Interview, Elizabeth May Pearce, Saltash Stories Project

Interview with Elizabeth (Betty) Pearce (b 1918), by Nick Haslam

85 minutes


Born in Antony Passage in 1918 - lived here at the mill all her life - as did her father and grandfather. Father died when he was 42? Grandfather worked the tidal mill helped by her father until the grandfather died and then the mill was run down and bought by Spillers ( this before she was born). Betty doesn't remember the mill working - it was a place she played in as a child when it was boarded up until it became too dangerous. Describes working of the tidal mill with the sluice gates . Grain came from miles around - when mill went out of working order her father became a market gardener with land around Shillingham that they owned. Her uncle Vic worked where father but left to emigrate to Canada. Anecdote about the uncle coming home and kicking off his boots and say he'd had enough of Cornwall and booked his ten pound passage to Canada the next day. Worked in lumber camps and then for the Hudson Bay company and marries an Englishwoman and lives in Winnipeg until his death. Came back to Cornwall for visits only.


This was before the Great War and Vic went to fight with the Canadian army in France and was the only one of a pair of men from his regiment to survive.

Her father was happy to work in the mill with his two sisters - one of whom went to Bodmin asylum to work as a nurse and then became matron. The other sister went to live in Forder at the other cottages they had. The family owned Forder mill and 8 cottages and land in the village and the cottage where Betty is now. The mill and mill pond was sold when her father died - but the cottage where she lives now was kept for her. She's lived there for 30 years. The family was quite wealthy - the cottages in Forder were nice but small - as a schoolgirl I used to collect the rent every fortnight - three shillings a week. The men in the village worked as labourers at the quarry.


We sold the cottages when the mill closed for 40 pounds each - now they're fetching 100 k. The mill building would fetch a lot now. The village of Forder in the 20s. Two shops and a post office, also at Burraton Combe. There was a quarry there too - through the gardens and across the road there was a line down to the quay where the stone boats from Holland came and they would fill the vessels. The boats were white painted and lovely - the Dutch Captain used to walk in the lanes in his smart white uniform with brass buttons and we girls would think he was lovely. The tramp boats from London were black and dirty - and the crews were too they were so dirty. They'd take the stone to Holland - points out the old quay where the stone was loaded onto the boats. Trucks from the quarry would come down on rails like a tram and tip into the boats at the quay. They'd blow a horn to warn everyone and they'd come rattling down -5 big metal iron baskets full of stone driven by one man at the front with a wheel like he was driving a motorbike. We didn't talk to the Dutch men - no girls ran away to sea but my cat did!


Anecdote of Monty the cat which goes for a three month voyage to Holland to be brought back when the Dutch ship returns. We knew he'd come back when he came into the house and rattled the water can as he always did to let us know he wanted a drink.


Fetching water from the pump - 2 cans brought to the house every day - no mains water then. We had a well though in the garden - with a chain - we'd fetch this lovely spring water as girls throwing the bucket down. To fill the pitcher in the house. Monty rattling this can for the water.


Fetching water was hard work - the men would usually do it. We had a tin bath in the middle room of the mill house at first. Then we put in a gas geyser to heat the water with paraffin. We loved that and bathed morning noon and night. We had oil lights until after WW2 --during the war my father had a water tank built to wash the plants with rain water to take to market. He converted this into an air raid shelter during the war. When the siren went we'd go down into the shelter - But an old 86 year old uncle living with us refused to go down - he said if he died he'd die in bed! We took him up to Newton Abbot to be safe. We heard one night a lone bomber came over and dropped hundreds of incendiaries on the railway bank. We had an ack ack gun on the field and a balloon barrage above. We didn't have evacuees because we are in the danger zone here across the river from dockyard. I was still single and living at home then. We used to work picking Brussels sprouts - hard work in the icy winter and then I'd help out at St Barnabas hospital three night s a week. I think I got arthritis from picking those sprouts.

