Diana Devereux

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Interviewee:  Diana Devereux aged 61

Interviewer:  Liz Bloom

Date:  August 20th 2010

 I was born Diana Stone but I was adopted by Muriel and Hector Stone.  My family, (I’ve just found out), my actual family, originated in Colney Heath but Muriel and Hector Stone adopted me when I was very young and they collected me from a nursing home in Grosnevor Road called Grosnevor Lodge and brought me home to 49a Salisbury Avenue in…29th of December I was born in 1948.  I have an older brother, who was adopted two years earlier, called Christopher.  My father had lived in Fleetville all his life.  He was born in Fleetville.  His mother came from the East End, Bow.  Before she met Mr Stone, she came with, sadly, only one of her children by her first marriage; Alban.  Clarence was put into an orphanage in Surrey. So she came to St Albans and ran a boarding house in College Street and Percy Stone was the lodger.  They married soon after and Percy took an off-licence or a shop on the corner of Sutton Road and Hatfield Road.  It is now known as the Rats’ Castle but they had it as an off-licence in the early 1900s.  My father was born in 1903 and they had a shop in Bycullah Terrace after that and they came out of wine and spirits and went into newsagents – papers and sweets.  My father went to Fleetville School.  He was number 13 on the register, as I found out at the centenary recently.  I don’t know quite when they moved up to 157 Hatfield Road, but they did, and they lived there in the flat above.  He had a brother called Harold.  Alban sadly died; he died in 1916, or something like that, aged 21.  He was in the Hertfordshire Regiment based at Colchester and he contracted meningitis; he’d only been in the regiment a year, and sadly he died.  So there was just my father and his brother and I don’t know when Clarence came out of the orphanage at all, but he eventually lived with his wife a lot later in Ramsey Road in St Albans.  But when he came back to the family home, I do not know.

The shop was always open, from the crack of dawn to the evening and my father was always the one who sat at the seat nearest the door to the shop so whenever the shop bell rang, he used to have to get up and go and serve the customer.

My father met my mother at Trinity Congregational Church in Victoria Street and they married July 25th 1935 and then war was about and dad was in the Signals and he was based at Elvingdon in Norfolk and he said, after the war, he would not go back into the shop; he would look for another business to do with stationery or something, but he didn’t want shop hours.  They bought Salisbury Avenue for £900 in those days.  They borrowed a bit from my mother’s father, and I think they paid him back.  So after the war when dad came out, he bought a small business in Albion Road.  It was in the garden of a house in Camp Road and it was a garage and it was a small wholesale stationery business; it was literally a garage with  Dickinson’s, the stationery people at Hemel Hempstead…Basildon Bond and all that…and he started his business there and that blossomed and he moved to premises across the road which were…..he had a builder, local builder called Fountain, who renovated it, and they moved over there and they went into toys and fireworks and everything.  As children we used to love going down there because it was an Aladdin’s Cave.  I can remember the day when they moved the safe from one side of the road to the other.  There was a terrific camber in the road and they had it on one of those barrows - sack barrows - trying to control it going down the camber.  I can see us all now; I must have been very, very young.  We were very lucky; we had a man called Fred Fensome who worked with dad.  His father worked for Joel?, the race horse person in Childwickbury. He was married to Julie Fensome and dad had property in Hatfield Road and they rented 165 Hatfield Road from dad; and Julie Fensome is still in the house today….she’s lived in there since 1954.  Fred was the manager to the business and he was exceedingly good.

Us as a family; dad used to work six/seven days a week.  He always carried a big ledger on him with all the accounts on it.  He was another naughty man; people paid him in cash and he used to have these two pieces of pigskin leather and he used to have all the money in there, wrapped round with elastic band in his jacket pocket and it bulged like anything and he was a chronic asthmatic so he was a target for everybody.  

We had a great childhood and great adoptive parents; I wouldn’t have wished for more.  I had some good friends in Salisbury Avenue too; one - I am going to her 40th wedding anniversary tomorrow – Pat - she lived 4 or 5 doors up from us in Salisbury Avenue and we used to dress up in our parents’ clothes and waddle down the road in high heels of our mums and everything and have real good fun.  There was another family called the Wilsons who lived opposite.  Mr and Mrs Wilson, I know from church now because they’ve been going to Homewood Road church and they’ve just moved down to Surrey to be near their daughter.  There were the Mortons but they’ve been long gone, but (there were) a lot of different people in Salisbury Avenue and we all used to play in the street and you didn’t have to worry about cars in those days.

