HARRIS’S FARM, MARTIN, NR. FORDINGBRIDGE, HANTS
After I was born in February 1939 in Littlehampton, my parents moved to a flat in London for a short period of time. My mother, having grown up in South Africa, was used to the style of living which employed local people as servants – my father was also accustomed to this way of life after nearly thirty years in the Colonial Service in Northern Rhodesia. So they employed a children’s nurse to care for me – her name was Violetta Starkey (known as Starkey) and she became a lifelong friend and second mother to me.
We all moved to a cottage in Avebury, where subsequently World War Two broke out and in time Starkey was called up to run a home for evacuee children in Dorset. My parents lost all their home help and moved to a house in St James’ Square, Boscombe while my father went up to London to do his ‘war bit’ as an Air Raid Warden. In 1942, it was decided they should purchase a property and they found Harris’ Farm in Martin, which had recently come on the market having been ‘modernised’.
One sunny day in June 1942, we climbed into our dark blue Morris car, registration FGW 215, and set off for our new home. I remember sitting on the meat safe banging my heels against the side, on the lawn at the back of the house, as things were being moved in and looking up at the brick wall and thatched roof and saying that it looked like a doll’s house! So began my life in Martin until I went to South Africa in May 1957 – I had a brief visit there in May 1959 before my parents sold up and moved to Montague Road, West Harnham in Salisbury, where they were living when I finally returned from South Africa.
I suggest you just imagine I am showing you around Harris Farm as if you are, perhaps, a prospective buyer…
A photo of the house probably in the early fifties, or late forties before it was rethatched (note the wheat growing out of the top of the roof and the odd poppy!)
As one opened the white iron front gate, it had a distinctive squeak in the hinges and clang as the latch swung shut behind one. One walked up a slightly sloping cracked concrete pathway to the old green front door, slightly covered by a curved corrugated porch roof under the overhanging thatch, with the two staddle stones on either side. (These are not shown to be there in the earlier photograph taken in 1942). There was a large door knocker in the centre of the door and to the right, threaded through a beam, a leather strap to pull to ring a deep sounding bell hanging on the wall inside the hallway. The keyhole in the door was large and the actual key itself much too big to carry in a pocket. The door opened inwards to the right.
In front of one as one stepped into the house was an old timber chest for storing blankets etc. perhaps, which we still have. Above this, there was a removable portion of the ceiling through which items of furniture could be lifted, if they could not be carried up the winding stairs. To the left was a dark timber door with a latch and leather pull strap which led into the dining room. As one turned to the right, the hallway opened up into a wider area – the floor was paved with red brick tiles. There was a double bookcase against the wall which was part of the sitting room. The door in to this room opened inwards to the hallway, on the side of the bookcase, with a latch and maybe a leather pull strap or metal lifting device. There was a brown panelled timber wall (either VJ or tongue and groove) from the sitting room door to the outside wall, behind which was the staircase. One could access the cavity under the stairs through an opening next to the sitting room door – it was covered by a curtain and we used to store our potatoes and probably wood for the fire under the stair treads. Against this timber wall under the window was a semi-circular gate-legged table and a high backed chair. On the table sat the big black telephone – Martin 268 was the number. It from this table that my mother ran the Post Office during the war years – the Post Box was set into the front garden wall near the iron railings. We could lean over the wall to post letters – so simple! I have a feeling there was a red telephone box outside Mrs Read’s house at some stage which may have been removed to the front of Mr Hacker’s shop later, when the Post Office was moved up there. My father displayed his collection of African carved walking sticks against the wall behind the front door, where the doorbell also hung. He and my mother each used a walking stick when they went on their strolls around the countryside – maybe it was the fashion in those days?
The Dining Room
Opening the dark timber door from left to right, one entered the dining room. Underneath the window to the left, there would have been either an armchair (mainly used by the spaniel dog) or a cabinet containing a gramophone on which my father played his classical records, or later, I played Pat Boone and Mantovani 78s… Ahead was a curved corner cupboard, in which my father kept his remarkable collection of birds’ eggs and a tin of spade guineas. The door ahead led into what had been a pantry we believed. There was a large sideboard against a dark panelled wall between this door and the door leading into what had been a buttery, but had become a bathroom and lavatory. It was a beautiful mahogany sideboard with a lovely polished surface and a big marble clock in the centre – sadly, if one dusted this piece of furniture, it only took someone to walk across the floor upstairs a couple of times, for there to be a thin layer of dust again on its surface! In the centre of the room was a square mahogany dining room table which could be opened out and a leaf or two inserted to enlarge the surface – around which were three dining room chairs and my father’s carving chair with a high back and arms, which we still have. He sat with his back to the front window, my mother facing him and I sat facing the fireplace. This fireplace had originally been much larger but had been bricked in with red bricks to make it smaller – we did light it occasionally and I recall my father sweeping the chimney on morning after my mother had the night before laid the breakfast table with a clean white cloth…To the left of the fireplace there was an oak corner cupboard, which we still have, and under this was a small table, and next to that a small chest of drawers (which we still have) – all full of ‘stuff’ because I think my parents would have been regarded as ‘hoarders’. To the left of the fireplace was an electric power point, from which we operated a toaster with flaps at the sides in which to toast the bread (this sat on a small stool – which we still have) and from which we could plug in a single electric bar heater (our only method of heating during meal times in the winter – brrrr).
Also to the left of the fireplace was an alcove, the bottom half of which had been filled in and was covered by timber panelling of some sort – there may have been a cupboard door but I don’t recall ever opening it if there was. The cavity above was covered by a curtain and filled with stacks of paper etc. which always threatened to fall out.
