My formative years were spent in a village unlike any other I know. Most of the houses were built by a factory owner for his employees. They all had flat roofs and were of art deco style – now listed buildings.
When you think of village you envisage one or two small shops, a village hall and possibly a pub. Not so this village. The village hall was enormous! A huge imposing building boasting the largest hall with stage of any village together with upper floor for workers club and living accommodation for the caretaker. Meanwhile the village shop was an impressive department store fronted by imposing columns. Sadly this burnt down before I was born to be replaced by a single story store and a string of other shops including butcher, baker, greengrocer and haberdashery.
As for the pub, that was a Hotel with tennis courts backing on to a large park with landscaped gardens, Japanese design pond with adjacent pergola and an avenue of cherry blossom trees that were stunning each spring. The previously naked branches became weighed down by frothy pale pink blossom. The translucent spring sunshine reflected off the blossom illuminating the surrounding lawns. Upon entering the avenue of trees it took time for your eyes to adjust to the gloom created by the trees meeting overhead.
In essence it was a factory village with many of the workers originating from Wales. That said it was a typical village in that newcomers were not classed as belonging until they had lived there for at least 20 years!! This I can vouch for as my ex-husband moved to the village when he was 6 and despite attending the village school he and his brothers were never truly classed as ‘from’ the village.
As for me, I was born there but didn’t in fact live ‘in’ the village. Our house was situated a few hundred yards outside the village boundary and as such I always felt something of an outsider.
There were six (previously seven – will explain shortly) houses, of various styles and sizes grouped together on one side of the road. Between them and the village there was I have said a short distance that was not graced with a footpath or street lights. This was to be my invisible prison wall at night as I grew older.
The house furthest from the village was a farmhouse but by the time I was born it was no longer a working farm, the cows had gone and it was purely a home. My grandfather had managed the farm years before and lived in the adjacent cottage. Eventually he bought the cottage and the next one attached to it.
The buildings were very basic, so basic that they had earth floors! My grandfather carried out considerable renovations to make them habitable including, thankfully, installing floors.
When my mother married she moved away but returned to live in the adjoining cottage, my home until I was 21.
Living next to my grandparents was normal for me but to others it seemed very strange and looking back I can understand why that would be. Who else walked out their back door in their pyjamas and dressing gown, walked 20 feet and entered their grandparents’ kitchen? Who else spent the evening sitting with their grandparents sipping sherry or port before meandering back the way they came and going to bed? I never had babysitters two very eager volunteers were always there!
Compared to the gardens my friends had in the village our garden was huge. It was not split between the two cottages but they sat in the middle of one garden that stretched behind a long way before reaching open fields at the rear. There was room for an orchard, a number of outbuildings, large vegetable plots, lawns, coalhouse; two garages an, outside toilet and an air-raid shelter. At the front of the house was more lawn, the road then open fields stretching into the distance.
My memories of the house are of a safe haven that I adored. I had my own room which in my teens, during the 1970’s was decorated with dark purple wallpaper that in turn was plastered with posters of Donny Osmond and David Cassidy.
But to return to my childhood, as I grew up I became increasingly aware our house and situation was different to that of my friends at school. I was always made to feel different, not quite accepted.
I didn’t often play with friends after school. Normally, I walked to the ’65 Club’, where my granddad was manager. This was a large house in the village used as a small workshop producing small engineering parts for the main factory (Crittalls). The men that worked there were all over 65.
I would lose myself wandering around the punch machines pulling handles and looking at the small components that were made. No doubt Health and Safety regulations would prohibit me doing so now. I can still sense the smell of that workshop and how close I felt to my granddad at that time.
In those days there was no central heating only a coal fire in the living room. In the winter, each night my brother and I would put our coats on to go out to the toilet before undressing in front of the fire and running upstairs and leaping into bed before we got too cold. In the morning I remember pressing my thumbs on the frosted windowpane to melt two eye holes so that I could look out.
In the spring I would wander idly along the ditches at the back of our house with my grandma’s wicker basket, listening to the skylark and lovely the warmth of the sun on my face. The banks of the ditches were smothered in primroses and peggles (cowslips to those of you who don’t know) and I would fill the basket before returning home to fill jam jars and vases with my precious yellow bounty. Seeing banks of primroses now makes me smile and peggles will forever be my favourite flower. Whenever I see them my heart lifts, I smile and I’m back losing track of time behind our house.
My favourite place in the house was my parent’s bedroom windowsill. They had a dormer window and the windowsill was about 18 inches deep. I would spend hours sitting in that window, knees up to be chin, gazing out across the fields and watching clouds.
The scenery changed with the seasons, brown ploughed furrows in the winter with grey skies above, clouds scudding across in a hurry to get somewhere. Green in the spring was the corn or barley began to grow up towards the bright blue sky and puffy clouds not in quite such a rush blocking the sun at intervals. Golden in the summer as the wheat ripened under the hot sun, clouds now wispy and hardly moving. Still golden but in large clumps as the straw was bailed in the then oblong bails and stacked four or five high before being collected and moved to the main stacks at the farm up the road. Now the clouds were beginning to gather once more and I could make out shapes and imagine animals etc.
