The Life Story of Phyllis Maple

Rita L.Jacob

Phyllis Maple, taken at her home in Guilder Lane, where she was interviewed for the Milford Street Bridge Project.
Photo Anna Tooth
In the 1920s, Phyllis and her friends could play games across Rampart Road, disturbed only by the occasional horse and cart.
In the 1920s, Phyllis Selwood and her friends could play games across Rampart Road, disturbed only by the occasional horse and cart.
Phyllis married Reginald Maple in St. Martin's Church on 8 October 1941. Their reception was held at St. Martin's Hall which was demolished during the building of Churchill Way.
Phyllis married Reginald Maple in St. Martin's Church on 8 October 1941. Their reception was held at St. Martin's Hall which was demolished during the building of Churchill Way.
Phyllis lost some of her garden when Churchill Way was built, receiving only a small amount of compensation.
Phyllis lost some of her garden when Churchill Way was built, receiving only a small amount of compensation.

The life story of Phyllis Muriel Maple is a long one; recounted in great detail by Phyllis, herself, in a series of interviews for the Milford Street Bridge Project. Spanning over nine decades and two World Wars, it begins at a time when horse drawn carts rumbled along Rampart Road and ends in 2010 with the ever present hum of traffic above her Guilder Lane garden; in many respects, Phyllis’s history reflecting that of the area in which she has always lived.

The Early Years

Phyllis Muriel was the third of six children born to Herbert and Ada Selwood who lived at 37 Rampart Road. As in many families, however, not all survived, the eldest, Dorothy Emancia Mary, dying during an epidemic of Scarlet Fever; probably before the start of the First World War. Also, one child was still born and another lived only a few days; Phyllis’s own birth on 30 September 1919 being difficult because she was an unusually large baby :-

‘I know my mum said, I was eleven and a quarter pounds when I was born and she laboured four days for me which they wouldn’t let you do these days’

 The first two years of Phyllis’s life were ones of hardship; Herbert returning from two years of captivity in Germany malnourished and unable to find work, despite being a skilled craftsman :-

‘My mum said that the food that he’d eaten ‘ad been … they fed the pigs better than they fed us, that was my dad’s words about it, and she said … he was all bloated when he came home, and … then he didn’t do any work then for, two years would be between me an’ my sister being born … because there wasn’t, work was not available, although my father was a trained carpenter’

Raised in a rural environment, Herbert grew vegetables, kept bees and snared rabbits in order to feed his family; Ada also being used to living ‘off the land :-

‘She was one of thirteen children and they had to glean after the harvest was cut which was not mechanically done in those days they had to glean enough corn to make their bread for the winter … but that was a long time ago but they used to work’

 Fortunately for the family, Herbert eventually found employment in the Cathedral Close while Ada acquired several cleaning jobs in the vicinity; including one at the residence of Bishop Webb’s widow. Phyllis and her sister, Joan, often accompanied their mother during school holidays; Phyllis remembering how they used to gather the windfall apples :-

‘She worked, um, at Bishop Webb’s in the Close, an’ when … we were little kids …we’d go down there an’ we could have …all the windfall apples, if we could … pick up the windfall apples that ud be apples for us for food … and I can remember, Bishop Webb’s, had died n’ his widow was living there an’ she was a little lady … in her black widow weeds’

Phyllis also went with her father when he tended the various gardens; at the age of eleven being paid half a crown for carrying out a chauffeur’s duties while he was on holiday!

‘I can remember too when I was eleven, I went (to work) in Parkers just inside High St. Ann’s gate … in the mornings for, I think it was two weeks when the chauffeur used to go on holiday I used to go down and clean the boots n’ the knives ‘cos in those days we had steel knives and they had to be cleaned with … some sort of polish I had to get them clean and then I used to go into the, servants’ hall and have a breakfast before I left there n’ have to run like the devil to get to school on time’

 School and Play

At this time, Phyllis was a pupil St. Edmund’s; having previously attended St. Martin’s Infants and George Herbert’s Girl’s School. Her memories of education, however, are mostly connected with the buildings themselves and various craft activities rather than academic subjects; to an certain extent, reflecting contemporary attitudes to female education. In Phyllis’s family, her brother’s apprenticeship took priority; her own aspirations to become a teacher being sacrificed because of the costs involved :-