Depending on time span, under the window was either a chair (mainly for the dog) or a tall, double storey dolls’ house which was handed down to me by my Uncle Austin’s daughter, Catherine – the front opened up to access the rooms – my daughters, grand-daughter and now my great-grand-daughters play with some of the furniture in subsequent dolls’ houses here in our house in Australia. My father kept his shot gun propped up in this corner of the room, for some reason…
Beside the chair/dolls’ house was another double fronted book case (a twin to the one in the hall) and beside this, the door leading into the lean-to kitchen.
The floor was covered with a green carpet which I remember sweeping with an old push carpet sweeper and later using an upright electric hoover which my father presented to my mother for her 40th birthday with one of his witty poems! My mother did have help in the house from time to time over the years – Nancy, Mrs Bailey (I think) and Celia Bowles who helped during the years when my mother was teaching at the St Probus School for Boys in Manor Road, Salisbury.
The ceiling was pretty low – there was a large central black beam into which adjoining lighter beams were fixed – tall men had to stand in between the beams and duck the main one. There was a single electric light fitted to the centre of the large beam over the dining room table, which emitted a gloomy ring of light into the room, under which I often used to do my homework. My mother and I hated gloomily lit rooms ever since.
We loved our dogs and I can recall one large litter of puppies and their mother being ‘housed’ in an open tin trunk next to the sideboard – my mother had to supplementary feed these pups because there were so many and it was handy to keep them so close to the kitchen!
The door into the bathroom opened inwards to the right of the other side of the sideboard in the dining room. This was part of the modernisation of the cottage, I would imagine. Straight ahead was a door which opened outward to enable one to enter the lavatory which had a water cistern above on the right with a chain pull to release the water. I think there was originally a stairway up to the bedroom above (my room) from the buttery/lavatory area because the floor boards above were removable. The waste went into a pipe which somehow went underneath the barn into a septic tank in the orchard. Between the timber lavatory partition wall and the bath was a hand basin with a cold tap only. There was a large electric immersion heater under the window from which hot water flowed into the free standing bath which had a cold tap as well. To transfer the hot water into the hand basin, we used a couple of copper water jugs. There was a small mirror above the hand basin and a little cupboard holding shaving gear on the partition wall. My father used a leather strop on which to sharpen his cut-throat razor. He used to sew the ends of pieces of soap into a small cloth bag to use in the bath during the war. The electrics of the house were earthed into the water pipes, would you believe, and one day when the cooker in the kitchen malfunctioned with a bang, the electric shot through the water pipes threw me back across the bathroom as I was doing my hand washing in the basin. We only had a large green washing machine which was kept in the bathroom at the end of the bath for a short time – it was a problem filling it and very noisy and messy and was abandoned for the existing weekly laundry service for sheets etc. and my father’s clothes. My mother and I hand washed everything else in the bathroom and hung it out to dry either in the cart shed or on the washing line behind the cart shed. There was another little cupboard on the wall above where the washing machine had stood, which contained the dreaded bottle of paraffin oil which was given to treat constipation or such ailments. There were coat-hooks along the back of the panelled wall between the bathroom and the dining room and we kept shoes stacked on the beam which ran along the base of the wall. The light switch was high up on this panelled wall and I had to climb up on the beam to reach it as I was growing up. There was a window in the wall next to the lavatory which would have enabled one to look into the lean-to kitchen but there was a big cupboard in the kitchen which blocked any view back into the bathroom. I hung my school coats on the wall behind the door next to this window.
This little room, off the dining room, was used on various occasions – it was very cold in winter and I recall seeing daylight through the corner of the room where beams met and the plaster had fallen away. The window is very small. Mostly this room was used as a play room for me – it had a low nursery table in the middle with a small child’s antique wooden armchair in which I used to sit, cramped up as I got older, and write my endless stories in exercise books (I still have the chair in our sitting room here in Australia and also the very first story I wrote aged about 6 or 7 – the illustrations were done by my childhood friend Carolyn Kaulback). There were a couple of chests of drawers in which were stored jigsaw puzzles and things – I didn’t have a lot of toys but they always seemed to be scattered around. There was a large ‘beam’ along the floor over which one had to step as one went through the dark wooden doorway which opened into the dining room against the sideboard, I think. This floor beam extended into the adjoining buttery (or bathroom). In the ‘pantry’, I used to keep my collection of white china with coats of arms etc. on this beam against which the dark panelled wall abutted (have forgotten the name of these types of small china pieces) and I often used to sit on the beam in the doorway. In later years my father used this room as a bedroom for a while – I can’t exactly remember why. He worked for a couple of years in London with Lord Hailey assisting him to compile his large volume ‘An African Survey’ published by Oxford University Press in 1957. During this time, my father spent the week in London and returned at weekends by train to Salisbury – I think he felt it was time I had a bedroom where I could study and gave me his room so I could use his big desk (which we still have). Later, we had a Danish student living with us who used his room, and I returned to my own bedroom upstairs – although I did use the pantry as a bedroom for a while because I remember sleeping there and one of my cats had kittens on my bed. See photograph with the wall behind between the buttery and the pantry.
The picture below is of my friend Pauline Addison, daughter of the Vicar of Britford, holding the kittens mentioned above, standing outside the kitchen door – clearly the kitchen had a sloping roof and was built of brick – the window downstairs was the dining room window, the one above the kitchen roof was my bedroom window.
The roof was painted red corrugated iron. There was a particle board ceiling inside and whitewashed brick walls. I think the door from the dining room opened inward from right to left, against a large cupboard which blocked the window into the bathroom.
