Margaret Pearce née Bassett memories of village life in the 1940s - 1
Gran’s Cottage – Heather Cottage Church Street
This was an ancient cottage, thatched with reed, with pebble-dash exterior over all except the part that looked as if it had been a thatched lean-to, of which the upper part of the wall was black timber planks. The garden sloped at either side of the cottage, to the right (the Church side) it sloped up towards the end of the garden, at the same time sloping at quite a raked angle from the wall at the back of the road.. To the left it sloped upwards to the corner of the wall and was rounded until it reached the hedge where it levelled out and ran along the hedge along the front of the cottage to the end.
The garden on the left, by The Crease, was kept planted with vegetables, but also contained a couple of trees, one being a plum. I can only ever remember this patch being cultivated with potatoes and cabbage, whereas the other garden patch had apple trees, currant bushes and a patch where one was not allowed to dig or play. Did this patch contain a well or something else sinister? No it was the place where deep pits were dug to contain the privy!
In between the cottage and the garden on the right was a lawn which climbed up to the wall at the back. Wonderful fun was had here, not only could one roll down sideways but also go head-over-heels until the bottom was reached quite safely, knowing that the hedge on the top of the bank would stop any possibility of rolling down into the road. In later years the lawnmower was used to run down the hilly lawn. Between the path and the lawn, half-way up the path to the privy, was an oval patch containing roses, peonies and large ornamental poppies.
Following the path up to the back, going up six steps and there was the privy. This was a stone building with a latched door (open top and bottom) which opened outwards. If one sat on the ‘one holer’ wooden seat, (round lid placed on the right and newspaper hung on a hook on the left), without shutting the door one could see Ethel’s house through the shrubs. Coming down the steps you could turn right and walk along the narrow path which led along the back of the cottage. The thatch was covered with chicken wire and came down, very low, about 3 feet at the most. Three quarters of the way down a chimneystack shot up to the sky and with a little skill it was possible to scrabble up the thatch and sit behind the chimney.
The cottage had two latched doors, the one opposite the gate was the front door which had a letter box and the figures 73 in brass, all of which brightly shone from the weekly cleaning. This door was not used very much. The main door used was the back door which had a large stone with a boot scraper set into it on the right-hand side. Lifting the latch, the door swung inwards towards the right but being stopped before it reached the double burner oil stoves and oven standing on a small table. On the wall running adjacent to the door was the yellow stoneware sink and wooden draining board, and in the corner stood the very large copper with the space at the bottom for the fire. The sink had a drain hole, but no pipes or drain to go with it, a white enamelled pail stood underneath which caught all the dirty water. On the wall opposite the door, next to the copper stood the mangle: large, cumbersome, big wooden rollers – the type which is housed in rural museums today. Beside the mangle running the width of the cottage was the coal store and the cans containing paraffin for the heaters and lights. Next to the oil stoves, hanging on the wall, was a large zinc bath which was the only bath in the house.
The piece de resistance was the Well – large round brick topped, flint-lined, hole down which Gran dropped the bucket which eventually hit the water with a faint splash. Then came the arduous task of winding the full bucket up to the top of the well, lifting it to one side before replacing the wooden well cover, and then placing the full bucket on top of the cover. The water was sweet, pure, cool and wonderful. Far nicer than that piped into the School House, and better than any I have tasted anywhere in the world.
The Living Room
Going from ‘the back’ or ‘scullery’ through the latched door into the living room you had to mind the wooden beam on the floor under the door and duck your head if you were tall. The living room was the warmest room in the cottage because it housed the range. To the right of the door was a small cupboard, in front of which was a rocking chair, and next to that was the hearth and range. The range was open-fronted (excellent for toast), had an oven and quite a large flat top for the pans. One of my favourite foods was chips and the joy of eating chips after the slow cooking of potatoes in dripping is something to be experienced! Over the hearth was a mantlepiece with a dark red cloth decoration. On top of the mantlepiece was where Gran kept her clock (looked like marble but was wooden, and in my possession) which was always 20 minutes fast – I believe this was an old country custom to ensure that all the work that needed to be done was done on time, and country people used to get up a little bit earlier that way. Either end of the mantlepiece was a heavy cast-iron figurine of a boy holding a horse which was rearing up as if to strike him. Matches were kept out of the way on the mantelpiece as well.
