By Betty Fishenden (Nee Roberts)
Additions by John Roberts
Credit goes to Betty for the origin of this document, which was Betty’s response to Irmajeans wishes that Betty should put on paper what she could about Mum, particularly her many attributes. It is respected that Betty’s writing shouldn’t be changed, so it remains as that text typed in formal typed script. The text in ‘italic’ script is my attempt to add a background to the situation in which we were brought up, and against what odds Mum achieved the task of wife and mother.
There is the requirement for more writing, which should be Dad’s life. For us kids it starts a little before Castle Barn, at Aston-on-Carrot. Taking the farm meant his taking an incredible step, it would be interesting to know to what lengths he was measured to be accepted as tenant of the farm by the Cheltenham Corporation. Never the less with his diligent labours he succeeded.
Marg was unaware of Betty’s writings so I sent her the combined effort to read. She has offered some inclusions which I have added. These I have typed in ‘Arial narrow’.
Mam or Mum.
In our early childhood Mum was referred to as Mam, all the kids in the village had a Mam. If we were in trouble, as petty as torment one by another, we would call for attention and it would be more often, "Maaaam". I’m not sure when we started using Mum, it seems a modernism in our language that expresses more endearment and is now, how we look back on her.
In the early days of us children, Dad farmed Castle Barn Farm, nearly three hundred acres in the Cotswold Hills near Dowdeswell village, east of Cheltenham. The farm was fairly remote, nearly a mile to our nearest neighbour in any direction. We were linked to the general community by the farm track from Dowdeswell village. An even lesser track was down the Lane through the woods and on down the ‘Rosley Manor’ fields to the main road into Cheltenham. It was here where we could catch country busses into the town, which meant a rotten pull up the hill back home with the shopping, which was usually many bags and quite heavy.
It was mixed farming, about two thirds was rough pasture or woodland ‘Scrub’, on which he raised and grazed sheep and cattle; making hay for winter fodder in the more fertile fields. The remaining third was arable of a light stony soil, where he grew barley, oats, wheat and potatoes as products with sale value and other crops such as mangolds, turnips and swedes also clover lay, for feeding the animals. The farm was worked with horses of which Dad had great pride. Whilst work was hard for Dad, it was probably harder for Mum. She mothered seven of us children, Son (John), Bob, Marg, Bet, Bill, Tommy and Gerald; five boys and two girls. Regrettably, with much sorrow, Tommy died as a baby of about sixteen months. The rest of us surviving well beyond the lives of Mum and Dad, both of whom had a long and eventful life.
The Old House
The farm was set up as a subdivision (I believe from Rosley Manor) and as such the farmhouse was two adjoining workers cottages, two rooms up and two rooms down, combined into one house. Each cottage had its adjoining stone built out house, hence in the combination, one became the coal house come work shed and the other the wash house come store room. The two rooms were adapted such the there was the living room in which all the home activities were carried out. Next to it was the scullery having the water tap and sink, also the access to the upstairs. Next to that again was the larder where all the food was stored. It still had the stairs to the upstairs but was boarded over at bedroom level; it made a useful set of shelves on which to store the preserves. Dad would salt down the pig in this room. The last room was regarded as the ‘sitting room’ and was used only on special occasions or when visitors came. The house looked out up to the farm buildings and farmyards.
The main access to the farm was by the farm lane from Dowdeswell. This was only one vehicle wide and sunken over much of its track. This became impassable at times during the winter whenever we had drifting snow. Some winters we could be snowed in for as much as a month. On one occasion when it became desperate to go to the village Dad had to walk along the top of the walls. Substantial footwear was essential living at CB, so much so we kids, particularly Bob and I felt very self-conscience when at school wearing our hob-nailed boots.
To think about things now it seems puzzling that we never had bicycles, we walked every where and thought nothing of it, even into Cheltenham and beyond to Granny’s, some ten miles, when it was necessary. Walking was natural to country folk, the Man who helped on the farm walked every time from the neighbouring village of Foxcote. The journey to school at Andoversford was nearly three miles; Bob and I should have made athletic runners as we reckoned to do the journey in a quarter of an hour; then, we never knew how fast was the home clock. Mum lived with the clock set fast. I suppose that in the early days at CB we were too young to go on the roads on bicycles. Then again money would be hard to find to afford cycles for all us kids.
