Tales from End to End
The Scullery Maid’s Tale
by Babs Cammish
Barbara (‘Babs’) Cammish was born, the youngest of 10 children, in 1929 at Askern, a pit village near Doncaster. Her mother died two months after Babs was born and she was brought up by her grandmother and stayed with her until she, too, died in 1946. Here is Babs’ Tale.
I decided to get a job away from Askern and travelled to Filey where I was accepted at the Northcliffe Convalescent Home, a recuperation home for members of the ‘Printers, Bookbinders and Paperworkers’ Trade Union’. I was what was known as a ‘Scullery Maid’. Every morning it was my duty to blacklead the fire range in the kitchen and then light the fire. After breakfast all the pots had to be washed. Then I had to scrub the long wooden tables, the kitchen floor and the scullery floor. Once a week I polished all the silver. Believe it or not, when I look back I remember that I actually enjoyed my job! I suppose we knew nothing better in those days.
Later on I got what I suppose you would call ‘promotion’ – I became a chamber maid. Now it was my duty to make the beds, clean the bedrooms, bathrooms and toilets. When the House was full there were 40 beds and I think there were six of us maids.
Then one day the Head House Maid left – I can’t remember why – and I was asked to take her place. My, was life looking rosy! Now it was my responsibility to look after the matron’s room, the lounge, sitting room and dining room – no more bedrooms for me!
At this time our cook was a lady called Gladys. Friday was always fish day. But the fish Gladys cooked always broke up when being served. So the matron said to me: ‘Babs, come and fry the fish instead of Gladys!’ Now the secret of not letting the fish break is to make sure you heat the fat before you put the fish into the pan. My fish were served up perfectly; poor Gladys wasn’t happy. Soon after, she left. ‘Babs,’ asked the matron, ‘will you do all the cooking?’ So, I got more promotion. I was now earning £2.10 shillings a week; a big increase from my £1.15 shillings as a scullery maid.
And then everything changed yet again. I met Stan who was an apprentice at Thompson’s the Bakers in Filey and we got married in 1951.
Stan worked at the bakers but when Mr Sterchi, the Swiss owner of Sterchi’s Confectioner and Chocolatier company next door died, two members of his staff took over the business and asked Stan to come and work for them. Stan agreed and did so. Then soon they wanted someone to scrub the kitchen floor on a Saturday afternoon. Who got the job? Babs, of course! From Scullery Maid to Scullery Maid.
In 1972, Sterchi’s was made into a limited company and my Stan became the Managing Director. My life had changed yet again – this time from Scullery Maid to MD’s Wife! It sounds a bit like a fairy tale. But it wasn’t all an idle life of Riley; my MD husband put me in charge of running the company’s four shops. Anyway, ‘MD’s wife’ is a bit impersonal; ‘Chocolatier’s Wife’ sounds much more romantic.
The chocolate-making at Sterchi’s is a delicate operation. Two ladies were employed as ‘chocolate dippers’. This means they brought the chocolate out of the pan by hand (experienced dippers get to know by feel exactly when the chocolate is ready) and then ‘enrobed’ the centres. Most chocolates today, of course, use machines for this coating operation.
Philip, our son, and John, our grandson, now run the chocolate and cake shops. Sterchi’s still uses the traditional hand-dipping method and all our chocolates and cakes are made on site. This is what makes our chocolates so special.
Editor: It was Babs and Stan’s Diamond Wedding Anniversary in March; I wonder if Philip and John made them a specially crafted surprise chocolate Anniversary Cake? There’s only one problem with their beautifully prepared cakes – you have to cut into them to taste the chocolate!
Cammish is a Filey name and Stan has traced his family tree back at least to 1604. Most generations were involved in the fishing trade.