Beryl Lawrence



This is Jenny Cuthbert and I’m talking to Beryl Lawrence in Clay Lane, Beaminster, and it’s May 2005.

JC  So Beryl, thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me.  First of all I’m going to be very rude and ask you when you were born.

BL  1927.  4th August, 1927

JC  And were you  born in Beaminster.

BL  Yes.  Here.

JC  In this cottage?  So you’ve been here all your life?  And  your mum and dad?  Who were they, what were their names?

BL  Their names?  My mother was a Travers before she married.  Amy May Travers and my father, of course, was Lawrence.  His people were farmers and lived at Barrowfield.

JC  Oh they did.  Right.  So was that his background then, completely in farming?

BL  He was round the villages and they ended up at Barrowfield.  And mother, I think, was born in Fleet Street and then she moved to different houses in the town.

JC  So real Beaminster people.

BL  They were really.  

JC  And did you have any brothers and sisters?

BL  No, I didn’t, unfortunately.

JC  So you’re an only?  What’s your first recollection really of the way Beaminster was when you were young? Because it must have changed so enormously.

BL  Well just a quiet litle town.  Or little village you might call it.  But we had more shops.  We were able to get more things in the town.  It was self sufficient you see.  There were five butchers, two bakers and three grocer’s shops.

JC  So really there wasn’t a lot of need to go travelling off to get………..

BL  Well, you couldn’t because there was nothing to travel in.  (Laughter)  There were a pony and cart but only because father was connected with farming.

JC  And getting to go to school, and where did you go to school?

BL  Oh down at the Girls School in White Hart Street which is now flats.  

JC  How big a school was it?  How many children would have been in your class?

BL  Oh I suppose 30 say.

JC  And did you all just carry on through then, either go to the Girls School or the Boys School…..

BL  Well those that passed the Eleven Plus of course went on to the Grammar School.  And then the evacuees came, and when the evacuees came we were sort of – did half days schooling.  We didn’t really get the education that we should have got.  We went up to the……. do you know the old mill? Well we were taken up there to the old mill, before it was all done up like it is now, for the afternoon and the evacuees took over the school because there wasn’t room you see for everybody.

JC  So they came with their own teachers did they?

BL  Yes, they came from Acton I think, a lot of them.

JC  They were London children.  They were very different?  (Laughter)

BL  We went up the old mill and we were sort of doing Shakespeare plays and things like that.  it was an education of a sort but not that practical education.  However……….

JC  And did they stay very long, the Acton children?

BL  Oh yes.  Some of them are still here now in fact.  Well, one of them.  I don’t know if you’ve met her.  She was Kathleen Mclaren.  

JC  Yes I have.  She’s interviewed with me and talks about that.  So did you find that Beaminster children mixed very much with the evacuee children?

BL  Yes, I don’t think there was any animosity.

JC  No, even though you went to school on different halves of the day.  You still got together?

BL  We came together for some things yes.  There was no trouble I don’t think.

JC  And were they all billeted around the town or were they out on the outskirts or in villages or everywhere?

BL  Oh they were all over the place really.  A lot were billeted round the town.  You had the choice I think.  Women who……….. they had the choice they could take some evacuees or they could go out and do a job.  

JC  Oh right.  So what did your mother do?

BL  Well, my mother chose to go down and work in one of the grocer’s shops because father wasn’t particularly patient- I think that’s why we didn’t have a big family with children – and she thought well that’s not going to work I think you know. (Laughter)

JC  So that was her war effort to go down……………

BL  She used to go out and do that, yes.

JC  And I suppose of course this was during the time of rationing so……………….

BL  Oh yes, that was in the time of rationing. Of course rationing went on after the war didn’t it?

JC  As far as I know it went on until about ’52, ’53.

BL  I left school about 1942 I think, I was about 15.  I didn’t leave before, there was nothing to do and she wouldn’t let me.  ‘Can’t wander around doing nothing’, she said.  (Laughter)  So then I went to the Food Office.

JC  So that was your first job.  Where was the Food Office?

BL  Well, then, it was above the Library where the Council Offices are now.  A big room at the top there.  And that was when Warren Riglar went in the Army.  I think everybody in the Food Office sort of moved up a peg and they wanted a Junior.  So I came in as a Junior.

JC  And what sort of work was undertaken by the Food Office?

BL  I must try and think.  Well everybody had coupons, Ration Books, and you had to register with a shop.

JC  Right, so you couldn’t just go anywhere to do your shopping?

BL  Oh no, you were rationed – you registered with a shop and those registrations were handed in to us I think, had to be all filed up in order, and then you had to count the coupons.  Bread coupons and pea coupons and all the other coupons.  Horrible job counting all these coupons.   And I was a junior of course.  And I think the whole system was done like a banking system.  The coupons were paid in and one of our clerks, who’s now died, sort of made this up like a banking system and paid out to the shops in the form of cheques.  Like cheques.  And they could pass it on to the wholesalers.  That’s how they bought the food in.  It was all done like they banked their coupons and then…………..

