A Southampton childhood in peace and war.
JOHN H CROOK
To my family.
Northlands Road, Southampton, is no longer the road it used to be. Once lined by capacious mansions, today one finds only large blocks of flats or neat little houses lining its entire length. The large gardens are reduced to simply maintained patches and the tennis courts, bowling greens and the Hampshire County cricket ground that used to embellish its northern stretch are now entirely covered by buildings: while down at its southern end, where it abuts on the busy Archer’s Road, the former football ground of the ‘Saints’, Southampton’s team, The Dell, has disappeared, as has the neighbouring barn of St Marks Church. Fortunately, at its northern end, where it meets The Avenue, the main exit from town for London, the large green park known as The Common (for it was once common land for pasturage supplying milk to the old city) remains sacrosanct and one can still down a beer for lunch at the Cowherd’s Inn in an almost rural setting. Once known for the city-centre residences of some of the town’s leading citizens, the area is now one of dense occupation by the well off, burgeoning middle classes rearing their families in small houses or flats.
Northlands Road lies more or less in the centre of the modern city; although well outside the ancient walls and separated from the Civic Centre with its tall white tower, where my grandfather used to preside in the magistrates courts, only by one or two terraced streets of formerly working class houses and the winding length of Bedford Place with its many small shops, restaurants and pubs – a street beloved by my father as ‘the village’. From our home, we could walk to the centre and the main shopping area and central railway station in about twenty minutes and to the docks in about half an hour. Northlands Road follows the line of a small brook that, rising on the Common, ripples through the gardens, north to south along the backs of the large houses. This stream, the Rolles Brook, had formerly been a boundary of the city and, along most of its length, lies deeply embedded in a little valley with steep sides. My grandparents named their house after this little valley that resembles similar features found in the Isle of Wight known as “chines.”
My family owned numbers 76 and 78. My maternal grandparents, Alderman and Mrs Frederick Robson Brown, lived at The Chine1, number 76, a large red brick structure of four floors with a large garden, some three acres maybe, which they had purchased early in the twentieth century after their children were born. Formerly, they had lived in Winn Road not far away. My father and mother, then Councillor and Mrs Herbert Charles Crook, bought an empty patch of well wooded land, number 78, in 1929 and built their home, Tudor Wood, in an attractive, individually designed Tudor style of which they were both very fond and which bid fair to be thought the most beautiful house in the road. My sister and I were both born from there.
Although not especially wealthy, both my grandfathers were ‘well off’ business men owning chains of shops in the Southampton area; in the case of Lankester and Crook Ltd its general stores spread over much of Hampshire. Our lives in the 1930’s were certainly very comfortable and both families in Northlands Road were heavily committed to charitable work. Indeed, The Chine was a pivot for much highly significant activity being the home of a leading Alderman, once considered to be potentially one of the best mayors had he not declined to be nominated.2 His postal address, “The Chine. Southampton” was always sufficient. The Brown family were long established burghers in the city. My great grandfather, the originator of the lucrative food store, E. Brown and Son, which supplied many of the large passenger liners using the port, had been town sheriff and one of his brothers ran a dairy business for long based in Hill Lane (See Appendix ). My maternal grandmother, Maud, originally from Southminster in Essex, devoted herself to charity, establishing a ‘home from home’ for soldiers passing through the port in World War I, from which of course many never returned. Later, the team of people who had run the soldiers’ home, led by my grandmother and my mother, ‘Georgie’, were deeply involved in setting up the first ‘iron lung’ for tuberculosis treatment at Lord Mayor Treloar’s hospital for consumptives near Alton. My mother was for many years a strong supporter of Dr Banardo’s children’s homes. The beautiful gardens of The Chine were from time to time the setting for charitable outdoor theatricals, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, sadly often rained off due to our climate. My love of big houses undoubtedly stems from running around this large building and gardens with its many busy visitors and considerable staff as a child.
My paternal Grandfather, Samuel Bater Crook, was a newcomer to the city arriving from Merthyr Tydfil in the mid 1800s. It is highly probable that his father, also Samuel, had hailed from Devon as a younger son of a farming family seeking his fortune in the then booming economic capital of south Wales. Samuel Crook was probably a tradesman of some kind. On an expedition to Merthyr in the 1950s we found the little terraced two by two house with a ‘ty-bach’ out the back in which the family had lived and from which my grandfather Crook had been born. SB.was a successful tea trader, a travelling salesman in fact, who had met a Mr Lankester in Southampton, who was then seeking an appropriate business partner. Together they had created a chain of general stores with its head quarters in Obelisk Road, Woolston, across the Itchen River from the downtown city.3 Mr Lankester died relatively soon and SBC was the key founder of the successful retailing company. He married my granny “Polly” who hailed from Thame and whose father seems to have been a successful draper, and they lived variously in Winchester and Southampton finally rearing a family in “Woolston Lawn” a capacious house also in Obelisk Rd. Later they retired to a glorious home on the cliff tops in Shanklin in the Isle of Wight ( See Appendix ).
Although not born “with spoons in our mouths”, my sister and I were undoubtedly fortunate in our karma of birth.
In one of my earliest memories, I am being wheeled in a squeaky pushchair down Northlands Road in a snowstorm, the flakes popping in on me over the cover. I recall it well, the dark trees of the wintry Common with its cold lakes, where Nanny Marsh, a tall rather gaunt woman, a disciplinarian with a warm heart, had been taking me for an afternoon’s walk, and the great Lombardy poplar and other big trees that still line our road in places, some seventy years later. The memory is far more than a recollection of mere facts. Even today, I still recall the feel of the darkening evening light, the exciting chill in the air, the novelty of snow and the hints of a coming Christmas. Turning in through the double wooden gates of the Chine drive we passed the tangled array of leafless wisteria on our left, the wintry rose garden with its Grecian statue to our right and up to the warmly lit porch of the big house; inside, the caring welcome and the awaiting tea.
I have many such memories in which it is the feel of the time that predominates even though pictorially it is certain people, places or happenings that arise. Sometimes these remembered atmospheres elicit further scenes or even partly experienced smells but often they are shrouded before and after by forgetfulness, a sort of regretful mystery. I have no idea what happened that evening near Christmas, maybe in 1933 or 4, after the front door had closed behind us. Somehow, these memories create a mellow feeling for the past often tinged by sad intuitions of loss.
Attempting to write about these scattered and occasional memories, I become aware how poor language is to describe the feelings they provoke, so much richer and nuanced than mere words can tell. The mere factual details are accompanied by a sense of place and atmosphere, of personal feelings of joy or anxiety, of familial tension, the under- or over-whelming presence of another person and the pleasure or unhappiness of others that perhaps only a writer as gifted as Marcel Proust can begin to convey. Yet, in wishing, eventually, to tell my grandchildren about my childhood, I have no option but to make the attempt.
My sister and I spent much time in our early years at The Chine. Although we lived only just down the road, my Grandmother had great need of my mother’s presence and attention. “Gargar”4 was a possessive, ultimately paranoid, lady who, in spite of her considerable kindness and generosity, could also lapse into lamentable scenes when her possessiveness was thwarted. These became worse as time went on as she came to resent my father’s rights as a husband when they conflicted with her overwhelming need for her daughter's attention. Yet in the thirties things were relatively calm and as children we enjoyed the large garden with its mysterious corners and shady nooks to the full.
