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Appleby History > Memories > Duck Lake to Tuckers Holt

Duck Lake to Tuckers Holt

The memoirs of Eileen Margaret Lower née Chapman, 1920 to 2004

Introduction by Michael Lower

My Mother died in 2004. This is an extract of an account of her life. The last entry was made in 1999 and the period it dealt with finished in 1955. It could be that she found it easier to put her life in perspective from a distance in time. Also it was primarily written for me and from 1955 onwards, I was able to observe her life for myself.

Some of the later paragraphs may seem a little disjointed. I have not changed the words but I have taken out a large portion of contents which have no relevance to Appleby. In the period covered by this account, up until 1945, she also dealt with her father’s family in Markfield, Derby Training College,  her work in the Land Army and as a Superintendent of Nurseries in Somerset.

After the War she moved the Guernsey, married my father, and worked in Jersey. The account carries on there before she moved back to Desford in 1953. From then on she travelled widely but spent a period each year in the Channel Islands with my father’s family and her own friends and colleagues.

Right up until her death she was a keen motorist and loved to visit ‘the pretty little villages’, although the one in which she was born was always closest to her heart.

Michael Lower, September 2010

{If anyone would like to contact Michael he would welcome your email. Send to website @ applebymagna.org.uk marked for Michael's attention}

Early Years

Eileen Chapman 1921
Eileen Chapman, 1921

I was born at the Homeleys Farm, Appleby Magna, Burton on Trent, Staffs. That was the address although Appleby is in Leicestershire, on the Westward border. No Mans Heath is three miles away and has a pub called The Four Counties Inn, where Leics, Warks, Staffs and Derbyshire meet apparently.

I was born on Dec. 30th 1920. The Homeleys Farm is at the bottom of Black Horse Hill, Near Duck Lake. It was my grand-parents’ home. My mother was Edith Sarah Anne Rowland, who married Oliver Chapman. Grandfather, Matthew Thomas Rowland owned about 260 acres of mixed farming. My father, Oliver Chapman, came from the Mill House, Shawlane, Markfield and met my mother who went to teach at Markfield village School near the church. Father had been badly wounded in the First World War and suffered for the rest of his life as a result of his injuries. His back was blue and brown and was pitted with hollows, where the flesh had gone. He was in hospital in France when the war ended and my mother and grandmother Chapman went over to visit him. After, he was in hospital at Oxford for many months. I do not know whether he was living at the Homeleys when I was born or at his home at Shawlane. When my brother Peter was born in 1922 he had bought the Post Office and general stores opposite The Black Horse. It was a house with a lot of character; panel and post and thatched at that time. Later my father tiled the roof which really was a great pity. I don’t think either of my parents appreciated its age and architecture. Mother ran the Post Office and shop and Dad was a master builder employing three or four men.

My Father 1917
My Dad 1917

At the time of my birth Auntie Lizzie, Uncle Walter and Auntie Edna were still living at the farm. It was quite a big house with four big bedrooms and an attic, but no bathroom of course. There was also an extra bedroom over the kitchen with separate stairs leading from the kitchen. I remember the big kitchen very well. There was a deep well under the floor and a big pump for drinking water by the sink. There was a copper for washing clothes in one corner and a bread oven built into the wall. That oven was never used. It had a brick base, sides and top and a heavy metal door. Apparently hot coals were put into the oven, the door was shut and the oven was left to heat up. The coals were then removed and the bread placed in to cook using the retained heat. There was also an old fashioned, black leaded grate, with an oven on one side and a water boiler on the other. It always seemed to have a bright fire burning and a kettle singing on the hob. All the cooking was done in that little oven and often there was a saucepan suspended over the fire with a suet pudding boiling in it. How they managed to cook the vegetables I do not know. They were very fond of rice puddings which were in the oven for literally hours. The puddings were topped up with milk from time to time and finished up a beautiful pinkish colour with a thick skin on the top. Delicious!

My Mother
My Mother

At the time of my birth Uncle Jack and Uncle Tom, my mother’s other brothers, were sharing Hill House, which Granddad owned, opposite The Black Horse. That was another big, cold place with two kitchens, two lots of stairs; family and servants I suppose. It was a beautiful house with mullioned windows and a window at the back, which looked more like a church window, overlooking the stairs. The fields around belonged to Granddad and both uncles worked for him. There were cow sheds and pig sties across the yard and they kept pigs and poultry. I can still see Uncle Tom’s wife, Auntie Annie Rowland carrying heavy buckets of pig swill across from the house to the pig sties. She worked very hard and was a happy person. I must tell you about her!

She was Annie Bell from Cumberland and she came to teach at Appleby School. Her mother’s father or grandfather was John Peel and his hunting crop was owned by her family. Uncle Tom fell in love with her and they married. I remember that she used to play the concertina and sing. Uncle Tom used to say “Play ‘Little Annie Rooney is my Sweetheart’”. She was his sweetheart until the end. They had three children; Harry, Mary (Evelyna) and Maurice. Harry went to Oxford, Evelyna Mary to Derby Teachers’ Training College and Maurice, commonly known as ‘Snig’ as he sniggered a lot, did not marry and worked on the farm. Later Uncle Jack and Auntie Kath moved to a farm house in Bowleys Lane and had Billy (‘Silly Billy’) and Agnes. They kept a cow or two but Uncle Jack still worked for Granddad.

Life at The Post Office

Mother and Dad must have gone to the Post Office in 1921 and how my mother managed to run it and its shop and also have three children, I cannot imagine. No mod cons and such a cold house too! They all were. She had a ‘day-girl’ employed to help. The girl worked from 8am to 5pm and was paid about 7/6 (37p) weekly. Mrs Hall used to come in Friday afternoons to clean the cutlery and silver and our washing was done by a woman in the village. When extra help was needed or in an emergency, Auntie Edna came and helped out.

