Monday, 16 November 2015

A tin for my pocket money

I have very, very few original relics of my childhood. I dare say I'm not alone in that. The little things that once seemed so important gradually get discarded as you grow older. Or it becomes embarrassing to admit owning them.

Born in 1952, I never had much in the way of toys and other personal possessions, and so perhaps I treasured what I had that little bit more. Even so, a lot of things have long gone, mostly because they were worn out, or because the suggestion was made - if toys - that they could be passed on to other children born later who needed them more. There is very little left.

But rummaging up in the attic yesterday, I came across a shoe box with several personal items in it. I brought some of them down to have a closer look, and to keep them handy. One of these personal items was the tin that I used to put my pocket money in. It was an Ennis Vale Clotted Cream tin, presumably the sort people had posted to them from a dairy years ago. I cleaned it up a bit. Here it is, as photographed last night.


I certainly had this tin in 1962, when I would have been aged nine or ten, because I remember keeping a running total of the saved pocket money in it at the back of my 1962 Diary. I rather think, however, that I had it from 1960, when aged seven or eight. And then continued to use it right through school, until eighteen. So it really is a very ancient personal relic!

You have to realise that for most of these years the tin contained nothing but coins. And that meant the 'old' money - ha'pennies, pennies, thruppences, sixpences, shillings, florins, and possibly half-crowns. The lowest denomination banknote was the ten-bob note (that is, ten shillings, and written as 10/-; equivalent to 50p in modern money) but that was far above my level. I hardly handled banknotes until I started work in 1970, suddenly earning a fabulous £10 a week from a holiday job at Dad's office. Back in 1960, my standard weekly pocket money, doled out by Dad each Saturday was one shilling (1/-). of this, thruppence (3d) would go on a comic - I read the Beano - and maybe a penny-ha'penny or tuppence on sweets. The remainder would be saved for holidays.

There was indeed very little beyond comics and sweets that a child could spend money on. Children with intelligent hobbies, such as a stamp collection, certainly needed much more cash than I had, but indulgent parents would be chipping in. There were absolutely none of the electronic gadgets that modern kids play with. A very few children had expensive toys that were powered with batteries. For a while I was friendly with a boy called Grenville Holmes whose parents owned a very large redbrick house in a posh part of Barry, where I lived as a child. I was in Barry a couple of weeks ago, and walked along their road. Those big houses were still there. They looked like this:


It was impossible to remember which of them had been Grenville's. But I do recall a vast downstairs room, and at least one grand staircase leading up from it to a balcony on the first floor. There was a big globe, which fascinated me, and I loved to revolve it and see all the countries of the world. There were settees and enormous armchairs. And there was a toy that had dials and switches and lights that went on and off. I'd never seen anything like it. I can't remember what this toy was supposed to do. But it looked expensive, must indeed have cost a fortune. Of course, many children had train sets - even I had a minimalist train set (put together by Dad) that worked off a giant battery - but this amazing toy was something else entirely. It was mesmerising to watch Grenville play with it. It was years before its time.

How fortunate it was that I was not an envious child! (But then, I never have been an envious person) I may have been wistful, but I didn't mention it to Mum and Dad.

No, I was perfectly happy to buy my comic and a few sweets, and save up the rest. Over the months the tin would get heavier with coins - pennies and sixpences mostly - until I might have over a pound in it. One pound was quite sufficient for the family's two-week holiday in Cornwall in the summer. Although I progressed early from comics to paperbacks, any paperbacks I wanted would cost only 3/6 (three shillings and sixpence, about 17p in today's money). I even bought the odd hardback book. I have in my hand, at this very moment, a copy of Ward Lock's Guide to North Cornwall, which cost me 8/6 (42p) in 1965. I bought it secretly, because Mum had said it was too expensive, and had more-or-less forbidden me to buy it. But of course, I would not be thwarted, even though it was a very big expense.

Generally, even as a child, I always did what I really wanted to do. And equally generally, this meant doing things secretly, in defiance of any prohibition from whatever source it came. Secrecy became a way of life that lasted for decades. I hid my purchases from anyone who might purse their lips and say 'waste of money'. Then one day in 2008, secrecy - any kind of secrecy - was no longer an option. How I now prefer an open life!

The amount of pocket money Dad gave me gradually increased as my teens progressed. It was always sufficient, although I now wish that I'd had rather more, so that I could have bought more books, more maps, and (particularly) more films for my first camera. But I got cash or postal orders (remember them?) on my birthday and at Christmas, and that paid for a lot. Any cash from parents, aunts and uncles went into that tin.

I retired it only when I started work and opened a bank account to deposit my pay cheque into. By then Dad was giving me a princely £5 a week, but that ceased by agreement when I began to work full-time from September 1970. I didn't mind. Subject to giving Mum something for my keep, and putting away some savings, it was wonderful to earn my very own money and spend it freely - mainly on clothes, of course! 'Pocket money' belonged to the unfree past.

The tin, now redundant, was put away in a cupboard, but I have always kept it somewhere, never wanting to throw it away. I mean to find a use for it now. It's time it rode again.

I wonder what happened to Ennis Vale Cornish Cream? Perhaps the dairy still exists. I'll do some research!

Results of some quick research
The cream was certainly made at the St Erth Creamery, near Hayle in Cornwall. It says so on the tin. It also says 'A Product of the Primrose Dairy (Cornwall) Ltd'. The dairy at St Erth, close to the station, closed years ago, possibly in the late 1980s, and it seems the site has recently been redeveloped. The tin itself is a minor collector's item. Its pale green design dates from the 1920s apparently, although my tin must surely be a 1950s product, unless it had been a family possession for years before I got hold of it. That's perfectly possible. Mum was a great user of old tins for this and that. It might once have contained her collection of buttons, or pins, or anything small.

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