There was no gas or electricity at the farm, and never a thought of the telephone A car was a machine one could see along the road or at the Big Houses but never contemplated as a possession of ours.. There were busses, with wooden slatted seats, to take us into town. Cooking was done on a small solid fuel range in the living room, and lighting was a paraffin lamp, and for rooms around the house generally, we used candles, set in candle sticks. Around the farm lighting was by the hurricane lamp. The water was pumped up from a spring, in a field below the house by a water wheel driving an integral pump, to a large holding tank, which provided water for the animals and us. The water wheel was very unreliable and was, after many years replaced by a pneumatic ram. (The ram was a mysterious device to us kids but had nothing like the fascination of the waterwheel in its wheelhouse). There was no hot water system in the house or on the farm. All heated water was using kettles (one quite large) over the fire in the range or from the furnace in the washhouse. A bath was a galvanised tin bath, which hung on a nail in the washhouse wall. Bath times were a very cold affair, other than a week or two in summer, the door to the wash-house didn’t know a carpenter. Being all kids together bathing in the winter was made much cosier by bringing the bath into the scullery; a room in which most of the chores of living were done, having a tap with cold water and a sink. Bedtime in winter was also very cold, softened only by a house brick, one for each of us, which had been warmed, in the oven if it was free. (Or if it hadn’t been forgotten to put it into the oven) The brick put into an old sock or rolled in a towel and was placed down the bed. Chilblains were a common winter misery.
There were three large garden plots in front of the house which was Mums territory as much as anyone’s, where she grew most of our needs in vegetables. Dad would probable give a hand with the rough digging.
We were still in the old house when we acquired our first family ‘wireless’; one of the London crowd procured it for us. In those times the hobby to make ones own was fashionable, may be ours was such a product for there was no transaction as would be necessary had it been a shop purchase. It was battery operated; a 120-volt, high-tension battery and a low voltage (about 2 volts) accumulator. Two accumulators were necessary as these were frequently recharged which was a task we did when going to school and leaving it for charge at ‘Pritchard’s’ in Andoversford. It had no elegance of cabinet, the workings was exposed to see and was sited with its batteries, in the cupboard to the side of the range in the living room Probably to keep it out of the way of us kids. Its express use was for time checks and the national news, when we disciplined to be quiet.
The Old House Lavatory
Something should be said about the lavatory arrangements which were primeval. It was another stone built but small house, devoid of heating and lighting, standing alone, located at the back of the house. In it was a wooden box arrangement providing two holes on which to sit. The one was sized for adults whilst the other of smaller size was in a lower structure for children. The whole structure was mounted directly over an earth cess pit. The place was well scrubbed and clean but a disgustingly smelly place. There was no Health and Safety monitors in those days, anything that fell in was gone forever, and the arrangement was always approached with fear and trepidation Particularly at night since there was no lighting. After many years it was condemned, I believe there was some thinking that there was a risk of polluting the water source, which was on down the hill. The new toilet had a solid concrete floor and the wooden structure now housed buckets. These of course needed emptying from time to time; a hole was dug, probably in the garden nearby in which the product had to be buried.
The New House
This was a four bedroom Cotswold stone house built in 1936/37 built by Partridge’s of Birdlip; Mr Joe Broad from the village (Dowdeswell) was foreman. Here we lived posh, for one thing we had a flush lavatory. We had a bathroom, with hot and cold water; the water was heated in a back boiler in the large two-oven grange in the living room. There was a larder, a dairy as well as a kitchen. There was a dining room which was the every-day room and a ‘sitting’ room with a gramophone, for use on special occasions. We still didn’t have electricity or gas nor central heating. The new double oven farm-house range, I believe was chosen by Mum, was her pride and joy. It was fuelled by wood and coal and had an imposing steel fender set before it. The whole was enclosed by a brass rimmed fire guard. The range was cleaned with black lead and the shinny finishing around the oven doors and fender were polished with steel wool. (Many a new born lamb owed its life to the range, where it had been revived from near death with the.cold).
The three elder children had their jobs, I having started at the ‘Tech’ was switched with Bob to bring in the coal and he the ‘morning’ wood. (The later meant more hunting if one failed to be thoughtful when walking through any woodland). He or I had to fetch the skimmed milk up from Rosley manor of a morning. Marg was included with clearing and washing crocks after any meal. There was the regular chorus ‘bags clear’, ‘bags wash’, and the last one did the wiping up, when the meal was over.