Peter was born in 1922 and Barry in 1925. I remember his birth vaguely. Peter and I stayed at Granma’s during the birth and Auntie Edna took us home to see the new baby. I cried because I thought Mother was ill in bed. Of course we were told that the Nurse brought the baby in her bag on her bicycle. The Nurse lodged in Church Street with Mrs Spencer, a widow and her son John. When I walked by their house I listened and I could not understand why I did not hear the babies crying and I pictured them on a shelf in a cupboard! I remember baby Barry being ill and crying a lot. I had to rock his pram. He had meningitis and was taken to the Royal Infirmary in Leicester where he recovered. I loved Barry and all babies.

The Post Office was quite a big house and so very cold!  There were five bedrooms and at some stage Dad converted a biggish bedroom into a bedroom and bathroom that would now be called en suite. We had to go through the little bedroom to get to the bathroom. There was no water laid on in the village, no gas, no electricity. Towns had all these things. Coalville was like London to me! Our drinking water we fetched up from a pump in our yard. Soft water for washing was collected in butts or tubs from the roof of the house, along the gutters and down pipes.

Dad had put a bathroom in for the Doctor, the Rector and for Charlie Bates, so he decided that we would have one too. Outside, in the yard he dug a cistern he called it. It was like a square room lined with bricks, about twelve feet deep and the water ran in from the roof of the house I suppose. There was a rotary pump by the kitchen sink and the water was pumped into a tank in the bathroom. There must have been another tank behind the kitchen fire place because the water was heated by the fire. We thought it was lovely to have a bathroom and a water lavatory with a long chain to pull to flush it. People would come into the Post Office and say, “I hear that you’ve got one of those bathrooms”, as if it was one of the wonders of the world. On occasions people were taken to view it! We were terribly privileged. That was a very cold room too. We had a smelly ‘Valor’ oil stove to heat it in the winter. It was a fire hazard. It was a wonder that we didn’t have the house on fire with the oil lamps as well.

Before that we had a zinc bath which hung outside and was brought into the kitchen when we bathed in front of the fire every Friday evening. Water was heated in saucepans on the fire. We had a bath in turns, apparently in the same water which was topped up from time to time. Brother Peter vows that I was bathed last. I remember sitting in my clean nightie afterwards and having a bowl of bread and milk or Ovaltine and biscuits which we dunked, before going to bed. Our beds were warmed by the oven shelf wrapped in brown paper or by a stone hot water bottle.

There was a lot of poverty at this time but we lived well and ate well. We did not have dressing gowns or bedroom slippers, but the Bates family did of course. At one stage I remember having my single bed in the boy’s room where they slept in a double bed. This was because I walked in my sleep so much. When we were all tucked up in bed my mother would tell us stories and recite poems or sing to us when she was in a good mood. She made up a serial called “Lap and Trot” who were two rabbits. We couldn’t wait for the next instalment!

One of the poems that she taught at school that I particularly liked was:

Nellie, get the basket
Gather up the crumbs
We will feed the birdies
Till the springtime comes.

When we were older she recited ‘The Lady of Shallot’ and ‘How Horatious Kept the Bridge’. She sang many sad, sentimental songs. She had a fine voice and had had some training in Ashby de la Zouch. She sang at village concerts held at The Grammar School. Her solos were: ‘God Send you back to Me’, ‘Because God Made you Mine’, ‘Juanita’, I’ll Cherish the Time’ and ‘K K K Katie, Beautiful Katie’. Uncle Charlie Bates had a fine tenor voice and they sang duets such as: ‘Sweet and Low’ and ‘I’ll take you Home again Kathleen’.

She also sang a sad song which I loved. I was a morbid child!

Dulcie and Daisy and Dorothy May
Three green bonnets at Church one day
Dulcie and Daisy and Dorothy May
Three green bonnets that hung in a row
Each bonnet tied with a green ribbon bow

Last verse;

The brown eyes were swollen and so were the grey
For the Angels had stolen dear Dorothy May

She also sang;

If I should plant a tiny seed of love
In the garden of your heart
Would it grow to be a great big love some day?
Or would it die and fade away?

Now I must mention Nelly whom we children all loved; Nelly Clowes (not certain of the spelling). We did not have maids as Auntie Annie Bates did but we had a ‘Day Girl’. She started at 8am and finished at 6pm and had half day Saturday, and Sunday off. She stayed with us for a few years until she married Bill Smalley from Donisthorpe, who was a miner and they went to live in Donisthorpe when they first married. I can remember going to stay with them for a few days. I rode there on the cross-bar of Bill’s bicycle! I remember the 1001 Airship going over and everyone went out to see it. A wonder of the world! I believe that it crashed soon afterwards. Nelly did the washing up, prepared the vegetables and did house work. I believe that she served in the shop occasionally. She was small, jolly and had a loving disposition. I remember us all going to a garden fête at Lisney’s large house and garden in Snarestone. Little brother Barry got lost and over the loud-speaker came the message,

“We have a little boy who tells us that his name is Barwy and that he is Nelly’s little boy”. He could not pronounce his r’s until he was about seven years old. He was a lovely little boy and I loved and mothered him.

School Years

We all went to the school opposite the church. I remember my first day at school which would be in 1925. My cousin Evelyna Mary Rowland who was a year older than I was escorted me. Mrs Tunnadine was the Headmistress and there were two other uncertificated teachers. Miss Woodward, who became Mrs Leslie Starbuck, was my first teacher. I remember that there was a bad thunder storm one afternoon and I was terrified. She had me on her knee and covered my face with her cardigan so that I would not see the lightening. Teachers were usually very strict in those days and often really cruel and sadistic monsters. She was not like that.

Charlie Bates was one of the school managers and he used to come occasionally to check the registers-what on earth for I cannot imagine! I was covered in confusion because he called the teachers ‘my dear’ and joked with them. I realised at some stage that they liked him. He was a very attractive, kind, warm man. He would come to me and say, “How’s my little Chappie today? I found it very embarrassing and I was too shy and confused to answer him.