I didn’t go to Fleetville School; my parents sent me to a private school.  First of all, I went to school with my mum who was a teacher.  (Before she married my dad, she was a teacher at Fleetville School and she used to teach in the hut in the playground.)  But I went to a private school on Hillside Road called Lyndale and before that mum taught in another private school in Hall Place Gardens called Durnford? House and it was run by a Mrs Holby and I had to dress up in the uniform which was a burgundy colour but I can’t remember being educated there…I can’t remember doing any work.  But the girl I’ve just been to see this weekend in Cumbria, she actually went there to school and she was showing me a report she had from Durnford House and (as a) five-year-old, she even studied health and beauty which I thought was rather strange! So that was school days.  I stayed at the same school (Lyndale) from the age of 5 to 16 when I got into the local Further Ed and did a nursery nursing training.

Holidays.  We always had a fortnight holiday in the summer.  We never went away any other time, and we used to go to caravans or….oh, we started HF (Holiday Fellowship) holidays which I’m still doing now, which are walking holidays.  They have leaders and they walk you over….. all situated in different places in the country.  I wsa never very good at sport.  I remember playing hockey in Clarence Park at the private school I was at.  The good team went down to Verulamium to play hockey, the bad one was sent to Clarence Park.  We didn’t have any sports uniform; we did it in our gym slips and I can remember standing in the middle of the hockey pitch by the goal and…. the ball (never) came down.  Monday afternoons and Thursday afternoons were not my favourite days at school.

Shopping in Fleetville when I was a child….I was allowed to go down to Bycullah Terrace to buy things.  Once I was sent on an errand to Dixons and mum sent me for a Swiss roll because we used to have a lady called……well, first of all we used to have a lady called Mrs Grey who lived in Arthur Road who came and did some cleaning for us and then we had another lady called Mrs Tilney who lived in Burnham Road and she grew up in Burnham Road but sadly she’s now dead……..and I was sent down to get this bit of swiss roll for her to go with her cup of coffee (because we always stopped for coffee)and we got it home and we opened in up and it was full of ants, so it was sent back.  But I remember the shops along Bycullah Terrace; there was Dixon’s, where you went in the top bit in Woodstock Road to the vegetables, and the bottom bit to the groceries.  The next shop was Grace’s the sweet shop and Mr Grace always wore an immaculate white jacket when he served you with sweets.  Then there was the fishmonger’s; a little tiny man used to appear from behind a partition and he always had a dewdrop on the end of his nose!  It was always freezing cold in there; never any heating, it was freezing in there.  No wonder he had a dewdrop on the end of his nose.  Then there was Spurrier’s? who had these bright pink meringues; I can see them vividly now in the window, and spiced buns with crunchy sugar on top.  A loaf of bread was a shilling (12 old pence [5p]).  Then I think there were a couple of houses but there was this small shop called Green’s who was a grocer but nobody seemed to go in there much, so how it existed, we don’t know.  Then there was the café – the café was always there – and the butchers, but we didn’t go to those butchers; we went to the butchers up past the Rec which is now called the Park.  There used to be a butcher’s up there called Johnsons and we always got our meat from there.  Then there was the chemist which was an Aladdin’s cave because there were all these things hanging round you and there were steps going down and steps going up and it was a fascinating place to go in.  It was just full of…I don’t know…so much going on in there.  We used to go in Florence Miles, which was up by Johnsons, and buy ginger beer.  There was Samuel’s the shoe shop just the other side and he used to come out from the cellar.  In his shop he had the shoes and then he’d mend them down this ramp part which he disappeared in like a magician, you know, like those organs which came out.  He sort of came out from underneath.  Yes, but you could buy everything in Fleetville.  My school uniform you could buy up at Fleetville, it was up by the Liberal Club, and there was Blundells, the shoe shop up there…..Apparently the shoe shop didn’t have a toilet or water or anything, it was just a square room so she had to shut it at dinner time so she could go home and spend a penny!

There was Ben Pelly’s the hardware shop and a china shop; it sold everything but it had this marvellous display cabinet in the front of it…it had the shop windows going round but it had a middle piece where they displayed (things) and us children used to love running round and round and round.  And then next door to that was George Haines, the men’s outfitters which moved up to the Quadrant and only shut about 2 or 3 years ago, but it just traded as George Haines; George Haines died years ago but we knew him as a family friend.  Dad always went in there for his clothes.

Transport.  We used to go up to town on the bus, the 330, the 341 or the 345 which came down Woodstock Road; and if you were very clever, you could stand on the corner of Woodstock Road and Hatfield Road, and whichever bus came first, you either ran across Hatfield Road or ran back up Woodstock Road to jump on the bus.  And if you went the other way, like it went to Welwyn Garden City or the 341 went to Hatfield.  The 343 even went to Dunstable which was a long way away to our way of thinking.

We always had animals at home.  We always had a cat and we had a tortoise and fish and in my teenage years I kept poultry.  My brother kept poultry first and then he went off the idea so we had 2 White Sussex (hens) called Matilda and Flow but they weren’t very good egg layers so they were walked off down Salisbury Avenue to somebody else who had poultry….and then I got some Leghorns which were better.

