The Twenties

The Twenties

By the time the war ended, we children had become thoroughly English. Some of our Christian names had, by a quite natural process, been Anglicised; Max was called Mac, and Carl became Charlie, later Charles. The German language was largely forgotten by us children, though our parents still used it occasionally, when they did not want us to understand what they were saying. My father was a splendid linguist and spoke English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish and Portuguese, almost all like a native. In English he had a slightly gutteral accent, which became more noticeable over the telephone, but was grammatically perfect. Mother’s accent was not quite so good and she had the amusing habit of using the word “nicht” at the end of most sentences. She was very good-natured when we teased her about this or some occasional peculiar pronunciation, and laughed as cheerfully as we did. When simple crossword puzzles first appeared in about 1924, she immediately took to them, and as they became more sophisticated she was able to keep pace with them.

Our German maids were replaced by Irish or English girls and I remember one Belgian called Rachelle, who was with us when the gas lighting in the house was replaced by electricity. The workmen teased her that all the switches would need polishing. Fortunately, this was not true, though many houses had large fluted brass affairs, which must have been a dreadful nuisance.

Fred and Mac were both at Manchester Grammar School during the war. They were both good at games, and I was very impressed by the black velvet caps, which were awarded to those who gained their colours, in their case for lacrosse. Mac left school first, having had rather second-rate old masters, as all young able-bodied men were in the army. He joined the firm of Witte and Dyckhoff at 2 Brazil Street.

Hilda left Withington Girls’ School in 1919 after five years, and I started there the same autumn spending the next five years there. Hilda had been headgirl, and captain of most games and top in several subjects. This proved an impossible example to follow and I’m afraid I went to the opposite extreme and was very naughty. The school had grown considerably since Hilda’s days. There were forty girls in a class and discipline was beyond some of the younger staff. I needed a firmer hand and in 1925 went to Harrogate convent, where I settled down quite happily for the next three years. It was a much smaller school, the classes were less than half the size and it was also easier to scrape into the lacrosse and netball teams. I was even made a member of a Sodality called “The Angels” in my first term, a fact which was greeted with some amazement at home. Eventually I was promoted to being a monitor, and was offered the headgirlship if I stayed on another year, but I did not want to do that.

The summer holidays at the seaside were great fun for us but must have been less so for Mother as Father never came with us. He was essentially a townsman and whilst he would happily potter around some interesting old city for hours on end, especially in the art galleries and museums, he was bored stiff at the seaside. Having had to work hard from the age of sixteen, with scarcely any holidays, I don’t think he was able to relax. Fortunately he was very strong and was hardly ever ill.

During the war years our holidays were mostly in Colwyn Bay. Sometimes one or other of us stayed with a good friend of Mother’s called Mrs. Sievers, who had lived somewhere near us with her husband. When he retired they went to live in Colwyn Bay, where to their great surprise they produced their first child after eighteen years of marriage. Mrs. Sievers, who was soon left a widow, announced that having watched all the mistakes her friends had made in the upbringing of their children, she would profit from the experience. She did indeed bring “little Arthur” up to be a paragon of all the virtues and although he was nine months younger than I was, I’m afraid he was always far ahead. They used to come to us for Christmas each year until they returned to live in Withington, presumably for Arthur’s schooling.

Our Christmases were still very traditionally German and always remained so. About two weeks before Christmas the drawing room was declared out of bounds and the preparations took place behind the locked door. When the great day came, after Midnight Mass for the older ones at St. Cuthbert’s on Palatine Road, we presumably slept late. Then, after the English dinner of turkey and plum pudding had been cleared away and the maids ready to join the fun, we queued up in the hall. This was one occasion when being the youngest was definitely an advantage, as I was allowed to be first. The door was opened to reveal a beautiful large Christmas tree, always with real candles, whilst “Stille Nacht” was playing on the musical box, later replaced by the gramophone. Our presents were not wrapped up but displayed on tables and chairs round the sides of the room. Each table or chair was covered with one of m_y grandmother’s enormous white napkins and in the centre of each there was always a plate with our individual “Wiener Torte” and an assortment of homemade biscuits and sweets and also fruit. I always had the sofa, initially shared with Arthur and later all to myself. We each seemed to have a tremendous array of presents, though some of them were distinctly utilitarian, such as handkerchiefs, bedroom slippers, stockings or socks, but there were also plenty of books, toys and games. The tree was always in the middle of the room, chosen very carefully to be a good shape. One year we had one which had a bird’s nest in it. Before the candles were blown out we had, somewhat reluctantly, to hold hands and dance round it singing “Oh Tannenbaum”. I think we all felt rather self-conscious about that particular German custom.

