Cynthia Turner

These memoirs have been transcribed from oral recollections, made over many years of Cynthia Maud Still (nee Turner) and were compiled in April 2006 by her son, Anthony Still.

All the text and all the photos of Cynthia Turner are the property of, and copright of, Anthony Still and Cynthia Still.  Use of this material for reference or study purposes is freely granted.  For all other uses please contact the copyright owner at 27 Barbers Drive, Copmanthorpe, York, YO23 3 XN

The topographical photos are by courtesy of Reg Aston.

What was your name?

I was called Cynthia Maud Turner when I lived in Ladymoor.  I was known as “Ceenie” Turner.

When did you come to live in Ladymoor?

We arrived in Ladymoor near Bilston, Staffs, about 1924, and there we stayed for the next 6 years until I was 12 years old, going on 13, when my family took up its wandering ways again, and we left to go to the south of England.

What do you mean by “wandering ways”?

Mum and Dad used to travel with the travelling fairs, running a sweet stall, and my mum read people’s palms.  I had a peculiar childhood.  We lived in digs and moved on each week to somewhere new.  In 1924 we arrived in Deepfields, Coseley.  We had been there before I think.  At Deepfields we took lodgings with Mrs. Williams in Ladymoor Road, about a quarter to half a mile from the fairground.  I called our landlady Granny Williams.  We stayed on there after the fair moved on.

This was my earliest memory of a settled home life.  I have a few recollections of living in Manchester with my real Granny; and in a caravan by a market hall;  but they are snapshots and lack detail. I know that my parents who came from London had kept a fish and chip shop there for a while until Mum overheard a passenger on the bus enquiring  “What’s that fishy smell?”   The shop was sold in days!  My brother was living in Manchester and I think that Mum and Dad had gone up to be close at hand.  He had been living with his Granny.  I don’t know why as I was never told.

We went to her funeral in Manchester from Bilston on the train.  I had to give her a kiss in her coffin.  I didn’t like that at all.  I don’t recall much about her except that she spoke with a London accent and was a very fast runner.  Once I cheeked her and ran away thinking that she wouldn’t be able to catch me - but she did.  I ran into a building and out the back door.  Granny had run round the back.

A studio portrait of Cynthia, taken on her 10th birthday in 1928.

What do you recall about your early life?

Not much.  

Before we settled at Ladymoor we had travelled about the north Midlands with the travelling fairs.  Sometimes we were in a horse drawn caravan.  We travelled with Pat Collins’ and Davis’ Fairs.  I know that we visited Congleton, Leek, Stoke, and Hanley, Sedgley and Deepfields. I never knew why we took up this way of life.  I didn’t ask and Mum and Dad never spoke about it.  As I was only six years old, I was not consulted about it or told very much.  Kids weren’t part of the decision-making in those days.  They just did as they were told!

Dad had bought his own stall.  He sold sweets and gingerbread.  He bought slabs of nougat and cut it up using knives that he had made at Napiers’ Engine works in Acton during the Great War.  He used to rent the pitch from the fair organizers.

Mum read palms and told fortunes.  She never explained how she picked up this skill or how she came to be an able pianist.  I know that she had had a hard childhood and that her mother had not had much money to spare but as she didn’t talk to me about her family life I was kept in the dark.

Once Dad fell off the front of the caravan where he was driving the horse and was dragged along by it.  He wasn’t badly hurt.  Mum threw me off of it once for being naughty.  I went round the fair telling everyone that Mum had thrown me out. We didn’t always travel by caravan and sometimes we stayed in digs.

How did you come to end up in Ladymoor?

The last fair that they worked was at Deepfields near Bilston.  We had been there before and had stayed in digs.  In November 1924 for some reason that they never explained they decided to quit travelling and settle down.  I wonder if the school board man caught up with them.  It may just have been the winter weather or perhaps Dad sensed an upturn in the engineering trade.  So instead of leaving with the fair we stayed on in our lodgings in Ladymoor Road and I went to school.

Ladymoor Road goes to Bilston to the north and Sedgley to the south. 

"1" is the area of the Spread Eagle. 

