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Memoirs of William 'Tim' Fuller

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Location: Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire, England, United Kingdommap
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Four-penny worth of shin of beef
A penn’orth of suet, a penn’orth of liver

by William Charles 'Tim' Fuller, 1914–2004

Edited by Katie Fuller, 2021 (granddaughter of Tim's brother, Ray)


Early years

1914 was the year I was born – July 31st to be exact. What a time it was to come into the world, just before the First World War. Already my father Arthur Fuller and mother Annie [née Howard], God bless her soul, had my sister Lily four years my senior, and soon to come was brother Horace, born 11 months after myself on July 1st 1915.

Editor's note: Arthur and Annie, who married in 1910, had also had another son, Arthur Sidney Fuller, who died in infancy in 1912.

We lived in a small, terraced cottage in Caroline Terrace, Finedon Road, Burton Latimer [still standing in 2021] – two up and two down, no kitchen, water from a standpipe in the yard, toilets in a row away from the house. Each house had a barrel to catch the rainwater for washing. The bath was made of tin, about five feet long, and when not in use hung from a large nail outside the back door. Toilet paper? Never heard of it. The News of the World cut into regulation-size squares, secured to the toilet door with a shoelace, having a hole made in the corner by an awl as used in the shoe trade. None of the fancy stuff of those days; piles – never heard of them.

At the age of three I attended the “Mission Room” infants school which was more or less over the road from where we lived. Miss Lewis was one of the teachers I remember. She taught us our times tables and we respected her.

From this tender age I was sent on errand to the corner shop nearby. The shop was owned by Mrs Liz Allen, a rather tight-fisted woman. I can remember Mother sending me its a cup to buy a pen’orth of treacle to put on the suet roll. Mrs Allen would first weigh the cup, then dip a large spoon into a big stone jar and put a pen’orth of treacle into the cup – and not a drop more. She would then lick the spoon before putting it back into the jar.

On occasions I was sent to buy pickled onions; these were also weighed and if the scales went down with a bump, Mrs Allen would bite one of the larger ones in half.

The treacle also had other uses, which I well remember. Every Saturday evening we were given a concoction to clear the blood of all impurities known to man at that time. The ingredients did vary but usually consisted of liquorice powder mixed with treacle. It worked wonders – a spoonful and you nearly went into orbit.

On Monday there would be delayed action, much to the dismay of Miss Lewis, the pong being horrible. She would frequently ask: “Does anyone want to go to the toilet?” No-one would ever say yes for the shame of it all. By the next Friday you could say it was clear in more ways than one [that we were] ready for the next dose on Saturday.

The First World War

The War ran from 1914 to 1918, and during this time Mother had us three small children [Lily, Tim and Horace]. Being the worse for wear after a heavy bout of drinking, my Father with a few of his cronies walked to Kettering and joined the Army, leaving Mother to care for us. We had nothing so she had to go to work in the boot and shoe trade at Fox’s, the boot heel-makers. Us three children were looked after by anyone who would have us while she worked. A Mr and Mrs Reynolds were very kind to us; Mr Reynolds was the local road-sweeper – [with] brush, shovel and handcart in those days.

Editor's note: Arthur's service record shows that he attested in Kettering on 17 January 1916. He was 35 years old.[1]

During 1917-1918, food was in very short supply and only regular customers were being served in the shops. Lack of food caused me to have malnutrition with a big belly and knobbly knees. The local doctor sent me to the Clinic on Lower Street in Kettering for medication which could be obtained there. On examination it was confirmed that I had rickets [caused by a lack of vitamin D or calcium][2] and was prescribed a large jar of cod liver oil and malt.

It was during this time that brother Horace gave Mother a real scare; he was coming down the stairs crying his eyes out, hardly able to walk. Mother sat him on her knee, very concerned of course. On careful examination he was found to have two legs down one trouser leg. Of course this was soon put right with a few choice words from Mother.

The Great War ended in 1918, with Father returning without a scratch. Due to the fact that he had very bad bunions he had served as an Officer’s Batman [a personal servant][3] throughout the War. If there had been a prize for the biggest bunions I’m sure he would have won it.

