Hilda Ann Salusbury b.1906: Biographical Entry

Hilda Salusbury.
“Only Yesterday”.
577pp.

(Also published as;
Hilda Ann Salusbury.
“Only my dreams; an English girlhood.)
Academy Chicago 1990. ISBN 0897332768.)

Also see in “Rhyme and Reason” 1976 –

Mrs. H. Salusbury. “When I was young”.

Story of her life as a child and young woman, up to her experiences as a young woman and ending with her marriage. A very interesting account as it deals with the attitudes of the time; ie. When her mother leaves the family it shames her father so much that he refuses to let her children contact her; father had complete authority; as the eldest daughter narrator had no choice except to become the housekeeper at 13. Describes the restricted lives of women who worked in domestic service. Reaction to birth of disabled child when she was a midwife – it died and was buried “like an animal”. Her Grandmother was left in the care of a poor woman, wo did not make a fire when she was sick, as it wasn’t worth it for someone who was dying.
Relationships – with young men, two of whom turned out to be engaged or married.
Descriptions of poverty in rural areas and in East London in 1920/30s. Worked as a housekeeper at home, governess, secretary and nurse.

Born pre World War 1. Father a Marine Engineer and Draughtsman. (In “Rhyme and Reason” narrator – Ann- identifies her home as being in Gorleston-on-Sea, Norfolk.)
Childhood memories – countryside, seaside, circus, cinema.
Town a herring fishing port. Herring fleet.

Effect of World War 1. Father not called up, but heavy workload destroyed family life. Mother left family. Implication is that she became involved with one of the soldiers stationed in the town.

Comfortless childhood without mother. Father refused to allow her any contact with children. Victorian attitude – he said the children must never speak her name. She was totally banished, and had no further influence over her children’s lives.

Grandmother – “Grannie” – helped to bring children up. She had been stallholder in market. Late husband had been horsedealer. Had had 21 children.

Visits to market. Tram journey. Family baking. Bath night. Trips to pub to buy Grandmother’s brandy. Description of work done by maid of all work, Violet.

Formal Sundays. Sunday walks.

Ann had to leave school at 14 – although she could have applied for scholarship – to run the house, as grandmother becoming infirm.

Experiences as a housekeeper. Food. Wash day. Violet left, so narrator now maid of all work as well as housekeeper. Very restricted life.

Aunt Martha would call and help, without father’s knowledge, as he partly blamed her for his wife’s desertion. She was still in touch with mother. Worked as a washerwoman.

After a year mother returned, saw Ann. This secret from father. She asked to come back, but father would only take her back as a housekeeper, and would not give her a divorce.

Childhood. Description of street. Trams. Butchers, food shops – Hygiene – rats. Neighbours.

Ann offered singing lessons, father refused to allow her to do this. She took part in talent contest – without father’s permission – and won.

Social life restricted. Seldom went out. No friends. Only mixed with Undertaker’s family. The father there committed suicide.

Father had told Grannie that the children’s mother – her daughter – should be forgotten. Mother sent letters and little gifts, delivered by Aunt Martha. Mother then sent letters to house, Ann read and answered them for Grannie.

When father found one he refused to give it to grandmother. Sent Grannie away to another aunt. Refused to speak or acknowledge Ann for over 2 months as punishment.

Ann took summer job as waitress, leaving younger sister to run house, so that she could buy a smart coat.

Grannie allowed to come back. Ann decorated bedroom for he. As she was increasingly infirm, Ann began nursing her.

Ann had a visit to the country to stay with another aunt. Description of holiday. Met a boyfriend. Fred, and she met him secretly when returned. When father found out, this was finished.

Grandmother caught bronchitis. Ann nursed her at home. Father did not want Grannie ill at home again, so sent her off to live with another of her children.

Ann – social life. Joined tennis club. Met a boyfriend there, very like her father! Courtship. Finally refused him.

Family life continued to be hard. Ann broke her arm. Sister caught rheumatic fever.

Ann went to stay with another aunt to help with a family crisis. Stayed about a year. Memories of this family – first car; winter floods.

Wanted to return home, but her father said he could not afford to keep her any longer. This was during the Depression.

Got a job as a governess on a farm in Nottinghamshire. Attitudes – son had asthma, his father could not accept this, and could not understand his son’s imagination.
Left alone in house over Christmas – very lonely.
The maid, Janet, became pregnant while unmarried. She kept her job and the baby, leaving her mother to care for the child.

Ann returned home, but could not stay long. Took another job as secretary to a blind man. His wife was semi-invalid, whole household very withdrawn. Very restricted lives of other servants.

The house was kept locked. Ann had to climb out of a window to get out of the house on her own.
She met a young man; courtship. But he turned out to be engaged.
She left the job and area, but could not stay long at home.

Went to train as a nurse in Plaistow, East London. Lived in Nurses Home, trained as District Nurse and midwife. Description of poverty in Plaistow, and the work of a nurse.

Relationship – met and fell in love with a man called Bill, who finally turned out to be married.

She became a District Nurse in a country village. Writes about rural poverty, and beliefs at the time – ie. Too much washing is dangerous. Was Midwife and District Nurse; details of what was expected of a nurse, and her work; writes about births. Delivered a disabled baby – says it was “misshapen”, mother not told much; thinks child buried like an animal in the garden.

Was told her Grandmother was very ill. Went to see her, discovered that she had been farmed out to the care of a poor woman, and was very sick and neglected. Woman who was caring for her refused to light a fire, as it was not worth it for a woman who was about to die. Ann’s mother was there, making a funeral wreath for Grannie in front of her. Ann made her Grandmother more comfortable, but she died that night.

Had met a young man who wanted to marry her. At this point she had to give up her career and return home to look after her father, as he would not accept a housekeeper.

Finally she married, her father managed with a housekeeper, and she had 2 children.


Main themes.

Childhood memories. Running a house – housework. Mother left family, and was cut off from all contact with her children. Worked as governess, secretary, nurse. Lived in Norfolk and Plaistow, East London. Rural and urban poverty during depression of the 1930s. Interesting sidelights on attitudes –ie. Father had complete control, the mother, once she left, was an outcast. Responsibility of eldest daughter. Restricted lives of working women.



Salusbury, Hilda Ann. Only My Dreams: An English Girlhood, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

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