Jobs on the farm were endless to tell. Chaff-cutting, pulping roots, and animals to feed. Haymaking and harvesting was quite enjoyable, particularly harvesting with a bit of sport, coshing the rabbits. Less attractive was hoeing swedes and mangolds, planting and harvesting potatoes was positively back-breaking. Mangold wersleing was always done in cold weather with freezing hands. Milking was a much warmer job.
There were mucky jobs like mucking out the cows and horses or the hen house. Then smelly jobs like muck spreading when the muck that had accumulated as a large heap in the respective yard, or the bedding under the store cattle which could be over two foot deep. The muck was loaded into the muck cart and distributed in the fields, particularly into the rows bouted out for the potatoes.
Us kids were required to do what we were able, the boys outside on the farm and the girls in the home. Even so I remember Marg helping to pick up potatoes in the freezing cold. There was no such thing as pocket money. There were perks. Bob and I was encouraged to catch the rabbits which were plentiful and eat the corn crops. This we did mostly at weekends and I would take them into the poulterers in Cheltenham on the handlebar of my cycle of a Monday morning on the way to ‘Tech’. The money from the sale Bob and I were free to share.
Betty was the fourth born and would be aged 5/6 when we moved into the new house.
In Praise of Mum
The story of how Mum and Dad met, was a one she never got tired of telling. In ‘Service’, employees only got one Sunday afternoon a month off, to go home to visit.
During one ‘off day’, a young fellow came into the yard and asked to see her father. Later her dad told her that that young fellow was looking for some sheep he owned that had wondered away, and he needed to round them up to sell them as he needed the money. – He was off to Australia.
Years later, with the first to war between, Mum and Dad met again at a dance hall called ‘Snuffy Norris’s’. Dad was home to visit his family after being badly wounded in Belgium, and recuperating in Australia.
Dad had come along to the dance with his brother Len and his wife Lil and their little girl Beryl. Mum and Dad both loved to dance. Mum knew the family a little as Beryl was very pretty and loved to dance, and Mum had watched her often.
Dad’s scared face did not put her off, and they were married on May 24th 1924. His return to Australia was not to be for many years later.
About the time she met Dad she was working for an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Swindley, and she was happy with them. Mr Swindley was a retired Doctor, (I think).
During her ‘Service’ days she met and became life-long friends with Dorothy Ison, and corresponded for years. Usually, once a summer ‘Aunty Dorothy came to visit for the day. She rode a bike from Coberly. (She was very old-fashioned but prim, wearing long skirt and apron, also a hat. Her bicycle was the early upright type with the back wheel lased with cords between hub and mudguard to protect her skirt from becoming caught in the wheel). She was a very religious lady, but we liked her, and I still remember the prayer she taught Bill and I sitting on a log, one each side of her, at the woodpile.
Mum was a very clever capable and intelligent woman; although she was not a good mixer and not always easy to get on with. As a girl at school, she always topped her class. The Headmaster, Mr Jobbins, went to see Mum’s father and begged him to allow Mum to go on to higher education, but as was the custom then, she had to go out to ‘Service’ to earn her own living. I think she was only thirteen. This meant going into a wealthy persons home, I think in Mum’s case, Boddington Manor, to do housework. She would have started as a scullery maid, which meant doing all the washing-up,(probably cleaning and peeling vegetables and laying fires as the first task of the day ), from very early morning until after dinner at night. They only got one afternoon off a month, and pay was poultry. (She would ‘live in’, and be fed, and would be kitted out with working clothes).
She was very proud of the fact that in a few short years, she worked her way up to become cook. And a very good cook she was.
When I was a child, and living on a farm, very much in the country, and no shops to run to, she made all our bread, which with a large family (four boys and two girls) meant baking nearly every second day. There was no electricity, bread making then meant hours of mixing kneading and baking and all the while stoking the large double oven range with coal. Her pastry was excellent, making fruit or meat pies, pasties, jam tarts and Eccles cakes, a favourite of the London friends that came in the summer to visit.(Paying guests).
Eccles cakes were flaky pastry filled with a spicy dried fruit mixture placed on pastry circles and the sides flapped over-this becoming the bottoms- when they were turned over brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar. Each was finished with four little cuts across the top.
As children we loved her ‘petite fors’, dainty little cakes in diamond shapes, covered all over with pasted coloured icing, pale pink, green, yellow and white, hen decorated with a cherry or silver balls or piped icing flowers.