On the right-hand side of the door in the kitchen, between the wall and the outside kitchen door, we kept all our Wellington Boots in the corner and mackintoshes on hooks. The floor was covered in red square brick tiles and had a slight sloped step halfway across towards the sink area where presumably the floor level dropped by an inch or so! The rectangular kitchen table was in the middle and must have accommodated this slight slope – we never sat at the table, it was for preparing food etc. There were a couple of wooden chairs and the timber surface of the table needed scrubbing regularly with a brush. The stone sink was under the window and had a wooden draining board to the left, under a small electric immersion heater for the hot water – we used to wash up using soda crystals which my mother reckoned ruined the skin on her hands, poor dear. It probably did. Outside the window was a sycamore tree which we planted – our pony ate parts of it when it was small, which quite upset my mother – we loved the leaves in autumn. There was a broom cupboard to the left of the sink in which were stored brooms and bottles of preserved fruits my mother made from the orchard. On the other side of the sink was a chest of drawers – the wooden dish drainer sat on top of this and recipe books were kept in the drawers, amongst other things. Next to this, against the far wall, was the electric stove on which my mother valiantly cooked all those years, and I remember her melting a lead soldier in a saucepan once, showing me how lead melted as part of a school project! One Christmas we won a goose in a raffle which was delivered late one night, to be plucked and then cooked in our little oven – my mother dashed out of church on Christmas morning because she forgot to turn down the oven before we went! It was a very fatty goose. This was the cooker which shorted out into the water pipes – it must have been fixed by someone (maybe Roland the electrician) because it was never replaced.
Next to that was a table on which stood the modern electric kettle which was very precious because my maternal grandmother bought it. Next to that was the bread cupboard which was supposed to keep the bread fresh – no such thing as sliced bread in those days. A baker used to deliver in the early days and my mother was the master of finely sliced bread to make it go as far as possible, although I remember the difficulty of her coping with wartime bread which had holes in it as the quality was so poor. For someone who could barely boil an egg when she came to England in 1939, my mother became an admirable cook, although she really didn’t enjoy it very much and more or less gave up cooking altogether in her old age. My father never learned to cook but grew wonderful produce in the garden and did his fair share of washing up over the years.
There was an ironing board next to the bread cupboard and always a full basket of ironing to be done! Next to that was the tin meat safe on a table beside the outside kitchen door – we had no refrigerator, of course – the meat was stored in the safe and rinsed with vinegar before cooking in the warmer days to remove any bacteria. It was the coldest house imaginable so the butter didn’t melt in the sideboard cupboard, where it was neatly partitioned into individual portions during the war according to our very strict rations. Later in warmer days, I recall the butter in an earthenware dish on the sideboard top, covered with muslin which sat in water to evaporate and keep it from going rancid. The eggs were preserved in waterglass in brown earthenware pots kept in the barn, and I remember putting my hands into the freezing cold liquid to reclaim them – these eggs were only used for cooking in cakes etc. and never boiled as eggs for breakfast. The runner beans were sliced and packed into earthenware jars in salt, stored in the barn and soaked before using – the apples were wrapped in tissue paper and stored in old suitcases in the barn, and vegetable marrows sat on our blue car parked in the barn on bricks during the war when it could not be used – these marrow sometimes rotted a bit and left marks on the paintwork…
The kitchen was icy cold in winter – the water pipe, which came in from the pump from the well outside, entered the kitchen in the corner where we kept our Wellington boots and went up into the tank in the roof above my bedroom. My father, an early riser, used to pump the water from the well every morning to fill this header tank. A pipe, (all lead of course) came down from this water tank, re-entered the kitchen, travelled round the outside walls (behind the cooker!) to the sink and then on into the bathroom. It had to be lagged to help prevent freezing and bursting – the kitchen was heated by an Alladin paraffin oil heater with a cylindrical chimney. I remember my mother cooking in her overcoat at times during the winter and in the coldest periods, the Alladin was left burning all night in an effort to protect the pipes. I can’t recall a burst pipe but such things were common in those days. At some stage, we went on to mains water, of course – I’m not sure when because we used that well for many years – but mains water pipes were put through the village by German prisoners of war as I recall them digging up the village footpath and laying them.
In the photograph below, part of the pump machinery is visible beneath my elbow, between myself and my father – he was very deaf after using quinine for many years to battle malaria in Africa and used to feel rather isolated in company, as indicated in this picture during a moment of some humour. Date approx. 1956.
The Sitting Room
This was the L shaped room off the hallway and incorporated the part of the house which had been added to at one stage. In the smaller area by the door from the hallway was a small brick fireplace (I shall include some pencil sketches of some parts of this room and its contents which I did as a child). The original larger fireplace had been filled in and under the original beam there was a mantelpiece above the fireplace. There was an alcove to the left in which were bookshelves. Above the mantelpiece were portraits – in the centre, one of my grandfather Reginald Lane Poole by W. Strang and to the left, in a gilt frame, a self- portrait of Richard Lane, chief lithographer to Queen Victoria; to the right in a similar frame a copy Richard Lane painted of a portrait by Gainsborough by Zoffany. Underneath these portraits were Richard Lane’s miniatures of various members of the family, some of which are visible in these old snapshots below. On the mantelpiece was a carriage clock and always a container of spills with which my father lit his pipe from the burning coals. There was a painting to the right of the sitting room door of Tewkesbury and, on the left hand side, a painting of the family home at Dixton Manor below which was an antique folding card table against the wall. There was a patterned Persian type carpet in this area of the sitting room – my father had a chair to the right of the fireplace, my mother sat to the left and I had some form of seating in the centre, depending on the time span! There was a rubber backed curtain which slid across the room, dividing the L into two areas – this enabled the smaller section to be closed off in the winter, so retaining warmth from the little fireplace, which radiated a good heat. There was a sofa which ran sideways across the room in front of the dividing curtain (which was drawn back during the warmer months). We lived mainly in this small area to keep warm, ate our evening meal around a conventional card table in front of the fire and played many hilarious games of racing demon in the evenings – my father was very rough with the cards due to a right hand middle finger injury from a motorbike accident in his youth, so we refrained from using my mother’s bridge cards! He used to have an afternoon snooze in his chair and was an avid reader – he read Greek and Latin like we read the Sunday newspaper…
The above photo of a recovering bullfinch shows the fireplace in the background, with the carriage clock and some miniature portraits above the mantelpiece – and even holly above the miniatures, picked from the hedge in the top field.
