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.