Alice Maud Richards Grandma
The grandchildren began arriving during the war - it was wartime and lots of children were born. This was the beginning of the baby boom. Indeed I have never quite understood why the baby boomers are technically born after 1947, when the baby boom was surely during the war, when everyone thought their last days might be coming soon, or immediately after the war when all those men came home.
But before the babies you had to have the weddings - well in those days you did. Olive, my mother, had married just before the war (without telling anyone for fear of losing her job) but refrained from having children until mid war. I was born in 1943. Kathleen married during the war, and her oldest child, was born a little before me. Nora, the youngest, was still at university and did not marry until after the war - I remember the announcement of the engagement, but do not think that I attended the wedding.
Nora’s two sons definitely had another grandmother. I am not sure about my Yorkshire cousins. But Grandma was my family’s only grandparent, and this, plus the fact that our father Stanley was in the merchant navy and therefore mostly absent, made her very special to us. Frederick had died of course, and my father’s parents, Gerald and Maude had died tragically young of tuberculosis, so Grandma was important.
And so grandmotherhood began - in the middle of the war. I guess it would have been a little bit of joy in the middle of chaos. For grandchildren always bring joy. Alice eventually had ten grandchildren from three of her daughters. Kathleen, in Yorkshire had five - the last being a bit of a surprise and some time after his older siblings. Nora, her youngest child also had a surprise baby a long time after his older brother. Indeed, I am not even sure if my grandmother was alive when he was born. Olive - my mother, more conventionally perhaps, had three. And grandma loved us all and never favoured one or some over the others.
She continued to live at 57 Gladys Avenue with my unmarried uncle. Her unmarried daughter, Freda, came to live with us after the war and she stayed with us until we were well into teenage. The Gladys Avenue house is pictured at left and above. As you can see it was a perfectly ordinary semi-detached British house, though it may have dated from the Victorian era - certainly at least Edwardian. So a survivor, like its inhabitants of the war, but somewhat more dilapidated then than now. There was an outside toilet, a big stone? cooking range, no fridge, one of those mammoth baths with a gas hot water system that almost exploded when it turned on and a feather bed. My grandmother did not have modern appliances - I remember a flat iron, a treadle Singer sewing machine, and an occasional bath in a tin bath in front of the fire. There were even chamber pots, occasionally used, and Victorian basins - I think they call them commodes - in the bedrooms. There was even a piano in the front parlour, which was rarely used (neither was the ‘formal’ dining room), and lots of Victoriana, most of it now gone. Heaven knows where everyone slept for it was not a large house, but there were often more than one set of cousins there at a time.
We visited the beach at Southsea, the Lido at Hillsea (that’s the picture at top right - one grandchild from one family and two from another), the hills above Portsmouth, the Victory and travelled there by train or bus - in later years by cars which frequently broke down on the way. Around the corner from the house was a fish and chip shop - still, amazingly, there, which we patronised on a regular basis.
It seems to me that we were there often, but this can’t have been true. And if we weren’t there, then she came to stay with us - travelling by train to Waterloo Station where we would meet her. She seems, in my head, to be an almost constant presence in our family life. My memory is of a warm, smiling round lady who would plait her long white hair and wind it into a bun, securing it with an elaborate hairpin. There were cameo brooches, high collars and eau de cologne 4711. There were also large photograph albums of people I didn’t know, but, alas, these seem to have disappeared. And, alas also, we do not seem to have taken many photographs of our beloved grandmother either.
I see I have been telling this part of the story from my own point of view, but this is not really the purpose of this website. That is for another more personal telling elsewhere perhaps. So back to Alice herself.
Olive Alice Ellis
Life must have become pretty full again with all of these grandchildren coming to stay, as well as to visit. Now that I am a grandmother myself I wonder if we were all too much for her at times, even though I never had that impression. None of the grandchildren lived that close by. Kathleen lived in Leeds in Yorkshire, Olive in suburban London and Nora further along the coast in Eastbourne. Leslie, of course, kept her company at home and she must have had some social life for she would station herself by the front window and watch the comings and goings along the street giving a commentary of who these people were and what they were doing. She continued to socialise with her sisters of course, and I think she must have still been a regular at Salvation Army meetings, for I remember attending one with her. I hope we all made her happy for she certainly did that for us.
At some point in the late 50s early 60s she and Leslie moved from Gladys Avenue to a flat in London Road. We think it was because the landlord wanted to sell the house. It had been her home since the war - almost twenty years. On the plus side there would have been less work looking after the flat, and it had more mod cons, but I do not think she was really happy about it.