The photograph of a Christmas tree shows the fireplace covered for some reason, and the window seat at the lower right of the photo. We still have the portraits, little stool made by my grandmother and the folding card table. I hope the bird flew free!
If there was a fire which led to the removal of the original top storey of this house, it may have started in the beam, shown above the mantelpiece in this photograph. This beam was exposed on the inside of the chimney of this small fireplace in the sitting room. We were always very conscious of the possibility of this happening, I remember, and made sure the chimney was regularly swept – possibly the heat generated by the small fireplace and lack of cleaning may have led to a chimney fire – something we always feared.
In the larger area of the sitting room, there was a huge open fireplace – one could stand in the hearth and look straight up the chimney. To the right was an old bread oven. There was a seat inside the actual fireplace. There was an iron hearth for the logs to sit on while they were burning – we didn’t use this fireplace very often because it needed huge logs and they throw out much heat for the effort! I do remember, during the war, my parents entertaining American soldiers and listening to them singing to a guitar around the fire.
My father collected lots of wood over the years and made a big log pile behind the cart shed, just back from the brick Elsan toilet block (I used to play on these logs pretending they were a ship and play acted lots of exciting voyages around the world.) We burned logs and coal on the small fire and even peat at one stage – the coal was stored in the coal shed which was built on the front left hand end of the barn as one drove in from the road. The car was parked inside the big barn door next to the coal shed.
Above, another picture of those kittens – behind me, one can see the end of Mr Bowles’ house, the outline of the coal shed and the open door of the barn. We used to carry coal scuttles through the kitchen, dining room and hall into the sitting room – I suppose to wipe one’s feet or change footwear by the kitchen door. Wood and peat were also used on the fire.
Above the fireplace was a long mantelpiece, on which was displayed a beautiful collection of hand painted and gilded plates, which was the desert portion of a dinner service belonging to the Gainsborough family, to whom we were related. (Richard Lane, the artist referred to above, was one of his great nephews). I still have these plates but sadly I have recently discovered that the coffee set left to my Australian relatives no longer exists. To the left of the large open fireplace in the sitting room was an alcove – there was a full length, wide mirror at the back of this alcove which gave the impression of extra space and light. There was a standard lamp also in the alcove and at one time, my father displayed his collection of Waterford crystal on a leaf from the dining room table, set on a smaller table in front of the mirror, which was just beautiful – until one day he accidentally leaned on the corner of the table leaf and the whole lot fell onto the brick floor and most of it was broken – I think he shed a tear. I still have one slightly damaged brown decanter. Our large old radio was plugged into the wall between the fireplace and the alcove – I can remember the news bulletins, the programme ITMA, Children’s’ Hour, exciting episodes of Dick Barton and my father’s favourite Beethoven thundering through the house. Most of the time, there was a large chest of drawers placed in the opening of the fireplace.
Between the alcove and the door to the garden was the piano – my mother played the piano quite well and I had lessons until I was about fifteen – we used to sing Christmas carols around the piano. It was nice to have the door open in the summer – there was a light gate across the bottom of the door, probably to keep the chickens out. We had chickens and geese and a pig called Belinda who lived in a pigsty especially constructed in the orchard – Belinda grew very large and fat and eventually I was taken out of the house when she had to be killed. Half of the pig had to be given to the Ministry of Food in those days, the rest was made into faggots and sausages by Mrs Bailey and others in a wooden trough in our kitchen – the very fatty hams were hung in the fireplace in the sitting room and eventually eaten.
There was a maroon coloured carpet in this area of the sitting room and because there was no damp course in the house, the damp used to soak into the carpet and part of it rotted over the years around the window at the front. Next to this window was the door to the staircase, a steep winding set of stairs to the landing. On the other side of this door was another bookcase in which were kept all the Hardy novels.
Upstairs – The Landing
At the top of these steep stairs, which were carpeted down the middle in green, was what we called the landing. It had brown floorboards and the area stretched across to the other side of the house where there was a small window overlooking the back garden. It was a full room size, head height in the centre but with sloping eaves to accommodate the roof timbers. We stored a couple of spare beds here and other ‘stuff’ – including a picture of Edward Lane (Richard’s brother) climbing one of the Great Pyramids (he was an Egyptologist) and an alabaster statue by Richard Lane of Edward in Arabic costume. I wish we still had that – it would be quite valuable now, I think, as another of his alabaster statues of Edward is prominently displayed in the National Portrait Gallery where all his other work is collected.