Editor's note: Arthur served in the Queen's Labour Corps. Though he didn't fight, he was posted to Etaples in France for part of the War. On demobilisation on 19 March 1919[1] he was put into Medical Category B1 – "Able to march five miles, and see to shoot with glasses and hear well." [4]

Growing up in hard times

As young as I was then, I could sense all was not well on the home front. Mother, bless her, was very short of money – the main reason being Father drank like a fish. It was said he had shares in the brewery. My memory is clear to this day, Mother asking: “Where’s the housekeeping money?” It had all gone on booze. In her anger Mother said to him “I was managing better without you, pity you came back.”

Editor's note: Tim was four years old in spring 1919 when his father came home. The recollections of Arthur's behaviour around this time must have been passed on to Tim by his mother. It sounds as if Arthur's drinking – and certainly a lack of money – caused real problems for the family. It also seems that Arthur's employment was a bit sporadic.

Soon after the War ended – I was about seven – we left Caroline Terrace for [15] Spencer Street [another small, terraced house not far away]. This move came about as Mother was expecting Phyllis [born in December 1919]. Horace and myself were sent to an Aunt and Uncle at Broughton for the weekend. They had a shop in the front room selling sweets and ice-cream. This was a treat for lads like us, having been restricted from sweets through lack of cash. When we got home there was the baby in its pram-cum-cot. Asking where it came from, we were told ‘under the gooseberry bush;’ even in those days it did sound odd to say the least.

Money for Mother was always a problem. Not only did she wash for the family to make ends meet, she took in other people’s washing. She was a real worker. Father was worse than useless – he couldn’t knock a nail in. The only tools we had were a hatchet – which was used to chop the wood – a hammer and a wire-cutter.

Friday was boot-repairing day. I had to go next-door to Mrs Turner and borrow the hobbing foot [a piece of wood on which the cobbler’s last – a metal foot-shaped mould – was mounted][5] used for shoe repairs. Whilst Mother was setting the sack in the sink for the hobbing foot, Father so-called would be putting on his muffler to go out drinking, spending the money which was needed at home. I did learn years later he was spending as much on booze as he was giving Mother to pay the rent and feed the family. Even his own Father, my Grandfather (Robert James Fuller), told me he had the opportunity to make good, but preferred to drink.

A growing family

We now had another brother, Raymond, [born in July 1922] and it became the duty of Horace and myself to take the younger ones down the road in the pram; we were nursemaids, so to speak. Our weekends and holidays were taken up with this chore.

Soon we were to have another brother, Sidney, [born in 1924] almost 10 years younger than myself. Dr Warner attended his birth and the bill was for 12/- [12 shillings] to be paid weekly at 1/- (5p) a week. It was my job to take the money to his surgery each Friday after Father got paid. When 11/- had been paid the doctor said: "Tell your mother she need not pay any more." For those days this was a very generous gesture; those with money didn't like to part with it and kept it in the family.

Sid was a pain in the backside. We used to take him down the road and sit on the form. No sooner had we settled for a rest then Sid would perform his party piece, for he had trouble with his bowels. We would quickly push him home smelling of sweet violets to be met by Mother, a few choice words and bucket at the ready. The pram was turned on its side and swilled out with water, and Sid duly cleansed.

Running errands for Mother

Another duty given to Horace and myself was to go on errands. We took it in turns one week to go to the Co-op Butchers managed by Fred Dunmore; the following week we were delegated jobs or errands by our Mother. Both of us hated going to the butcher's to ask for four penny-worth of shin of beef, penn'orth of suet, penn'orth of liver, to be wrapped in The News of the World (none of the fancy wrappings of today) – a bit of printer's ink did no harm.

On receiving the meat, which was to feed eight, Mother would unwrap it and see if it was up to standard. "You can take that back, it's all fat and gristle and you can tell that Fred Dunmore Mother said you palm us kids off with anything." Mother's word being law in the household, we got moving in no time back to the butcher's. He knew what was coming and would bang the big! order of meat on the chopping block using a few choice words, unwrap the meat from The News of the World (which by now was sticking to it) and exchange it. On arrival home, Mother would duly examine the new lot and nod with approval. "That's better, now hurry or you'll be late for school."

