Doris Butlin aged 85
Interviewee: Liz Bloom
October 12th 2010
My name is Doris Butlin. I was born in this house in 1925 so I’m 85. I’ve been
connected with this house all through my life although some of the time I worked
away from St Albans. This was a happy home. My parents were hard-
I had one elder sister. She was at Claire House, the private school I talked about. She became a civil servant. My father said that it was very important that you had a job where you had paid holidays and where you had a defined sort of period of life and at the end of it you would get a pension. Of course, when you start the job you think it’s rather funny that anybody should be worried about pensions but nowadays I’m very glad I have my teachers’ pension; it makes quite a difference. As I grew up I decided I wanted to specialise in Maths and I wanted to teach Maths which is what I did for most of my life. I worked in three different schools. The first one was in Parkstone where I suppose I was learning how you deal with children. The second one was at Ware Grammar School where we were encouraged to take an interest in how the school was run and I got involved in timetabling which, in a way, I would call one of my hobbies rather than a necessary activity, and then via that, of course, in how you run a school. So eventually, I wanted to be a head and I became a head of a school in Bromley. I was happy as a head although I missed the real contact with the girls which you can have when you’re in the classroom. To some extent, when you are a head, you meet more of the naughty girls which means you can’t sort of start off in a friendly way even if you perhaps end up the interview on a lighter note.
My sister and I were very good friends and we used to go on holidays together and we planned to go and live in Norfolk when we retired. In fact, we bought the house in Norfolk; I (still) have the house in Norfolk. But Mary died before we moved there. I have never moved away from St Albans. I have church connections and then I have old working school connections with the other side of London and so it was very useful to have a base here. Well, I like going to Norfolk for holidays so the house is quite useful, albeit I shall have to curtail those activities soon because (it’s) beginning to get too much.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in St Albans. When I first came here, or when I was born,
I suppose, I think that St Albans almost stopped at the corner here with Beaumont
Avenue which was an unmade road. We called it ‘up the fields’ going along Ashley
Road because it was very open and in fact there were some sandpits along there which,
one day, my sister went in -
My mother’s family came from Norfolk. I think a whole lot of people seemed to have come south from Norfolk. The Byles family, they were called, came down from Norfolk and settled in Sandridge where they had a farm and the Butlin family grew up in Gloucestershire. GranDad had been a farm labourer but he got a job on the new railway and became a signalman and he was sent to the signal box at Sandridge. So my mother grew up on one side of Sandridge overlooking the new estate, I’ve forgotten what it’s called for the minute, and my father lived the other side and although my….they weren’t at school together because my mother didn’t go to school, she had a governess. Her younger brothers and sisters went to Sandridge School in the end and my father’s family also went there. Both families had to amuse themselves in the lunch hour and my mother used to be sent with some sandwiches for her little brothers and sisters, and so she met my father’s little brothers and sisters. Actually, both my parents were the quiet members of their families and my father’s younger brother was very lively, my mother’s next sister was very lively and they were very good friends and so my mother’s sister was invited to a party at my father’s house. My mother was sent as chaperone and my father was hiding in the kitchen because he didn’t like parties and he looked in and thought, “There’s a sensible quiet girl, I’ll go and talk to her.” I think it’s a lovely story and I do believe it’s absolutely true because that was what my parents were like. Although I didn’t know the brother of my father because he died in the 1914 – 18 war, certainly the next sister was a very lively person and she used to say, “Oh, if only Charlie had lived! You would have had some fun, cousins.” I think that’s probably true.
