The story that I relate begins for me about the year 1900. First of all let us look at the way in which many men in the village earned their living. Farm labourers there were in plenty, but the men who had no inclination for the land found work at the Chawley Brick Works. In those days the Works, now derelict, were a veritable hive of industry. The men worked long days from, I believe, about 6 am until 6 pm.
During the summer months they worked until 9 or 10 pm. It was sweated labour indeed as they were paid the princely sum of 3d an hour. The money worked out at about 14s per week in the winter. When they worked overtime in the summer it brought them in about £1. l.,and many a housewife has been heard to remark that if their menfolk could earn £1 a week all the year round there was no doubt but what they would soon become millionaires.
The children too in those days played quite a considerable part in helping the domestic routine as soon as they came out of school. Their first job was to take father's dinner to Chawley Works. The meal was usually boiled bacon,, cabbage and potatoes. Today it certainly sounds good but in those days it was eaten with really monotonous regularity. Butcher's meat was only eaten once a week on Sunday for a special treat. Most housewives cooked two meals a day for the children and father, at midday and again in the evening when he came home from work. It was cheaper to live that way as there was always plenty of vegetables and, of course. always bacon. The food was cooked in a huge iron boiler over the fire. Cabbage, bacon and potatoes which were put in a net were put altogether in the pot. Suet puddings were the order of the day, made with any fruit that happened to be in season, not forgetting the ever-popular 'Spotted Dick'. I have never seen such huge puddings since I was a girl. They were usually sewn up in a pudding cloth. Basins were not very popular for the sweet pudding but it was very much in evidence on Sunday when practically every family sat down to their weekly treat of beef steak pudding. There was real poverty in those days. Most of the people were very poor and life was a hard struggle. But on the whole children all seemed to enjoy good health.
So much for the men. Now what of the womenfolk ? There was quite a number of women who worked on the land. I think they were paid about 2d an hour. But here again all women were not adapted for the soil.
There was work which was brought to the village from Oxford. It was brought in a big van and a pair of horses and the stopping place was the 'Lion Tree'. It was making men's trousers, chiefly corduroy. It was very thick and heavy material. I imagine it must have been very hard work. These trousers were lined with unbleached calico. The linings were cut out but the worker had to actually make them ups complete with buttons and buttonholes. These garments, as I remember, seemed to have endless buttonholes, no comparison with the men's working apparell today. As far as I can remember, they were paid 2d for a 'set' of buttons and button- holes. The finished garment, I think, produced the large sum of 3d.
Most of the women did their needlework on little round bare deal tables on
which was usually an array of threads of all colours and tailor's thimbles
without tops. After the garments were finished they had to be pressed with very
hot irons which had to be heated on a trivet in front of an open fire. The work
when finished was stacked on a Windsor chair to await the arrival of Mr. Slay
with the van and horses. This was quite a day in the village. The work was taken
to the 'Lion Tree'. People who managed to do quite a lot pushed the work down
the road on prams and push-chairs etc. Most of the women put on big clean
aprons, and a very popular type of headware of those days was wearing the
menfolk's caps complete
with hat pin. It was actually on a Thursday that the work was fetched and the women paid, and you may be sure that there was no more welcome visitor to the village. I forgot to mention that the firm from Oxford was Thomas Hale, whose factory was in Queen Street, but whose premises have long since been used for other purposes. The work went on till round about 1912 or perhaps a little later with the outbreak of the 1914 World War.
(Mrs F. Masters 1990, when she was living with her daughter in Lake Street, Oxford.)