Lovely Laindon (Part 8) (4 of 9)

(Chapter 4: Wembley)

Fred Vickery’s second sister, Lilian, was two years older than Fred, and when she left school in East Ham she had decided to join what was becoming a dwindling army of people (although that fact was, at the time, largely unrealised), namely those employed in domestic service. This involved her getting a position in something of an “upstairs downstairs” situation in West London with the staff of the Stephenson family’s home in Kensington Gore, starting at the bottom, as Lilian always said, as a “Skivvy”  or scullery maid working up to and hoping to be considered, perhaps, as suitable for the job of nursery maid. This must have worked because Lilian, my mother, when she had care of the infant me, that well known instrument of “potty” training was never referred to as the “Pot” but as the “Modey”, a childish corruption of the Upper Crust’s  “commode”. That’s how “posh” we were!

The depredations of the First World War upon the members of the Upper Crust meant that many of the more fashionable families of Boroughs like Kensington were compelled to reduce their larger army of domestic staff and this led creation of something of a new breed of “domestic”, a “ living-in” servant. This was not entirely new, because as the Census Returns show, even remarkably humble families can be seen to have “servant” listed among the members of their household in times past. However, often these servants were, in fact near relations of the Householder who were, really lodging at a particular address and paying for their keep and accommodation by acting in the capacity of a servant.

What made the new breed of domestic servant post WW1 different was the fact that, having learned their trade in the Big House as it were, and therefore, knowing the ropes, they were able to add panache to a particular breed of family household occupied by those who aspired to be better than their neighbours. To meet this end, Domestic Servants’ Agencies had proliferated and servants, displaced from the “old” army of domestics from Central London, were accommodated in new, often recently constructed, homes in the suburbs.  It was to one such suburb of London that Lillian Vickery was drawn when seeking further employment after her apprenticeship in Kensington Gore ended. The suburb was Wembley, or more precisely, Wembley Park.

Wembley Park was a part of Middlesex that developed in the way in which the late John Betjeman described so well in his TV programme in which he gave a tour of what he called “Metro-Land”. This particular area of Middlesex, rather like that of Laindon, grew out of the interest shown by a railway developer with ambitions.  In 1880, a big pleasure ground was devised (which included a copy of the Eifel Tower, a project never completed) among whose amusements was a number of sports grounds and playing fields much sought after by various Football teams. Surplus land from this development was sold off for the erection of housing.

The pleasure grounds led to the need for and construction of a new station on the Metropolitan Railway as it made its way through the district from Baker Street to Harrow-on-the-Hill. This station was opened in 1893 as “Wembley Park”. The considerable growing interest in football as a spectator attraction together with its status as a professionally based sport organised into leagues had led to the need for fully established football grounds. By the 1920s there was urgent enthusiasm for a National Stadium to be built and Wembley Park was chosen as the venue. The new stadium opened in 1923 with first FA cup final (known to history as the “White Horse Final”), a match between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham that was of particular interest to Grandpa Vickery as a West Ham supporter. In the same year, Wembley Park became the venue for the British Empire Exhibition which continued on until 1925.

Around that time, Lillian Vickery obtained, after being interviewed by a Mrs Smethurst, the post of a living-in “house-maid” in a newly constructed house in Wembley Park Drive, a position which gave the Smethursts a certain panache in their  social standing. The north end Wembley Park Drive started close to Wembley Park Met station and the south end of the Drive, which was a newly constructed through road linking to Park Lane, a further new road, that led on into Wembley High Street. It was in the area around High Street, Wembley,  that  was the main community activity of the district took place.

With her own bedroom in the house, Lillian accepted this new job and took up residence with the Smethurst family. They consisted of Mr and Mrs Smethurst and a son, John. As a family the Smethursts were not a particularly difficult family to tender to, particularly as they also used a visiting “charlady” to do much of the house work and a visiting gardener to do the gardening. Mr Smethurst was, as they say, something in the “City” who had, as I recall, a box, manufactured from a stiff fibre material which was despatched from the Laundry and which contained his regular weekly supply of freshly laundered, detached and starched stiff shirt collars. This was the kind of special service that it seems was worth paying out for at the time in order to keep up appearances.  Oh, and I do recall they were clearly a Modern Family; they had a Hoover Vacuum Cleaner!

The relationship between Lillian’s employers and herself was quite strange, on reflection, Lillian and Mrs Smethurst, who was only 10 years or so older than her employee, was such that over time, they became very friendly, so much so that the employer/employee relationship virtually appeared irrelevant. Certainly they remained in contact for years after Lillian left their service. The contact survived even when Lillian lived in Laindon and the Smethursts moved back to somewhere in the North of England. Yet, despite this apparent friendship, I cannot recall my mother ever calling either Mrs or Mr Smethurst anything other than “Mr Smethurst” or “Mrs Smethurst”.  Lillian must have known their forenames, but the fact that she used those names when talking to me about them gives some indication of the particular rather odd social mores of the time.

1926 was the year of the General Strike, a period when a lot of people thought there was a Revolution brewing. The social unrest was generally  supposed to have been generated by the private owners of the collieries, on which, it was claimed, so much of British Industry depended. The owners sought to lower the wage level of the miners in the face of cheaper price of imported coal from abroad.  The Trades Union Congress objected to this and called for a General Strike in defence of the miners many of whom had already withdrawn their labour in the face of the wage cut. A lot of Public Meetings were held in response to this threat to normal daily life that a widespread strike would cause. Meetings were called seeking those willing to join the strikers or, at least, to support those who were on strike.  Alternatively, Public Meetings were also being called by those who totally opposed strike action and who were prepared to organise or act in such a way as to be defiant and to keep the economic system running.

It was meetings, meetings, meetings all over the place, because, it must be remembered, the only widespread general means of communication at the time was the printed word, mainly in news-print form. For the majority of people, even the BBC’s Radio Broadcasts were still a novelty. As a Vickery who had, since infancy, been immersed in that same political and philosophical environment which had so influenced both her parents and her other siblings, attendance at these meetings whenever free time allowed it was meat and drink to a young Lillian. Attending sessions arguing in support for the strikers, it was no surprise that she should find herself, often, in the company of others of a similar cast of mind to herself. Among this radically thinking coterie she found herself frequently echoing the views of a young man who was, it seemed, as ready to be, not only as vocal as she was, but also as fully supportive of what she might be contributing to the proceedings. Inevitably, it was not long before she learned that his name was “Stan”, that he lived and worked locally, and, ambitious wise, he and she had very much in common.  They, as it is said, hit it off.

Stanley Bathurst had grown up in West London the seventh child in a family of ten children, two of whom had died in infancy. His parents were Henry and Emily (neé Walker) Bathurst, Henry (or more usually “Harry”) being a postal worker. When Stanley was born the family had been living in a small property in the College Park area of the Harrow Road in Kensal Green, but as the family had outgrown this when he was due to start school, the family had moved to larger premises in Chaplin Road, Wembley, a mere ten minutes from Wembley Central (LMS)Station. In many ways, family life for the Bathursts in Chaplin Road, Wembley, reflected that of family life for the Vickerys in Wolsey Avenue, East Ham and this fact probably accounts for the reason why, when Stanley met his future father and mother-in-law, there was a rapport that was to repay both parties dividends, if for no other reason than that Stan found it easy to slip into that strange, almost mystical sense, of camaraderie and “belonging”, about which the East Enders of old were so proud.

4 of 9

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