The Biography of Edith Marsh

Ben Elliott, 1993

[This portrait of a neighbour was written by Ben as a school project. His teacher's comments follow the text.]


On the 22nd May 1912 a girl was born. She was called Edith Turner.

She was named after her mother. Her father was called Harry. Edith was born into a family that had two other children, the oldest of whom was called Anne and the other was Harry, named after his father.

The house was a terraced house at New Buildings, located at Brindley Ford.

The house had three bedrooms which meant they had to share bedrooms especially when a new addition to the family --  a girl called Mabel -- was born.

Edith had two grandmas that both lived in New Buildings. They lived next door to each other, so the family was close in more ways than one. One of Edith’s grandparents came from Birmingham to get work, and this is how they came to be neighbours.

Before her marriage Edith’s mother had been a servant at the Matador Inn at Brindley Ford.

 She earned five shillings a week and had to start work at 4.00 am  each day, cleaning and white-stoning the steps outside. Every week her mother collected her pay.

Children had to help with jobs in the house. Edith’s mother had different jobs each day. Monday was washing day, Tuesday was ironing day, Wednesday she cleaned upstairs, on Thursday she did the kitchen, and Friday was a ‘swilling day’, which meant she cleaned the back yard. Saturday was shopping and cleaning downstairs. Sunday was for going to church.

Edith’s mother used to make some of the children’s clothes. She would unpick a dress, take it apart, and make a pattern for a new one out of newspaper.

Edith’s father worked at Robert Heath’s Iron and Steel Works, which is now James and Tatton Steel on Tunstall Road, Biddulph.

They actually made steel at the works, they didn’t just store it there. People weren’t allowed to watch the iron and steel being made because of the intense heat given off by the huge furnaces.

Edith’s house, like most others in those days, had an outside toilet. The family kept a paraffin lamp there in winter, to stop the toilet from freezing up.

There wasn’t a bathroom, so the family used to bather in a large tin bath in the scullery once a week. Edith’s mother used to heat water in a large boiler in the scullery by lighting a fire underneath it. When Edith was little, two children shared the same water. It was only when they started to grow up that each family member had clean water. When it was bath night the scullery door was kept locked so that none of the neighbours could walk in.

As a little girl, Edith didn’t have gas. They had paraffin lamps hanging from the ceiling. Later on they had gas. Gas mantles were lights. When the outside of the mantle got hot enough it glowed. It was very fragile. If you touched the mantle it shattered. When Edith was almost an adult, they finally got electricity.

There were no fridges or freezers. The meat was kept in a cold place, and the coldest place was the pantry. It had stone slabs on the floor. It had to be kept clean by being white-washed regularly. The meat was kept in a meat safe, which was a wooden box with a wire mesh door to let the air in, but keep the flies out.

Edith went to Sunday School in the morning and afternoon. At night she went to church with her mother. The Sunday School was Childerplay Mission.

The mother church was Knypersley Church.

Childerplay Mission was near to where the tip is now. Her brother Harry used to blow the organ pipes of the church.

The Sunday School had treats for their members – usually a picnic to a park, or a trip to Hayden’s Field in Biddulph.

Edith told me some stories about her childhood. Her grandma’s husband died of a heart attack tying his boot-laces. Life was hard bringing up young children on her own. She was very resourceful and kept pigs in front of the house. When a pig was fattened-up, they used to send for a Mr Copeland, and the pig was brought through the front of the house, through the kitchen, living-room and scullery, into the back-yard. The pig was killed and chopped up. Nothing was wasted.

Edith and her sister slept above Harry’s pigeon-loft. The cooing of the pigeons kept the girls awake at night.

This side of the house is where Harry had his pigeon loft.

Another story about Harry was that he refused to go shopping in Tunstall on the same bus as his mother. Although he refused to be seen with her on the bus, he was happy to meet up with her in Tunstall.

The last story also concerns Harry. He used to play football. He went out to play and while he was out Mabel mopped the floor. When Harry came back he walked in and trod around with his dirty boots. When Mabel shouted at him, he kicked the bucket and the dirty water went all over the floor.

Edith says conditions in those days were very hard and she wouldn’t want those days to come back, but she also says ‘people these days don’t know they’re born.’

School life

At the age of five Edith started to attend a school called ‘Brindley Ford Council’. The school was mixed, and boys and girls used the same play-ground, unlike some other schools at that time.

Edith walked to school every morning because the bus was so expensive. Virtually nobody had a car. The school didn’t have a uniform. Probably the main reason was that nobody could afford to waste their money on clothing that wasn’t needed.

