made us welcome and materials for sports and games were available at the Rectory. What with good walks, and watching the hay-makers at work (doing a little bit ourselves – voluntarily of course) made the time go by quite nicely. One day the Rector, got most of the boys together and told us we had all been invited to the Dukery for tea on Saturday and deputed us to let the others know. Now some of the boys had been billeted at a farm some four miles out. He asked if some of us would go out and tell them. Four of us started. I was the one that finished and then they refused the invitation saying it was too far for them to come.
Of course it had not been too far for me to come with the invitation. Oh well, just one of those things. The incident was closed as far as I was concerned but, on the Saturday afternoon the Rector took me to the Duchess, told the story and the Duchess most graciously thanked me. As I had heard that people in that position would hardly speak to poor people my impressions were changed and later confirmed when I eventually worked among the Gentry.
On arrival at the Dukery, the whole 20 or more boys were formally introduced to the house party. Most of us were very shy and a bit out of our element. One old gentleman came to the rescue to put us at ease. He said, “Can any of you boys run?”
There was a unanimous yell of “Yes!”
“Right o”, said the old sport, ” All line up here”.
Then he called to another gentleman. “Go and stand down near that tree”
This was 60 yards away.
“Now”, said the old gent, “when I say go, run round that tree and the first boy back gets this”, and he held up a golden sovereign.
When he said “Go” did we run! I was an also ran, but the ice was broken and for the rest of the afternoon we were all good friends together. We enjoyed ourselves belting tennis balls on the court (no Davis Cup strokes), trying to play croquet under the guidance of these nice people, and various ways that they had devised to entertain us.
Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was the spread that was put on for us and served under the trees at the edge of the lawn. The Ladies and Gentlemen (mostly titled) waited on us and would not accept “No” for an answer until we had the biggest feed for most of our lives.
They say first impressions are best. For my part, I think I was sold to the upper class from that time on.
As I have already said the whole country side around Maiden Bradley was owned by the Duke Of Somerset. Once a year, there was a flower show and garden competition for the village. The week previous to the show, garden experts went through the Village and awarded the points for the competition. The prizes were not in cash awards, but if you had the best all round garden your prize was a whole year’s rent free.
And so it went on. There were prizes for so many things that you could perhaps get a week’s rent free for the way your hedge was cut. We know that all the upper-class were not as generous as this, but those that were not did not enkindle the same feelings of respect and veneration as did the people of Maiden Bradley.
One other little story about the holiday at Maiden Bradley. All visiting boys were under the watchful eye of the Rector who invited us to go to Church and Sunday School on Sunday after breakfast. Having nothing to do, I strolled around the Sunday School, arriving actually before the teachers. When they came they took me in and made a great fuss over me and just before starting proceedings told me to ring the bell. I had no idea why I should do so and on inquiring was told that the first boy to arrive had the honour of ringing the bell.
Had I stirred up trouble? When I got outside after Sunday School, half the village boys got stuck into me for spoiling one of their mate’s record, and I was getting the worst of it when the Superintendent came to my rescue, broke up the scrap and did he tell those kids off! Moral, don’t be early if going to a strange place.
Many thanks to Sharlene Jones-Martin from Brisbane, Australia for sharing the memories of her great grandfather.