Sheila Fowler

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Interviewee:  Sheila Fowler - age 80

Interviewer:  Liz Bloom

Date:  July 19th 2011

I was born in Salisbury Avenue and I had one brother.  I was born 80 years ago and I went to school at Fleetville and my first teacher was…. Well the headmistress was Miss Lewis in the Infants School and then in the next school, in the Juniors, Mr East was headmaster and one of the favourite teachers was Miss Perkis who used to teach Maths.  Then the war came and I went to Beaumont School and as it was wartime.  We didn’t have to wear a uniform so we didn’t have to fork out for that.  

I left school when I was 14 and I went to work at Peakes coat factory which is now the Blue (Arrow) employment agency in the Hatfield Road.  It was quite strange really but I had two friends who started work at the same time, at Peakes.  I worked in the lining room where the coats came in from the factory with a ticket on and I had to match them up together so that the right lining went with the right coat back into the factory to be stitched in.  I was there for a little while and I got fed up with it and a friend who had gone to work in a newsagents in Catherine Street said she was fed up with that and she’d like to work at Peakes, so we swapped jobs and I went to work there and I stayed there for 16 years.

My father was born in Kent and his father was the head gardener at a place called Cobham Hall in Kent.  My mum was in service when she was younger in St Albans but I think she actually came from Little Gaddesdon out Hemel Hempstead way.  Then the war came and we had a table in the back room.  We used to go underneath it as kids and sleep underneath it in case of the bombs.  There was a direct hit at a house in Eaton Road and when we walked to school you could see the half, sort of like a doll’s house…half the…you know…gone…the bedroom was there and the downstairs rooms.  There was a land mine in Beaumont Avenue; somebody got killed there.  I think the planes were looking for DeHavillands, the aircraft factory, which was British Aerospace (in later years).  I used to cycle to Beaumont from Salisbury Avenue and sometimes we used to walk.  We used to walk along the Hatfield Road and the lorries used to go by with the American soldiers in and we used to shout out, “Got any gum, chum?” and they used to throw out packets of chewing gum and that.  As I say, I left at 14 and after I went to work at Heading and Watts in Catherine Street I used to go round to the hospital with papers in the morning on my bike to go to all the wards and sell papers to anybody who wanted to buy one.  We used to sell fireworks at that time; the price of fireworks now, well they’re just out of this world.  But then, you could buy quite a few fireworks for 10 shillings.  First of all, it was just a newsagent and a little sweet shop was next door.  The old couple next door, they retired, so my boss bought that sweet shop and knocked a hole in the wall – two sides – and we used to serve birthday cards as well.  I was very fond of…...I used to like all the birthday cards and doing that.  And so that was that.

Then I got married when I was 29.  It’s rather funny really because he (future husband) was working in a shop.  My boss bought a shop called Batchwood Stores and so he gave my husband a job there and we needed a new dustbin at home and so I ordered it from there and he delivered it and he met my mum and she liked him and that.  At the time he was already married, but his wife went off and left him while he was in hospital recovering from an operation to enable him to have children.  In those days you had to wait quite a while for a divorce and he got divorced in the November and we got engaged in December, on Christmas Eve, and married the following May.  We were married for 48 years and had two children, Rosemary and Heather.  He packed up at Batchwood Stores and we were looking for a sweet shop and we found one at Rickmansworth called Surridge Dawson and by that time we were living at Kings Langley just after we got married, because we’d got a little cottage there.  We used to go backwards and forwards from there to Rickmansworth and he managed that.  When Heather came along, we used to go early in the mornings and come back and pick me up and I used to go in and took Heather in a carrycot on the back seat of the car and we used to have some sort of arrangement that, if he couldn’t come home, I’d stay at home with Heather.  Then one year, we had that terrible lot of snow and the paper boys couldn’t get through to deliver the papers, so we had to take the car and go all round Loudwater and Chorleywood and round there with Sunday papers.  Heather was born in ’63 and she was a baby then.  We had to put chains on the car.  We had an old Wolsley and that was my husband’s pride and joy; we had that for ages.  Then they decided that they’d sell this newsagent at Rickmansworth and they offered it to us but we couldn’t afford it and we’d pointed out that, you know, we’d earned (it) and they said “Well, that was your….”….that sort of thing.  So then we saw an advert in the Herts Advertiser, wanting a manager to live in in Holywell Hill at the news agent there so we went for an interview on Boxing Day and got that job and stayed there for a year.  Then this shop came up (on Hatfield Road); that was in 1964.  It was just a sweet shop with birthday cards and ice cream and cigarettes and fireworks and all the rest of it.  It was very run down but we took it over.  At that time, Rollings, the wholesale sweet and tobacco place, was just here where the hairdressers, that was, and the two flats were just there.  That was Rollins and then they moved round into the Camp and as soon as we took over the shop on the Thursday, I went straight in there and got a trolley and went round and loaded it up with sweets and that because there was hardly anything here; the chap had let it run down so much.  Then we retired about 4 years ago.  Then my husband developed prostate cancer and he was ill for about a year, I suppose, and then he died 3 years ago.  We had a dog called Honey which he would love to take down to the Rec and met lots of other people down there with dogs; made a lot of friends there.  

