In February 2018, shortly after we released a story about the Gittens family, we were approached by Lorraine Owen (née Gittens) who wanted to build upon this story by sharing her childhood memories and giving an oral history about her life.
Lorraine Gittens is the daughter of Drayton Cyril Mark Gittens and Vera Redshaw. When she was born in 1944, her father was in the RAF and most likely based at East Redford, which is where Lorraine's birth was registered. As a toddler, Lorraine lived with her mother and maternal grandparents in Clarendon Street, Hull. However, when her father left the RAF in the early 1950s, she moved with her parents into a property in Saint Marks street, East Hull. When Lorraine was 13 years old, the family moved to 90 Nornabell Street, Holderness Road, a house which her parents saved up to buy during the Thatcher era and lived in for around 40 years.
"There are two things in life you should give your children, the first is roots so they know where they come from and the second is wings so they can fly."
Lorraine's mother and father were hardworking, popular in the community and most importantly for their children devoted and loving parents. When Drayton returned to Hull, he worked as an owner driver for a ready mix concrete company and was contracted to help build the M62, and for many years her mother Vera was employed at the Locarno Ballroom sorting out paperwork for members. Lorraine remembers that her father was a popular figure in Hull and that everyone loved and respected him because he was an honest gentleman. Drayton was a kind and loving father who did not shout but could stop Lorraine and her brother, Paul from misbehaving with one look.
Lorraine also reminisces about the love between her parents. Drayton met Vera at Hull Fair when he was only 14 years old. He stupidly cut his hand on purpose, so she would notice him. Nevertheless, the plan worked as when she saw he was bleeding, she wrapped her handkerchief around the cut and from then on, their love blossomed. Lorraine's father told her that, he loved her mother from the moment he had first laid eyes on her and that the feeling was like a bolt of lightning through his body. Lorraine believes her father felt like this about Vera until the day he died.
One of Lorraine's most treasured memories from her childhood is a summer trip to Hornsea on the train with her mother and brother. Her father did not go as he did not like to travel. Once he had settled back in Hull, he would not leave, and Lorraine believes this was because of his experiences in the RAF. He had been posted to various countries and witnessed many atrocities, thus home most likely became his safe place. During the Second World War, Drayton was deployed on a mission over Nagasaki, Japan. Although he never spoke about the war to Lorraine, he did mention his experiences in passing to her brother. One of the saddest memories he shared was when his best friend was shot down and killed.
Although Drayton did not like to travel outside of Hull while he was in the city, he did like to get around in style. Lorraine recalls that her father loved cars and kept them in pristine condition. She recollects that her father bought lots of different makes and models from local car dealer, Ben Moore.
Lorraine was surrounded by a loving and supportive family while growing up. Her paternal grandfather, Claude and Nana Barbette lived in 9 Linden Villas, Paisley Street until Claude died in 1952 and the house was passed to Lorraine's Aunt Mavis. Her grandparents' house was not far from Lorraine's home and she spent many happy days with Claude and Barbette. Thus, despite the death of her nana and grandfather when she was a young child, Lorraine remembers both of them vividly.
She recalls that Barbette was a gentle woman, who adored her father Drayton and that her grandfather Claude was a ‘kind and clever man.' Claude was a sailor for most of his life, he worked as a ship's chief steward with the Rushpool for many years and only retired due to a medical issue which prevented him from going back to sea. Lorraine remembers that there were always trunks in the hallway of her grandparents' house symbolising Claude's latest or next adventure. She also recalls the beautiful items he brought home from all over the world including colourful silks and luxurious bedding. Lorraine's Aunt Mavis also told her, that when she was young, Claude would bring back all sorts of items from far away shores including exotic animals. Mavis disclosed that Lorraine's Aunt Malta used to ride around Hull with Jacko the monkey in a basket on the front of her bike or their parrot perched on her handlebars. It seemed that while the parrot loved Malta, it definitely did not like Mavis and used to shout at her "What do you want? Get out!"
Some of Lorraine's most special memories of her grandparents are brushing her nana's hair and spending time with her grandfather. Sadly, Claude died when Lorraine was only 8 years old, but he had a profound effect on her life. As a girl Lorraine had an inquisitive nature and asked a lot of questions about her family history and heritage. Through her grandfather, Lorraine has always had a strong connection to the Caribbean and her roots. Claude regularly talked about his upbringing and told the family there was a house belonging to the Gittens line in Barbados. He also shared memories with his granddaughter about the white sandy beaches that he played on when he was a child. More recently, Lorraine has visited Barbados on holiday as have her children.