We always went to church on Sundays; we worshipped at Trinity, made lots of friends at Trinity, one being Mike (Neighbour).  I was in the Guides and the Brownies there.  The Guide hut used to be in Camp Road.  Coming from the Crown, you went down the hill a bit and then on your right was an unmade road and up the top there, Trinity had a plot of land where first of all they had tennis courts on it, apparently, and then they built the Guide hut and the Scout hut, and we used to have Guides up there.  We used to cycle there.  My friend who lived in the Camp, she used to cycle back to Camp and I used to cycle back to Fleetville but then one frightening day, I had somebody follow me which was a bit scary.   I thought I could be clever and cut up Harlesden Road and down Burnham Road and lose him and he was at the bottom of Burnham Road and I never ran so fast in my life; really scary.  But you went to these things on your own; I went to ballet in the town, I went to music in Marshalswick Lane and you got yourself on your bus and you just got on with it.  My mother couldn’t drive.  My father had the only car because he needed it for business.  We were very lucky; we had a telephone.  Not many people in those days had telephones….. 52160; I can remember the number now.  We walked to school every day, or cycled when I got older.

I fell off my bike.  It was summer and we were racing round Salisbury Avenue on our bikes in Beaumont Avenue; we did the circuit and I came round the bend too fast and landed in the gutter.  A man was going past on the other side (he was a driving instructor – I can’t remember his name) but it wasn’t his fault, I just wobbled and went, and he said to me, “What do you want me to take home first, your bike or you?”  I can’t remember what I answered.  Anyway, he bundled me into his car and took me home.  I told him where I lived and when we got home we couldn’t find mum.  Mum was meant to be at home and we couldn’t find her anywhere and we were calling and calling and calling and all of a sudden she appeared between the bushes because she was talking to a neighbour.  The garden at the back was a funny shape, it was an L shape at the top bit but we had bushes all round the sides…….. and she appeared and she took me in.  But then they didn’t take me down to hospital immediately; they put me to bed and tried to get me to walk on this leg and I couldn’t and so dad was busy so he got one of his employees to take mum and me down to Normandy Road where the hospital was in those days to like a shack, it was really.  We went in there and they x-rayed it and of course, I’d broken it, hadn’t I!  In those days, you had to stay in hospital so there wasn’t a children’s ward in Normandy Road in those days, it was in Church Crescent; there was a small part of the hospital down there.  So we were bundled into a taxi, not into an ambulance, and taken down to Church Crescent where I was put in this huge ward with lots of other children.  They had to operate and I can remember going down to the operating theatre and it was all dark corridors and not nice.  Mum wasn’t with me and I was only 8 years old.  I woke up to somebody hammering a piece of rubber on the bottom of my plaster to stop me from slipping on the floor, because it was all polished wooden floor.  Mums and dads were only allowed to come at visiting time.  No, it wasn’t very nice.  I had to have a week in hospital.  It was in the first week of the summer holidays and we had a holiday booked so dad and mum had to hire a pushchair where they pushed me around.  I don’t know where we went on holiday but I’ve got pictures of me being pushed around because I had a plaster from my toe to my thigh.  Then I was on walking sticks; I didn’t have crutches, I had walking sticks.  When I went back to school in September, I had special compensation; I could go to school in through the teachers’ entrance instead of the children’s entrance.  But I missed doing a very important job for one of the teachers on the last day of term.  She wanted me to tidy out her cupboard and I was nominated to be this very….and of course, I broke my leg on the Monday afternoon and I never tidied out her cupboard!

I’ve got sad memories of Hill End Hospital.  I’m afraid I had an aunt who was in there and that was a bit (of a) scary place.  I used to go down with mum and dad on a Sunday afternoon but I always used to sit in the car.  Some of the wards were locked and they were long, long corridors.  But we did do one thing nice at Hill End Hospital; the ballet I was belonging to in those days, we put on a performance for the patients and I had to have a tutu.  I’ve still got the tutu today.  I had to go to Hatfield and have the tutu fitted by a lady who lived in Birchwood or somewhere like that.  We went over on the bus and it was all this netting and bright pink and there was an Alice band I thought I was the bee’s knees.  I was never a ballerina but we did go there and do that for the patients, which was nice.

(After training as a Nursery Nurse)  I worked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the Special Care Unit in Welwyn Garden City.  I worked there for a year and absolutely hated it.  I was never so frightened in my life.  We hadn’t had any training to do with babies and we were expected to give them injections and stomach wash-outs and I didn’t like that.  So luckily, my father had a customer who was a head teacher of Muriel Green, her name was Miss Harrison.  And dad knew I was unhappy and this head teacher used to come and buy Christmas toys and things from the warehouse and she told my dad that there was a job coming up, so I applied for it and I was very lucky and I got it and I went there in 1968 and stayed there 4 years.  A very happy time.  We were all youngsters (and we) drove this lovely little Yorkshire lady up the wall because it was the time of the mini skirt and there was a spiral staircase in the middle of the building and the dads used to come up one staircase and we were going up…and the headteacher (said) I really think these skirts will have to be lengthened.  But she was a lovely lady; she lived in Queen’s Court and she always invited us back once a term for a Yorkshire coffee morning (because she originated from Leeds) and we always had fruit cake and cheese.  It was lovely, yes.

