Betty Morris Story

The Betty Morris Story

I met Betty some twenty years ago when she looked after the Benjamin Perry Boathouse that is located on Phoenix Wharf. She is a lovely person who has given me a great deal of information relating to "old" Redcliffe and below is her story.

I was born on 26th December 1930 to Christopher and Mary Salter who already had one son born three years earlier. They moved into 17, Orchard Square, Redcliffe after being married in St. Mary Redcliffe Church on Easter Saturday 1923 by Reverent Bateman Champagne; so it was natural that I would be taken to the church when I was six weeks old to be christened.

The house we lived in was a cul-de-sac off Bryant Street, which ran from Redcliffe Hill to Ship Lane. It was at the end of a wide path and consisted of three rooms on top of each other; going straight in off the path was the living room and everything else room. On one wall was a black-leaded fire grate, leaded every day, an oven on each side of the fire in which Mum cooked everything. She would make a cake by putting all the ingredients in a bowl, (never weighed anything) we did not own scales but I never knew her to have a failed cake. The fire was always lit, summer and winter and one day my brother and I put hard plasticine in the oven to soften and forgot it. It melted and ran under the oven door and all down the grate, if we hadn’t been home with Chicken-Pox we would have been in trouble. On top were two trivets, one always had a big kettle, always kept filled, on the other a big black iron saucepan filled with soup. A fender with a seat on either end and a fireguard. A large window, unusual for those days, and a door in the corner to hide the stairs. My favourite hideaways were on the stairs, or under the large wooden table, always covered, when we weren’t eating, by a large Chenille table cloth which almost touched the floor; it had a fringe of bobbles, but it made a lovely home to play “Dollies”. Upstairs my Mum and Dad’s room, up another set of stairs, my brother and I shared the attic room divided off by a thick curtain so we each had some privacy. The living room was lit by a gas mantle paid for by a penny in the meter, we often sat in the firelight when there were no pennies left. We went to bed by candle having no lights in the bedrooms. I realise now (we were always being told be careful of the candle) how dangerous this was as the houses were only lathe and plaster. In the yard were three sheds, one the coal house, we carried buckets of coal up the yard for the fire, the next the toilet. No baths for us that was a tin one on Saturday nights in front of the fire. The largest shed was the kitchen, a gas cooker, that’s why Mum cooked on the fire, a sink in the corner, a big stone boiler lined with zinc with a fire underneath where Mum boiled the clothes and the Christmas puddings (not at the same time) and that was my home. Seventeen homes all crowded into one small area, all built the same. Some people very poor, some not quite so poor; we were on of these I suppose. My parents struggled, we were always well fed, nicely dressed, but above all had parents who loved and cared about us before anything else. It was a neighbourly block where everyone looked out for each other. If a mother was ill, there was always someone to look after the children, cook a meal, do some washing or just be there for them.

I started school at St. Mary Redcliffe Infants School in Ship Lane when I was three. The school was built on two sides of the playground, one side infants, the other juniors. Next door was the rag and bone mans yard, smelly in winter and summer full of flies. His poor horse always covered in them and his cart always a mess; what would health and safety say now. I don’t remember much about nursery classes, but I do remember a large fireplace with a fire kept going by the caretaker and a fireguard around it. In the winter, I started in January, staff would hang wet gloves, hats and wet socks (many children had leaking shoes) and I can still remember the smell of damp steamy clothes. Above the fireplace was a large picture of Jesus surrounded by children and I was puzzled for long time, why had they painted on child black? After dinner we were put to sleep on little canvas camp beds for a rest. Now when I have to resort to one at camp, as I can no longer sleep on the floor, I go back to my childhood, just by the smell of canvas.

As time went on, on my first day at Infants I was given a slate, chalk and rubber. I was going to learn to write. Now it was time also to learn to count, I was given what looked like a large double five domino with the ten spots indented to hold counters so that they could be taken in or out so we could learn to count four out of 10; it left six, put four in made ten. Still when I add I can still visualise that domino. Now it was time to make friends, Margaret who lived in the corner house of my square who became my best friend but like the sister I never had. Graham her brother, Johnny who’s Dad kept the famous Faggot Shop on the Hill (Redcliffe Hill); we were often invited for tea, of course we always had faggots. Ginge and Derrick, our gang, all about the same age what fun we had.

