Personal tale of life in the 20th century
THREE years ago John Symons wrote an affectionate account of his late father's life: Stranger on the Shore.
Written many years after the death it was largely pieced together by talking to family members and drawing on his own personal recollections.
His latest work however – This Life of Grace – benefits from the shorthand notes he made in conversation with his mother, Grace, over a period of almost three years, while she lay in a hospital bed at Derriford in the late 1990s.
Grace Jarrold was born in October 1909, into a humble Cornish family that had known generations of farm labourers, game-keepers, butlers and servants. Moving to Plymouth the following year, her parents sought pastures new and for a couple of years tried running a sweet shop, before moving out to Plympton St Maurice in 1912.
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From there Grace went to the Bridge School, then to Geasons, where her fondly remembered the headmaster, Mr WH Baple, encouraged her parents to put her in for a scholarship to the grammar school.
But as part of a large family – ten living in one house – there was not enough money to pay for her uniform and anything else she might have needed.
Like so many others, Grace left school at 14. In August 1923 she started work in a small drapery shop on the Ridgeway – Northcott's – where she earned 3s 9d a week (19p), most of which she gave to her mother.
Before long however Grace's mother bought her an apprenticeship at John Yeo's department store. "I wasn't smart enough for Dingles, so we settled on Yeo's," recalled Grace.
With a ready supply of direct quotes from his mother, and his own bits of local knowledge, John has woven a very personal tale of life across the 20th century that many will relate to and enjoy.
"The choice of Yeo's turned out well for Mum," he recounts, "in the old city of Plymouth, Yeo's ranked below Pophams and Dingles, but on a level with Spooner's and above Coster's among the big department stores, all of which stood in, or near, Bedford Street.
"The apprenticeship gave her training in each department in turn. She loved the shop and the daily routine. Each morning she travelled from Plympton Station on the 8.40 train to North Road.
"Normally she took the short walk from there to Yeo's, although from time to time she caught a tram.
"At midday when the weather was fine, she used to buy a sandwich or a pasty at the Three Towns Dairy or the Windsor Dairy in George Street. With her friends she would walk up to the Hoe and they would eat their lunch looking out over the waters of Plymouth Sound."
This Life of Grace is the sort of book we should all be encouraged to write if we are in the fortunate enough to be in a situation where we have contact with a member of the generation or two that came before us, especially if they're not in a position to make notes or do it themselves.
It is always a salutary experience to reflect on how much and how quickly the material aspects of our lives change and it aids our appreciation and understanding of how we all came to be where we are today.
As the saying goes, 'the man who has no past, has no future'.
This Life of Grace is published by Shepheard-Walwyn at £7.95