There were so many people to ‘entertain’ us. In later years, long after World War II, my mother would say “Oh, no John boy - not so many!” whenever I counted up those employed at The Chine. In tighter, more socialistic times, when she was running the decidedly plebeian Mothers Union at St Mark’s church, she seemed to feel something shameful in the way we had lived in the thirties. My memories are entirely clear however. At The Chine, the two maids never seemed to last long as they were frequently changing and the formidable Cook, for whom even my Grandmother had a guarded respect, dominated the kitchen. Cook terrified me but I sensed she had a good heart. In late November, she prepared a vast Christmas pudding for the family. All of us, Gargar included, had to assemble in the big kitchen and toss sixpences into the mixture as it was made. On Christmas day, we would search through our helpings to see who had been lucky.
In the garden a tall, rather elegant man with a stoop, ‘Gardener’, was to be found always wearing a big brown apron, manipulating wheelbarrows or carrying plants. He used to greet me with a profound respect, doffing his cap, “Good morning, Master John!” he would say, small as I was, in his reticent and kindly way. Somehow, I always felt a little shy as if he was making me out to be something more special than I felt.
Then, in the potting sheds, one could find ‘Shirley’ named after the district where he lived. Shirley was a slow moving, strongly built man with massive arms. He had been a stevedore down at the docks but some accident or misadventure had prevented him continuing such work. He would greet me with what I took to be a sort of evaluating twinkle in his eyes. I never felt quite sure of him but found his massive strength gave him a presence to which I was much attracted. Years later, in my adolescence, I came to know him better. He revealed to me some of the very positive values of the old working class of the time, sceptical about his ‘betters’, very much a Union man and perceptive about my strengths and weaknesses. He found my bookishness amusing and teased me in a way that made me think there might be something else in life than reading or studying for exams. I felt he knew a sort of freedom that I did not understand and that this was something to do with our very different origins.
Kent, the chauffeur, was usually to be found around the big double garage polishing or otherwise attending to the massive Wolseley, a splendid car, a lesser version of a Rolls, which transported my grandfather to the magistrates courts or my grandmother to her charitable activities. Sometimes I was allowed to sit up front with Kent, separated from family by the partition between the driver and the passengers’ seats. Sometimes, while parked somewhere, Kent, normally a dour man, would show me how the gears worked. I had keen indeed detailed conversations with him. He would relax at these times and he seemed to enjoy my company. He made me feel older than I was and appreciated by someone not easy to please.
I was particularly happy when, once a week, a Mr Oliver, if I recall correctly, came to wind up and adjust the clocks. Fastidiously neat, in a dark suit and with a rather aloof manner, he would go round the several Grandfather clocks, the French clock under its glass case, and many others, small, large and varying in shape, size and mechanism with me in attendance asking questions. There were clocks everywhere, which, I suppose, were why he was employed, and his visit was a veritable house tour each time. For some reason, later on, my mother never liked me to bring him up in conversation, as if he represented the height of pretentiousness in a bygone age.
Another person who was regularly part of the household was a Mr Brookman, “Brookie” or “Tresh”, short for treasurer as he had managed the accounts of my grandmother’s charitable work for the troops during the war. There was something a little mysterious about Brookie; it seemed my grandparents had rescued him either after a brush with the law or perhaps on becoming bankrupt. I was never sure what. He had formerly been employed at my grandfather’s store but no more. He seemed to be a sort of rather superior odd-job man about the property. He looked after us children when my mother was out and no one else around, negotiating our disputes and making sure we stayed warm. Kindly, friendly, smelling of tobacco, fond of children, he kind of stood in for Dad who was so busy in business. He often worried about us. I was told he once strongly objected to the long hours my sister Elizabeth was left in her pram in the garden when she was a baby.
Apart from people, there were also the animals. Jip was a somewhat obnoxious terrier, black and white and yapping all the time – or so it seemed to me. He used to jump up and down in a chaotically excitable way alarming to a small boy and I did not like him. Apart from Labradors and sheep dog Collies, I have never really taken to dogs. Cats were another matter. I always found something admirable in the self-respect that cats show in their politely independent stance on the world. There were two at The Chine – one was called Bony I remember. Both my sister Elizabeth and I have always been cat lovers willing to stop, talk and purr together at any time!
I remember The Chine with an almost crystal clarity even though it is now many years since I explored it. I retain deep affection for these memories as if the house was itself incorporated as part of me long ago. The porch opened onto an antechamber where coats were hung and walking sticks propped into a tall copper jug. There was an antique mirror facing the many paned window and colour prints of cock fighting on the walls, a complete series. I never quite understood why these pictures were there. All my family had a horror of cruelty and would not have been seen dead at a cockfight had they still been legal. I supposed they were valuable family heirlooms. Anyhow, they intrigued me and I used to examine them in detail. At the end of the room, stood a huge vase of flowers on a big chest.
Passing through a glazed door we would enter the inner hall from which, on the left, a handsome carpeted staircase rose in two flights to the first floor flanked by a high wall covered in pictures, many of them oil paintings, and headed by a large, light giving window. To the right, a long dark curtain divided this area from the main hall, a big room in which most of the household activities occurred. The curtain hung from a wooden frame a little like the partition between choir and nave one finds in some churches. Passing through the curtain one found oneself in a rather dark, panelled room with a big fireplace with alcoves on each side. In the centre was an oval antique table with a vase of flowers upon it and against the main wall a handsome dresser with blue china displayed. The room looked out onto the rose garden. On a small table to one side stood the radio and every evening my grandfather would listen ritualistically to the evening news at six o’clock and especially the football or cricket results. He had been a keen cricketer in his youth and was also a supporter of the Saints, the Southampton football club.
In front of the staircase in the inner hall stood a fine bookcase, below it an antique musical box, and next to these the door to the dining room with its hatch to the kitchen and its windows opening again onto to rose garden. On its walls were rural oil paintings of horses and one of sheep being herded through a gate. If I couldn’t sleep, I was told to count them as they went through. Having breakfast there with my grandfather was a somewhat formal event during which it was best to be seen but not heard. For some reason I have recollections of boiled eggs around the table and an elaborate cruet. Down the passage to the left from the inner hall there was the ‘Morning room’, small and comfortable where we children usually ate and visitors were welcomed and, at the end, the large, beautiful drawing room with a fine carpet, French cabinets, one with a valuable curved glass front, handsome antique chairs and various delicate china pieces and pictures. My grandmother used to go around various sales all over Hampshire returning with some treasure or another. She had good taste in these things. This room overlooked the great lawn, well shaded by tall flanking oak trees and rhododendrons, at the end of which was a massive dovecot with its splendid white doves– always a sore temptation to the two cats who were punished by having the dead bird covered with mustard when they tried to eat it!
Off this passage to the right there were a toilet and a washroom and through a door, Cook's parlour and the kitchen. Cooks parlour was rather dark as it looked out onto a yard surrounded by high trees. This place was a sanctuary and we children were not allowed to approach it except by invitation. This area of the house was thus quite effectively partitioned off from the main house as the servants’ quarter and it had its own back stairs passing the bathroom on the first floor and on up to the top story where there were two or perhaps three maids’ bedrooms under the eaves. I hardly ever went up there. It was a bit bleak and spooky and I avoided it as a place of mystery – like the maids themselves.
There were four bedrooms on the first floor, three capacious and the fourth, over the Morning Room, smaller. At the end of the passage was my Grandparents’ room with a vast double bed and a splendid wardrobe. It was placed above the drawing room and shared the magnificent prospect over the great lawn. Above the hall and dining room were the Blue Room and the Green Room respectively. I often slept in the Blue Room of which I was very fond and from which I have stored many memories but I disliked the Green Room. It felt cold and unfriendly. Next to my grandparents’ room was my grandfather’s dressing room and to the right, along the landing, were a toilet and a short passage to the bathroom past which rose the back stairs. I loved the bath with its huge taps and the tall metal column that stood proudly over the vent. An austere metal, stand-upon, weighing machine with a measuring balance along its top stood in the corner. I was weighed regularly and marks on the wall revealed my increasing height. I remember being bathed by my father, a special pleasure. There were always big, white and warm, fluffy towels.
