Memories of Life in Borden by Joan Mills ne Wenband

I was born in a cottage at Harman’s Corner in October 1924. I’m told that I fell out of my pram onto the lid of the well at the rear of the cottages.

My earliest memory was in 1927 when we moved from Harman’s Corner to Wises Lane. I remember sitting in the cab of the removal lorry with my dad and passing my mother with my brother in the pram outside the shop in The Street.

John Taylor was the Headmaster of the school when I started, soon followed by Mr McCulloch. I’m told mum met me on my first day but I only wanted to walk home with the girls. To get to the school we had to walk from home to the A2, along to an alleyway that goes through what is now The Firs Nursing Home, through an orchard, across fields to Hook’s Hole, along School Lane to the school. After that some older girls took me. My dad later had a car but it was a rare treat to be taken to school. In 1932 when I was just 8 years old my dad died. To start with we used to have packed lunch, but when I was a bit older we would walk home and back for lunch in the lunch time.

When Mrs Godfrey, the caretaker, was on holiday or indisposed my mother helped a friend to do the work. After school they would clean the school and they had to go, quite early each morning, to light the coal fires in the five classrooms.

As we didn’t have cookery classes at school we were able to go free, in our last year, to Evening Classes in Ufton Lane School. I still have a cookery book given to me there in March 1939.

I was taught to hem in the Upper Miss Edward’s class. I found it difficult to do tiny stitches in the piece of linen we were given. When I went up to Mrs Parker’s class I was taught to use a sewing machine. Then I was then allowed to use my mother’s treadle machine at home. I still have in use a pillow case that I embroidered in class. It was put in a show in the Town Hall, Sittingbourne in a class for school craft work by the Co-op society in their Annual Flower Show.
Another year, in the show, I won a prize of a fancy leather belt for a blue cardigan I’d knitted in school. I remember a loom in Miss Howes’ classroom. We gathered wool from hedgerows which we carded using two small bats with metal teeth, ready for spinning. We then made a dye from onion skins to turn it yellow.

The school collected money to buy a set of blue and white Cornish ware as a wedding present for Miss Howes. She then became Mrs Finlay.

We used to go up the road to Mr Turner’s meadow for sport’s afternoon

I remember playing a piano solo (In Florida Moonlight) in the school concert at the annual church Christmas bazaar. Another year I acted as an old lady with an ear trumpet in a Bath chair, we were acting the word ‘hydrophobia’ in a little scene in the concert. I was dressed in a smock as a male to dance the maypole at a fete in The Playstool. I entered a vase of wild flowers in a competition in the big barn at a garden party at Borden Hall.

In the summer months I remember walking across the fields opposite the school to a bank above Chestnut Woods to eat our packed lunch.

I’m sure it was on Empire Day when all the school was walked up to a service in the church. I think we then got the rest of the day off.

I’ve a photo of a group of girls holding Union Jacks lined up against the church wall to go to a service for the coronation of George VI. There is a similar picture of some boys, including my brother, in the Borden book written by Helen Allinson.

When we were older we got bicycles and could either go up Wises Lane and round the church or along the original Maidstone Road to School Lane and on to school.

I went to country dancing classes in the Vicarage and remember a competition held at a garden party at the Vicarage. It was to guess the height of a tall fir tree in the garden there.

The school was allowed, one year, to go into Mr Hinge’s strawberry field behind the big barn in The Street to gather what was left after they had finished marketing them. My mother used to pick fruit for Mr Thomas in Pond Road. A lorry would pick up the pickers and take them home at the end of the day. In the school holidays Peter and I went with them.

We also picked hops for Mr Hinge in Wises Lane. My first day in the hop garden ended with me being taken to the doctors suffering from the heat. I ended up staying in bed with a neighbour keeping an eye on me. It cost mum her day’s earnings to pay the doctor.

I can remember being in the hop gardens, during the war, when a German plane swooped low over us. Someone took a shot at it. Another memory I have is of a lady who kept a shop in Briar Road would come round the gardens with a tray of sweets morning and afternoon. The threat to children, if they didn’t pick, was that they didn’t get any sweets.