At this stage children were there until they were fourteen, when they left school. All the teaching was very formal but my word, we could spell and we knew our tables. The Headmistress, when I was about seven was Miss Phillips whom I idolised. She came from Birmingham, a big city. She wore very smart clothes and had actually been abroad for holidays. I loved it when she reminisced. She had a grey astrakhan coat with a satin lining which hung on the end of a cupboard. I used to stroke it when nobody was looking. She was a very fine teacher. I remember she once said, “Work hard and get a career and get away to see the world. Some of the people in this village are like dock leaves in the gutter.” I was impressed and determined to get away and see the world. My Mother was very annoyed when she heard about ‘dock leaves in the gutter’. Only the Doctor’s and the Rector’s family travelled in those days.

Whilst we were at Appleby little school Miss Phillips organised a day’s outing to London Zoo. We went by train from Ashby station and then I remember us walking in pairs, crocodile fashion, from St. Pancras to the zoo. The journey seemed more exciting than the zoo.

At eleven we all took the eleven plus, or scholarship exam as it was called. I got through as did, Evelyna and Harry Rowland and another cousin Agnes Rowland. We all went to Ashby Grammar School.

We had a car when I was about ten and we had holidays at Skegness and Yarmouth and visited relatives of my mother at Bearsted near Maidstone in Kent. Dad loved to visit places but really did not have the time. Before we had a car Dad had a motor bike and side car. I sat behind Dad on the motor bike, Mother sat in the side car with Barry on her knee and then Peter sat on a stool between her outstretched legs. We would go to Shawlane and visit Grandma Chapman and Auntie Addie.

Every spring there were point to point races at Thorpe Hall near Tamworth. This was organised by the Hunt. There was a huge marquee in the grounds and the farmers were issued with free dinner tickets for an excellent meal there. This was to show their gratitude for allowing the huntsmen and hounds on their land. My farmer relatives were not the kind of people to go to race meetings and bet on horses, so Dad was given the meal tickets. I remember just the two of us attending a few times, going on the motor bike and side car. I found it very exciting and even put a 6d each way bet on the horses. Dad bet a bit more! I remember running into Uncle Jesse Windebank who told us to put our shirts on a certain horse which was bound to win. It did and Dad won a few pounds. I felt very grand sitting at a table with a white cloth in the marquee and having a three course meal and drinks. We did not go out for dinner in those days. Occasionally we would have tea and cakes in Boots café at Burton on Trent, but dinner at Thorpe Hall was really living it up! My Dad’s brother-in-law, husband of his sister Cissie, was a jockey and he rode at Thorpe Hall and at all of the point to point races locally. His name was Sidney Clarke but he was always referred to as Clarkie and nobody had a good word for him. He was a bumptious little individual. He lived in a bungalow in Markfield and had a couple of fields and gave riding lessons. He rode for Mrs Ing of Thorpe Hall.

Granddad Rowland preached at the Chapel called ‘Eternity Where?’ for about forty years. According to Mother it was Calvinistic Baptist, whatever that was. It was a very austere type of religion. There were no flowers, no Christmas decorations, no Christenings. I was not Christened until I chose to be Church of England, at the age of eighteen. We attended every Sunday evening and sang ‘ Moody and Sankey’ hymns and Mother or Auntie Kath played the organ which they pedalled. Granddad seemed to be preaching for ages and we children found it very boring. He would thump the pulpit top with his fists and fling his arms in the air and rant about Hell Fire. Repent and lead a blameless life or else! He did not believe in “sparing the rod to spoil the child” and beat his children according to Mother. Apparently once he left his pulpit in the middle of a sermon, took Uncle Tom by the scruff of the neck, thrashed him, then brought him back into Chapel. There were two other Chapels in the village at that time; the Baptist in Church Street and the Wesleyan in Rectory Lane, all of them well attended.

Our first car was a second hand Hillman with a “dickey seat”, a bench seat at the front for the driver and passenger and the back folded down like the boot of cars today. That opened up and there was a seat for two. This was of course out in the open. Peter and I sat in the dickey seat and as you can imagine, in the winter it was very cold. I wore layers of clothes and we had a rug over our knees. Granny Chapman gave me an old-fashioned cape to wear over all of my clothes and even then I was not very warm. We did not go out in the rain but on the odd occasion when we were caught out, we huddled in the front of the car. After a few years we had a new car from Mugglestone’s  Garage in Overseal. It was a Morris Cowley Tourer. In a tourer, the hood could be taken down and we could enjoy the fresh air- too fresh we usually found! The windows were made from cellophane and there were no windscreen wipers or indicators. Signals were done by hand. I remember on our annual journey to Skegness for our week’s holiday, there was a straight piece of road with trees either side and we used to say, “Go at 50m.p.h Dad!” and Dad loved to do that. The car would be going flat out, making a lot of noise and we’d be bumping up in the air, wildly excited and cheering Dad on. There was no luggage rack as the spare wheel was fixed on the back. We thought it was really super car. There was very little traffic on the roads and no road markings or traffic lights. At major cross-roads, a policeman or AA man would stand on a box in the middle of the road and conduct the traffic.

During the day we used only the kitchen, which was quite big because Dad had built an extension onto it. Our coal fired cooking range was quite big and modern compared to most. It had an oven on each side and a rack above, where we aired clothes. Every evening we would go into the sitting room. A dust-pan full of hot coals would be taken from the kitchen grate to the sitting room, about an hour before we went in there. The room was never warm in winter and we all huddled round the fire. The piano was in that room and I had lessons for a few years from Mrs Violet Starbuck. I had no talent at all but managed to play hymns quite well. ‘The Robin’s Return’ was my star performance.