By the side of the fire was a large armchair where Aunt Alice sat, underneath a large photograph of Granddad, with her bad leg propped up on a stool (she had varicose ulcers). Next to her was the large black dresser with all the plates ranged on its racks. On the top of the dresser was kept an oil lamp, various candlesticks and candles, the salt cellar and the glasses which Gran and Aunt Alice shared for reading. In the two drawers were kept string, letters, scissors and other bits and pieces. There was a small space between the dresser and the corner cupboard where the carver chair was kept. Along the wall opposite the range was the settle – a low, uncomfortable, wooden slatted piece of furniture like a sofa, which stretched from the corner cupboard to the door to the front room. The scrubbed wooden table stood in the middle of the room butting onto the dresser, It had a drawer in which was all the daily cutlery and carving knife and fork. The table was kept covered usually by a dark woollen table-cloth (which matched the mantelpiece fabric) upon which was placed the oil lamp in the evenings and when Gran and I used to play cards – she was an avid whist player, especially at Christmas when the prizes were good!
Along the front wall under the window was a table, still in my possession. Gate-legged, around which 12 people can be seated comfortably. On this table was a plant pot complete with plant, an ashtray and a wireless. A wheel-back chair was between the table and the door to the back.
The latched door to the front room had, as did all the doors, a beam on the floor which completed the doorway. Entering the room by the door on the left the eye spanned over the drop-end sofa which was kept under the window, to the door leading to the stairs and pantry, and lighted on the sideboard which sat majestically against the stair wall. On the top of this lovely piece were photographs of Grandma and Grandpa Bassett, an assortment of dishes and one large dish containing money, which Gran used to give out to (in her mind) worthy causes. She always gave to any charity callers, to the church etc etc. In the corner next to the sideboard and by the side of the fireplace was a large armchair which matched the sofa. The brass fire irons were kept in this room while the black day-to-day iron firedogs were kept in the living room,. Another chair stood on the otherside of the fireplace and with it a screen which was used to cover anything that should not be in open view eg. A basin and water could be hidden there, for the doctor to wash his hands when he called, or a covered bucket for use if the privy was already occupied – this bucket was usually empty except first thing in the morning when the daily slops were emptied. Another small gate-legged oak table which held sewing materials within its drawer stood along the wall adjoining the living room. A couple of Windsor chairs sat in the room waiting for visitors.
The latched doorway led into the tiny space between front room and pantry. The steep stairs led up to the right and straight ahead through the arch was the pantry. A cool whitewashed room where was kept a miscellany of things, including bottles of cider and eggs in isinglass, while the space under the stairs was the jumble. And oh, what a joy that jumble was! There were hats and bags, shoes with heels, dresses and coats, but my favourite things were the hats,,, I used to try them on and parade past Aunt Alice and Gran, twirling this way and that and looking at myself in the mirror over the rocking horse! The shoes also delighted me – gosh, I could wear shoes with heels when I went up to see Gran!!
At the top of the steep stairs was a tiny landing, just high enough for the bookcase to stand before the roof came down to the wall. Up the little step to the bedroom on the left where a double bed lay in state under the window, complete with feather mattress. On the wall hung a clock with a very pretty dial under a triangular top, the pendulum encased in a glass case. A chest of drawers completed this small room.
Across the landing and up a step into the middle bedroom. This had a small space above the stairs by the front wall, just big enough to hold an old trunk. There were rails around the stairwell to stop any accidental falls, and the bed was placed underneath the window. There was just enough room at the foot of the bed to squeeze into the space over the stairs and root through the trunk. The contents had me in fits of giggles as a child – I had never seen such underwear as the Victorian and Edwardian drawers, etc. I do wish I had kept some of them as they were such marvellous museum pieces. Along the back wall were two chests of drawers, on top of one was the carriage clock belonging to Aunt Alice, and on the other were the blue and green glass bottles denoting all the poisonous substances, I was not allowed to touch, such as the wintergreen. In the middle of the wall on the church end of this room was a doorway. The latched door swung open towards the left but I don’t recollect this ever being shut, but I guess it must have closed at some time.
