Monday, November 24, 2014


As you know after P.R. said he no longer wanted them with him, my grandmother had moved on with my mum and her sister Amy, and were now living in North Street, Hornchurch.  Here we have the story of their life during that time as described in mum's book.  This would be in ca1907, over one hundred years ago and it IS mum's story and not mine.

Excerpt from "THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston.  (published in 1983).

"Hornchurch was a charming old country place.  There were no cars or public vehicles at that time, and most people either walked short distances, rode horses, bicycles, tandems or tricycles.  We often saw the Anglican and Non-Conformist ministers riding their tricycles side by side down North Street, and chatting away very amicably. There was never any question of bad feeling between them and everybody went to one church or the other.  I never saw a Catholic nun or priest as far as I can remember.   I recollect crossing fields and climbing stiles while the bells were ringing for church, and memory brings back how beautifully clear and delightful they sounded across the English countryside.

I went to school at Hornchurch, it may have been for the first time, and while very young I started to sing and recite, and was often selected by my teachers to take part in concerts and eisteddfods.  I was put forward to complete at the Crystal Palace as a soloist and, to my surprise, I took first prize and a certificate in my grade.  I also obtained gold medals for elocution.  (Note: my mum always had a wonderfully clear speaking voice with what is often called an "Oxford acccent".)   One particular poem that comes to mine is the "Cry of the Children" by Elizabeth Browning, applicable in some countries even today.  It was one of my successes.  It was here in Hornchurch I also learned maypole dancing, the Irish Jig, Scottish reels, and many country dances.  One of the latter was called 'dibbing', and I have since remembered that it represented making holes for the planting of potatoes.  Little did I think at that time that it would be my fact in Australia to plant hundreds of acres of potatoes.

It was at this time in my life that I felt the need for music and started to play the piano.  Amy had the good fortune to have been given seven years first class tuition on the piano, and although she was never an inspired or really good pianist, she played accurately and had a good contralto voice.  My father would not pay for me to be taught as Amy had failed to shine, but mother managed to give me a little tuition and, as I thoroughly enjoyed playing, I leaned to sight read anything, and often spent hours playing to relieve tension.  For years I played accompaniments for people and this gave me a great deal of pleasure.  (Note: We had a piano in our home and my brother Len had a wonderful baritone voice.  Our family would gather around the piano and mum would play the accompaniments while the rest of us sang so many wonderful songs.  With Len being such a good singer it seemed to inspire the rest of us to sing our best as well.  Mum also had a lovely contralto voice.  I remember those 'sing songs' with so much happiness).

When Amy left college she obtained a position as Secretary/Linguist in a solicitor's office in London and travelled up and down each day.  The local conveyance known as 'Drake's bus', drawn by one horse, and which held about four people, stopped at the door to pick her up each morning and brought her home from the station each night.  If we needed the bus, unless previously arranged, we had to put up a small flag by the gate.  As far as I remember the station was about 1 mile away, and the church, standing in what was called the Dell, also about 1 mile distant.

As a child I was very intrigued by the old church and its bull's horns, after which the town was named.  Nobody seemed to know their significance.  I later discovered that the church had been a priory and the horns were said to have been placed on the church by a whore in expiation of her sins.  (Note:  That sounded a little far-fetched to me so I have endeavoured to find the history of those horns and the only explanation I could find was this:  "At the east end of the roof is a bull's head statue, which is a unique feature to find on a church.  However, in 1222 the first written reference to the church refers to the monasterium cornutum or horned church at Havering.  There are numerous legends and theories to explain the existence of the horns, but the truth remains obscure.  This is an extract from "The history of St Andrew's Church."  It goes on to say "In 1610 the horns were thought to have been made of lead but when they were repaired in 1824 they were found to be made of copper.  In 1999 the copper horns were stolen from the bull's head.  They were never recovered and new horns replaced them in 2001.")