We had another nice room facing the Black Horse but it was rarely used. Both rooms had big carpet squares, which was quite grand in those days. Most people had lino and a rag pegged rug in front of the fire. Later we had a three quarter sized billiard table and I believe that Peter, Barry and Dad were quite good players. They did not play snooker then and relatives and friends would come to play occasionally. I did not play. I had no interest or skill in any games. I had to play tennis, netball and hockey at the Grammar School and hated it all. I was able to run fast though and won races on Sports Day.

The Family            

Uncle Charlie Bates
Uncle Charlie Bates

Now for a word about our relatives in the village! Auntie Annie, mother’s oldest sister had married Charlie Bates, who had inherited the grocers shop and bakery and a biggish house and large gardens and also a row of cottages, all in Church Street. He also owned Lower Rectory Farm in Snarestone Road and the Ashmore family lived in the farmhouse and supervised the farming until Cousin Frank, who went to Sutton Bonnington Agricultural College for two years, helped run the farm. We used to go to one of the fields near the brook and get watercress. We washed it in the spring nearby and ate it.

The Bates family seemed very affluent to me. There was young Charles known as Sonny or Son, Kathleen, Frank, Roger, who was my age and then John, much later. They did not go to the village school but to Ashby Grammar School as fee payers. It was a big house and Auntie Annie had two maids in uniform, who slept in the attic. Bob Gothard was their gardener. They had a tennis court and summer house. Dan Harper from Acresford was their baker. There was no gas or electricity in the village and the ovens were heated by coal. The smell of the bread was wonderful. They made cakes and pork pies too. Uncle Charlie delivered bread to the villages nearby and employed others until Sonny helped.

Roger Bates
Roger Bates

I was very friendly with Roger who was full of fun and much more confident than I was. We both remember that their lavatory had two holes in the big seat and then a smaller one for children. When we were younger we used to go together and have the little seat in turns. There was no toilet paper, just newspaper torn up and we would sit and read the paper. It was a dirty, smelly place, called an earth closet and it was emptied weekly and the contents buried in the ground. Roger and I sometimes went with Uncle Charlie when he delivered bread to the villages. He used to call at a house that had an apple orchard and Roger and I thought the lady of the house was very mean because she never gave us any. I wore knickers with elastic around the legs. They were rather baggy. Roger stole some of her apples one day and pushed them up my knicker legs. I had great difficulty walking but managed to get back into the van. When Roger told Uncle Charlie and I was unloaded he roared with laughter. He thought it was hilarious. I did not tell my Mother. She would not have approved. Uncle Charlie, Roger’s father, I loved. He’d tell us his escapades when he was a boy. Roger was a ‘chip off the old block’!

When we were older we cycled to Measham picture house each week and later we went to dances together. Kathleen delivered bread when she left school until she married George Burnham from Laxton, when she was nineteen. When Roger and I were ten years old, John was born. I did not know until I was much older. Mother told me that Auntie Annie was furious to find herself pregnant again. She had baby John at home and had a Nurse who stayed for a week or two. I adored John and remember daring to have a paddy and telling mother that Roger had everything and why couldn’t we have a baby? At ten I knew nothing of the facts of life. Some Thursdays, when the Post Office had half day closing, Mother had John whilst Auntie Annie went shopping in Burton-on-Trent. I loved taking him for walks and giving him his bottle.

Auntie Edna married Edward Miller and they had one son, Keith, who was not born until I was away at college in 1940. Auntie Lizzie never married and lived with her parents and worked on the farm. She was a drudge but never complained.

Uncle Walter, my Mother’s youngest brother married Daisy Clamp from Westhill Farm at Appleby. They moved away from the village. First they rented a farm at Chapel End near Nuneaton. Apparently they started off with the bare necessities in the house and three cows, a few pigs and poultry. They had a milk round and sold eggs. Both Uncle Walter and Auntie Daisy delivering from a horse drawn cart. I think that Cousin Margaret was born ‘too soon’ and I heard that she was taken round with them, under a tarpaulin, when it rained. Harry was born a few years later. They worked hard and prospered and seemed happy and contented. They too were Baptist and Auntie Daisy played the organ.  They moved to Ridge Lane, Ladywood Farm later.

It was really nice to have so many relatives in the village. As we lived practically opposite to Harry, Evelyna Mary and Maurice we all played together and kept open houses.  As I’ve said before I spent a lot of time in Church Street with Cousin Roger. We did not see so much of Betty and Agnes although every Boxing Day they had a tea party and we all attended. We played cards; ‘Happy Families’ ‘Pass the Parcel’ and sang carols. Grandma and Granddad’s was open house for us all.

Eddie Johnson
Eddy Johnson

Brother Peter loved helping on the farm. We would all go to the hay fields and watch when the corn was threshed in the croft. I liked collecting the eggs – hens, ducks and geese. Uncle Tom had sheep and I loved giving the cade lambs their bottles. Peter, Barry, Evelyna, Harry and Maurice worked hard at potato picking every year and earned a little money, I used to join them at first but my hands used to go dead, Reynaud’s disease and I had to come home. I was not very strong. I had a poor appetite, was anaemic and spent most nights walking in my sleep or having night mares. I liked walking and cycling. I had a boy-friend called Edwin Johnson for many years. We called him Eddy and Uncle Tom called him “my faithful Ginty” – he was ginger haired. We roamed about the fields and knew every foot path. I had a new Humber “Sports” bicycle when I was about twelve and then we biked around together. He was a fee paying student at Ashby Boys Grammar School and I remember him helping me with my Latin homework regularly. We grew apart when I went to Derby Teachers’ Training College and he went into the Army during the war.

