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Memories of a Junior Assistant

by csvdevon

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mrs Jean Southgate (nee McEvansoneya)
Location of story: 
Barnstaple, N Devon
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 October 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People's War site by CSV Storeygatherer Celia Bean on behalf of Jean Southgate. The story has been added to the site with her permission. And Jean Southgate fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

'Memories of My Early Years Working at Banbury’s, Barnstaple'
by Mrs Jean (McEvansoneya) Southgate.

I left school in 1940 and immediately started looking for a job. I applied to Banbury’s and was interviewed by Mr Arthur Banbury who was Grandfather to the present owners. You will see by my single name that it was termed as “quite a mouthful! So he asked what was my Mother’s single name, it was Thorne, so I was always known as that whilst I worked there. I started in the Gown room, we all had to wear black dresses. I had to wear my Mother’s dress which she always kept for funerals, luckily we were the same size! The first week I hid behind the rails of dresses and coats because I was so scared and shy. I often wondered what I would have done if a customer had spoken to me!

After a few months I was moved to the Manchester counter (sheets, blankets etc) my dress then had to be navy blue. After dusting the counters and shelves many times in a day, the head of department didn’t know what to do with me! The next morning I was taken to the to the top of the building three flights of stairs up, given a heap of string which I had to unravel and rejoin and then make into balls. The next job was to flatten out piles of brown paper (bags were scarce) and cut into reasonable size, then take it along to various departments for usage. The wooden chair I had to sit on was hard, but at least I had a window to look out of which was on a level with the crooked spire of the parish Church, so you know how high up I was! I did not own a watch in those days, so had to rely on an assistant to shout up the stairs and say “Thorne it’s time you went to lunch”; sometimes I think they forgot I was up there!

I was then moved to the scarf and glove department. There were wooden type shelves placed in the centre of the shop which had to be dressed each day with goods, which I enjoyed doing. Next I was put on the material counter and had to learn the names of the materials; calico bleached and unbleached, pure silk, gauze, chiffon, georgette, organdie, baize, satin and sateen, to mention but a few.

In the corner of the department, we had to display materials each day which I did. One day Mr B asked me to dress a small window with jumpers and skirts. Later in the day, he brought a visiting rep and asked his opinion of the window. A few weeks later Mr B asked my parents if I could go to London to train as a window dresser, but by this time the Germans had started bombing London, so it was out of the question.

I did continue to dress all the windows, about twelve in all, and enjoyed it very much. The only trouble was I often had “housemaid’s knee”, as you realize my job meant I was always on my knees dressing the windows. Mr B would always come and inspect my work, especially the “Island Window”. He would look at it from all angles to make sure that the viewer was not looking at the back of the garment displayed.

Each night the apprentices had to sprinkle wet sawdust on the lino floor in the main shop (to keep the dust down) then sweep it up! As the war progressed we had to clean the Arcade windows and wash the floors, as all the men had been “called up” for the forces. I worked there until 1944 when my age-group had to do some form of war work, so it was either going to work in a jam factory somewhere, or join the forces. I did the latter and enlisted in the W.A.A.F.

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