A stairwell ran down from the entrance porch to the cellars where vats of preserved eggs stood before wine shelves and other stores. The passage way between the cellars was dark, indeed dismal and slightly damp: I always found it a little scary. A toilet lay to one side and the passage ended in a large room which, because the land was lower here, opened onto a stone flagged terrace, the main lawn and the tall white pigeon cot. This room, the Garden Room, had been the centre where the soldiers rested, wrote letters home and had tea during their leave days before crossing the channel to France in World War I. Various social functions took place there; at Christmas time, it was richly decorated with tinsel, streamers, laurel branches, and red-berried holly sprays and a Christmas tree was the chief attraction. When it was raining, we often played there with our toys.
The garden was our especial joy. How fortunate we were. To us it was huge and, indeed, it was by no means small. It was arranged over three levels. The upper level next to the road was where the formal rose garden was situated and, to the south of it, a dense laurel shrubbery hid the two garages that stood back from the road and had their own exit gate. A gnarled, ivy-clad oak of great antiquity dominated this shrubbery in which a Brown Owl lived who often started hooting in the evenings to our somewhat awed delight. In front of the garages was a small vegetable garden where the potting sheds also stood. Below the owl’s tree, there was an unkempt rockery in which was embedded a cannon ball said to have come from the Crimean war.
Behind the wisteria that flanked the drive, the land dropped sharply down a fern covered bank onto the long, spacious lawn shaded by large oaks to one side and rhododendrons at its farther end. This was the key play-space for us where I ran about pushing my little yellow van with ‘Evening News’ written on it or peddling about in a wooden sports car. My sister and I were often rivals for the yellow van and I used to say “Very well, you shall have it tomorrow!” Everyday it was the same and it took a long time for my little sister to understand that tomorrow never came. This big lawn was the pivot of the garden. It extended from the paved space in front of the Garden Room on which in early years out-door plays were sometimes performed, to the deep shade of large rhododendrons at its far end with the fern bank on one side and a raised path on the other beyond which began the wood of oaks and hazels. Near the far end from the house stood the tall dovecot with its pitched roof and many holes for the immaculately white pigeons. They contributed a magical grace to the trees, cooing, preening and flying among the branches. The lawn had a strong atmosphere as if it were a glade deep in some forest and I can still conjure up its humid odour tinged with a sharp smell of pigeon shit lying around the base of the dovecot. Every autumn Gardener hauled big bags of netting containing unwanted fat from the kitchen high up into an oak tree. The tits and other birds were always busy there and I loved to gaze up at them. Beside the lawn was a crab apple tree and every year my grandmother would organise a kind of ceremonial picking of the fruit in which every one took part. Cook rendered the little yellow fruit into a very fine crab apple jelly loved by all.
Beyond the lawn the trees thickened into a wooded area of hazels, birch and holly covering a further steep bank leading down under the big oaks to the stream with its lush vegetation; the especially prized Royal Ferns hanging over deep pools where water skaters and water boatmen swirled. There were steep mossy banks in which bumble bees made holes and buzzed in and out and ivy covered stumps in which once a blackbird nested but, to our distress, deserted because we kept peeking at it. This area was a veritable forest for us; we could play hide and seek among the trees and began to develop the imaginative games that became characteristic of our relationship. We really enjoyed each other’s company from early on. Our parents insisted on a strict equality between us in everything and although, naughty as I was, I sometimes cheated, basically everything went well between us.
Across the stream was a verdant rock garden, a tennis court and, on the northern side, a chicken run extended up the bank to the back of the house. Our eggs were always fresh and we each had a named chicken, mine was ‘Ada’. They were allowed to live into their dotage. Behind a shrubbery at the southern end was an area where Gardener created huge bonfires for the garden rubbish.
One of the joys of the garden was its criss-crossing paths, some wide, even paved, but, many being little tracks winding up and down among the leafy trees of the little wood. At one stage, a Sister Larby, a nurse who functioned as a sort of governess, looked after me. She had a sister in Nigeria, a missionary I think, who used to go through the jungle with African porters carrying luggage on their heads. I would lead the way around our little wood and Sister Larby would follow as we played ‘Africans in the jungle’. Perhaps my interest in cultures distant from my own begun at this time. Africans were black and beautiful, athletic and strong, I was told, and the jungles were marvellous. And so, we acted it out and I felt the excitement and mystery of strange places far beyond our town.
Just down the road stood a very different building, unique in the district and which, although imitating an ancient style, had a youthful freshness about it. Tudor Wood with its black and white face enlivened by the steep red-tiled roof was the imaginative creation of my father and mother who loved Tudor buildings. An architect relative 5 was called in to do the final plans and the house was completed in 1929 just as they were starting their family. It contrasted strongly with the red brick mansions up the road with their grey slate roofs and rather ponderous demeanour.
Tudor Wood stood back from the road behind a lawn to the north and a rose garden to the south, the latter flanked by a row of apple trees and the driveway leading to the garage with its huge oak doors. A paved path lined by lavender bushes ran to the front door. We had a gardener, a wonderful countryman with a rich Hampshire accent called Marjoram. He used to push the heavy manual lawnmower up and down outside our windows creating a wonderful scent of cut grass on sunny afternoons. Behind the house, the garden was a smaller version of The Chine’s with a long tree covered lawn above a steep bank to the stream below. One the far side, another bank reached up again under big trees to Silverdale Road. The trees were so high and leafy that this lawn had a rather thin grass cover and often became rather bare. At one end stood a tall wooden swing so high that the seat swung far out front and back to give real thrills to the swinger. Up from the lawn a terrace paved with slabs of Portland stone, as were all the paths around the building, returned one the house again. As at The Chine, secretive paths, some stepped in stone, led up and down the banks crossing and re-crossing the stream in two places by bridges, one of them a vast stone slab. The stream was shallow and rippled over a brown, gravely bottom from which I could capture little Gammarus shrimps in a jam pot. At the southern end of the lower garden the stream dived into a round culvert that run a long way under the neighbouring properties and the football pitch at The Dell eventually to open itself to the sea among the town docks a mile or two away. This culvert could easily become blocked and the lower garden flooded so a metal grill stood in front of it where twigs, autumnal leaves and garden rubbish accumulated and had to be dug out from time to time.
A massive, ‘Elizabethan’ front door of oak opened from the porch to a hall with a Welsh dresser to the left and a mock fireplace to the right. Straight in front stood a handsome grandfather clock beside which perched a stuffed owl, one of my father’s especial delights. Later on, an equally stuffed fox was to join it. Dad had the idea of putting little torchlight bulbs in its eyes to make it see – fortunately perhaps he never got around to it. Off the hall to the right, one entered the sitting room– large and handsome, rather pink and grey in decoration, extending from front to back of the house. Here stood my mother’s mini-grand piano, comfortable arm chairs and a sofa and in front of the French window, opening through a veranda to a terrace above the back lawn, lay the furry rug that had once been a bear. On the windowsill, my Dad kept his big world atlas that I delighted in exploring. Most pages were pink with the great expanses of the British Empire then still at its undiminished height. I used to locate remote places, Urga for example, and test Dad’s knowledge by asking him where they were. He usually knew.
