Margaret (Laver) Goodman

Margaret Laver was born on 31st August 1927 in Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Her memoir, in the archive at Narberth Museum, recalls her childhood in the town during the 1930s. In it she describes the family home at 4 Moorfield Road, a small terrace house with ‘a scullery built on the back..(and a) front room not in general use, but always kept tidy, ready to receive visitors whenever they called’. Her description of the ‘thin, well-worn carpet…hearth rug, and an upright piano’ recalls a way of life that may be unfamiliar to subsequent generations. The hearth with ‘large brass poker and tongs which lay inside a long brass fender…always kept brightly polished by (her) mother’ is evocative of a pre-war aesthetic, complete with ‘maidenhair fern’, ‘huge gilt mirror’ and ‘ormolu clock’.

Behind the decorative facade however, Margaret Laver was ‘ten years old before (the family) had the luxury of an electric kettle’ and ‘never had running hot water in (her) house’. She describes summers of drought in Narberth where she ‘had to fetch water from the main town pump or the ever-flowing pipe on the Moor…’ and ‘chamber pots’ in the bedrooms that were emptied each morning by her mother.

It seems that even by the 1930s, industrialisation was slow to extend to services and facilities in rural west Wales. Margaret Laver recalled the ‘coal man arriving on a horse-drawn cart’, as was the milk delivered, ‘poured from big metal milk cans into (their) household jugs at the front door’. She goes on to describe how many residents of the town ‘still had earth closets at the end of the garden’ until flushing indoor toilets arrived in the area after the war.

The inter-war era in which Margaret grew up makes for a particularly fascinating memoir that delivers both a poignant insight into the human cost of the Great War, and the tragic hindsight of a generation about to embark on such losses for a second time. She recalls her father polishing his war medals for Remembrance Day each year and what she describes as the ‘jobless victims’ of war ‘trying to earn a few pence by selling tea or matches from house to house’, yet from a child’s perspective, the full horror is only imagined through her seeing the wounded ex-servicemen and the silence of her father.

Refreshingly, Margaret Laver describes several of the town’s women as ‘professional people’, making particular reference to two teachers: Eva Cole and Katie Morgan who taught French in the local Grammar School. In this context, she also reveals the devastating repercussions of illness (before the widespread availability of antibiotics and the advent of the NHS) when her mother contracted rheumatic fever and had to give up her academic studies and career aspirations aged 17. Other women in the town ran businesses, including ‘Miss Roblin’s Shop’.

Margaret’s recollection of her schooling is largely sensory. She describes the ‘squeaky pencil on slate’, ‘thread(ing) coloured beads onto shoelaces’ and the ‘peculiar smell’ of ‘wooden furniture, chalk dust, sweaty bodies (and) sawdust’. She also remembers being ‘smacked hard for something (she) had or not done’. During the weekend, she describes attending chapel and Sunday School, and how ‘chapel was the centre of (her) social life…(with) concerts, plays and outings centred around it’.

Margaret Laver’s snapshot of a moment in time and place is indicative of why the Women of West Wales Project began. Memoirs like hers provide essential insights into day to day life in the region that may otherwise be forgotten.

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