Horace, being a proud lad, once said "I'm not taking it back." "WHAT?" Mother said and chased him up the street with the copper stick [used for washing] (a technical word for the leg off an old wooden chair).

Family fortunes

As you can see, we were poor – same jumble sale clothes seven days a week, Father drinking the money and buying new clothes for himself. Boots a shilling a week from Cole's, Newman Street. Mother, as I said before, did our shoe-mending using an old rubber tyre which did 50 miles before retread.

The boot and shoe trade from Christmas to Easter was a dead loss, not knowing who would be getting their cards next. When Father was in work it was usual on Friday, which was payday for him, to have a tuppenny halfpenny tin of sardines for his tea. It was my job to go to Pain's corner shop just over the road to fetch these.

On one occasion just after Christmas Father came home from work with his little box, which held his clicking knives, for he was a clicker, cutting out the leather for the boot tops. This was at five o'clock. Mother, seeing him with the tools of his trade, pushed me out the front door with the tin of sardines shouting that I must take the sardines back to Pain's and get the tuppence halfpenny back and tell them Father's out of work and Mother can't afford these.

Father, as you will have guessed by now, was a heavy drinker, his preference being strong ale. After work on Saturdays it was the practise among the dedicated boozers to go to the "Rack" Club opposite the factory where they worked. Mother, on one occasion being short of cash – the stuff which paid the rent and food – picked Sidney up in her ams and went down to the "Rack" where she knew Father would be. She plonked Sidney on his knee and in no uncertains terms told him "Here's your baby, now look after it." As in those days flat caps were the fashion, the men all looked similar and Mother had plonked the baby not on Father's lap but that of some poor unexpected soul, much to the amusement of everyone present.

A Christmas carol

Christmas as a child wasn't a very cheerful time. Once when Father was on the "dole" the neighbours rallied round and gave Mother a shoe box full of groceries which saved the day. Often all we had in the house to eat was a bit of bread and dripping. Mother would sometimes go without her own dinner so us kids could have a bite, saying that she wasn't hungry.

Our next-door neighbours, Mr and Mrs Turner sometimes gave us "pig" potatoes, the small ones, which Mother would boil up in their skins. Talk about living it up – dipped in a saucer of salt, it was nectar to us. During the winter months if we had or were given some stale bread, Mother would make us kettle broth. WHAT, never heard of it? The kettle was heated on the fire, and Mother would cut the bread into squares then pour the hot water over it. Should there be a copper to spare we might have an Oxo [stock cube] mixed with the water between us. Never had it so good – then off to bed with a belly full.

The winters were very cold, with frost in the inside of the bedroom windows; we only had one fire in the house, in the living room. For fuel we had leather bits (offcuts of leather from the shoe factory) mixed with gas coke. The coke we fetched from the gashouse, usually on Saturday as Father had just been paid. We used the pram to carry the coke; it cost sixpence a big sack. One particular man would always give us a couple of extra shovelfuls loose in the pram, Mother didn't seem to mind.

On one occasion Lily and myself got caught in a blizzard going on the coke run – we were frozen and unable to push the pram because of the snow. After some time, Father appeared, not in the best of moods for he must have lost his afternon nap after his ale session.

Baker's boy and paper boy

Of course, time was moving on and at the age of 12 [in 1926] Mother got me a Saturday job as a baker's boy with Mr Downal J.P. with his assistant Gerald Farrow. Gerald was very kind sharing his mid-morning snack with me. I was paid 2/6 a week and worked from 7am to 5pm. This included a dinner of corned beef, piccalilli and boiled potatoes, which we ate in the bakehouse sitting on a bench. The sweet was often damsons with custard; after we had eaten we would count the stones round the dish to see who had been given the most.

