Fred Cuddeford

fred cuddeford

The BDA were saddened to hear of the recent death of Fred Cuddeford at the grand old age of 106 years and 9 months! In early 2015, Joe Collins was lucky enough to sit down with Fred to capture some of his memories for the BDA’s SHARE: The Deaf Visual Archive.

I had two brothers. I’ve been told I also had a sister who was 15 when I was born but I have never met her. My mother looked after me well when I was a baby and also went to work. Sadly my mother was killed by a lift crashing when I was very young.

I was a naughty boy but I enjoyed playing football with the hearing boys at school.

fred cuddeford as a little boy

When I was very young I was run over by a horse and carriage and had to go to hospital. After I came home from the hospital, I saw that my brother and my father were chatting but I couldn’t understand them. I said to them “I’m deaf; I cannot understand what you’re saying.” They didn’t say anything.

When I was 5, my brother said to my father: “What are you going to do about him? He is deaf and he needs help.”

My father didn’t know anything about schools for the deaf. So we went to London, to County Hall in Westminster, to choose a school for me where they could sign a bit.

They told my father it would be best if I went to Balham School where they would teach me how to sign and speak. I was undecided but my father agreed. He didn’t want me moving everywhere as we were a very poor family, so it was best that I stay in the London area.

So I was at Balham School until I was 13. When I finished there my father said I had to learn to speak. Anerley Residential School for Deaf Boys at Crystal Palace was recommended. My father and I went to see the headmaster, Mr Campbell, who signed. I couldn’t at that time.

They spoke for a while and told me that I would stay with my father at home and travel to school. The LCC covered my fares on the trains and buses.

It was an all-boy’s school. I learnt a lot there, how to lip-read and sign.

I had lessons in the morning – and in the afternoon we had to learn a trade. In my time there I covered construction, tailoring, baking, shoe-making and drawing.

You would rotate every week which meant that sometimes trades were in the morning and lessons in the afternoon instead.

I had a lot of good friends which was nice; all of them lived in London.

I remember my father once wrote saying that he was going on holiday abroad so I had to sleep at the school as he was going to be away for a month. He had a girlfriend who became his second wife and we all lived together.

My first brother joined the army in Scotland and my second brother worked as a barrow boy selling vegetables.

My first brother had only one son but my second brother had 7 children! I didn’t see any of them much.

When I was 8 I remember my father pointing up at German air ships (Zeppelins). He had warned me they would be dropping loud things and he was right! It was the First World War, of course, and that continued until I was 9.

When War broke out I didn’t know what was happening – someone told me Germany was fighting us but my father couldn’t explain it to me clearly.

I also went to the Deaf club in Clapham – we were all young and we had a great time signing with each other.

I told my father I didn’t like my new “mother” so I left the family and went to lodge with my friends far away in Finsbury Park! I lived with my friends’ mother who was nice.

I later went to the Oxford Street Deaf Club, which is now Selfridges. That was easier for me to get to when I was in Finsbury Park.

When I was 16 in 1925 I met the Reverend Smith who helped me to look for a job in London. He went with me to Soho and said that I would be working there. The Reverend said “Do you know how to make shoes?” I said “Yes!” and he was pleased with that and I started work that Monday. I went and told all my friends that I have a job in Soho. My friends told me that was the red light area! I didn’t know what that was. I was shocked when I found out!

When I arrived at work on the first day I was given an apron and was handed a wooden shoe. The employer couldn’t sign but I could lip-read her. She asked if I knew how to make the leather on the shoe soft. I did! I had to fix a sole on it too and nailed all around the shoe. They said I did a good job!

But I eventually gave it up. I told my friends I didn’t like it and the red light district was horrible! I didn’t realise there was sex going on there! It was funny.

I also went to the Acton Deaf club which had just been opened by Prince Edward, King George’s son. I met more new friends there. Acton was good for dancing, games and trips.

I bought a bicycle and with a group of friends we had a good time travelling all over Europe. We went to Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Finland – Finland was beautiful. We travelled for one month before I came home.

I was always a smoker from the age of 24, I smoked Woodbine; it was a pack of ten for 10p which was cheap compared to now. A pint of beer cost 2p – so cheap! We used to drink a lot after the deaf club and sometimes didn’t get home until 3 o’ clock in the morning!

It was at a Clapham Deaf Club dance that I met my future wife. It was a Saturday night and the place was full of girls! I was dancing with this girl and we sat down and chatted and discussed our parents and I told her that my mother and father were hearing and couldn’t sign and that I always lip-read. I met her mother and father – who were both poor. They couldn’t sign as well as their daughter – but they liked me as I am a nice person! She also met my friends. We were eventually married by Reverend Smith at Isleworth Church in 1937.