One very sunny day a group of us were watching a ‘dog fight’ in the air and saw the pattern of the vapour trails in the sky. A neighbour, for a laugh, came out wearing a metal chamber pot on his head.

We had a Morrison table air-raid shelter in our living room with the bed all made up. It was a solid metal frame with wire sides and solid metal top that became our table.

Often, when we arrived home, we found friends from Folkestone had come to stay with us as they needed to get away when the shelling was so bad. A year or two later, after our wedding reception, we travelled down to Folkestone by bus to spend a few days with them as our honeymoon.

We had a girl evacuee for a few weeks. Someone in the village couldn’t cope with her. We tried and even got head-lice from her. In the end she went back to London.

I can picture seeing the corn being threshed by a steam engine and threshing machine in the field above our house in the lower end of Wises Lane. The steam engine etc came from between the railway lines in Staplehurst Road.

When we visited my grandfather in Hythe Road in my father’s car I can remember feeling the ‘dropping’ sensation driving between those two bridges in Staplehurst Road.

My Father’s oldest brother William, who was born blind, would walk from Hythe Road to visit us using his white stick. He read Braille and caned chairs for a hobby.

I worked as a weekend worker in the greengrocery department in the Co-op in Park Road before I left school. I later worked full time in the furnishing department of the Co-op in East Street until I joined the WRNS in 1943.

I borrowed my wedding dress from the local policeman’s wife, the veil from a cousin as clothing coupons did not stretch to having everything new. I made my mum and Aunt Annie each a dress, also the two little bridesmaids’ dresses together with muffs, in the month after I was de-mobbed from the WRNS. I used to travel from home, by bus, to Gillingham to catch the electric train which started from there. After Christmas leave in 1945 I met my future husband who was in the RAF on the platform of Gillingham railway station on my way back to The Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

I was christened, confirmed and later married, in 1946, in Borden church. The reception was held in the Scout hut behind The Maypole Public House. We used to get a small portion of our meat ration as corned beef; this was saved for a few weeks. The butcher let mum have an ox tongue which she cooked and pressed. The Maypole made us some jellies and did the rest of the catering. I think that only the top tier of our wedding cake was in fact cake!

In the summer months we did not light the kitchen range with a back boiler so all water had to be heated on the gas stove and carried upstairs to the bath. After we had bathed my mother would wash our clothes in the water we had used. This used to happen on Saturday afternoons after we had worked in the fields all week. As our house was not on main drainage we had to be careful about the amount of water used as we were limited to a certain number of times the cesspool was emptied free. We even kept a watering can under the kitchen outflow to throw into the garden.

Then, on Saturday evenings, shops stayed open late so we would do special shopping, the weekly grocery order came via the Co-op baker who delivered it to the house with the bread. I remember a market, crudely lit by a type of gas light, somewhere near The Butts. I mainly remember big stalks containing many hands of bananas. We travelled into town by bus, usually very crowded. One Saturday evening I lost a cardigan in the crush. Buses in those days were at least five an hour, four from Gravesend and one from Maidstone.

One New Year’s Eve I can remember dancing The Conga out from the village hall, round past the sweet shop, The Barrow Trust building which housed The Post Office and round the triangle by The Maypole.

For many years my mother drew her widow’s pension of 18 shillings from Kingsnorth’s shop and Post Office at Key Street. The 18 shillings was made up of 10 shillings for mum, 5 shillings for me the eldest and 3 shillings for my brother.

A number of years later my two daughters were baptised at Borden Church. Early in 1951 I moved back to Wises Lane with my eldest daughter when my husband was sent abroad to Singapore. My youngest daughter was born at home in December 1951. One daughter still lives in the parish.

For several years my two daughters took part in at least four different fancy dress competitions on The Playstool.

I have enjoyed reminiscing and hope my memories are the sort of information you are looking for. 

Memories of life in Borden by Joan Mills ne Wenband

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