Jellied Eels and Zeppelins: Witness to a Vanished Age

Jellied Eels and Zeppelins: Witness to a Vanished Age

Jellied Eels and Zeppelins: Witness to a Vanished Age

Jellied Eels and Zeppelins: Witness to a Vanished Age


... the number of people able to give a first hand account of day-to-day life in the early part of the last century naturally diminishes. The small but telling detail disappears. Ethel May Elvin was born in 1906; she recalls her father's account of standing sentry at Queen Victoria's funeral, the privations and small pleasures of a working-class Edwardian childhood, growing up through the First World War and surviving the Second. Anyone intrigued by the small events of history, how the majority actually lived day to day, will find this a unique and fascinating book.


In the summer of 1999, Ethel May Elvin was sitting in her cosy kitchen listening to the radio. She had it tuned to BBC Essex when an elderly lady phoned in to talk about life during the 20th century. Ethel was then in her 90th year, older than the caller and yearning to relate her own experiences. Indeed, friends and relatives had often encouraged her to write her memoirs, but with poor eyesight (she had cataracts at the time, but has since had them removed) and arthritis in her hands and legs (caused, she believes 'by sitting in the dugouts during the Blitz with me feet in water!'), she realised that she needed some help. So, with the assistance of the BBC Essex Helpline and my attentive mother-in-law and her friend Angie who had been listening, I was put in contact with Ethel and recorded the first of many interviews on 17th August 1999. The resultant six articles were published in the Essex Magazine in 2001.

Since our first meeting, I have come not only to admire, respect and be amazed by Ethel's remarkable memory, but to regard her as a special friend and a truly inspirational character.

That Ethel survived at all — considering the fact that she was a child of 'delicate health' and escaped the dreaded 'Spanish Flu' pandemic of 1918/1919 as well as both World Wars, including the London Blitz, is a feat in itself. That she should have come out of it with such an amazing capacity to laugh — even now that she is housebound for most of the time — is incredible.

This book is one woman's journey through life in the 20th century from Walthamstow E17, where she was at first her father's unwanted daughter, to Doddinghurst village, just a few miles north of Brentwood, Essex, where she and her husband, Joe, made the bricks to build their own house. There might not be many miles . . .

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