The Parade House, High Street, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, our new home was very different from “Worcester”, 145, Elm Drive, North Harrow, Middlesex. It was a very old house with low ceilings, exposed beams, uneven floors, old fashioned doors, some with latch type openers but over the years rooms had been added on, not very sympathetically, like the kitchen, cellar and bathroom.
The downstairs rooms consisted of a dining room, drawing room/Dad’s office, Green/”cold” room, lobby, kitchen and cellar.
Upstairs were Mum and Dad’s bedroom, my bedroom, accessed through my parent’s room, Peter’s room, Colin and Derek’s room and the bathroom. There were two stair cases, the main one leading from tiny hall by the front door and the back stairs from the Green room with door at the top, coming up by the bathroom door, with a large cupboard on the right hand side.
Memories of these rooms are a bit sketchy but are mainly as follows: The Dining room was at the front of the house with window opening onto the pavement of the High Street. On the opposite side of the road was Bear Lane, going up the hill to Dixie’s Close, where there were newly built council houses. The road ran between two high walls, Christy’s Newsagents to the left and Mr and Mrs Newsome’s beautiful house, Bear House on the right.
When the family were sat at the table eating meals we had a wonderful view up Bear Lane and shrouded behind net curtains, watched people’s antics with amusement. Everything from courting couples stopping for a kiss and cuddle in the doorway of the Newsome’s side door and seeing Mrs Lambert hitching up her skirt to adjust her underwear to folks dashing down to catch the bus, which was just about to leave the village, the next one being 2 hours later.
We had a coal fire in there and it was a cosy, small room with an interconnecting door to the drawing room and another door to the right of the fireplace leading into the lobby.
There were two armchairs, a Pye black and white television, which was bought in 1956. Derek remembered the cost of this being 88 guineas, which was proved by the price ticket being left on.
It was quite some time before we had ITV as Dad thought BBC was quite sufficient and did not want “Commercial TV rubbish”.
Everything took place in the Dining room from eating meals (other than breakfast) to doing homework, ironing, relaxing and reading to watching TV – the main thing being that it was the warmest place in the house.
The Drawing room was also at the front of the house, being the closest room to the front door. It was rather a gloomy, chilly room with fireside chairs – not very comfortable, a gate legged table and china cabinet. Dad did most of his office work on this table and it was always covered with invoices, price lists and account books and files.
He had a mini wooden writing bureau on this table, which had been bought from Mr Barratt (Caravan Park in Station Road) for £15. and Colin S. still has this. Also there was the piano, which had come from Ongar Road, Brentwood and was a nice old instrument with candlestick holders either side.
I had piano lessons when living at North Harrow and then started with Ivy Harvey (later Brown), one of the Chapel Organists. She was rather unreliable and would sometimes not be home when I arrived for my lesson. I was not very good and not very dedicated to practising so the lessons eventually “fizzled out”
We did sit in the Drawing room occasionally on Sundays when the fire would be lit. Other times Dad managed to keep warm with a 2 bar, brown electric fire.
There was another door leading into an area under the front stairs, which lead into the Green room. This was a general dumping ground for sports items and “stuff”. One of our cats, “mum puss”, had her kittens there on one occasion, making her nest on top of Peter’s cricket cap! It was a dark “hole” with no electric light, as I remember and an ideal spot being quiet, dark and warm for giving birth.
The “Green” room or cold room as it was often called was a large room with red brick floor, had four doors and the back stairs, and a large fireplace with brick surround.
We only had fires in this grate at Christmastime as it was so large and needed big logs to get any warmth into the room. Most of the heat went up the huge chimney and one could see daylight if you bent down and peered heavenwards.
It was an odd room with two levels of ceiling, low on the shop side, and then there was a black exposed beam and the other ceiling part went up a further four feet or so. This was because the bathroom had been built above this room going up into the roof space.
The only window was high up and looked out onto the side of the next-door dairy buildings, below which was the corrugated roof of the cellar.