Then the magic day came we were seven, our first time at junior school. It was a mixed school and we were all in the same class. We walked to school and came home together, played knock up Ginger, Hopscotch, Marbles, Skipping. Got into trouble for tying ropes to the lampposts for a Tarzan swing, or balancing along long yard walls and jumping across the gate space. This is where I fell and broke my leg, no sympathy; you shouldn’t have been doing it. But with a very heavy plaster which my friends could write on and I was taken to Bristol General Hospital just around the corner in a wheelbarrow. To my friends I was quite a hero. We loved to follow the Lamplighter on his rounds and hold his bicycle while he lit the lamp. Our favourite place to play was the Ferry Slip at the bottom of the steps on Redcliffe Parade. I was the daft one and the boys would dare me to walk out to see if I could see the end of it. I usually found it by walking off the end only to struggle out or be hauled out by irate Ferrymen as it was still being used to cross to Queens Square; although I was a forbidden place by my parents. My Father persuaded my cousin, a school champion swimmer, to take me to Mayors Paddock Pool and teach me to swim so I wouldn’t drown. We would love to have played in Chatterton Square, the only green space, but Sister Sampson would drive us away. It was a private square and we would never have thought to venture into the Churchyard except to go to church. Junior school was an enjoyable time for me, except I hated P.E. even now the thought of standing in the playground in my vest and knickers makes me shudder but I loved swimming and went as often as I could.

Christmas always meant prize giving, when the school choir (I always wanted to be in the church choir) of which I was a member sang for the parents and friends. Books would be given for good attendance, good behaviour, English these three I usually got. So would my brother but he would get Arithmetic, Geography and History as well. I still have a copy of “Black Beauty” and “Stories for Girls” with their colourful labels on the inside cover. Empire Day we would have special lessons and Ascension Day we all filed in to church for a service; these were happy days.

Sundays were always special, Dad would go to 8am communion then Mother, my brother and I would go at 9:30. After the service Mum would go home and we would meet Dad at my Aunt’s who lived in Ship Lane. After a glass of milk and a ginger biscuit (how I hated them but was expected to eat them) Dad would take us for a walk. We chose alternately where we would go, my brother would always walk around the Docks, then tick with ships and we would find its nationality by its flag and name of origin on its stem. My brother would write them down and when we got home we looked up the countries on the map. We learned more Geography this way than ever at school. I always chose Cabot Tower and loved to sit on the Cannons and survey what I thought was the world. Sunday school was at 2:30 in the junior school where we all first met together in the main hall for a service then divided according to age in separate classrooms for stories, talks and sometimes colouring pictures. At festival times we would meet at school, probably a hundred children then walk in two’s up Ship Lane, parents, Aunts and Uncles would join in at the back and we would go in the top gate to Church. While he was in there Cannon Herselet would take the children’s’ service in the afternoon and there would always be a grand procession round the church which he would lead. Taking two of the youngest children to walk beside him. Harvest Festival was always a bit hairy, an egg would be dropped walking up the hill, a few grapes nibbled off a fruit basket and there would always be a marrow too heavy for a little one to carry. My Mother loved to relate the tale of when one Harvest she made me a basket of fruit and having nothing else to put in it uses a basket I had had an Easter egg in. Going to the altar I handed it to the Vicar who put it on the steps, but I started crying saying “Jesus can have my fruit but not my little basket”. Whereby everything was held up while he took everything out and give me back the basket. I must have been quite small.