The dining room opened from the hall towards the front of the house. It was decorated very convincingly in the style of a seemingly roughly plastered farmhouse room set off by the long dining table and high backed chairs. There was an especially fine dresser here and an antique mirror over a fireplace. Many were the happy meals partaken there with my parents, Dad at the window end of the table doing the carving and Mum near the door where she served us the pudding. The food came through a door and down a short corridor from the kitchen with it’s attendant pantry and a housekeeper’s room which together made up a group of rooms in early days largely the territory of a maid or housekeeper, although I think Mum did much of the cooking herself. In the thirties we usually had a maid, one was called Lucy, tall and dark, another Peggy, shorter and jolly; they often teased or played with me so I loved them. Later we had a governess who occupied the spare room off the landing upstairs. Much later after the war, this became ‘Miss Moore’s room’ the territory of a splendidly superior, grey haired spinster-housekeeper who informed my mother once when guests were coming,
“ Please don’t worry Mrs Crook – I am used to preparing sandwiches for the drawing rooms of London.” She used to go off once a year down to Clevedon in Somerset, for her holiday. Dear Miss Moore lived to be a hundred and was proud to receive the Queens letter, which I feel she very much deserved.
The landing ran the length to the house starting from my parent’s large bedroom over the sitting room below and giving off three further bedrooms and a bathroom that overlooked the back garden. A dark and narrow flight of stairs led up to the attic bedroom, where the maid lived, and where there was also a windowless ‘box room’ for storage under the eaves. The ‘master bedroom’ extended from the front to the back of the house; roomy and bright, it was a happy room. The colour scheme was greenish so that it seemed co-extensive with the summer trees beyond its back windows. My parents’ twin beds stood against the back wall, my mother’s dressing table before the front windows and a tall plain-fronted walnut wardrobe against a wall. There was a tall separately standing life-size mirror in a corner. On Sunday mornings when I was small, we children used to run into this room before breakfast and climb into our parents’ beds. The beds were somehow very much connected with their owners, each with its own peculiar smell and warmth. I used the sit on my father’s raised knees while he would chant the parable of the house that was built upon sand – “and the winds came, the storms blew, and DOWN the house fell” and he would drop his knees letting me fall into his arms. Then, of course, next time it stood firm because it was built upon rock and I became the ‘king of the castle’.
Some odd things went on in this room. Once I was ill and my bed was moved next to my mother’s. For some reason I started anxiously pulling out my hair causing considerable consternation. Around the same time Dad, thinking to amuse me, came crouching into the room on all fours pretending to be a bear. I was terrified!
As we children grew, the bigger front bedroom along the landing became our ‘nursery’, indeed schoolroom, where ‘Shortie’ (Miss Irene Short) played with us and taught us. ‘Shortie’ was good with us children, we became very fond of her and none of her subsequent replacements could match her. She also became warm friends with Mum.
The staircase to the attic turned sharply off and up from the landing and I used to stand on the lower step driving a puffing steam engine along hooting wildly as it went – just as the old puffer did at Calshot where my grandparents had a big beach hut. This was the little train that used to take the airmen, presumably sometimes including T.E Lawrence, to work at the seaplane base at Calshot Castle where Southampton Water merged with the Solent and the great liners used to pass by offshore.
A child of the thirties.
Now that I can look back at my childhood, naturally enough I understand much that I did not comprehend at the time. Children of compassionate parents are often shielded from adult difficulties and that was certainly the case for Elizabeth and I at least until our teen age much later during World War II.To us the ability to run free in two large houses under the warm eyes of parents, grandparents, housekeepers and governesses was a source of joy but in the background family tensions loomed and sometimes affected me quite seriously. I am clear that much of my basic karma, mild neuroses if you like, arose from the residual unhappiness that clouded my mother’s life in particular and which had its origin in her relationship with her mother.
One night, in my thirties I think, I had a dream that in its mysterious way defined the roots of my childhood experiences. I dreamt that I had discovered a secret entrance to passages that ran inside the walls of The Chine. There were narrow stairways and corridors, dusty, cobwebby, and turning this way and that and they gave secret access to many rooms. There appeared to be a world apart hidden within the fabric of the building and exploring it was both a source of fascination and some fear. I appeared to be the only one with access to it for there was nobody there. Going down one of these passages I came down within the basement walls near the garden room and found my way blocked by a tiny grill that opened upon the garden but which I could not move. Peering out onto the lawn beyond I saw a small boy playing with our toys. He was myself. Yet there was no way I could get out to join him.
I am sure Carl Jung and others would entertain themselves hugely with various interpretations of this dream but to me it seems to mean simply that I had a secret inner world from which I could not escape into my outer self. What was the nature of this fascinating, exploratory imprisonment? I think the answer lies in my relationship to my mother’s anxieties. I could not express myself to her fully because that only increased her tension. I had to believe I was something other than I was in order to humour the world of adulthood around me. Why?
I was often sick in my early years. Indeed, I only escaped being a sickly child around the age of 16 when, away from home at last, I responded to the vigorous training at Sherborne School. I frequently suffered from colds. When I was seven or eight I had a severe abscess in one ear, a threatened ‘mastoid’, that had every one fussing around me under the control of my grandmother’s authoritative care, hot compresses, doctors visits and a good deal of pain. I endured all that at The Chine in the Blue Room. Indeed, whenever I was poorly I was whisked off to The Chine into Gargar’s orbit until I recovered. Whether at The Chine or Tudor Wood, I was stuffed with various unpleasant remedies; tasteless oily paraffin to keep my guts moving and a Bovril-like jar of gluey brown goo ( Virol?), spoonfuls from which were intended to give me strength and help me grow. I was fussed over; great care being taken to keep me warm and I always had to wear my coats. This went on into my days as a weekly border at school during the first year of the war. I struggled between clashes of loyalty to my Mother – ‘Keep your coat on when you play outside!’ and my headmaster’s admonitions to take it off and run about. The headmaster’s wife poured egg and milk into me daily on instructions from home. Mr Savage, the headmaster, was bitterly critical of my mother and I resented his attitude enormously as I defended her in my mind. Another boy told me he had once referred to her as ‘a bitch’. Intuitively I resisted all this care but still I caught every cold that was going.
I suspect my father sought to limit some of these excessive efforts to keep me healthy. Somehow, he was always a tower of strength introducing me to realms of mystery. One moonlit night when I was around six I remember being carried on his shoulders down the path at Tudor Wood while he pointed out the various stars to me and together we listened to the owl hooting from its tree. He had something of a passion for night creatures, owls and foxes. He loved to read the stories of the Canadian naturalist who called himself Grey Owl and lived like a ‘red Indian’ in the northern wilderness. He told me about Tarka the Otter and a heart-rending tale about the life of a fox, ‘Wild Lone’. Some of the roots of my later interests in natural history undoubtedly arose from these times. Others came later in the reading of every volume of Hugh Lofting’s stories about Dr Doolittle.
Once, when I was sick in the Blue Room at The Chine, Dad came to share the room with me. In the early hours, we watched the light come in through the curtains and he told me about time, the revolving planet and the meaning of the sky. Many years later, I celebrated the memory of that occasion in a poem.
You carry me on your shoulder
through the dark
and explain to me
The owl in the old oak
calls in the night.
You chuckle, joyful
in that mysterious bird.
One day you received a stuffed fox
and to everyone’s horror
set it up in the hall.
You wanted to put tiny light bulbs
in its eyes and make it see.
Later the owl came
to sit above the grandfather clock
striking the hours
with its hoots.
When I was six
and staying at the big house,
in the Blue Room I remember
you came and slept in the great bed
next to mine.