On New Year’s Eve the tree was moved into the bay window to make room for a party. On these occasions Mrs. Witte, her son, Max, and daughter, Erica, always came, as well as other families such as the Arnings, Kronigs and Bickels.

Around the mid-twenties there always seemed to be one or other member of the family missing either at Christmas or in the summer. I think the Isle of Man holidays and one in Cornwall were the last ones when we were all together. We went to the Isle of Man three times in the early twenties, to Port St. Mary once and Port Erin twice, staying in rented houses and taking a maid with us. Poor Mother was not a good sailor and used to take some pills called “Mothersills” which seemed an apt enough name. She must have been glad when the Isle of Man holidays came to an end, as she also had to face the sea voyage to the Continent most years, with Father, to visit friends and relations in Holland and Germany.

We frequently travelled by the funny little Isle of Man train between Port St. Mary and Port Erin, and near the end of one holiday someone found some surplus third-class tickets, They were given to Eric to use up by making the journey in a first-class carriage. We all went to the station to see him off in style but, alas, the train moved off leaving his carriage behind. This did nothing to deter him from developing a life-long enthusiasm for trains and railway journeys. In my own case being pushed into the deep end of the swimming bath before I could swim, and pulled out by Peggy Liebert, did not prevent me from becoming a keen swimmer.

In 1919 Hilda went to a finishing school in Lausanne, together with two other girls from Withington Girls’ School, Eileen Arning and Marguerite Kaufmann. Eileen and the Arnings were very good friends of hers and Fred’s for many years. So Hilda was in Switzerland for that Christmas.

By this time, Fred had also left school and joined the family firm. I don’t think it was what either he or Mac really wanted to do, Mac being more interested in music and painting and Fred in literature, as he put it at the time in one of his poems:

“Oh, life has little meaning,
To one whose day is spent,
In an ugly city scheming,
To earn a few per cent.”

In 1920 Fred and Mac went to Germany, to the “Webeschule” in Munchen-Gladbach (now Monchengladbach) to learn the technical side of the cotton trade. Mother had some distant relatives there called Muller-Hoberg, who owned a factory which manufactured, amongst other things, corduroy which was called “Manchester” cloth in Germany, so it seemed an appropriate place. I think they had a nice time there as Uncle Franz and Aunt Maria Muller-Hoberg were rather young and very kind to them. They then went on to Hamburg, staying with another aunt, Mother’s eldest sister Maria, which was not so successful as the uncle didn’t seem to realise how grown-up they were. Fred went to Hamburg University and stayed on in Germany after Mac returned. During their stay the well known German inflation raged, so they were able to live like lords; though not wishing to take too much advantage of the situation, they did buy a lot of good books and piano music which, alas, were shipwrecked on the way home, but were eventually retrieved and arrived in Manchester somewhat the worse for wear.

When I was nine years old my father took me to Holland and for the first time in my life I stayed in an hotel. This was the Oranje Hotel in Nijmegen and Father enjoyed showing me the town where he had spent his first five working years. Then he took me to Hengelo, where he left me with the Driessen family, whilst he went on to visit his parents in Osnabruck. This was the first of many visits to Hengelo, where I always had a happy time. Mr. and Mrs. Driessen were to all of us Oom Willem and Tante Claar and the most friendly and hospitable people imaginable. Their house was called “Welkom” and truly lived up to its name. The garden ran down to a railway line, which seemed rather dangerous as the house had a thatched roof. As it was situated on the direct route to Osnabruck it was a very convenient place for my parents to visit them. Sometimes when I was staying there, some other member of the family would be traveling past the house and we would troop out waving tablecloths as well as handkerchiefs.

My sister Hilda and I had many happy holidays in Hengelo. As well as the Willem Driessens there was another related Driessen family with three boys and three girls. The youngest in each family, Claartje and Enky, were about my age, and in the Eduard Driessen family was a girl called Zus who became a good friend of my sister’s. Also in the neighbourhood were the Storks and the de Monchys. Naturally our friends returned our visits and Limefield in those days very often had one Dutch visitor or another. The first to come over after the war was Willi Driessen; he took me on a tram circular tour of Manchester and gave me a Toblerone. In those days sweets and chocolates were more memorable than they are now. Then his cousin Max came; he was remembered chiefly for adorning his tennis flannels with a scarlet cummerbund. The next to come was Max’s sister Zus. She was very attractive and soon had several of my brothers under her spell. We also thought her name very glamorous until we realised it only meant “Sis”.

