Hastings Old Town History.

I was born a Stretton, one of a very poor family of ten (beside the 'Misses' as Mum used to say)! Even though over 70 years have passed I can remember how we used to struggle to survive. In those days there was no Social Security to rely on.

A number of the poor like us lived in All Saints Street, we lived in Tanners Passage. We were not the only large family, there was the Carjoys, nickname the Joy bells, a family of 24 I believe, the mother always had her hair done in a large bun, with Safety Pins. For example at Christmas the only presents we had were from the Mayoress Fund as our parents were too poor to buy any. A lorry would come round on Christmas Day; the boys would be given Socks and Sweets, and then Girls Underclothes and Sweets. There was also a Police Fund for the poor to turn to, where the children could be taken to a Police Station, then situated behind the present Town hall, and the boys fitted out with boots and socks, and the girls with 'Hi-low' boots and two pairs of stockings. I remember the day after I got a pair of boots, my mother got a letter from the hospital for me to go in and have my tonsils and adenoids out. She only managed to persuade me to go to the old RESH (Old Royal East Sussex Hospital) by telling me I was going to a party there. But as soon as I came round after the operation, I had to go all the way home, wrapped in a blanked, because we could not even afford the bus fare, let alone a taxi. I also remember Dad sending my brothers to the top of All Saints Street to find old bicycle tires to use to mend our boots and shoes. Because we were well known as one of the poor families, from time to time Mother would send me to a Mr. Penson at the All Saints Vicarage, for a voucher for two shillings and sixpence for either meat, groceries, bread or coal. I would then either go to Judges in High Street and ask for six pennyworth of stale bread, or to a little further up the road to a butchers call Hollands, and ask for four pennyworth of pieces of lean meat, ( no fat because Dad could not eat it because of an ulcer ). Or further still up the road, I would go to a grocers shop call Smith, and ask for two penny-worth of cheese.

There used to be a shop in All Saints Street, on the high pavement, run by a man called 'Fat Man Keelin', who sold sweets, paraffin etc. We used to buy the paraffin from him, and when he disappeared round the back to fill the cans, some of the kids would pinch a few sweets. The Mothers often guessed where their kids managed to find a few sweets.

Occasionally I would collect six ticket vouchers for soup from a Mr. Lavender in High Street I believe at a Church called St Clements. I would then collect two big washstand jugs from home, and take them down All Saints Street, to the Kitchen underneath the Fisherman's Club. In there was a little woman who was so small she had to stand on a big wooden box to reach to stir the soup, to fill our jugs. On my way back I would have to go into another grocers called Kent, and ask for two penny packets of Lyons Tea. Mum would give me a 'ha-penny' to buy myself a cornet for getting the shopping, in Robinsons, also in All Saints Street. There was a woman who lived at the bottom of All Saints Street, by the mane of Mrs. Gifford. She used to go to jumble sales, for the purpose of buying children's' clothes for the poor families.

I also remember, to make ends meet, being told to take Dad's best suit, shoes and my Mother's wedding ring every week to Wrights the pawnbrokers George Street, to pawn to pay the rent, until the day came when we were told the shoes were no longer fit to repair. As soon as Dad was paid, where he worked at the Power Station at Broomgrove Road, we would reclaim the articles, so that he could go out for a drink at the weekend. On one occasion I was given the money to reclaim my Mother's wedding ring, so that Dad could take her out for a drink that weekend. He was very strict that way. Mr. Wright put the ring on my tiny finger, I was told to keep my hand closed until I got home, but when I arrived home the ring was gone! Dad and I returned and searched everywhere I had walked, without finding it; so we went to Woolworths and bought a ring for six pence. Dad was a very strict man, making us take Liquorice powder every Saturday night. Brother George hated it, and once spat it out in Dad's face. But still had to take another dose, with Dad holding his nose. Father had a habit of leaving his knife and fork open until he finished his dinner. As soon as he put them together on his plate, we all knew he had finished, and if he left a little food, we all called out together "Don't you want that Dad". We then took it in turns to have what was left over, though we never starved. We always went to bed with a bit of bread and margarine each.

Up a place called Halton there used to be a Clinic, where the poor could take a large empty 2 lb jar, and a nurse would fill it up with cod liver oil of malt, to help survive the winter. She used to warn us not to dip our fingers in the jar on the way home.

In order to pay for our clothes to go back to school, we used to go hop picking to Bodiam during Dad's holidays. Mum and my brothers would go by bus, and Dad would push a pram or push chair with all the bits and pieces all the way with me perched on top. On day I fell off just as Mum and my brothers were passing on the bus, they never stopped laughing all day. Mum was always a happy sole. If it rained Dad and I would go on the horse and cart, later on we had the lorries. We would put the hops picked in bins, which were then emptied into the measuring baskets. Once we asked the owner Mr. Symington for extra money while picking the very small hops, used for medical purposes; and he agreed. Dad and the men worked in the oust houses, where they were given a bottle of beer during the lunch break. Sometimes I would call round to see Dad during the break. He would say "I know what you've come for Betsy, a drop of my beer!", and send me straight back after to the picking.

As the only girl still left at home, Dad often used to ask me what I wanted to do when I left school; and I used to say I wanted to work in a hospital. He warned I would need to do cleaning work there before training to be a Nurse. When the time came for me to leave school, Mum took me round to the Buchanan, which was then a little General Hospital, and I saw Matron Kemp. She asked me my age, and said I was too young at 14, and told me to come back when I was fifteen. I worked for a year at various cleaning jobs, all for a very bad wages. When I went back to Matron Kemp, she offered me the job of a Ward Maid, and said "I expect you want to know your wages...... it will be 2 month!". We all slept in, and were allowed one evening a week, and one day a month off. We had to be on the ward at 7 a.m., and worked till 6 p.m. In those days there were no electric polishers, we had to swing bumpers, with a piece of blanket underneath, backwards and forwards. When I returned home on a Friday with my first month's wage my Dad said "Give your Mother a pound of the two pound, she has kept you all your life". But when he popped out for a drink the next day, Mum would always give the pound back.

We seemed to be a lot happier in those days than people appear today, and always willing to help one another. Perhaps because we had to work a lot harder then, and did not have the time to complain. by the late Betty Sweet - Edited by Gordon Sweet

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