A History of YALDING, Kent, England

One other activity especially for the girls was dancing learnt over at the factory, known as the soap works, with the opportunity to show their expertise in the Lancers and the Two-step at the Cheveney Institute on a Monday night, which was then used as a village hall and an extension of the school, where they were also shown how to cook.

On leaving school at fourteen, Flora like most other girls, went into service, which in the first instance was with the Bliss family, a farmer in Wateringbury. This was as a kitchen and scullery maid, helping the housemaid from six in the morning, then in the afternoon working in the kitchen cleaning piles of washing up for the cook. The first tasks of the day were to take up the cook a cup of tea at six, get the kitchener going, and light the servant’s hall fire. She was paid 16 shillings a month, and lived on her own in the attic; one amongst five staff, the others being housemaid, cook, gardener, and house boy. One vivid task she remembers was putting a dusting of flour on plates, then polishing them and placing another dusting on them, which was then left until just before dinner, when they had a final polish before being taken to the table. Flora remembers that at one time the governor said “take these out the plates are not hot enough”, to which cook said “I’ll make them hot”, and on taking them back, he said tell cook to come in here. When cook went in she said, “take my notice sir”, before he could dismiss her himself.  She had very little time off, and the occasional half-day from two till six, barely gave her enough time to walk home and back, but she did have one free Sunday a month! In the morning she was to wear a white linen apron, and in the afternoon a black dress with a white linen hat. Not sure how long she was working there when she became unwell, and after being diagnosed that she had anaemia and unable to work for a while, she was dismissed.

Her next position was in Maidstone for a vicar, under the eyes of a housekeeper who was not a very pleasant person. She had to clean the front door steps, and black lead their shoes before the family got up in the morning. At the start of World War One she was in service for a maiden lady in College Road, Maidstone, in a house with a tower.

Her later method of journeying to Maidstone was on a cycle, but initially it was by train after walking from home to Yalding station. On one such walk with a group of children, they were passing near the cattle pound that was on the Lees just past Willow Grove. One of the group noticed a doll in a bush, but when Flora looked at it she said that isn’t a doll it’s a baby. At that time a group of soldiers were passing by, and when they were told said, “well you will have to inform the police”. When Flora insisted that she had to get to work, they said no, that it must be reported, and she did so and also had time off from work to be a witness of the event. Apparently a local girl had given birth and tried to lose the infant in flood water, but it had got caught up in branches.

Her brother Gilbert started work as an apprentice in the grocery shop of William Killick. This was taken over by Mr Day, then by David Prentice, and when he left it was suggested that Gilbert and his friend take over, but Gilbert said that he did not have the means. Flora said to him that he had the knowledge, and nothing ventured nothing gained, so he took on the shop in partnership, which became Drage and Ashton, which is now Lyngs Farm House.

Later she was again unwell and recommended that she convalesce, and having some savings went down to stay at Margate rather than in a sanatorium. There was a hospital tending to some war wounded, and on her trips to the beach made friends with a young soldier, Thomas Sidney Smith. After the war they were married in Yalding church on 24th December 1921, with Flora in a costume rather than a dress, so that it could be used again. Soon after they were married they lived with Tom’s brother at Pitsea near Southend, mainly when his sister-in-law was having a baby, so that Flora could help. Tom was working as the manager of a stationery dept in a co-op, and to reduce travelling expenses they moved up to Leytonstone. During WW2 they were bombed out there and again at Ilford, and spent three years sleeping in an air raid shelter, which was not very pleasant as condensation from the corrugated iron meant that the mattresses had to brought out to air every morning.

When her husband Thomas died in 1958, Flora came back to her home village, initially staying with Mrs Latter along Vicarage Road, then in rooms at The Swan, before finally moving to the Almshouses, where she spent her final years.


Compiled  by Tony Kremer from a taped interview by Brenda Stewart in 1986, when Flora was 93.