It was a lovely room, particularly in the summer with green sea grass type carpet, green covered comfy 3-piece suite and a large pitcher of flowers standing in the grate. On the walls was a Victorian still life painting with gilt frame, a turtle shell brought back from Argentina by Dad, and a pair of antlers from I don’t know where.
Mum and I liked sitting in there on a summer Sunday evening after coming back from chapel as it was very light, airy and cool.
In 1958 and 1959 my fiancé, Colin Easterbrook and I spent many a happy hour cuddling up on the sofa! We liked to play our records (78’s) on our Dansette Record Player and plan our future life together as a married couple, deciding on all the colour schemes for our flat. Grey and yellow for the kitchen, red, green and grey for the lounge and blue and white for the bedroom.
Privacy was not guaranteed, of course, as the room was a thoroughfare between house and shop, kitchen to dining room and up the back stairs. Colin and Derek, who had gone to bed, were inclined to quietly open the back stairs door and listen in to the music, or to peep at what was going on!
The “Lobby” was a small connecting room between the Green room and the Dining room with brick floor and window overlooking the corrugated cellar roof. At one end were shelves over a cupboard with a white tiled top where Mum kept bottled fruit and preserves.
There was also a 3-drawer chest of drawers containing dusters, the carpet sweeper, brushes and the hallstand where everyone’s coats were hung.
I remember a scary incident when I nearly set the place on fire, starting in this room. This was when I had cleared out the grate in the Dining room one Saturday morning and re-lit the fire, which was not going at all well. In order to make the fire draw we had a thick piece of cardboard box, which we held in front of the grate. Unfortunately on this occasion I had not realised that the cardboard had caught fire and was smouldering slightly.
We always kept the cardboard in the lobby by the chest of drawers resting on the brick floor. Brother Colin and I were in the Dining room, when we smelt burning and realised that towels and dusters on the chest of drawers were alight. Panic ensued for a few minutes until Peter appeared and flung open the window and threw out the burning materials onto the snow covered cellar roof.
Mum came dashing in from the shop and I was told off for doing such a silly and dangerous thing but not lectured too much. We were all rather shaken but relieved it had not turned out too badly. I was probably fourteen or fifteen at the time.
The “Kitchen” was an extension to the main house with red tiled floor, painted brick walls, an alcove with an ancient boiler, which did not work, a door down four steps to the cellar and an outside door to the back yard.
The coalhouse and outside toilet were just to the left of the kitchen window and was a wooden creosoted small building. The kitchen was a rather cold and damp room and we heated it with a black paraffin Valor stove that was very effective as long as the wick was kept trimmed and the fuel kept filled up.
The shop sold paraffin so it was a cheap way to heat the place. The 2 stoves were in the shop during the daytime and then brought into the kitchen and bathroom after hours.
There was a large wooden table with four old bentwood chairs from the Blackburn home and two other old family chairs.
The sink was the deep white porcelain type with Sadia water heater on the wall and wooden draining board. Under this stood two orange boxes on their ends, covered with brown anaglyptic wallpaper which served as boot and shoe stores with cleaning brushes and polish at the bottom.
The saucepans were kept in the cellar but not much else, as it was very damp and only cool in the wintertime. With no refrigerator, keeping milk was always a problem and Mum used to boil the milk in the summer time to keep it fresh. I used to love the thick skin, which formed and liked to have it on my cereals.
We had week day breakfasts around the table, always a cooked meal of porridge (wintertime), followed by scrambled eggs, baked beans, spaghetti, bacon and tomatoes on toast, with certain things on certain days. When late up I can remember eating my toast looking out of the Dining room window so I didn’t miss the school coach.
Not a lot of food was kept in the Kitchen as we used the shop as our pantry. I can remember however a built in cupboard by the back door where there were two catering size custard and pink custard (strawberry blancmange) tins stored. The tins were slightly rusty on the outside, having been left over from the war years and bought with the shop. However we all loved custard and had it regularly with tinned plums, stewed fruit with Weetabix and apple pies and crumbles.
My Bedroom was above the Dining room and I had to pass through Mum and Dad’s room to get there. The door was very small, approximately 5ft from the floor with latch type fastening and 9” threshold to step over. One had to be very careful not to trip over this and also to remember to duck one’s head.