The school was extremely strict. The cane was used as a punishment and so was the discipline of writing lines after. Edith still thought it was a very good school. Some of the subjects included Arithmetic, Mathematics, Needlework and Cookery. Edith was a good pupil at school, with good reports and remarks.

Edith was in the school netball team, and the choir. In her spare time at school she played hopscotch, rounders and played with spinning-tops.

The teachers used to get the children to do jobs for them – something you would never see now. One of the unusual ones was to send a pupil down to the shop and buy the teacher some food for his or her dinner. Children were not permitted to say no or to be reluctant about the task. If you did this you would be given lines to write, or more severely, given the cane.

Edith never got the cane, as she enjoyed school, and tried to do her very best in her subjects.

When Edith and her brothers and sisters came home from school, they always had to get changed into old clothes. After they had changed they had sheep’s head broth or pressed tongue, or other delicacies unknown to me.

At the age of fourteen, Edith left school. Pupils needed a leaving report to get a job. Edith’s was excellent. Pupils didn’t get As, Bs etc – they got ‘Good’, ‘Bad’,  ‘Average’, and  ‘Very Good’. Edith’s teacher wrote ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good’ for every single subject she took. She had ‘Very Good’ for attendance and punctuality. It was remarked that she was trustworthy, and an excellent pupil. The day she left school was the 23rd July 1926.

Leaving school and starting work

At fourteen, Edith didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she didn’t have much choice in the matter. Her mother got her a job as a gilder. She went to work for a pottery company in Tunstall called W. H. Grindley, which still exists today.

Edith had to paint gold rims round cups, saucers and plates. The job wasn’t hard work. She sat on a bench at a wheel. She had a shell with a little hole in it. Into the hole she had to pour liquid gold, which was contained  in a bottle.

The atmosphere of the potbank in those days was very dusty, and a lot of the workers developed a chest disease called silicosis.

She travelled to work by bus, which cost one shilling and ninepence. When she started work in between the ages of fourteen and eighteen her wages were five shillings and ninepence per week. When she reached eighteen her wages rose to seven shillings and sixpence, and for every extra twelve cups or saucers she was expected to finish Edith got an extra halfpenny.

Nowadays most people have five weeks holiday each year plus bank holidays, but Edith;s holidays were a week in August which was the main holiday and about three days at Christmas and  Good Friday and Easter Monday off work. Every year Edith had a day out to London arranged by her employer.

When Edith was sixteen or seventeen, she saw a dance dress in a shop called Keane’s in Tunstall. The dress was green and had a lacy top. Edith paid some money to the shopkeeper every week until she had paid enough to buy the dress. She persuaded her parents that she was old enough to go to dances at the gymnasium at Biddulph. This was at the side of the Conservative Club, and is still a gym today.

Sometimes she was allowed to go to a dance at the public hall in Biddulpph, but she always had to be home early.

Edith’s future husband was called Joseph Marsh, or Joe for short. Joe was a builder. Edith had known Joe before they started courting. They first started seeing each other on a holiday in Blackpool.

Joe asked Edith’s father Harry for permission to marry Edith. The answer was yes, and the wedding arrangements were made. Edith was twenty-six and Joe was twenty-none years of age when they got married. The wedding was on the third of December 1938 at Knypersley Church. The day was a very cold one and Edith wore a white wedding dress and a veil with a bouquet of roses.

They didn’t have a honeymoon. The house they moved in to was a new one in New Chapel built by Joe himself, and it is where Edith lives to this day.

The Second World War

Edith and Joe Marsh had only been married for six months when she heard a radio news report that Britain was at war with Germany. Edith remembers it was on a Sunday morning in September.

In 1942 Christine, Edith and Joe’s baby was born. Edith was left to bring up her daughter on her own. While Christine was growing up Edith stopped her job as a gilder.

When war broke out Joe had to give up his job as a builder and worked in munitions building air raid shelters in Stratford-upon-Avon for Bovis Builders. Joe was eventually called up and was posted to the Middle East. After a short time he was sent to Italy and fought in the Anzio Battle as a Royal Fusilier.

When Joe was first in Italy he was reported missing and Edith was worried sick. Fortunately Joe joined up with another battalion and everything turned out fine.

Edith only received letters from Joe her husband every twelve to fourteen weeks as it was not permitted to write them up front in the trenches. On one Thursday night Joe came back on his first leave and saw his baby Christine again. What with the war Joe didn’t want any more problems, but his brother died, though not in battle. Edith was very fortunate in that no relatives of hers were killed in the war.

