Love is all you need for Betty and Norman Hirst

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LIFE has changed so dramatically over the last 50 years it’s little wonder our grandchildren think we’re exaggerating when we tell them how it used to be.

Outside toilets, getting bathed in front of the fire in a tin bath, and sweets once a week – if we were lucky. Worse still, no television, computers, no lifts to school by car, and a slap with the cane if we were late.

And we didn’t complain because that was what life was like, and most of us grew up none the worse for it.

It was a different world, and when we look back we marvel at how different it was for the children who followed us. When Betty Hirst’s grandchildren asked her what her life had been like, she started writing it down.

Some weeks ago we published her memories of growing up in Batley Carr, and this week we continue with her courtship and marriage to her first boyfriend, Norman Hirst.

The couple, who live in Thornhill, have been married for more than 60 years, and the following is Betty’s memories of their early life together:

“I met my first and only boyfriend, Norman, at a Saturday night church dance and it must have been what they call love at first sight.

“We courted two years and then he was called up to do his National Service. He was in the Army for three years, two of which he served in Egypt.

“We wrote lots of letters to each other and finally he was demobbed in 1949. At that time he was living with his grandma and grandad in a cottage at Boat Sams by the River Calder.

“We were very much in love, and after a few months we both realised we wanted to get married, but we had no money.

“Norman was working at the ICI and had a wage of between £7 and £10 depending on whether he got any overtime or not.

“I was working as a weaver at Newsome’s mill in Batley Carr, and I got paid what I earned because there was no fixed pay in those days.

“I’d always tipped up my wage to my mother and for every pound I earned I got one shilling back pocket money.

“My wage was about £6 a week, and when I reached 21, I asked my mother if I could pay my board. It was like putting a fuse to a bomb! She said there was no way I could pay my board whilst under her roof.

“But I stuck out. I said me and Norman wanted to save up to get married, but mother said: ‘You tip up or go!’

“After lots of heartache and tears, I left home, and Norman’s grandma and grandad said I could stay with them.

“But there was no ‘living together’ in those days, and I was given a bed of my own in their spare room.

“The first Saturday after living there, me and Norman went down to Dewsbury Register Office to book our wedding.

“Norman’s grandparents split their house so we could have one bedroom and a living room but we had no furniture. In fact we had nothing.

“But we did have two wages all to ourselves, and we felt rich! Our luck was changing.

“A man we knew who had just lost his mother sold us all her house furniture. We got the lot for £8, which was Norman’s wage for that week.

“We paid £2 for a lorry to take it away for us, and this is what we got for our money – a walnut sideboard, settee, two chairs, large wooden table, wardrobe, bed (had to buy a mattress and pillows), tin bath, wash-tub and rubbing board, posser, wringer, pegs, brushes, shovels, buckets, pans, kettle, teapot, plates, pots, knives, forks, rug, pictures and ornaments.

“In the living room was a black iron fireplace with a coal oven and a set-pot to heat the water in for washing clothes and having a bath.

“We always had a big coal fire because with Norman’s grandad working in the pit, we got our coal free.

“There was no hot water, no electric, only gas light downstairs, candles in the bedroom, and one little gas stove to boil a kettle on.

“With our next week’s wages we got a nine carat gold wedding ring for £2 and I got a new dress from Marks and Spencers, and some cheap shoes and a handbag.

“Norman got married in his demob suit which was brown pin-striped, and we had to pay 7/6d for the wedding licence.

“We had two friends to witness the ceremony and one of my brothers and one of Norman’s brothers also came.

“There were just the six of us. We had no flowers, no cake, no do afterwards and me and Norman travelled on two separate buses to get to the Register Office.

“We didn’t want any bad luck from the bridegroom seeing his bride before the wedding! There was no honeymoon and it was back to work on the Monday.

“We got two wedding presents – a £10 Provident cheque from Norman’s grandma and grandad, and an alarm clock (to make sure we got up in time for work) from the girls I worked with.

“But we were very, very happy because after five years of courting we were together at last.

“The Christmas of that year we were invited to a party, and unbeknown to us, all our families were there.

“We all made up and became friends again and we have remained so ever since.

“We have been together 62 years and like everyone else we’ve had our ups and downs.

“But we wouldn’t change it for the world – except maybe for that lovely wedding dress I never had!”