Every Wednesday through Lent we went to a special service after school and I remember on Lent the series were base upon “Pilgrims Progress” and we were given a stamp each week for our stamp book (each Sunday we were given a stamp to go into a book). I remember them being a knight and each week he had a piece of armour added by; by the last week he was a true Christian knight. The highlight of the Sunday school was the annual outing to Weston-super-Mare. If you had a full stamp book you went free; this meant regular attendance and you paid according to attendance. For weeks we looked forward to this trip, for most it would be the only chance to see the countryside or the sea. School would be closed for the day and it always seemed the sun shone. A whole train would be booked and it was always asked for the driver and fireman (no diesel then) to be ex Redcliffe schoolboys; and the day would arrive. Children of all ages, Mums, Dads if they were home, Grans, Granddads, Aunts, Uncles, bags, prams, buckets and spades. All trundled down to the cattle market entrance, through the tunnel, up the stairs and there would be the train, belching smoke ready to take us to the sea. We went into Locking Road Station and couldn’t get off the train quick enough so we could get to the sea. What a crowd it would be all milling down the High Street not stopping for anything; ice cream would come later. When I first started going the school took us all to Brown’s Tea Shop for tea, but I don’t think this worked, children got lost, separated from Mum, so later we all met out teacher at the pier and were given a 6 penny piece each to pay for our tea. But Mum had brought a huge bag of food with inner and tea so we had 6d to spend. How pleased we were as we clutched the coin in our sticky little hands 1d on the Donkey, 1d ice cream, ½d for Punch and Judy’s bag, a ½d stick of rock for Dad who couldn’t come and three whole pence to spend on the pier; although usually I bought a 1d bag of Winkles, which I still love. How sad we were when it was time to go home, the High Street was not filled with quickly walking feet and chattering voices and by the time the train reached Temple meads most of us were asleep.

The other highlight for me was Whit Sunday; Mother regarded this as the beginning of Summer so when dad took us to see the Lord Mayor go to Church, I always had new Summer clothes, a dress, if I was lucky a thin coat and always a hat; a straw bonnet when I was small, a straw boater with flowers and ribbons. When I was old enough to be a Guide I was proud to help form a guard of honour.

1939 saw an epidemic of diphtheria in the school. My brother caught it and was away for five weeks, then it was my turn. I was desperately ill, I couldn’t breathe or swallow and for two weeks fed only on Goat’s milk which I hated. For medicine we had milk with iodine dropped in. I was away for eighteen weeks, I went on 5th of November and came home on 5th March.

I was home and having had a birthday in Hospital I was now old enough to join the guides and so along I went to the Parish Hall in Guinea Street. Miss Eileen Mills was the Captain and as she was shortly to go into the Wrens I was quickly put through my recruitment so I could be enrolled. Came the night, in uniform for the first time, the flag in place, everyone ready; the (air raid) sirens sounded so out to the shelter in the school playground. We went there and I made my Guide promise. After the ceremony we sang camp fire songs. Thankfully no bombs were dropped but we could hear the drone of the engines and the ack ack guns. I wonder what those pilots would have thought if they knew there were, below them, 24 terrified little girls trying to sing, “On My Honour I Will Try” and “Down In The Forest.”
When I was ten I remember having my first school report, I was so proud of my first long brown envelope and when I got home I gave it to Mum – yes that was good, that was good but what about this? The comment at the end to sum up my character. It said “Betty is a born leader but at this time leading in the wrong direction.” How right those teachers were, I later was Brownie leader for forty years, happily leading in the right direction. I was due to sit my scholarship, my brother had already passed his, this put a lot of pressure on my parents as Dad had only just returned to work after nine months of unemployment. The night before I was due to sit I heard Dad say to Mum “I hope she doesn’t pass, we can’t afford to send her”. So I went determined not to pass, this is something I regret now as I’m sure they would have found a way.

