Billy, riding his old bike, skidded to a halt in front of his Gran's workshop. Catching sight of him, she beckoned him in. Gran handed him two parcels carefully wrapped in paper.
"This one's for Mrs Fisher. You know where she lives, don't you?" Billy nodded. "The other parcel is for Mrs Hunt. She lives two doors down from Mrs Fisher. You'll have to be quick as it will soon be dark." Gran looked anxiously at the fading light as she spoke. Having secured the parcels Billy sped off. Gran whose name was Letty Carver, looked at the watch she kept pinned on her ample bosom. She had to get home too before the last of the light went. Drat the war! It had been going on for so long now and everything was complicated. Never mind, thought Letty. We just keep going! When she got home Billy was waiting for her. He dug in his trouser pocket and took out some money. "That's from Mrs Fisher" he said as he laid the coins on the table. "Mrs Hunt said she'd pop in and see you tomorrow." Letty looked fondly at him. The war had sent her son, his dad, overseas and his mum worked long hours in a munitions factory. Billy and his mum lived with Gran.This arrangement suited them all. Grandad had died a few years before the war had started. He had been injured in the first war and had never been right since then.
In the years after the war began Letty had watched with increasing distress her neighbourhood go steadily downhill. It was not just the bomb damage, the rationing and the shortages of everything, but morale was low too. The women around her, doing jobs they'd never anticipated doing, were finding it hard to keep going. Their menfolk were far away and their periods of leave went far too quickly. Letty knew only too well what it was like, she had lived through the first lot. While doing her housework Letty's fertile brain ticked over. By the time her chores were done an idea bloomed in her mind like a flower.
As a young woman Letty had trained as a seamstress. She had a natural talent for dressmaking and had worked happily at this chosen career until Grandad had come along, swept her off her feet and marriage and motherhood had followed. Now it was high time to put her talents back to work. She smiled to herself. Nothing ventured nothing gained! What she needed was a workshop. Several days later she found what she was looking for. It was a small place but close to the High Street. With careful planning she could transform it into a workroom, a fitting room and a tiny area for receiving potential customers. She now had to furnish it even if such furnishings were basic. To her surprise Billy came to her recue. She had shared her idea with him and shown him the premises. He had frowned, deep in thought.
"Gran, what about the old furniture warehouse?" he asked.
"It's been bombed" she replied.
"Yes, but some of the stuff was salvaged and taken to that warehouse in Bridge Street. One of my mate's uncles works there. You remember, the uncle with the bad leg."
Gran gazed fondly at him. For a fourteen year old he was a fount of information.
"I'll go there tomorrow" she said.
The following morning, armed with determination and an umbrella, Letty set off for the warehouse. She explained what she was looking for, to the uncle with the bad leg. He thought hard, then beckoned her to follow him, leading her to the back of the warehouse. Together they examined various items, set aside a few things like an old sewing machine that actually worked and a dressmaker's dummy, which although battered would do. By the end of the morning Letty had equipped her workroom. Arrangements were made for the things to be delivered as soon as it could be
Letty's great friend, Hilda, taken to see the premises was enthusiastic about the whole idea. She offered her help. Armed with mops and buckets, dusters and brooms, they cleaned the whole place, even managing a coat of whitewash on the walls. Days later the items arrived from the warehouse. Billy and a couple of school mates set them up. They were ready!
Two days later they opened for business. Hilda and Letty looked at their stock, if one could call it that, a few cards of buttons, a few reels of sewing cotton of assorted colours and some lengths of material, taken from their respective sewing baskets
News of Letty's workshop spread around the neighbourhood. Within a week they had several jobs. Wisely Letty offered her services for all aspects of sewing from darning to dressmaking. People turned out their lofts as well as their sewing baskets finding them much needed supplies. Joan, Billy's mum, had spoken to the girls at her factory and requests came in for dance dresses. People wanted alterations done. More material was found in discarded trunks. Sommeone turned up with skeins of wool and a few knitting patterns. Letty found a housebound neighbour who was a good knitter and had a complete set of knitting needles.
The whole neighbourhood joined in the venture offering their help. Billy volounteered as a delivery boy after school. "Letty's Place" as it became known, shone like a beacon in those grey war laden days, with their doubts, losses, disasters and bad news. What had started as an idea quickly became a place of meeting and exchange, help, advice and comforting. One of their great moments was when Hilda's eldest granddaughter married her handsome sailor in an outfit created and made in the workroom.
Memories of "Letty's Place" lived on long after the war ended and future generations were to grow up hearing all the stories that belonged to it.
Copyright Jacqueline Hastings 2010