I must have been about 10 years old and Amy 17 when mother decided to have a photograph taken of us.  As was the fashion, Amy was wearing long skirts and had her hair up with a ridiculous hat perched on top, and was sitting on a chair.  I stood alongside in a short white frock, my fair curly hair almost covered by a mushroom shaped hat, and with a most silly look on my face.  Mother was very proud of this photo and brought it out for exhibition on every possible occasion until, all of a sudden, it could not be found.  Amy and I had seen to it that it had disappeared.  I feel rather guilty now, but it was not flattering of either of us.

Infectious diseases were much more common than they are today, and we had none of the protective needles now obtainable to prevent measles, diptheria, scarlet fever or whooping couch.  At that time the poor victim of scarlet fever had to spend six weeks in an infectious diseases hospital, whereas it can now be stopped in twenty-four hours.

I fell victim to diptheria and was very ill.  My mother nursed me at home.  The house was a double storey with four bedrooms, one being quite isolated which was my abode.  Mother came in and out wearing a long white gown similar to that worn by the doctor, and there was a sheet hung outside the door which was dipped in disinfectant each day to prevent infection.

Mother must have been very weary because she could not have the usual help with the cleaning and washing owing to the risk of infection, and, as I was very ill indeed and my life was despaired of, she had to give me had constant attention.  As always, she was wonderful and we never heard a grumble from her.  Neither mother nor Amy caught the illness due, no doubt, to her very great care,  Mother was very popular with the neighbours and church people, and many folks sent me in flowers and delicacies as soon as I was able to have them.  One I very much enjoyed was pure orange jelly served in the orange peel; not too sweet and wonderful for my throat.  Strange how one remembers such a thing from so long ago.  I can visualise the woman who made it but her name eludes me.  It took me a while to pick up from the illness and I still have some slight disability from it.  (Note:  Mum had what is called a 'diptheric heart' and doctors, when checking her pulse, would make note of an irregular heart beat.  That heart managed to be there for mum until her demise in 1985 and was not the cause of her death.)

I will leave mum there and in the next chapter she is off to college and then find a suitable position of work. 


  1. Thank you Mimsie. This is fascinating. In many ways lives were much harder - but also simpler.

    1. You are welcome EC. I definitely think lives were much harder in many ways back then but without the dreadful complications of the modern world. We are fortunate that modern medicine has advanced to our advantage but to me there is not a lot else to recommend the world we now live in.

  2. Hari Om
    This continues to delight Mimsie, and I love your little 'asides'! Looking forward to the next.

    Hope you continue to 'pick up' from your own recent tussle with health matters. Hugs, YAM xx

    1. Thanks Yam, your comments are always very much appreciated as are your visits to my humble blog.
      As I re-read mum's book I reminisce on events in my life that are associated with her and enjoy leaving notes to show how there is a continuum.
      I am still keeping my head above water. sometimes only just but they say only the good die young so hopefully I'm here for the long haul. xxx

  3. I love these stories of times gone by.

    1. Thanks Delores for your visit and your kind comments.
      I am enjoying once again reading mum's memoirs as her young life was so different to mine even though she was born only 34 years before me.

  4. Very unusual to have a bulls head with horns on a church.
    My sister has a lovely clear speaking voice too, she doesn't have the flatness that comes from partial deafness that my brother and I have.
    How awful that your mum had diptheria, but lucky that she survived to have you.

    1. Yes the bulls horns seem not to have any real reason for being there but obviously cause much comment. Pity to hear someone stole the copper ones but with copper fetching such high prices I'm not at all surprised.
      I've always had a problem with hearing in my left ear (much worse these days) but not noticed if my voice is 'flat' or not. Perhaps I just don't listen to myself closely enough to have noticed.
      Mum I am sure only survived her bout of diptheria because of the dedicated nursing of her mother.

  5. It should be noted that Hornchurch ceased to be in Essex in 1965. Ever since Hornchurch has been in London, in the London Borough of Havering.