Ours are “little lives lived out in a great century.” That said it is the stories of the little people who fascinate me most whether they be the woman who cleaned up after Alfred burnt the cakes, the lonely herdsman who watched the passing of a Roman legion as it made its way westward to Maiden Castle or the family who didn’t watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on TV.
In an age all too ready to be impressed by celebrities and the autobiographies of people who have yet to reach their third decade I revel in the stories of men and women who quietly got on with life, providing for their families, looking to improve their communities, and leaving their mark in a far more positive way than a headline in a Sunday newspaper.
One such of these was Harold Morris, born in 1902, died in 1976 and a milkman for over 50 years.
Not perhaps the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster but nevertheless a story which spans the last century and pretty much reflects how that hundred years rolled out and the changes that it brought to people’s lives.
When Harold was born virtually all the technologies we take for granted had yet to be developed or were in their infancy, but in that span of 74 years he was a party to the age of cheap air travel, the first landings on the moon, along with television, and much more.
“There was no milk delivery service for the villagers around Welling where he lived. If they wanted milk they had to take a jug or container of some kind up the hill to the dairy farm on Shooters Hill.”*
And being an enterprising young lad he walked “across the fields to Eltham to visit his grandparents, who lived in Courtyard. Thomas Tillings, the omnibus company, had a yard full of horses, carriage and carts of all kinds just behind his grandparents' cottage.
And he persuaded them let him have the use of a horse and cart so that he could set up a milk delivery service to serve the villagers of Welling.”
It was a job he would continue to do for the rest of his working life during which time the horse and cart was replaced by an electric float.
Cheap rail travel added to the opportunities for that break by the sea, and by the early 20th century places like Blackpool and the resorts south and east of London boomed in the summer months.
His niece Jean remembers a generous man who was a "very special brother to his young sisters, Hilda and Dorothy.
On pay day he used to tell them that he had dropped some coins on his bedroom floor and that if they found any they could keep them.
They never found less than 6d apiece.
But never ever taking off their hats because of the bother of hat pins.
Since his passing in 1976, there have been no family wakes and his death took with it the heart of the Morris family.”
Now I can’t think of a better tribute to a man’s life.
*Jean his niece
Pictures; courtesy of Jean Gammons