Wednesday 27 July 2011

The Straits (part 1)

Having been born in a nursing home in Rowledge, Surrey, on 23/02/45, I was brought back to Kingsley where I believe my parents lived in one of the farm bungalows at Old Park Farm. I am a little unclear of the time scales involved around this period as father had been at sea in The Royal Navy throughout the war and I don’t have a record of his demob date. However, upon leaving the navy he went to work at Old Park Farm and the house we lived in was a tied cottage. This was normal during that time. Tied cottages were provided with jobs on farms and an employees could be kicked out of the house upon being dismissed or leaving the farm employment. I know from later conversations that living in a tied cottage was not a situation that father liked and it was in order to get away from that position that we moved to the Straits and into Rose Cottage or, as it was also known, No1 The Straits. The cottage, as its name suggests, was the first house on the left hand side of the road in a row of five other houses of various design. The property was owned by Mr Spiers who was the father of Mrs Pethybridge, (Doris ), who ran the village shop.

The next house along was the home of Jack and Polly Sawkins. Polly was my God mother. Next was the residence of Mr and Mrs Taylor. Mr Taylor, Charley, worked for the railway and was the Kingsley station master. The next two houses were owned by Mr and Mrs Cole. The houses were semi detached, the Coles living in the first half, and my grandparents, Primrose and Charley Gilliam living in the second half. Beyond this row of houses there was another house on the left which was a hundred yards up the road towards the nurseries. It was set back down a side lane into the fields and was occupied by the Burtons. This is now listed as Pear Tree Cottage on the O.S. map. It was a smallholding and the Burtons grew a lot of vegetables. On the other side of the road, that is the right side, just past my grandparents house was a house set well back up another lane which could be approached from either the Straits or a drive off Wheatley Hill. This house was occupied by a couple whose names I have forgotten but they had been something in the colonies. India I believe. In any event, the man kept bees in large numbers and his hives were spread in and around the orchards which then covered large areas of land from the nurseries at the top of the Straits across to Wheatley Hill. He was to be seen in shorts and wearing a jungle type pith helmet throughout most of the year.

We remained at the Straits until early 1953 when we moved to No6 Woodfield which had been newly built. My time at the Straits is remembered, not only as my first home but as a happy home. This early part of my life was filled with new things, it provided me with freedom and the ability to explore and roam in a way, that I suspect, would not be available to modern children. In the early years when I was old enough to go out to play with neighboring children and wander about on my own, I began developing the love of the countryside and its plants, animals and birds etc. which has stayed with me throughout my life.

Rose Cottage had three rooms down stairs and three up stairs. The back door was roughly in the middle of the house and upon entry the living room was to the right and the sitting room to the left. A central staircase gave access to the bedrooms. The master bedroom was to the left and above the living room with two smaller rooms to the right and above the sitting room. In addition to these rooms there was a scullery off the living room which was situated at a lower level and reached by a few stairs down. When at the sink in the scullery the road outside could be watched. The sink had the one and only tap in the house which provided cold water. This drained into the ditch outside.

The only heating in the house was provided by a large range cooker which was solid fuel and was against the far right hand wall when entering from the back door. This range provided a number a cooking rings on its top. These rings could be lifted out to allow pans etc. to get direct heat from the wood or coal beneath or left in place for gentler cooking. There was also a large flat griddle like area on the top as well. The fire place was situated in its middle and was stoked through a door in the front of the range. There was an oven on either side of the fire area. The whole structure was black and mother blackened it every weekend. Chairs were situated either side of this appliance and were where our parents sat in the evenings and where visitors would sit when having tea. All meals were cooked on or in this range which could deal with frying, boiling, baking and heating water for washing and cleaning. Clothes were washed in a solid fuel copper which was kept outside in a shed and was fired up a couple of times a week.