There was always a rich fruit cake decorated for Christmas and clever ideas for birthday deserts. One year it was a banana candle stick each,- these had jelly in a saucer with half a banana candle stick- a cherry wick and angelica handle, then pied with cream to look like the wax dripping down the candle. Another was pear boats. Again the saucer of jelly for the sea, with a pear half ‘boat’ and rice paper sails
I remember coming home from school once and she had made a pretty flan. It was war time and things were scarce, it was a lemon flavoured jelly – tasted great; but she wouldn’t admit until after we had eaten it that it was carrot.
At hay-making and harvest times certain men from the village came to help after they had finished work. (Work went on in the fields until the light failed, and great advantage was made of the introduction during the war of double summer time). They always had a supper after the last load of the day, with Mum’s crusty bread rolls, cheese and pickled onions and Dad’s cider. I don’t know if they paid, but they drank cider every load, so that might have been the attraction.
Marg also gives high praise for Mum’s cooking. How after trudging home from school especially of a winters day to find Mum had prepared a saucepan of soup, hot on the range. She says how she was particularly fond of celery and potato, the smell still lasts in her nose. Rabbit was quite a common dish, there were rabbits aplenty to be had, in the fields. At the occasion of the Jubilee (1935) and again at the Coronation (1937) in support of the Village celebrations she baked bread rolls, which she filled with either cheese or ham, filling the (woven cane) laundry basket. Amongst Mum;s preserves were runner beans. These she shredded, then plunged them into hot water, and then dried them on baking trays in a cool drying oven. They were then packed into Kilner jars to enrich a winter’s meal.
Dad liked his cider, he always made some one hundred gallons or more of cider every autumn. Gathering the apples and pears, milling them and pressing out the juice in ‘Chandlers’ cider house was a great occasion. We lads enjoyed the fresh milled juice but paid in stomach pains the next day.
Cider was a valuable commodity there was never a charge for that consumed at work, the jar of cider and the cider horn were commonplace in the harvest field, and at such times of Sunday morning meeting in the cider house during the winter. It, together with other perks such as the ‘shoot’ over defined fields, or fire wood did much to keep the work team together, especially at times of peak labour demands. Some helpers were allowed to plant potatoes in the same plot as ours.
We were troubled with foxes, taking fowls from the farm yards and new born lambs in the lambing season. In the winter time we would hold a Sunday morning fox shoot. The men would meet at the cider house, some with guns and a choice of wood land would be determined. Those with guns would be allotted stations at the far end of the wood whilst the others with the dogs would beat their way through the wood, driving any foxes on to the gunners. Our best score was four, but there were occasions when we were altogether unlucky. The shooters would also take up stations in the harvest field, mainly to cull the rabbit population but frequently a fox or two was included in the bag.
Back to Mum
Mum’s other great love was her garden, coming from a great gardening family. Her Dad was a Market-gardener and one of the sons following on with the business.. As well as her beloved flower gardens, she also had a large vegetable garden which made us self-supporting most of the year around.
As well as the vegetables we had plum trees, red and black currents, gooseberries (little plums with whiskers on, was our name for them), raspberries, loganberries strawberries and rhubarb. Then we gathered blackberries from bushes around the farm. All these were made into jams and jelly, and dozens and dozens of bottled fruit for pie making throughout the year. Her pantry shelves were packed with jars of preserves. Since we didn’t have gas or electricity facilities such as a refrigerator was out of the question. For similar reasons most aids for all domestic chores, had no application.
Beans also were preserved by slicing thinly (always thinly for Mum hated them cut chunky) then layering them in preserving bottles with salt, which kept them nicely for winter eating. She had what seemed like hundreds of ‘Kilner’ jars, large and small, in which fruit was preserved. The heating process was carried out on the range, up to four jars at a time in the preserving kettle.
The extent of preserving food stuffs was not only the economics of living but the winters could be so severe that it became impossible to do any shopping.
Eggs too were preserved in waterglass in a large stone crock (jar) for winter cooking.
We always had plenty of milk, which I drank. I did not drink tea until I came to Australia. Ilk puddings custards and blancmanges were often on the menu. We used to love sago (or frog spawn) pudding made with big sago, not the fine one I buy today. Once I remember we had ‘Stick-jaw pudd. Guess Mum had no rice or sago so it was, I think, a sort of flour and milk with nutmeg on top. It was very gooey hence its name but tasted alright and made us laugh.