They got married; well, of course, there was the War, the 14 – 18 war, and Dad volunteered for that and he was very seriously wounded. In fact, his friends picked him up off the field and took him to the casualty station and they said, “Oh, dump him down there; he’ll be dead in the morning” and the friends said, “No, we’re going to take him to the next station.” So they dragged him to wherever was the next place and, well, they eventually got him better. The bullet, I think, went right through him and moved his heart or something; I mean it doesn’t make very good sense, I know, but it was very serious. Well, he had a pension from the War Office all his life – only a tiny one I might say, about 2/6d. Do you want me to translate that? Twelve and a half pence, I think; I taught that! He used to cycle to work; he did a lot of outdoor work in the weekend, gardening and looking after chickens; he had some chickens on the other side of the alley. You know the alley, I assume? (Gardens from Beaumont Avenue came behind Salisbury Avenue gardens to reach our land). Well, it was after they built the houses on Salisbury too because it was one of the last bits to be sold. If you walk along Salisbury Avenue, there are two houses together, I think there are two more houses together which are on our chicken garden and then there’s another house. Dad had this space – I don’t know if the man who had this house before had had it – but by the time I was sensible, we had this piece of land which we used to go out the top gate and down the alley and into the chicken garden. There were about, I suppose, between eighty and a hundred chickens, you know when he was doing it in a large way and he used to hatch. In those days, of course, you used a hen to do the hatching. (We) used to have to paint round the egg shell with vinegar to make it more brittle when the little chickens were starting to tap. I loved helping with that. They had some ducks…oh yes, during the war we were going to have some geese which were going to be wonderful. We had about half a dozen goose eggs which we hatched and we had them in this garden to start with but, well, they got so big and then…My uncle used to go to St Albans market regularly and so he took them to the market to be sold when they were ready to be fattened up and actually we didn’t get much for them because, well, he noticed all the people who he ‘knew’, shall I say, arranging what they were going to (pay). But they were quite fun, those geese because they would come – you didn’t come in the back way, did you? Well you come down here and you go in the back door and the geese would come down the garden. I mean, in those days we had a gate there.
Well, before I had my car, Dad had his. Dad didn’t have his car until he had more
or less finished paying for my education. Well that was Dad’s priority. He was,
well, he was a very good man and he was an absolute stalwart of support at church.
He worked for a firm called Emsco Engineering Company Which had come from something
called the Deep Well and Boring Company and it was an American firm. He was in charge
of the office and as a boy, well as a young man, he had gone to night school to learn
As a young person, my mother worked in a shop in Holywell Hill called Deightons; it was a grocer and she had to stay there during the week and of course, she had to work late on Saturday nights, and Saturday was the only time my father had off so he would wait for her and bring her home because they both lived just outside Sandridge in different directions. Dad was in the army and then he was badly wounded. I don’t quite know when they got engaged, but probably before the war. It was really rather sweet; they were both so busy because you worked from Monday to Saturday afternoon, well, ‘til Saturday lunchtime or Saturday evening if you were in a shop like my mother. And on Sunday it was the only day they had off and of course they went to church in the morning and then they had their Sunday School classes in the afternoon, so they would go for a walk after they had finished their Sunday School classes which was how they……..well they met each other via the younger children in the family, meeting at the school. The only time they could see each other was sort of after Sunday School on Sundays. They were similar people in a way. They were both, in nature, very quiet. My mother was, I was going to say, much better able to argue than my father in a way, although she would always defer to him and I know when I was growing up she would say, “Well, we’ll have to ask Dad” and I would say, “Well why do we have to ask Dad because you can think perfectly well yourself?”. She would say, “Ah, but what did I promise?” I mean, she meant it, it wasn’t……….
I left school at eighteen and went to university. Of course, that was in wartime. I think, well I know that Dad always thought that teaching was a very nice thing to do because you had regular hours, you had regular holidays. I must admit I sometimes thought ‘regular hours’ weren’t quite so regular as he thought they were and the holidays sometimes got interrupted, but in a way that was true. He wanted my sister to teach but she said no, she was not interested in explaining things to naughty girls who didn’t want to listen. I must admit there were times when I thought, yes, well, she’d got a point!
My sister and I used to go on holidays together. We were different people but we
were very good for each other. I think, in a way, she took after Mum and I took
after Dad so it wasn’t very surprising that we got on well together. We loved Norfolk
and we loved the coastline up there and we loved the different things you can find
in Norfolk; the bird sanctuaries and all those sorts of things. After we both retired
we used to go for holidays together up there. While Mum…..well, my mother was ill
for quite a long time before she died and my father was ninety-
While I was growing up, there was a very high wooden fence -
September 1st (1939), it was a Friday; the evacuees came out of London to St Albans.
I had a lot of aunties who lived at London Colney and one of my aunties used to
come to lunch with us every day because she worked in the town – (an unmarried lady
and she worked in the town and she came to lunch here, each working day). She said,
“The children are coming, the children are coming. They’re all getting off at the
Anyway, these two little girls arrived and, well the bigger one was very easy to talk to. The little one, she was six and going to be seven on Sunday. The big one was nine and going to be ten at the end of the month. Actually, what my mother said to me when I told her they were both going to have birthdays, she said, “You’re so stupid that you believed them!” but I was, in fact, right The little one, of course, had got....had torn her pockets and she was a tough little thing. She’d got brothers and she could stand up for herself and we introduced ourselves and, I don’t know, I think they were quite surprised when I…well you see I was fourteen and I was still at school…. oh yes, that was one of the things…and I said, “Well, what’s your name? Where do you go to school?”, because it seemed to be the obvious thing to say and this little one said, “I’m Margaret and I go to Rhyl Street and the next one said, “I’m Joan and I go to Princes Road”, I think it was called. And Margaret was six and going to be seven on Sunday and Joan was nine and going to be ten at the end of the month and I said, “And I’m Doris and I’m fourteen and I go to the High School.” This funny little soul said, “Fourteen! You ought to be at work!” It was quite a new idea to me! Anyway, they stayed with us. Joan went home after about ten weeks because when their parents came down to see them, and if it got late, of course it was hard and so in the end she went home. And of course, there wasn’t any bombing to start with.