Before dawn, I lay awake,
a little sick or something,
you took me into your sheets
and together we watched
the light come .
Dawn, never so mysterious,
never again so filled with rapture,
your explanations of the rising sun,
the globe that spun,
the east-west meaning,
time and openings
of day and night revolvings.
When the sun came
striking the gauze curtains
and filtering into the room
I was one with the planet’s turning
lying in your arms.
The roots of Gargar’s excessive need for my mother’s attention only became clear to me many years later.6 Mum had always been a dutiful daughter and it seems she never resisted her mother’s will. Indeed as a child, she must have been grossly dominated as was her brother Rodney who, in some ways, never grew up. She worked hard as a teenager, helping care for the soldiers to whom The Chine became offered as a ‘home from home’ during the Great War, and later became my grandmother’s right hand in the numerous charitable activities in which she was engaged. She was barely permitted to have time to herself. Indeed, I was told that Gargar did not want her to have a second child, as it would keep Mum away from her for some time. I was told Mum tried to hide the pregnancy from her until the doctor told her not to be so ridiculous. When Gargar broke her leg in falling down stairs, having tripped up in the long dresses of the time, Mum was almost continuously up at the big house. Dad certainly put up some resistance, although he needed to humour my mother or else her anxieties increased till tears came and all reason lost. He was always a kind man and responded to her sensitivities. Dad, an engineer, was a superb driver experienced in speed trials and hill climbs but Mum was extremely edgy in the car: “Not so fast Bertie! Watch that dog! Slow down!” all at a speed of about 30mph! It is surprising they did not have catastrophic rows whenever they went out in the car. When Dad and I were alone in the car together it was a different matter – he showed me how he could skid deliberately around the corner in Northlands Road correcting the vehicle triumphantly at the last moment. On one of my birthdays, probably I was five, I was hurried to get ready to go up to The Chine in the morning. I had hardly received my home presents and Dad resisted. I recall what must have been a terrible row. I was greatly upset but we ended up at The Chine anyway.
Mum was of an anxious disposition, seeking to get things right and concerned about what others might think. Elizabeth and I found a motto to help her with her anxieties that often caused us all a lot of trouble: “Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday and all is well.” It did little good. I think this excessive worrying came originally from a need to please her mother who was so demanding. In her late teens she had gone up to London once a week to study elocution and indeed, her speaking and writing were exemplary and she enjoyed acting. Yet, she had never seen anything of the big city, always dutifully returning to Southampton from Waterloo after her lessons. She was skilled at perceiving the motivations of others whether in business or otherwise and was prepared to recognise the negative as well as the good while yet preserving an attitude of understanding. It was perhaps her work with young soldiers alongside her mother in the Great War that gave her such skilled empathy and insight. After the war she continued in this secretarial and managerial role with the “Chine Helpers League’, essentially the same group that had worked for soldiers’ welfare in the war, in managing a charity supporting the new hospital for consumptive children, founded by Lord Mayor Treloar at Alton. She was an intelligent, indeed shrewd woman who, in modern times, would have done well in business or in any branch of management. Much later, when I was dealing with a crisis in the firm after Dad’s death, I found her advice always appropriate and insightful. She ran the Mother’s Union’ at St Mark’s Church for many years and had many devoted friends to whom she was always available for support and advice. She was sensitive, loving, and cared deeply, perhaps too deeply, for our welfare; so that when I was in an emotional turmoil in my teens at school, I found her caring support enough to hold me. It was she, also, who took many steps to help me develop the first stages of my career while still a schoolboy, finding out about David Lack’s student conferences in Ornithology at Oxford for example.
Although Gargar’s dominance and capacity for causing emotional disturbance were considerable, that was not the only side of her complex personality. She could also be generous, kindly, empathetic and loving. When years later, I left Sherborne School and was desolate at the loss of my friends, she spoke gently and reassuringly to me about it showing real understanding of loss and a true compassion for my rather painful adolescence. I remember the occasion well: we were in the little cellar under the Morning Room of The Chine doing some tidying jobs there.
After the war, we often worked with her in the garden, rearranging the ferns for example on the big bank below the wisteria, picking crab apples or planting. She had ‘green fingers’, often working physically in her big garden: its creative beauty owed everything to her love for it. Her involvement in charity was heartfelt: she would invite children from the Southampton slums to her house for treats and a distribution of little presents and her compassion for the troops passing through Southampton on the way to the front in WWI led to her opening of The Chine to them as a home from home; she looked after a little Belgian boy, Albert, a refugee from German occupation, throughout that war. She was a big boned woman with an imposing presence. There is no doubt that in modern times, when opportunities for women are so different, she would have shined socially– perhaps even in a political role. One family story tells of an occasion when Queen Mary was to officiate at a major function in Southampton’s Guildhall. Gargar arrived rather late in her big Wolseley and, as she swept into the hall, people rose thinking she was Queen Mary herself – to whom indeed she had some resemblance. We have an extraordinary photo of her surging forward accompanied by a gaggle of nurses, sisters and officials on a charitable visit to the Lord Mayor Treloar’s hospital, Mum trotting behind. There is a distinct resemblance to a great liner sweeping magnificently into port.
When I was very small, about three I think because it was before Elizabeth’s birth, Mum and Dad took a cruise on the Arandora Star around the Baltic. I was parked at The Chine doubtless missing them. Gargar took over warmly and lovingly. I was granted the considerable privilege of having breakfast or tea with her up in the big bedroom overlooking the lawn. I remember cosiness there and some clothes on a clothes' horse drying before an electric heater - funny how these ancient memories are sometimes full of seemingly meaningless detail!
Sometime later, when I was about five, I suppose, a strange old lady who had been nanny or governess to my mother and Uncle Rodney in a bygone era occasionally looked after me. She started me off on addition and subtraction and supervised my meals in the Morning Room. It seems there was some problem in getting me to eat my food, or perhaps to eat it properly, and I recall she used to threaten to summon up black witches or fairies to take it away. I never found these fantastic tales convincing and rather resented them. Miss Attie (Aslett) none the less was a family favourite especially romanticised by Gargar, so I had to put up with her. Her way with children undoubtedly belonged to a previous generation and I cannot say I ever took to her.
Christmas was a wonderful festival at The Chine. Most of the house was beautifully decorated with laurel, berried holly, ferns and streamers. I recall many guests who made a great fuss of us children: especially a distant ‘cousin’ Michael Levine, himself then a teenager, who used to read to me at bedtime, mainly Dr Doolittle, in the Blue Room. The garden room was the focus of attention with its wonderful Christmas tree. This was not at all for us alone. Gargar invited poor children from the ‘slums’ up to the house. We stood around the tree and, overdressed in my best, I was instructed to hand out the presents from the tree to the little boys and girls, strangely garbed and heavily scrubbed, some with cloth caps and funny voices that I had a problem in understanding. I was highly embarrassed. I felt I wanted to play with these kids who seemed full of a kind of life strange to me. It was awkward being placed unwillingly in the role of a rich donor. If these events were intended to teach me compassion for the poor, it had a rather odd effect. I felt more identified with the kids than with the warm hearted but towering presence of my grandmother. I didn’t like the feeling of an imposed superiority that, without any real understanding, I already experienced as a kind of alienation.