To make a little extra money Mum also reared chickens ducks geese and turkeys and at Christmas time, sold dressed poultry; which she did herself. Dad helped with the plucking, guess Bob and John did too. Then they were packed up and put on buses to their London friends.
Another thing at which Mum excelled was her sewing. All done on a hand turned ‘Singer’ machine, which I still use occasionally today.
She would go to jumble sales and purchase garments, bring them home and patiently unpick them. They were then washed and pressed and fashioned into clothes for us. The jumble sales clothed most of the village children.
At the ‘Women’s Institute’ she would always win prizes with sewing and cooking which sometimes made the other ladies a bit catty. I remember her making a little overcoat once from a calf-meal sack. It was carefully lined and the fabric looked like a soft coarse linen. Must have been for Tommy of Gerald I
I think. That won a prize too.
When buying fabric for our summer dresses, she always bought enough to make a dress for both Margaret and me, so mostly we were dressed alike. Another economical measure. One summer she bought a pink white check and a white with green cornflower-like flowers. Our dresses were made with puffed sleeves, the bodice piped with cord and dropped to a peak in front, with fully gathered skirts which flared out when I twirled.
All finished with a white organza collar trimmed with green or pink. I loved those dresses.
Another was red velvet left over from when Marg was bridesmaid to Aunty Bessie, it had a lace collar, and did I feel grand wearing it to Sunday school. Aunty Bessie whose husband Ted, worked as estate carpenter for the Stricklands’ at Apperley Court, used to get dresses as cast offs from Lady Mary. These were a suitable size for Marg and were readily adaptable. Mum used to send away to a firm of ‘Hawkins for Miss Muffet prints, which she would make into summer dresses for Marg and Bett. Mum even found time to make toys like rag dolls; Carole still has one. Marg lays claim to Belinda of the old house days, and remembers Mum giving it a new face when the original wore out.
Mum also did much to teach the girls to sew when they were quite young; teaching them the many different stitches.
She made fairy wings and a dress with sparkle all over for Marg in a school concert. For John, a King’s (or was it Prince’s)outfit with a shiny cloak (in blue with gold braid edgings for a part in Andoversford school concert). These were kept in Dad’s trunk which Gerald has now. I loved to take them out and look at them.
Although we wore hand-me downs, Mum always re-made them to fit us. She was for ever mending cloths and turning and patching sheets. Dad’s breaches too always seemed to be needing repairs. As they being ‘tailor’ made and expensive, as much wear as was possible was a necessity. There was sock darning and turning collars, and every night by kerosene lamp-light (paraffin as it was then known at the time) she knitted, socks gloves or jumpers for us. Socks were knitted on four steel needles, which I found fascinating, later learning to do it too, but never did master ‘turning the heels or grafting the toes. (These were special facets of skill for sock knitting).
Every few years Mum would attack the ‘sofa’ (today more often referred to as a ‘chaise longue’) that stood under the kitchen window. The old cover would be stripped off, stuffing removed, as were the springs. Then replace any frayed webbing, replace any damaged springs and reset them, put back the stuffing of coarse horsehair, then on would go a brand new piece of upholstery fabric. The last job was to re-pad and renew the fabric on the backboard. Every join on to the wooden frame was covered with a lovely braid to hide the nails or tacks. The bolster also was covered with leftover fabric.
Living was so much more frugal in those days and such an upbringing makes the modern ‘throw-away’ world of today seem extravagant.
When we were sick, we would lie on the sofa covered with a blanket, while Mum got on with her chores. I loved to hear her wedding ring hitting the basin as she mixed the bread. She often sang to herself as she worked (‘Oh Gran Mama and Papapa’) and had quite a good voice. Marg remembers ‘Where two eyes of blue, come smiling through’ as another of Mum’s favourites.
Autumn was the time to tidy up the garden before winter set in. All the summer growth was cut back and burnt on a bonfire, which smouldered for days, filling the air with, to me, a pleasant smell of burning chrysanthemums. Even today a garden bonfire gives me an excited feeling which I know comes from Mum’s fires, they mean that Christmas is not far away.
She made Christmas very special. Ages before (months) she would make many Christmas puddings, boiled in their basins with a tied cover of old sheet in the large preserving kettle. It was the custom to exchange them with her brothers and sisters and other relatives. Some was put by for another occasion.
