Growing up in Masterton in the 1920s-30s

My last post on the 1942 Wairarapa earthquake used some information from an interview I did with my mother, Nella Morrell, nee Jones. I didn’t just talk to her about the earthquake, so I thought I would use some more of that material. I asked her about her childhood in the 1920s. I had also interviewed both my parents in 1995 and so I have interspersed some of that material where relevant.

mum and art feeding horse

Mum: I lived on the [Jones family] farm of course and we had a playground in the back yard. Swings and slides and what do you call those long swings that seat three or four and go side-to-side … a boat swing as we called it. And we had a tennis court. We never used it as I got older. This was the old farmhouse, down the bottom of Kuripuni Street.

(Mum and her younger brother, Arthur c. 1925)

Jones farmhouse 1920s Norman Jones family1

These photos were taken in the 1920s of my grandparents Norman and Minnie Jones and their five children. On the left in front of the Jones farmhouse: Mavis, Ted, Eila, Arthur and Nella. Norman and dog by the car. On the right: Arthur, Minnie, Eila, with Nella in front, Norman, Mavis, Edward (Ted).

Me: Were your grandparents still living there then?

Mum: Granny was still living – I can’t remember when she died (about 1942), but she wasn’t living with us.[1] Grandpa [Edward Jones] lived across the road. One house was burnt down once. It might have been Mave’s [her older sister, Mavis Wootton] place. They had an old traction engine, cutting wood and a spark got in – that was before my time, or I don’t remember it anyway.

We were just kids brought up on a farm. We walked to school, right up Herbert Street. I suppose it would have been a mile. Central School, where it used to be, it’s not there now. It’s a good walk – we came back home for lunch – hot dinner and back to school by quarter past one. We had an hour and a quarter for lunch.

Central School photo (and detail). Mum is the short girl in the check dress. Fifth from the left in the second row.

We had plenty of animals on the farm. We had rabbits and dogs for pets. A dog. Can’t remember cats – but we probably had farm cats. We had horses, but we didn’t ride them. Dad [Norman Jones] had working horses – big ones. Clydesdales. Everything was done by horse. He had a wagon for carting hay. I don’t remember him doing it, but he used to cart hay out to Castlepoint and that sort of thing. Four or five horses. I must have been pretty young. He had a couple of horses for ploughing. Sometimes we’d go on the drill with him while he was sewing the seed. We’d get up on the wagon sometimes; but we didn’t have horses to ride.

horse drawn wagon with men  horse drawn delivery wagon c1935 mast archive

Right: Horse-drawn milk delivery wagon, circa 1930, Wairarapa Archive Ref: 06-116/65 (photo donated by my cousin Trevor Jones). The photo on the left is from my collection; it may also be in the Wairarapa Archive.

When he first took the milk round he had a milk cart with a black horse [this was in the days of home-delivered milk directly from the Jones farm]. Uncle Art [Arthur Jones, born 1920, mum’s younger brother] – when he was old enough, nine or 10, I suppose – he went out once and the horse bolted and tipped the lot over. Two big 25-gallon cans came on top of him, but he wasn’t hurt. He was a frisky horse, ‘Darkie’ we called him. Then there was ‘Old Nick’, which was a white one. There’s a photo of me and Art feeding him [see photo at top].

When I got old enough I went out on the bike [to help with the milk run]. At six in the morning. It was often freezing half the time – I’d swing my arms around to get warm. I’d have two big cans on either side of the bike and then I’d have cream on the lamp bracket and a couple of empty cans – a pint one and a quart one, which you used to measure out. I’m not sure how big the cans were – maybe five gallons.

So we biked around – had to measure out a pint or quart, whatever they wanted, and cream. The other girls [her older sisters] did it first, then my turn came. I suppose when I was around 13 or 14 – when I was going to Tech [Masterton Technical School]. Arthur went on the round, not on the bike. It took a couple of hours. I went up Herbert Street – I had to go to the Methodist home [an orphanage] – they had a gallon or whatever. I’d go up Waltons Ave – auntie Cheek* was up the top, and then Kuripuni and home. Be home in time to have breakfast and go to school… We had set customers. There were several milkmen around and they all had their set customers. [*She was Marion Cairns (nee Allsworth) – I don’t know how she got her nickname, although I can guess how Uncle Punch and Uncle Judy (her brothers) got theirs!]

