Early Memories of Miss Eleanor Vyse 1887 – 1976

I can remember, faintly, Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. It was a lovely summer day and the celebrations were held on the Cricket Field which at that time was where Welham Close now is. There were sports and a tea and a large mug was given to every child.

I went to Water End School. At school I did NOT like the school-mistress. She was stern and wore a lace cap and controlled most of the sixty or so children by just looking at us, or so it appeared. Her hands were smooth and glossy. She always wore black dresses with many buttons down the bodice and full skirts to the ground. The South African War was in progress about that time and I remember we were told in school when Mafeking was relieved by Lord Dundonald. The rest of the day was a holiday.

The only music we ever heard was at Church or at school and I remember standing outside a house listening to a young girl practising on a piano. At school, before lessons started, we always sang a hymn and said the collect for the second Sunday in Advent, with eyes closed and hands together. We also sang Grace before and after midday dinner. But the one I liked best was the Doxology when we all stood with our out-door clothes on ready to go home. I remember the fervour we put into that.

One of-the highlights of the year—almost the only one—was the meeting of the G.F.S. (Girls' Friendly Society) in the Vicarage garden. That was always on Ascension Day. There was a service in Church, then tea on the lawn and games until dark.

I left school at 12 ½ , having passed the “Labour Examination." For the next year I stayed at home to help my Mother as there was a lot to do with five of us at home—children I mean. My father was a hay-binder by profession and he carried his huge knife over his shoulder and it was " Mind this knife! " as soon as he came in from work as there were usually three or four of us capering about. He also carried his twister and skewer and sometimes his " stillyuds." I was much older before I knew that this implement was a “steelyard “used for weighing the trusses of hay." The twister was used to make the hay-bands and the skewer, over a yard long and thick as a ringer, was used to pin the portion of hay being cut and drawn from the rick to make a truss. My father could tell how many loads of hay were contained in a rick by just looking at and around it.

Gathering acorns was something we did every autumn. The price was lOd. a bushel and it did take a long time to get a bushel! Once when it was a bad hay year my father went acorning too and between us we got 40 bushel and that time they were 1 shilling a bushel, I suppose because hay was short.

At 13 ½ I went to service as Mother's Help. I and my box were taken by Nash's pony cart five miles from home to a lady who had four children. She lived at Ludwick Farm which was a Stud belonging to Gurney Shephard of Leggatts in North Mymms. There was a large garden and poultry and we fetched milk from a dairy nearby. Mrs Robertson's husband was away in South Africa with his master, Mr Shephard, who belonged to the Imperial Yeomanry. I don't know that I was of much help but I suppose I must have been, doing stacks of washing up and preparing vegetables and taking the children out, BlackBerrying I remember. I once had an afternoon ' off' and walked all the way home and back again—all ten miles! When I went back in the evening I was met by the children who told me their father had died in South Africa.
I had been in this place a year, receiving Is. 6d. a week all found of course but I left soon afterwards and again had a short time at home helping my mother. I had been at home a short time when the Post-mistress came and asked my .mother if I could go to be Post Office Assistant. I was now fourteen-and-a-half and took up the post—or it took me up. The hours were 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with an hour off for dinner at mid-day. For this I received—wait for It—four shillings per week. The work was interesting and not hard except that I was expected to do a good many chores for the Post-mistress, a Frenchwoman who, years before, had been lady's maid to the Vicar's wife, Mrs Latter.''

I remember having to go to a magistrate to take the oath not to divulge anything which came to my knowledge by being in the Post Office. This meant another ride in a pony-cart—a treat in those days— to a gentleman who lived four miles away at Mimwood. He was Mr Archibald Thompson, Chairman of the Parish' Council—in fact the first chairman of the North Mymms Parish Council—and when he died in 1916 a memorial to him was placed in church. It is the stall where the Vicar sits during the services.