Gargar, on Granddaddy’s behalf as well as her own, took great pains to give gifts at Christmas time to all who worked for them. In my teens, I used to assist my mother to whom fell the practical work of this task. The car was filled with carefully wrapped presents and we drove from address to address all over Southampton handing them out. It was at least a day’s work. In particular, I remember a visit to a little house in a wooded area just outside the town. A Mr Gubbins lived there, a carpenter known to us as Gubby, who was very kind to us children and who had put together a playroom for us, ‘Pooh Corner’, in one of the out houses at Forest Chine during the early years of the war. Gubby was very ill, dying in fact. He was laid out on a sofa smiling wearily at us as he thanked my mother. It was the first time I had seen illness of this order and I felt a profound sense of sorrow and shock. It was hard to see that this was part of human reality. My mother felt it too and I remember feeling close to her in our sadness.
For us children, Christmas was a time of an ambiguous and almost embarrassing good fortune. Every acquaintance of my Grandparents seemed to want to give us something for they knew how they loved us. The Blue Room was stacked high with excellent toys of every kind and the writing of thank you letters for every one became a naughtily reluctant chore - particularly since we often did not know from whom they came or why.
It was in the Blue Room, probably in 1937, that I heard a very strange rasping voice on the radio. An uncouth man seemed to be raging aloud in a language of hate that made no sense to me. It was Hitler and it says something about his cruel charisma that this little boy remembers his voice so clearly. It was at once oddly horrific and frightening yet also it drew one towards the speaker much as a weasel tranquilises a rabbit by dancing before it. Weird and unlovely, I was not to know how serious this was for the sombre faced adults as they listened to the evening news.
My distant relative Michael Levine, who stayed with us at the Chine quite often in the Thirties, was an elegant young man, charming, witty, a dreadful snob but very good fun, whose company I greatly enjoyed. As I have said, he often read to me when I was packed up in bed. He had a Jewish father, I understood, and somehow this is associated in my mind with a sense of guilt at certain discussions involving anti-Semitism that developed in the family in the late thirties. Of course, at the time, I did not understand what this was all about but I recall the unease and discord in the family. These centred on the fact that my Uncle Rodney, my mother’s brother, an easily influenced man at the best of times, was for a while associated with the Black Shirts, the fascist organisation of Oswald Moseley – a political perspective vigorously opposed by the rest of the family. He abandoned this stance quite quickly and was as loyal as any one else during the war, participating bravely in the Fire Service during the raids. Later on, when I knew him as an adult, he was never excessively right wing in politics but I have always remembered uneasily this episode in our family life. Perhaps this was because I could imagine what might have happened to Michael had the Germans conquered England.
The various maids, cooks, gardeners and so on employed at The Chine and at Tudor Wood were recruited from an agency run by a rotund lady by the name of Mrs Lumby from an office in a house in Bedford Place. Sometimes I accompanied Mum on her rather frequent visits there. I remember the house and office well and it still stands to this day – unlike either The Chine or Tudor Wood. Other excursions in the early thirties took me to the Misses Bird’s dancing school where two more, equally rotund, sisters in black dresses, as I remember them, ran dancing classes for small children. I was told how to waltz partnering little girls or boys I did not know and move around in various ways to music on a tinkling piano to a tune that I can still hum to this day. I loathed it: it felt it demeaning and embarrassing. At one of their shows, I was much admired in a full-length suit that turned me into a white rabbit. I think it gave more pleasure to Mum than it did me. I cannot remember whether Elizabeth was tortured in the same way. Such events made me increasingly shy. I hated parties. I remember one especially galling occasion in a large department store in Southampton, Plummers I think, for someone’s birthday. All of us little children had to play together surrounded by admiring but oddly competitive parents. It felt as if I had to put on some sort of show to please somebody. My shyness became strongly linked to this feeling and I have never enjoyed parties.
My first school was ‘Miss Newman’s’ located in one of the few houses near the lakes on The Common. I recall little about this kindergarten apart from a cheerful schoolroom, a big garden, the surrounding park and the walks there and back. Later I attended Granville College, a small school actually next door to Tudor Wood. We made balls of wool by winding wool around a frame and then cutting the outer edges. I was not keen on going to school and often locked myself in the upstairs lavatory at Tudor Wood so that I was often late even though school was just next-door. Yet, I became enamoured, small as I was, with a friendly little girl called Madeleine. We had fun together but somehow the adults around me found it amusing. They used to tease me about my love so that I became embarrassed about it. Later, being sent to all boys’ schools, I had little opportunity to explore a similarly wonderful encounter again for many years.
Oakmount School was the first serious school I attended. Situated within its own large expanse of playing fields off Brookvale Road (now covered with small houses) it was one of many ‘preparatory’ schools for boys intended for delivery to the great Public schools of the nation. I have fragmentary memories of the masters and of a Miss Collins who, strict disciplinarian as she was, none the less or perhaps because of it, later became a major friend of the family coaching me in various subjects. School was quite an adventure and I lost my shyness there. This was in no small measure due to my form master, Douglas Busfield. Mr Busfield was a genius with small boys whose company he clearly loved. Always full of fun and jokes, my mother always remembered him at the school gates adjusting the boys’ grey and pink caps and shooing them off into waiting cars at the end of a school day. He was later to become my chief hero and if he passed me in a corridor without smiling at me, I was deeply hurt. In the early days of the war, when we were evacuated to the New Forest, he would come and coach me whenever I had been absent from school due to my frequent colds.
One day at school, a group of us were teasing an extremely ugly boy named Brian Tunmore. This was not exactly bullying – but not far off it and I still remember my feelings of guilt through taking part in it. For some reason he attacked me and stabbed me through the hand with a lead pencil. Of course all hell was let loose and poor Brian went into disgrace. Years later I met him again at Cambridge where he was an astronomer with an unusual interest in the occult. He had worked out how to plot the compass bearings and measure the frequency of migrating birds by watching them cross the face of the moon. He died young but not before I had abandoned my guilt about him through a warm if occasional friendship.
One magnificent school outing celebrated the return of our newly crowned King and Queen from a tour of Canada in 1938-9. The entire school, equipped with a multitude of Union Jacks for waving at the royal couple, was transported down to the docks where, sitting in ranks with other schools, we witnessed the stately docking of the great white ship, the Empress of Britain, which had brought them across the Atlantic. As they came down the gangplank, we all waved our flags and cheered with almighty gusto. We were then turned around or moved to see the beautiful, palatial train, drawn up to take their Majesties to London. The handsome Pullman carriages were brightly lit, every table sporting a shaded lamp. People were moving around inside but I am not at all sure we saw the King and Queen. Indeed, I am not at all sure whether we saw their Majesties at all and I did feel a little cheated, although it was all great fun.
Another great event occurred when we children accompanied Alderman F.R. Brown JP, our grandfather, to witness a parade of Indian troops in the forecourt of the Civic Centre. Due to his importance on the city Council, we were allowed to stand on the balcony of the Civic Centre just above the heads of the parading soldiers. I think the regiment was returning to India through Southampton from the Coronation parade in London. I remember the splendid uniforms, the tufted headgear, the tall, brown, incredibly handsome men. Perhaps this was the first taste of my love affair with India.
Another, very different parade, also took place about this time. It was a military parade in which the Civil Defence organisations took a major role. We lined up along the London Road and cheered as the parade passed. Dad was the Head Warden of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) unit for Woolston. As he came marching by at the head of his section he saw us and gave us a smile and then that extraordinarily funny twist of the mouth that was one of his jokey hallmarks. He would only treat us to this occasionally in spite of repeated requests and I never learned how to do it. We were always sent into uncontrollable giggles. He and his men were soon to be in the front line as the German Luftwaffe blasted Southampton and especially the docks around Woolston a year or two later and these men became Dad’s companions in the desperate work of rescue. The shadows of the coming war were already evident and these local friendships, forged into close bonds in times of conflict, were to endure till the end of his life.
