Christmas Memories

A steeple chase, a balloon accent from the new Alexandra Park…there was open countryside, where hundreds of houses now stand in Ipswich. These are all memories of life in the town for a child at the end of the Victorian period.

A steeple chase, a balloon accent from the new Alexandra Park…there was open countryside, where hundreds of houses now stand in Ipswich. These are all memories of life in the town for a child at the end of the Victorian period.

Last week I featured the Christmas memories of Grace Hubert, (later Mrs Rodwell,) who was born in Ipswich in March 1891. I promised more this week from this unique record.

Grace, who wrote her story in her later years, gives us the chance to see life through the eyes of a Victorian child. Many older readers will identify with the slower pace of life and the lower expectations of children which continued until the 1950s

Grace wrote: “I was born in Newton Road, Ipswich. My memories are from the age of four. How peaceful and happy we were. I lived with my parents, two brothers and a sister who were all older than me. We could play in the road in those days without fear as there were no cars. Occasionally a horse, cart or pony and trap would come along. We would play hop scotch, bowling hoops round the path or roads. The girls had wooden hoops and the boys iron ones. Another game was marbles and button hole. We all had cotton bags for our marbles and buttons. We had spinning tops that we whipped along the paths. My father, who was a master painter by trade, used to paint the tops with many colours making them very pretty.

“I was a good high jumper. One day two of my friends were holding a rope, lifting it a little higher each time I jumped. I noticed a well dressed man watching me jumping. When I stopped he said I should be ashamed of myself showing my bloomers like that! I didn't jump in the road again.

“One of my brothers made me a pair of stilts. I had great fun with them. We made our own fun and were happy and contented.

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“I loved my home. All the back walls were covered with a creeper which turned a lovely red in the autumn. The window of my little bedroom was framed by the plant. One evening I had a box of red star lights and struck one and threw it up thinking how pretty it would look in the creeper. My brothers bedroom window was open and it caught the curtains alight. My brother put out the flames with buckets of water and the contents of the jugs on the washstands”.

“Foxhall Road, where I lived when I married, was a cornfield when I was a child. I used to gather corn for the bantams and chickens we kept. There were wooden seats at the top of Back Hamlet and where Ruskin Road was built. Where Paul's tenements were built there was a large grass meadow full of golden buttercups. Children were allowed to pick bunches.

“There were then only two large houses in this part of town. One was in Back Hamlet owned by the Byles family. It had a huge summer house with a big dome. We could not see into the ground because there were huge trees, mostly beech. As my brothers and I came home from Sunday school we would pick up the beech nuts and eat them. Our Sunday school was at the Grimwade Memorial Hall.

“After the Byles family died the public were allowed to visit their home and I can remember the small servants' bedrooms. We enjoyed the expedition wandering through this large house and having a full view of the summer house instead of just the domed top.

“There were no houses in Grove Lane. Only a large house called The Grove. There was a long drive with large trees leading from huge gates. My friends and I used to dare each other to walk along that drive in the dark, on our way home from the Cadets of Temperance. The house was owned by a very wealthy family.

“I was at the opening of Alexandra Park in 1904 when the Mayor John Henry Grimwade and his youngest daughter went up in a balloon. I watched them climb into a basket and what a thrill it was to see them sail away out of sight.

“My father had a large carpet bag and we used to love to see what he had brought us home in it. On Saturdays he bought 2 or 3 pound of Polstead black cherries. They were small, pitch black and cost two pence a pound. He also bought us sweets. Every Sunday morning there was a packet for each of us by our bed. We had a Sunday roast with Yorkshire puddings. My father would carve the joint of sirloin of beef or pork. An eight pound joint cost two shillings and six pence (12p). He wore an apron to protect his suit as he carved the meat. We always had fruit after a Sunday dinner.

“I used to attend the Grimwade Memorial Chapel at the junction of Back Hamlet and Long Street. In the chapel the Grimwade family had along pew with soft red cushions for each of the family to sit on. I felt resentful about that. I used to think, why should they sit on soft cushions while we sat on hard seats”.

“The children from Hope House Orphanage on Foxhall Road used to attend the services. Apparently when Mr Edward Grimwade, who was the founder of the chapel, appeared all the orphans had to stand until and not sit down until he did.

“There were grassy hills on either side of Foxhall Road leading to the railway lines. My brothers, their friends and I would run down the slopes, climb over the wooden rails and run on the railway line under the tunnel. One of my brother's friends, Eric Hardboard said he could walk over the parapet of that bridge blindfolded. He did, we thought he was wonderful. Later in life during the First World War he was a conscientious objector and absolutely against killing. He was sent to a prison where he died before the war was over. We were grieved when we heard the news; he was a fine young man.

“We had a farthing a week pocket money. It did not stay in our pockets long. Often by Wednesday we were asking if we could have our pocket money so we could buy a “Hanky Panky”. They were white and pink with chocolate and a lovely flavour. We bought big sticks of liquorice that lasted a long time as we tore off the strips. We also had huge “gob stoppers”. We would take them out of our mouths and see the pretty colours they changed to. I gave a boy five of my clove balls to let me have a ride on his bicycle. I had never ridden one before. I thought my brother was holding the saddle, but much to my surprise I was alone. It was many years before I had a cycle of my own.

“Some of the prices from my childhood included, best butter at ten pence per pound, red and white cheese four pence a pound. I liked to hold a big piece of cheese on a toasting fork over a glowing fire and eat it with a big piece of bread, sometimes I lost the cheese in the fire! Lovely beef dripping was four pence a pound. I liked it better than butter. I would spread it on bread and sprinkle it with salt. Just as nice was pure pork lard at four pence a pound. Scraps from the lard were another tasty item the butchers had displayed in their windows for two pence a pound.

“The Coop in York Road sold lovely fruit cakes for six pence (2.5p) each. Gold blend tea was four and a half pence per quarter. Sugar was one and a half pence per pound and new laid eggs cost one shilling (5p) for 24”.

“We did not have butter on our bread if we had jam and we grew up not expecting it. I often got out of bed at four in the morning to take a basket to collect mushrooms from the racecourse by Felixstowe Road. There were no houses between Felixstowe Road and Nacton Road just fields of fine grass where the horse races were held. On one side of the racecourse was a plantation. We used to love to play there, running up and down the little paths. We were the only family getting up so early when the mushrooms were in season. We enjoyed them for breakfast. My mother fried them; they were much nicer than the cultivated ones.

“My mother and her friend used to take us to watch the horse races. One day we left our mother by the track rails and went across the grass down a deep hollow. As we climbed back up there was a terrible thunder of horses heading our way. Mother screamed for us to keep still. If we had got to the top a few seconds earlier we would have been killed.”


Grace died in March 1981. Her story was kindly lent by her daughter Margaret Haste, who lives in Ipswich.

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