We always had a full Christmas stocking (Dad’s sock really). There was always an apple, orange or mandarin in the toe, some nuts and lollies. Marg and I usually got a necklace and a pretty hanky, and other small gifts which she had collected during the months leading up to Christmas. Then downstairs under the Christmas tree (usually a holly bush, which Dad had cut from around the farm) was a main present.
Mum usually did something to make festivals special. One Easter time we kids had to hunt for a nest of Easter eggs which she (and perhaps with Dad’s help) had hidden on one of the haystacks in the Dutch barn.
After days and days of dressing poultry for presents or sale, Christmas day itself was quite busy, but festive. We always had a big roast dinner (lunch time), followed by a large Christmas pudding with custard. Then for tea a decorated Christmas cake, which she would have made and iced with a snow scene; there would be ‘canned’ peaches or pineapple, possibly with jelly. Later there would be nuts and other goodies, such as sugared lemon and orange segments, dried figs and dates. We would have gathered hazelnuts and walnuts in the autumn to be brought out at Christmas. All the brasses were polished and shiny. The kitchen and other down stair’s rooms would be decorated with sprigs of holly and ivy; and somewhere about would be mistletoe.
Christmas over, the holly bush would be sized and tied to a rope then hauled down the chimney from off of the roof to sweep the chimney.
In preparation to moving the new farmhouse, Mum did endless rug making, tying chopped wool strands into canvas backing. (Dad and us kids all had to give a hand). These went besides the beds, in front of the fires (hearth rugs) and a large runner for the hall. She needed rugs more durable and less elegant for such places as the kitchen and pantry where the floors were of concrete. She would cut up clothes no longer wearable, cutting them into strips about three quarters of an inch wide, then using a pointed tool, which Dad had made her, but later with a rugging tool for the job, she pegged the strips into a washed Hessian chaff bag. Packing them very tightly together made very hardwearing rugs. Mum also had the gift of placing the various colours so as to bring out very attractive designs. Lighter fabrics (petticoats etc) were cut into long strips, rolled into balls then threaded through another tool and again poked through the Hessian fabric. She used to create flower patterns, often first dying the fabric to improve the choice of colours.
Washing day started with Dad filling the copper with water and lighting the fire to get the water hot. The copper or furnace as it was better known, was a large cast iron bowl mounted in brick surround and having a hearth arrangement beneath the bowl which could be primed with wood and coal. The arrangement included a chimney to take the smoke out of the room. Soap of some form was put into the water. Usually whites were boiled first, but more often the suds were set up the night before and the heavier and dirtier clothes put into soak to make the washing easier. There was a lot of rubbing and scrubbing followed by rinsing and wringing to get farm clothing clean. Then from the wash house or scullery, despite the cold winds, out on to the line. The line associated with the new farmhouse was beyond the garden in the adjoining field known as the ‘Four Acres’. All day she would watch the weather, running out to grab things from the line if it should rain. In winter articles would freeze before they were dry, so often we had washing hanging around the fire (range) guard for days trying to get them dry.
She ironed with a cast-iron flat irons, heated on the range. They were always first wiped off with a rag to make sure no soot or ashes were stuck to them, then she’d apply a little spit to test that they were not too hot. It was so easy to scorch things.
Mum was a very good and capable nurse, she could cope unflustered. We were still in the old house
when Bill was very ill with pneumonia, she looked after him so well he was out of danger within the week. There was the time when Betty scalded herself Mum dressed her burns. On the occasion when I cut off the end of my finger in the chaff cutter, I called out from the loft steps and she anticipated what had happened. By the time I had run down the loft steps, through the yard and down the garden path the water and bandages were ready to clean and bind the wound. It then was a journey to Andoverdford in the ‘spring cart’ to the doctor; calling on Mrs Wain to arrange her staying with the other children until our return. There was also the occasion of one Bonfire night. We were always able to make a good show with the bonfire. However Billy Collins picked up an already lighted firework intending to throw it when it exploded in his hand. Mum came to the rescue with the first aid. There were no courses for such eventualities and certainly no N.H.S. but a developed sense of survival
Thursday was ‘Market Day’ in Cheltenham, this brought many people from the farming and horticultural fraternity into town; not only to trade but to meet. So it was that Thursday was shopping day; it was also the opportunity to do various business transactions at the Bank. There was the meat to organise at the butcher, ‘Harry Davis’, the grocery purchases from ‘George Masons’ and there was always something (nothing over sixpence) from ‘Woolworths’. Mum would catch the bus into Cheltenham on the main road below Rosley Manor. She would have to walk nearly a mile to the road down the lane through the woods and then by cart track through open fields. Despite our being relatively self sufficient Mum always returned loaded, which she carried in a woven straw bags. She always looked for help in carrying the bags back up the hill and we kids were expected to meet her. Her timing must have allowed us to have returned from school. What I do remember is how cross she would be if we forget to meet her.
