Friday, 18 March 2016

Our First House


The first house we bought was a flint and brick, semidetached cottage high on the Surrey north downs. The grade two listed property had, over the years, been the residence of estate workers from the Titsey Estate. It was located right at the top of Titsey Hill. The Titsey estate had, historically been the home of the Leveson – Gowers, the original one of whom had been the founder of The London Stock Exchange. Backing on to a large area of woodland our cottage had been used by woodmen and gamekeepers when it had been owned by the estate. However, the circumstances by which we came to buy it were, to say the least, unusual.

Prior to our purchase we had been living in a very nice quarter provided by The Prison Service and located at Wallington in Surrey. Our quarter was one of many hundreds of houses which had been compulsorily purchased by the government as part of a process leading up to the building of an inner ring road for London. Another, smaller, version of the already existing M25 which was to be known as the outer ring road. Whilst all the considerations surrounding this proposed project were ongoing, the purchased houses were allocated to a whole range of government employees in order that they should be occupied rather than left to the mercy of vandals if empty. So it was that we found ourselves in a very nice detached house with a large garden in a quiet back road of Wallington. I suppose we would probably settled down there for the long haul and been very comfortable. In those days housing was provided for prison staff, free of charge, and were maintained by the department. A major incentive for people to join the Service! Of course, like so much involving M.P.s, and politicians in general, the grand plan fell through, the road was abandoned and the houses were, eventually, sold to the tenants at a greatly reduced rate. Goodness knows what the cost of that adventure was to the taxpayer, but of course, not a soul was brought to book over it. Don’t you just love them !!!

So, there we were, nicely settled in Wallington and enjoying the whole thing. At that time I was heavily involved with the Jack Russell Terrier Club in particular and working terriers in general. My wife and I spent most of the summer weekends going to hunt terrier shows all over the south and east of England and exhibiting our terriers. We did quite well with two of our pack in particular, a male called Badger and his sister called Bunny. As a result of all of this we met a lot of likeminded individuals and got to be known on the terrier showing circuit. That resulted in a telephone call, one evening from a Mrs. Knott. Mrs. Knott had a terrier bitch which she wished to used my dog Badger on. Her bitch was in season, she said, so we arranged for her to bring the dog down to our house the following evening. Well things didn’t go to plan, the little bitch was not getting involved with any of that business and quite simply wanted nothing to do with, a very frustrated, Badger. These things happen. Mrs. Knott was very disappointed and so I offered to bring Badger up to her place a couple of days later. It sometimes happens with a ‘,’first time’’, bitch that they will tolerate a dog in their own environment but won’t on strange territory. Therefore, two days later I found myself at Mrs. Knotts farm, high on the north downs, on the Kent and Surrey borders. Standing in the farm yard whilst the two dogs got on with their business, (this time all was well ), I noticed a cottage which was on the sky line from where we were standing and about a mile away as the crow flies. Commenting upon this cottage and saying how much I liked it, and it’s location, Mrs. Knott said that it was owned by her daughter. Between them they ran a livery business from the farm where we were now standing. Well, that was that, the dogs having completed their task we parted company. Some weeks later I heard from Mrs. Knott that she was now the proud owner a litter of terrier puppies and all was well.

A long time passed, several years, in fact. One evening I returned home from work after a late shift and my wife told me she had received a phone call from Mrs. Knott. "You will never guess why she rang" she said. I assumed she wanted to use one of my dogs again, but no, she wanted to know if we would like to buy her daughter's cottage. Remembering my words from the visit to her farm, together with the fact that the cottage was to be sold, she had offered us first refusal. Whilst we had always intended to but a place of our own at some stage, life was comfortable, and we had not got around to doing anything about it. To cut a long story short, we decided to go for it, a decision that proved to be one of the best we have made during a long life together.

It would appear that on Mrs. Knott’s farm there was a huge hole, and I mean huge. The said hole was located in a wooded area and had a flat base where stables were located and horses grazed. The hole had been created in the Second World War when,during a bombing raid on south London , a German land mine had been dumped. The resulting explosion had broken windows and caused widespread damage over a large area. It had also left the great big hole mentioned above. The hole, being so large, had remained untouched since the war. Except for a pathway down into its base in order to access the large plateau, that was that. Things were about to change, The Gas Board, as it was then known , had become aware of the hole and they wanted it. It was the case that they were looking for a location to place a large natural gas storage plant. The hole ticked all of the boxes. It was far enough away from major housing areas, on the outer reaches of London, and it was below the level of trees in the middle of a wood. Storage facilities could be put in place and would be invisible except from the sky, perfect. Mrs. Knott explained that in such circumstances the property owner could take a cash offer or could ask for another property to be found and provided by the Gas Board. She had discovered taking a replacement was thought to be the better deal as a larger alternative was generally provided. So it proved to be, a very substantial stud farm was found near East Grinstead and the deal was done. Daughter was going with mother, cottage for sale. We bought it. It seems difficult to believe now but we got it for seventeen thousand pounds. Honeysuckle Cottage was ours.

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