Life and work in Barbers Hill (Wedderburn Road) 1901-1918

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Skilled work

Any insight into the lives of the families who first lived in the newly created Barbers Hill is largely conjectural, though much can be surmised from the many accounts of how working class men, women and children lived at the beginning of the 20th century in towns like Malvern.

The occupations suggest most men were skilled manual workers. Harry Harris of Summerhayes was a painter, William Drew from Horsley was a plasterer, and George Walters (now No. 10) was a market inspector who lived next door to Henry Allen, a post office porter. Several tradesmen who had completed their apprenticeships (known as journeymen) lived in the remaining houses.

A railway cabman at work with his horse drawn cab outside Portland House, Great Malvern

A railway cabman with his horse drawn cab outside Portland House, Great Malvern

Harry Vines (who lived in present day No 14) was a baker.  William Yates was a butcher who moved into No 14 by 1905.  Ernest Powell lived at No 20 and was a painter, and Fred Fryer (No 14, later No 22) was a cabman. (These were horse drawn cabs and some operated from the station while others were kept for hire along Belle Vue Terrace). Other residents are described as farm labourers and quite possibly worked on some of the many farms in the Guarlford parish. Thomas Fairfax who lived at No 24 in 1905 was a postman.

Extra income

These men worked long hours and most would have earned £2 to £3 a week. This would have to cover rent, food and clothing, as well as local rates, although there was no gas, electricity or mains water at this time. Households also made contributions to the Poor Rate, used to support those in the Guarlford parish who were in poverty. We know nothing of the wives living in these early homes but again it is quite likely that the women worked part-time, and would almost certainly undertake seasonal work in the nearby fields, hop yards and orchards. Washing laundry for the many hotels, boarding houses and wealthy families in Great Malvern was, as we shall see later, a common form of extra income.

Children at play

Details of only a few children born in this early period are known. The daughter of Harry Harris and his wife Annie was born in Summerhayes soon after the family moved in 1901. Another girl, Dorothy was born in the house called Beacon View just before the First World War. Some of her earlier memories have been recorded in Childhood, one of a series of books published by Malvern Museum. She recalled how she would spend the summer holidays exploring the fields along Guarlford Road and beyond to Ox Hill to the south and Madresfield to the north. The roads were very dusty and more like lanes with no tarmac surfaces. Dorothy fondly remembered walking up Pound Bank Road and down the small passage to where the Little Shop on Lower Chase Road was; here she sometimes bought aniseed balls and a Caley sucker (a liquorice stick in a bag of sherbet).

Children at School

Photograph of Mill Lane School taken in the 1880s

Mill Lane School in the 1880s

Children had to attend school from the age of 5 to 14. For the first 15 years there was only Mill Lane School (now Malvern Parish) for Barbers Hill children. This is where Harry Harris’ daughter went. Brighter boys could progress to Hanley Castle High School or Worcester Grammar School if their parents could afford to send them. Most children though remained in the elementary school until the age of 14.

In 1916 Pickersleigh Road Council School (known today as Great Malvern Primary School) opened. The land that connects Lower Chase Road to Pound Bank today was just a field, so the route taken by young Dorothy to buy her sweets was also the only way for children to reach the new elementary school. Dorothy was one of the first pupils to attend the school.  She recalled learning to write with her fingers in trays covered in silver sand. Another activity involved threading beads on wire, and outside there were rounders and other team games. She remembered a teacher called Mr Paxton Hyde who introduced them to Shakespeare’s plays. Other pupils (whose recollections are recorded in Schools, another Malvern Museum publication), recount the frequent use of the cane for even quite minor offences.

Children at Work

Many of the children in this area, and indeed all over Malvern, would miss days and sometimes weeks from school during the busy harvesting period, picking peas, potatoes, fruit and hops. The school attendance registers are littered with references to children playing truant, and the local newspaper often carried reports of fathers being fined for the non attendance of their offspring.