Phyllis Walker

Life Story transcript

I was born in Pengam - Pengam, Mon. There are two Pengams: one is Monmouthshire and one is Glamorgan and the River Rhymney runs between and that's the boundary.

Anyway, I was born on the 8th of February, 1919.

... Now I've stopped! [laughs]

What's the first thing you can remember?

Oh golly... The first thing I can remember was being taken to school when I was five and not wanting to go and I wouldn't go until Kathleen was ready to go. Now Kathleen was twenty-one months younger than me so she started school, ooh, round about four and then I did go with her, and things went on quite well after that.

I can remember being in the Infants first of all and Mrs Willie was our Governess and then the school was a small school and the Infants had one part of it and then we went up into what we called the "Big School". Then I tried the Eleven Plus and I passed and I could either have gone to Maes y Cwymmer Secondary School, which was in Monmouthshire or Hengoed Grammar School for Girls, which was in Glamorgan.

Now both Maesycwmmer and Hengoed were about three miles from Pengam and I went to Maesycwmmer because, from memory, I believe I had everything paid for there, but if I went to Hengoed, we would have had to pay for the books - it was something like that, anyway.

Anyway, when I was round about fourteen, we moved to Ystrad Mynach. My father hadn't been well and mother decided that she might like to run a little sweet shop. Now this was done in the front room of the house in Ystrad Mynach.

Well, when we moved to Ystrad Mynach, I could no longer go to Maesycwmmer because Ystrad Mynach was in Glamorgan, so I was just transferred to Hengoed which really was a better school than Maesycwmmer and I was very fortunate in the fact that they had a Commercial Form there. It was called 6C - 'cause I would be no good at teaching or anything like that, so I went into commercial work.

We also went to Tabernacle Baptist Chapel, where we had a lot of friends. We used to go out in crowds - we'd go for walks at Eastertime and we'd... what I used to look forward to was every year, all the churches and chapels around used to go to Barry Island. Now, that was the nearest seaside resort. If you went on your own, you'd have to go as far as Cardiff and change - get another train to Barry. But when the churches and chapels went, there was a special train put on so you'd go straight from Pengam straight through to Barry, and we used to look forward to that.

Err, now what else? Anyway, I stayed in school until I was eighteen and then I got a job at Powell Dyffryn, which was a Colliery Office. I was there for nine years and that was where I did my shorthand and typing, because I learned that in Hengoed School, which I was very fortunate 'cause there weren't many Grammar Schools who taught commercial work.

After that, I stayed in with Powell Dyffryn for nine years. In fact, it was a reserved occupation. Lots of the boys and the men went off to war and we girls were reserved, so I didn't have to go, thankfully, into the army or any of the forces. Anyway, as I say, I stayed there for nine years but there was no promotion - it was only a very small office - and I thought, "Well, I can't stay here all my life," so soon after the war, I saw an advertisement in the paper for a shorthand typist in Marconi's in Chelmsford.

Now, I had no idea at all what that was like - I thought ... in my mind, I thought Chelmsford was a nice little market place. I knew it was in Essex, and that's all. And of course, by that time, Ken and Beckie were living in Wickford, and that was in Essex. So, what I did, I decided I wrote and they asked me to go for an interview on such-and-such a day, so I sent a telegram to Ken and I said "Meet me at Paddington station under the clock on Platform 1." and I gave the time of the train, because I had no idea how to get from London to Chelmsford - I had never been to London in my life.

Anyway, he very kindly came and I... now I think I must have stayed ... I don't know whether I stayed the night there, with them in Wickford or whether we went straight to Chelmsford, where I had the interview. Anyway, I did go back and stayed the weekend with Ken and Beckie and then I got on the train and went back home. Now, I can't remember whether I was told then and there that I had had the job or whether they wrote to me and said "You've got the job," so that meant leaving Pengam - and I hated it. I didn't really want to leave, but on the other hand, I knew that I wasn't going to get anywhere if I stayed in Pengam.

So I came, and once again, Ken met me - took me to ... now, I went ... Marconi's found me some digs in the hostel in Broomfield, on Church Green and that was a nice old house - it had once been lived in by a family - with plenty of grounds around. It was really nice, but it had been turned into a hostel, mainly for factory girls from Hoffman's, but Marconi's did take a few office girls and anyway I went and I wasn't keen on the job - it was alright, but it was much bi... it was a huge place and I was only used to small offices. We had to clock in, which I had never done before and then I stayed there for three years - not really enjoying it at all, but that was where I met Josie.

Now, Jo came from Yorkshire. Now... and anyway, she and I became very friendly and then her father died and she went back home and she never did come back. She worked in Marconi's, but she was what they called a "Tracer" - she was extremely good at art, was Jo. Anyway, she never came back. She got married and we still kept in touch. In fact, she died a few years ago and she was really my longest living friend - I'd known her for over sixty years and I still miss talking to her.