I think it was about 1921 that I first revisited Germany after the war and spent some time in Osnabruck and at a place called Recklinghausen. My sister Hilda was also there on her way back from Switzerland. There I began to relearn some German, chiefly from a young boy cousin, only to find on returning to Osnabruck that some of it was not considered at all suitable by my grandmother Hoberg.

In Osnabruck we mostly stayed with my father’s sisters, Aenne and Agnes, in the Susterstrasse. My father paid the rent for that house as long as they lived there, so may have felt that he could send us there occasionally for a week or two. In any case, they made us very welcome and had plenty of room, and I always loved staying there and hearing stories from them about the days before the war when the older members of my family stayed there. None of my father’s four sisters married. According to my mother this was due to an exaggerated sense of their “reduced circumstances” so that they kept to themselves and did not meet suitable young men. Ida became a governess to various princesses and countesses, with her excellent languages, and Maria a housekeeper to a doctor in Hagen. My mother had two married sisters in Hamburg and when I visited them I was astounded by the whiteness of the city compared with Manchester.

My father had two brothers, Max whom he helped through medical school, and Otto who later lived in Dresden. Poor Max died of appendicitis almost immediately after qualifying, and Otto was a businessman. I never met him or his children and know nothing about them as now Dresden is, of course, behind the iron curtain, though I think some of the family may be in West Germany.

In 1924 we had a slightly different holiday. Together with Mrs. Witte, her son Max, daughter Erica, and a friend of Erica’s called Marie Luise, we went to Cockermouth, to a small boarding school called St. Helen’s. It was a large house in seven acres of ground with a small wood and stream and a tennis court. It was fun choosing a dormitory to sleep in and playing tennis in the gym, as it rained a great deal. Hilda was missing that time, as she was in Sweden visiting friends, but we were still a large party, six of us and four in the Witte group, and two maids. As a cook was engaged in the neighbourhood I think mother may have had more of a rest than usual and by now the older members of the family were able to join in games of bridge, which she was then beginning to enjoy. Even so, though there were not the usual worries about the swimmers and climbers (Mac used to swim from the pier in Port. St. Mary across the bay, much to Mother’s and other onlookers’ consternation, and Fred fell over a cliff landing on a ledge) others presented themselves. The first of these came right at the start. When the party of twelve was gathered at the railway station in Manchester, the train began to move whilst half the party were still on the platform. The maids and the Wittes were in the compartment already, Mother and I hastily bundled in, whilst the boys, convinced that the train was merely shunting, remained behind. It was all a mistake on the part of the engine driver, so they were rushed onto an express and actually arrived before us.

The next excitement was when Charles was on a cycle tour with Erica and Max. The brakes on his bicycle gave way as he was descending the Kirkstone Pass and he had to run it into the bank, but was fortunately not badly hurt.

Near the end of the holidays Mac and Marie Luise took me to St. Bee: by train. I had a lovely time on the rocks till I slipped and bruised my hip so badly that I could not walk. Mac managed to carry me back to the road, where a kind greengrocer gave us a lift to St. Bees station On the return journey to Manchester I was still being carried at the stations, and thoroughly enjoying the fuss and kindness of everyone, including railway officials.

In 1924 the firm of Witte and Dyckhoff celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, having been started as Beatty, Altgeldt and Co. in 1864. All the staff and Charles and Eric were taken to the Great Exhibition in London and stayed overnight in an hotel. When my father asked one of the office boys what he had enjoyed most about the trip he replied”Having my shoes polished”.

For many years Mac followed in Father’s footsteps by travelling to South America each winter for the firm. As this entailed being away for six months each autumn, it was sad for him to be away so much especially after he had married. The last time he went (in 1930), he took his wife and baby daughter, Pauline, with him. The next two trips were undertaken by Fred, who being still a bachelor on his first voyage thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially the life on board ship. By his next voyage he, too, had married and left a wife and young son behind.

The next big occasion in the family was my parents’ Silver Wedding in 1925. We had a big party and the older members of the family put together various sketches. Fred wrote reams of verses, which we sang, dressed as pierrots. One of the verses referred to his passion for dancing, and went as follows:

Now he is the dancing
Expert of this show,
Though we think his prancing
Has sometimes gone too far,
His steps choreographic,
Have held up all the traffic,
While practising the latest tango
Waiting for the car.

It must be remembered that these were the “gay twenties”,when in reaction to the war years the young grown-ups were dancing mad. I used to watch rather enviously from the nursery window as they set off to parties and dances, very often by tramcar, with Hilda trailing long dresses at times; at other times the skirts were very short, which worried Father but were much more convenient for public transport. There were dances at the Cinderella Club (presumably finishing at midnight), the Rivoli, the Ritz and the Embassy. They were all rather nice dance halls in those days, but later became very run down. There were also many small dances, called hops, in private houses. In our house we were able to manage twelve couples by emptying th6 drawing room and polishing the floor, and using most of the rest of the house for “sitting out”. By leaning over the bannisters of the top floor I was able to glimpse some of the proceedings.