Other than work, I used to (be) a member of International Voluntary Service where I met my husband and we met in the July and we were married in the March.  We got married at Trinity.  Prior to that, I’d just started working at…because I wanted to get into teaching… I left school before I did my O levels, so I did them in evening classes and I got a provisional place at Putteridge College but I didn’t get all my 5 grades so I was out of work for a bit, well only a week and then I got a job at Fleetville Day Nursery, which was quite an experience.  Run by a Mrs Barrett who was matron and Beryl who was the sister and then there were nursery nurses.  There was a baby room, a toddler room and a big room which was right at the far end.  It was partitioned by a hideous black blind which was rolled down and never rolled up and it must have been so scary to the children.  It was in the Community Centre and I worked there for 6 months until I got married and then I got a job in Hatfield in a nursery class in Hatfield.  We had the children come at half past seven in the morning and some didn’t leave until 6 at night.  They were referred from Social Services and in those days, they recommended that mothers go to work and we look after the children.  The week before I got married, I was on ‘earlies’ and I got in with matron and we had to light the boiler every morning - it was a gas boiler.  I don’t know what she’d been doing to it but she said to me…..she used to call you Nurrrse in a very Irish way…,”Nurrrse, light the boiler!” and she hadn’t told me she’d had the gas on and it all blew out at me!  So I had no eyelashes and no eyebrows and all the other girls, because we were all youngsters together, they all brought in false eyelashes and we had every lunchtime trying to work out how I was going to wear these false eyelashes.  I was there for about 6 months and then I went to work in Hatfield.  

We were married in 1973 at Trinity and we had our reception at the Noke Hotel in Chiswell Green.  We had about 50 guests and we had to be out of the Noke by 4 o’clock in the afternoon because there was another thing going on so it was very well-kept time.  My mum wanted a toastmaster because, sadly, I lost my father in 1968.  He was a chronic asthmatic and his heart just couldn’t take it any more, so he sadly died in December 1968 which was very sad, so Fred, who was our manager, Fred Fensome, gave me away.  In those days you didn’t have the evening party and everything, you just had the wedding reception, so it was very nice.  After that we lived in Riverside Road which was off Cottonmill Lane, two up two down.  Ideal, but when Charlotte came along in ’76, we came back to Fleetville and we lived in Cambridge Road.  Charlotte went to Fleetville Nursery and I got a job at Fleetville Nursery, looking after children with special needs with Mrs Banner and Mrs Willan and Mrs McMillan and Belinda Channon and Jean Sullivan, who still lives in Fleetville.  Oh we had great fun there.  We used to go round to Clarence who was the butcher in the parade just past the Post Office and we used to buy cheese there for the children and next door was a greengrocers and we used to buy apples, and we used to take a couple of children round there and buy the cheese and buy the apples.  Mrs Willan was a great pianist and we used to do a lot of music and I used to take the ‘specials’ over with the ordinary children and we used to go in a room in the actual school because we were in the new building.  There were 2 police houses in Woodstock Road and they bulldozed that down and built the nursery.  No, we had great fun at Fleetville, it was great fun.  Then I had two other children and they all went to Fleetville.

Special occasions at school were Sports Day.  The head at Fleetville in those days was a lady called Mrs Renshaw? and she was very in to fashion and she wore very expensive lovely clothes and I can see her now on the Sports Day with this lemon dress on and she had some kind of hat on her head and we had to go to the Junior School and use their playing (field) and I can see her marching us over but she was trying to hold on to her hat and be responsible for all these children as well.  We had a grand celebration there of 75 years of the school opening and all the staff dressed up in Victorian costume and we all had to make the children white pinneys.  They did dancing and had a day where they pretended to be Victorian children.  Charlotte went there in ’81 and so I would say that must have been ‘84/’85 – this was the Infants.  Well, my mum died in ’81 and Charlotte started in the April of ’81 because in those days you didn’t go to school ‘til you were 5, so she would have had 2 years there so it (the 75th anniversary) must have been ’83, something like that.

We had doctors in Victoria Street; Dr Finlay, who I think is still alive.  He used to come down and visit my father.  He had a big shooting break car and he had all his children in the back.  He had a mattress and all the children would be in the back; he had 4 or 5 children.  He was very, very good with my father; he was very attentive to him and then we went to Dr Smith and then they moved up to the Maltings.

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