Joe said that the Germans used to hum Lily Marlene’s ‘Underneath the Lamplight’, and this is how her knew they were coming.

Edith always remembers the black-outs and the humming of the German aircraft as they dropped their bombs and for that reason Edith always slept downstairs. One night she lay in bed and listened to the bombs dropping in Pitshill which was nearest place to Biddulph that was bombed. Sadly two men were killed.

The men who stayed at home had to take it in turns to air-raid wardens. The two men in Pitshill may have been air-raid wardens.

During the war there was a shortage of food and material so everything from meat to clothes had to be rationed. Clothes, coal, sweets, butter, margarine, cheese, soap, jam and many other things were rationed. Some things like bananas, Spanish onions, lemons and oranges were not seen at all. Everybody, including Edith, had ration books and vouchers.

Barely any fruit was seen. Wedding, birthday and Christmas cakes were not made because of the expense, so people could hire a cardboard cake from the baker’s shop which was ‘iced’ with plaster,

It was hard living on a small amount of food, and sometimes people broke the rules and got food outside the rationing system. This was known as the ‘black market’. Once Joe brought home half a pig for Edith.


Edith’s husband Joe came back from the war and was given a demob suit which was striped. Everyone had street parties to welcome home their husbands and relatives.

On the fourth of May 1951, the long-awaited ‘Festival of Britain’ was opened by the King and Queen.  It was government-sponsored, and by Herbert Morrison described it as ‘the people giving themselves a pat on the back’. Edith went to see it. Twenty-seven acres of bomb-damaged London near Waterloo was converted into the exhibition site, and there were fireworks and a funfair in Battersea Gardens. There was a large and tall aluminium structure called ‘The Skylon’ which had no visible means of support. This was a very happy time for people after the years of hardship during and following the war.

During the war Christine was always moaning and saying ‘When will Daddy come home?’, but when Joe did return she didn’t want to know him. He was just a stranger to her.

Rationing continued until July 1954 and the last item to be rationed was meat.

Joe had to go straight back to building as many houses had been demolished.

In 1950 a new addition to the family arrived, a girl called Jacqueline, or Jackie for short. She was born in New Chapel. Around the same time Edith and Joe bought their first television and able to watch the coronation of Elizabeth the Second.

Shops were very different then. There were no supermarkets, and people didn’t help themselves to food, They asked at the counter and the shop-keeper would get food and products from the shelves. In some shops the money was put into a cylinder and went over the ceiling to the cash desk, the change was then returned to the shop assistant in the same way.

Sugar, butter and biscuits, like many other groceries, were sold loose rather than being pre-packed. It was not until about twenty-five years ago that supermarkets arrived.

Edith did the washing using a tub and a dolly peg, as people did not have washing machines in the fifties. When the clothes had been washed they were put through a mangle and hung up to dry. Later she got a gas boiler to get the clothes clean, and then she got a washer.

Edith returned to her job as a gilder, but she only worked part-time to fit in with her children at school.

When Christine and Jacqueline left school neither of them joined their mother in the pottery industry. Instead Christine went to work at the telephone exchange, and Jackie went to work at Boots in Hanley.

Up to date

In December 1988 Joe and Edith celebrated their Golden Wedding by having a large party for friends and family at Alsager Golf Club.

Sadly, the following summer Joe died. This was probably the saddest time of Edith’s life. Now however, she has been able to get on with her life without Joe. She is a bright and friendly lady and seems much younger than her 81 years of age.

She makes blankets for the handicapped, and makes jumpers for the people of Romania. She does all her own gardening and housework, and often goes shopping in Hanley with her daughters. She still goes to St James’ Church at Newchapel, and is a member of the Women’s Insititute.

She has three grandchildren, Robert and Matthew Brindley – Jackie’s children, and Mandy – Christine’s daughter. All her grandchildren are now grown-up. In May 1992 she went abroad to Ibiza, and flew in an aeroplane for the first time. This was a holiday with her family to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Teacher’s comments: This is a first-class piece of writing Ben. Well done. I am particularly pleased that you filled in a lot of the historical background: the war, rationing, the 1951 Festival etc., and that you mentioned wages. Also fascinating was the meat safe. We had one when I was a child and I’d forgotten it, but now I remember how the wire mesh fascinated me – and of course I opened it, and of course I got thumped!

On the costs side, I guess what she means is that her first wages were 5/9 per week, and the bus fare was 1/9 per week. The way you wrote it, it could have read 1/9 per day!

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this – again, well done.