JC  So in fact it was a really very organised system. 

BL  And then when the Ration Books were issued, when the end of the year came, and the issue came, that was quite a big job and then volunteers would come in perhaps and write up a few.

JC  And did everyone have the same sort of Ration Book?

BL  No.  There was a buff one for adults, a blue one for what they now call teenagers (we weren’t called anything then really, nuisances) and green ones were children up to five which meant there were different rations.  You know, a teenager could have perhaps a bit more than an adult, because they were growing, and the children up to five I think had extra milk and things like that.

JC  And was there a black market in food in Beaminster as it seems to have been everywhere else?

(Laughter)  Under the counter.

BL  Not here I don’t ……..  There might have been, but I don’t know.  Whether anybody, farmers or anybody, had a pig, bartered it for something.  I wouldn’t know that.


JC  And how long did you work in the Food Office?

BL  I went on after the war because rationing went on after, went on up to about five years after I think.  And then in 1950 it was becoming obvious that the job was going to fold up, and I had to do something, so I answered one or two advertisements and ended up with getting a job in Bridport with the School Medical Officer and Medical Officer for Health for West Dorset.

JC  What sort of work did that involve?

BL  Well that was public health more than anything.  He was the :Public Health Doctor and the School Doctor.  So we went round the schools examining the children and referred them back to their own doctor if they found anything, and cafes, shops, outworkers for factories, all that came under us for Infectious Disease.  The doctors had to report to the Medical officer of Health any infections in the area.  I think it’s all different now.  Centralised I think.  And then, the doctor would visit the house and organise Sanitary Inspectors and that to fumigate if necessary, you know if it was Scarlet Fever or Smallpox or something horrible.  I don’t think we got any Smallpox.  We had Scarlet Fever and we had Polio.  That’s stamped out now with the immunisations.   And then, that’s another thing, in ’56 the immunisation came in for Polio and then we organised big clinics around the district and people would come to be immunised.

JC Because it was a killing disease, Polio, wasn’t it?

BL  Oh yes, it was.  It could paralyse someone.

JC  We don’t think of it today…………….

BL  I think a footballer died of Polio, that’s right.  Some famous footballer.  So then they organised clinics after hours and people came in the evenings you know.  So that made quite a lot of work.  But now it’s maybe centralised.  You don’t get the Medical Officers in each little place.  I think they’ve got one in Dorchester, he probably covers a big area you know.  That was quite fun going round the schools, I quite enjoyed that.   I’d go round with him.  I’d do the recording and that while they did the job.

JC  How long did you carry on working for Public Health?

BL  Public Health?  I think it was ’72 or ’74 there was a reorganisation of local government, because that was then under local government, and it came under the Area Health Authority and all the Trusts they’ve got now, and we moved into another building where the GPs joined and the District Nurses and all the medical things right in one centre.  And that grew and grew.  You might have read in the Briport News now, Bridport having a fuss about their Clinic and wanting to enlarge it.

JC  Yes, wanting to make it bigger.  Oh, I see, that’s the Clinic now…………..


BL  That’s the Clinic now.  Well that’s been enlarged since I was there.  Now its seems its going to be enlarged again.  It goes on.

JC  So did you spend the whole of your working life working in the medical field?

BL  From 1950 yes.  Until I…………. well, I went part time in ’85 because my mother became ill, she got a form of Alzheimers and she didn’t know if she was coming or going – neither did I sometimes – and I gave up then and went part time thinking it would help.  But it didn’t really and then she died soon after. So really I could have gone on. But never mind, I went part time and that was it.  I’d done it by then.

JC  You must have seen enormous changes in Beaminster over the years.  Not only in the size of the town but the kind of things that are available to people although you said we don’t have the shops here that we used to have.  What sort of activities were there for younger people as you were growing up?

BL  Well, of course again, with the war coming there was always Guides and Scouts and Cubs and Brownies, that sort of thing and then, when the war came they started these training units.  If you weren’t old enough for the Forces they encouraged you to join a training unit in case you got called up.  

JC  And did you join anyhthing?

BL  I was in the Girls Training Corps and the boys had the ATC, the Air Training Corps.  Army Cadets?  I think they came on a bit later.  There were some Army Cadets.  You may have seen the photograph down the museum?  I think they’ve got the Girls Training Corps?

JC  They have indeed yes, and I’ve spoken to Audrey Welsford about the Girls Training Corps.  (Laughter)

BL  You know you’ve got the whole history there.  (Laughter)

JC  And what other kind…………………. I mean, was the Church an important factor or the Chapel or those sort of things in the town?

BL  Oh yes.  There was the main Church and then there was the Chapel where the museum is.  That was used a lot by the Americans.  Because I think the Americans were more of a Free Church when they came over.

JC  That must have been a tremendous change in the town but there were troops before the Americans weren’t there?

BL  English troops yes.