"2" is Broad Lanes School, with the Methodist Chapel on its southern boundary. 

"3" is the traditional fair ground site, between the LNWR line and the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

I had started school in Manchester in 1923 but had I had been taken out to go travelling. The school that I was to attend was quite close by to Granny William’s house.  It was called Broad Lanes Infants’ School, I think.  Whilst I was there it was rebuilt in stages. The new building replaced a tin tabernacle type of construction.

Why did you call where you lived Ladymoor?

We all did.  I thought of it as a village, I suppose.  I always called the district where we lived Ladymoor.  Our place was a good walk from Bilston and I thought of it as a village. Funnily enough although Ladymoor was in Coseley I never thought of it other than as Bilston.

Where did your dad work?

 Dad went to work at Guy’s Motors in Wolverhampton where he was employed as a gear cutter. I don’t know how he got to work; I think he travelled on the bus or the train.

And mum?

Mum carried on with her palm reading, which she did in the many markets of the area. She had a stall at Bilston market hall.  Sometimes it was in the indoor area but most often it was in the outdoor area at the rear of the building.  She had a tent that she erected in her space and which was screened from the public gaze by a curtain that she drew when she had a client. She had a folding card table on which she put her crystal ball and two chairs. Outside the tent there was a notice and a photo display board.

Madame Leene (Maud Turner) in 1944.

Do you recall the digs?

At Granny Williams’ we only had the one room. I celebrated my 7th birthday there. I had a party. The guests were all girls except for one boy, Cyril Cooper.  I recall that he was very fat.  We used to fight like cats and dogs, Cyril and me.  We used to call him “Pep”. He lived next door to Granny Williams’ daughter further down the road towards Bilston.

We lodged with Granny Williams until Mum purchased a caravan.  She came in one day saying that we were moving, that we’d a place of our own.  I thought she meant a house but it turned out to be a caravan.  It was the first of two.  The second was larger and Dad extended it with a built on kitchen.  The second had a living room and two bedrooms and together with the kitchen extension it was cosy.  These vans were my home for my time there.  The vans were parked in the yard of a pub called The Spreadeagle.

What do you remember about the pub?

The Spread Eagle Inn was a self-brewing pub. The Landlord, Mr. Holcroft, brewed his own beer in a huge tub.  We used to swim in it when he wasn’t making beer.  I don’t think it can have been a very safe place to swim.  When he was making beer it had a very powerful smell but I didn’t notice it all that much.  I think he brewed up weekly.  He only made beer for his pub.

Cynthia and Bertie Holcroft at the rear of the Spread Eagle.

I think the pub was at 19 Ladymoor Road.  The pub opened onto the street but it had a rear yard that you reached from a gateway down the street. There were two houses next to the pub and then the gateway. We parked up the van in the smaller yard near the gate.

There was a lane that lead to the larger yard at the back of the pub and there were toilets, a washhouse and a stable. Sometimes there was a horse in the stable. The pub had a smoke room on the right as you went in and a bar on the left.  I didn’t go in much as it wasn’t allowed.

We used the pub facilities for washing and toilets. I wasn’t supposed to go in the pub but I did because they used the family’s sitting room as a family room for the customers.

There were quite a lot of Holcrofts as I remember.  Apart from Mr. Holcroft and his wife I recall Bertie, Clarence, Ivy, Ernie, Deborah, Frances and Olive.

These houses were in Coseley Street, closer to Bilston.  The one on the left, with the pillars, was the birthplace of Thomas Holcroft, the ironfounder.  Bertie and his family could have been descendants of the same family.

Did living in a caravan cause you any bother?

Because I lived in a caravan I was called Gippo at school.  As I said we had two caravans.  The first one was small enough to tow with a horse.  The second was too big to tow with one horse.  It stayed in he yard.  In the summer we lived in at Clent Hills.   Dad hired a horse and drove the van to Clent.  He had hired premises there.  They ran a sweet shop.  Mum ran the shop whilst he went in to work at Guy’s by bus and train.  I am sure that she also continued to read palms.  Dad used to make toffee in trays.  I still have the hammer he used to break it up.

What clothes did you have?

