Thursday 1 December 2011

Leaving the Straits

Nothing stays the same and our time at Rose Cottage in the Straits came to an end in the early part of 1953 when we moved to 6, Woodfield in the village. Our links with the Straits remained as mothers parents continued to live in their cottage at the end of the row houses farthest from Rose Cottage. We visited regularly and this meant a walk to grannies house. Both granny and granddad had been in service at, I think, Frensham or Dockenfield. Granddad with coaches and horses and granny had worked as a maid.

Their house in the Straits contained evidence of their past lives in the form of two large sofas and a number of pictures which hung upon their sitting room walls. The sofas were of the Chaise Longue type and had known grander times. I imagine the sofas and pictures had been gifts which had no longer been required by their former wealthy owners. The pictures were typical of forgone age. They were quite large and produced in sepia. Two or three of them featured young girls standing in gardens full of flowers holding either puppies or kittens. The girls with the kittens had puppies at their feet looking up adoringly. All of the girls were dressed in long ankle length dresses with lots of ribbons and bows and their hair was long and curled. The whole set of these looked to me as being contrived and totally false but, I imagine, typical of their era.

However,the other picture which graced the walls was of a very different kind.  This was a representation of The Charge of The Light Brigade. Over the years I have seen a number of copies of this picture so I suppose it was widely produced and popular in its day. It featured  a scene of charging horses backed by lancers and swordsmen. The charge was arranged in a kind of triangular formation with the leading horse at the sharp end of the triangle widening backwards to fill the frame of the picture. The most notable feature for me was the wide eyes of the horses bulging with terror. Charging through the carnage of the battle field which lay before and around them their every muscle appeared to be straining and tense. A quite horrible portrait which I disliked immensely but could not help looking at as there always seemed to be something within it to discover however gruesome.

Also featured in the room was a large dolls house which took pride of place upon a sideboard. This was a wooden construction with several floors and contained an impressive array of wooden furniture representing the normal range of household rooms. It was, I suppose, the play thing of my mother and her three sisters. In a room next to the sitting room was what I imagine was supposed to be a dining room as it had a dining table and chairs within but I never knew it used as such. In one corner of the room was a large walk in larder which to a curious young boy was something of a treasure house. Granny had large glass containers filled with herbs and spices. These particularly fascinated me. I was often given whole cloves to chew and although a bit woody I love the flavour. Also in this room was granddad's gun cabinet which also contained his decoys. These were of pigeon and duck and were quite beautiful works of art. They were wooden, hand carved and painted. Although age and, no doubt, use  had dimmed the colours they  were none the less very attractive items. Goodness knows what became of them.

I do, however, still have one of granddad's guns which he gave to me many years ago. It is a double barreled side by side twelve bore. A hammer gun which has seen much use and repair. Typical of the country man's make do and mend approach to things, slackness with wear and tear had been rectified with washers and some quite inappropriate screws. The barrels are wafer thin and could not possibly be used with a modern cartridge. In its day the gun would have fired black powder cartridges as the pits in the barrels bear witness to. In spite of its many defects it remains a treasured possession of mine. It gives great pleasure to think of granddad using the old gun in and around the fields and woods of the Kingsley end of Alice Holt Forest where he went after pigeons and rabbits. He passed on those interests to me as I am now doing to my grandson Tom who comes ferreting and beating with me and is learning the old country skills for another generation. Granny was still at the Straits when she died and Granddad remained there in their cottage until a short while before he passed away.

 I am not sure exactly of the date we left Rose Cottage but it was early in 1953 as we were in residence at Woodfield by the time of the Queen’s coronation which was in June of that year. There were eighteen houses being built at Woodfield and when we moved into number six only about half of them had been completed. It was great fun to hang around the builders who all treated us with good humoured tolerance. Although a building site, there were no prison like wire barriers that typify today’s building sites. Health and Safety and the Act that brought it into being did not exist then. One wonders how we all ever survived, yes there were accidents, of course there were, but no more than we experience today. Builders actually existed without strange helmets and day glow jackets etc. etc. How things have changed.

 However our first few months in the new house were great fun and the builders were central to that. The move had brought great changes for us. Running water, flushing toilets, an airing cupboard, more bedrooms, electricity. An electric cooker, an electric copper, built in cupboards in the kitchen, a built on shed, coal bunker and an outside flush toilet as well as the interior one. Electric light which was bright enough to be able to read by without straining the eyes. An electric radio which would operate without an accumulator. Accumulators were glass tanks which contained lead bars which in turn were submersed in an acid bath. The reaction that occurred produced electricity and powered the radio. The tanks had tar or pitch sealed tops with two terminals, (red and black), to which the radio wires were attached. The accumulators had to be recharged regularly and this involved taking them to Kings, the tobacconists, at Bordon every week or so. I don’t actually remember how long each charge lasted. When the accumulator was spent we would prise off the top, remove the contents and make use of the tank to keep fish in. The major trouble with this was that the tanks were all produced from glass which was distorted like the windows of a public toilet. This,of course, ensured that the fish within took on the most grotesque forms and looked most unnatural. Oh well it was all we had at the time.

 Father was very happy with number six as it had a large garden which he had hoped for. Indeed I believe he made representations in order to achieve this. In any event number six was blessed with one of the larger gardens and this met with all round approval. The ground was also a culture shock, having struggled with heavy clay at Rose Cottage for so long, the light sandy loam of Woodfield proved an instant hit. Although I often remember dad saying over the years how it swallowed up manure. Woodfield in general gave me a far greater range of friends and a wider range to wander over, new areas to be explored and all manner of new birds and beasts to be sought out. It was truly wonderful to grow up then and there. Stay with me for future revelations of the wonderful lifestyle Kingsley provided in those halcyon days. Next month, December , Christmas in Kingsley.           

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