I would lose all track of time sitting there, especially in my teens. I’d daydream about the future, what I would do, where I would go, who I would marry. Then I started dating my husband to be and I’d sit there waiting to catch a glimpse of him going home from work in his workmates car. I miss my thinking place.
Over the years I have many happy memories of that house, here are just a few of them.
Having such a large garden we were able to raise animals and fowl to sell. At one time we had over twenty rabbits. These were not pets; the guinea pigs were my pets of which we had between 2 and 10 at various times.
Each year we reared chickens ready to sell before Christmas. I remember my father sitting in the shed plucking chickens with white feathers blanketing the floor and dampening any sound. Meanwhile my mother was in the kitchen drawing the birds (in this context drawing means removing their innards) before singeing them over a Bunsen burner to remove any remaining feather stubble. The smell of methylated spirits evokes this scene instantly.
My brother reared pigs two at a time to produce meat for the family and more to sell. Pigs are very clean animals despite the common misconception to the contrary and if you scratch them behind the ear for long enough they will lie down. I became particularly fond if his first two pigs who were called Eggbut and Nobacon and every evening I would visit them at the bottom of the garden. When it was time for them to go to the slaughterhouse I was predictably upset and refused to eat the meat that was brought back. My mother eventually persuaded me to do so by telling me they had ensure the meat had come from a different pig. This was not true but I didn’t find out until years later.
When I was at high school we hatched duck eggs in an incubator in biology. I offered to give two ducklings a home and so became surrogate mother to Plip and Plop. They initially lived in the spare bedroom on polythene covered in newspaper and surrounded by boxes. They were very messy eaters, splattering bread and milk everywhere! In the evening I would sit watching the TV with them on my check snuggling up behind my ears under my long hair. My attempt to teach them to swim in the kitchen sink failed miserably, they both sank and nearly drowned. They never did learn the skill so natural to other ducks but were saved the fate of the other ducks and chickens.
Part of the garden was given over to rows of my granddads chrysanthemum plants. They ranged from small pom poms to large spikey heads. There was a rainbow of colours but my favourite were the dark oranges. The flowers were sold at the roadside in front of our house and were very popular.
Another area contained fruit bushes, gooseberries, blackcurrants, red currants and raspberries. My brother was very fond of raspberries and I often caught him sneaking out early on a summer’s morning to eat the raspberries off the canes.
Our house was outside the 30mph speed limit and so cars speeded past the end of our drive at 50/60mph. We were also on a slight bend making pulling out of the drive very risky, which my brother discovered to his cost. One morning on his way to school he was knocked off his bike.
Despite receiving only minimal cuts and bruising the accident galvanised my parents to design a semi-circular drive in front of the hours providing a second exit that afforded a better view up the road. Having very little income there was a dilemma around what to use to surface the new drive. In those days there wasn’t a local store to provide such things as there are today plus they couldn’t afford much.
The problem was solved when a local farmer agreed that my family could collect stones from a nearby field. There followed may weeks back breaking working picking up large stones, putting them in sacks and driving them home.
Shortly before I let home I held a birthday part in our four car garage. Straw bales were placed around the walls and for safety purposes a fire extinguisher was at the ready. Unfortunately, someone accidentally sat on the fire extinguisher and we all got soaked before it was taken outside whereupon the water immediately ran out! On the same night my brother (6’ 7” tall) had too much to drink and my mum and I had to try to get him indoors. Even with his arms around our necks his knees were still on the floor!!!
Of course along with the good there are also bad memories, thankfully not as many.
One hot summery the family were having a water fight and my mum was chasing my brother. He picked up a canvas bag and swung it at mum hitting her in the face. Unknown to him the bag contained a bicycle bell and the impact broke mum’s nose. We were due to go to Scotland on holiday the next week but that had to be cancelled. I’ve still not been to Scotland.
Unfortunately, like most houses in the country rats were a natural hazard. Having an outside toilet when I was younger meant they often ran past in the dark as I walked out of the back door. As previously mentioned I kept guinea pigs as pets and sadly one particularly sweet baby guinea pig was killed by rats. I have a dread of rats to this day.
Just after opening our presents one Christmas Day, my grandma was taken ill. I watched in silence as my brother picked her up and carried her next door to her bed. She died a few days later in hospital.
The saddest memory of all was moving my parents out of the house. Once my grandparents had died and my brother and I had left home the house and garden became too much for my parents to maintain. They decided it was time to downsize. I hated the very idea and being introduced to the new owners, regardless of how lovely they were, did not help me accept the inevitable.
On the day of the move the van was late arriving and we ended up sitting on the front lawn with all my parent’s possessions whilst the new owners started moving their stuff in. I was in floods of tears, absolutely inconsolable! In the end after loading the van we were all in tears, it was the end of an era.
Fate is cruel, I have said this many times during my life. Not long after this traumatic event, my brother started suffering increasingly debilitating back problems. His marriage split up and he eventually moved back in with my parents.
The old house would have been a godsend at that point. When my grandmother was getting old a single storey extension, bedroom and bathroom, had been built on the side of the house. With my brother in a wheelchair this downstairs living accommodation would have been ideal.
I now live in the centre of town for convenience and necessity. My mind often returns to my childhood home and my heart longs to recapture some of the tranquillity I felt walking around the fields and sitting gazing out of my parent’s bedroom window.