(These memories of Rose Wilson are by Joan Goddard. Some names and parts of the narrative have been altered or amended to help understand and clarify who it is who is being referred to).
My mother, Rose Edith Stella Wilson was born on the 6th December 1903 and brought up in very great poverty – her father had died when she was only three, and Martha, her mother had to bring her family up with no assistance, apart from the little that her sister Daisy could earn.
I suspect that the whole of the Wilson family had a great zest for living, and from what I have heard the young Rose enjoyed life more than most. She used to talk about dancing, and riding motor bikes, and boyfriends, and I’m sure she enjoyed life to the full, – as much as she could on what little money she had.
Rose went to the “Swan Downer School”, an old fashioned place where they wore a dark uniform with cloaks like “Red Riding Hoods” with white frilling framing the hood. The children were meant to be sent into service and “get their feet under someone else’s table” (My mother Rose hated this school, and much later in her life still spoke bitterly of the way the children were treated there. They had to scrub the floors and clean the whole place, and it was made very obvious to them that they were the recipients of charity. The school was situated at the bottom of Dyke Road – a gothic style building near what is at present Gamley’s toy shop.- JRG)
At around 12, Rose was pretty, talented and bright and was encouraged to audition for the chorus of the Grand Theatre pantomime, where she appeared several times – once being chosen to rush off the stage as Cinderella with her clothes turned to rags as the clock chimed midnight at the ball, and real Cinderella disappeared into the wings in her finery and a puff of smoke. When I was a little girl she used to sing me the “Cinderella” songs and even when a very old lady could still recite them. Since Henry had died this chorus work was a welcome addition to what Martha could earn.
During her time at the pantomime Rose was trained to dance by the famous ballerina Espinosa – who was wont to say to the quite grown-up girls and in some cases, quite “over-blown” and “past it” “girls”, “Come along babies, dears”.
Also the producer, of foreign extraction, would admonish them – “Geef me two pennysworth of animation” and “Remember! Eyes and teef, girls, eyes and teef”. Good advice to any performer – still bandied about in our family!
Another way of earning was posing for artists. Rose posed (clad) for a Cecil Burleigh, a local artist of some repute. About fifty years after it was painted I saw a portrait of my mother in a yellow dress, called “Primrose” in a retrospective exhibition at Rottingdean, and wished I could have bought it. She also posed for a Mrs Amy Scott, who only this last year (1988) was on show at the Brighton Art Gallery. She also posed for one of the Miss Sassoons, of the famous family, in their huge house on Marine Parade (for many years later used as a residence for the Teachers’ Training College). Three-year-old Rose was allowed to pose in the altogether for the students at the Art School, and was declared by the experts there to have a perfect figure apart from a little too much tum.
Rose had to leave school at the age of 13, as was the custom in those days, to go into service. She had been attending the Swan Downer School, which was a charity school situated at the bottom of Dyke Road opposite Wykham Terrace. She hated it there, – the main purpose of the education was to teach young girls how to be servile and good servants. So perhaps leaving it to go into service was an improvement.
In fact I think that my mother did go into service, I believe she was taken out of school and put into service the next day.
Rose’s sister Daisy, was fifteen and had a good job on the Palace Pier in varying capacities from programme girl in the theatre to box-office, to manageress of the restaurant, to general office duties under the management of Gilbert Laye, the father of his famous actress daughter, Evelyn.
Daisy was determined that her sister Rose wasn’t going to go into service as a result of their difficult circumstances, so she paid for her to go to a secretarial school and learn bookkeeping and short hand typing so she could get a job in an office. Daisy made sure that she continued her education, and I know that by her late teens she was doing office work, – in Woolworth, if I remember rightly, and then in Mary Yorkes, a dress shop in Western Road.
However, she had to work at anything she could get – serving in a sweet shop at the age of 13½ (from which she was sacked because her brother and sister had measles) to sewing collar bands on shirts, to dressmakers apprentice – where she merely picked up pins and delivered finished goods. “I’m not having you wear out good shoe leather doing that” said Martha – so then Rose had to work in a laundry. When Rose described some of the stuff she had to sort that came in from the local hotels one’s mind boggled and one wondered how she stayed there at all. She got very overtired there so went to work for “Green’s Custard Powder” – then an infant firm conducted from a house in Hamilton Road. Mr. Green was very religious and correct and sacked Rose for singing and causing the older girls to sing at their work of packing the custard powder – “in any case he wasn’t having her working by day and kicking up her legs by night” – for Rose used to ‘moonlight’ to make more money by appearing in the chorus of the local pantomime or as a “Super” in any of the melodramas at the Theatre Royal – or in the films then made at the “Kinemacolour” film studios in Hove (by the railway near Hove Station).
Grandfather Henry doted on my mother Rose. It was his habit to prepare all the vegetables for the Sunday lunch for grandmother, and all the brood – leaving Gran to cook the meal while he took Rose in her Sunday best to Sunday morning church service, after which he would take her with him to visit his sisters Lizzie, Fanny and Sally, in turn. They would be cooking their mid-day meals too, and little Daisy would be given a “Wet Annie” to eat, to be “going on with”. “Wet Annies” were dumplings, a useful way to fill the family and make the meat helpings go a bit further. (Suet Pud seems to feature in almost all old Sussex traditional recipes). Consequently, little Daisy’s Sunday appetite, week after week, was ruined and she pushed her mother’s delicious dinner round her plate, unable to force any more down – but was made to sit at table until she had finished, however long it took.
She told me how she remembered sitting there Sunday after Sunday retching and struggling and miserable with the chilling fat congealing before her eyes.
She met George Linden and married him on the 28th August 1931. She was 28 when she got married and he was 22. I think she would have got married sooner, but her mother Martha Wilson was an invalid and was mostly bedridden. She had made Rose promise that she wouldn’t leave home all the time she was alive and needed looking after.