Mother was rather pleased to receive two shillings of my wages and I kept sixpence – lucky me. After tea on Saturday Ray and Sid would pester me to send them over to Pain's shop to buy six halfpenny lucky bags, which contained sweets. It was then my job to tip them onto the table and share them out. Horace was not involved in this orgy as he preferred to have his own sweets which he ate reading The News of the World, hoping no-one would notice – very odd carry-on.

Mother had heard on the "grapevine" that Mr Miller the newsagent was looking for a lad to deliver Sunday morning paper. Who else but the bright lad, me? Horace couldn't do it for he liked to lay in bed on Sunday mornings. The wage again was two and six: two shillings for Mother, sixpence for me. I could put sixpence away for a bike from Charlie Ward's, which cost 10 shillings cash second-hand. With the extra money I was able to give to Mother, she was able to buy some of the better clothes at the jumble sale and no longer had to wait for the throw-outs at the end – happy days.

Bringing home the bacon

We could even afford a joint of beef on Sunday. Mother often walked to Kettering Market after tea on Saturdays to pick up a bargain piece of meat. Topside was her favourite joint: hot on Sunday; cold on Monday with jacket potatoes (Monday was big wash day); minced on Tuesday; Oxo stew on Wednesday. What was left of the meat Mother cut into small pieces and it was a bit of a lucky dip if you found any meat.

Mr Turner, our next-door neighbour, would go out shooting rabbits and any surplus to his family requirements he would sell for sixpence each. If Mother bought one we had a real banquet. Mother would skin and clearn the rabbit and cut it into small pieces so we could all have a share. Father was useless; he had no idea how to cut a joint or even a loaf of bread. The only place he excelled was at the bar in the "Rack."

Between the ages of 12 and 14 I was in the money – shilling a week and doing quite well at school. Schoolmarm Davies, one of our teachers, knew of our circumstances as he collected our house rent, the house belonging to a friend of his. At 14 we all sat exams at school; this was rather pointless as only the better-off could afford to let their children go to the grammar school. Most would be unable to afford the uniform, no matter what the result.

Timpson, Bullock and Barber

At the age of 14 and the proud owner of a bike, Mother took me to Timpson, Bullock and Barber Engineers, Bath Road, Kettering, for a job. One of the workmen must have known I came from Burton Latimer, and said as a lathe turner his wage was lower than in the shoe trade. My wage was then eight shillings and I could have earned nine in the shoe trade.

Luckily I had to take a shoe machine part from TBB to Buckby Bros., Burton Latimer, and I asked to see the foreman of the lasting room, Mr Shatford. This was mid-week and he said I could start the following Monday at nine shillings a week. Just a few coppers extra for Mother, Phyllis, Ray and Sid to enjoy the fruits of my labour and I was proud to help.

Whilst working at Timpson, Bullock and Barber, I had a penny ticket for a draw and won a brace of pheasants. At the time I was off work ill, but someone in Burton Latimer who I worked with delivered them to Mother. She dressed the birds, feather-picking and gutting them herself, and provided us with a good meal whilst Father looked on. He would arrive home from the Rack, eat the meal, and not give a thank you to anyone.

Buckby Bros, Burton Latimer

Mother was still repairing the [family's] shoes to the best of her ability, but I thought I might be able to help in that direction. I approached Mr Chambers, an elderly man, who had made shoes in the past, and asked him if he could help, please, help me to have go at the repairing as Mother was doing it at the moment. With tears in his eyes he said that I could go to his house after tea and he would start me off. I duly went to his house and he gave me two iron lasts and an upright stand, asking if I had a hammer and nail puller. I told him the only so-called tool we had was a hatchet.

So I set off home with the tools of the trade so that I could repair the family's boots to the best of my ability. Scrap leather, rubber and nails I borrowed from Buckby's – they didn't miss the pickings off the floor, they would only be swept up and thrown away. Mother was pleased that I had taken this job out of her hands.

You were entitled to certain perks when in full-time work, one being fish for tea on Monday – perhaps a kipper or bloater. Sid and Ray would breathe down my neck whilst I ate my fish. They would take it in turns: one to have the skin and the other the bones, which I would leave some fish on. The bone boy didn't hesitate to crunch the bones up. Little did I think to share it with them.

