ARTHUR GEORGE HANWELL'S MEMOIRS

Charles Skinner and Amy Elizabeth Hanwell, Arthur George and Amy Rebecca's eldest daughter.

[Above] Arthur George Hanwell, born 1891 in Northampton.

 

Memoirs written in 1972.

On one side of the street were a row of small shops, a house, and a chapel, all adjoining. 

[ We are fairly certain that this is No. 48 Horsemarket, the Primitive Methodist Chapel would have been next door -

if you can confirm or know better please let me know at clarkealanj@gmail.com ]

It is the house I am writing about as I lived there when I was a boy. It was very dear to me as was my mother, father and family.  My mother was slowly dying,

although I did not know this at the time, she seemed to be unwell often and I used to think all mothers were the same because they had so much work to do.  She

would do her housework and cooking for us all, I used to help her with this and she would tell me how to do things, I was very quick in picking it up, she said I was very thorough. 

In those days (over seventy years ago) housework was hard.  It was a pleasure for me to see the fire grate (as it was called), after I had polished it with black lead. 

There were errands to run, coal to bring up from the cellar, the bedrooms to scrub every Saturday, yet with it all I was happy.  I loved the old house, to me it seemed so cosy

at evening time with the fire burning brightly, the gas jet on the long bracket suspended from the ceiling, I felt very proud when I was allowed to stand on a chair and light it with a taper. 

 

Next door to us was a chapel, to go there was my only recreation.  On Sunday evenings I used to pump the big organ and when the choir was in full song I had to

work like billy-oh to keep the bubble in the glass gauge steady.  If I had failed to keep it steady it would have dropped to zero and the organ would have made an

agonising moan. Would I have dared to peep around my little screen and see fifty pairs of eyes looking at me? Luckily it never happened.

Christmas Eve and Day were a very happy time for us all, in the evening we all sat around the fire singing carols and old songs with the firelight glowing on our faces,

suddenly a flicker from the fire would instantly light up the room, this gave me a feeling of comfort and love towards all those around me. Dad would sing us his old song,

it had a haunting and lingering tune and when sung slowly was very impressive: 

 

Where is now that merry party

I remember so long ago

Some have gone to foreign regions

Some have gone to realms unknown

Far away, far away

 

[Above] Charles Hanwell

Of course we would all join in the refrain, Mamma would then sing her song, if a little falteringly. 

[Above] Elizabeth Hanwell nee Yates 

We had a piano in the front room. Kate (my sister) was fond of playing it although she had no idea of music.  I could manage “God Save The King” with one finger until someone gently closed the lid, putting an end to my musical efforts.

 

Every Sunday we would all go for long walks in the fields.  All these excursions mean a two mile walk before we came to the fields, we used to enjoy walking on the footpath

through the wheat or grass that grew almost as high as us children, but long before we arrived home we were tired and Dad had to carry each of us in turn.  We all shared the enjoyment of those happy summers.

 

The fun and games we had were created by ourselves.  Even the old lamplighter was a welcome diversion as he made his rounds, we would watch him along the street lighting one

lamp then another.  One urchin would climb on the farthest lamp post and put out the light, we would all run and tell him that it was out, he would go back to light it muttering and

cursing only to find when he came back another one had been put out.

 

Bert (my brother) and I used to go the old Palace of Varieties at the end of the street.  It was during my boyhood when the songs and music changed, it was known as the

“sentimental age”, they were very sad the songs we used to sing.  The barrel organ would come around slowly playing the old tunes, sometimes a man would sing the song

while the other man turned the handle.  They would sell the song sheets to people gathered around them.  Then overnight the songs and tunes changed, they were more

light hearted like “Yip I addy I a I a” or “has anyone here seen Kellys.” 

 

[Above] Gold Street, The Palace Of Varieties can be seen on the right

 

We used to take the anniversary of the Gunpowder plot very seriously indeed, most toy shops sold masks for one penny and nearly every youngster wore one. 

Some would dress up like Guy Fawkes and his companions, we were a frightful looking lot, dirty faces, a moustache, old hats and cloaks made from old capes. 