When I was younger, I used to play badminton at the Methodist Church and I started at Sunday School there when I was 5 and I’m still going; with just that gap in between when I lived at Kings Langley.  (When I came back to Fleetville) I remember I stood in Salisbury Avenue although my dad had died.  I knew this shop as a sweet shop even when I went to school because it had been a sweet shop all those years.  (The thing I liked most about the shop was)..serving the children.  Their mums used to say, “Now you’ve got 10 pence to spend and that’s a penny and that’s two pence and that’s three pence and you’ve got to work it out”, you know.  They learnt their Maths through the flying saucers and the penny shrimps and the rest of it.  

When I worked in the newsagent in Catherine Street sweets were still on ration.  You had so many; you had 4 Ds – a D was one ounce; and then 4 Es – and that was a quarter of a pound, an E.  That was for the month, so you had to, sort of work them out and people used to have to cut the coupons out and we used to have to count them up and then, when the travellers (salesmen) used to come round, you could only have the amount of points you got from the shop.  Some people used to come in who’d got a lot of children and had got a lot of sweets and they used to say, “Here’s our sweet coupons, can we have other things with them?” sort of thing.  People used to try and sell their coupons and try and buy clothing coupons because of…….especially if there was going to be a wedding and they needed extra coupons,  so there was quite a lot of swapping going on.

It (the shop) was rented first of all.  There were two sisters and a brother; they owned quite a bit of this part of Hatfield Road.  One of them died and, to do with death duties, they needed some money so that’s when they sold it to us, so we owned it outright.  We enlarged the shop because that part of the shop was the sitting room at one time; that was 1980, we enlarged it.  What is now the pizza place was a cake shop and that was the cake shop for donkey’s years, but then next door to it was a private house and that was made into a fancy dress shop called Mardorf’s, and the house next door; we had neighbours there.  Next door here was an army surplus place where they sold all different bits and pieces and then there was a carpet shop and then Stan Miles the cycle shop and on the corner was the Express Dairy.  So I didn’t have far to go; the kids used to run in and out to get the shopping and that.

Heather was born in St Paul’s maternity ward – that’s all knocked down now – in Hemel Hempstead; that’s all gone.  Rosemary was born in Queen Elizabeth in Welwyn Garden City.

When I was 11, I fell over  in the playground and grazed my elbow and my knee and in that, I developed psoriasis which I’ve had ever since and which I passed on to Heather, so she’s got psoriasis.  The dentist was a chappie called Mr Allen in the practice just up here, and then after he died it was Mr Hopkins and then Mr Stanton.  I had all my teeth out when I was about, let’s see now, 60, I suppose, so I don’t have to go to the dentist any more now, thank goodness.

I can remember sitting on the wall out here with the next door neighbour and somebody else, waiting for Princess Di to go along and open the Children’s Centre which is over there, you know, by the school.  So we sat there and I wore my red, white and blue dress.  We all had a mug at school in 1936 when the present Queen’s father, when it was his coronation; I’ve still got that.

In the war. I can remember the food rationing because we used to go to the butcher’s (which was just round the corner from the post office), called LCM, the London something Meat Company.  My father was in the War Reserves and quite often he would come home and say to my mum, “Can we put up a couple of ATS girls tonight?” and they’d come along and they’d bring their coupons with them and we used to feed them.  We had a lodger during the war and he used to have his butter ration like that; and my mum used to have it cut up into squares so that he had just that one…all that sort of business!  We had a girl from Parliament Hill School in London and she used to go to what was the Grammar School, across the road then.  Then we had a young boy called Buster; I don’t know what his proper name was but he was always called Buster.  He was a proper little London lad.

When she (Margaret Mills) first started school, she lived along the Hatfield Road…..Her mum used to bring her down to Salisbury Avenue to our house and I used to walk her to school.  It was her house (it wasn’t her house at the time but it is now) where the bomb dropped in Eaton Road.

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Age 3, 1934