The wooden floor boards had a slight downhill slope to the window which was only 18” from the floor. The chimneybreast from the dining room jutted out into the room and my bed head was in front of it. It was an iron bedstead with feather mattress, which one snuggled down into, as in a nest.
The upstairs had no heating and I can recall the frost flowers on the inside of the windows. We had stone hot water bottles, which were very efficient, the only disadvantage was their weight, when pushed down the bed were inclined to fall out onto the wooden floor with a resounding crash.
I always took my underclothes into bed with me so they would be warm to put on in the morning. I don’t remember much other furniture other than a chest of drawers in the alcove.
After a time Mum bought a 2’6” divan from Mrs Winter, who lived at the Dairy and was our afternoon shop assistant. This was put in my room under the window and I started sleeping there after a while.
When I was ill in bed with shingles I liked to look out of the window and watch the comings and goings of everyone during the day. An English examination essay, written on the subject “Looking out of the Window” described a day watching out of my window including the “pea pickers” catching the lorry to go to the field, folk waiting for the bus, delivery vans for the shops and farm machinery passing by. I got a prize for the piece so it must have been quite interesting and amusing.
Mum and Dad’s Bedroom was also at the front of the house and was a good size with fireplace with tiled surround though I cannot ever remember a fire being lit there.
The furniture was the light oak suite that came from North Harrow, with matching bedstead, chest of drawers, wardrobe and dressing table. On the dressing table was a green glass set of two powder bowls with lids and two sizes of fan shaped trinket holders, the large one holding brushes and combs and the small one being for hair grips.
The bedside cupboards were made of a dark wood with carving around the top and had come from Brentwood I think. One contained a chamber pot occasionally used by Dad in the winter!
My parents worked very hard with long hours six days of the week and only had a short “lie in” on a Sunday. I remember Dad resting on the bed sometimes when he had a migraine, which he seemed to get at regular intervals.
On Sunday morning we always had a cooked breakfast of bacon, eggs, fried bread and tomatoes (when in season), followed by “perked” coffee, freshly ground in a big red coffee-grinding machine in the shop. I had never smelled coffee being ground before and it still takes me back to those days when I smell that gorgeous, warm, spicy aroma. This was one of Dad’s favourite meals and he always had two eggs and plenty of bacon.
Peter’s Bedroom was also at the front of the house, above the shop and had exposed beams and uneven floor. On one occasion when Dad and Mum were decorating this room they realised that the many layers of wallpaper were hanging loose from the wall to the left of the door.
Dad decided to remove this and get back to the proper wall. He was very surprised after removing this paper to find a small narrow pointed top window (looking rather church –like) with still some of the old slightly bumpy glass therein. The walls were the old daub and wattle type, which made us think that the house was even older than we had previously thought.
I would have been nice to have re-instated this window but the cost to do so, would have been high and so the window was covered over once again with hardboard and papered over.
I have no memories of the furniture in this room other than Peter’s bed and a wooden “z” bed, which folded up into a box with clips either end. This had come from Brentwood and we had used it when staying with Grandma but now Colin E slept there when he came to stay once a fortnight.
Apparently it creaked like mad when he turned over but was reasonably comfortable. When he went to bed, the two of them would have a good chat about cricket or football, of which they were both great fans.
Colin and Derek’s Bedroom was the only one at the back of the house, behind Peter’s and looking out onto the flat roof of the shop. It had quite a low ceiling and tended to be a warm room with a small casement window unlike the rest of the bedrooms, which were of the old sash variety.
Peter remembers the snow blowing into this Bedroom through the window and settling on the boys’ bed during one particularly severe winter.
Furniture consisted of a double bed, two matching single wardrobes, bedside tables a la orange boxes and a framed map of the world on the wall. Derek recalls the cord breaking in the middle of the night and the frame with glass front crashing to the wooden floor narrowly missing his head!
The cats were rather a menace, as they loved to pop into the house this way and spend the night on the end of the bed. As they were often quite wet with muddy paws Dad eventually erected a wire netting frame to insert if the window was left open, to try and keep them out.