‘I would have liked to have been a teacher that was my ambition but my mum, said that because men have to earn a living all their lives and girls get married n’ they don’t work or they didn’t that in those days and she said they couldn’t afford to keep me at school until I was a sixteen and then going on to university and things like that I couldn’t do it because my brother had to be re-apprenticed’

Therefore, upon leaving George Herbert’s, Phyllis did not go to the Grammar School as she wished but to St. Edmund’s where girls learnt skills that would be useful when they had their own homes :-

‘We ‘ad a cookery class which we used to attend was down at the School of Arts in what’s the name of that street there, not Crane Street New Street the School of Art there was where we ‘ad a cooking school an’ we … learnt to do cooking, and also we learnt to do washing an’ ironing. That was one day a week or … I think it was’

Phyllis, however, enjoyed many of the practical actives, like her mother, becoming a good cook. She remembers knitting garments for the Gates triplets and later made many of her own children’s clothes. Also, both she and her brother were keen on sport; Phyllis belonging to different school teams :-

‘The school was very good we played netball and we did sports I was always interested in the running I was in the in the different teams we had I played netball and … we had swimming there once a week as well’

 Throughout her childhood, Phyllis maintained an interest in Natural Science; her neighbour, Roy Pitman, being a naturalist who collected butterflies and birds eggs. The Selwood children helped him do this; the countryside then being just a short distance away :-

‘Yes  Mr Roy Pitman he was a regular local naturalist and … I learnt an awful lot of thing about newts n’ ur went fishing and we caught newts and a different things ‘n’ all the wild things that were [there] because we didn’t have to go very far in those days and of course we always walked because there wasn’t any transport you walked and you walked all up over the downs and you picked all the downside flowers ‘n’ and you used to take a sandwich and a bottle of water or something to drink lemonade’

On these walks, Phyllis was taught the names of the wild flowers she picked, often winning competitions held at her school, the Primrose League and St. Ann’s Club.

In this respect, Phyllis and her siblings enjoyed a freedom almost unknown by children today; it also being possible to play games such as Birds, Beasts and Flowers across Rampart Road in relative safety :-

‘We could play in the road  ‘cos there was only horses n’ carts an’ then you get out of the way o’ the road when they passed by an ‘ then you can play again we used to play Birds Beasts An’ Flowers games across the road we ‘ad two teams ‘nd you’d  try to guess what birds’ names they were describing an’ then if you if you guessed right they used to say ‘Yes’ an’ you’d run after ‘um and catch ‘um’

Ball games, however, were usually played on the Greencroft as the children knew they would be in trouble if a window was broken. The Greencroft was then much bigger and sheep were grazed there before the Britford Sheep Fair :-

‘Yes I ‘ve got some pictures somewhere with flocks of sheep when, I was a little girl, there used to be a Britford Sheep Fair,and … there wasn’t transport so the shepherd walked with his sheep n’ his dogs all through … the country into the town, and, they’d camp over night into the Greencroft before going on down to Britford for the Sheep Fair’

It was also a place where local residents gathered on 5 November; Phyllis describing how children collected rubbish for bonfires and pennies for fireworks :-

‘Boys and girls used to go round n’ collect all the rubbish fromthe different households an’ burn it all up in yer Greencroft, and they’d pinch some from somebody else’s bonfire to make their’s bigger while they was gone to get the some more from somewhere else an’ it was it was, good fun an’ we used to have a guy we used to make a guy an’ used to say ‘penny for the guy’ n’ then you used to buy fireworks with the pennies’

 Phyllis described her family as being workers not shirkers; the children always helping with household tasks and the allotment in Britford Lane. She explained that they learnt a lot by watching, wondering how her mother managed since she had gone into service at a very young age :-

 ‘You’d be surprised really what you learn, you learn by watching people do things an’ then you try an’ try it out, that’s how we learnt a lot of things we did it wasn’t always by word by word of mouth’

Even during holidays they did odd jobs; these being spent on the farm where her grandfather was a shepherd :-