I remember once I had a cream can on the front and I biked over a stone and the cream went all over the ground. I can’t remember if I had to go back and get another…. We always went around to back doors. The lid of the cream had measures on it – three-penneth or six-penneth of cream. You went to the back door, sometimes opened it and got a billy and measured it out. Whatever they wanted. My cousin Kit (Kathleen) was at auntie Cheek’s then and I used to sit and talk to her for a while.

A newspaper report from 1907 says that milk in Masterton then cost about 1 1/2 pence per pint – milk was put into customers own containers (which were sometimes not cleaned properly), but the milk supplier spoken to, Mr Staples, did not support milk in bottles as one milk run in Napier used, as it raised the price to about 2 pence per pint (MASTERTON’S MILK SUPPLY. Wairarapa Age, 7 November 1907, Page 5). In 1920 milk suppliers claimed that town milk could not be produced for less than 1 shilling 6 pence per gallon (net), (PRICE OF MILK. Wairarapa Age , 12 July 1920, Page 5)

Me: anything else other than cows on the farm?

Mum: No, just horses – the Clydesdales. We were town milk supply. We had calves and we may have had to help feed them. 120 acres? Dad: 120 acres in the county and 20 in the borough – approximately 100 cows, they milked about 80 all round. [1995 interview]

Me: How did your family fare during the slump [1930s Depression]?

Mum: We were alright on the farm, but we used to have a lot of swaggers come round looking for work. They’d sleep in the barn and we’d give them a bit of work – cutting scrub or something. For a couple of days. We used to have Uncle Jock (Cairns) for a while too – he was out of work and did a bit of work around the farm. Dad: …your father used to get eels out of the creek for you. Mum: I wouldn’t eat them now, but we did in those days. [1995 interview].

Some school certificates:

Mum: I left school when I was 15, I think. I had two and a half years at Tech. Fifteen-and-a-half I suppose. This Masterton Technical School photo is from 1931.

mum at schoolEila and Noel got married [her oldest sister] and she was having a baby so I left to go and help her. To look after the baby. Well, it was an excuse I think. I didn’t want to go on any longer. And I never went to work. After that, I went home and they paid me to do housework because mum used to help on the farm – with milking. I used to get 22/6 a week, which wasn’t bad in those days. I didn’t pay any board, not out of that. I was thinking of getting a job. Who was it – WF as they called it [Wairarapa Farmers?], where Eila worked. … I was thinking of it. I was making out an application, but it didn’t come to anything. I got married instead!

snow fight at jones family farm july 1939 mast arch Snow fight at the Jones family farm, July 1939, my mother at left, my grandmother Minnie next, unknown man, possibly my uncle Arthur Jones at right, Wairarapa Archive, Ref 06-116/73. Photo donated by Trevor Jones.

Me: How did you meet dad?

Mum: We used to go to table tennis. The boys [her brothers] Ted and Arthur got a car and I used to go with them to table tennis. We went to Mauriceville and that’s where he was in those days – on the Railways. He’d come in if he got a ride with somebody. After a while [when we were getting ready to get married] he got a little car. Then we went to Kopauranga of course. He got shifted there – we got a house there.

mum dad peggy

My parents on their wedding day (16 Dec 1939) with their bridesmaid Peggy Buick, nee Cruickshank.

Jones milk van mast archive

My grandfather’s milk van about the same time. N.R. Jones, Premier Dairy, c 1940, Wairarapa Archive, Ref 06-116/70


[1] Mum means ‘Granny Allsworth’ – her mother’s mother, who died in April 1942 and wouldn’t have lived at the Jones farm anyway. She lived in Colombo Road. Her Jones grandfather, Edward, died in 1935 and Jones grandmother in 1920. There is a photo of her Allsworth grandmother in my ‘Wairarapa earthquake‘ post.


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