Book review: Bath Times and Nursery Rhymes by Pam Weaver

In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to enter outer space, the Beatles set out on the road to success, a house could be bought for £2,000... and 16-year-old Pam Weaver began her training as a nursery nurse.

Monday, 21st January 2013, 9:00 am

She arrived at a government-run children’s residential nursery in Surrey with just one small suitcase, a desire to help others and a burning ambition to get a qualification which would give her letters after her name.

The road ahead involved long working hours, the devastating results of poverty and neglect and plenty of harsh realities, but Weaver also discovered the joys of caring for needy youngsters and the rewards of loyalty, compassion and friendship.

Fans of Call the Midwife will revel in this heart-warming and gritty memoir about life as a nursery nurse and nanny more than 50 years ago.

Weaver takes us through the highs and lows, the triumphs and the tragedies as she moved from caring for deprived and orphaned children to her work as a private nanny at a luxury house near Hyde Park in London.

The daughter of an English woman and a wartime American GI, Weaver was adopted by her natural mother’s best friend and raised in rural Dorset.

After an inauspicious period working on the broken biscuit counter in Woolworths, the young Pam decided she wanted to make something more of her life and successfully applied to train as a nursery nurse.

Her salary was £194 a year, less £101 for her board and lodgings, and when she checked in on that first day she was immediately assigned the ‘Lates’ shift which involved cleaning shoes, drying nappies and settling down children to sleep whilst battling the gnawing ache of homesickness.

She quickly had to get to grips with a demanding routine of early mornings, endless floors to scrub, clothes to clean and children to care for, all carried out under the watchful eye of an overbearing and highly-strung matron.

Life in the nursery was hard and Weaver witnessed the abandonment of children, the struggles of single and widowed parents, families stricken by youngsters born with disabilities and the heartbreak and pain of rejected children.

But despite the rigid routine which could be distressing for both children and staff, everyone did their best to give the children a happy experience. The nursery nurses often took out a child on their days off, bought them extra toys with their own money and always gave a cuddle when it was needed.

In 1965, when her training was complete, Weaver took on a job as a private nanny to a little boy in North London and discovered that for all the wealth and privilege that surrounded him, he displayed some of the same symptoms of deprivation that she had seen in the children’s home.

Bath Times and Nursery Rhymes is a revealing and sympathetic memoir. Written with engaging and uplifting honesty, it transports us to an era of hard graft and dedication whilst providing a fascinating insight into the ethos of childcare in the 1960s.

(Avon, paperback, £6.99)