There were also two wells outside, although at the time, they were not in use. The toilet was also outside. This wooden and tin structure housed a single seat beneath which was a large toilet bucket. These special buckets had rather wide rims and handles on top for lifting with additional handles front and back to facilitate tipping. They were usually emptied once a week and this was father’s job on a Sunday morning. This involved digging a large hole at the bottom of the garden in which the contents of the bucket was deposited. Not the easiest of jobs as the garden is clay just below the surface and made for hard work. Internal sanitation was provided by chamber pots.

Gardening was not easy because of the aforementioned clay, but none the less, all of the men living in the Straits at that time grew vegetables. Most of the women grew a few flowers as well.

The Straits itself had some lovely large oaks along the road side opposite the houses and past the last house the oaks formed a tunnel of foliage in the summer. Oaks grew very well in the area, perhaps they favour the heavy soil.

Jack Sawkins, next door to us was the village barber and he cut hair in a lean to every Sunday morning. This provided a golden opportunity for all of the village gossip to be exchanged. Current events and sport also featured high on the matters under discussion whilst Jack clipped away with his hand clippers and scissors.

Mr Cole, Albert I think, had quite a large area of land at the rear of his house and he ran this as a smallholding. He also kept a horse. An upright man of considerable stature he was referred to locally as Major Cole. I know not if he was a military man. He had a dark complexion and sported a black moustache. It was his practice to go to Alton Market each week and this he achieved by means of his horse and a trap he kept in one of his side sheds. This I loved. Mr Cole would appear on market day dressed in his best jacket and breeches. His legs were clad in the old style leather gaiters which were always highly polished. Heavy leather, well studded, boots were upon his feet. He wore a waistcoat which sported a watch and heavy chain, this was topped off by a cap matching his jacket. He looked every bit the country farmer. He left early in the morning for the journey to Alton and didn’t return until late afternoon. Sometimes he was accompanied by Lisa, his wife.

Charley Gilliam, my grandfather, rented the field opposite the row of houses which extended from the Straits corner with Wheatley Hill, up to and below the first house on the hill on the left, and back along the Straits as far as the lane going right up to the bee keepers house. Quite a big field. He, at various times, kept pigs and had a cow. He grew various vegetables in the field some of which he sold and others were consumed by the family. Potatoes and root crops, carrots, beet, parsnips and swedes etc were stored in large clamps. A clamp was a large shallow hole dug in the ground and lined with a thick layer of straw. On to this the vegetables were placed in a large triangular heap. They were then covered with a thick layer of straw and the whole thing was then covered with several inches of soil. This provided protection throughout the winter. The vegetables were extracted from the clamp as needed and the covering replaced after each extraction.Freezers and fridges were not available and this method of storage proved to be effective and cheap. Charley also grew large quantities of peas which were sold locally. He cultivated the field by means of an old tractor. I don’t recall if he owned it or if it was borrowed from his employer, Mr. Heard, a farmer at Wheatley near Binsted. The farm was Clements Farm I believe. My grandparents kept poultry in their back garden,chickens, ducks and geese. The most noteable of these was Sukie, a female goose that was granny's pet. Sukie could be picked up and stroked and came to the back door to be fed scraps. It was the custom when Sukie laid an egg, which she did for short periods in the spring, that the grandchildren took it in turns to have one of the eggs.

Grandfather's shed was a treasure trove, a lean to on the side of the house, it contained everything a little boy could desire. There were traps of all descriptions, bird cages and boxes. All manner of tools and implements. Feed, potions various, wooden pigeon and duck decoys and lots of containers the contents of which were a mystery. Just heaven. It should be remembered that country folk in those days caught wild birds to keep in cages. High on the list of these were Goldfinches and Linnets. Canaries were also very popular for their song. Needless to say capturing wild birds has long been illegal.

In addition to all of this, next to the Halt, where the trains stopped, was a triangular piece of land on which there was a small gipsy group living. This is the land on the right just before the turning into the Straits at the bottom of Wheatley Hill. There were three caravans or vardos. One of the large Reading type and the other two of a smaller bow top style. All were horse drawn. But more of that in next month’s edition.

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