To the left of the landing was the chimney breast of the two fireplaces – the one below in the small sitting room and the adjacent one in the dining room. There was a cavity between the chimney breast and the window, covered by some timber panelling which could be removed to reveal the space. To the right of the chimney breast was a narrow passage which led to my mother’s bedroom – it was the floor of this passage which could be removed in the hallway downstairs to pass furniture through if necessary.
(Since writing the above, I have been rereading A Shepherd’s Life – in Chapter VII the house of a man named John Barter is described as being very familiar to the author – in it he describes a small boarded up cavity or cell at one end of an attic, in which John’s poacher son was hidden to recover from his injuries. Surely it could only be the above cavity which I have described!!)
My Father’s Bedroom
This room was at the top of the stairs on the right hand side – the door opened from the right to the left into the bedroom. This room was the top storey of the addition to the house and originally only had a window in the front – my father had a window made overlooking the back garden to make the room lighter. The chimney breast of the large sitting room fireplace went up through this bedroom. He had a large armchair placed in front of this wall, with a one bar electric fire to warm his toes in winter, where I remember him reading his old Bible at times when I used to say goodnight. There was a blue carpet, with a couple of African animal skins on the floor, a bed to the left of the chimney breast, and a wardrobe at the foot of the bed on the wall against the landing. The eaves sloped quite steeply at the back of the house but there was room enough for his desk and swivel chair situated in front of the window at the front – a lovely outlook, especially when the pink lilac was in bloom along the hedge between the two front gardens.
It was at this desk that he spent many, many hours working on his various projects – he somehow managed to get together a plan of all the fields in the village and painted in the rotation of crops etc. I don’t know where he got all this information but he visited libraries, was a member of the local archaeological society etc, studied parish records and so forth – he represented the area at County Council meetings in Ringwood at one stage. One of his great friends was Stuart Piggott, an archaeologist of some repute, who lived in Rockbourne – we used to wander around Stonehenge with him discussing its mystery and I enjoyed clambering over the fallen stones. He was very interested in the Pitt Rivers Museum, to which my mother donated his walking sticks. I think a man called Fairweather Milne had something to do with this Museum?
Everything was typed out with two fingers on an ancient typewriter, including many articles on Africa – he worked very hard to help form the ill-fated Central Federation of Africa, the liaison of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It was here he wrote his life story for me in 1956. It is just so sad that I never got to know him as an adult – I rushed away on my own adventurous life aged eighteen but thankfully his writings and later the discovery of his Zambian family all helped us to get to know him in hindsight. He was twenty years older than my mother – they led a difficult life in war time England and he spent his retirement years financing my education. They might have returned to Africa had war not broken out – who knows…
My Mother’s Bedroom
This room was accessed by a dark, narrow passage between the chimney breast and the sloping eave, which was boxed in by dark panelling – there was a timber railing along the side of the stairwell. The bedroom door was a narrow timber door which opened from left to right into the bedroom and one had to climb over a high, narrow beam to step into the room. The carpet had a pinky, brown speckled pattern and in front of the window overlooking the street, there was a timber sea chest covered in material which matched the curtains – I used to kneel on the carpet and write stories in exercise books, resting on top of the chest! My mother’s bedhead was against the chimney breast, with a small chest table near the door and a unique rectangular swivel bedside table on the other side – my father bought this table from a sale in Eyre Coote’s house in Damerham. We still have it – the top of the table swivels from a central pillar over the bed so the occupant could open a section of it and prop up a book to read, or eat a meal etc. (We use it as a telephone table in our house in Australia). There was a long African woven mat somehow propped up to close off the cavity under the eave at the back of the house – I remember sleeping behind it on a camp bed on the odd occasion when a visitor used my bedroom. There was a chest of drawers, a one bar electric fire and a small table which served as a dressing table, and stool.
In between this chest and the dressing table was my bedroom door which opened from right to left and had a special latch which partly closed the door but allowed light from my mother’s room to filter through. I was frightened of the dark as a child and hated crossing the landing at night to get into my mother’s room and the haven of my own – the landing light was always left on until my mother came to bed so I could see the light from my room. This may have been a legacy of war years, when I listened to the drone of aircraft overhead at night, either on their way to a bombing raid or on the way back and hopefully not enemy aircraft. Or it may just have been the night terrors which many a child experiences for a while – or just because my parents would be in the sitting room which seemed so far away at the other end of the house. Anyway, I grew out of it eventually…(I recall one particular night when we stood outside the kitchen door watching wave after wave of aircraft flying overhead, blotting out the stars as they passed over – it was most unusual and we later learned the planes were towing gliders on their way to Europe for the Normandy landings.)
This room has been immortalised because it is the one in which W.H.Hudson slept when he lived in the house during his time in Martin. I just loved this room – in fact I loved every square inch of the house, outbuildings and blade of grass within its boundaries. As a child I never wanted to leave it permanently and imagined living in it for ever…My parents also felt an enormous attachment to the place. It was only because of my father’s failing strength, my mother’s dedication to her teaching and lack of adequate time and money to properly maintain the property that caused the unhappy decision to sell in 1959. My father and I revisited the house once in about 1960 when there was a lady tenant living there and he commented that it was a mistake to have gone back – my mother never went back and couldn’t bear to even drive past the cottage. They might feel so differently now, knowing into what good hands it has fallen!
