What was school life in Suffolk like for a child born towards the end of the Victorian era? Grace Rodwell (nee Herbert) was born March 14 1891. Grace has left fascinating hand-written notes about her childhood. Grace said,“I was born in Newton Road, Ipswich. My memories are from the age of four. How peaceful and happy we were. I lived in Suffolk with my parents, two brothers and 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 or 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. I loved my home. Foxhall Road, where I lived when I married was a corn field when I was a child and 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 in Back Hamlet owned by the Byles family. Part of their land became Alexandra Park. It had a huge summer house with a big dome. 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 that we had only ever seen the dome top. We could not see into the ground because there were huge trees, mostly beech. As my brothers and I came home from Sunday school at the Grimwade Memorial Hall we would pick up the beach nuts and eat them. 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 watch them sail away out of sight.
“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.”
“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. He wore and 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 at the Corner of Alan Road and 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 he was seated and not sit down until he did. I wouldn’t even if I was punished!”
“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 consciences 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 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 Co-op in York Road sold lovely fruit cakes for six pence 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 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 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 and they were much nicer than the cultivated ones you get today. 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 second earlier we would have been killed.”
“Each year waiting for Christmas seemed to get longer. For three weeks before carol singers came to our street. We had visits from the Salvation Army, the Town Mission and a German band. They all played the well loved carols like, The Mistletoe Bough, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. They would stand under the gas lamp opposite out house. It was a great thrill to tumble out of bed and run into our parent’s bedroom to watch from their window. Out of our warm beds we would shiver with the cold but it did not matter. They would put a note through the door saying they would call the next day for a contribution. The it was back to bed with the blissful feeling that Christmas was near.
About a week before Christmas my brothers would go into the country and bring home branches of holly. Along the Bucklesham Road there were banks of pine trees. They broke of branches and we made a Christmas tree, which reached to the ceiling. We then had the great pleasure of trimming and decorating it. I had the job of making paper coloured paper chains.”
“My father’s friend Mr Durrant was caretaker at Christchurch Mansion. He would sell us a swan from the round pond. This was hung on a hook over the kitchen door until my parent plucked it. It was so long it hung from the top of the frame to the bottom. While it was being plucked we were told to keep out of the kitchen. Once I opened the door and it looked like snow storm! Mother and father each sat on a chair with the bird lying across their laps plucking away for all they were worth. The swan was so big it had to be taken to the bakers shop at the corner of Tomline Road to be roasted in their big oven.”
“In winter my father wore long pale blue stockings which stretched over his knees. On Christmas Eve he would right our names on a piece of paper and pin them to the stockings. I would wake up with a thrill at 2am on Christmas Day and feel the shapes of the presents. I knew my brothers were also awake as I could hear them talking. We had the great pleasure of open our presents by candle light. Bigger presents were left on our beds. Every Christmas I had two special gifts I liked very much. One was a box of coloured candles, 72 in a box. They cost four and a half pennies. I loved the pleasure of looking and feeling these. I also had a box of coloured crackers. I thought there were wonderful. They all had different coloured shiny paper. One Christmas I had a toy piano. There were many other treasures I found in fathers long stocking. After looking at my gifts I fell asleep. One of my brothers was always searching all over the house before Christmas trying to find where mother had hidden our gifts. He always did!
Many of our gifts cost six and a half pence and some just one penny from the penny bazaar in town. We all had a pretty little glass lantern each of the four sides had a different colour. I used to put one of my candles in and go upstairs in the dark and sing Carols along the landing with the coloured lantern looking so pretty.”
“My mother always had a saucer full of prunes for us when we came downstairs on Christmas morning. She used to put sena-pods in when she stewed the pruned, but we did not know until later! We always had sausages for breakfast. There was always a big blazing fire in the front room. On the large table with the Christmas tree were dishes full of all kinds of nuts. Others of raising and figs slices of coconut sweets and grapes. How happy we were and hoe hard my dear parents had worked to give us such a wonderful Christmas. At 4pm every Christmas my mother’s friend came with her son to have tea. In the evening the son and my father who both had fine voices would sing song like “The Anchors Weighed” which was rather sad and several funny songs as well.”
“I thought the lady visitor was very old at sixty; she always wore a woollen shawl and a white lace bonnet with small black bows. I did small jobs for her including errands and washing her step and path for which she paid me three pence. We had three days of Christmas in the front room in front of the blazing fire. How tame it all seemed when it over.”
“The first day I went to school my mother came with me but after that I went alone. I hated school all my life. The teachers seemed to take a delight in being spiteful. One teacher used to pinch my arm every time she passed me. I was a nervous child and a nerve in my chin used to bob up and down and she used to shout “stop that chin will you” but the harder she pinched the more my chin bobbed.
One night when I was undressing I looked to see how many fresh bruises there were. My mother saw them and confronted the teacher. It did not happen again. The teachers and headmistress at both the infant and junior schools were cruel. They had shinny brown sticks the size of a copper stick like my mother used on washing days. I remember one day seeing Miss Jones the head mistress of Rosehill Primary School take down a girls knickers after laying her across the desk and thrashing her bottom hard with her shiny brown stick. I also saw the same head mistress slap a teacher’s face in front of all the girls assembled in a large room.
