Thursday, 15 April 2021

Lockdown diaries

Lockdown diaries

SHEILA FERRIS, from Shiplake, reminisces about her grandmother, mother and the hat shop she ran in Henley with her sister.

I WOULD have been about five years of age but I can still remember my mother saying to me, “Soon it will be our time to have Granny over”.

I always looked forward to seeing Granny. She lived in Ireland and her trip to England was a big treat for us.

Granny was then getting quite elderly and needed extra help in her old age. How would she cope on her own?

My mum was one of four children and between them all, they decided that when the time came to look after their Mum, they would take it in turns in three monthly slots. This was easy with four and sharing Granny between the four of them was a new experience.

Granny came from a farming family. I remember staying with her during school holidays. She was a wonderful cook. You always knew when a good meal was coming up.

Grandpa used to bring in a rabbit or two and she would cook in a cauldron suspended over a big log fire. Grandpa always wore plus-fours with ribbed socks, knitted by Granny of course, when he went shooting, and he took a stick with him to put across his shoulders ready to tie on a pheasant or two.

Granny knitted socks for the farm workers using a tough, hard-wearing wool for strength and durability. The socks had a rib effect, two plain and two pearl. Her wool colours were either mid-brown or green with a speckled texture effect.

She could also knit new heels into the worn-out heel areas. She was so clever. She would take out the worn area, pick up the stitches from each side of the heel and knit in the new heels with double strands of wool.

Back at home in England, when it was our time to have Granny, she would be knitting again. “Clickedy click, clickedy click”. I can still hear the sound of her steel needles.

She did not need to knit new socks. It was wartime and old socks had to have new heels. Mother had a laundry box full of my dad’s socks, all clean and ready for their new heels.

Granny had four short needles. They had no ends to them and she knitted in a circular direction, going round and round. Granny was quite plump and had quite a large tummy! I can still see her sitting in the corner of our “sun room”, the sun warm on her body.

We sat close to her and she told us amusing stories about her childhood and the “naughty” pranks she and her friends got up to when she was young. They all sounded quite daring.

If you are reading this, and you are of a certain age yourself, you may be interested to know the name of my mother.

Her christian name was Gladys. Her maiden name was Falloon. Put the two together and you have the name of a large fashion shop that used to be in Bell Street, Henley.

As you now know, my mother was born into an Irish farming family. The family lived very near the border in Ireland in a very quiet and lonely area. Mother wanted to escape from the quiet country life and wanted to come to England. She was a creative person and farm life did not suit her.

By some good luck, she read an article in the Liverpool Express (I do not know how or why this paper was in Ireland), which was asking for a young lady, interested in taking an apprenticeship for millinery.

Being interested in fashion, and particularly in hats, she answered the ad and, with her parents help, came to England.

She worked in a big store in Liverpool and began to get orders from personal customers. Her styles were unique. She created her styles from people who were guests at society weddings.

She bought hat blocks and used steam from a kettle to alter and shape the felt hoods.

One day she decided to work for herself and bought a shop of her own in Brackley, Buckinghamshire. She made all her own hats, and was up until midnight sewing, shaping and decorating the felt hoods, ready to turn into finished articles. It was a proper hat shop. No other garments were sold there. Ever.

Later she got married and moved her business to High Wycombe and then, of course, to Henley. I opened the Henley shop in 1953 and was joined by my sister Elaine soon after that.

There are still many of you who will remember Gladys Falloon and our Bell Street shop. I hope you have enjoyed my little story. Perhaps someone else will reminisce like me. Keep knitting.

More News:

POLL: Have your say