This week we continue with our theme of Growing Up in South Bucks and tell the story of a typical High Wycombe family as told by their youngest member.

When Rupert Headey Lambourne married Emma Griffiths in Wycombe early in 1934, they cannot have foreseen that they would go on to have a large family of nine sons, born between late 1934 and 1951. From 1939 the family lived in Bowerdean Rd, to the east of the town centre, initially at No.73 before moving to No.228.

Their father Rupert was a local man born in Denmark St in 1902, who with his siblings spent much of his childhood in the Wycombe Union’s residential school for children of the poor at Bledlow. Their mother Emma had been born in 1910 in the village of Llangynog in Powys, Wales. She moved to Gerrards Cross to work in a doctor’s practice as a nurse.

Childhood Memories

The youngest member of the family, Chris has provided his memories of his childhood in Bowerdean Rd. He remembers that there was no central heating in the house and hot water was only available when the fire was burning, or a bucket of water was boiled on the gas stove. For the weekly bath for the boys, buckets of hot water would be carried up to the bathroom, emptied in the bath, and the boys would jump in two-at-a-time, in order of age. So by the time it was Chris’s and his brother Paul’s turn the water would be cold and not that clean.

If their Mum was doing the washing that day, an alternative bathing procedure would be used for the younger boys. She did the clothes-washing in the ‘copper’ in the scullery, in which the water was heated by a fire underneath the ‘copper’. After the washing had been completed the younger boys would be put in the ‘copper’ to wash themselves. The problem for them was that the base of the ‘copper’ was quite warm, so to keep their feet from getting burned they would need to keep them moving, so they would be ‘dancing in the copper’!

A ‘red letter day’ in the household would be when the gas or electricity collectors would come to empty the meters. The boys knew that they would eat well that day because a rebate was always due to their mother after the men had taken what was owed from the meter-money (there were no fridges in those days, so their mother shopped every day).

Another frequent visitor to the house was the ‘Tally-man’, who sold goods on the payment of regular weekly instalments. Their mother did not always have the money to pay the amount which was due that week, so the boys either had to hide behind the curtains or a couch so that they could not be seen. Sometimes she would send them to the door to tell him that their mother was out, occasionally they would get this wrong and say “my mum just said to tell you she is out“!

Hard at Work

Both their parents had to work hard ‘to make ends meet’. In the early years their father Rupert was a long-distance lorry driver, but then worked for different companies in Wycombe’s furniture industry, except for the WW2 years when he was employed in war-work at Rotax in Beaconsfield. That company manufactured electrical components for aircraft.

Emma their mother had a variety of different jobs. As an ex-nurse and very experienced in childbirth she was the first port of call when anyone in Bowerdean Rd was due to have a baby. For a time she was a nurse at the Cottage Hospital in Priory Rd. She also worked as a housekeeper for Councillor Robert Barber and his wife during the time he was Mayor of Wycombe, 1972-73. (One of her sons, Paul became Mayor in 2008-09, one of the many testimonies to the upbringing the nine boys received from Rupert and Emma.)

For many years their mother worked as an usherette and cleaner at the Grand cinema in Desborough Rd, when she often took the younger boys with her. Not being allowed to see 16-plus films she would leave them in the usherettes changing room, but they could still hear the soundtrack. She also worked in the café of the Intimate Theatre in Frogmoor.

Chris’s Story

As Chris has said: ‘You would not believe what went on in that three-bedroomed house, with nine boys, our Mum and Dad, a lodger, and a cat and a dog. But we all survived and did OK in our lives. I don’t know how Mum and Dad managed to keep us all fed and clothed as there was no welfare in those days. We all had our own jobs to do in the house, which had to be completed before we were allowed to go off to school.’

Chris, as the youngest of the family, was taken everywhere his mother went, even to places a child should not be taken, as she thought he had ‘no eyes or ears’. For example he remembers being taken by her to the surgery of the local MP John Hall in the early 1960s (Chris would have been about 10 then) when she sought to get justice for one of her sons and even resorted to banging on the table until matters were rectified.

Although she supported her sons in whatever way she could she did put her foot firmly down when Chris asked her if he could stay on at school for a further year to obtain a qualification. Her reply was very swift ‘NO none of your brothers have’. So Chris left Hatters Lane School one Friday in 1966, and on the following Monday started work for the building company Becketts at the Carver Hill estate off Marlow Hill. He remembers being so disappointed when his first wage packet was taken from him by his mother and only a small amount of the money handed back to him.

However by the age of 21 Chris had established his own business as a painter and decorator, having spent five years obtaining his qualifications and certificates at High Wycombe College of Technology & Art. He carried out work for many well-known Wycombe people such as Monty Seymour, at his chemist shop in the High St and also his home in Daws Hill Lane. He then decided to become a technician, then a lecturer, in painting and decorating at what was now the Bucks College of Higher Education but was made redundant when the college became Bucks New University. He then resurrected his own business until retiring in 2009. Chris now lives in Thame with his wife Lynda.