Lucky ticket

As I said before, Christmas wasn't goodwill to all men. One July when I was about 15 and working at Buckby Bros, already realising there would be little to eat at Christmas, I purchased a Christmas draw ticket from the Kettering Thursday Football Club for a penny, which I placed in my waistcoat pocket. The winner was to be announced in the Evening Telegraph [the local newspaper] just before Christmas and the first prize was a turkey.

We didn't take the ET but our neighbour Mrs Bull did, so I asked to look at her paper. Much to my amazement, my one-penny ticket had won the first prize. I kept checking my number – 1399 – again and again.

I had to go to the secretary of the football team in Rockingham Road, Kettering, to claim the aforesaid turkey. Being at work and earning a few shillings for Mother and myself, I paid the bus fare to Kettering out of my own pocket – sixpence return – and I proceeded to the secretary's house. He gave me a voucher for the turkey and I had to walk back to the High Street butcher's shop. On giving the voucher to the butcher, the misery said "Another win for an outsider." Anyhow I took the LARGE unwrapped turkey back home on the bus. What a picture to see Mother's face: she was over the moon. She didn't kiss me; it was not the fashion in those days. She cooked the turkey to perfection for our Christmas dinner. It lasted the best part of the week.


During the winter Buckby Bros would be on short time. The orders were slow to come in, the football and cricket shoes only being made to order in those days. Mr Wilson who lived in Little Harrowden worked on the bench, and if we had a half-day he would borrow my bike to go home. After dinner I would walk to Little Harrowden to get the bike back.

Mr and Mrs Wilson had no children; they made a real fuss of me – something I had never know before in my life. I would go with Mr Wilson to the allotment to dig the ground and get carrots, beetroot, cabbage, whatever was in season. On returning to the house at teatime, tea [the evening meal] would be ready: EGG, BACON, and FRIED POTATO – a meal for a King, not what a half-starved lad was used to. Mrs Wilson would send me home with a few eggs for Mother if she had some to spare. Mr and Mrs Wilson wanted to adopt me; I asked Mother but she said no. What might have been my lot if she had said yes, who knows?

At Buckby Bros if someone left or was put on the dole, the foreman would ask if you would like to learn to operate the empty machine. I soon picked up most of the jobs, which stood me in good stead in future years.

At 19 [in 1933] I started to look for a new job. We were often on short time and I wanted to save some money. Sometimes I didn't earn enough to pay my board and would have to owe Mother a shilling or two. So off I set on my trusty steed to Kettering, Rushden, Irthlingborough and Wellingborough [all local towns with boot and shoe factories] where I managed to get a job at Gilbert Bros, Park Street. I biked each day to work and instead of being on short time it was overtime and at the end of the week I had money left.

Getting married

I had an incentive to save, as I had begun courting Margaret Sharman of Glendon Lodge, Burton Latimer, from the age of 17. By the time I was 23 and Marge 24 we had saved enough money to get married. We rented two rooms in a house, which we furnished ourselves. On April 18 1938 we were married at All Saints' Church in Wellingborough. The reception was held at the Granville Hotel; the menu ham salad, trifle, cakes and tea at ONE and ELEVEN a head. I must point out that before the War the total cost for fish and chips was threepence, a penny for chips and two for fish.

In July 1937 the year before I was married we came in for rather a shock. I had just returned home from courting at 9.50 to be met at the door by a certain member of the family just going out.

"Tell Mother I'm getting married in the morning." You'd better come with me and sort it out yourself," I said. Of course Mother went spare asking why she hadn't been told before as she could have helped.

Yours truly agreed to be Best Man. The wedding took place at Wellingborough Registry Office. After the ceremony the Registrar asked the Groom for seven shillings and eight pence. The Groom made no effort to pay, so I coughed up. He hadn't, but replied that he'd paid for the rent and had the groceries for the next week. I felt in my pocket and gave him two pounds to help him out of the situation. It was a sad day for the family.