I used to get ride the farm horses down the big shire horses, ride them down to work in the mornings because the carter lived and Granny and Grandad lived on  the top of the hill and the farm was down the hill and down the lane and … we rode down to work and [they] put us to doing all odd jobs’

Nevertheless, despite being poor and working hard, the Selwood family was a happy one; rows and arguments being unknown :-

‘We were all very happy family, there were no, no rows or arguments or anything like that well you know, everything seemed to, stay in its place n’ work out if you know what I mean …we all did, things that we … had to do n’ help out so that you mucked in together so you were … well part of a team I suppose you say

These traits were to be perpetuated in Phyllis’s own marriage to Reginald Maple; a union that was to last over fifty years.

Work and Courtship

Having left school at fourteen, Phyllis went to work in the kitchen on Salisbury station; in 1935 meeting Reginald who worked there as a trolley boy. Her account of Reginald’s birth in Rollestone Street is very amusing; at that time, there being a number of superstitions surrounding pregnancies and confinements :-

‘They always thought that he’d be born with a cow’s head an’ horn because a cow run in the house just before he was born …it got loose because they used to come up from where they’d been sold they be in like auction auctioned and in Brown Street’

When they started courting, however, Phyllis left the station as the management disapproved of relationships between staff, becoming a cook housekeeper to John Wright the poulterer before working as a shop assistant in Woolworths :-

‘I left, there, railway station, because the manager didn’t like, his staff going together you know boys and girls meeting so I left there so that my husband wouldn’t get posted away ‘cause he used to do journeys down to different places and taking things down on the trains, but, so I went and lived in n’ of course it gave me a chance to save a little bit more money up towards our eventual home and marriage’

 Phyllis and Reginald courted for two and a half years; walking for miles around Salisbury ‘walking n ’talking hand n’ hand’. They celebrated their engagement in 1938 with a small family party but did not marry in 1939 as intended; partly because a bungalow that they wanted had been sold :-

‘Forder was building these houses but because we hadn’t putthe deposit down he thought we’d lost interest in it and he sold our bungalow so we didn’t get married in thirty nine’ an’ wait[ed] two more years after that but that was what we planned we used to go over fer a walk an’ see it being built an’ all the rest of it an’ then we didn’t get it in the end’

Instead the wedding took place at St. Martin’s Church on 8 October 1941; a reception then being held at St. Martin’s Club at the top of Milford Street. Shipsey’s were responsible for the catering but the cake was either made by Phyllis’s mother or Foster’s Bakery, rations being saved for this :-

‘I don’t know whether she did make my cake or not, I think she gave up her rations to Fosters the baker it was then and she gave her fruit sugar rations because this was early in the war forty one and they made the cake and we were able to have it iced at that time But when my sister had her [wedding]she had a cardboard cut out over the top of ‘er cake n’ they just had the fruit cake underneath’

Phyllis was also able to have a wedding dress; this being purchased at a shop in Catherine Street :-

‘We ‘ad to give up coupons in those things you either bought material with yur coupons or you did [as] I did … I bought it in a wedding dress shop in Catherine Street, and it was just plain with like a little sort of little bolero over the top but it was white satin and then just flared out a bit at the bottom it was not very fancy … an’ I still have it’

Reginald wore his naval uniform as he was now a stoker on a battleship; a white bow replacing the usual black one at the front of his collar.

The War Years

Reginald had volunteered to go into the navy as soon as war was declared; leaving for Portsmouth in the spring of 1940. After spending some time in Bermuda, he was assigned to HMS Ramilles, a ship that believed to be lucky because it had been blessed by a Maori chief :-

‘When they were in New Zealand the ship was blessed by the Maoris chief an’ a grass skirt was given to the captain of the ship and every time they went into battle he wore this an’ they said it was how the ship was blessed and … although they were torpedoed they didn’t sink’

Reginald was on leave at the time of his wedding but, if necessary, could be recalled to his ship at any time. Moreover, during the first years of their marriage, he and Phyllis were often apart for twelve months at a time; being away when his first child was born in April 1944. He returned unexpectedly when Bob was about three months old and Phyllis was visiting friends :-