A brother went with me and we rode with the postman who had to call for the mail at another village post-office. I was by way of being in love with this postman; he was not much older than I was and of course knew nothing about that. But didn't I enjoy that ride! So I did the glass of milk and the piece of cake Mr Thompson ordered for me, but I was unhappy about my brother as he was waiting in the drive for me. We had to walk the four miles home.
I didn't do any divulging except when the news came through that King Edward's coronation was to be postponed. I knew that was expected and would soon be known by all anyway, but I got a stern reprimand— but the postman DID ask me. (Not my postman.)
Well, I stayed with that and my four shillings a week for two years. The post-mistress was not an easy woman to be with and my brothers used to tell me that if I stayed much longer with that old woman I'd grow like her that is bad-tempered. The
prospects were NIL for getting a better position and pay in the Post Office so I went to service again.

Now to tell about my next place in service. I was between-maid, one of four servants. My employer, a widow, was the mother of A. E. W. Mason, the writer, who visited her from tune to time. Whilst I was there Mr Edward's book ' The Truants ' was published. His mother was very excited about that, as she was when he became M.P. for Coventry.
The house was about half a mile from the Crystal Palace and really in the country. I could never get all my work done. I suppose I was slow and too conscientious but I remember it took me 20 minutes to dust down the front staircase. I never missed a bannister post. Day after day I dusted and nobody told me to slip it a bit.

I was allowed practically no time off except to fly to church and back on Sunday mornings and all the fresh air I got was when the cook sent me along to the shops for odds and ends.
As I said the house was not far from the Crystal Palace and we could see the fireworks from the upstairs windows when we had any time to watch, which wasn't very often as there was a four-course dinner every night, just at firework time.

I stayed in this place for 18 months and my pay was £10 a year. I was eighteen by this time next venture was in a much bigger establishment. I became fourth housemaid of a staff of four housemaids.

I went to Dropmore, near Maidenhead, a large place with a big staff and once again there seemed more work than I could get through, especially before breakfast; fireplaces where they burned logs and the brass got burned and had to be got clean again; huge rooms to sweep and dust.

I remember once we were down at 5.30 because one of us was on holiday and the three of us who were left had to do the work of the usual four. The master of the house heard sounds and crept downstairs to investigate. We heard afterwards that he had a pistol with him.
I could keep on telling about the way we had to go to church in black bonnets and clothes—two housemaids for church and two to do all the work even when the house was filled with a house-party and some of the guests did not leave their rooms until after 11 o'clock. Bedrooms had to be finished by lunch-time.
Ah well, I am often sweeping and dusting in my dreams and am never able to get it all done.
Happy days? More or less.

Towards the end of the war with Germany, 1914—1918, I joined the Army Pay Corps at Hounslow. I don't know how I had the nerve and don't ask me how I got to Hounslow from North Mymms. However I had heard of it and I itched to do War Work of some kind.
Arriving at Hounslow I was interviewed by a woman officer whose duty it was to do so. Among other questions she asked me was what I had done previously. I said I had been a housemaid. She said, curtly, "We don't want domestic servants here." She then asked, "Who told you of this place?” I answered as curtly, “Lord Leith's secretary." She changed her tune at that and gave me the test of questions and took me on.
Lord and Lady Leith were my last employers as -housemaid. He was a wealthy Scotsman, she an American, and they owned Fyvie Castle, in Scotland and rented Lupton House, Churston Ferrers, Devonshire from Lord Churston. They also used a house in St James's Place in London.

To continue about the Army Pay Corps or Royal Army Pay Corps as it became. My lodgings were about 10 minutes’ walk from the office and the others and I walked to and fro at midday for our lunch. The pay offices at Hounslow were in ten very large huts. The noise on the wooden floors was dreadful and the huts were not very warm in winter. I think Hounslow Barracks was the home of the Fusiliers and only the paper work for that regiment and the Middlesex Regiment was done there. There were eighteen other pay offices up and down the country. My work was with the pay and Mess section of the Middlesex. When any of our men were attached to another regiment their pay office claimed from ours for any pay-or mess our men had received and I suppose the Middlesex did the same for any men other than their own, from the appropriate office. Sometimes a soldier came to our office straight from the trenches, wanting some money to go on leave. He had his rifle, a great pack on his back and his ' tin hat' sometimes on his head, sometimes on top of his pack. I saw one once with blood on his overcoat.