With a broomstick we would do our rounds in threes.  The object was to get as many halfpennies as we could, we would begin by opening the front door of any house,

stand in the doorway and thump the floor with our broomsticks at the same time as chanting our ditty :

 

 

This ditty paid dividends, women would give us something to be rid of us and save the lino.  Some would give us a farthing and if the old man was in we would have

to be quick to leave otherwise it would be a knock on the head with his broomstick.  With our proceeds we would buy fireworks and ginger beer.

We used to have tea parties at the Town Hall and would parade in our Sunday best (if we had any), all cleaned up we would walk in twos to the Town Hall and the traffic

would hold up for us.  The Mayor would greet us and the teachers saw to it that we had plenty to eat, they would turn a blind eye to the bulging pockets.  There were plenty

of poor kids in the town.  If my mother heard of any family who were hungry she would send me round with a can of soup and a loaf.

 

We spent many happy times around the old market on Saturday nights.  We would wander along the rows of stalls, butchers row, fishmongers, fruit, clothes, boots,

bric-a-brac, patent medicines, second hand articles, cheap jacks, everything was there.  In the evening it wall lit up by oil flares.  We like the pottery man best of all, he

had no stall but all his crockery (china, dinner sets, vases) were laid out in a large ring on straw.  He would stand in the centre and was an expert at repartee. He could make

one cry and laugh at the same time.  He would hold a large vase up high and then tell us how much he wanted for it.  He would then tell us about his dear old grandmother

and being full of emotion would brush away a tear - at the same time he would then drop the vase but before it hit the ground it was caught in his hand and held aloft. 

The price was now halved.  There would be an excited gasp from the crowd with a squeal or two.  The man would sell the vase and half a dozen more.  He would then hold

a dozen dinner plates on the flat of his hand until they slid along his arm up to his shoulder, then lower his arm holding the top plate and show them to the crowd.  He would

then state his price, slide them back again, look around and then gently lay them back on the straw, turn away to something else and then suddenly come back to them and reduce

the price.  He was a genius of wit and exhibitionism.  We loved him, he would even spare a solemn wink for us, this would make us scream with delight.

 

We would then visit the cough medicine man, he had a stall of his own on wheels.  He would mix ingredients into a huge bowl, mould it together - adding other mysterious

items until it resembled a large pudding.  He would then take it out and string it on a large hook which was fastened on his stall.  He would then stretch it and loop it over again

and again until it was almost brittle, stretch it out again and then finally cut it into small pieces and sell to the onlookers.  To judge by his patter he had cured all the crowned

heads of Europe.  On our way home along the street a door of a public house would swing open and the strains of “I’ll be your sweetheart if you be mine” would issue

forth with volumes of tobacco smoke, we would hurry by.

 

Slowly my happy life came to an end, my mother began to worse until she eventually passed away.  I was numbed, perhaps I felt the loss more than any of my

brothers and sister as I was continually with her.  My eldest brother and sister were going to work now and my youngest brother needed my attention.  My happy life had

come to an end, I would creep into my room and cry myself to sleep.  Not long afterwards my elder brother and then my sister got married.  Father told us that we had to

move to a smaller house.  The day after we moved I felt so restless, I went back to the empty house and climbed through the unlatched window.  The empty rooms seemed

larger, each step I took echoed all around as I moved towards the door.  I sat on the lowest stair, the front door facing me at the end of the passage, it felt cold.  The dusk

of the evening creeping from the far corners of the passage and living room had a darkening look.  Slowly the air about me began to feel warmer and cosy (just as it used to),

I heard the old clock on the chimney shelf chiming.

 

“Coming Mama”, I answered as I ran down the stairs into the living room with the smell of meat pudding and vegetables.  My father, brothers and sister were sitting at the

 

table, mother was spooning out portions from the large basin onto each plate as it was handed to her.  Ruffy our dear old cat was sitting on the head of the sofa, his great

fluffy tail curled around his feet, his large eyes watching every movement.  Silently I went to my chair, we were not allowed to speak at meal times.  Mother sat down, Grace was

never said at our table, father used to say “The Lord will provide if he thinks fit.”

 

A door banged high up in the house echoing all through.  It brought me back to the present.  I looked along the passage but it was quite dark. My eyes blinded with tears. 