Margaret stayed with us all through the war and as I say, Margaret now lives in Devon. I haven’t been to stay with her recently but I have been to stay with her, and we talk on the phone from time to time. In fact, it was quite funny, I had really sort of forgotten in a way how much Margaret had learnt how to cope with things sort of being with us… and she rang me up one night and she said, “Oh Doris, I don’t know what to do” and I said, “Why?”. “Well,” she said, “it’s awful, we had an accident and Natalie was driving and I tried to help her and to think what she ought to say.” And I said, “Well, surely her mother can help her out. She said, “She’s not really used to speaking up for herself and of course, Len isn’t. I’m the only one who knows how to do it!” ….She learnt that here because, I mean, she was a tough little thing but she was very, very loving. And, well, my sister died early and when I lost Mary, I don’t know what I would have done without Margaret because she came…well, Mary wanted to have a cremation and then I had asked the vicar if we could have a service and bury her ashes in Mum and Dad’s grave. Mary had got, well ‘estranged’ isn’t quite the right word but she had got cross with the church early on and had never really settled back as much as the rest of the family and so it was a little, well…. I wasn’t really quite sure but I knew that was what I wanted. And Margaret said it was going to be Len’s (her husband’s), birthday, and she and Len and Angela, her daughter, would like to come to Mary’s cremation with me. And they were wonderful because, I suppose, during the war, we all got to know what each other’s emotions were like and when we needed help, how we could help each other. Although, I don’t know, I used to say to Margaret, “Well, you’re my little sister for the war” and that was our relationship thereafter and, well, we did know her family well; I know her grandchildren.
(When she went home after the war) Well, I think she found it very, very hard. I
mean, to start with, you see, they had…...there was a mother and father, three boys
and Margaret or at least, two boys, Margaret, and a little boy. And they lived;
well we can never quite work it out what their house was. My mother thought it was
probably one of those sort of huts builders put up when they’re doing building work
because it had a certain number of rooms; they didn’t…...in a sense they didn’t make
sense, and well, there were only two bedrooms and of course by that stage she was
a big girl and the other three were all boys and I think she found it terribly hard
to settle down. But to give her her due, she was loyal to her home and she wanted
to go home and she loved her home and she loved her parents and her brothers. But
she was also quite pleased to come back and stay with us. In fact, what she did
do, she’d come out with the evacuees and she was one of the few who wanted to go
home with the evacuees; she did go home just before the evacuees went home but she
came back to go back with them! Well, the family thing had been, well, you get what
job you can and earn as much money as you can and so they started her off in some
factory but she hated it. She got herself on so that she managed to get, I was going
to say, a writing sort of job…an office job is what I should say, so she wasn’t in
the sort of thick of it. Her children, well, her girl has done very well. Her boy
was, well, he wasn’t very bright and he did find it hard to try to do school work
and he didn’t really like school work. But Angela did very well at school and she
managed to qualify in dispensary and so that she had a decent job. She has one child
and they moved down to Devon now. I did go to see them in Devon and Margaret and
Len….they’ve got a big old farmhouse now. I don’t quite understand how it works
because I haven’t been to it but…well, when they had this car accident, which I think
I mentioned right at the beginning of our talk, she said, “Oh dear, well tell me
what to do about this accident and what I’ve got to say to the people. I don’t know;
there’s nobody here I can talk to about it!” We did become like sisters and we knew
what sort of things upset each other and, well, when I lost Mary, which was a terrible
blow, Margaret was the person who found it easiest, well, who I found it easiest,
anyhow, to talk to because, well, we’d been through quite a lot together. I mean,
you know, I used to go to her school to see what was going on. That was all a mess
too, the evacuees schooling but that’s a different story! What they did, they began
by, sort of, half time each, and then they started taking buildings and they took
the Methodist Church for the infants, so while she was an infant, she went to the
Methodist Church. And then St Paul’s Hall was the Juniors and then, well, my mother
was anxious to try to encourage her to try to get on sort of towards scholarship
but Margaret didn’t really have the staying power for that. But she got her into
a Central School so that she did have, shall I say, more than absolutely basic; because
we are talking pre-
(About Fleetville’s shops) Well, you went to town if you wanted something special
but down in Fleetville we really did have a good range of shops. I mean, Morrisons
and its predecessors was still the stocking factory for a long time so you sort of
count that out. If you went down the hill here, I think I can do them in order.
