SHE has lived through two world wars, a millennium and the Queen’s coronation, and this week a former Hampshire house maid celebrated her 100th birthday.
Mary Street, who has eight grandchildren, 11 great and two great great grandchildren, worked as a house maid at Abbots Worthy House in Kings Worthy in Winchester, and a nursery maid in London.
A birthday party was held in her honour on her birthday on Tuesday, June 10, at Age Concern’s Alresford Day Centre.
Paid just £1 per month, Netley-born Mary recalls spending a whole week’s wages on a ‘talkie’, life as a servant and taking in evacuees.
The youngest of five children, she went to school in Butlocks Heath where she learnt reading, writing and arithmetic – the three R’s.
She left at 14 to work as an under-nursemaid at a house in Hammersmith.
“I was paid £1 a month and was given a half day off a week, plus every other Sunday,” she said.
“I blew a whole week’s wages going to see a ‘talkie’, as they described talking films in those days. It was Al Jolson in The Singing Fool. I was so hard up I couldn’t afford the bus home.”
At 17, Mary worked as a nursery maid in Hampstead, before moving closer to home to work as a house maid at Abbots Worthy House.
“The house was owned by a Mr and Mrs Benson but I never saw them as I was considered too lowly to show my face,” she remembered.
“Life at Abbots Worthy House was a lot more fun than in London, mainly because I began to go dancing at the local village halls and there was a great camaraderie among the staff. We had to ask permission from the housekeeper to go and because she was often rather strict about us disappearing for an evening, a few of the girls struck a deal with the butler.
“He agreed to leave his window open and a key just inside it so we could let ourselves back in if we sneaked out.
“I remember walking across the lawns rather than on the gravel for fear of being detected, in a long evening dress and then sneaking out along the lanes all the way to Avington or Easton to get to a dance.”
In a love story reminiscent of Downtown Abbey, it was at a dance that she met her husband Harold, who was working as a handy man at Pilgrims School.
“We got married at St Mary’s Church in Kings Worthy in 1937. It was a very simple affair. I had no wedding gown – just my ‘Sunday best’ dress and we celebrated at The Jubilee Hall with a crate of beer for the men and tea and sandwiches for the ladies!”
They had three children together, Laurence, Joyce and Frank.
Harold was sent to Africa during WWII, at which time they lived in what is now the Post Office in Kings Worthy and regularly took in evacuees to make ends meet.
They later moved, with Mary taking over a newspaper delivery business.
“I collected newspapers from Winchester at 5am each day and then delivered them to Kings Worthy, Easton, Itchen Stoke and Avington. Although it was unusual for a woman to be working at the time, I enjoyed the work, despite always having black hands.”
Laurence eventually took over the business, which is now the main Post Office in Kings Worthy, and Harold sadly passed away in the eighties.
“I think the secret to my long life is down to all that hard work. Even now I like to stay busy.”