25.00 I went to school at Longlands - I wasn't brainy but I got through alright. There were about 45 kids at the school from the surrounding farms and villages. I left in class 7 when I was 16 - I went into Plymouth after the war to work in Ricards fashion shop in Plymouth. The teachers were lovely - all of them. We had cookery classes every Thursday with our white aprons and hats - the boys played football then - the children were farmer's children - we were all happy -we really had a lovely time - doing nature walks in the country and down on the river. On holidays we'd take the rowing ferry across the Lynher run by the Crossleighs who the Ferry Boat Inn which belonged to Pole Carew later changed to Carew Pole - Mother would pack up a picnic - we could buy lemonade - we 'd pay a penny to be rowed across the river and walk up though Antony Estate through kissing gates and we'd walk to Tregantle at Whitsands - down the steep cliffs and there'd be swing boats there - we'd paddle and spend the day there and then we'd walk back to the Lynher . In the shed there'd be a flag which should have been white but was so dirty it was black. We'd wave it and shout ' Boat ahoy' and finally the Crosslieghs would row over and take us home. The boat could take 7 or 8 people -it was just a rowing boat.


It was a long walk - I had a lovely childhood. There were many quarries - granite and blue elvan stone (?) - the trucks were lovely rattling down. It was a hive of industry at one time. The barges that the Crossleighs had taking stone up to Salcombe - and Captain Somerset lived at Ince Caste - and he had the Jolie Brise ( a famous large racing yacht [Bristol pilot cutter] of the thirties which is still sailing in the Med). Describes AB Crossliegh - old riverman with one tooth and who knew everything about the river - he'd pilot the Dutch boats in to get the stone. Captain Somerset asked AB to come with him to America on the Jolie Brise - he was elderly then but he said he'd go. He used to visit us and sit down with Dad and they'd sit in front of fire with a cup of tea and talk about the old days. AB said he'd be sure to come back - and he did after three months. He said he'd never do such a voyage again. I was sea sick all the time - they that go to sea for pleasure can go to hell for a pastime he said.


Jolie Brise used to be moored off Ince Castle. AB used to deliver stone up to Salcombe to deliver stone. AB was always on the water but only on the river - so not used to the sea. Mother talked about the pageant they had at Trematon about the Black Prince . There used to be a tunnel up from the beach at Antony Passage up to the castle dungeons. We'd go up some way as kids with candles but they'd go out because there was no oxygen. But the cave fell in finally and it was closed off. They used to smuggle things up to the keep. The castle belongs to the Duchy now of course but General Porter lived there. This pageant was done properly in costumes - the doctors and solicitors all dressed up and there was a lovely program and book made but we lost it.


I was delighted to leave school at 16 and came home to work in the gardens. We grew strawberries, blackcurrants and Victoria plums. Saltash station was full of boxes for flowers - we had four women and two men to help with the flowers. Charlie Harris worked for us and lived here. He was walking the country looking for a job after he was laid off as a labourer in Shaugh Prior. He walked through Forder looking for work and he was told to come to my father for a job - although you won't work for him long ( Betty's father had a reputation as a task master!) . My father said to him : Can you work? Yes, he says and so gets the job and stayed for 35 years. This was in the late 30s. Charlie lived into Plymouth with his mother - and as this cottage was empty they took it - so he came with his brother, mother and father and 2 daughters --they rented for 3 shilling s a week. They put in a rough bathroom into the cellar - lined the cellar with wood.


It was a bit rough but they all lived there for years and then when we sold the cottages they bought one in Forder for little over 40 pounds. Desc of day picking daffs. We'd pick the daffs early in the morning - not quite in full bloom - pack them in twelves to send to Birmingham, Scotland, Johnson and Covent Garden . The station ( Saltash) was packed with boxes of flowers from the Tamar Valley. My father used to go early at three in the morning to get on the first ferry at Saltash to get his flowers to Plymouth market early. I'd get up to make him breakfast of seedy cake and tea and then when he came home from market he'd have a fried breakfast. He took the horse and wagon. We went in once Mother and me to Devonport market and we'd meet up with Dad after shopping and come back in the wagon with him. This day though the wheels got stuck in a tramline - men came over and we had to take the horse out of the traces and lift the wagon out -it was a real to do.