Mum could have a ‘go’.
Mum was a very determined lady never the less she was usually fair and if she became upset there was usually cause. The most common punishment for us kids was to be sent to bed with no tea. Later on when we were older and was expected to play our part with the work on the farm bed was non-productive. We found she could hurt with a lash from her tongue. School was nearly three miles away at Andoversford, she allowed us an hour for the walk home and would become terribly worried if we took longer. As kids we would make diverse routes with a fascination to catch a couple of minnows or sticklebacks in a jam jar. (The odd cray fish or Millars thumb was also a prized catch). Such events resulted in our being late home and quite probably with wet feet. We were criminals!
She took up the cudgels with the Head at Andoversford school, who objected to Bill turning up at school with ‘Ringworm on his face. The head sent bill home with Phyllis Chandler pushing him on a bicycle. Bill was young at the time and having just walked the three miles to school, Mum though it unreasonable and unnecessary to directly send him back.Ringworm was quite common, we caught the from the young calves. Granny Surman used to get some concoction from a person who would not divulge the recipe. But it was an effective cure. (I still think it was creosote in which there were a few chopped carrots).
The challenge for which Mum was renown, was one occasion when the ram water pump had failed. We had no water at the farm for ourselves or for the animals, other than what we could carry from local streams and there seemed to be no prospects of the situation being rectified within days. Dad was quite sure that the washer had failed in the check valve but had been forbidden to do anything to the ram by the Borough engineer a Mr Marsland. Mr M. was adamant that it was not the ram, but that it was the pipes, which he claimed were corroded. He sent a team of men who dug up the pipes only to find them satisfactory, passing a trickle of water. There was insufficient time remaining that day in which to cover over the pipes. It was February and we were in the depths of winter with snow covering the ground. That night the snow fell deep and the pipes were frozen Marg tells of scooping up the drifted snow in the old galvanised tin bath and bringing it in to melt it in the kitchen furnace to provide water for us and the animals. Mum went off full haste into the Municipal offices in Cheltenham, demanding to see the Borough engineer. He was unwilling to give her audience until she made it plain that she had no intentions until he did so It is understood that she had quite an up and downer with this man, even put fear into him. She had suggested that he might like to have tea with us but he expressed his discussed in being offered tea from melted snow. This really put up the heckles for Mum, it is reported that she was inclined to overturn the board room table. However he came in some haste to the farm and meeting Dad enquired was Mrs R, home. "No", said Dad.
"Thank God", said Mr M., "She would have killed me".
Both men went to the ram. After much fiddling he still could not make it work and still he would not accept that it was the washer. Ultimately he allowed Dad to cut a washer from an old wellington boot which once fitted to the ram water was again being pumped up to the house and farm.
Mum didn’t want us kids to miss out on not being schooled if we were up to it. I particularly have her to thank for encouraging Dad to afford me a half place at the Tech Col. I was keen to go into the Navy from quite a young age. So when it came time to make choices and after studying engineering at the Tech, Mum was adamant that entry into the Navy had to be as an apprentice, which proved to my benefit.
Marg also went to the ‘Tech.’ Betty went to Pates Grammar, Bill went to Northleach Grammar and Gerald finished up doing University. Bob never liked school and was willing to join Dad on the farm.
Thoughts of Australia.
Dad always talked of returning to Australia one day, but as a child, listening to Dad’s tales of ‘Ozzie’, I don’t think I ever really thought it would happen. Castle Barn Farm required very hard work to make it productive and Mum always said the farm would kill him. So after the war Mum agreed to emigrate to give Dad the incentive to give up the farm. Settling up and selling up the farm, also arranging the passages took three years. Mum by this time was not at all eager to emigrate, realising how it would split up the familly, saying "We shall never all be together again".She had promised Dad his wishes, s he had given up the farm she would not go back on her word. It was such a great sacrifice she made, leaving her home and by then, two sons and a daughter, the three eldest all married and settled in England. Marg had married Tom (Charlie Thomas) in Dowdeswell church, September 5th 1947, and went to live in London. Bob had married Peg Newcombe 31st July 1948 and lived at Andoversford, and John had married Jessie 7th Aug 1948, and was still in the Royal Navy.
