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Janette Dams  (née Cooper)

Janette Cooper
July 1947

Janette Dams tells her story which begins very normally—she was born in Salthouse the eldest of eight children, but she fell in love with a man who was at that time ‘the enemy’ and, though
this must have presented problems, she gives the impression of following her destiny in a specially happy and untroubled manner.

The Cooper family, Janette on extreme left.
See next page for a later group of the 8 Cooper children
The cottage on the green which belonged to Janette 's grandmother Emily Gray, before Jack Cooke bought it and started selling bait and boiled crabs there.

Emily Gray at her cottage door

I was born seventy years ago in what is now known as “the Crab Shop”.
I was the first of eight children: five girls and three boys. My grandmother owned the cottage, and my mother always "come home" to have her babies.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and when I was about three years old, I went to live with them. However, my parents and brothers and sister lived in nearby Cross Street, so it seemed like I had two homes.
Grandma was a wonderful lady and like others of her generation had a hard and busy life. Monday was wash day, the copper in the wash house would be filled on Sunday (from the pump in the yard) and early Monday morning it would be lit. This would be the opportunity to get rid of any rubbish—and many a copper boiled on worn-out boots and shoes!
In would go the ‘whites’, bed-linen, tablecloths etc. for a good old boil. They were rinsed and then had a dip in ‘blue-bag’ water and would emerge dazzlingly white to blow on the line in the garden. A good housewife was judged by the whiteness of her washing. Later, after the washing was finished, there would be enough hot water over to scrub the step and to give another good scrub to the earth lavatory that was at the end of the garden. No chains to pull for us; Grandad dug a hole under the apple tree, and in went the contents of the bucket, and that apple tree had a marvellous crop every year!

Grandma was an excellent cook. I can still see her making a sponge cake, beating the eggs with two forks held together, and those sponges were ‘as light as a feather’. She made jams and pickles, and in the summer the most wonderful ginger beer for us children. In August, she always pickled our local samphire (which I have seen in Harrods labelled ‘SEA ASPARAGUS’) and in the middle of winter we would have samphire and bread and butter for Sunday tea!

We had hens, ducks, and there was always a pig in the stye. When the piglets were born and then sold at a few weeks old, there was always one kept back to fatten up to be killed to provide the sausages, pork cheeses, pork joints, and leg of pork to be smoked and cured for hams.

That was always a busy time, and Grandad would go ‘rabbiting’ so at least twice a week we would have a rabbit pie, or baked rabbit with a piece of that lovely pork.
We grew all our own vegetables in the garden or on the allotment, as well as raspberries, black and red currants, gooseberries and of course apples. The first of the early potatoes were grown in the garden; it was traditional to put them in on Good Friday (after the seed-tubers had spent a good few weeks in the darkness under the bed, to enable them to get good ‘sprouts’) and, if the weather was right, then we would have our first tasting on Whit Sunday.
To make a little ‘pin money’, Grandma in early spring would raise a quantity of baby ducks and chickens which would soon be sold on to a local buyer. Many mornings I would come down to breakfast to find a box, lined with an old blanket, full of newly-hatched ducks or chickens drying out in the warmth of the coal fire, or even sometimes a piglet who was a bit sickly. Grandma was also an expert at plucking and dressing all manner of fowl and so the local ‘Gentry’ would often bring their chickens etc. to her. At Christmas the house would be overflowing with chickens, ducks, geese, pheasants and the occasional turkey, all to be taken care of in the wash house. It was my job to deliver them when they were ready, and being as it was Christmas, many sixpences and three-penny pieces came my way!

We were a large scattered family. There was twenty years between me and my two youngest sisters, and my mother and I were actually pregnant together. She was always full of life, was my mum, but she had a long- term illness. She died of T. B. (that was a killer in those days) when she was only forty-five, leaving the eight of us (and the youngest was only four). The sister next to me was unmarried then, so she took over the house, which at that time was the end cottage next door to my grandparents. Then, after she married, the next one down took it over, and by the time she married, the younger girls were getting on to be early teenagers.

More of Janette's story


Val Fiddian 2005