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As Time Goes By: Through The Weeks In The 1920s

In this wonderfully evocative slice of autobiography Eileen Perrin recreates daily life in the 1920s.


Sometimes in the morning a small gaggle of cows was driven down our street and over the bridge, round to the butcher on the other side of the railway line.

It was Mum’s washing day. First thing she lit the copper with firewood to boil ‘the whites’, stirred down and then lugged out with the copper stick. Then out to the yard for the washing to be put through the mangle. Reckitts blue in the rinsing water, and later on Robin starch in a small bowl for the collars.
For midday dinner we had bubble and squeak with the cold meat from the Sunday joint and two penn’orth of mustard pickle from the little shop over the road, spooned into the cup Mum sent me over with.


The milkman and the baker called as usual and the postman came with a rat-a-tat on the street-door knocker, and we opened the door to collect the post, as we had no letter-box. Dinner was either stew from the lamb bone with three penn’orth of pot herbs (an onion, turnip and carrot) which I was sent round to get at West’s the greengrocer, or cottage pie made with the remnants of roast beef. There might be rice pudding or a bread and butter pudding for afters. Mum did the ironing and hung the pressed clothes to air on lines round the kitchen.


Shopping day, to buy something for dinner, like pig’s fry (liver, kidney, sweetbread, and heart) fried with bacon.
While Mum cooked the dinner I would be playing in the street with the neighbours’ kids. There was Willie Winterbottom (Winterbourne really), Orry Olt (Horace Abbott), Joanie Mannakee, Cheeky and Chappy (Harry Cheek and Georgie Chapman), Bonnie Harris and Edie Wolf (really Wolfsbergen).
The boys would have bags of marbles with bigger marbles called ‘glarneys’, which they aimed for. We all played hopscotch, whip and top, skipping - calling out “Salt, Mustard, Vinegar, Pepper”, and Higher and Higher with the skipping rope (Mum’s old clothes line) held up across the road from pavement to pavement. We always ended with ‘All in together girls, never mind the weather girls’, as we all skipped in the rope, stretched right across the road, with the boys turning it. Sometimes we had ‘What’s the time Mr.Wolf’, but we had to stop that when the water cart came round in the summer, with the lumbering horse pulling the cart and the big water tank spraying out at the back laying the dust.


When the rag and bone man came by, calling out from his pony and cart, ‘Rag, bone, a’ bottle’. Some children gave him bottles and they would get a goldfish in a jam jar in exchange.

If Mum was having the chimney swept, I had to keep well out of the way. I often wondered what the sweep did with the soot he collected. I would take my doll’s pram outside, but that was boring, so they bought me a tricycle, and when I was older I had a scooter.

Boys would often have a home-made scooter - a short plank of wood to stand on with skate wheels at front and back, and an upright bar of wood in front with a cross piece nailed to the top for the handlebar,

Sometimes gypsies came round the doors selling clothes pegs, or clothes props made from young saplings. Dinner might be a stew with sheeps’ tongues and brains, and onions, carrots and pearl barley. Then again, but not very often Mum would take me up Kingsland Road to Cook’s Eel and Pie shop for pie and mash at one of their marble-topped tables. When asked if we wanted ‘liquor’ we always said ‘No’. It was a thin parsley sauce, usually served with their stewed eels. Cook’s sold waxed cardboard tubs of jellied eels for those who liked to eat the delicacy in their own homes, perhaps with a half-pint of ale.


The firewood man called round, in readiness for people who lit the parlour fire at the weekend, and ready for wash day on Monday. On Fridays Mum would black-lead the kitchen grate, with a little brush and Zebo grate polish, I’ve discovered was graphite. Then she would kneel down at the front door to whiten the front doorstep. Clutching her tin of Brasso she went round and polished the door handles of each room.
Shopping for the weekend, after going down Ridley Road market to get beetroot and celery, we might go to Sainsburys for a shoulder of lamb at two shillings and elevenpence, or a nice piece of aitchbone of beef. Then before going home went into Allardyce’s the baker’s for cream horns or Bakewell tarts, not forgetting a small Hovis for Dad.

Friday’s dinner might be sausages. We often brought in a fish and chip supper later, or maybe faggots and pease pudding from the butcher’s shop which stayed open late on a Friday night.


The day usually began with me in bed listening to the strains of O Sole Mio or Back to Sorrento drifting across the railway lines from Bradbury Street where an ex-Merchant seaman played his records on an old perambulator. It was probably Caruso singing, for it couldn’t have been Pavarotti. Since then I have always loved those beautiful songs.
Once I remember a turbaned Indian coming to the door trying to sell the silk scarves he had draped over his arm.
Before dinner Mum would do a bit of light dusting and run the Ewbank over the front room carpet, mopping the lino surround. Then there would be beef stew and dumplings, meat pie or chops. Dad always ate everything she gave him and scraped his plate, and Mum would say “Leave the plate, Fred.”
An afternoon’s bus ride to Chapel Street market, up to London’s Trafalgar Square or Hyde Park. Home for a tea of cheese and celery with a bit of gorgonzola for Dad.


Occasionally a little old man who was a knife-grinder came along the street, hoping for trade, preparing for carving the Sunday joint. My friend Louie Gibbons would call for me and we went to Sunday school. From time to time, and later on in the morning a barrel organ would start playing at the junction end of our road, and then move along to be outside the little ‘four ale bar’ as they called the small pub nearby.
While the dinner was cooking, Mum made Dad a cup of Camp coffee, and I had cocoa. Sunday dinner was roast lamb, or beef with Yorkshire pudding with a tin of sliced peaches or pears for afters, or as a treat for Dad, a jam roly poly or spotted dick and custard.

In the afternoon a man with a coster-monger’s barrow came round calling out ‘Shrimp...water-creese....winkles’ and there would be brown shrimps, or winkles and watercress at tea time, with a Lyons coconut sponge to follow.

Later on, after a game of Ludo or Snakes and Ladders it would be time for me to go to bed.


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