In spite of colds and shyness, there were wonderful moments at Tudor Wood. The road outside was always interesting. Great carts for collecting rubbish would rumble by pulled by huge carthorses. At dusk, a boy would cycle up the road swerving dangerously from one side to the other as he lit the gas street lamps. He had a stick, with which with great skill he managed to pull down a switch without stopping. We admired his dexterity.
Every year at Easter and Whitsuntide there was a huge fair on Southampton Common. Huge steam engines drawing enormous loads for the ‘dodgem car’ stands, round-abouts, coconut shies and so on rumbled up our road. On the great day Dad would usually take us up to the Common reaching our main destination- the dodgem cars- by way of a long path flanked by stalls of every description and filled with the whole of the city’s motley in full holiday array. It was enormous fun. Dad was of course superb at handling the dodgems and it was with difficulty that he had to drag us away to other shows and experiences. Afterwards it became a sort of rite to drive down to the ancient walls of Southampton that had once overlooked the wide waters of the port and kept out the marauding French – or failed to do so – but where today we gazed out over the vast reach of the new docks and the colourful funnels of the harboured ocean liners.
Another trip on Good Friday was to drive in the early morning to the bakery of Lankester and Crook, Dads pride and joy, where he introduced me, shy as I was, to the large, sweating bakers and their huge furnaces as they produced the first batch of hot cross buns for the shop deliveries. The flour was kept on an upper floor and shot down a shaft to the lower ones where the preparation of loaves, cakes and whatever went on. I was allowed to drop my pet toy Percy the Penguin down this shaft and then run down to collect it, flour covered, below.
There were also the more sombre trips to the big Woolston cemetery ( St Mary’s Extra) where Dad’s father was buried.7 We collected water in an old can from an ancient pump (still there today!) to resuscitate the flowers in the vase, and tidied up the little grave garden. I then witnessed the profound respect and love my father had for my never-seen paternal Grandfather. After we had tidied everything up, Dad would absent himself from me, stand silently beside the grave, his hat in hand, and go into a great stillness. I did not fully understand what he was about but it filled me with a deep respect for Dad that I find difficult to describe.
Once a week our comics would arrive with the morning paper. I took two; one of them was a Disney production featuring Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Goofy and other characters. The other, The Rainbow I think it was called, had flights of cartoon stories. We were allowed to enjoy these after our morning lessons with Shortie in the ‘Nursery’. I also had a nature book that was a source of great enjoyment. For every month of the year it had pages where the dates on which various events in the natural world occurred could be recorded: the first snowdrop, crocus, daffodil; the dates and temperatures of snowfalls; the first song of the Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Blackbird; the dates when catkins, bees, wasps, and so on appeared; the arrival of migrants both birds and butterflies; and of course the date on which the Cuckoo was first heard. As well as in our big gardens, we often drove out from town into the New Forest to investigate whatever might be happening. We also stuck beans on a small sticks against damp cardboard in jam jars and watched them put out roots and shoots as they began to grow. Later, at Oakmount School in the summer of 1939, my form held a competitive flower collection. We had to collect wild flowers, press and label them properly and present them for evaluation. Greatly helped by Mum, Gargar, and trips out of town, I won. Undoubtedly all this contributed to my eventually becoming a biologist.
Our Sunday excursions were always a delight. We would pack the hamper for a picnic, always including Dad’s primus stove for boiling the tea – a fascinating contrivance – while Mum prepared sandwiches and cakes. It was always quite a feast. Our Uncle Harold, Dads younger brother, and Auntie Dorothy with their daughter Pat, often joined us. Uncle Harold was a jovial, warm-hearted, but not awfully bright man. He had been a captain in the artillery at Thessalonica in Greece during the First World War so he used to teach me how to use a compass and eventually I inherited his ‘Sam Brown’ leather belt. I was to choose the Gunners for my National Service when my own number for military service came up. Auntie Dorothy had a prim and proper appearance but, actually, she had a wry wit and could be extremely funny. At her Christmas parties, she managed to get us all going in ridiculous party games that, anywhere else, would have creased me into a corner with embarrassment. Pat, rather older than me, I found rather awesome it this age but later we were good friends.
Our destinations were often St Martin’s Down, a high breezy upland rich in bluebells, which we gathered in armfuls; or Farley Mount where there was a huge rabbit warren. Sitting behind a hedge, we watched them running around in the various games they played. They fascinated me. On the way we would roar along in our big, square backed Morris, shaped more like a coach than a modern car and with side boards for mounting, as fast as Mum would allow; Elizabeth and I in the back greatly encouraging Dad to go faster, faster or to overtake under the most hair- raising of conditions. There were two distinctly different schools of thought about driving during our excursions!
A different sort of expedition occurred annually when the Old Folks’ Outing, a charitable activity of the Woolston Wednesday Football Club, of which Dad was president, drove out of town in a great fleet of charabancs blocking the roads for miles. The Old Folks were the elderly people of the slum areas around the docks, especially around Woolston on the eastern side of the Itchen. In the years following the slump of the early thirties there was much poverty and many working class folk were truly poor in a way difficult to imagine today. The housing was often dreadful, the streets shabby, clothes poor and little or no finance to support such things as outings or movement of any kind. This then was a great event for these old people. Dad was very devoted to them and the chief organiser of this charity. He was a man with deeply compassionate feelings for the poor. He had had an apprenticeship in engineering working on the shop floor and this had had given him a deep respect for working class people. He was always on the look out for old people in the shop in Woolston and, on learning what they wanted, he would often give it to them. Of course, this was not the best way to run a business and later on, he was criticised for his generosity - yet it was an essential part of his nature. One year the outing went to Castle Malwood in the New Forest. I remember the coaches piling into a great field commandeered as a car-park, the trestle tables with their white table clothes and the tea and cakes shining in the sun, the smiles and jollity of the old folks dressed in their best. Dad took us around from table to table, introducing us to the old people who had fun with us children, joking and teasing. Dad was someone who could get on easily with anyone. Indeed Mum often said that the reason why she married him was because, when they were out on a drive together, he could stop and speak with anybody – clearly something in which she felt other members of her family must have been deficient. I enjoyed the feeling of equality with all people that Dad radiated, although my own shyness often made it difficult for me to follow him as openly.
Another joy of those years were our long stays in our big beach hut on the Calshot shore. Calshot Castle was an air base at the end of the Calshot Spit at the entrance to Southampton Water. The beach was a long ridge of shingle sloping down to a stony shore where patches of sand would appear from time to time. The greater part of the shore was lined with beach huts, some of them very large indeed. Ours belonged to Granddaddy and Gargar. It was middle sized but contained two big bedrooms with toilets ‘en suite’ and a large lounge that opened onto a decked court facing the sea. Although it can never have been very warm there, everyone seemed to enjoy sea bathing as the beach ran out quite shallowly for a considerable distance. I learnt to swim and we dug sand castles whenever a sand patch appeared.
There was quite a little society along the beach, many Southampton families had huts there and parties were common. Many of my Grandparent’s friends used to join us. Up the beach was a very big hut owned by a gentleman with an Italian name. Mr Taramelli was big, jovial, and rather noisy – so much so that my little sister became terribly afraid of him. Whenever he came by, she would burst into tears and run away to hide – much to the poor, well-meaning man’s distress. His son Tony was a teen-ager who became my second hero. I used to invent imaginary stories in which he took the part of an adventurous airman flying the planes that used to buzz through the air from the air base at the end of the road.