The next room was Gran’s room. At the end of the room was a wardrobe flat against the wall. A dressing table and mirror sat at an angle leading from the edge of the wardrobe to the window. The ceiling on both sides came down very steeply in this room (as in all the rooms upstairs) and the only place for the bed to be was in the centre. This gave just enough room each side for someone to stand upright when getting out of bed. The bed had an iron frame like the others, with a thick mattress and six pillows. Exaggeration I know, but Gran had a bolster and about four pillows each side. I used to be allowed to stop with Gran and sleep in her cottage occasionally, and we had quite a ritual. First of all was supper, then a game or two of cards – she had such a lot of patience with us children teaching us ‘Beat Jack Out Of Doors’ and always when she was nearly out of cards “Queenie dear” would turn up! After the game of cards it was up to bed, clutching a candlestick with which a search would be made for any thatch spiders which might have strayed into the bedroom. These Gran would despatch by picking up and dropping out of the window – she would be horrified to know that I vacuum spiders, and have even been known (in my early years) to put Harpic on the creatures when found in the bath. Harpic and water make spiders shrivel up but play havoc with enamel on the bath. The spider hunt over I would hop into bed and Gran would take the candle downstairs with her. Later that night I would wake up with the light of the candle returning (although I always pretended to be asleep). After getting undressed Gran would kneel down by the side of the bed and say her prayers before getting into bed and blowing out the candle. The couple of awful things about sleeping there were (a) Gran’s feet – somehow during the night they would gravitate towards me, possibly because I was warm like a hot water bottle and (b) if I needed to spend a penny in the night it meant getting out of bed and using the potty which was kept underneath.
A washstand complete with basin, jug, soap dishes and tooth mug was located in the corner of the room. This was where Gran had her daily wash after she had cleaned the grate, done her housework etc. and then changed. The opposite side of the room to the washstand was a chest of drawers, half hidden behind the door, and a chintz-covered blanket box stood at the end of the bed. A couple of rush seated little corner chairs also resided in this room.
The views from all the windows were of the main street, and the lack of windows in the other walls made the cottage very dark inside, but very cosy-looking in the evenings. Upon leaving the place to go back to the School House in the absolute blackness of the night with its twinkling stars, there was always the comfort of not being alone as long as one could see the cottage window full of light, and walking up to the back door of the School House one could still see the window. In the early days of her marriage my Mother was furious when Gran told her that she had kept Dad up too late in the evening – she knew how late because she had seen the light in the School House window. Mother wished to leave the light burning all night to annoy Gran, but Father would not allow her to do so!!!
Further memories from Margaret Bassett
Memories of Village Hall, Church and School
The village hall was the venue of various concerts during the war. I was one of the small children dressed up as an elf, and prancing around the stage to music in one of them; one lady always sang Ave Maria; other women dressed up and performed sketches. Always the building had the blackout curtains drawn and people were very careful not to let light shine out when they left the hall. Although it was heated by the tortoise stove, electricity was laid on which enabled magic lantern slide shows to be put on. And always the back of the hall was filled with benches instead of chairs, and the local boys, youths and old men sat on these. It was from this area that the stamping of feet coupled with whistling to show appreciation emanated, as did catcalls when their opinion the show warranted this.
It was custom in the village that when a funeral took place, all schoolchildren were sent to the back playing field if the funeral was during the lunch hour or any of the breaks. If we were on holiday at the time we were encouraged to stop inside the house, but in any case the boys had to take off their caps and we always stood to attention as the hearse went past. The main path to the church was opposite the school so I had quite a view when peeping behind the hedge to see what was going on. The view of any weddings was also extremely good, but this time I sat on the wall to see what was happening.
I remember that at Micheldever school the heating was done by tortoise stoves, around which the children huddled during the winter. Mrs Barnes, who was the infants (and my) teacher used to heat up milk and give us warm drinks. Later the school had a kitchen built which received the container meals from Chandlers Ford, Dinner Ladies dished out the food to the children and it was my misfortune to have my mother as a dinner lady! She made me sit at the table until I had finished everything on my plate … I often spent the whole lunchtime sitting staring at my plate and refusing to finish the stuff I didn’t like.