Village Life

When I was about ten, electricity was brought to the village. That was very exciting. Most of the houses were wired up and people were glad to finish with paraffin lamps etc. I remember there was quite a ceremony when the lights were first switched on. Uncle Charlie Bates was Chairman of the Parish Council. A platform was erected in front of an electricity pole opposite the Black Horse and crowds of people and councillors were there. Uncle Charlie made a speech about “This momentous occasion”, pulled a switch and the lights were on. There were cheers! We had one of the first electric cookers in the village and a woman came to demonstrate how it worked and cooked a few dishes. Although, mother made beautiful pastry and cooked very good dinners, she wasn’t really interested in cooking (or eating). She was not at all domesticated and thought cooking and housework beneath her. I took after the Chapmans and cooked from an early age. Whilst I was at the Grammar School I took Domestic Science and most Saturday afternoons I made pastry and cakes. Cousin Roger who was helping to deliver bread used to call and sample the cakes etc. I was the star pupil in cookery at school and got prizes on Speech Day. I was advised to go to Domestic Science College as they were call then (later Home Economics) for a three year course and teach those subjects – needlework, cookery and hygiene. I did not want to teach older children 11 -16, so did not consider it. I always wanted to teach young children and at one stage wanted to train to be a Norland Nurse. I fancied living with a wealthy family and I should look after their small children.

The nearest Cinema was at Measham, three miles away. I sometimes cycled there with Roger or Eddie Johnson and remember when we had the first “talkies”!! We had a modern gramophone which had to be wound up with a handle. We had a record of Paul Robeson singing “Old Man River”. Dad was very fond of dancing although he had little opportunity to indulge. Mother could not, or would not dance so he taught me when I was about 8 or 9 years old. We fox trotted and waltzed, did the valletta and military two- step. We used to “rag it” occasionally – wiggle our shoulders and jigged a bit. I really enjoyed myself. I remember Mrs Starbuck (Auntie Lil) who gave me piano lessons calling one evening and she danced with Dad. When Mother saw she was furious! The little sitting room was extended eventually and called the dining room although we rarely “dined” in it. The piano was in that room.

I was a big reader – escapism! I loved to read about happy families where the husband and wife loved each other. Ethel M. Doll was one of my favourite authors. Of course I read the classics – all Dickens, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Little Women, Good Wives, George Elliot’s books; Mill on the Floss being a favourite. Of course when I was at the Grammar School there was plenty of homework to be done every evening- “swotting” we called it.

Appeleby was a small village in those days. We literally knew everybody in the village: their names, occupations, who was related to whom, who was pregnant, who was “courting”. There were very few secrets in our little village. The men were employed as farm labourers, miners at Measham or Donesthorpe collieries or worked at the brick-yard at  Snarestone. There were three shops where groceries were sold. At our Post Office which mother ran, we sold groceries. Biscuits were in large tins and had to be weighed and sold by the pound. Sweets and chocolates were sold loose too, in ozs or a quarter lbs (4 ozs). We also sold paraffin for the lamps; kept in smelly barrels in a back yard shed. Cigarettes and tobacco we stocked too; Woodbines in 5’s,Craven A, Gold Make Players. An old man, Mr Fowkes, smoked thick twist and also chewed it and then spat it out. He often came when the shop was closed. He came round to the back door as large as life and as he came by the window he shouted “Bring it, way ya Mrs Chapman” and Mrs Chapman obliged and bought it. Uncle Charlie Bates had the general stores in Church Street. Of course he sold bread and cakes and pork pies – all home made by Dan Harper from Acresford.  He sold ham, bacon sausage etc. Beadman’s butchers shop was on his premises and animals were actually killed at the back somewhere. Uncle Charlie was in partnership with him at one stage.

Mrs Lakin also had a little shop in Duck Lake. She sold sweets, biscuits and haberdashery. She was a widow and had one son Tom, who was a couple of years older than I was. I remember he bought a car for £15, when he was old enough to drive- there were no driving tests. One Saturday four of us went to a dance at Austrey. Eddie Johnson and I were at the back, Tom driving of course and Elaine Johnson to partner him. He ran over a rabbit and killed it on Austrey Hill and Eddie and I had to have its dead body at the back with us. There were no boots to the cars then. I was horrified but Tom was determined to get the rabbit home for his Mother to stew for their dinner.

Mr Eyre was the Blacksmith and his forge was in Church Street. He shod the horses and worked with metal. He had a son Reg who was a few years older than I was. He played the piano very well and worked at ‘Snowden’s’, a men’s Clothing’, store in Leicester.

Bert Gresley, the father of Ivy, a friend of mine, was a carpenter, joiner and undertaker. Mr Jones was an undertaker too. He made coffins and arranged the funerals. There were a number of public houses in the village. The Black Horse was opposite our Post Office. That also was run by Jones but not related to the undertaker Jones. These Jones came from Birmingham and “were different”. Mrs Jones actually had her hair dyed, sang very well and I believe she was very popular with the men. Mr Jack Jones also owned a lorry and delivered coal from the colliery to people’s homes. They had five children, Alma, my age, Denis, Ronnie, Iris and Dawn. I believe this was the most popular pub, probably because Mrs Jones was the attraction! There was no food in pubs then, except crisps. The floors had tiles on them (quarried) and there were spittoons with sawdust in them. They had a piano in the main room and it was very jolly and noisy in Saturday nights. They sang “Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage, But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle made for two” It was a favourite. They sang “Show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I want to go to bed, I had a little drink about an hour ago and its gone right to my head”, “There ain’t no sense sitting on a fence all by yourself in the moonlight”, was popular.

There were two more public houses in Church Street: The Crown and The Adelaide, which has been demolished. In Appleby Parva, which we called Overtown there was the Moore’s Arms with the Moore’s coat of arms on the pub sign. The Moores had the hall and the Grammar School built. The hall was demolished before the First World War. The Moore’s Arms was extended in the 1980”s, ruined and renamed “The Appleby Inn”. Four public houses in one little village!