One day I walked to Rushmere Road, Ipswich to see a friend. We walked along a lovely lane on a sunny day where we saw a field of red clover. I gathered a bunch to take home. As we came from the field my friend said “Here comes the farmer” with that she threw her clover over the hedge. I thought I am not parting with mine! He said how dare you pick my clover, you have enough to feed a donkey” A few days passed by and there was a loud knock at our front door. There stood the two tallest policemen I had ever seen. I gave them one look and ran to the end of our garden. My heart was thumping. I thought they had come to take me to prison for steeling the clover. My brother was furious that two policemen had come to our house. He walked with them to the top of Upper Cavendish Street to discuss the matter.
They told him the farmer had decided to make an example of me. When I heard this I was in the depth of despair. I imagined myself in a prison cell fed on bread and water. In those days children were terrified of policemen. My brothers visited the farmer and persuaded him to change his mind. I had to write a letter and apologise. I felt a hypocrite because young as I was I didn’t feel sorry at all. I have never picked a single stalk of clover since.”
“I took my neighbours baby for a walk in his pram. I walked to Bucklesham, about five miles from my home with baby Victor when one of the wheels of the pram came loose and I could not find the missing screw, and the pram would only go sideways. I do not know how I got back but I did not see any body until I reached my mother standing at the front gate looking very worried. The police had been searching for us. For weeks every where I went children were chanting “Gracie got lost” poor Victor was killed in the First World War” He was a lovely little boy with Golden curls. I named my own son after him.
Victor’s mother had died of consumption before he was killed. When I was very young I used to go to her every morning and get breakfast for her. Although I was very young I managed quite well. I climbed over the garden fence and often in the evenings I would sit beside Victor’s mother to keep her company. She had another son Alexander who only lived a few months.”
“Often on summers days I would go with my mother’s friend Mrs Butcher and her children to the Lairs by the River Orwell. We set off along Levington Road to Clapgate Lane there was only one house from Levington Road before we reached Gainsborough Lane. It was all lovely open countryside. When we to a huge oak tree one of us would climb up and shout if it was high or low tide. We would paddle in the river and we knew if a steamer went past we could play in the waves. I used to like to go there better than Felixstowe. I was so peaceful. We could all sit on the grass and have our picnic. Mother brought two tea pots and two of us would go to the white house at the entrance to Hog Island. The lady of the house would fill our tea pots with boiling water for half a penny. I used to wander down among the jungle of wild flowers and trim myself up with big white cornflowers. The trailing mint had a lovely sweet scent. They were happy days.”
“Poor Mrs Butcher, who was mother’s best fiend, died when she was quite young. She had eight children in eight years. The children were never allowed to speak at meal times.”
“Sir Daniel Ford Goddard had the Social Settlement built in Fore Street. I was a grand building with a large hall and balcony and many other large rooms for different social occasions and indoor sports events. He provided fine books for those who attended Sunday afternoon services. One Sunday afternoon I attended on of Sir Daniels interesting addresses. He did a tremendous lot of good for the people of Ipswich. I always thought he should have been honoured. The building was pulled down in the 1950s. The splendid building he had constructed was a great blessing to many people. It was razed to the ground and he is forgotten.
When I was a small child I remember he stood in the election for the Liberal Party. He became the Member of Parliament for Ipswich. When I was about five I thought he was God! My oldest brother said every night; lift up your head and think of God. I always did but kept thinking of Sir Daniel face and saying God.”
“When I was young the General Election were exiting days for children. We had a day of school and wore rosettes or flowers of Yellow or Blue. My father was a staunch Liberal. One night he pasted huge Liberal Party bills all over the front of our house. Huge crowds gathered on the Cornhill to hear the results. Sir Daniel was very popular and we were very pleased when he won.
A teacher at school asked the children in the class whose parents voted Liberal to come to the front. Many children came forward and were given several hard strokes across the hand with a cane. It really hurt. Teachers were cruel in my young days and seemed to get great pleasure from hurting children for no apparent reason.
One day we were having a lesson called hand and eye training, sticking tiny strips of coloured paper on a pattern. I thought mine looked perfect but suddenly the teacher went berserk. She thumped me everywhere, twisted my long hair round her hand and jerked my head back and forth. I had one of fathers large white handkerchiefs round my face as I had recently had a tooth out. She punched my face and got me out of the desk. By this time I was sobbing terribly. My father did not go to school that afternoon. In those days even half an hour was deducted from wages, so it was costly for him to visit the school. He was kept waiting in the long corridor for over two hours. The teacher locked herself in the classroom and kept peeping over the glass petition if he had gone. The matter was reported to the authorises and the teacher had to leave the school. How I hated my life at that school.”
“As a child I wore black stockings and white pinafores. My mother wore long dresses to her ankles. I thought the “shoulder of mutton” sleeves were ugly. Hair was worn in a bun on the top or back of the head. Then it would have been considered a disgrace for a mother to go out to work. There was not much money in the family but food was cheap and plentiful. Mother made all our clothes on her Singer sowing machine including my brothers Norfolk suits, how smart they all looked. I was really proud of my costumes and dresses and fathers shirts. How hard mother worked, often sitting up till 3 in the morning stitching away. All the washing was done a hand on a scrub board.”