The splendid article about Elsie Paine in the September issue made me wonder what life was like when she was born in Cardross Street in 1928. The area had been open fields, orchards and market gardens until the 1850s but the arrival of the railway at Hammersmith ten years later changed all that and by 1890 the area from King Street to Goldhawk Road was completely built over. One of the first roads completed early in the 1870s was Cardross Street and the occupants would have been working class families, the men employed in local industries. It was originally called Rose Gardens and many of the cottagy terraced houses still have sweet smelling rose bushes in their front gardens.
Elsie mentions her Nan had seven children but large families were on the decline – women in the late 19th century gave birth on average to 4.6 children during their lifetime but fifty years later this had fallen to 2.19. Candles and oil lamps still lightened dark evenings as few houses had electricity, gas remained the main domestic fuel and many homes cooked food on a coal stove.
With no refrigeration, food was bought on a daily basis and Brackenbury Road was the village centre with a fishmonger, dairy, couple of grocers, baker, greengrocer, butcher, chemist, newsagent, boot maker and oilman whilst Joseph Horsnell who lived at 2 Cardross Street ran his farrier business from the address – this is the blacksmith Elsie remembers shoeing horses – whilst several houses are recorded as taking in laundry.
Charles Morse, cow keeper and dairyman of Bradmore Farm at Glenthorne Road supplied many of the local houses with fresh milk each day. A Sunday roast joint would last for days, meat being eaten cold on Monday, turned into rissoles Tuesday and the rest in a stew which lasted for several days. Vegetable soups contained what was plentiful on the day whilst Pig’s Fry was a grand name for tripe and onions. A cookery book of the time includes a recipe for sheep’s head soup and the exotic sounding “Entente Pudding”, the ingredients being one pack of tangerine jelly and a pint of custard made from powder.
Working men returned home for their midday meal whilst those who did not ate plain food in chophouses. As a young lady Elsie would have been familiar with Lyons Corner Houses which served reliable meals in clean and attractive surroundings, their waitresses wore smart black and white uniforms and were known as ‘nippies’. During the 1920s the first sandwich bars opened in Hammersmith, one advertising “no shellfish, no tinned food, no foreign produce, no tips, no waiting”.
This was pre NHS days so the rich paid into private insurance and friendly societies, doctors ran schemes for their less well off patients who contributed a small sum each week for medical cover whilst those who could not afford this turned to charitable institutions.
The most usual cause of death for adults was heart or circulatory diseases and measles and diphtheria the dreaded killers for children. Boys and girls were obliged to attend school between the age of 5 and 11, this being increased to 14 years in 1908. For girls work ‘in service’ was being replaced with shop and office opportunities whilst boys could find jobs in factories or be apprenticed into various trades.
It was safe for children to play in the streets as there were few cars, card games and sing songs round the piano were enjoyed in the evenings and if there were pennies to spare than a trip to one of the new picture houses in King Street. The band stand in nearby Ravenscourt Park provided free entertainment and watching the Boat Race at Hammersmith was an annual favourite.
Elsie has seen so many changes in her life time but one thing remains constant, the charming houses of Cardross Street and surrounding roads continue to be home to families who love living in this part of West London.
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© Caroline MacMillan