Now the farms! Of course there was Granddad Rowland’s where I was born at The Homeleys. I remember staying there for a few weeks because Brother Barry had scarlet fever. It was winter and the house was bitterly cold. I slept in a double bed with Auntie Lizzie. Auntie Edna had married Edward Miller. Poor Auntie Lizzie got up about 5am every day for years to help on the farm and she never had a holiday. She had to light the kitchen fire and boil the kettle for a cup of tea. She carried buckets of milk from the cowsheds across the yard to the “cooler” near the back door. It was not very hygienic. There was a calf shed quite near and the stables were not far away and of course there was the manure heap. No wonder there were so many flies around in the summer! Sticky flypapers were suspended from a nail on the ceiling and the flies stuck to them- rather revolting really. The milk was collected into tall churns twice daily – early morning and evening after the cows had been milked. The churns were loaded into a cart; about 4 or 5 of them, pulled by a horse called Marquis. Auntie Edna delivered the churns to Snarestone Station and they were taken to some dairy by train. We children would be allowed to go to the station with Auntie Edna as a special treat. I loved it and as I got older I was allowed to drive. We both sat on the seat and I’d pull the reins and shout “gee-up” and away we’d go. Other village farmers would be taking their milk to the station too and of course we knew them all and would shout to each other. Frankie Varnan had a lighter faster horse than all the others and he would sometimes overtake us. He also stood up to drive and I admired him. He had two sons: Tony and Robin but I do not remember them ever being with him.

Wardle’s had a farm near the Grammar School and Saddingtons had another nearby. Clamps farm was across the fields and Daisy Clamp married my Uncle Walter, Mother’s brother. Ward’s were at Westhill farm in Overtown or Appleby Parva. Fizaterly’s (I am unsure of the spelling) farm was on the main road or the turn-pike as we called it. It was the road from Ashby to Tamworth.

It was all mixed farming. They all had milking herd and then there was the arable side. Certain fields grew the grass for hay to feed the animals. There were fields of corn, potatoes and turnips, and of course mangolds to feed the cattle in winter. There were no tractors until the late 30’s and Granddad didn’t have one.

 Growing Up

We sat the ‘eleven plus, scholarship exam. Those with high grades went to Ashby Grammar School. We felt very superior in our navy blue uniform and always wore gloves, even in the summer, with navy blue tunics, white blouses and awful lisle stockings. We called them our liver lisles. Ashby Girl’s Grammar School was in Nottingham Road; quite a pleasing brick building with pleasant grounds. Until a few years before it had been a fee paying school and there were boarders whilst I was there. Some teachers obviously thought the ‘scholarship’ children inferior, ‘working class’ even! The Headmistress was Miss Champion and the Deputy Miss Hemming. Miss Bayford took Geography, Miss Keswick History. Miss Crawford took Maths and I was very fond of her. I had Reynard’s Disease and in the cold weather my hands would go ‘dead’. It seemed to bother Miss Crawford and she would rub my hands to try to get the circulation back into them.

I was good at maths; Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry. I hated Gym and all games. In the summer we played tennis and netball, hockey and shinty in the winter. I wasn’t keen on netball but I was a good ‘shooter’ because of my height I suppose. I was a fast runner and actually won races on Sports Day, which parents attended. We got points for our ‘House’. There were four Houses; Ferrers, Huntingdon, Hastings and Loudon. I was in Ferrers. All four had been important families in the area. Ferrers were from Staunton Harold Hall, and the other three, from Ashby Castle. After two years I dropped Latin and took what was then called Domestic Science.

I left school at sixteen after the School Certificate and doing quite well. At that time I intended to become a Norland Nanny. I loved babies and little children and imagined that I’d be able to travel with their families and see the world. The next two years I was a Nursery Nurse at Chepstow Street School which was off Wharf Street in Leicester. Actually I knew nothing of Nursery Nurses, until my friend Eddie Johnson, who was living in Leicester at that time, told me about them. Most Infant Schools in Leicester at that time had Nurseries for three and four year olds. Most Nursery teachers just had Infant Qualifications, but Miss Bowie, who took the four year olds had a Nursery qualification and was very knowledgeable. This stood me in good stead. Every morning at 6-45 am, I left Appleby, biked to Measham, got a bus to Ashby and then went by train to Leicester. I then had a good walk from the station to school. I had Mary Taylor’s company. She worked at the ‘Mercury’ offices and became the Mercury’s ‘Auntie Susie’ who did a page, weekly for children. She had been at the Grammar School with me and they lived at a house that my Dad owned. She played the piano very well.

I loved being with the little children who all wore little overalls. Actually it was a socially deprived area and after the war the houses and school were demolished and the families rehoused on Braunstone Estate in new houses with bathrooms etc. I remember telling my father that the people would be quite different if they had decent houses with gardens. He told me that I was naïve and that they would turn their new houses into ‘slums’ and he was correct. Years later I worked a Benbow Rise School on the estate and it was a real eye opener!

The War Years

I was at Christow Street School from September 1937 to July 1939 and by that time we had moved from Appleby Magna Post Office to Tuckers Holt, Newton Burgoland. Dad was building the house for us at Desford. He bought two plots and intended building two houses but the second did not materialise because of the war. I quite enjoyed our few months living at Tuckers Holt. There were the two cottages, a bungalow where ‘Old Liz’ livedand two fields, the top one having a huge deep pond where clay had been dug out years previously. It had been stocked with fish and was very attractive. I had to bike to Heather every morning. I left my bike at a farm and then caught a bus to Leicester. Tuckers Holt had no mod cons. The toilet was down the garden of course and no water laid on. We used to cycle to Appleby, Ibstock and Ashby. There was no bus service. Jack and Bill Wallace lived with their parents at a farm up a drive nearby. Jack played the piano and the piano accordion, and Bill the violin. We had musical evenings two or three times a week at our house or at theirs.

I played the piano, Jack the accordion and Bill his violin. I was the weak one but I improved with their help and all of the practice that I had. ‘Ramona’, ‘My Wonderful One’, ‘When You And I were Seventeen’ were all favourites. Mrs Wallace would bring in cocoa and hot toast with dripping on it. They were an unusual family. Mrs Wallace worked harder on the farm than her husband did and Bill helped too. Jack was a brick-layer and started to work for Dad. Mr Wallace could play the piano though I never heard him, but he had an organ on the landing. I remember a few occasions when Jack, Bill, Barry and I sat on their stairs whilst he entertained us. He had a good voice and of course we all sang. Happy days- but how different from 1999! No T.V.

