Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The Story of Oliver James Stannett in his own word - A Job on the Railway and Getting Married

After being at home for several weeks I was seventeen and a half years old. The Railway did not take boys over sixteen but when they read the reference that Mr. Stillwell had given me I was told to start work on Monday morning at eighteen shillings a week.

The shifts were 8 am. to 4 pm. , 6 pm. to 3 am. and 11 pm. to 8 am. There were twenty four of us, working in six gangs of four. I enjoyed the night work because we had time and a quarter from 10 pm. to 6 am. On Saturday nights we were paid time and a half from midnight to 8 am. which gave us an extra 8 shillings a week. The trouble was that we had to do this in turns, the gangs being rostered for six weeks. I had a little extra for myself.

When I was in the stables Mum gave me sixpence pocket money every week. Most of us went to the 'pictures' every Saturday night which was tuppence (2d.). When we came out we had 'one and one' on a plate at the fish and chip shop in Peascod Street in Windsor. A large piece of fish and the plate piled up with chips. None were ever left and we did enjoy them!

We had no money to take girls out. I still did not have a shirt on my back and I was very shy where girls were concerned. There were several in the village who had tried very hard to get me to take them out but how could I with no shirt to wear. I still wore the suit that Bert Horton had given me.

I had to walk across the fields to Slough for three years night and morning because I did not have a bike. I liked autumn the best because I went through the fields of turnips and swedes. I had no supper at home so I had a feed of turnips, swedes and wheat which lasted me until 3 am. when we stopped for an hour to eat.

Should a coalman, tube cleaner, boiler washer or lighter up not turn up then one of us had to go on the job for which we received an extra shilling a week for doing labourers' work. Their rate of pay was eight shillings a day so I was able to save a few shillings.

One day I happened to walk indoors and saw Mabel Brewer who was our neighbour. I never forgot the picture she made sitting in front of the fire in a long pink dress. So we got talking and Mum suggested that I take Mabel to see The Beggar's Opera which was on at a Windsor theatre and we both agreed. I liked Mabel very much, she was a proper tomboy and was the only girl who would play with us when we were younger.

When she left school she was put into service where most of the girls went at that time. She was working at St. Winifred's Girls School in Eastbourne as Head Chambermaid. We wrote to each other and I longed for the school holidays so that we could become engaged.

Then after two years Mabel got a job at a hotel in Staines as Parlour Maid. After eighteen months we were married in 1925. We found two rooms in Church Street, Slough at 22/6d. a week. My income at that time was £2-0-6 a week after stoppages, so we had 8/- to live on.

There was a retired Jew across the road who used to put boxes of fruit and veg. outside. On this occasion, he had put a box of tomatoes at three ha'pence a pound and we could not find the three ha'pence to get any. We had a grill to do the cooking on. Mabel was carrying Ron at the time. We used to get a nice sized piece of meat for the weekend and Mabel usually made soup with the bone. I came home from work at 2 pm. and Mabel asked me if I wanted some soup. I said, "Yes please!" and I had two plates full. Mabel did not have any because of the babe. I asked, "What did you put in it, some rice?" "No“ She said, "Oh! It must have been the bone that was flyblown!" But it must have given it a flavour because I had two plates of it and it hasn't hurt me.

Then came the 1926 General Strike. I was out of work for ten days so the committee decided to give us ten shillings a week as they were now in funds. I went to the Working Men's Club where all the strike meetings were held. I had decided to go along and see how things were shaping. On the way home through Slough High Street I saw a loaf on the path and people were walking round it so I picked it up. It must have dropped from somebody's basket. A little further along I saw a shilling, I could not believe my eyes. Mabel was very pleased with it. Everything seemed to improve after that and I was very glad to get back to work.

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. The collection of Oliver Stannett's articles can be found by clicking on this link.

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