The nursery was on the first floor and gradually became our living room, whilst Mother and Father were able to have some peace in their downstairs sitting-room. Upstairs we had the piano, the gramophone and later the wireless. In those early days of wireless Eric experimented with a crystal set and then Mac became very keen. Mac filled his attic bedroom with vast amounts of home-made equipment. Eventually he was able to receive America on it and got me up in the middle of the night, so that I could vouch for this almost unbelievable fact.

As can be imagined the “nursery” was a fairly noisy place. Fred and Mac were both very keen on opera and acquired a splendid collection of records of all the great singers, especially Caruso.

In January 1928 Mac married Hilda Youatt, who lived at 45 Palatine Road, practically opposite our house. It was the culmination of a long engagement and the first wedding I attended. My sister Hilda and I were bridesmaids and I was very thrilled to have my first grown-up dress and high-heeled shoes. It was also rather amusing to go by taxi from our house just across the road to the Youatts’ house and then again a further few yards to St. Cuthbert’s. In the summer of that year I left Harrogate Convent and Eric graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He had been there for the three years that I was at boarding school and wrote to me most faithfully during that time. He studied law, which was perhaps in his blood. His four paternal great-great-grandfathers were all lawyers and generations of Dyckhoffs before that had also been in the legal profession, mostly attached to the Arch-bishopric of Osnabruck.

During these years Charlie was working at the Holroyd Engineering Works, which belonged to Mr. Liebert and his brothers. He had been assured a good future there, without the necessity of a university education. This, alas, changed in the depression and Mr. Liebert reluctantly then recommended Charles to leave and go to University in order to get a job elsewhere eventually. So after five years of working in Rochdale, leaving home each day at about 6.00 a.m., he left the works and went to Manchester University in his middle twenties. Mature students were rarities in those days but he thoroughly enjoyed himself. He collected many medals for athletics, danced as keenly as Fred and Hilda, and involved himself wholeheartedly in the social life of the University, especially Rag Day. This was always on Shrove Tuesday, when the students collected money for the Manchester Royal Infirmary, which was in those days run entirely on voluntary funds. The students, mostly in fancy dress, were given carte blanche and made the most of the opportunity, invading schools, trams and offices with their collecting boxes. One Shrove Tuesday as Father was walking across St. Peter’s Square, he came across Charles directing the traffic in a policeman’s helmet and ballet dancer’s tutu. As Father had a customer from abroad with him at the time I’m not sure whether he was amused or horrified.

During his long vacations Charles went as ship’s crewman to South Africa and South America. In 1926 he joined the Harland Engineering Co. in Alloa and stayed with the same firm until his retirement, having worked in Scotland, London, Leeds and Manchester.

It was some time in the twenties that my father bought the house, which until then had been rented from the Behrens of Holly Royde, Palatine Road. He then also bought half the paddock behind the tennis court and Mr. Liebert bought the other half. As we were on such good terms with the Lieberts, no dividing fence or hedge was ever put up and this worked perfectly well, except on one occasion when one of our guests picked a bunch of Mr. Liebert’s choicest flowers. Mother became a very keen gardener and, helped by Fred and Charles and some outside labour, created a really lovely garden extension. There was a sunken garden with crazy paving and rather special rhododendrons, a small hillock and pergola with rambling roses and clematis, a lawn, which was sometimes used for bowls, and lots of fruit trees and vegetables of every kin d. There was also a very long herbaceous border edged with pinks, all from Mother’s own cuttings. When the apple trees matured the cellars were filled with apples, which lasted almost till the next season.

In the autumn of 1928, I went to the Sacred Heart Convent, 9 Rue du Grand Cerf, in Brussels, together with Claartje Driessen. I spent an enjoyable two terms there apart from two weeks when I was ill. The time spent in solitary confinement was incredibly boring, with only an occasional French book to read, and at first rather puzzling, as I had no idea.what infectious disease I had contracted. I was told it was”la varicelle”, and had to wait till I had an answer to my letter home to find out that it was chicken pox.

During the holidays I went to the Driessens in Hengelo and spent my first Christmas away from home. During my next term I received the good news that Mac and Hilda’s first baby, called Pauline Rachel, had arrived safely on February 11th 1929.

So with the arrival of Carl and Tony Dyckhoff’s first grandchild and the gradual dispersal of my generation, a new era dawned in the family.

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