The first one you came to was Blackstaff’s which was a hardware shop; I don’t think
it did much after Mr and Mrs Blackstaff went away and they were happy people who
ran a happy shop. Next door was Turners which was a pretty good grocers shop; Mr
Turner was a smart forward-
Now, the big building on the corner of Arthur Road I think had always been there. Across the road from there where there’s, what, fishing tackle, was a cobblers, yes, and it was kept by some people who were called… I think Walford was their name. They were an oldish couple and they sold shoes and they mended shoes and my father always liked to wear boots and they understood how to do his boots how he liked them. Next door to them were the Finches and they had….butcher’s. That was run by old Mr Finch and then afterwards by his son, Arthur, who ran it during the war and, shall I say, used to make fairly unpleasant jokes or at least, I didn’t like them because I thought they were nasty. But he was really quite a nice man; he was a sidesman at church; did all the right things. Then there was always a little café of some sort there. I’ve never been inside it. The grocer’s there, Greens, came later; I think that was still houses. The cake shop certainly was there when I was a child because our next door neighbour, she didn’t have any children of her own to start with but she adopted a little girl, but she liked to ask us to tea every now and again, my sister and I. We were allowed to go down there and choose two cakes each; so that was there when I was a child.
And then there was a little shop; I can’t think what it does now. That was a sweet
shop and I think, well obviously cigarettes too and I think it used to have some
other sort of eating things there which people used to stop and get, I suppose something
sort of like sandwiches. On the corner was Benningtons which was a first class grocer’s
and it also sold green grocery and that was very well run. It used to shut sharply
at lunchtime. Sometimes my mother ordered some tongue and if you came back home
from school too quickly you had to rush back down the road to Benningtons to get
some tongue before they shut. That was torture because I always went to private
school so I always had a school hat and if the hooter had gone at Ballito, all the
girls who worked in the stocking factory would be outside. And walking past those
girls at the stocking factory wearing a school hat, well some of them would have
been my age, yes, they used to shout all sorts of rude things at school hats! The
other side of the road was the Post Office. The Post Office was always a Post Office
but it used to sell things like stockings, I think underclothes, certainly aprons
as well as its newspapers. The other three shops there…..there was a greengrocer’s
there that was quite good and would deliver. The other side of the road there weren’t
many shops but there was the Co-
There was Mr Tuck’s shop. Now Mr Tuck was a man who could do all sorts of peculiar jobs; he could mend bicycles, he could mend radios, he was usually sort of covered in oil and he was rather fat, but he was a very very good tempered, pleasant man. And they lived next door (to their shop) so that if, I suppose even if he wanted to go home to the loo, I imagine he had to go up the steps outside to get to his house. But he really was very good at the things he could do because he was a…well he was…I was going to use a biblical phrase; he was an unlearned man but he did know useful things.
And on that side where the betting shop is was old George Martin’s shop. He had
a baker’s shop there and he used to make cakes; he used to go on making cakes quite
late on a Saturday afternoon, well I suppose during the war, and you could get a
sponge cake from George Martin if you could bear to keep on going down the Hatfield
Road enough times late enough in the evening because he would eventually make them;
“I’m just going to put them in the oven!” He used to wear shorts when he was baking.
Mrs Simmons, our evacuee’s mother, during the real blitz, her mother and her two
brothers came and stayed with us too because Mum felt sorry for them and said, “Would
you like to come down and stay for the weekend?” and they stayed for nearly six months.
But if you went in there, George Martin would come out with his big apron at the
front; if he turned round you’d see his shorts! Of course, men didn’t wear shorts
in those days. And there was a needlework shop along there; those shops were much
newer. And there was the Co-
A lot of people used to come round with food to the houses…delivering and sort of
selling…regular sellers. We had a greengrocer, he came from….Smallford. His name
was Simpkins; he used to come with a great big basket of all sorts of different fruit
and he had his van outside, of course, and I think it was horse-