Based on childhood recollections
of working class life in north London in Edwardian times.
On the working class housing estate where I grew up, all the men of the house
went out to work. There was very little mechanisation, so many of them did the
sorts of work that was later taken over by machines. The man next door for example
Others did various jobs: my father was an ambulance driver and the father
of the boy who later became my husband was an
insurance man who called at doors to collect the contributions.
What men did in their leisure time was also varied, depending on what happened
to appeal to them, although there were some tasks that were expected of them.
My father, like most fathers in the early 1900s in working class households
such as ours, grew his own vegetables in the back
garden. Some men also had allotments.
I particularly remember my father's runner beans. My mother never had to
buy any as we always had a wonderful crop. I must say, through, that this was
largely due to the efforts of my brothers and myself because we would have to
take the barrow and shovel out into the road to collect horse droppings as manure.
My father then put the manure into a galvanized tin bath and then use it as
he wanted it. So it was not surprising that we had good beans. We didn't particularly
like the job of collecting the horse droppings, but in those days we children
did as we were told, no questions asked, and we did enjoy playing with the barrow
which was a respectable one with rubber tyres.
In the early 1900s the runner beans were prepared for
salting by laboriously using a knife to 'string' the edges and slice the
beans. These days efficient bean slicing
gadgets are available.
Pat Cryer, webmaster,
and daughter of the author
As the runner bean crop was so good, my mother would preserve much of it
for use in the winter. She did this by
My father, like a lot of the men, made homemade wine. Elderberry and parsnip
were the favourites, and he made them in the
large china jug that was supposed to
be for hot water for guests to wash in. He put the fruit into the jug and fermented
it with a lump of fresh yeast floated on a slice of toast. The smell was vile,
but the wine was reputed to be very good. Maybe people were just being polite
or maybe there was little else that was as cheap.
My father also made Turkish delight. I don't remember how he did it, but
I know that he did make it because we always had it on Christmas evenings. Making
it was supposed to be a long process.
Meeting in the pub
My father was not one for going to the pub, but a lot of men were. I recall
being sent with a jug to the off-licence for a pint of porter, which was a kind
of beer. The off-licence was attached to a pub and I could see the men in the
bar. Although I belonged to the Band of Hope and had been taught to sing,
My drink is water bright, I never looked on these places as sinful. First
of all I liked the frosted patterned glass windows which must have afforded
the customers a certain amount of privacy. To me, the men seemed so happy chatting
away and smoking. There was no understanding of smoke being unhealthy, and the
atmosphere was laden with it. Ignorance was bliss.
The only part of my task that I did not like was walking back slowly, so
as not to spill the porter.
other meeting places
It always seemed to me that men seemed to congregate in the
always felt like a man's shop because it was where the men bought their
and their evening papers. A group of them always seemed to be there talking
about items of the news, particularly the war news. The reason I went in was
because the shop also sold magazines.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.