My room: it was painted primrose yellow and the sun used to shine through the very low window as it set in the west. My bedhead was against the outside end wall of the house and the starlings used to squawk in their nests in the thatch above my head! There was a children’s cupboard and chest of drawers against the wall just inside the door and a built in cupboard in the corner of the room next to my bed, in which my mother could hang her clothes. On the other side of the bed was a bedside toy cupboard with a bedside lamp on top – the mice sometimes used to nest inside this cupboard and shred paper all over the place! Despite always having a cat in the house, there were always mice and traps were set in the kitchen and occasionally one was caught! At times, a spare bed was squeezed into the space below the eave at the back of the room so a school friend could sleep in with me, or our beloved friend ‘Starkey’ could stay when on holiday from her job as a Matron at Branksome Hilders boys Prep School in Guildford. It was a small room and carpeted in a brown cord carpet, although there were bare brown floorboards in front of the very low window and over the bathroom area below – the stairs would originally have come up from there, I think, because the floorboards could be lifted. The red corrugated roof of the kitchen lean-to was immediately outside my window and it was nice to lie in bed listening to the rain patter on the roof – the window was usually open so my cat could get in and out and sleep in/on my bed which was crammed full of soft toys – Pooh bear and others. As I got older, the walls were full of pictures of horses and pony books everywhere, because horses were my great passion. The wall above my bedhead had the beams exposed (see photo of the end of the cottage) and the plaster in between seemed to be papered over. One could put a drawing pin in to hold my horse pictures.
It was good to lie in bed and listen to my father pump up the water from the well into the header tank in the roof above my room – it would have rested on the wall between the two bedrooms – my ceiling had a great sag in it and couldn’t have supported any weight. The lagged pipes carrying the pumped water ran from the floor of my room up the wall at the foot of my bed following the slope of the eave into the roof cavity. When the tank was full, the water ran out of an overflow pipe through the thatch at the back. My father climbed up into the roof space from time to time and once discovered an artificial leg stored up there…
I recovered from my childhood ailments in this room – curtained off from the light during an attack of measles, when my father read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to me – measles were thought to be a threat to one’s eyesight. After a dose of scarlet fever, my room was fumigated as a precaution – my father’s brother’s two eldest children died of scarlet fever so it must have been a worrying time for them. Bed rest was always enforced, even for chickenpox and long periods of quarantine from other children. (Toileting needs were, of course, catered for in those days by china chamber pots, an enamelled tin potty for me as a child, and a china commode housed in a cylindrical polished timber piece of furniture, also purchased from the Eyre Coote Estate, I recall!) Our very dear Dr Vicary of Fordingbridge used to attend at times of illness and it was never too much trouble for him to call in and check on a patient with influenza. Probably there was no National Health Scheme in those days, so perhaps a bill always followed? My mother was a wonderful nurse, having completed some training at St Thomas’ Hospital in London in her earlier years, and used to bring my food upstairs on a tray complete with tray cloth, toast rack and other refinements – we always used the best silver, which we would spend so much time polishing…and which still gets done whenever a guilt rush sets in, as the tarnish becomes noticeable in this humid climate. (Not that we use it much in these days of convenience.)
There was a one bar electric fire to be used in very cold weather and I could warm up my clothes in front of it – or, more likely, get dressed under the bedclothes, having deposited the garments over the rail at the bottom of the bed the night before.
This is the room into which Parson, the owl, used to fly on a summer evening and sit on the floor hissing – my parents used to sit out on the back lawn on some summer evenings and their voices could be heard, enjoying the swifts swooping low and screaming as they flew into their nests along the bottom edge of the thatched roof of Mr Bowles’s cottage. It was always an occasion on much joy when the swifts returned each summer. The martins used to nest in their little mud homes under the eaves of the barn, chattering away to each other.
Now let’s have a little wander around the garden! We will begin in the front garden (not that I am a knowledgeable gardener by any means either in England or Australia). Underneath the lilac bushes which were/are in the front were masses of beautiful violets. I remember picking these and taking them to church on Mothering Sunday one year. In the small patch of lawn to the right of the pathway (facing the front door) was a diamond shaped flowerbed in which pansies flowered profusely (it seemed we always had flowers in pretty vases in the house!)
As I have said, white pinks grew alongside the pathway on both sides and from memory I think there were mainly rose bushes in the beds along the garden wall, and polyanthus! No recollection of what grew in the matching diamond shaped bed in the other lawn. There was a shrub with white flowers in front of a hedge which bordered the other side of the garden, and lots of snowdrops at the base of the hedge. There was a tall white iron gate next to the corner of the house through which one walked down a path towards the end of the cottage, past the bathroom and kitchen windows and the sycamore tree mentioned before.
There were two white lilac bushes opposite the bathroom windows and the perfume was heady – between the hedge and the conker tree, near the iron railing fence, was the laburnum – this tree was quite established, leaned to one side and I used to crawl up the trunk as a youngster. My father planted the conker tree on Victory Day with great ceremony in the company of my mother and myself – I wore a red, white and blue dress. The iron gates were hardly ever closed – in the flower bed along the Bowles’ house were hollyhocks. The ground around the conker tree was ‘spare’ ground in which there were daffodil bulbs and clumps of whitebells (opposed to bluebells) – it didn’t get mowed – maybe scythed occasionally? There was a track from the road up between the Bowles’ property and the barn which led up through the orchard to the five barred gate into the fields – this was a fairly deeply rutted track made by horse and cart and later tractor wheels en route to the fields. There were lots of stinging nettles growing along the wall belonging to the Bowles’ property and on the other side of the track beside the end of the coal shed and barn – I used to ride my bike at breakneck speed along this rutted track from the orchard and fell head first into the stinging nettles on the corner by the coal shed one day – carbolic soap or ammonia was the antidote for severe stings at the time, although dock leaves were soothing – lots of those grew in the orchard.
