Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Welcome to the Laws Family Register. 


A Child of the Twenties

A suburban childhood of the Twenties 

seen from the Ninteen Nineties

by John Robert Laws 1921-2008

Part 8.


In the High Street there were those who offered oddments from doorways, matches and lemons spring to mind. Along the gutters the sandwich board men, walked, enclosed in their advertising matter or calls to repentance, sometimes singly sometimes in threes or fours in a straggling crocodile. Occasionally there was an organ grinder on the corner of a side street, winding his handle and his mechanical music would add to the general street noise. There is an impression of noisiness in the High Street. Apart from the street traders there were trams clattering on their steel rails, horses were iron shod and so were the wheels of most of the carts. Lorries vans and cars were less well silenced and there was even the occasional Steam traction engine. However there were no motor scooters and the few motorbikes did not roar around.  

One faint memory of Green Lanes is of the buses with their cabs shrouded in wire netting to protect the volunteer drivers during the National Strike of 1926. What a good job there were no television cameras to encourage the attackers.

As well as the main shopping area in Green Lanes there were a few little shops around the railway station. The sweet shop was to me the most important and in those impecunious days many sweet shops kept a halfpenny and farthing box with a selection of sweets at those prices for kids with pocket money. It is a sign of of changing times that as I type this computer throws out the word Farthing as not being in the dictionary.

The dress of the period is familiar from photographs but the black and white of these photos does not tell us how much to colours changed. These monochrome photos are perhaps appropriate to the rather drab colours of every day wear. Grey, black and white were definitely favourites except for special occasions. Green was thought unlucky by some though my mother had a brilliant green evening dress for one special occasion. Red tended to be associated with the immoral so one was left with brown and blue and usually dark at that. Even holiday wear was much less colourful, white flannels and a navy blue blazer being about the height of seaside fashion for Pater families. The ladies did much better with flower patterned fabrics. For better or for worse the mini skirt hadn't been invented and bikini was still the name of an unknown Pacific island.

Among the street people with distinctive dress the policeman stood out. A big man in his navy blue tunic and trousers, a leather belt around his middle with a bull’s-eye torch at the rear and his outfit completed with a proper Bobbies helmet on his head and big black boots on his feet for pavement pounding. Just occasionally his whistle might be heard shrilling as he chased some malefactor down the road. More often he was seen but not heard as he came by on foot or on his bike with his rain cape neatly folded over the handlebars.

Our family doctor lived just across the way in a sizable corner house. I saw him from time to time when I had various childhood ailments but his likeness escapes me. My mother always thought me thin and needing fattening up but rather doubting when the doctor included pork in his dietary recommendations. Anyway I ate like a horse the only dislike I can remember was the kidney in steak and kidney pudding. The doctor had installed a machine for 'sun-ray treatment' and my mother took me over to him several times for a dose of the beneficial light. It was some sort of ultra violet light emission which would no frighten a quack silly today but in small doses probably did neither good or harm.       