I felt my way up to the second flight of stairs and when I reached the top I went along the passage to my old room.  I lay down on some old clothes near a cupboard,

sad and miserable, the light from the grocer’s shop across the way reflected on the ceiling and wall (how thankful for that light after I had blown my candle out).  I do not

remember falling asleep.  The cold autumn sun was shining through the window when I awoke.  To a family like mine who were so thoughtful my absence had caused great

distress, I was greeted with relief by my father and young brother. 

 

Eventually my life took on a new meaning and I used to join the games with the boys nearby.  I shall always remember the first time I saw a motor car they being seldom seen. 

If by chance one came our way we would run alongside it laughing and making rude remarks like “noisy old rattle trap” or “stinking old bonfire”, but it was all taken in good part

by the man at the wheel who would be wearing his goggles and leather jacket or coat.  The ladies would wear veils over their hats or faces. 

 

The streets where I lived were quiet except for a horse and van or a brewery dray drawn by two beautiful big horses.  I used to love stroking their large necks and

soft noses and hear them champing their bits, they would blow out a gush of breath through their noses making us jump back in alarm.  Sometimes they would stop near

our house and we would run home for two lumps of sugar, the drayman would tell us to hold our hand out flat with the sugar lump on it, that way the horse would not bite you. 

We would feel very proud if we passed them in the street and the drayman raised his whip in salute to us.

 

The roads were very dusty and when it rained they were covered with mud, the pavements were also dirty.  Sometimes a man would drive a horse and water cart and spray

the road with water to keep the dust down.  On Sunday my brother and I used to walk around  the town after we came out of Sunday School, we would arrive home in time

for me to fetch the dinner from the local bake house, nearly everyone took advantage of this service as it was cheap (it cost 1p in today’s money).  We often cooked our dinner

at home and I was especially fond of meat pudding cooked in a large basin.

 

When I left school at thirteen I was not a brilliant scholar but could get along with reading and general knowledge.  The teachers were often bullies, they used to cane and flog

the children for the any mistake.  As you can imagine I was glad to leave school and join the company of whistling errand boys, butcher boys, paper boys and fishmonger boys. 

The streets used to ring out with their piercing whistles, they knew the latest music hall songs and no matter what street you happened to be in you could hear it. 

 

The copper was strict but he was also very kind – I have seen him carry a poor lost kid in his arms through dozens of streets to the police station until his parents were traced.

To us boys he had more power than King Edward himself.  We also knew he would help us if we were in need. 

There was always a large cheer from us when they marched in a body at the Mayor’s parade.

 

My first job was with WH Smith & Son, the newsagent.  We all had to be at the shop by 6 a.m.  Eventually my father got me a job in the brewery where he worked. 

I was in the bottling department, it was exacting work and the foreman would be watching us all day.  I did not know that the more beer we bottled the bigger his bonus, no

wonder I went home tired.  His name was Irons and my wage was 5/- per week (56 hours).  I think I was there about four years.

 

I joined the army in 1913 for seven years.  I certainly had my fill of travel from the day I joined, and my lucky star brought me through the battles of Neuve Chappelle,

Richbourge, Givenchy (in Flanders), then the badly planned Dardanelles and onto Egypt.

When love creeps in your heart
There's sunshine everywhere
Happy oh happy the day!

Break not the golden shell
Lest all your joys depart
The gates of paradise open
For you when love
Creeps in your heart.

               Arthur George Hanwell (thanks to Robert Skinner)

 

 

[Above] Arthur George's brother - article taken from the Northampton Independent

[Above] Arthur George Hanwell in Egypt

[Above] Arthur's brother Henry, Sidney (Sid) Hanwell (born 20th Dec 1903. All Saints)

He joined the Navy 16th March 1927. Was Leading Stoker on HMS Repulse when Torpedoed by the Japanese in Dec 1941.

He survived the sinking and made it to Singapore, where he joined HMS Encounter.

He survived the sinking of this Ship during the 2nd Battle of the Java Sea on 1st March 1942.

Spent over 20 hours in the water and picked up by the Japanese Navy Destroyer IKAZUOMI.

Sent to Macassar POW Camp where he died from injuries and Dysentery on 14th March 1945.

 

 

 

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