Jack Wallace
Jack Wallace

I have a photo of Jack helping with the hay-making. They would come to our house and we’d play for hours - brother Barry doing percussion with two bits of wood or anything. Mother and Dad must have been fed-up and both Jack and Bill had big appetites and Mother complained about that. I was 18, Jack 28 and Bill 26 at that time.

I applied for a place at 2 colleges; ‘Derby Lichfield and Southwell Teacher Training College’, at Derby and one at Darlington – both these colleges did a Nursery and Infant course, which was what I wanted. Most just did infant, junior and senior. I accepted a place at Derby where Cousin Evelyna Mary had already done one year.

Now before the starting date in September 1939 war was declared. I remember it so well! The Friday before that Sunday Mother and I had to cycle to Ashby and everybody was talking about the possibility. Neville Chamberlain had been to Germany and came back declaring “No War” and some gullible people believed him. I had read books about what was happening in Germany – their treatment of the Jews etc and how they had been stock-pilling ammunition etc for years so that the Nazis could rule  Europe. One book was by Philip Gibbs who had lived in Germany and I remember when I told my family of my fear, Dad said “Another war–monger - throw the book on the fire”. How naïve he was! That Sunday morning Jack and Bill Wallace came to our house as their one and only wireless was broken. At 11 am Chamberlain made his speech and announced “We are now at war”. Jack Wallace although he was a farmer’s son broke down and said “ I cannot even kill a cockerel, I couldn’t kill people”. He joined the London Fire Brigade when he was called up and must have been in great danger, but he survived. They both returned home very subdued. Soon after mid-day all the sirens sounded; I suppose to war us what it would be like if there was an air raid. Although I had not met my husband Bob then he told me that he and all the reserve ex-army men went across to France on the Friday. There were no air raids here or in France for a few months and our soldiers enjoyed themselves and had a good time with the French girls.  As a result of the war starting, college was delayed until a safer place could be could be found. Elvaston Castle as it happened.

I must mention Donald Hulse. I was at the Grammar School with Mabel Hulse and we became friends. At this time they lived at a farm at Shellbrook, near Ashby and I visited there. Mabel and Donald left school when their father died and they moved to a smaller farm, Grange Farm Netherseale. When I was about sixteen, Evelyna Rowland, Ivy Greasley and Mary Taylor cycled to a wooden hut on Saterday afternoons for ballroom dancing lessons; one hour for 1/6d. Mr Wilman took the lessons and he had a young helper called Bernard who was a bit older than we were. I think Mr Wileman was probably in his late forties. He was only a small man but well built. He had made a name for himself in the ballroom dancing world. He judged local dancing contests and apparently did the same at Blackpool where a ballroom dancing competition was held annually. He was an excellent teacher and a good leader; you just could not go wrong when dancing with him. We did the usual waltz, quick waltz, foxtrot, quick step, military two step, rumba, samba, St Bernard’s waltz, palais glide and barn dance. I wished that he was taller. My height was a disadvantage I thought. It gave me an inferiority complex. I do not know where Donald and Mabel learned to dance but they had lessons somewhere. Donald was a good dancer and he was tall, about 6’2”, the right height for each other.

In those days whilst drives and dances were held periodically in all of the villages and we knew all the local bands. Usually there were about half a dozen men; a pianist, two violinists, someone on the drums and sometimes a soloist. We would sing as we danced. On the wireless bands played regularly; Henry Hall, Jack Payne and Rob Roy Geraldo. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves; refreshments at the interval though nothing intoxicating, just tea, coffee and minerals. Some of the men did not attend until after 10pm which was closing time at the public houses. My Donald was not like that. I don’t think he ever went into a pub. Actually he was different from most of the farmers’ sons with whom we mixed. He had been a fee paying student at Ashby Boys’ Grammar School and he did very well in his exams. He was a big reader and liked poetry so he sometimes had his leg pulled. He used to read poetry to me when we were alone.

The Appleby dances were held at the Grammar School, which the Moore family from the Hall had had built. Wilson, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wrenn had been the architect. We went to dances at Snarestone, Nethersele and a dear little village called Lullington and others. Ashby Young Farmers and Burton Young Farmers were big affairs. We wore ankle length dresses and tarted ourselves up with satin shoes to match our dresses and we had pretty little beaded handbags. I remember we were at Lullington village hall one night during the War and there was a waltzing competition with prizes for the winners. Those competing, danced round the hall, then the music stopped and one couple was eliminated; then the procedure was repeated time and time again until one winning couple was left. Donald refused to enter but I persuaded him and lo and behold we were left on the floor as the couples decreased. I remember he was quite annoyed and said that we were making an exhibition of ourselves. Anyway we were down to three couples, then two; then we were the winners. I had a box of chocolates. Chocolates were rationed so where they came from I do not know; black-market or from the Yanks.

There was no electricity in that village in those days, just two smelly lamps hanging from the ceiling. A boxer lived in the village. He was a sparring partner for Larry Gains. One night he came to the dance after 10pm, the worse for drink. He grabbed a partner, sang at the top of his voice and made a nuisance of himself, then he turned the lamps out and the room was in darkness. People were bumping into each other whilst someone hunted for a torch and others struck matches to lighten the darkness. Eventually a torch was found and the Vicar stood on a chair and lit the lamp only for the boxer to blow it out again. It took about half a dozen men to restrain him and lock him out of the hall.

As petrol was rationed; no petrol at all for pleasure, you may wonder how we travelled around. Farmers and their sons were not called into the Forces. Farming was a reserved occupation as of course we needed their produce even more than ever as food was not available from abroad. They also had a petrol ration to be used just for their work, but they often used their cars for pleasure. They put a few eggs, vegetables or chickens in the car and could pretend that they were making deliveries. The local policemen also turned a blind eye and were rewarded with a turkey at Xmas or a few eggs or butter occasionally. It was very wrong really. The War made some of the farmers who had never been so well off and lived off the fat of the land. I’m sorry to say that I enjoyed their life style.


