|Esther Bayliss (1914-1990)|
Esther was born on May 29th 1914. It is unlikely that Esther remembered her father who joined the army when she was only thirteen months old very well. He did not return home for three years, dying a few months after Esther's fourth birthday, although she clearly recalled the funeral with the union flag draped coffin on a gun-carriage. During the 1920's Esther worked for a while in her sister Ethel's sweet shop on Dartmouth Park Hill. The employment was terminated when Esther was caught helping herself to packets of cigarettes that she, of course, claimed were for her mother!
Photographs of the young Esther show her as a very pretty young lady.Those of us who knew Esther in her later years probably don't always appreciate just how striking she was.When she was still in her teens Esther was approached in the street by a man who said that he would like to take photographs of her. Today such a request would set off all sorts of alarm bells but, happily, it turned out that the man was a legitimate photographer and when Esther told her mother it was decided that to be on the safe side her mum would accompany her to the photographer's studio. What the purpose of the photographs was is unknown (to me, at least); were the intended for publication? or did the photographer simply see Esther as an artist sees his model?
|One of Esther's "glamour" photographs.|
We know Esther, like her sisters Florence and Ethel, was extremely independent and a bit rebellious. As I understand it at one point Esther ran away from home and ended up in Southend on Sea. One story tells us that when her mother came to bring her home Esther held her at bay with a bread knife! Esther's first job in Southend was as a waitress in the Kursaal Tea Rooms. Esther was later employed as a cashier at Southend's landmark Palace Hotel - she worked her way up to a very responsible position - not only having her own rooms in the hotel but a personal maid as well. What is certain is that Esther began a life-long family association with the popular seaside resort which continues until this day with her being indirectly responsible for my own move to the town in the 1980's. Living in Southend in the 1930's gave Esther ample opportunity to spend time with her mother who, at that time, was living on nearby Canvey Island. There are quite a few pictures of that period in existence and I'm happy to be able to reproduce some of them here.
|Esther with her mother and half-brother Billy at her mother's bungalow|
on Canvey Island
|Esther with her half-siblings Joyce and Billy|
|This picture of Esther (left) and her sister Ether (my mother)|
was possibly taken at Canvey Island although equally
it may have been at Bognor Regis in 1935.
About 1936 a mutual friend, Len Brown, introduced Esther to Joseph Slater, a merchant seaman on the P&0 Line. The couple took a flat in Station Road, Westcliff and lived together, but when war broke out and Joe was called back to sea Esther closed up the flat and went back to Upper Holloway to live with her recently widowed mother. At that time Southend and the estuary were considered a likely place for any invading German army to land. Esther returned to Southend in 1942 and a new flat was found at 9a Pleasant Row, Pleasant Road, a short walk from the Southend seafront. The upstairs flat had a small balcony overlooking the garden and good view of the estuary. One day in June 1944 Esther looked out at the estuary to see it was full of ships and boats of all kinds. The next day they had all vanished - the D-Day invasion had begun.
Esther Bayliss and Joseph Slater were married at Islington Registry Office in 1940. Joe's own story is so interesting that it deserves an article of its own and I will be applying myself to that in the future. After her return to Southend Esther became an ARP - Air Raid Warden, patrolling the streets in the York Road area of Southend (accompanied by her little dog, Toby!) and even receiving rifle training.
|Was it in response to this poster that Esther becam|
an Air Raid Warden.
In the next article I will continue Esther's story of her years in Southend-0n-Sea.
Thanks go to cousins Robin and Ian for sharing what they know of their mother's early life with me. Photos in this post come from my own collection and from that of the Slater Family. Thanks go to Robin, Ian and Adrienne for making them available to me.