Editor's note: Tim's brother Horace married Edith May Coombs in 1937. Horace and Edith's marriage lasted for more than 40 years until her death in 1979. Perhaps it was not such a sad day for them.

The Second World War

Then came the War – I thought it would never end. I spent five and a half years as a storekeeper, serving in England, then France, Holland, Belgium, Germany and Iceland. The civilian workers also put in supreme effort, making boots and shoes, Army uniforms including greatcoats. Men were retained to work in the steelworks, on the railways and farms and in forestry, to mention a few of the reserved occupations.[6] After a busy day at work, people became the Home Guard, fire-watching among other tasks. It was usual to work from 7.30am to 8pm, sometimes six days a week to meet demands. The iron and steel furnaces operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Food was rationed[7]and people living alone at home like my dear wife [while Tim was away on service] were actually starving. A good friend with a family and husband working on the railway would occasionally have a little cheese, fat or butter to spare which they would give to her.

My wife lived with her sister in Wellingborough for part of the War. Unfortunately the house was hit and demolished during a bombing raid, the roof and windows being badly damaged. Marge went to live with my Mother and Father in Burton Latimer, biking to work every day until the repairs were completed.

The War finished on September 8th 1945 and I was demobbed at Cardington [near Bedford], complete with suit, shoes and hat ready for civvy street. Many people wondered what the work situation would be. Would it be the same as after the First World War with thousands of unemployed and some soldiers rejoining the Army to go to India, the Khyber Pass etc. Gladys, Marge's eldest sister, emigrated to Australia with what was called the ten pounds assisted passage.[8]

Mother and Father were by themselves after the War as everyone was by now married. We had all served our country with the exception of Lily; Horace in the Signals, Ray and myself in the RAF [Royal Air Force], Phyllis the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service][9] and Sid in the Marine Commandos. Luckily we all came back in one piece to go our various ways. As a family we kept in touch: Ray and Sid still visit us now.


For me it was back to work at Bignells, who were joined by Gilbert Bros and became known as Bignells Ltd. There was plenty of work for us; a recession was to follow but we weathered the storm. I was pretty adaptable using the shoe machinery and was able to do maintenance work, and after a year or two I was asked to become a member of staff. This meant I would be paid even if we were on short time. After suffering three hernias I was advised by the doctor to get another job. So after 30 years of hard graft in the shoe trade it was time to make a change.

The Technical College at Wellingborough advertised for a Caretaker. 28 people applied for the position and I was offered it. After being at the Tech for only six months I was appointed Head Caretaker.

During my 18 years at the College we moved house from Mill Road to Robert Street, both in Wellingborough. It was hard work: the house was in very poor condition but we did eventually make it a good home, complete with garage and good-size garden.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Arthur Fuller. Apparent age 35 years 9 months. Height 5 feet 4 1/2 inches. Husband of Annie Maud Howard; married 30 Jan 1910. Present address Caroline Terrace, Burton Latimer. Children: Lily Florence, born 8 Sep 1910, Kettering; William Charles, born 31 Jul 1914, Burton Latimer; Horace, born 1 Jul 1915, Burton Latimer.
    British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920. Ancestry.com. British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Image
  2. Rickets and osteomalacia. www.nhs.uk. Accessed 20 Aug 2021
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Batman (military)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Batman_(military)&oldid=1031904942 (accessed August 20, 2021).
  5. Mending boots at shoes at home: tools and method. 1900s.org.uk. Accessed 20 Aug 2021
  6. Fact File: Reserved Occupations. BBC World War 2: People's War. Accessed 22 Aug 2021
  7. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT: RATIONING IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR. Imperial War Museums. Accessed 22 Aug 2021
  8. Wikipedia contributors, "Ten Pound Poms," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ten_Pound_Poms&oldid=1024667631 (accessed August 22, 2021).
  9. Wikipedia contributors, "Auxiliary Territorial Service," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Auxiliary_Territorial_Service&oldid=1026545220 (accessed August 22, 2021).

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