‘I was gone out to see some friends then ‘e got on a bus an’ he come out an’ met me out there … because he wanted to see his little boy ‘e ‘adn’t seen him then he was about I don’t know three months was it ‘e could ‘ave been three months old then’

 At the beginning of the war Phyllis was still working at Woolworths; becoming an air raid warden and fire watching on the roof of the Silver Street building. When ‘called up’ she did not join any of the women’s services as Percy thought it unlikely that their leaves would coincide; instead opting for munition training in Gloucester with two other Woolworth girls. While there, she sheltered in the cellar of her lodgings as bombs fell on Coventry :-

‘When we were up there do y’ know we heard, all the bombs that were dropped, in Coventry, we heard all those bombs we went down in the underground cellars an’ you heard the ground all shook where all these bombs were dropped up there, but I didn’t dislike it because the countryside was lovely all up through the Cotswolds’

 Phyllis returned to Salisbury when Reginald’s parents became ill; then being sent to work in Wellworthy’s factory in Harnham. Here piston rings were made for aircraft, Phyllis remembering the long hours and the dust :-

‘We started all the machines going all across the shop floor was all dust n’ we hadn’t got any dust extractors then n’ so we were allowed to have a half pint bottle of milk a day to counteract, all this dust’

She found the night shifts particularly difficult as army convoys passing along Rampart Road disturbed sleep during the day; often reporting for work half asleep. There was only a forty five minute break at midnight and, as there was no canteen, the women brought their own food and entertained themselves :-

‘At midnight, we used to turn it all off … everything shut down n’ you had a break, I know we had a three quarters of an hour, an’ then we’d play an old gramophone n’ then we’d went dancin’ for just for the break time, an’ then we were back on’

 In the latter part of 1943, Phyllis was pregnant and unable to cope with the seventy two hour weeks; leaving Wellworthy’s in November. At that time she and Percy were living with a widow in Rampart Road at Number 32; taking rooms in order to avoid upsetting either set of parents :-

‘I lived with a widow lady who was very deaf that was in thirty two Rampart Road but that was because we didn’t want to upset the two lots of parents my husband’ mother an’ family wanted ‘im to go up there an’ stay when he was on leave an’ my mum wanted us t’ go into stay with her so I thought well if we’ve got a place of our own it won’t upset anyone which it didn’t so that’s ‘ow we got over that one’

When her son was nine months old, however, they moved to a house in Guilder Lane. This was a property owned by the Municipal Charities and the Maples had to collect references and appear before a board in order to acquire the tenancy.

Guilder Lane and Family Life

After being discharged from the navy, Percy became a painter and decorator and between 1946 and 1953, three daughters were born; the family now consisting of Bob, Pamela, Margaret and Maureen. As the house was wired only for lighting, washing and bathing were protracted chores; there also being no bathroom until Maureen’s was six :-

‘We used to have what we called a bungalow bath, which was out in the kitchen an’ we used to dip the water out of the copper into the bath the little one first then put that one to bed then all the way down through the ages an’ then after that we used to set to an’ do the washing, my husband used to help me, and, we used to … boil all it back up all the water while it’s up in the copper’

Even when the property was modernised, Phyllis continued to wash clothes by hand; a spin drier being her only laundry appliance.

In many ways, her children’s childhood mirrored Phyllis’s own. They kept chicken and animals in the garden and helped their parents with the two allotments in London Road. They also attended St. Martin’s Infants but, by the time the girls were seven, junior children went to the new school that had been built in Shady Bower; this catering for both boys and girls. Phyllis used to prepare meals for when they came home at lunch time, Bob cycling across town because he liked his mother’s cooking so much :-

‘Bob ‘e wouldn’t have a school dinner an’  ….’e said ‘e ‘ was always hungry and then we packed ‘im sandwiches and that wan’t right … it weren’t the same he said ‘e was coming home for ‘is dinner so he cycled home to have ‘is proper dinner’

Family Tragedy

Tragically, Phyllis was to lose two of her daughters at an early age; Pamela dying at the age of nine after a child struck her on the back of the head with a stick. At first, Phyllis could not come to terms with her death and was unable to talk about it :-