The men workers in the office wore khaki but I think they were unfit for active service but could do office work. They were probably office workers in private life. I remember one poor man had a wry neck.

My pay was twenty-five shillings a week. One pay day I was given two pounds notes. They were stuck together, and as it was lunch time I just pushed them into my bag. Being a ' V' I was nearly ‘the last to be paid so after lunch I took the extra £1 to our Staff Sergeant, who said " Ha, just the one we were looking for!" Later in the afternoon the Paymaster came to me and thanked me for returning the note. He said something about a box of chocolates. I said “Oh, not at all!" I didn't get the box though I would have liked it.

The war came to an end whilst I was at Hounslow and no work was done on that November day. Two of my fellow-lodgers and I went up to London that evening and got as near to Buckingham Palace as we could. The crowd there was enormous; one could not move but had to go as the crowd took us, cheering, until we were nearly hoarse, the Royalty when they came out on to a balcony. However, we got back to Hounslow at last and went to the office next morning. There was still plenty to do before things were finally cleared up. I would have liked to stay to the end, though the sitting down work did not agree with me after the activity of house-maiding, but tragedy happened at my own home and I was allowed to leave at once.

After America entered the Second World War the ‘American Army Hospital sprang up in North Mymms Park almost overnight.

After a time a local lady organised a party of village women as volunteer needle-women to do some necessary sewing for the men. There were four of us, Mrs Horney and Mrs Stowe from Blue Houses, Roestock, Mrs Harry Nash and I from Welham Green. Most of the work was sewing braid on their forage caps, sewing stripes of rank on their sleeves—upside down!—shortening trousers or putting new collars and cuffs on their shirts. Sometimes one of the women staff got us to mend something for her.

Occasionally we were given a cup of tea and once the tea-leaves were floating on the top of the cup.. The young lady didn't know why. I asked her if the water had boiled. She said she had made it from the hot tap! Well!

It was a long walk from Welham Green to the hospital and once I got through the wire railings to take a short cut. A sentry was there with a gun and told me off! I told him why and what I was going for and he let me go past.

At that time there was usually a shortage of beer at the local pubs. The Americans liked our beer. One evening, early, an old village chap named Sammy was hurrying up the road past my-house. He was met by someone on a bicycle and greeted with " It's no good going up there Sammy. There ain't no beer. You'll have to go home and have a cup of cocoa." Sammy stopped and said “Cocoa!” in a very disgusted voice.

At the end of things we, with lots of others who had helped in some way, were given a party and we needle workers were given a Certificate of Loyal Service by the American Red Cross. It is dated 29th June 1945. I am the only one left of the four.

Miss Eleanor Vyse died on July 23rd.1976.

Born more than 88 years ago her early childhood was spent in the Water Splash area of the parish. She attended the Girls' School at Water End where the principal subjects on the curriculum were the 3 R's, the Church Catechism and Needlework—subjects which had a great influence on her life.

Quiet and reserved she had a dry sense of humour and was a keen judge of character. She did not suffer fools gladly.

During the early days of the School Meals Service, she served in one of the then newly built shops in Dellsome Parade, she was one of a small group of volunteers who served the meals and supervised the children during their midday ' break '.
An even smaller group did a weekly ' mend and button replacement' for the men at the American Hospital at North Mymms Park. For this the American Red Cross bestowed a Certificate of Loyal Service to each.

A staunch member of the W.I. her needlework was shown in London at one of the Exhibitions organised by the Federation. The beautifully made, merry looking Golliwog included among the Crafts at the recent Flower Festival had been made by Miss Vyse. During the 1939-45 War the W.I., by the collection of waste paper, was able to give a small money gift at Christmas to every serving man and woman in the parish. Miss Vyse walked miles delivering the gifts and making sure no one was forgotten.

Apart from these activities her life was devoted to the service of her family and the friends she gathered around her.
May she rest in peace.

D. Colville

22nd September 2015.

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