Growing up in the twenties

Photo:Alice's sisters, Edith, Sybil,  Florence (Gossie) and Olive

Alice's sisters, Edith, Sybil, Florence (Gossie) and Olive

Life in Over Street

By Alice Reynolds, former North Laine resident

[This article is an extract from A Penny for the Gas by Alice Reynolds, who lived in No 11 Over Street from 1918 to 1934.]

My first day at school

I remember my first day at school in Brighton in 1922. I was five years old and my mother and I went down Gloucester Road to Upper Gardner Street, where there was an infant school on the left-hand side of the street.  The door had a low brass knob handle and we stepped straight into a large class room, where three classes were being taught.

The Babes Class was nearest the door and was run by Mrs Smith, the Headmistress, a white-haired lady wearing a brightly coloured overall, printed all over with animals.  She was most kind and gave me a place at a long, low table, among other children sitting on small, straight-backed chairs.

No tilting

My mother by this time had gone home and, being ever a fidget, I tipped my chair up on its back legs.  Suddenly it was lowered to touch the floor at the back and I was very startled.  "Now, Alice," said Mrs Smith, who was standing behind me, "don't ever do that again, as I shall not be here to catch you."   And I don't think I have ever tilted a chair since.

All the children learnt well

All the children learnt well. In 1918 a law had been passed stating that all children must attend school up to the age of 14 years.  Previously it had been a bit sketchy. My mother left school at 12 but she wrote in a very good hand, was very good at arithmetic and bookkeeping, and could read well.

We were taught the alphabet using the phonetic sounds and were soon at the 'cat sat on the mat' stage and able to break down words and build them, and find words in other words.  Syllables were fun!  It's a pity some children are not taught by the old methods - I don't think there would be so much illiteracy if they were.  We were reading and writing fluently by the age of seven - using block letters, not long hand, which came later.

No central heating

There was no central heating, but as usual in schools at that time a good coal fire burned in the grate.  For our protection a very large fire guard was placed in front of the fire.

In the playground

There was a playground out at the back;  as I remember it, it was very rough and pitted, which of course would not be allowed now, but I can't recall anyone coming to any harm.  We played for ten minutes in the mornings and afternoons, as a break from lessons.  We had a photo taken. All the girls wore their clean white pinafores and the boys had their hair slicked down.

The Girls

My older sisters - Florence, Edith, Sybil and Olive - were known collectively as 'The Girls'.  They were all very smart and good-looking, and of medium height.  The photograph shows my four sisters, left to right, Edith, Sybil,  Florence (Gossie) and Olive.  My mother's sister - Aunt Cis - took them to have their picture taken and thought they were wearing very drab clothes, so she tore off the broderie anglaise that decorated her petticoat and draped it around her nieces' shoulders.

Florence was the eldest and the most fashion conscious.  She liked to be called 'Gossie', a corruption of our surname, Gosden, in case someone called her 'Flo'.  Gossie had medium brown hair and green eyes.

Edith was the middle one, with dark, curly hair and blue eyes.  She took after our mother, with a nice disposition.

Sybil was auburn-haired.  She had long, curly hair and she wore it up in earphones, which were long plaits, wound up and pinned against her ears.

Olive was a white-faced bundle of misery, who ruled the roost with her bad temper.  She had chestnut tinted brown hair and was very clever.

All the girls had good legs, but they were flat chested - but that didn't matter, as it was fashionable having no bust in 1924, being the time of the flappers!  Whilst other women were strapping down their boobs, the girls didn't have to bother.

Working at the Hotel Metropole

Gossie, Edith and Sybil worked at the Hotel Metropole as lounge waitresses; the wages and tips were good, and they had rich, smart customers as their role models.

At that time the Hotel Metropole was the Brighton hotel where important conferences were held and where the stars stayed - Anna Pavlova, the ballerina, was among them.

Pictures in the fire

At home the ground floor front room was our living room and as such had a good coal fire burning.  In the evenings I would sit on a chintz pouffe in front of the fire, reading, or toasting bread on a long wire fork (toast does not taste the same from an electric toaster!) or making 'pictures in the fire'.  It was amazing what pictures you could see in your imagination, forming in the heart of the fire.  Dad would upset Mum by putting his soldering iron in the fire to heat up. She said it deadened the fire, but I didn't mind, as it made beautiful blue flickering flames and enhanced the pictures in the fire.  We also roasted chestnuts along the bars of the grate.

Cold upstairs

However, it was very cold upstairs.  So if Gossie or Sybil were going out to a dance, after washing and changing their underwear upstairs, they would come downstairs to 'finish off'.  I loved watching them put on all the lovely things they wore.  They wore thigh-length silk stockings, brocade covered T-strap shoes, which had curved little Louis heels, about one and a half inches high; and 'Charleston' garters.  When I saw my sisters in their beautiful dresses I felt very sad, as I was quite sure the clothes would not be as lovely when I grew up.

Lovely dresses

I remember two dresses especially, which belonged to Gossie. One was made of georgette, a non-transparent material, in hyacinth blue, with a crepe de chine lining, and all over the skirt baskets of roses were embroidered in various coloured beads.  The second dress was similar, but in a very light grey and was decorated with bunches of grapes, in mauve, green and purple beads.

Sybil looked gorgeous in bottle green velvet, set off by a bolero of gold brocade. It was a short, straight, Charleston flapper dress and the green was a perfect colour to go with her auburn hair.

Ready to go out

As they got ready, on went the make-up and the Ashes of Roses scent. (It wasn't called perfume then.) Their hair had had a Marcel Wave earlier in the day.  Finally they put on long 'face cloth' woollen material coats, with fur collars that came up around the face.  Gossie and Sybil often had similar clothes and they both looked so elegant.

Our mother would say: "Have a good time and be careful!  I will leave the latchkey on a string."  This meant putting the key on a string that hung down behind the letter box, which could then be pulled through the letter box to open the door.  Those were the days when people did not have to worry so much about security.

Rat-a-tat-tat

Then there would be a "rat-a-tat-tat" at the door and a young man's voice would call, "Coo-ee!". Gossie would say, "That's Arthur!" and Sybil would say, "Goodnight, Mum!" and then they would be gone out for the evening.

They were good girls and deserved some enjoyable evenings out. They helped Mum in the house, as well as giving a lot of financial help for the household bills, and they were sorely missed when they got married and left home.

What happened to 'The Girls'

Gossie married her Arthur, who was a chef in the West End of London.  Later he was employed by the Great Western Railway (GWR) Hotels, and he worked in England and Scotland. He spent some time in Edinburgh, and then in Blackpool at the Winter Gardens Hotel, and during the Second World War he was chef at the Carbis Bay Hotel in Cornwall. Whilst he worked for the GWR, Arthur and Gossie were always given a nice house to live in.

Edith married Sam Stinton, who had courted her for years. My miserable sister Olive also got married in the 30s, to Tony Gebbett, but Sybil - she with the gorgeous auburn hair and green velvet dress - never married.

85 years on

I moved away from Brighton in my teens, but a few years ago I had occasion to return to the town. It was on a Saturday and I went along to 'The Gardens' (as we used to call the market which was held there every Saturday) and I went to the school and stood in the spot where I had stood on my first day at school, 85 years before.   Times had changed, as indeed they  must.  It was no longer a school, but let off into stalls for dealers in the market, which had been running for a good 100 years or more. It was a happy hunting ground for me!

[This is the third article Alice Reynolds has given us about her early life in Over Street.]

This page was added on 16/06/2009.

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