Queenie has been attending the Reminiscence class for two years. Here is her story of growing up:
Florence Mason born in 1920
Florence is known as ‘Queenie.’ It was her dad’s nickname for her – ‘my little Queen – he’d call her.
Queenie grew up in Kings Cross. Her family lived on the third floor, 40 Gifford Street, WC1. All the houses have been knocked down – it’s all flats now Then there was a bakery, an oil shop and a sweet shop down the road. And every street had a pub and the men would stand on the corner and talk.
She remembers the weather being warmer and humid. One of Queenie’s earliest childhood memories is the men coming round the streets with their barrows selling winkles, shrimps and crabs for Sunday tea.
Her grandparents lived on the adjoining street. There was Granny Rodgers, her mum’s mum and her dad’s mum and dad, George William Isaac and Annie Isaac. Families would all live in one house till they could find rooms of their own. Queenie saw her grandparents everyday.
George William Isaac, worked on the boats around the ports. The clothes he wore would make you think he was a sailor – a big thick woolly scarf. He’d say, ‘ Queenie you’re worthy of a good husband. You’re a good girl.’
Queen’s parents were called Florence and George. George came out of the 1914-18 war Company Sergeant Major George Isaac. Her parents grew up in the same street, Bemerton Street, in Kings Cross. Queenie’s mum worked at the Caledonian Market. It was a very big market divided up into sections. Her mum sorted out beigels. The stall was only open twice a week – Wednesdays and Fridays, until 5. Sometimes she would meet her mum at the market and walking back home they would pass Pentonville Prison. The men would put their hands out through the bars and wave at them.
When she was six she was allowed to play out on her own. There was no traffic. She’d sit on the kerb and play marbles. She remembers playing ‘drop, drop, drop in the sea’ a skipping rope game and ‘knock, knock, knock’ where you had to tie a piece of string to a door knocker and then go and find somewhere to hide.
Her family lived in one big room. Her parents’ iron bed was at one end. They put up a curtain across the room and in the other half of the room her brothers had their bed. Queenie had the ‘convenient room’ where the linen was. They ate right up at the other end of the room. They all ate together and listened to the wireless at night. There were sinks on the landing. She used to bath in front of the fire – in a tin bath. They didn’t have electricity only gaslights.
The family shared a backyard where all the laundry was done. After it was washed in the barrel it was put through the wringer. The families in the house would put money together to buy one. Someone had to turn the handle while the washing was put through. You couldn’t put shirts through the wringer as it would break the buttons. Then the rubber wringers came along, they were expensive, but you could put buttoned shirts through them as they didn’t break the buttons. The washing lines were in the backyard. You didn’t have to iron the clothes as they’d gone through the wringer. Later clothes were taken down to the laundry shop. Queenie worked in a laundry shop for a while. You’d pay according to how much washing you had and how much it weighed.
Queenie had to do little things to help out – a bit of dusting, sweeping up. She would empty out the fireplace, keep the oven bright and shiny and keep the hearth white. If there was a wedding down the street people made sure that all the doorsteps were clean and white.
Queenie’s school was in the same street. She started school, Gifford Street Junior School, when she was three and a half and left when she was fourteen. One half of the school was for the boys and the other half for the girls. She remembers that the wooden tables would be turned upside down and sacking would be put inside for the children to sleep in for an hour. They had to wear an overall but there was no uniform. At playtime her mum would come to the school with a bit of bread and jam. Queenie’s favourite subject was Cookery. She was taught her to make stews, cakes and fairy cakes. If you took a penny to school you could take the cakes home with you.
Queenie had two brothers, Georgie and Arthur. She remembers Arthur’s big wooden pram with big wheels. It had to be tied to the railings so it wouldn’t roll away. Her mum had to hold the bannister with one hand and pull the pram up the stairs.
When she was as a teenager she was allowed to stay out till 11pm if she was going to a dance. Her dad had to know where she was. They’d all go out in groups of four or five boys or girls. The boys would walk them all home.
Her first boyfriend was Teddy Beards. He lived in Lime Street. Her brother introduced them. Teddy took her for a walk but she found it difficult to hold his arm. He kissed her one night and he had pimples. Queenie said, ‘I felt the pimples and couldn’t go with him no more. He was horrible.’