When I was six or seven years old in the 1940s I could venture out miles away from home and not be bothered, ’cause everybody looked after everybody. Our front door never had a lock on it – it had a nail knocked into the wood and bent. At night to secure it, we used to just shut the door and turn the nail. That’s how safe it was in them days.
I lived at 23 Handel Street, Sneinton, near the Bath Inn. I was bred and born into the market. My mother and father used to go out with a handbarrow – they used to be known as the hawkers of Nottingham – Ethel and Buff Burdett.
I was born in Sneinton – Dawson Street, near the top of Carlton Road in the late 1940s. I lived there for the first seven years of my life, and then I went to live at 21 Ransom Road, St. Ann’s. It was a tight-knit community around Sneinton Hollows, Sneinton Hermitage and St. Ann’s.
I was born in 1972 and I grew up in Sneinton as C. Tetley. I started life at the bottom of North Sherwood Street in a terrace, two up, two down. All the family lived in the house including my grandparents, their ten children and all their children, so as you can imagine, the house got pretty full.
When I was three I moved to Taylor Close, which is at the top of Sneinton Boulevard. I lived with my brothers and sisters, so there was seven of us eventually, plus my mum. It was a three-bedroom house – one living room, bathroom downstairs, kitchen and an outside toilet.
One of our neighbours was a man who had really swollen lips. Instead of talking normally, he used to make this sound, like “plup, plup, plup.” As children, we called him the Plupper man. He had a little organic garden patch where he’d grow plums – it was like the plums represented his lips.
Our house bordered Colwick Woods – we would bend the bars and sneak through the wrought iron fence into the woods – it was like our garden, an adventure playground. I’ve got the acclaim of being first born. In those days it was a responsibility to be the eldest, so getting out to play in the woods was quite a rarity.
I was proud that mum trusted me with all the jobs – I was her right-hand woman. Looking back, working really, really hard as a child meant you lost part of your childhood – it would have been nice to go back and go through my childhood without any responsibilities and have no cares, but in those days you had to work hard.
My family were quite orderly – Mum ruled over us with an iron rod. Houses were spotless – we had a routine every day and if we didn’t follow it there would be severe punishments. Sometimes I got punished for not being back on time. Because there were no mobile phones then, you couldn’t ring home and say, “I’m just round the corner, I’ll be ten minutes.” If you were late, that caused Mum to worry, which was extra stress. So you’d have to go to bed with no tea and be grounded for a week.
The women in my family were its backbone – they held us together and they had such a positive influence on me. They went through their daily routines of getting the children ready for school and as the eldest I would help to clean out the coal fire and make a new fire each morning. I’d get my siblings up, give them breakfast, maybe wash them and get them ready for school. My mum was busy cleaning, making beds and things.
The older women taught the other females in the family how to be strong. I guess they were preparing us for a life that they were living themselves and they knew that women bore the brunt of staying home bringing up children and how difficult that can be. There is definitely a disparity between the life I was led to believe I would lead and the one that I have now, yet the very things I’ve experienced are those I was brought up to be strong against, so it’s a bit of a conundrum – whether I’ve gone through those things because I was conditioned to believe that’s the way women should live, or because the truth about how women do live in any circumstance of life, I’m not sure – it’s for and against.
Sneinton itself was a really beautiful place to be back when I was growing up. It was always bustling, there was always something happening. We’d walk to the shops in the early years – we’d never get the bus. We’d say we were going, “down town” because we lived at the top of Sneinton Dale, which was the top of the hill. On the way down there was so many different shops. We’d pop into the chemist and buy the 10p little rain hats – I’ll always remember those. We’d bring our own shopping trolleys and bags – we never got given bags in the shops. It’s quite interesting, because now we’ve gone back to that. There was a hairdressers which is still there today, run by the next generation of the same family. It made Sneinton Sneinton because everybody knew each other.
These days, the community has a totally different feel – different behaviours, different lifestyles. It seems very poor in Sneinton. I don’t live there now, but it doesn’t seem to feel that people connect well with each other, they don’t know each other’s names, shopkeepers aren’t as familiar or friendly as they used to be. It just seems more impersonal now – people are less inclined to share. Back when I was growing up, my friend Maria’s mother would bake cakes and leave an extra tray on her kitchen window ledge for my family, as she knew we didn’t have much. I certainly don’t see that anymore, it’s very different.