Our Century

When kippers tasted like kippers

Harry Davies, Smethwick, Born 1903

Harry Davies

"I was born on Christmas Eve in 1903 in a terraced house in Highgate, Birmingham. In these 16 houses parents, all married, brought up three, four or five children in conditions which would have made headlines today.

" Each house consisted of one small living room with a small, pantry and two small bedrooms. For many years none of the houses had water, gas or electricity. Cooking was done on a small grate and oven.

" We only had one joint of meat a week and that was cooked hanging in front of the fire. We had a clockwork spit but the motor was broken, so Dad twisted a key in the hanging cord and I had to keep the meat turning. One tasteful memory was having a kipper cooked on the grill over the fire, with fat sizzling and dripping on the fire. Kippers these days don't taste the same.

"In that small oven Mother cooked oats in a large stone jar and pickled herrings with roe and rings of onions. We usually had oats in the morning, bread and jam at dinner time, and bread and rosemary lard for tea.

"Things did improve later and we never went to school hungry.

"We had stew on Tuesdays and I remember one day that mother and I and a brother and sister were sick after the stew, but a sister who did not like stew was okay.

"It was a mystery until my father said he could not find some gladioli bulbs he had got to put in the garden. Mother had mistaken them for onions and put them in the stew . . ."