Brothers Barry and Peter were in the Forces and other friends and relations too and we were always afraid for them. When I was at Wyvern Avenue School I would go over to Netherseale to a dance. I went from Leicester on the Coalville, Ashby and Burton Line, which ran through Desford and Donald would meet me at Gresley station and sometimes deliver me back there in the ‘early’ morning to get me back to school if there had been a dance during the week. Every night on the radio from 10pm until 12 there was a dance band. When I stayed there during the holidays Mabel and her Mother would go to bed and we pushed the furniture in the dining room back to the wall, took up the hearth mat and danced on the lino covered floor. Happy days!

I helped on the farm. I collected the eggs and fed the hens, shouting “Cluck, cluck, cluck!” Occasionally I drove the tractor. He had two tractors; a biggish Fordson and a smaller one we called ‘Little Alice’ as it was an Alice Chalmers. I remember muck spreading with Donald. I drove and he spread the manure. I chain harrowed fields by myself for him. We both loved walking. I also went to sales at Burton and Lichfield with him. He went to the livestock sale and I went shopping. We once brought back a little calf in the car, wrapped in a sack. There were no boots in cars then. I found hay making and working in the corn fields, very hard work. It was too tiring for me. They had quite a social life, mixing with farmer friends. Mrs Hulse said that farmers were “The salt of the Earth”. They felt rather superior.

The relationship ended as towards the end of the War, thousands of troops were being wounded or killed every day. My family were very worried as Peter was in the infantry and Barry was at sea. Our friends and relations were also very unhappy and dreaded receiving a telegram notifying them that a loved one had been killed. One day I was staying with the Hulses and Mrs Hulse read aloud from a daily paper that we were not making a lot of progress on the continent. She said that “They should throw more men in.” I lost my temper and I suppose that I was very rude to her and said, “It’s alright for you, none of your men will be thrown in, you’ve got no worries and live well etc.” They were very annoyed and so was Donald. I think I packed and went home. I regretted my outburst later and missed Donald very much. I was very miserable. Later they moved to a farm at Owthorpe near Nottingham and I never saw him again. Neither he nor Mabel ever married. What a waste of a life! Actually I did catch sight of them in their garden in ’97 or ’98. I knew where they lived as Florence, a friend of my friend Sybil, when she lived at Wollaton, told me. She lived a Tollerton, just South of Nottingham and only about five miles from Owthorpe. Their farm was quite near the road and when I took Florence to visit her friend Nance at Newark. I had a detour and drove by but never saw Donald or Mabel. Then, a few years ago I was taking some local ‘girl ‘friends to the Vale of Belvoir which we loved and we decided to explore villages that we were not familiar with. We got to Owthorpe and I slowed down as we got near to the farm and there they both were. Donald was bald with a fringe of snow white hair round his head. How he had changed and so had I in fifty years! I did not stop. I knew that he would not recognise me.

I was at Wyvern Avenue School when the War in Europe ended. Of course it was a time for celebration; street parties, dancing lights on outside; all trying to forget for a while the millions of young men who would never come home-boys of 17 and 18. It was not a happy time for my family. Of course we had no phone and that evening the Police arrived at our door in Manor Road to tell us that my brother Peter had been badly wounded the day before the War terminated. He had been taken to hospital at Burnham on Sea near Weston Super Mare. Mother, Dad and I decided to go there immediately. Dad had a car but during the War we were not allowed to use them. I had a little white Sealyham dog called Jane (Jane Elizabeth) and I had to arrange for friends to have her at their house. I remember it was evening and we had to change at Birmingham station. He had shrapnel in his lungs and liver, we were told and he was to have an operation next day. We were advised to keep away from the hospital until early in the afternoon following surgery in the morning. We mooched about Weston all morning very upset about the situation. When we arrived at the hospital we were told that the doctor wanted to talk to us. They had decided that he was too ill to operate on and that there was very little hope for him. We sat by his bedside while he drifted in and out of consciousness. I went back home to Jane and my parents stayed for a week or two. Well it was like a miracle. He gradually improved and they were able to operate a few weeks later.

He was in that hospital for months in a little ward with two other men. I went down to visit during the school holidays and stayed for a few days. One of the young men had been in the Parachute Regiment. They had parachuted into Holland, behind enemy lines in the dark. Somehow the Germans knew about it, through their spies I suppose and they were just waiting for them. Their search lights light up the skies and they were shot in mid-air. Fortunately this boy got to the ground and hid in a hen pen. He was found and he became a prisoner of war. He was only about twenty and most of his mates had been killed. The other patient was Welsh; we called him ‘Taffy’. He had been a civilian in the war and had cancer of the lungs. He was much older than we were, about forty-five, an old man! 


As Peter and the other young man improved they were able to walk in the grounds. The sea was not far away and eventually they were able to walk to the beach. I remember pushing Taffy in a wheel chair with the other two hanging onto the handles and walking very slowly. Taffy had his top-hat on top of the wardrobe and he insisted on wearing it on our little excursions. We must have looked a picture!

After the War

When the war with Germany finished and that with Japan came to an end a few months later, I was at Wyvern Avenue School. I decided that I would like to make a change in my life and I had always loved the sea and fancied living on a little island, I applied for posts in the Scilly Isles, Guernsey and Jersey. I was accepted at all three without an interview. I had to choose. The advantage of the Channel Isles was that I would be near to another country to visit and explore. I really knew very little about the islands, except that they were occupied by the Germans in the War, so I went to the library and did a bit of research. I decided on Guernsey, as it was the smaller of the two. I think everybody thought that I was mad and would not be happy there. How wrong they were!

  Eileen Lower (née Chapman)

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