‘I just couldn’t talk about it fer a long time, but as soon as I could talk about it, I felt better, I had it all inside, but as soon as I could let it out, I felt much better’

Then, in the late 1960s, Phyllis’s mother needed care; being unable to cope after the death of her husband, Herbert. When Ada was moved from the London Road Phyllis had to walk down to her room in Bedwin Street a number of times a day :-

‘I used to go down there five or six times a day up n’ down from here to there, n’ make her a pudding an’ cook ‘er things when she wasn’t able to do things for herself and, clean up n’ shop or whatever she needed, an’ then, eventually I had her here when she was poorly … when it was too much too much up n’ downs there I had her here and I looked after her here till she died’

Phyllis’s younger daughter, Margaret, died in 1971after giving birth of her first child. On this occasion, however, Phyllis had little time to grieve, as she was busy caring for Margaret’s little girl who was often fractious. When the child was returned to her father at the age of seventeen months, Phyllis went back to work at Woolworth’s :-

‘I went back, years ago when I was in my fifties after my daughter died, an’ …  I went back there to work for another five years, an’ … I used to cut all the meat, for the, counter you used to sell [it] loose you know buy yer meat by the quarter pound or whatever an’ cheese I do that an’ make all the sandwiches for the sandwich bar from half past seven in the morning till half past five at night I was in my fifties then, but it really helped, after my, daughter died to be busy’

The End of an Era

The late 1960s and early 1970s were also a period of dramatic change in the area although, at first, the Maples and other residents did not really know what was going on :-

‘They didn’t tell us … officially so that was when the Council took the houses over the whole row along ‘ere, up to here but then they’re privately owned along the other end, but it didn’t affect them so much’

Phyllis, however, did not lose her home when Churchill Way was built although a substantial amount of garden was taken and the Maples were no longer able to keep chicken :-

‘They took ‘alf my garden and my lovely apple tree they took an’ all my gooseberry bushes an’ I had twenty seven pound for that’

Thirty years on, Phyllis thought that the traffic was ten times worse than it was before; being particularly horrendous on Fridays and the weekends.

Several years after the road was completed, Phyllis’s husband was forced to retire early from work, having developed a heart problem. In order to prolong his life, Reginald took a doctor’s advice and gave up smoking, Phyllis remembering the day he stopped :-

‘He was sitting in here one day with a nice fire an’ he’d rolled a cigarette an’ he found he was rolling another one so he took it all of it and threw it in the fire and he never smoked from that day an’ he said that … he wasn’t brave he just was scared so he just gave it up’

Reginald lived another twenty years and during that time they were able to devote more time to their shared hobby :-

‘Then we had a hobby … our hobby … especially … after he’d had been poorly and had to … ease up on his work … we used to make home made wine from the produce from the garden left over things all the vegetables ‘n things we did there was nothing wasted’

They also enjoyed games of darts although Reginald found exercise increasingly difficult; also developing gall stones and ulcers towards the end of his life :-

‘of an evening we used to ‘ave a game of darts fer about an hour that’s as much as ‘e could manage an’ then we’d sit down an’ ‘ave a glass of wine an’ play cribbage that was our fun and game … but were happy’

Reginald died in 1994, three years after he and Phyllis had celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Despite the tragedies in her life time, Phyllis considered that she has been lucky to have had a good family and a very happy marriage. She was immensely proud of her two surviving children and their achievements, both going to Buckingham Palace on different occasions to collect Duke of Edingburgh Awards. Also, Bob had a successful career in the Royal Air Force while Maureen became a school teacher, thus fulfilling Phyllis’s own ambition. Therefore, it is fitting to use Phyllis’s own words to conclude this synopsis of her many memories:

‘We were always poor we never had any riches n’ never craved riches if you know what I mean, because you just made the best of what you had’

Postscript

Phyllis died on 27 April 2014 at the grand age of 94. She will be sadly missed by all of us who were involved in the re-telling of her life story.

Comments about this page

  • Phyllis’s story is captivating. A reminder of times gone by that may sometimes have been harsh but were none the less exciting and rewarding. I was privileged to meet Phyllis on one occasion and she was a delightful lady. Her story is abundant with riches.

    By Rachel Christopher (07/10/2014)

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