Farm Sale and Narbonne House, Northleach. (Fletcher)
Dad had brought a considerable improvement in the productivity of the farm. His biggest mistake was to continue working the place using horses. We were still cutting ‘corn’ (the general term locally for grain crops) with a ‘Macormick’ horse drawn binder; followed by manually placing the sheaves into ‘stooks’. It now required a considerable investment to mechanise the farm and catch up with the working practices of the day. Dad just wasn’t mechanically minded; (but I have seen him successfully undo nuts and bolts with a hammer). Towards the end of the war and with Bob’s staying to work on the farm he did buy a tractor. This Bob used for much of the cultivation, making the horses some what obsolete. We also went on the telephone, connected to the New house, Andoversford 292. With Bob now able t drive Dad bought a Armstrong Sidley car, although he himself was no driver. Because he had taken out a licence to drive the tractor this qualified him for the car. He would scare us to death every time he opted to take us out in it.
The sale was not as successful as was expected despite the fact that Dad had done so much to improve the place.
Dad’s friends, Mr and Mrs Charlie Banister and earlier family associates for whom he had worked when, earlier in Australia, readily agreed to sponsor us. Our passage came up and we were to leave England, sailing on the SS Chitrel, just after Christmas, on 29th Dec 1948. This was the day before Granny Roberts was buried, she had died
On the voyage, which was very rough in the Bay of Biscay, Mum was the only one not to be sea sick so cared for us. Bill would not come down to the cabin, but slept in a deck chair up on deck wrapped in blankets. He still claims that he didn’t get sick. Mum used to take him up food from the dining room. I didn’t want any food at all.
Lodging with the Banisters at Scone was only for a short time. Dad looked for work in the farming line but nothing took his fancy. One job was cause astonishment, not only requiring the usual work of animal husbandry, but included the slaughtering and dressing of the carcases. Luck came with an opportunity to buy a ? acre poultry farm on Kathleen Street, Tamworth, NSW, as a going concern, subject to a bit of renovating of the ‘Chuck’ pens.
Australia was hard for Mum. The hot summer made her English gardening a heart breaking task. So many things died and she would cry about it. I know she was very home sick and maybe Dad was not as understanding as he might have been.
Making friends was difficult for her, Church ladies did call to invite her to join them but she never accepted their offer. Bill and I soon found jobs and started making friends. For a while Mum did attend P & C meetings when Gerald started school. Then the school was in the paddock right over the road from our poultry farm.
As time went on she over came her gardening wars, learning to grow Australian plants and sun tolerant species.
There were lots of fruit trees on the property, peaches, apricots and nectarines, which were a treat as the fruit fly had not reached Tamworth then.
She bought a knitting machine and would work for hours knitting jumpers for her grandchildren. She would then embroider them with horse heads, cowboys, duck, chicken trains, almost anything that she fancied from cross-stitch patterns.
At first we only had an ice chest, the iceman delivering every day except Sunday. When we finally got a ‘frig’. We learnt to make ice cream. Bill and I had to do the beating with a hand held beater; it was an arm aching job.
Washing was still ‘boiling up the copper’. The bath was heated with a wood chip heater, made the laundry come bathroom nice and warm in winter.
Mum’s old hand turned Singer sewing machine travelled out with us. She made me a beautiful ‘Debutant’ dress, making a spray of flowers by hand that cascaded down across the bodice and top of the skirt. I still have the flowers.
Mum made many splendid articles of clothing for the grandchildren. Jessie and I were pleased and proud of the little trouser outfits for Paul and particularly the jumpers and cardigans she made for Paul and Carole.
In 1963 Dad sold the poultry farm and the property was divided such that Mum and Dad had a double block on Degance St. Mum was able to plan and design a new house. They had a garage of reasonable proportions erected on the site and partitioned it off inside making suitable as a temporary residence where they lived whilst the house was being built.
Mum never really settled in Australia and remained homesick for England, her familly and her relatives until the end. This probably contributed to her unpredictable moods. Despite it all Dad was the centre of her life. When Jessie and I visited her in Moonby House, after Dad was dead, she would say "Now you will go and see Dad wont you".
How they lived and how it ends.???