JC  It must have been quite exciting in a way to be quite honest.  (Laughter)

BL  Well, of course, I was too young really to be bothered with troops.  Or too stupid I don’t know.  (Laughter) It didn’t really affect me a lot but I think older girls went a bit mad yes.

JC  And also, I know that you are friends with someone who was in the Wolmen’s Land Army.  Now how did you get to know someone in the WLA?

BL  Well, again, Doris came to the Chapel and my mother preferred the Chapel.  And at that time there was a lady here who was a………… well I don’t know if she’d been a trained singer or what she’d been.  She’d come from London and she was very musical, and singing, and she got some of us grouped together and formed a choir.  Doris had a very good voice and she came down there singing and that’s how I met her.  Because I was in the choir.  I don’t know I had such a marvellous voice but anyway, I did something, and …………….

JC  So did you do concerts or were they just events that took place in the Chapel?

BL  I’m trying to……………… it was more sacred music yes.  There.  But when you talk about concerts they did some of those in the town.  The amateurs.  I expect Kathleen McLaren may have told you about that.

JC  No, we didn’t talk to her about being in concerts……………….

BL  They did some amateur dramatics and things like that.  Got people together.  Her mother was also evacuated here and she was quite a character.  She was an evacuee from London, quite opposite from the West Country as you can imagine.  (Laughter) And she did a lot of singing and hopping around up there.


JC  So there were lots of things to do.  Even though it was the………..

BL  There were dances of course, but I wasn’t old enough to go or I wasn’t interested but I wasn’t really old enough.  But others of them went to dances with the Americans.

JC  And how did people manage with things, like you read about, the Make Do and Mend and all the kind of shortages there were of non-food things.  I mean you read about shortages of soap and…………. and was it as it says in the books now, because sometimes what it says in the books isn’t entirely what seems to be in people’s memories.

BL  Well it was Make Do and Mend.   You had to mend things because you just didn’t have the coupons.  If you had the money you didn’t have the coupons.

JC  Right, so it wasn’t a matter of money then.

BL  Well, in a way it was.  Because people were quite poor here, I mean it was only a country place.  But also, if you had the money and you didn’t have, I think it was seven for a cardigan, if you didn’t have seven coupons you couldn’t go out and get a cardigan.  I can remember when I started work one of my aunts said to me ‘well you can’t go to start work in that cardigan.’  I said ‘well I have to because I haven’t got any coupons left’. So she said ‘well, you can’t go in that thing it’s worn out.’  So we’d scratched about and between them they managed to get seven coupons.  Pinching them from other people I expect.  (Laughter)  You just couldn’t go ahead and buy one.

JC  Yes, well of course that seems so strange today when everything is accessible to everybody.

BL  It’s too easy really isn’t it for the youngsters.  They don’t reallise what it’s like not to have……

JC  You get absolutely everything.  And in terms of things like soap and fuel?

BL  Well that was rationed, soap.  I think it was so many bars per month or something.

JC  And did anybody ever really restrict their bathwater? You see cartoons of lines around the inside of the bath that you should only have so much hot water……………

BL  Well, in the time in the war we didn’t have so much baths here.  Well we had baths but not fixed baths.  Because the sewer was stopped going through because of the war.  There was no proper sewerage scheme through here until ’66 I think.  Because as I say, the war stopped it so you had to end up with a tin bath and a boiler or something like that.  

JC  So that is a very different……….  That’s absolutely fascinating.  Is there anything else that  you jotted down that you thought of to tell me or have we covered it all?

BL  No, I think that’s about all I can think of.  I don’t know if there is any interest.  I know in the time of when I was a Guide, a Girl Guide, we used to go out picking Foxgloves for the Digitalis which makes the drugs for the heart and we used to pick them and stook them up to dry in one of the big houses in Horn Park, at the top, which was one of the bigwigs of the Girl Guides with her drawing room stacked up with Fogloves.

JC  Really.  No I’d not heard about that because again, I’ve read about things like the Hedgerow Harvest 

and people collecting Rosehips…………….

BL  They were sent off somewhere, I don’t know where.  Apparently you get Digitalis out of them which makes the heart drugs.

JC  So as a Girl Guide were you sort of involved in collecting of anything like Salvage or were you knitting or what kind of  activities did you do in the Guides?

BL  Not more than just normal except for that.  Because I think I left the Guides about 16 and went on over into the Training Corps. 

JC  And what sort of activities did the Girls Training Corps………….. did you get involved in with that?

BL  Well again,,,,,,, 16, must have been after the war because it carried on.   I was 12 when it started and I was about 18 when it finished.   After the war we went up to London I remember.  We went over the Houses of Parliament and went somewhere in a boat up the Thames.   A.P. Herbert?  The man A.P. Herbert?  We went on his boat and went up the Thames in that.

JC  I was only writing out a poem of his yesterday that he wrote about the Women’s Land Army in 1944.  It’s strange you should mention him because he was a very prolific writer and so forth.

That’s absolutely tremendous.  Thank you ever so much Beryl.  I really appreciate that.