Not long after moving to Eton Wick I was eight years old. My eldest sister Florence was married to Jack Emery who had just come home from India and was demobbed from the army. I have never forgotten it because I was left out. You see I had no clothes, in fact, I was in rags, and if I remember correctly I had old plimsolls on. Being a small house the place was crowded with people. This was at 11, Castle View Terrace, close to Dorney Common. "Klondyke" we called it.
I got fed up with playing in the garden so I went indoors but was soon sent out again because of the state I was in. All that I had an eye for were the blancmanges and jellies on the table. I remember Mum and Ethel grabbing hold of me and telling me to stop in the garden and when it was all over they would put some by for me. I was satisfied with that and played in the garden watching until they all went. Then I went straight indoors to have a feed as I had been outside all day but all I saw was a pile of empty plates and dishes ready for washing-up. Mum and Ethel said that I had been out of sight and out of mind they had forgotten all about me. I don't remember what they gave me or if they had anything left to give. That was my first taste of weddings and after that, I made a point of cleaning out the saucepans after use. It is a thing that I have done ever since even at my own wedding.
Soon after that, we moved to Clifton Cottages at the other end of the village and that is where I first met Mum's family. After that, we always played together.
When I was nine years old we had a P.C. Pheasant as constable of the village and no way did he like the Stannett family. Of course, it may have been us kiddies, we used to play pranks on people.
There were no lights along the Eton Wick Road and it was always dark when we came out of school at Eton. There was a road at the side of us called The Walk. It was a private road. Then, because it was the first of May, all the cattle from the farms were let loose on the common. A rope had to be tied across the top of The Walk by law. My grandfather who looked after it all day from 8 am to 9 pm received one shilling for keeping the traffic off the road for the day.
At the side of The Walk was a grocer's shop, a paper shop and a sweet shop. I was helping Dad cut wood for kindling which would be sold. I asked John Brewer, my pal and Mum's brother, to fetch a long piece of string to go across the top of The Walk. I tied this to a bundle of wood which I placed on the path. The women always wore aprons in those days for groceries etc. When coming out of the shop they would pick up the wood and put it in their aprons. We would let them walk a few yards then pull it out. One or two would drop all their groceries so the women complained to P. C. Pheasant who, of course, had to come round to the Brewers and the Stannetts. He had a strong suspicion that it was us. Round about that time he was always threatening Dad, I heard him say that he would get him one day.
I must tell you about the time we had nothing in the house. I was ten years old. George, Sydney and I used to go around the hedges of the fields to catch birds roosting. George and Syd used catapults so as not to make a noise. It was surprising how many birds we caught. I went along to carry them home and didn't we have some lovely feeds.
At that time I was chopping wood for Dad. Mr. Bunce, who was a small dairy farmer, came to see Dad to ask him if he would empty a few cesspits for him at £5 a time. They were overflowing and because of the complaints he had to get someone quickly so he asked Dad who said, " Yes, just the job to make a few *shillings!”
Dad had a tank which was used to take sludge to the allotments from the pigsties. So he asked me if I would help him including holding the horse's head. It was a chance for me to stop up a bit later so I did. Dad told all the neighbours so they shut all their windows because of the smell floating about. We had four to do, two that night and two the next.
The difficulty was that they were situated near houses. Bunce supplied my Dad with a fifteen-foot pole with a bucket on the end and a shorter pole with a scoop on the end.
It was a long time since they had been cleaned. When one took the cover off it could be seen that the sludge was a foot thick and sometimes more. So we had to use the scoop before the bucket. It only took an hour. We emptied the tank three times for each cesspit taking the loads to the allotments.
The next night Bunce came round to see how we were getting on. "Alright." I said, "but it don't half make your hair grow." Of course, Dad and Bunce saw the funny side and burst out laughing.
Then we found out why Bunce had come. He wanted Dad to get into the cesspit with a crowbar and make a few holes in the bottom so that more water would drain away. Dad replied, "What do you take me for! If I did that in time I would have to dig it all out." "I suggest you get down and do it yourself."
We did them for another six months then we lost the job. I said to Dad that it seemed as if he had got somebody to make the holes for him.
This is an extract from the autobiography written by Oliver James Stannett (1903 - 1988) and republished here with the kind permission of his relatives who still live in Eton Wick.