Dresses and jumpers.  Mum bought them off the Bilston market.  I seldom had new clothes, unless Mum knitted them.  She was a good knitter and very quick, and usually patient as Job, although if she made a mistake she would often get angry and sometimes throw the whole thing on the fire.

Once I had a new “mac”.  It was shiny on the outside and woolly on the inside.  I tore it in three days.  I also wore out a pair of shoes dancing the Charleston.

What sort of things did you do?

I used to play with my friends. We didn’t fall out very much; we were very happy with each other. We played all sorts of games, marbles, hopscotch, skipping, tops, chase, handstands, and rounders. We used to stick around the street; we didn’t wander far, except sometimes we would walk along the footpath through the steel works.  We never went to the canal much.  I don’t remember being told to stay away from the old coal shafts or being warned about the canal. We knew it wasn’t safe.

I used to enter the fancy dress competitions at the local carnival.  Once I went as a snowball, and another time I was a balloon girl with a dozen balloons attached to a pale blue dress with a balloon pattern and a fully pleated skirt.  In a bad summer I was dressed to ask the question “When will summer come?”  At another I was a “Daily Sketch girl”.

What was family life like?

I was a late child and I was in the way.  My Mum didn’t like me much and didn’t treat me fairly. Dad was kind to me and I could twist him round my finger.

I always had knitted dresses when I was a kid. Mum knitted me a bathing suit. She would pull out her knitted garments and re-use the wool. I learned to knit at home and at school.

My parents never left me alone in the caravan. Either Mum or Dad was there.

Mum was well spoken; she had a London accent but it was not posh or common.  Dad could do the real Cockney voice if he wanted.  She came from Marylebone and he came from New Cross. They had both had disadvantaged backgrounds, growing up without a father present most of the time.

Cynthia with her father, Thomas Turner, at Margate in 1929.

Mum used to say “Cut your nails on a Monday for luck.” And “Never cut your nails on a Friday.”

Mum offered to teach how to read palms but I wasn’t interested.  She was quite good at palm reading and always satisfied her customers.  She only once refused to read a customer’s palm.  I asked her why and she said that she didn’t like what she had seen.

She believed that she could foretell events and successfully predicted that she would break her leg.

Mum and Dad were early to bed, early to rise.  Dad had to travel into Wolverhampton to get to work and he had to go into Bilston to get the bus.  He used to say things like “Wet Friday, wet Sunday”, “ Rain before seven, clear before eleven”, “Sing before breakfast, cry before night,” and “Before you can say Jack Robinson”.

The northern part of Ladymoor Village. The name of the pub on the left is not known.

My brother, Frank, lived in Manchester with my granny until he got married. Then he lived with his wife Norah but still in Manchester or Salford.  I’m not sure where.  He always had a motorbike, and came to see me at Morecambe once and once, when I was ill, he came to Clent Hills.  I wasn’t expected to live, but I did and I’m 88 now.  My Dad hired an ice cream making machine as I could only eat ice cream for some time.  The Doctor told me one day that I was well enough to eat jelly.  I said,  “I’d rather have a raw carrot”.

Frank brought me a doll. This was very uncharacteristic of him as he was always careful with money.  He had saved a hundred pounds by the time he was 21.  He rented a garage and stored workers’ bicycles whilst they were at work, to earn cash.  He had been apprenticed as a cabinetmaker and he was very skilled.  I used to like to ride on the pillion of his motorbike.  He had married under age without his parent’s consent.  Granny had given consent.

Mum didn’t like his wife, Norah.  She didn’t like her because she was older than Frank by several years, she was a Roman Catholic and, Mum said, two faced over alcohol. Apparently she was offered a drink by mum, which she accepted as long as Mum didn’t tell her husband.  Mum wouldn’t give the drink on those terms and was very scathing about her thereafter.  She didn’t like my husband either as he had a deformed hand.  After my son was born, and the first time she saw him, she immediately inspected his hands to see that they were perfect.

She wasn’t always nice to me.  She often gave away my clothes and presents without asking me. She gave them to her cronies.  I suppose they were from the pub where she often spent a lot of time.

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