Next to the School was Barbara Whitbread’s house and the Paices’ place. Barbara and Shirley Paice always wanted something of mine before they would play with me, either a book or playing with my doll etc. My doll was a lovely small one called Hazel and she drank from a bottle and wet her nappy. I was the only child in the village to have such a doll. Shirley had a sister called Joan who worked in Mr Viney's shop. All the kids were rather agog because sometimes we saw her with a pair of crutches with one leg, and sometimes two! The Paices’ house was pretty marvellous to me because one could go into the living room, through to the hall and up the stairs, through a couple of bedrooms and down the stairs to the other end. Their garden, together with the Whitbreads’, stretched along by the side of the playground to the grounds belonging to Micheldever House, where Mr Brandt lived.
This was the biggest house in the village with enormous gardens. Every Summer he allowed the Church to use his grounds for the annual fete at which Gran ran the jumble stall, Miss Burgis ran the bric-a-brac and one year my mother helped out with the fortune-telling. This particular year I had lost the ribbon in my hair so I thought I would test Mother out and after making sure the tent was empty I crawled through to her. To my astonishment, it was not my mother but another person dressed up. I asked her where my ribbon was and she told me the exact spot outside the tent. I picked up my hair ribbon and ran home the short cut way, climbing the fence into the school field and through the gate into my garden, into the house and there was my mother in the dining room! She had come home because her stint was over.
One of the characters in the village was Mrs Clarke, called Granny Clarke to me. She was an old lady who lived with her son and her daughter in a thatched cottage next to Martin’s bakery. She was another person who existed without running water, but in her back place she had a stone sink with a pump above it. She delighted me by always making a fuss of anything I wore (Mother’s dresses, high heeled shoes, hats etc.) but I was a little afraid of her son Jack, who was a sullen looking and sounding man. She always dressed in black and I am sure she didn’t wash very much! Mother was horrified with me going there, as she was when I visited the Harris family who lived next to Ethel Hobbs at the Crease. Mrs Harris was a farm labourer’s wife with several small children, one of whom I took a fancy to who had adenoids and spoke very much through his nose! The family also had a baby which I was allowed to feed. Ethel Hobbs was the sister of two farm labourers. Ethel was THE village gossip, and unfortunately as a child I was always being quizzed by her and of course chatted away to her – not knowing any different!
Earl Laishley (Earl being his Christian name) lived with his parents just the other side of Boro Arch. By saying ‘the other side’ I mean Stoke Charity side not Micheldever side. The Laishley’s kept bees and mother bartered for the honey. Earl was a few years older than me and he always wore a cap – the poor chap was a bald as a coot, thus the cap. The Micheldever side of the arch had a couple of cottages and Mrs Elliot lived in one of them. She was a large, very talkative and gossipy person. who came and helped mother with the housework after she had the twins. She was one person who was always tell me ‘don’t put it down – put it away', but it never ever worked!
Duke Street & Mrs Mansbridge
Mrs. Mansbridge lived down Duke Street nearly opposite Miss Burgis’ cottage. Her cottage was hidden behind some tall yew trees, and she lived there with her son, Billy, who had learning difficulties but this didn’t stop him enjoying a gossip! He had a cleft palate, which meant we had trouble understanding him, but we children accepted him for what he was. The village people used him for running errands, he used to love a cigarette and so ran (always ran wherever he went, in a lolloping gait) everywhere to earn pence to buy ciggies.
Mrs Barron was an elderly, upright lady, who lived in the cottage at the end of the row to Mrs Mansbridge. She had a large, beautiful garden where I played whenever mother visited. She was the person who ran the National Savings for the school and village, and ‘sold’ the savings stamps. Originally she also had something to do with the Welfare foods distribution, which eventually mother took over. This was providing the National Dried Milk, Cod Liver Oi and Orange Juice to mothers and babies. The Welfare Clinic was held once a month in the village hall, with cups of tea being provided (at a price) to the mums. The District Nurse attended as well as the Doctor, and a huge amount of toys were provided for the children to use, and then stored away until the next month. The cod liver oil came in clear glass bottles showing the golden liquid inside, and a child was supposed to have a dessert spoonful per day....UGH!!! It was really horrible. Not so the orange juice though - this was concentrated, sweet juice, which was watered down and provided all the vitamin C a child should require.