This is another chapter from my Aunt's memoirs where she describes the 1921 Royal Show at Derby. My aunt would have been fourteen at the time and also records her first ever sight of an aeroplane.
The summer of 1921 was a scorcher, day after day of blazing sun and blue sky. The water cart came round every day with its sprinklers laying the dust. No matter how dry the summer there never seemed to be any water shortage then. Of course there were no domestic washing machines or dish washers and few ordinary houses boasted bathrooms. It was a case of the long bath being brought in and three or four children being cleaned up in the same water. In winter in front of the kitchen fire!
Most houses like ours had a soft water pump by the kitchen sink as well as the mains water tap. The soft water came off the roof and flowed into a tank, being used in the copper on washday and for baths. Being soft it needed less soap to produce a fine lather. Much better for hair too.
I can’t remember when we first heard that the Royal Show was to be held that year at Alvaston, which was at that time a small, quiet suburb of Derby. Imagine the excitement when we knew that King George and Queen Mary were coming. When the great day finally dawned, we got up early, dressed in our Sunday best and set out.
I don’t know whether it was a Saturday, but Dad was at home. He reckoned the best place on the route would be where London Road passes over the railway line. It was also nice and near for us. We were in good time and our vantage point was unoccupied so Dad lifted us all up on to the wall. From my lofty perch I soon saw people gathering, lining the road from right to left. The coping stone on top of the wall being pointed, proved pretty uncomfortable but there was far too much going on to worry about that.
The King and Queen were to arrive at Derby station in the royal train and then be driven to Alvaston in an open carriage. After a long wait we heard a murmur, gradually gathering strength from our right, which turned into a roar of welcome and as the carriage came into view I nearly fell off the wall in my excitement. I have always been accident prone and it was only by holding tightly on to the slippery stone that I didn’t come a cropper.
Dad had been right, the horses did slow down. Queen Mary sat erect, her hat a toque of pink and grey ruched velvet. Regally she inclined her head. King George I thought looked rather stern and sad, but he raised his hat to the cheering crowd.
We had small Union Jacks bought from our local ironmonger on Osmaston Road for three halfpence each and they weren’t ‘Made in Japan’! Never were flags waved so enthusiastically. Soon the carriage was out of sight.
I don’t remember what we did the rest of the morning. But in the afternoon, back in my everyday garb, I sat in my favourite place on the wall at the bottom of our garden watching the trains go by. Suddenly out of that blue, blue sky an aeroplane appeared. It soared up and up then fluttered round and round, down and down. As though it had its own joy of living it soared up again, turned over again repeating this same trick three or four more times. Finally, smoke coming out of its tail, it wrote OXO in the sky before flying away.
For a second time that day I nearly fell off the wall in my excitement. Slithering down I pelted up the blue brick path to tell someone. Mam was in the kitchen slicing bread and butter for tea. Speaking too quickly, as I always did as a child, I was almost incoherent.
‘Spit it out, we’ll sort it,’ my dad would have said.
Mam told me to calm down and start again. I can’t remember where the others were that afternoon but later there was a lot of ‘I wish I’d seen it’ and my oldest sister reckoned the aeroplane’s first manoeuvre was called ‘the falling leaf’, an exact description of it to me. The rest of the time it had been ‘looping the loop’.
We were allowed to stay up late that night and sitting on the wall, we saw the rockets from the Show bursting in the velvety sky. There was too, a bright orange glow from the bonfire which brought to mind the peace celebrations of 1919. Despite the lateness of the hour, in a state of euphoria, it was a long time before I got to sleep. Imagine seeing the King and Queen and my first aeroplane all in one day!