Skip to main content

My First Jobs

I had to clean everyone's shoes and put them in the monk's bench in the hall, and they had to be absolutely parallel.


When I was fourteen, I got a job as a general help, working for Mr and Mrs Percy Lilburn, who had a fresh fish shop in Gosforth. I didn’t like Mrs Lilburn, or her daughter Florence, who was only two years younger than I; she made my life unpleasant. I got very good food there, fresh halibut, fresh salmon, lobster, game and chicken. It was a nice modern house in Seatonville Road at Monkseaton. Mrs. Lilburn did the washing, except the scrubbing and I had to do that under her direction; she used Fel’s Naptha soap, much superior to the blue mottled.

I put on a lot of weight from about 7½ stones to nine stones. She used to mock the home-made flannelette night-gowns that Mother had made for me and said my dresses were childish. Her daughter went to a private school in Newcastle and wore brown uniforms. She must not have had much idea about poverty or she was simply disdainful. I only stayed about fifteen months as Mother became unwell and I came home to help her.

I did the black leading of the range, an hour’s job and cleaned the steel fender, a half hour job, and scrubbed the living room floor and helped with the washing. She was up ironing till 2.00 a.m., and I used to get up and make her a cup of tea. I asked to be allowed to do the ironing, but she would only allow me to do the pillowcases and handkerchiefs, she was so particular about the quality of her work.

My older sister worked for Mr and Mrs Bates in Bygate Road Monkseaton, quite near the railway station. When I was 18, she wrote and asked me if I would come and work for them as cook, as the previous one had left, so I did and I was very happy there, even though I had to work very hard.

There were the parents, two boys and twin girls, who were four years old at that time. Philip was about 11 years, and Tony 9 years old. I was cook and we often had dinner parties. Many things I had never cooked before, but I seemed to have a natural flair, and all turned out well, I got plenty of praise. I seem to have been on the same wavelength as Mr Bates because we really got on well together. He was very fond of me, mind you, he was a stickler for perfection. I had to clean everyone’s shoes and give particular attention to his and put them in the monk’s bench in the hall, and they had to be absolutely parallel. I’ve known him ring the bell and point out if they were not. I never minded that, I’d just chuckle when I got back into the kitchen.

I had to get up at 6.00 a.m. and light three fires: lounge, hall and kitchen. I liked doing the fireplace in the hall; it was a brick, Santa Claus type and the bars of the fire were nice and smooth and used to come really nice with the black lead. The hearth was raised and had to be done like a doorstep with an off-white rubbing stone and smoothed over with a cloth. The kitchen was a triplex and a good oven it was. We also had a gas range in the scullery, oven on the right side, just nice height, no bending down to it and the hobs on the left at the usual height. It was all grey mottle, stove-enamelled, plenty of racks to warm plates.

I had to take the parents a cup of tea to the bedroom at the stroke of 7.00 a.m. The clock still had to be chiming (Mr Bates preciseness again). He was an alcoholic, not seriously so, but he would drink at least half a bottle of whisky during the night, apart from what he had consumed in the daytime, including cocktails when they had visitors in the evenings, which was quite often.

We had many distinguished guests, including Lord and Lady Trevelyan and Dorothy Ward, a principal boy in many pantomimes. I’ve known Mr Bates get me out of bed to meet people and called me their treasure. He used to show my home-made bread to them. His bacon had to be cooked exactly so, crisp but not so it would fly away when touched with the knife.

They had a beautiful rosewood radiogram and he sometimes allowed me to choose which records he should buy. The music was relayed to the kitchen, so I used to enjoy the different dance bands every evening, except when they had visitors and didn’t have it on. They also had a grand piano, when he came in at lunchtime; he never sat down to his lunch without playing Chopin’s Polonaise in A major.

We had a big fridge, which only the rich could afford in 1936. I remember Edward VIII abdicating. We had a hand-washer at first, and later we got a Thor electric one. There was a tremendous amount of washing, which I had to do, six beds going and lots of towels and table linen, as well as clothing. As I said, no easy-care materials in those days. Three of us would be on ironing, Mrs Bates, my sister Ella and myself; we had a pulley airer up above the kitchen fireplace.

I used to make all the birthday cakes for the children and, sometimes, take the twins to the park, or for a walk. We always went to Seahouses for a month’s summer holiday. First time, we stayed in a hotel; it was heaven, no work to do.

I used to go lobster potting with some of the lads I got to know, 6.00 a.m. start. I liked getting up early to look out over the fields; there were so many rabbits sitting there, it would be nearly impossible to step between them; it was a lovely scene. We had plenty of lobsters to eat. They were 5/- each in those days, which sounds cheap now, but I suppose quite expensive to the poorer people. A boy used to come round with new baps at 7.00 a.m. and we would have them for breakfast, also a girl would come round with field mushrooms for breakfast.

I used to go to the 6d dance at North Sunderland which was about 20 minutes’ walk from Seahouses. I met many of the village lads there. It was a real village in those days and there would be only a few names, like the Coxons, Donaldson and Dawsons; such a close community. It must have been very quiet after all the summer visitors went home. Seahouses is spoilt for me now; it is so commercialised. After that, the Bates took furnished houses and I had all the work to do and a lot of cooking, as they invited guests at weekends, which wasn’t so good.

Mr and Mrs Bates would arrange for us all to go out to the Farne Islands; they were lovely. There were black rabbits and lots of sea birds. Part of the Farnes is now a bird sanctuary. I was courting Alfie, my present husband, by then and he was welcome to come and stay at Seahouses when there was room at the furnished house. I met him down the docks with his mate who paired off with the sister of a school friend of mine. He had a bicycle so I had to get one. I bought a Raleigh at North Shields; it cost £4.10s and I paid for it at 2/6d per week. He was also allowed to come to the Bate’s home in Monkseaton; they thought him a suitable match.

I could give him a bottle of beer or anything; there was always plenty. My sister left to get married 18 months before we got married and we got a new maid, Edith. We got on well together and we still visit her and her husband at Whitley Bay. On my 21st birthday, Mr Bates took me to Newcastle and bought me a beautiful green coat and then took me for a drink at the Robin Hood in Murton village.

If you've enjoyed this memory and would like to share a story of your own why not go to our Contact Page to find out more.