My Memories of Growing up near Truro – Part 6: My childhood in the 1950s

Categories History0 Comments

Susan Coney (née Phillips) is a prolific researcher and recorder of local history, especially about Truro. Here, she shares with us part six of her memories of growing up during the 1940s to the 1960s, recalled and recorded during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.


The lead photo is my brother, Richard, holding my little sister Anne and my cousin, Michael, holding me


These are some of the memories I have when my brother was still at home. I expect this is similar to anyone who grew up in these years wherever they lived. Hopefully, it will stir some memories of others.

My first memory of living at Shortlanesend was soon after we moved. It was in the summer of 1951. Mum was asked if I would be a flower girl at my cousin’s wedding at Kenwyn Church. Another cousin was also to be a flower girl and two other cousins were bridesmaids. In those days, bridal attendants were almost always relations including young children, not a posse of adult friends like there is today. The night before the wedding, I had a bath, my long hair was washed and my grandmother tied it up in rags. I was not happy about all this fuss and said that I didn’t want to go to the wedding but would rather go to the beach. The next day I was dressed in a long blue dress embellished with rosebuds. My grandmother brushed my hair into long ringlets and placed a ‘Dutch’ bonnet on my head – but I still insisted that I was going to the beach to play on the sand. The attached photo is of me as a flower girl at the wedding. The reason I look so teasy is because I really did want to go to the beach but obviously I didn’t get ‘my own way’! I wore that blue dress many times afterwards, it was shortened and altered to fit. I think it was passed down to my sister too. It was a very nice dress.

There were many family weddings to follow and I was a bridesmaid another four times. ‘Three times a bridesmaid never a bride’ but that old saying wasn’t true in my case.

My brother is six years older than me and left home when I was ten, to join the police force as a cadet. I remember him making a canoe in the garden. He made the wooden frame and covered it with canvas. I suppose he must have coated it with some waterproofing ‘paint’. I remember him going to see my Auntie Dor (Doris) down Idless and asking her to make him a sail – which she did, bless her – she would do anything for people, especially children. We all went to Loe Beach for the launch, and it floated! Off brother went, out onto Carrick Roads – sail up! Mum was not best pleased about him going out so far and said, ‘George, you should have borrowed one of Mr Davy’s boats and gone out with him!’ ‘He’ll be fine dear’ was Dad’s reply – and he was.

My brother continued to sail all his life. He, like our Dad, prefers to be on the sea rather than the land.

My cousin on the left, my brother and sister with the canoe under construction

The finished canoe with my sister and me in the blue flower-girl dress

Dad ‘got hold of’ an old bell-tent for my brother. Goodness knows how he managed to get such great things for us as we didn’t have very much money. In those days, people helped each-other in some way and were ‘paid’ in kind or with things like that tent. (I remember Dad asking how much he owed the taxi driver for hiring my wedding car – I overheard the gentleman say, ‘No charge George – you have done me many favours in the past.)

My brother spent many a night under canvas in our garden but if it rained and you touched the canvas, it would leak. My little sister was often allowed in the tent with our brother, but he was not too keen on me coming in – I was a bit of a whingy maid and didn’t like the spiders or getting my frock dirty.

I also remember my brother carrying my two-year-old sister around the garden on his shoulders and falling down the back steps. My sister went ‘flying’: she was fine but Mum was not best pleased with my brother. He sat on the steps rubbing his ankle but Mum paid him no attention. The following day his ankle was very swollen so Dad took him to the RCI (Royal Cornwall Infirmary) for an x-ray. His ankle was broken and was ‘in plaster’ for quite a few weeks. During this time, he did a lot of magazine puzzles and won a camera as first prize in one of them.

We spent most of the time playing in our garden. Dad was particularly good at making all sorts of things out of scraps of materials to keep us amused. We had several swings, a seesaw, a sand pit and later a little garden house with a pitched roof, door, and windows with shelves underneath. My sister and I made mud pies, played shops, and did a lot of dressing up.

My sister with the playhouse in the background

We had several pets – a rabbit, a tortoise and Tina the cat. Tina was a farm cat and quite fierce at first but my sister and I soon calmed her down so much so we could dress her up and put her in the doll’s pram with a cover over her. She would stay there for a while but at the first opportunity would escape and run off down the garden still dressed in a bonnet and frock. Mum would see her and say, ‘what are you girls doing to that poor cat’?

Several years later, Tina went missing one day and we couldn’t find her. The next morning, I heard this awful cry and saw her dragging the back half of her body down the back garden path. We think she had been hit by a car on the main road and had dragged herself all the way home. We found a carboard box and Tina dragged herself into it and we carried her indoors. Dad took her to the vets who said her hip bone was smashed to pieces. The vet just put the pieces of bone back into place with his hands. She lived in the box in our kitchen for many weeks, eating and sleeping but she would not ‘go to the toilet’ in the box, not even a wee. She would meow and we carried her in the box into the garden and dug a hole for her to do her ‘business’, then carried her back into the kitchen. She gradually recovered but thereafter walked with a limp, unless she was chasing after a mouse or a lizard that lived in our hedge. She was ‘ace’ at catching big spiders or moths which my sister and I hated.

Tina, the rabbit and Tommy the tortoise (good friends)

My sister, the Fairy Queen attendant at Shortlanesend carnival about 1958

Family friends, three daughters with my sister and me on the big garden swing

There were at least two other things Dad had which I remember. One was a working model of a traction engine which was probably from the 1920s. It ran on paraffin. Mum wouldn’t allow him to run it indoors as it stank of fumes, so he ran it in the back-porch passageway. I loved it, and its smell. I often wonder where that model engine went – later models were not a patch on the one we had. I expect Dad sold it or swopped it to buy us children something else. Dad loved traction engines and I still do. I used to go to rallies with him, often in the pouring rain in my brown wellies, and return home muddy and soaking – I didn’t mind getting my clothes dirty to see traction engines.

The other thing we had was a one-third size snooker table with a set of billiard balls, snooker balls, and two cues. We put it on the kitchen table to play, often on Christmas morning, with poor Mum cooking Christmas dinner at the same time! She must have had a lot of patience. We used the kitchen table to play table tennis too. I am delighted to say, I know exactly where that snooker table is – we’ve still got it with the balls in their original box – the green baize is, understandably, a bit worn and the pocket string could do with mending but it’s not bad for its age.

Susan Alecia Coney (nee Phillips)

Although I was never very interested in history at school, it is now a big part of my life. I enjoy both the research and writing about it. Initially, it was about my family and their involvement in the community but this sparked a more general interest in Cornish history, of its people and places. I have been involved in a number of projects relating to Truro and have enjoyed this opportunity to record the results for future generations.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.