Oral History

Thoughts and Memories from Dulcie Newton

Written approx 2001

While I was quite young, probably seven or eight, I heard tell of Granddad Powers being a carpenter and Grandma Powers a Nursery Maid in the big Rectory House, which had been in the Titley family for several generations. There were several children ensconced on the Nursery floor of the rectory when Grandma was there and she referred to them as Miss Louisa, Miss Lily and Master Richard etc.

It was Miss Louisa who opened the first village school in Barwell in the big brick-built laundry in the rectory grounds. The children who came paid one old penny a week and on arrival put their hats and jackets (if any) into a large wicker laundry basket, which was hoisted up to the ceiling. The children daren’t run home without these possessions until the laundry basket descended again.

I remember as a small child being taken by Grandma to visit the rectory and standing in the breakfast room. I had no idea what a breakfast room would look like but felt rather privileged at being there. There was seemingly a large lake surrounded by trees and shrubs at the end of the rectory grounds and as a member of the church school, now a brick built Victorian building with a bell in a tower, I went with my class on nature walks around the lake. Though I don’t think we were allowed to collect any wild or inanimate objects to put on the school windowsills. Our teachers all seemed to be very stern, loud voiced ladies all reinforced with a raised desk in front of us and with a thin, hooked cane lying across the groove in the lid of the desk.

The Sunday school children all had the privilege of sitting once a year, on the occasion of “The Treats,” on the rectory lawns, where the teachers would bring round large, bread baskets of sandwiches, Madeira and fruit cake and of course we all wore our best Sunday clothes – never worn on week days, unless it was something very special.

When I actually remember them, Granddad Powers had retired as Landlord of the Queen’s Head, which was one of the oldest buildings in Barwell, dating back to the 16th Century and Grandma was small, neat and grey/white haired. Her hair was long and twisted into a bun and her dresses always seemed black or dark.

There were times when she was sitting in front of the dressing-table mirror combing her long hair and I stood beside her putting the little wisps into a paper hair tidy.

There was another tale I was told of how we nearly had another Grandma! Granddad had a sweetheart who lived in Earl Shilton- but on learning she would be living in a public house, declined to carry on with the relationship, so we had our real Grandma instead!

During some repair work at the Queen’s Head, a small doll was found in the brick work and is still either in the archives or a Museum in Leics.

Granddad also catered for the travellers who visited the local boot and shoe factories. These were thriving industries supplying the armies in both World Wars and the travellers came regularly to the village.

I heard of rounds of beef roasted in the ovens of the local co-op bakeries and great Yorkshire puddings, with my own mother sometimes helping to break all the eggs that went into them. Some of the travellers objected to Granddad’s economic ways and Called Out “a bit thicker Will” referring to the slices of beef.

One sophisticated individual asked for coffee and being brought a large cup, (it must have been a liquid camp and chicory variety) said, “I did not ask for soup, I asked for coffee!”

There always seems to have been one live-in maid at the Queen’s Head and one who for some reason became very disgruntled and vengeful. In her bedroom was a chest of drawers holding a linen cloth, with a heavy family Bible on top. She set fire to the four corners of the cloth, but the weight of the Bible prevented the fire catching hold. This Bible went to 58 Shilton Rd when Granddad retired, but Dr Cooke who attended Grandma in a long illness, noticed the book by the bedside and asked if he could have it.

There was a large studio picture of Lily and Elsie on the living room wall at no. 58 and I use to ask about them. “They would have been your Aunties” I was told. Fortunately Mother was born and was a cosseted child. When old enough she went to the school at Wigston Girl’s School in Leicester which involved complicated travelling. The first stage of the journey was to reach Elmsthorpe Station, (no longer a stopping place) two to three miles away. Sometimes she was taken on the pony and trap and others she cycled. She remembered vividly the agony of frost bitten fingers in the Winter time. Then came the train journey to Leicester and a walk to the school.

I have “Memories of Ancient Leicester” which was presented to her on leaving. One of the travellers who stopped off at the Queen’s Head, once heard Mother singing and told Grandma Powers she should have her voice trained, which she did.

Everyone spoke of her at this stage as being a really attractive girl with long auburn hair, (inherited by Pat, my sister and Ian, my nephew) and lovely singing voice. She sang in the GFS concerts in the church hall and also in the church itself. At a later date my Dad use to make us laugh, saying how the feather in Grandma’s hat use to tremble when Mother sang in Church.

One of my earliest memories is standing with Dad and Pat around the piano at 60 Shilton Rd, (we were next door to Granddad Powers) with Mother playing and she and Dad singing. Dad used to make a habit of singing a sad song to Pat and she always cried. I could get away with a few unshed ones because they always looked at Pat. “Now look what you’ve done,” Mother would say.

It was snowing the day your Mum was born in Leicester Nursing Home. Mother remembered being in bed and watching the snowflakes falling down.

Part Two of this Transcript is: Dulcie Newton Remembers the life and times in the 1920s