The grass from the track in front of the barn and between the back of the house, to the boundary of the Kearly’s property, was all mown in the summer – there was a raised pathway from the red tiled path outside the kitchen door by the well to a single door in the barn. There was a purple flowering wisteria growing up the back of the kitchen wall and a water butt to collect the roof water from the corner guttering and I think daffodils. The big barn had been reroofed with red/pink painted corrugated iron over the original timbers and thatch, which was still clearly visible inside, as sketched by Catherine, my Uncle Austin’s daughter in 1943. Adjoining the big barn, with a lower roof line, were the stables containing two stalls and a manger which was fed with hay from the loft above. The cart shed was the second part of this lower building which had no doors at the front or the back, although it is hard to imagine any vehicle accessing the area from the orchard on the other side, as there was a considerable step down from a timber beam at ground level.
As one stepped out of the kitchen door and across the red tiled path, there was the well and the pump – there was a big concrete slab over most of the well and boards around the pump machinery which could be lifted to view the depth of the water – the well was brick lined and never ran out of water. The water was raised by pumping the long handle up and down. There were lovely dark blue cornflowers in the bed around the timber pump frame and always plenty of parsley.
As one stepped out of the door from the sitting room, there was a bed of purple irises in the corner against the sheep hurdle fence which ran the length of the garden adjoining the Kearly’s garden – there were elderberry bushes behind the hurdles. I buried my black and white cat in the iris bed after finding it dead in the hayloft above the cart shed. Beautiful rambling roses grew up in the hurdles beside a narrow stretch of lawn and sweet peas – there was a lovely flower bed next to this, in which grew delphiniums, granny’s bonnets, roses and some low white flowers and night scented stock, amongst other things – bulbs probably etc. and marigolds? There were a couple of small staddle stones, next to a small tree we called the flame tree because of the red autumn leaves, and some large poppy plants. The next flower bed along the hurdle fence contained only golden rod which grew profusely and tall in the summer – I used to make little pathways in it as a child and hide in little ‘rooms’ and make pretend elderberry wine with the berries from the bushes. There was a pathway beside the cart shed to a little wooden gate into the orchard, past the ladder up to the loft door where we used to store hay.
This is where the two yew trees were – one was very tall and upright, the other had a heavy lean towards the house and could be climbed, very carefully, in between the branches which grew upwards. They made a sighing sound in the wind. The brick Elsan toilet was built under the upright tree – one could study my father’s college rowing photos on the walls when using this facility!
Back to the garden – the rest was a lawn which sloped slightly down towards the raised brick pathway and very nice to lie on during a summer afternoon, watching the clouds, as my father had his snooze on a rug or enjoyed a cool beer from the beer barrel kept inside the barn some years. I remember watering the holes in his socks with my little watering can and being chased as he woke up with a start! He was very good at darning his own socks, after being so independent all those years in Africa. The lawn was mowed by a heavy push mower and rolled for years before my mother invested in an electric mower which she found easier to use.
We had a black pony with a white blaze called Polly for a few years – my father used to ride her for hours up on the Downs, birdwatching. She used to belong to my cousin Catherine, I think; she disappeared one day and I was told she had gone away for a while. Every time I heard horses down the street I would run to see if it was Polly – it never was and eventually I learned that she had been put to sleep and wouldn’t be coming back. I used to sit on her for rides in the fields but only learned to ride properly much later at a small riding school near my mother’s parents’ home in East Wittering where my mother and I spent many school holidays. After Polly was gone, we kept our bicycles in the stable and they became my ‘horses’ which I rode at great pace up and down the track in the orchard. The cart shed was full of stuff, including some garden furniture, and ideal for hanging out the washing on a wet day. My father planted a fig tree against the back wall of the stable to catch the sun in an effort to ripen the fruit – my mother loved figs. But the stable wall fell down one day and that was the end of the fig tree.
Sue riding a pony called Dolly B at East Wittering.
If one entered the barn through the single door at the end of the pathway leading from the kitchen, there was a water butt to the right of the door – these water butts were large old barrels, except for the larger metal one on the other side of the barn in which Parson the owl drowned. Opposite this single door, on the other side of the barn, was another single door opening on to the orchard area so one could walk right through. There was a large tool bench against the stable wall and the loft above was open to the barn, so one could climb down and jump off the tool bench if one wished. When I did not want to be found, the loft was a marvellous hiding place, as was crouching down inside the car parked at the other end of the barn, or even inside the coal shed!
The earthenware storage pots for the eggs and beans were kept by the tool bench – there was a partition wall opposite the tool bench by the door to the orchard, on which the onions and shallots used to hang.
Just inside the door from the garden on the left was where the logs for the fire were kept after my father had sawn them into smaller lengths. The car was parked inside the big swing door – there were double doors opening on to the orchard in front of the parked car, but these doors were rarely opened, as I recall. The floor was probably compacted earth but had been concreted on the other side of where the car was parked (adjacent to the coal shed – there was an opening about waist height into the coal shed, through which one could climb). There must have been shelves or something along the wall above this concrete floor as we used to store apples wrapped in tissue paper in old suitcases in this area. There was always lots of ‘things’ stored there. There were many skulls of African animals mounted on the walls with fascinating horns – dreadful as it seems these days. My father had a great collection of artifacts from Northern Rhodesia which were all crated up after the war and returned to the Livingstone Museum, where he felt they should be stored – when I visited the Museum in 2006, they were still safely preserved there. He brought back many beautiful animal skins also, which were used as rugs on the floor – as a special gift, he was presented a six leopard skin Karosse by a chief before he retired, which was on his bed. We still have it – it is magnificent but a source of much sorry, as are the beautifully carved ivory animals which were his pride and joy, made by a wonderful craftsman. Animals were only killed for meat or for the needs of the local population – white men were only allowed to shoot according to a strict limit by licence. Also on the wall of the barn was displayed my father’s rowing oar from Oxford days.
