Days Gone By - Remember when the outside lavatory was a luxury in Ipswich?
PUBLISHED: 19:45 03 November 2016
Memories of life in the Stoke area of Ipswich have come from 95-year-old-old George Brunning, of Ipswich, writes David Kindred.
He is able to recall in clear detail life “over Stoke” when there were few cars on the roads and homes had outside lavatories. Even this was a luxury for a small boy moving to Station Street, Ipswich, from the rural life of Wilby in north Suffolk.
Here he shares his memories of a very different way of life to the one we know now.
“I am now 95-years-old. I was born in the wilds of mid Suffolk in a solitary pair of houses at Wilby. My father was a driver on the Mid Suffolk Light Railway. My brother and the neighbour’s children attended the village school, leaving me to lead a very lonely life.
“My father transferred to Ipswich in 1924 and bought a terraced house in Station Street, which was sheer luxury. I was only four and had not started at Wherstead Road Infants School and I was still bewildered by so many people and shops, the river, paddle boats and being able to play with new friends of my own age.
“We had running water, when we were at Wilby we had to fetch it from the pond and boil it. We also had a gas oven and gas lights, two downstairs rooms, a built in copper in the kitchen with furnace pan and grate. An outside lavatory about 10 yards down the garden path, it was a substantial little building with a slate roof and the added luxury of a flushing cistern, something quite different to the foul smelling “Bumbies” in the country. The drawback was, during winters dark nights, it was rather daunting prospect, only adhered to if strictly necessary. There was no soft toilet tissue in those days, only cut up squares of newspaper, my dad’s railway timetables and rule books, issued monthly, were just right!
“A lady who lived a little further along the street, hastened down the garden path on a dark night and opened the lavatory door, which opened outwards as it was quite small inside and reversed in, doing the necessary adjustments and sat down on a tramps lap. He had fallen asleep while sheltering from the elements. She ran back up the path shouting for her husband, but the tramp had fled before help arrived. We lived next door to Mrs Carter’s small grocery and sweet shop. My mum was in there the next morning as it was the chat of the shop and cause of much laughter. The neighbour was not amused “It’s alright for you ruddy lot, you didn’t have to run up the garden path in the dark with your draws round your ankles.”
“One day my mum told me we were going to the Hippodrome Theatre in St Nicholas Street. We got as far as Stoke Bridge, I did not know or care that they were replacing the old iron bridge with a new concrete one. I was scared as we crossed on a temporary walkway with rope handles and timber planks, which you could see through to the dark waters of river below.
“There were very few motor vehicles and the coalman, milkman and all deliveries were by horse and cart. Young children could play in the streets without their parents worrying. Unexpected visitors did arrive one day when two elephants, a small band and clowns came to promote the visit of a circus in London Road. One of the elephants deposited “something for the rhubarb” outside our front door. I quickly filled a bucket, one at a time, manure being at a premium cost at half a penny per bucket. Dad reckoned we had never had such good rhubarb.
“It is difficult now to imagine the environment of those days, few motor cars, the way the poor existed, law breaking at a minimum, you could leave your door open without fear of a break-in. The law was upheld by PC Finch, a large man with a large bike. He was nicknamed “Nudnapper”. We played football in Webb Street. The goal keepers kept their eyes open for “Finchy”, if we saw him coming we would disappear into the warren of passages linking the back gardens.
“The usual illnesses were prevalent, mumps, measles and chicken pox, but the most feared was tuberculosis and diphtheria. A neighbour lost a small child with it.
“Weekends were looked forward to, but not so much Friday nights, bath night. There were no bathrooms so mum heated the water in the copper and transferred it to a tin bath in front of the living room fire. Then in strict order, my brother, me and then the dog, who would hide under the table thinking, like me, that the whole thing was totally unnecessary. We had Lifeboy soap, not the fancy smelling stuff. We then had two teaspoons of syrup of figs, which meant you had to watch it if you were playing football on Gippeswyk Park on a Saturday morning for the Nicholas Under 11s!
“I was looking forward to starting at Wherstead Road Infants School, but was soon disappointed. The two teachers I remember were Miss Jolly and Miss Leathers, two stern faced ladies who rarely smiled. At Christmas time there was a huge tree in the hall with presents for all the children. I was glad to move on to the junior school.
“My teachers were Mr Patmore, headmaster, Mr Prescott, Mr Flegg, Mr Basham and Mr “Snuffy” Kerridge. These were the days when the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child” was carried out by most teachers. Not so Mr Basham who belied his name. Built like a rugby player with a ready smile and quick repartee, his armament was a slipper or a short belt, which he never used, other than to bang on the desk to emphasise what they could be used for. I met Mr Basham many years later and he told me that he often spent his own money buying buns from Newsteads cake shop, at the corner of Bath Street, as several boys did not have breakfast.
“There was a darker side to school life too, together with the barbaric use of the cane and a stupid order that if you did not pay a minimum of a penny a week into the post office bank you did not go to football that week on Bourne Park, which meant some lads never did go. Often boys had ear infections, which we later found was caused by contaminated water at Stoke Bathing Place.
“One day, around 1926, when I was about six or seven, I was playing near Wherstead Road School when a man stood in the middle of the road waving a stick yelling “get out of the way.” Several drovers from Paul’s farm at Wherstead were driving bullocks to the slaughter house in St Peters Street or the market in Princes Street.
“I joined the Stoke Institute, a lads club with gym equipment, and a billiard table. In the late 1920s our homes were connected to electricity, no more gas lights or candles at bed time. It all seemed like a miracle. Life was at a much slower pace before computers, and television etcetera.”