The twenties and early thirties were a period of innovation in the home. Discoveries made in earlier decades started to come to fruition as household hardware, consumer durables stated to flow into the home. It was only the first wave of course; the flood was released after the war onto the earlier infrastructure.
The first innovation in my world was the gramophone which ousted the piano-player largely on account of size I suspect as the reproduction from the brittle single sided records was less than good. We must have missed a couple of stages in this development as I did not see a cylinder  playing phonograph until  friend produced one from a junkshop a year or two later. Nor do I remember a Gramophone with a big horn on top. Ours had the horn hidden away in its polished woodwork and the only music from it which struck a chord in my memory was Toseelli’s Seranade.
The radio seems to have come at the same time as the gramophone not true of course, but a childhood impression. The crystal set was impressive hardware then even if the output that came through the earphones all the way from Daventry was erratic and to me uninteresting , Fiddling with the ‘cats whisker’ to try and coax  the best reception from the as of yet untamed crystal was much more to my taste.
The crystal set was not with us long; Soon battery powered sets with varying numbers of mysterious glowing thermionic valves took over with better reception and more to go wrong. Aerial poles sprouted at the foot of most gardens, harbingers of the later ugly skyline rash. Two batteries were needed to work these sets, a large HT battery which just wore out and had to be replaced and a lead acid accumulator which had to be recharged at the shop down the road, all this power made the use of a loudspeaker possible. It stood on top of the cabinet housing all the bits and its curly metal horn was now really audible.
For me change began with the coming of electric light, just the tip of the innovation iceberg as the electric supply network built up. In with the electric light came the electric points as we called the outlets, only one in a room to start with  just for a reading lamp perhaps. The radio, which we called the wireless with a wry smile, it had more wires than any other previous domestic item, was now released from the tyranny of the accumulator as mains powered sets arrived. The voice from the trumpet of your loud speaker no longer started to fade as the battery power ran down. It is odd to think that a considerably later innovation the replacement of the valve by the transistor, brought back the rechargeable battery but in a small and convenient form.
With the plugging in of the new radios the electric supply had started on its trail of removing chores from the household. The next arrival after the radio was the electric fire which rapidly penetrated into every home with electric supply and brought quick warmth. More flexible than the older gas fire was, it was even more useful before central heating became commonplace.
Following it up the front steps came the vacuum cleaner salesman, the first and probable the greatest beneficiary of the small electric motor in the domestic field, except the housewife of course. No longer were the clouds of dust raised as the bass broom worked its way down the stairs and through the hall to the back door. The volume of dirt in the house was reduced but the battle could not be won until the open coal fire was on the way out.
Somehow progress was slow with the electric cooker which did not really become controllable until my childhood was well into double figures. Gas and solid fuel cookers continued to spread dirt in the home but were the easiest and cheapest stoves to use and even now hold material portion of the market.
The only other innovation to compare with electricity was the motor vehicle. It had been invented some thirty odd years before, but development and cost reduction took time, and I was about four years old when my father bought his first car, a bull nosed Morris, built like a tank but a troublesome beast. It was 1925 and there were not a lot of cars on the road, the speed limit was 20 mph and although this lasted very little longer my dad managed to get fined for exceeding it before it was changed. Houses had no garages, and the car was housed about half a mile away where a garage proprietor had a few lockup garages besides his scruffy workshop. The Morris was only used at weekends and holidays and although it was a lovely toy for my dad I thought it a bit of a bore and escaped from it as soon as I was old enough to ride a bike on the road.
Perhaps the most innovative thing about our car was that my mother learnt to drive it, scarcely the done thing at that time. By the time I was ten she had one of her own, a little open topped Singer which was far more to my taste and could be pushed up to 60mph “Don’t tell your father!” There road system was getting some improvement in the twenties and a few new roads space was left for a second carriageway, often it got left for another thirty years.
At some point my father changed his Morris for a Chrysler which went much father, too fast in fact to get round the Anglo-Saxon corners of East Anglia, where he wrote it off and landed himself in hospital for a day or two, seat belts were a much later innovation, after that he got a sedate Hillman which lasted the rest of his days.    

To be continued tomorrow

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Family Events from our database for today March 31

1716 - Christen: Henry LAWS-34413, Padiham LAN UK
1784 - Will Proved: John CHARTERS-34578,
1812 - Birth: Elizabeth MCMINN-31595, Kirkcudbright KCD UK
1817 - Miscellaneous: John LAWES (Labourer) -38273,
1822 - Burial: Thomas LAWS-31973, Portsea HAM UK
                                         Nelson's flagship 'Victory' in Portsea Naval Dockyard