While growing up Lorraine had a very close relationship with her father's sister Mavis, who after her grandparents' deaths continued to keep their memory alive by telling Lorraine stories. The pair were extremely close, and Lorraine describes them as being like two peas in a pod. In the early 1950s, Mavis became extremely ill (Lorraine believes that she contracted tuberculosis) and was quarantined in a hospital in Sutton for around 18 months. Lorraine recalls going to visit and the family having to stand in the garden while Mavis spoke to them from a balcony, so she did not infect them. However, when she was better, the two spent a lot of time together and developed a very close relationship. Through her Aunt Mavis, Lorraine learned more about her family. For example, Mavis told her that her grandfather's sister married Sir Frank Worrell, the West Indian cricketer and Jamaican senator. Lorraine remembers him visiting the family in Hull when she was around 12 years old. Mavis also told Lorraine that when her father Drayton was in his teens, he went to sea with her grandfather Claude and worked as a ships hand. One day while the ship was in the dock, Drayton was asked to wash the pots, which everyone thought he had done until later when the tide went out and half of the cutlery was found stuck in the mud by the side of the ship. Thus, it was realised that Drayton had thrown half of the knives, forks and spoons overboard to get out of his chores.
Some of Lorraine's happiest childhood memories include her Aunt Mavis taking her to cinema to see Roy Rodgers and Trigger and then for a fish and chip supper with bread and butter at the Gainsborough restaurant in Hull, as well as allowing her to go into the Newington Ballroom while Mavis worked. Lorraine remembers she had a beautiful green dress with a skirt that flared out at the bottom and she would wear it every time she went to the ballroom. Lorraine also recalls that her Aunt Mavis was a devoted Elvis Presley fan (as she commented, Mavis' passion for him went into the abyss) and they spent many happy years listening to every record he made. Lorraine advised that Mavis was an extremely loyal fan all of her life and that her aunt would order Presley's records from America long before they were released in Britain.
Throughout Lorraine's childhood the Gittens were an extremely close-knit family. Lorraine spent most of her Sundays visiting her aunts, first calling at Mavis' house before travelling to her Aunt Malta and Uncle Peter's in Hymers Avenue to watch Sunday Night at the Palladium. She also recalls all of the men in the family playing cards every Friday night. However, Lorraine's Uncle Claude was away at sea a lot when she was young, so she only spent short periods of time with him.
The Gittens women were attractive and talented. In particular, Lorraine's Aunt Malta had a beautiful aristocratic face and could sing very well. Lorraine believes she could have pursued a career in entertainment but instead fell in love with Peter and chose to have children. All of the women on the Gittens side of Lorraine's family were good at needlework; they all knitted and sewed very well. Lorraine recalls Malta making some of the most beautiful wedding dresses and ball gowns she has ever seen.
As a child, Lorraine went to Chapman Street Infant School and later the all-girls High School. Lorraine confesses that she loved school as she was good at most subjects and had lots of friends. Her popularity with both the teachers and students meant that she was voted deputy head girl. Lorraine recalls that the headmistress of the High School was very strict, she always checked the girls were well turned out and their hats were straight, but Lorraine believes that she instilled life-long lessons in the children. Away from school Lorraine was a happy, fun-loving, sociable girl. She has always loved dancing and vividly remembers spending nights at the Locarno ballroom. Lorraine also recalls participating in a dance marathon in the Kevin ballroom, a place she loved go to in her early teens.
At the age of 15, Lorraine left school and started a hairdressing apprenticeship which she completed at a salon in Southcoates Lane. After she had served her time as an apprentice, she moved to a busy hairdressing shop on Ferensway.
In 1996 Lorraine gave birth to her eldest daughter Sara and then in 1970 her second daughter Claire. Lorraine remained close to her Aunt Mavis who adored the girls. However, Lorraine remembers that when Sara started to talk, she found it difficult to say Mavis' name, so Lorraine gave her aunt the nickname of Ebbe which both Sara and Claire could say with ease. The girls knew and referred to Mavis as Ebbe for the rest of her life.
While in her 20s, Lorraine moved to Manchester where she looked after her children and worked at Christies Hospital. After Sara and Claire had grown up, Lorraine moved to London and worked as a nanny. While in the capital she was employed by a famous writer and her husband, and remembers that their house was a hive of activity. Lorraine loved nannying and in her spare time seeing the tourist sites in London.
Lorraine eventually moved back to Manchester where her five grandsons as well as voluntary jobs have kept her very busy. She continues to tell her grandsons, Jack, Jamie, Cameron, Finn and Owen, family stories as she believes it is important for them to understand their heritage and keep the memories of her grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles alive as they were so pivotal is shaping her life. Looking back Lorraine feels she was very privileged to have so many wonderful and talented people in her childhood and so very, very proud of her Barbadian roots.
Lorraine’s favourite three quotes to live life by…
1. Life is what you make it, so make it beautiful!
2. Life is like a camera, focus on what is important, capture the good time and develop the negatives.
3. When the times comes to die, let us not discover that we have never lived! So, live your life!