I was born Florence Anne on August 1912 in Acre Road Kingston-Upon-Thames to Jane and Walter Watson.
Born in August 1912, Florence Anne was the seventh child to parents Jane and Walter Watson. Information passed on to me by her sons Richard and Jonathan, reveals that their mother was always known as Anne and never Florence. Named after herself ‘Seventh Child’ is Florence’s memoir of her life written in her adult life at the age of 65 reflecting back upon her experiences as a working class women at the beginning of the twentieth century. Florence begins with the date 6th December 1977 on the first page of her memoir, resembling a diary entry, and she writes passionately about her life experiences and everyone in it.
Living in Kingston upon Thames, Florence describes a happy and family orientated childhood surrounded by her parents and siblings and allows us to join her on her journey into adulthood as she experiences work, war, marriage and children of her own. She describes fond memories of visits to her Grannie’s house (her mother’s mum) who lived in a tiny cottage called “Rose Cottage” in Hampton Middlesex and tells us how it is still there today (1977).
Throughout her memoir, the love and respect Florence obtained for her Father is made quite apparent to us as readers. The close knit relationship is first described as Florence recalls being only two years old when her Mother took her along to watch her Father sing on the stage in Kingston Empire: “and when my father sang ‘and the children coming home from school looked in at the open door’ I felt I wanted to be on the stage with all the other children.” Shortly after Florence writes how in 1914 her Father was called up and left for France to fight in the First World War. Although she would have been only two years old at the time, Florence writes:
‘I do remember something was wrong because mother was so worried and upset without him’.
During her Father’s absence Florence describes how her Mother gave birth to a new baby brother named Walter after her Father. Florence remembers how “during all this time we did not like seeing our mother so sad and wearing a black dress the reason we did not know”. Later she reveals her Mother had received a letter from the war office to announce her Father was missing presumed dead. She goes on to show how all ended well and when Florence was 7 or 8 years old her Father walked in the front door. The admiration of her Father is continued throughout Florence’s memoir even after his death.
Florence left school at the age of 14 due to moving house and describes her Mother gave birth to her 10th child whilst she was in her mid forties. Florence was expected to help look after her 3 younger siblings which ultimately led her to be a nurse maid to a baby girl named Pamela at the age of 14. However, during her time bringing up the children, Florence suffered a breakdown and described being in bed for weeks–a somewhat strange method of recovery, especially today, for someone suffering a mental breakdown. After contacting her sons Richard and Jonathan, they were able to inform me that the breakdown their mother was referring to was probably the result of rheumatic fever which left her with a permanent loss of body and head hair, which must have been very upsetting for her as a young woman. As a result she had to wear a wig for the rest of her life and they told me it was a total taboo to mention it in the family with nobody ever seeing her without it.
Once fully recovered, Florence returned to nursing and shortly met and fell in love with her husband John Cooter. They courted for 5 years and eventually married on the 9th April 1938. Florence goes on to describe married life, the struggle of saving for their first home and the catastrophic effects of the second world war including the bombing of their home twice. With no family of her own yet, Florence had to do a war job and became gardener at the Hampton Court Palace between 1938-42.
After 9 years of marriage Florence and John welcomed two sons, Richard and Jonathon. Florence draws our attention to her Father’s last words before his death– “You will be blessed with a child soon”–another reminder of the close bond and influence Florence’s Father had on her. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to Florence so much as her words are filled with love and passion and I believe she was simply writing to remember her happy life and pass it on to future generations of her family to enjoy.
181 COOTER, Florence Anne, ‘Seventh Child’, MS, pp.71 (c.71,000 words). Brunel University Library found in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989)