We'd send hundreds of boxes of flowers - he'd go up the very steep hill to St Stephens and put special things on the wheels if it was slippery. We had a lovely horse called Dolly who was terrified when the ack ack guns went off - and my father would spend the nights with her to keep her calm when he wasn't fire watching. We'd bunch the flowers up - didn't take long and I'd write on the boxes and label them. Telegrams would come - Johnson of Covent Garden would send a telegram saying "Market Good load heavy", or "Market full up stop sending." Charlie could read but not write . I worked at St Barnabas because the camp at Wearde was full of military wounded and St Barnabas was short staffed. It was for civilians you see. When Plymouth was bombed it was full. One day we hadn't slept for nights because of the bombs so my father took the lorry with blankets and pillows to find somewhere quiet. We drove out to a wood a few miles away and slept out under the trees with the Harrises - and we hadn't been settled for a few minutes when the guns started up and we could hear the German bombers so we didn't get another nights sleep. Saltash was bombed too and a few people killed. I took my old uncle who refused to go into the shelter up to Newton Abbot in my boyfriends' BSA sports car - I could drive this thing so I took him up to Newton Abbot via Tavistock because Saltash was closed off. It was awful -w e knew people killed.


The Allens were found dead under the stairs still sitting in their chair killed by the blast they told us. Evacuees came further out but not here -we're still in the danger zone. Story of evacuees coming to the Saltash station - three brothers queued up that no-one wanted. Boy writes book on this which Betty has just read.


Dances at Saltash - Hunt Ball, - Freemasons dinners and so forth. I was secretary of Conservative club - whist drives at the school and I was a teller at the Guildhall when there was an election. I'd go to the pictures and take the last rail car back from Plymouth and walk over through Port View summer and winter without a though - wouldn't do that now. Mother was a worrier though and would worry if we came home late. I came home once with a boy who was sweet on me - he had a sports car and brought me back and we stopped up the lane chatting in the car and I saw this light and I thought that was Mother . She shouted Betty are you there. I had to leave and I felt so stupid and he never looked at me after that!

The Americans were here of course. I had an American friend - he was an ensign in the Navy - I met him at a dance at the Guildhall - my Mother and Father frowned in that I should be walking out with an American - he was a dear and asked me to be his steady girl. He was stationed at St Budeaux -0 he 'd bring me a bottle of whisky sometimes. I brought him home once for tea even though Mother didn't approve of him. They liked him though. But he went off to Falmouth to take ship for the Normandy landings and I never heard from again. I don't think he survived.


A very nice fellow - I often wonder if I'd have gone away with him after the war.

The quarry shut down before the war - so the war didn't really effect us so much. WE country people didn't go to war - although several local men were killed when the Exeter was bombed and sunk - a ship out of Devonport. A local woman Mrs Crabbe lost all her three sons - we thought that was dreadful.


I married when I was 40 but made a mistake - was engaged but then met someone else - and married him for 11 months but it didn't work so I came home. He was insanely jealous. But later I had a very nice friend who died not long ago and he came to live with me. It was wonderful --we were never at loggerheads. After the war in the 50's I lived here at home - my mother went blind at 70 . During the war we were rationed but we didn't suffer too much. My father'd bring home meat from the butchers in Devonport and we'd sometimes get two rations. My mother kept chickens but we never killed them - we ate only the eggs.


I worked in Plymouth after the war and then worked back here - I haven't travelled much - I thought the last ferry from Saltash was a very sad thing. It is nothing like as good as it used to me - in the war everyone was very nice to each other. Even here in Antony Passage there people aren't so nice to each other anymore. Once a man's word was his bond. It isn't any more. But we never had problems with the people from Plymouth. Graffiti on her cottage recently


Anecdote of people not doing what they say they will now. Used to be Sunday school teacher in the chapel at Forder but it's now a private home. It's all gone now. We've lived a very quiet life here - but we've really enjoyed and I feel I am very lucky.


Interview, Elizabeth May Pearce, Saltash Stories Project
Reference numberAV1/252
Date30 Jan 2004
FormatDigital records
Extent85 minutes
Access statusOpen
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