1825 - Birth: George LAWS (RN 48648 A B Pensioner) -8135, Portsea HAM UK
1829 - Baptism: William LAWES (Ag Lab)-170, Ellingham HAM UK
1839 - Baptism: Mary LAWS-3151, Wareham DOR UK
1855 - Birth: Jennie Ann JOHNSON-34172, Kaneville, Pottawattamie IA (Council Bluffs)
1857 - Burial: James Thomas LAWS-51822, Stoke Newington MDX UK
1857 - Burial: Agnes T LAFFERTY-35418, Rookwood NSW Australia (C of E Cemetery)
1861 - Burial: James LAWS (Reverend) -4686, Cincinnati OH USA
1863 - Birth: Albert Fisher LAWS-29647,
1866 - Miscellaneous: Thomas Edward Laws MOORE (Navy Captain) -38745,
1866 - Burial: Alfred LAWS (Coachmakers Apprentice) -3154, Wareham DOR UK
1877 - Birth: Charles Adolph LAWS-41009, NV USA
1879 - Death: William LAWS-7952, Middlesborough NRY UK
1883 - Birth: Earl Grant LAWS-31730, Boulder CO USA
1892 - Death: Elsie Barbara LAWS-42845, Shillingstone DOR UK
1899 - Birth: Hilda Maud LAWES-118587,
1902 - Birth: Thomas Brignell LAWS (RN CPO Stoker K58535 DSM 1945) , Brighton SSX UK
                                                                    Brighton Sussex

1908 - Death: Catherine STUART-41898, NBL UK
1909 - Birth: Rose BRAILSFORD-125393, Paddington MDX UK
1909 - Marriage: Zenos Marvin LAWS (Section Hand - Steam Railroad) -34173 and Mary Luella                  ROWLEY-45623, Diaz, Galeana, Chihuahua MEXICO
1909 - Enlistment: George LAWS (ARMY Private ) -54343,
1913 - Birth: Robert S LAWS-52521,
1918 - Death: R LAWS (ARMY Private 18444) -45122,
1919 - Birth: Victor James LAWS-35291, Martin Street, Rookwood (Lidcombe) NSW Australia
1928 - Birth: James M LAWS-42284,
1931 - Will Proved: William James LAWES-2459,
1932 - Birth: John Maurice LAWS-54822,
1934 - Death: Martha LAWS-122241, Poolville, Parker Co TX
1937 - Miscellaneous: Henrietta Lucy COLBY-36352,
1937 - Admon: Lewis Alfred LAWS (Electrical engineer) -3659,
1943 - Death: George LAWS (Innkeeper) -122920, Witham ESS UK
1943 - Death: Benjamin Elijah LAWS (Retired Boat Builder) -7972, Berkhampsted HRT UK
1943 - Burial: William James LAWS-3892, Talbot, Bournemouth DOR (St Mark) UK
1944 - Marriage: Harold Wilbert LAWS (Farmer)  & Margaret Pricilla MCNAUGHT- (Nurse)
1944 - Military: A D LAWES (RAAF F/Sgt 1629171 10 Sqdn) -115976,
1945 - Death: Eva Lavon STREADBECK-39230, Provo UT USA
1948 - Residence: Edward Henry LAWS (Hall Porter) -5458, Dollis Hill MDX UK
1949 - Burial: Collins L LAWS (Military?) -38370, Park Grove Cemetery, Broken Arrow, Tulsa OK
1949 - Birth: Joan Louise LAWS-37606,
1953 - Death: Ottis LAWS-42455,
1953 - Death: Cecil O LAWS-41456, Rockcastle Co KY USA
1957 - Death: Agnes Elizabeth LAWS-121945, Ranwick NSW AUSTRALIA
1962 - Birth: David CUTTEN-43664, 70 Gonville Crescent, Stevenage HRT UK
1963 - Death: Frederick William HOCKNELL (French Polisher) -46078, Edmonton MDX UK
1964 - Birth: Martin Anthony LAWS  (Dr Mech CAM) -3263, Chatham KEN UK
1965 - Miscellaneous: Doris Edith LAWS-58198,
1979 - Marriage: William Frank LAWS-30124 and Jennifer O'REILLY-125574,
1985 - Birth: Justin Durell LAWS-40741, TX UK
2005 - Death: William T LAWS-42572, Valdese General Hospital, Granite Falls NC USA

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With grateful thanks to Simon Knott for permission to reproduce his photographs on this site see :-