Driving buses during the war and working as a maid in London at 14 - Hartlepool great grandmother looks back on life after reaching 100
“I’ve lived a very full and interesting life,” says Hetty Skinner as she reflected on turning 100 years old.
It certainly has been; from leaving home in Hartlepool at just 14 to work as a maid for the wealthy in London to learning to drive double decker buses during the war and bringing up a family, Hetty has lots of stories to tell.
Despite her great age, she is in remarkably good health, is sharp as a tac, and still lives in her own home.
Hetty declined a stairlift as she says using the stairs is good exercise.
She said: “People say ‘what’s your secret?’ I say I haven’t got one but what I have got is a wonderful family.
“I appreciate everything my son Alan does for me and his family.”
Hetty, nee Maw, keeps her mind active by doing mathematical and word puzzles in her favourite papers every day including the Hartlepool Mail of which she is a life-long reader.
She also knits clothes for premature babies and those in foster care.
“I never get lonely or miserable,” she says. “I love company but I occupy my brain.”
Born in Charterhouse Street, on September 5, 1919, Hetty, the last survivor of seven siblings, grew up on the town’s Central Estate.
She said: “My earliest memories are of the freedom we had as children. We used to go to Grayfields or Ward Jackson Park for the day and nobody worried.
“We didn’t have a lot but we appreciated what we did have.”
After leaving Jesmond Road school at 14, and following a spell working in a sweet shop in Musgrave Street, Hetty followed one of her sister’s down to London to work as a kitchen maid.
She got the sack after going to visit her sister one day and her employer came home unexpectedly and Hetty was not there to run her a hot bath.
“I was always in trouble because I was quite outspoken,” she said.
After working for another family in Earls Court, Hetty came back to Hartlepool where she got a job as an usherette in the newly opened Forum cinema in York Road.
But she got the sack from there after she and a workmate were caught by the manager sitting on the stairs.
In 1938 Hetty married husband Osmond, whom she later divorced. They had two children; Ken, 79, who lives in America, and Alan, 74.
In 1943, during the Second World War, Hetty got a job driving buses for the Corporation (council).
“All I had done up to then was push a pram and ride a bike,” she said.
After the war she went back on the buses but as a conductress as the unions then would not let women drive.
In 1955 Hetty joined United buses, which she worked for until retiring in 1980, ending up as senior clerk and cashier.
She has six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“One thing about living a lot of years is you have a lot of nice memories,” she said.