World War Two started in 1939. I received a green card through the post asking did I want to join the army. I went to the council building to tell them I was deaf. I sat and waited, I gave the card to the Sergeant who tried to speak to me. I said I was deaf, the Sergeant said ok and told me to follow him to a room. There was a panel that all looked at me, I said “I’m deaf, my eyes are fine though.” They discussed it and asked me to stand there for a long time. One of them turned around after some time and said “Okay you can go”. They had decided I couldn’t join the army so I was very relieved! I told my wife and she was relieved too!

fred cuddeford bdn

When I was 26 in 1935 I had no work. But I was in Isleworth one day when a man came up to me and said “Are you deaf?” I said “Yes”. He said “Come with me!” So I went with him and his son and we drove by van to a new home on a building site and he said “I want you to paint all of this”.

So I started working with some other people who tried to speak to me. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said “Come on, cup of tea”. I thought it was early (10am) but we drove to a site where there were tea and cakes. We all sat down, I thought it was far too long a break, but they told me it was fine. When we got back to the site it was 11am!

So I carried on with my work until at 12 o’ clock, the same person said “Come on lunch now!” so I had my sandwiches and sat down in the hall. When we went back it was 1pm. We finished at 3pm because it was dark and I thought we haven’t been working much!

In the end I got fed up with the building site and got another job. They all called me a jack of all trades and teased me!

I met another deaf person who worked in a laundrette. I went with him to work in Chiswick, with an old belt driven washer and I worked there for around 3 years. He had a green card (Disabled card) so was not allowed to leave before three years.

I didn’t have an air raid shelter in the back garden like my neighbours as the rose garden was too nice to ruin! I looked to the sky and saw smoke and flying bombs! Someone told me that they could hear bombs being dropped. They were flying bombs, which directed themselves. Lots of bombs all over London, it was really awful. But we still had to go to work. It was terrible, houses and buildings had collapsed. London was in a poor state although there were not many bombs in West London.

The ARP told me that a continuous siren, or the ringing of the hand bell told us that we had to go into the shelter. My son was a baby then and we would go to my friend’s house in Hanwell for dinner and tea then come back home before it got dark.

Peace came in 1945. When War finished, everyone came and celebrated, there were big street parties and children playing everywhere. I brought my son.

I met a deaf person there whose name I remember was Morris, we lived opposite each other in the same street. He visited my home often.

As we were deaf, I made a doorbell for us. I attached a piece of string to a ping pong ball that I drilled through and hung up. When the doorbell would ring, the bell hammer would hit the ping pong ball and it would swing so I knew someone was at the door. I explained it to the hearing people who came and saw it. They were really surprised at how it worked, they said that I was so clever to do this.

I travelled a lot for work, a building man asked me if I wanted a motorcycle – it was an old fashioned Douglas. He offered it to me for £5. I agreed and brought it. After work at 4.30pm we went to get the bike, I switched on the engine and he helped me to push start it. I tested it and agreed to pay £5. I rode it home, no more walking now. My wife was worried as I was deaf and she thought it was risky with the traffic. But back then traffic wasn’t a problem. I added a seat for my wife. I started with small journeys but when I got more confident, I rode to work regularly. I then changed to the BSA! I rode a 260cc then changed to a 650cc. It was big and good for travelling.

When Acton deaf club opened there was a good crowd, there was a bar, and we danced and had outings, to Brighton and Worthing – we went by coach which was the old fashioned type with a cover rolling across the roof to cover us if there was rain. We did enjoy ourselves. But we never went to Bognor!

The Deaf Club was open Saturday afternoon for card games and also in the evening. Monday night was Ping Pong, Tuesday night Football, Wednesday night Social Club; I can’t remember what happened on Thursdays. Friday – meetings.

Originally I was not keen on drinking beer, but friends made me drink it and even whisky. I didn’t get drunk, but we were the chattiest club at Clapham. It was near the church clock tower and tube station. We stood around in a circle and chatted with each other. When I got home around 3am, my wife would be cross with me and say to me that I was late! I said I was chatting with friends and missed the last bus so had to walk home! She said please don’t do that again. I did drink a lot at that time!

When I retired my son arranged my party and there were ninety deaf and hearing people who came. It was a great.

fred cuddeford queen telegraph

For my 100th The Queen sent a card by telegraph which said happy birthday with her picture on it. All my friends came here. I also got one from the Queen when I was 105.

I’m 105 and now I drink Guinness, but I will only drink that and whisky on a Saturday and Sunday only!

Frederick George Williams Cuddeford was born in London on October 21st, 1909 and died on July 24th, 2016. He was 106 years and 9 months old.