The school were always strict disciplinarians and boys and girls were always treated exactly the same, this was proved the only time I remember my Father being really cross with me. In the class was a boy who always knew everything, a brilliant scholar (later a professor at Oxford), but he would go on an on. It was one day when we’d had little sleep because of an air raid and he was going on and on. So I put my hands on his shoulders, pushed him down and told him to shut up. Unfortunately there was a fire bucket of water right behind him which he sat in. At that moment the teacher came it and I received a whack of the cane on each hand. I went home with two red marks across my hands. Mum put cream on them and I was told to wait for Dad to come home. This didn’t worry me, I was Daddy’s girl and he was sure to be full of sympathy. He was in the kitchen when I told him, waiting for the cuddles to come, but he picked up Mother’s boiler stick and gave me two whacks on my bottom, one for complaining, the other for having the cane for misbehaving, and sent to bed without any tea.

Life went on happily for us until Sunday 21st November 1941. That night we had an early tea and went to visit my Great Uncle who lived in Victoria Place, just behind the London Inn. Just as we were about to go home the sirens went so my brother and I were put in the Morrison Shelter (a steel table with reinforced metal sides). What a night our first Blitz, we could hear bombs crashing down, guns firing, but above all the house rocking as we heard tiles coming off roofs, windows smashing and doors blowing in. Then the all clear sounded so we decided to go home. What a scene of destruction met us. Shops on fire or raised to the ground and as we walked through East Street, we clambered over huge pieces of masonry, wood some still burning, broken glass and over all the smell of dust, burning and smoke. When we got to Mill Lane a Policeman stopped us and sent us back to Uncles as he said Redcliffe had been hit but didn’t know where. So back we went under the care of a messenger as Dad had to go on as he was an A.R.P. Warden. As we got in the sirens went again so into the shelter we went and so it started all over again, Castle Street, Wine Street, High Street; many churches gone but we were safe.

Next morning Dad came, dirty tired and very sad, his hair turned from a lovely chestnut to snow white. He came to tell us the corner of Bryant Street had been bombed, our house was standing but so unsafe it was to be pulled down. Then he took me to one side and told me my best friend Margaret (one day younger than me) was dead and her brother broke his back and never walked again. My Dad had dug her from the remains of her house which had had a direct hit. Also my cousin (who was lodging in the house having come from South Wales to find work), she had been beheaded; although I was grown up before I learned this. Also dead was the Mum, Grandmother; Graham was severely injured and in Hospital for four months, was taken by his Aunt and I never heard of him again. Another school friend went to bed after the raid and with her parents and brother were found dead in bed, gassed from a fractured gas main hit by a bomb near by.

I was ten years old, why was this happening, it didn’t matter I had no home, no food, what clothes Dad had managed to salvage, the suit cases stolen; nothing mattered but my dearest friend was dead. I couldn’t play with her again. My school friends dead, that didn’t matter the school was bombed anyway. I remember thinking why had I wasted precious time going to Sunday school and Church, if there was a God why had this happened? Why if he was in heaven hadn’t he stopped it and for a long time I refused to go to Church or Sunday school; although every few days the Curate would come and talk to me. Eventually I went back, although even now I don’t think I ever really got the answers, but it was a time my faith was truly tested.

Now I was living in the Parish Rooms, sleeping on straw mattresses on the skittle alley, there were two, partitioned down the middle so Ladies and Girls one side, Men and Boys the other. People brought in food, Mums tried to keep meal times and bed times regular to make life as normal as possible. We were taken to Wills Recreation Centre, where the American Red Cross fitted us out with clothes donated by American people. How proud I was of my red bopper boots which Mum thought horrible but I loved. I would have enjoyed this adventure had I not been so terribly sad. Life settled down, we shared the Boys school going to school mornings one week, afternoon the next but given loads of homework to make up the half day. We were at the Parish Rooms for 18 weeks, most people had found homes somewhere so it was decided to close down the hall but where would we go? Then the Caretaker Mr Godfrey, suggested we could have two rooms with his family at 4, Redcliffe Parade East and there we lived for quite a while, very happily we were to. We used underground shelters under the school, where I remember Mr Godfrey used to sing “The Blighter That Blighted My Life”; which Mother being very prim thought not very nice in front of the children.

