Friday, 7 November 2008


One of the first things I did after becoming engaged was to start a ‘bottom drawer’. In days gone by, this was known as a ‘Hope Chest’. Young girls on reaching puberty were given a wooden chest. Into this went various items of fine linen, stitched, embroidered, and trimmed with hand made lace by the young lady in question, in the hope that she would one day marry and use these items in her own home. The modern version of this was the bottom drawer or, for me, a large suitcase.
Each payday, when I received my wages; I would look around the shops and choose something to buy for my bottom drawer. It might be as big as a tea set, or as small as a wooden spoon, whichever caught my fancy or, more likely, whatever I could afford that particular week.
Arthur and I had a notebook, which we’d designed and devised over numerous cups of coffee. Each page was headed with the name of a room, such as lounge, bedroom, kitchen, and beneath each heading, we listed everything we could think of. Firstly, things that we needed and secondly, additionally things we would like to have. As each item was purchased or given to us (we received a lot of engagement presents), we ticked them off in the book and wrote down how much they had cost us. I still have this notebook, and the low prices we paid for household items are really amazing.

I had now been working for Williams Brothers for over a year and had never received a pay rise. We were saving really hard to get married, and I decided to ask my boss for more money. I felt quite nervous; I’d never had to do this before. The boss was a woman not liked by the staff, which did little for my confidence. I stood before this ‘dragon’ and felt about two feet high. She let me have my say, then politely pointed out that, since my switchboard hadn’t and wouldn’t be getting any bigger, there really didn’t seem to be any grounds for giving me more money.
I was deflated, disappointed and angry, and beat it hot foot to the employment bureau, a few doors down the road. When I told them how little I was earning, they were absolutely aghast.
‘We can get you much more than that,’ they said, true to their word, they did.
I went to work operating a double-position switchboard at Canda, a clothing factory in Islington. Canda was the trade name for the manufacturing side of C and A Modes. String the letters C and A together and, hey presto, you have Canda! There was a little more travelling to do, but my wages jumped from three pounds five shillings (£3.25) to five pounds, an amazing and very welcome pay rise.
Our most daunting task as a newly engaged couple was the task of finding somewhere to live. This had to be achieved before we could set a wedding date. There was absolutely no chance of buying a house, the cheapest being two thousand pounds, so that people like us just weren’t in the running. We could only hope for rented accommodation, but that too was virtually unobtainable due to the acute housing shortage that followed the war.


Anne said...

What a lovely blog. It really was so romantic in those days - why does it seem so long ago. And good on you for changing jobs!

Sandi McBride said...

I came over from Jay's to introduce myself and here I am! I was astounded when I saw the switchboard...the first job I ever had was a switchboard operator at a large hospital. I loved it. I would have made it a career if my father hadn't had his heart set on my being a I became a cop, lol! Loved this post...had a bottom drawer, and hadn't thought of it in very pleased to make your acquaintance!

Babs (Beetle) said...

How about a page from your 'list' so we can all see it?

That was a very good wage for then. My first job I earned £5.5s and that was good for the time - in 1961

granny grimble said...

I will have to wait until someone who is good at ladder climbing visits. My souvenir box is high on the shelf in my craft room, and I can't reach it. There are lots of things in there that I could post on my blog!

Croom said...

What a lovely blog Leeta, My first wage at Bravingtons was £3.50 (That was higher than Dave’s) he was an apprentice.

Please let us have some more of these blogs that bring back memories. My bottom draw was infact in a draw :O)

granny grimble said...


Yes I think a lot of romance has gone out of life now. Perhaps men think it isn't macho to be like that nowadays. It seems long ago because it was! In my case 60 years ago. I'm lying! I'm lying!

Thank you for visiting my pad, and welcome! Please call again.
I look at photos of old PBX boards with great longing. I just know that after all these years, I could still work one, couldn't you?
I bet you can tell us some tales about being a cop, or perhaps you aren't allowed to. How long is it since your bottom drawer?


Never fear, I still have lots of stories about life in the fast lanes of the 50's and 60's!

Croom said...

Way to go Leeta ;O)

Jay said...

That takes me back to my own first job where I earned the princely sum of £6.06 - of course, this was in the seventies, and still a pretty poor wage.

And my bottom drawer! I remember how hard it was to find the money for small bits and pieces, but find it we did!

Interesting... when I was a child we lived just around the corner from Islington and I had no idea that Canda had a factory there. Tell me, do you remember a shirt factory? Could it have been a Rael Brook?

granny grimble said...

No I don't remember a Rael Brook factory I'm afraid. I do remember the jingle though. 'Rael Brook Toplin the shirts you don't iron'!
Canda was in Eagle Wharf Road. It was opposite a canal, and I remember coming out of work one day, to find the police dragging the canal with a grappling iron, for the body of a small boy who had fallen in. That was very sad.

weechuff said...

Ano0ther smashing blog! They brinbg back so many memories to me. Do you know, I can't remember where I kept the things that I bought for my 'bottom drawer'but because of so many sisters, and lack of space, I should think that Lennies mum kept them in a drawer for us.What exciting days they were, with the whole of our life in front of us.People are so materialistic now when they get engaged, with a huge list of very expensive things that they want as presents. We gratefully accepted what we were given, and if things got doubled up, then we were lucky enough to have a 'spare'.Oh, happy days:0)

GoldAnne said...