The cats soon discovered that they could get over the top or squeeze through and it was not too much of a deterrent. On one occasion “Mum Puss” came into the bedroom prior to have her kittens and Colin dashed downstairs to tell Mum that she was on the bed “Doing a war dance”, (labour pains).
She was brought down into the kitchen and put in her box but suddenly leaped out and delivered a kitten right by Mum’s foot, who was standing by the cooker frying eggs. Dad scooped up the still wet newborn kitten on a piece of cardboard and put it into the box with its mother. Two more were to follow soon after.
I remember a time when Uncle Leslie, Ann and Robin were staying with us and Ann and I were sleeping in this bedroom. Ann had been “chatted up” by Raymond Moule at the Village Hall Dance the previous evening and as an employee of Tommy Dennis, the butcher he was doing a bit of overtime and babysitting for Lesley Widdowson, June Dennis’s daughter. Her house was just around the corner from the butcher’s shop and had a small court yard right by the back of our shop.
Ann spent a long time sitting on the shop roof chatting with Ray after we had gone to bed. I was very nervous that she would fall off the roof or that the Dennis’s would return and catch them fooling about. However nothing untoward happened and Ann eventually got back into bed and no one found out.
The Bathroom had three or four steps up into the room just inside the door with a short banister rail, used as a bath towel rail. It was painted green with a lemon shiny painted windowsill, which was like glass. Dad was an excellent painter and used to give the surface several undercoats, rubbing them down each time with glass cloth.
The large bath was of the old-fashioned shape with claw feet, freestanding and positioned straight up from the steps. There was a “washing line” strung across one corner with all the family’s face flannels flopped over.
The walls were hardboard panelled with a sloping ceiling as the room was built into the roof with a dormer window. The toilet and large hand basin with cupboard underneath were to the left of the bath. There was a large airing cupboard at the opposite end, which housed the hot water tank with immersion heater and wooden slatted shelves where the household linen was kept.
The Garden was an enclosed, private one approached down a short path between the wooden garage and the bacon shed. There was a thatched archway with four wooden supports and steps down onto the lawn.
On the left hand side was the back of the cow shed of Bluegates Dairy and on the right hand side was the back of June Dennis’s house and the wall of the Collins’s back yard.
The back wall was a lovely mellow brick wall 8-10 feet high and had several espalier fruit trees along its length. There had been a dovecote in the past in the left corner but this was now just a small summer house/shed. Colin did keep pigeons in there for some time and I got roped in for “cramming” the fledglings when they were too young to feed themselves.
We had rabbits too at one stage on the lawn in a hutch with a wire netting run but they kept escaping and eventually did a permanent “bunk”.
The garden was mainly lawn with a pond in the centre with water lilies but no fish, eventually to be filled in and made into a flowerbed. Around the edges were more fruit trees, lilac bushes (a very pretty double pink one), and a laburnum tree.
The Early Rivers plum tree I remember especially as there was a bumper crop one summer when Mum and Dad had gone on holiday with Derek and Colin leaving Peter and myself behind. I made my first lot of jam, very successfully and also bottled several Kilner jars of plums.
There was a Conference pear tree too and we used to store the pears in the store above the bacon shed and enjoy the delicious juicy fruit in the winter months.
Dad grew vegetables in the big border by the cow shed and we always had runner beans, beetroot, and Tom Thumb lettuces. I seem to recall Norfolk Giant raspberries too. This was where I first started gardening with Mum and enjoyed helping her with weeding the borders and the rockery.
We were plagued by a Mare’s Tail weed, known to us as Romping Molly, which was very invasive and grew at the back of the garage and bacon shed. This may be the same plant as one called Japanese Knotweed, which is almost impossible to eradicate.
I have very happy memories of having tea outside in the garden on warm summer days. We used to carry out the kitchen table and chairs and then carry out the food and china on trays. It was a bit of a palaver, carting it all out but Mum loved to eat outside after being in the shop all day long. It always seemed sheltered and warm and we liked to be out in the fresh air eating our tea, washed down with plenty of tea poured out from the orange enamel teapot.