Then came Good Friday 1941, the sirens went, down to the shelter where everything shook around us. A bomb had landed on Redcliffe Hill and incendiary bombs hit the garage on Redcliffe parade (now the car park) the flames reflected in the glass screens of the school making it look as if it was on fire. So the air raid wardens evacuated us from the underground shelter to the surface one the far side of the playground. What confusion every one was told to run, so I did, I was parted from my Mum and brother, almost there, I head a whistling noise and someone pushed me to the ground and lay on top of me. A bomb had landed in the school playground hitting the corner of the new Wills Sports Pavilion. I got up dazed and bleeding from a cut leg,
Refusing to go to the shelter until I had found my Mother. All united in the air raid shelter. No one had been killed, my cut leg the only injury although one lady had a baby boy. My faith was restored that night God was surely with us. We lived in Redcliffe for another year. By now I was 11 years old and ready for Senior school. We moved down to Southville and I was given the choice Southville seniors or Redcliffe (Temple Colston, Victoria Street). I chose Temple Colston. First problem I had to have a school uniform. Up until now Mother had always made my dresses, Miss Muffet prints from Hawkins, Gingham for school, floral for other times, silk for Sunday. But now there were no coupons for uniform, blouses were made from Dad’s white shirts, my skirt was a four panelled one made from a pair of my Uncle’s bell bottom trousers, a tie was bought from school and I was ready to go; I also had a hat which I hated I started January 1942 and settled down to work far harder than I had ever before. I now did cookery, housewifery including washing and ironing, needlework and plain sewing, this beside our ordinary school work. I also did swimming instead of P.E. or games this gained me the honour of captaining the school swimming team and winning the girls inter school cup two years running.

We still went to church on Ascension Day and received a shilling and a large bun (we called it a “Penny Starver”) on Colston Day. Soon the day came when I was told I could leave that Christmas, 1944, and my parents agreed, I could be apprenticed to a florist. Quite a thing in those days when parents thought girls could only be married so it didn’t matter what they did. The beginning of December I was told I couldn’t leave as my birthday wasn’t before the school holidays. Dad wrote to the Education Committee explaining my papers had all been signed so it was agreed I could leave providing I didn’t start work until after my fourteenth birthday which was on 26th December. Si I left school, top girl, and on 27th December 1944, one day into being 14, I started work. I was a working girl, my childhood days were over.
It was not long before my second childhood started, in 1947 I volunteered to be a Sunday school teacher. I was still quite young at 17 but really enjoyed this and looked forward to Sunday afternoons and my class of boys. Then in 1951 I took my warrant as Brown-Owl at St. George, Brandon Hill. In 1952 I was approached to re-open Brownies at Redcliffe. A Guide unit had just opened and so I agreed if I could run both units. Wednesday was St. Georges, so the first Monday I arrived at the Parrish Rooms at quarter to six for a 6:15 meeting; would I have any girls? When I got there six were waiting, by 6:30 I had 18, soon there were 24 and we went on in leaps and bounds. In 1954 I married, and with a job, a flat, two Brownie packs to run I gave up Sunday school. I was sad but I had given it seven good years. Then St. George’s closed down, and in spite of having two sons I managed to keep the Redcliffe pack going.

The parish Hall closed, so we met in the under croft of St. Mary Redcliffe Church. Then in 1970, children had moved out of the parish and we closed the pack down. I then had a daughter and in 1977 we decided there were enough girls back in the parish to restart the pack. The pack flourished and when Liz, my daughter, was seven she joined the pack. When she was ten she joined our guides and the Scout and Guide band. At 14 she became a Ranger and our young leader, at 18 out Tawny-Owl. Christmas 1995, at 65 I had to retire as Brown-Owl. This had been part of my life for 40 years, but now the pack would go on; Liz would be the new Brown-Owl. Now 12 years on I still go back as a helper to do barge testing, crafts and the accounts so my second childhood still goes on. We have added up the time we have been guiding at Redcliffe : me 52 years, Liz 22 Years – quite a record 74 years between us; add ten years my husband, John, gave to the Scout and Guide band gives us 84 years in all.

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