Pat Nelson

Pat Nelson, sister Shirley, mother and grandmother, with Mrs Straunchan in the middle. Borough Green, during evacuation, 1941

Growing up

"Sunday was bath night, and we used to bath in front of the fire in a bungalow bath, a great big oval shaped bath, and mum used to put the clotheshorse to one side with towels on it. Because I was the oldest, I used to get in the bath first, and Shirley had to get in the bath after I did. But we always had nice warm clothes in the winter because they were hung round the fire you know. You used to have towels on one side of the clotheshorse, and our nighties or pyjamas, on the other side of the clotheshorse.


Pat Nelson's parents, Mr and Mrs Chaney, in the garden, Chudleigh Road, Ladywell, 1940

Afterwards, mother used to always "puggle" our ears. She shouldn't really have done that. She used to get a piece of cloth or something and go round our ears to clean our ears out. No it didn't hurt, she never used to go right in, she just used to go round the outsides, and she used to puggle our ears you know.

And Friday she used to give us "Ex-lax" whether we wanted it or not, we had the weekend you know. We had Ex-lax every Friday. I don't know why she did it, I expect she thought she was keeping us healthy, we had Ex-lax every Friday."


"I left school in 1947. I wanted to be a hairdresser, but my mother said, there's no money in hairdressing, I want you to go work in an office. So she knew best I thought, mum knows best!

So she said, "I've found you a job, it's in the Co-op, the R.A.C.S. - the head offices in Powis Street" which was in Woolwich. So she said, "Come on I'll take you down there". So she took me down, and we had this interview, and I started work on the 6th January 1947.

It was a terrible, terrible winter, the snow was about six foot deep in some places and there were power cuts because there wasn't the coal. I used to work at the back of this main office block and I worked in the back in this warehouse place on the top floor. It was freezing cold and I used to sort statements. There was pink, green, yellow, pink, green, yellow and I used to sort all these statements.


Pat Nelson standing next to the bride at her sister's wedding

We used to go home early in the afternoon because of the power cuts, and the trams weren't running, because the weather was so bad. So I used to walk from Woolwich to Eltham. It was a long way, but when you're young things don't affect you the same way. I used to get terrible chilblains. And that year Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip got married, and the day they got married we got the afternoon off. That was in November 1947 and we got the afternoon off!"

Family life

"My father was drowned, he was in the navy and he was accidentally drowned in 1943. After that, my mother brought my sister and I up all by herself until we both got married.

My mother was very practical, she could do anything, I mean she used to decorate, she used to make my sister and I all our clothes and things like that. She couldn't knit very well, she used to knit my sister and I vests, and they were sort of, well funny-looking things they were, and she used to knit vests for us. She also knitted bathing costumes, and you used to go in the water and they used to sag, you know. As I say she used to do a lot of needlework, she was very good at needlework but she couldn't knit, and she wasn't a very good pastry cook either. But apart from that she was all right. My sister and I never went without, although she did, although we never knew. But we were always well-clothed always, and we always had food on the table and we never went hungry or anything like that."

Getting married


Pat and Peter Nelson leaving Spray Street Registry Office, Woolwich, for their wedding breakfast at Lee, 1960

"We got married on 24 Sept 1960, we got married in a Registry Office, because Peter, that was my husband's name, said " What's the point in getting married in church and promising to keep the one to another, as long as you both shall live, when we are not religious?"

So we got married in a Registry Office in Woolwich on 24 Sept 1960. But on the same day, my cousin Brian had a great big white wedding; so my mother, sister, that's all the family we had.

My husband's step father came, my friend Ann my oldest friend, Peter's brother he was best man, I think we only had about six people at our wedding. We got married in the early morning 10 o'clock was our service or whatever you called it, and my mother and sister had to rush off to my cousin's wedding.

Peter and I went back to his mother's house in Lee and our wedding breakfast was a steak and kidney pudding with potatoes and vegetables, and apple pie and cream. That was our wedding breakfast. In the evening we had friends in for drinks and little bits and pieces for the evening.

We hadn't even decided to go on honeymoon, but we got up early Sunday morning and Peter said, "How do you fancy going down to Brighton?" So I said ok then, so we went down and we found a boarding house in a back street, it was very nice. So we spent a week in Brighton in a guesthouse, that was our honeymoon."

Daily Life


Pat Nelson and sister Shirley, Chiesmans' department store, Lewisham, Christmas 1935

"It never used to vary. Monday was washday, Tuesday was ironing day, Wednesday was bedrooms. Thursday, in fact my mother only had half a day on a Thursday, working in a shop those days, half a day she used to have off, Thursday was early closing. Thursday she used to rush home you know, and do a lot of housework. But Monday was washing day.

Back then, we used to have a bath in the kitchen, and my mother used to put everything in to soak, you know towels and things in the bath, before she went to work on a Monday morning, I don't know how she did it. She used to come home Monday evening, and get everything out of the bath, and rinse it up with cold water. There used to be a mangle in the garden, and I used to turn the handle, or mum used to turn the handle and I used to feed the sheets through, and that's how we did the washing.

And then as I say, Tuesday was the ironing day, so she used to fly home from work on a Tuesday. She had an electric iron, but it was one of those terribly heavy ones you know, and she had that until she died. She wouldn't have a steam iron. She would not have a steam iron! She used to have a sort of squeezy bottle, and she used to squeeze it all over the washing, so she used to have that. Tuesday was ironing. Shirley and I never ever went to school in rough-dry clothes, they were always pressed and ironed and starched and everything else, and that was Tuesday, ironing day.

Wednesday, I think it was downstairs. And as I say, Thursday she used to do window cleaning as well, she used to do that on a Thursday, and I don't know how she did it really! Saturday she worked all day as well, so she used to just get Thursday afternoon. And it wasn't what you'd call very early, 'cause she used to get home at 1.00 you know. And as I say, she used to have to do everything.

And there wasn't supermarkets then to go to get your food. She used to rush out, because they used to shut at half past five, so she used to rush out in her lunch hour to get the food to bring it home. But I mean loads of other women were doing the same, it was hard for women really hard! It was very hard to be a mother on your own in those days."

Free time

"We used to go down to Weymouth on holiday, and there used to be a naval base down there. So Ann and I used to go what we called "chasing the sailor" down in Weymouth.

I met one, his name was David Starbuck. I met him down there and I suppose we corresponded and went out for a while but it fizzled out you know. And as I say we used to spend a lot of holidays down there, Ann and I, and we used to lay on the beach, in our rouched salmon pink bathing costumes. They were nylon, rouched salmon pink they were, and we used to lay flat out on the beach and we used to cook ourselves!

We used to go back and our legs would be bright, absolutely bright red you see, because we was trying to get a tan, and we thought we was being sophisticated you see. We used to come back with red raw legs.

In those days you didn't know that the sunshine wasn't good for you we just used to lay there all day trying to get brown. It used to peel afterwards, and come off in great big sheets honestly. You didn't realise then you was doing yourself damage."

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