This is a picture of the barn taken front the orchard along the footpath towards the kitchen garden near the first field. It is obviously winter as the greengage and Victoria plum trees have no foliage, and the stable wall by the metal water butt had not yet fallen down on to the fig tree! What I find interesting and had not realised, is the roof line at the left hand end of the barn is lower than the main roof. Catherine’s drawing of the interior does suggest this as the main beam at the far end does seem to be lower.
Standing in the doorway of the barn looking out towards the fields, there was a large kitchen garden at the end of the orchard – there were some fruit trees randomly planted, apples, damson and crab apple. A pigsty was built in the orchard for Belinda, in which the geese used to live – the wretched ganders used to smother the goslings, if given a chance. We had lots of chickens that roamed freely but were penned in chicken coops and portable runs and fed on boiled vegetable scraps and meal. My father’s beloved Spaniel used to kill the odd chicken and was punished by having it hung around her neck for a while. I wonder if we ate it afterwards!
There was a tree, apple probably, in the middle of the kitchen garden at the end of the orchard under which was buried this much loved golden cocker spaniel and my first much loved cat – I used to tend their graves…
This is a picture of Bill Bowles standing in the orchard – behind him is one of our chicken houses and runs. Behind that is a Nissan-type hut which I think he had at the bottom of his garden, with a rounded roof – the outbuildings visible are in his garden. It must be Jess Poore’s house to the right of the photo.
In the empty space of grass on the way to the old kitchen garden described above, I built a series of gymkhana jumps in a large circle as one would to practice riding one’s pony around such a course. Sadly, I didn’t have a pony at that stage and instead galloped madly around on foot, jumping them all myself for hours on end, competing one imaginary horse against another. The neighbours must have thought I was a loony…but it is incredible how an only child can have such a rich life with all these imaginary characters. On the other side of the orchard behind the Elsan was that log ‘sailing ship’ that chartered many dangerous waters. I was included in a group of friends who performed little plays and sketches with Johnathan Cecil and his brother Hugh in the garden of the home at Cranborne, which no doubt encouraged my acting out these games. My mother was very good at encouraging school friends to stay when I was older to ensure I had company at weekends. People were always welcome in our house and everyone loved visiting the cottage, always commenting on the lovely atmosphere of the place.
The Old Kitchen Garden
To the left of the cart track which led to the fields, was the empty space of grass (described above) across which led a pathway to a gate into the old kitchen garden, which adjoined Jess Poore’s property and the back of the Bowles’ garden. Bill Bowles had a little gate into this kitchen garden because it all became too much to look after and he used to grow his own produce in part of it. This was mainly a garden for soft fruit – raspberries, all sorts of currant bushes, gooseberries, rhubarb and herbs and there was a large cooking apple tree in the middle, which was perfect for climbing. There were snowdrops along the far hedgeline, and a gate out into the orchard at the far end, near the five barred gate into the fields.
The New Kitchen Garden
This was situated at the end of the orchard, bordering the fence line of the first field and the Kearley’s boundary. It was quite large with the tree in the middle. Here were planted peas, beans, potatoes, broad beans (whose blossoms were liberally sprinkled with DDT…) marrows, leeks, onion, parsnips, Swedes, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflowers and probably anything else one could think of – even sweetcorn.
The produce from the garden was splendid and was no doubt contributed to the Harvest Festival each year in the Church. My father was a great gardener and keeper of records – he had notebooks detailing planting dates, picking dates, digging in dates etc. and records of the bird population, nesting and migration. In fact he was a born naturalist and his diaries of his walking tours around Northern Rhodesia are full of fascinating descriptions of flora and fauna.
Harold Frampton kept his heifers in these fields all the years we lived in Martin and it was lovely to sit on the gate and watch them – their drinking troughs were close to the gate. There were some splendid elm trees close by. The three fields were as one as the hedgerows were full of gaps – there were lots of birds’ nests to be found in these hedges and a large rabbit warren situated around the hedgeline of the dogleg of the third field – the ground was riddled with holes and it was great fun trying to catch a rabbit by putting a sack over some holes and wriggling a stick into other holes in the hope one might pop out – they never did and the cows all stood round watching with interest…
Mushrooms grew in these fields from time to time, which my father loved to eat – and there were fairy rings in the grass which were so exciting to a little girl! (To the uninitiated, a fairy ring was a circular line of dark green grass which appeared for some reason in unexpected places…)
The top field was always full of buttercups in the summer and our shoes would be yellow as we walked across to the stile in the top fence which gave access to the lane to the Downs. At the far end of the top field, adjoining Red White’s field, were masses of cowslips. When my mother died, my daughter Clayre and I scattered some of her ashes along the fence line near the cowslips. She used to sit there and paint with her watercolours. If one stands at the gate leading into the Churchyard and look up to the Down above the top of the lane (Small End Lane – or Smollens Lane), there should be a hawthorn bush clearly visible on the slope – we scattered most of her ashes around this bush. We spent so many happy hours on these Downs, walking the dogs, picking hips and sloes along the lane. Our friend Starkey used to take me up there when I was little – and gradually we went together when I was tall and she was ‘little’.
Another of our family’s favourite haunts was the Martin Woods, where we used to drive on a summer evening in the hope of listening to nightingales, and to walk along the tracks amongst the cascades of bluebells. Magical.