Anyway, I stayed in Marconi's for three years and I saw an advertisement for a job with the County Council in the Planning department, which was also in Broomfield, and I got it, and in fact, I was in charge of the small typing pool there. And of course, that meant that I could walk to work because before that, I used to have to catch the bus into Chelmsford, which cost me three pence each way or if I got a weekly ticket, it was a bit cheaper and also, my digs cost me ... now how much was it? Twenty two and six a week, I think. I was earning four pounds anyway, £4 a week in Marconi's. But I got the job, as I say, in the Planning department.

I can't remember what I earned there, but anyway, I was there for five years and the Welfare department of the County Council were advertising for a secretary for the Chief Welfare Officer, so I applied and I got it. So I was there... now I can't remember how long the Chief Officer was there because it was turned from the Welfare department into the Social Services department, and that was a thing that happened all over the country, and that was... the government had decided to do that and that meant that the old Welfare department, the old Children's department and part of the Mental Health department of the Health Service all combined and became the Social Services department.

Well, when that happened, Mr Pegram, who was then the Chief Welfare Officer for Essex, he resigned or retired rather and Mr Boyce came and he was the new Director of Social Services and luckily, I became his secretary and I was there for twenty five years and made many friends. We used to go out together for lunches and dinners and that sort of thing and I retired when I was sixty in 19... 79, I think it was and of course by that time, Mr Boyce had retired and there was a new Director of Social Services. He was originally the Deputy Director and I never did like him very much, but I worked for him for a little while and I thought, "Oh, this is no good," so I gave my notice in and I retired.

Well, the girl who was the Deputy Director's secretary, she became the Director's secretary. She became pregnant and her husband worked with Marconi's and at that time, a lot of them were being made redundant, so she didn't really want to give up her job in case he became redundant, but of course she had to leave to have the baby. Anyway, they asked me to go back for two months. I said "No, I didn't want to go back" - I didn't want to work for Mr Hawker - that was his name. Anyway, one of the... the Personnel Officer came to my house - I was then living in Baddow - and he came, and he said "Oh, do come back" and I said "No, I don't like Mr Hawker - I don't want to come back."

Anyway, later on, Mr Hawker and Dorothy, who was then his secretary, they came, and they said "Come back - it'll only be for two months," so I went back. I went back for two months, but I was there for seven months and I said to him, "Now look, if you don't get somebody, I'm going anyway." I said, "Advertise." I said, "You told me I'd be here for only two months - I've already been seven months." So, that was the end of that.

Then after a while, I ... well I wasn't doing anything, I was just enjoying retirement and meeting friends and going out and I decided "Well it's... I'm paying rent" because I was in a Council bungalow then. I thought, "Well, I'm paying rent all this time. Let's see if I can get ... buy a house." And incidentally, before that, I had tried to get a mortgage and because I was single and had no male sponsor, I couldn't get a mortgage. So for a long time I did nothing about it.

Anyway, Ken and Beckie said "There's a house in Wickford, which is empty. Come and see it." Well, when I first saw it, I didn't like it. It was rather delapidated, but in the end, I decided I would buy it, but it needed a lot done to it and in those days, if anyone bought an old house, the County Council were prepared to give a grant. So I had a grant of £3000, which was jolly good. I think I paid about £17,000 for it. I had an extension put at the back, where I had a toilet and wash basin.

I had central heating put in and I spent quite a good bit of money on it. Anyway, I stayed there for ... I'm not sure how many years. I didn't get on with my neighbour - she quarrelled with everybody, actually - not only with me. And erm... ah yes, what made me actually decide to move - I fell downstairs in this house, but I only fell down the last step and I broke my ankle in two places, but before that, we'd had a very very cold winter and I was going out to post a letter from my house and I slipped on black ice and broke my wrist. So I broke my wrist in two places, I broke my ankle in two places and my dear brother, Kenneth, he helped me: he took me to the hospital every time I had to go there, he really was very good and so was Beckie. I don't know what I would have done without them.

Anyway, as I say, I fell downstairs, so this is where Peter comes in and he said "Come and live in Southend." So he, Janet and I went looking for bungalows, because I decided no more stairs - bungalows, this time. And we looked at a few, and anyway, there was this one particular bungalow which was being done up and it still had the skip outside with a lot of rubbish in it and Peter said "Let's go and have a look at that." And that was the one I bought.

Now, what did I pay? I paid ... they asked £165,000 for it and he accepted £163,000, so that's what I paid for that. But I had nothing at all to do - it was all refurbished and that's where I am living now. I am in my nintieth year and I hope to go on for a few more years and enjoy it, and thanks to Peter, Janet and the family who've done an awful lot for me, I am enjoying life.

And that's about all. It's not a very interesting life, but that's about it.