Out at sea the RAF had placed a square floating structure like a buoy but bigger. This was their target for bombing practice. I can still see in my mind’s eye the little biplanes zooming in to a dive-bombing attack, letting go their bombs, which would explode impressively in the water near the target. Bombing afternoons were a fine spectacle for everyone along the beach. Of course, this was well in-shore from the sea-lane of the great liners that sailed majestically past on their way into or out of Southampton docks. The 1930s were the great age of the passenger liner – these magnificent ships would set sail for every part of the world; Cunard liners for the Atlantic, P&0 for India and the East, The Castle Line for South Africa. All these beautiful, highly coloured ships with their funnels distinguishing their line passed before us in an endless procession. We identified all of them – the four funnelled Aquitania, the Mauritania, the Queen Mary, the Andes, the Castle ships, the Empresses of Britain and Australia, the rival French ships, Normandie and others, the German liner Bremen8 and the beautiful Arandora Star.
The liners passed by quite close to the Calshot Spit Lightship with its huge lantern and its red painted flanks. When the tide went really far out it was just possible at the lowest ebb, to walk out to her, to climb on board, have a cup of tea with the smiling crew and then hurry back before the rising tide. The walk out was a great adventure, we crossed beds of green grassy seaweed where there were big shrimps to be caught in wide nets pushed before one at a slow pace and sometimes there were fierce crabs and creepy spider-crabs slinking about. I was small and the rising tide sometimes meant I had to be carried back to the beach. There was always an air of adventure because the timing of the trip had to be very exact.
Strange experiences happened to me at Calshot. Once I fell out of bed and cut the back of my head severely against the door of the room. Blood gushed everywhere and there was a great to do. The scar is still there. Our toilets comprised metal barrels, known as ‘ thunder-boxes’, with a seat on top. They were filled with a powerful disinfectant so that after some hours of use the warm, slightly sickly but not unpleasant smell characteristic of these huts gently oozed upon the air. Every morning, a man was employed to go along the beach extracting the thunder-boxes through an external flap and empty them, hopefully into a falling tide. Although the scouring of the tides acted as a fine scavenger, there were days when the faeces of our neighbours floated by just offshore and bathing became embarrassing rather than prevented.
The atmosphere of our little home by the shore was for me gentle and happy. The aroma of the house mingled with the scent of marram grass and the salty marshland behind the beach- where long dykes stretched for miles making for good walks with Mum and Dad. Every morning a little puffer train carrying airmen from their barracks to the castle would chuff past leaving a whiff of steam and coal dust. I would lie a-bed seemingly tasting the air and melting peacefully into a tranquil state of mind, an awareness of sea, marsh and space touched now and again by the call of gulls – a kind of dreamland but in which I was not asleep but present within an alert yet inactive joy.
The War Years. Minstead
One evening in September 1939, my Uncle Rodney, Mum’s brother, and I, then aged eight, were walking along the shingle beach of Milford on Sea flanking the Solent. The war had just been declared and everyone was in a sombre mood that conveyed itself to us children as a strange experience, perhaps even a little exciting. Two sea-grey destroyers were slipping out to sea moving swiftly along on the tide. Uncle Rod was speculating as to why they were using the Solent to reach the Channel from Portsmouth rather than heading straight out from Spithead. Submarines might be lurking out there, he surmised, and the Solent was a sheltered stretch of water dangerous for the Germans to enter. I began to realise that war might involve more than fun, no joke in fact. The war was to alter our lives profoundly and the halcyon days of the thirties were not to return.
We children understood something serious was afoot but of course had no real idea of the state of affairs. Everyone seemed remarkably calm although clearly preparing for the worst. Mum was rushing about buying black cloth to cover the windows as a total blackout at night was ordered. We were shown pictures of odd devices that the Germans were expected to drop from the air so that when someone picked them up an explosion would kill them. We never saw any. Gas masks came in and were fitted – all of which was rather a lark. Meanwhile the rest of the country was in turmoil with huge movements of children being evacuated from the cities and many going by boat to Canada or Australia. For a long time of course nothing happened; the period of waiting was later called the phoney war
Mum and Dad had realised that Southampton would be a prime target for German air raids and indeed so it turned out, so they had decided that Mum, Elizabeth and I should move into the New Forest for the time being. We took Shortie with us to continue teaching Elizabeth and to be a companion for Mum and, at the end of our holiday, instead of returning to the city, we moved into rooms in Honeysuckle Cottage in the hide-away village of Minstead deep in the woods. The cottage was also a tea-house and people came there for afternoon tea and cakes especially at the weekends. It was a delightfully pretty building, deeply thatched over small windows, cosy and set in a colourful garden.9 We had a large lounge to ourselves and above it a big bedroom for Mum and I and a lesser one for Shortie and Elizabeth. The owner, a round faced lady of uncertain years called Miss Gange also lived in.
Thus began an extraordinarily happy period. At last we had Mum to ourselves for she could no longer be rushing up to The Chine at Gargar’s every beck and call. Mum indeed seemed happy too in spite of everything. The only problem was that Dad could only rarely join us because not only was he running the firm in Southampton but also his duties in the ARP began to be pressing. Minstead was and still is a very attractive village with thatched and slate roofed cottages, a square, an ancient church with a triple decker pulpit and a big yew tree over the litch gate, a bubbling stream and a water splash across a road; on one side deep beech woods bordered some acres of local farm meadows and on the other, on rising ground, spacious heath-land.
Several other families we knew from town also moved into vacant properties in the area. Next door, the family of Dr Bacon, an eye surgeon, had arrived; another mother with two boys, Robert and John. Across the way was another mother with a young son, Brian Blackall. The fathers with work to do usually continued to live in town. We soon had friends and the villagers too were welcoming. Shortie used to go along to the village hall for dances where soon George Penny, a Minstead farmer courted her. They fell in love, married and Shortie stayed on in the village after we left - so we were not short of romance.
Oakmount School also moved lock stock and barrel into the relative safety of the forest. Mr Savage, the Headmaster and owner, had managed to purchase or hire Beechwood House, a large manor near Cadnam. His school in town had only taken day-boys but now he decided that to maintain his business he should accept boarders. He converted several huge bedrooms into dormitories; other rooms became classrooms and space for his own family and several teachers while, in the basements, he converted several cellars into air raid shelters equipped with bunks. He lost most of his pupils of course but around fifteen or so of us began to come to his school in its new setting. It had several advantages: beautiful if unkempt gardens with splendid trees; huge laurel and rhododendron shrubberies for fun and games and large playing fields in which, in spite of large, juicy cowpats, we played vigorous rugby.
Most of the boys had bicycles but I had not yet learnt to ride one. Mum and Dad bought me a huge, road-going tricycle for my 9th birthday. Since the distance was not great, I remained a day-boy at first. Every morning in term time Mum and I would cycle off through the misty, autumnal woods taking half an hour or so to thread our way from Minstead to Cadnam. I was a bit embarrassed by the huge tricycle for some of my friends teased me about it; yet I was proud of this unique monster. No one else had anything like it.
These early morning cycle rides along the empty forest roads were a joy to Mum and I. The autumnal woods were naturally resplendent in rich colours as the leaves turned and winter approached. The great beech trees were well spaced and beneath them there were occasional holly bushes, mossy banks beside small streams and mysterious paths leading who knew where. The morning mist sprinkled the myriad spiders’ webs stretched among the heather of the open spaces with dews creating a sea of waving cobweb. The atmosphere under the lofty trees with their grey trunks was serene and peaceful yet felt a little dangerous on account of the gypsies. At that time, there was a large encampment of them not far from Lyndhurst near our route. Hidden secretly in the woods no one knew much about them but of course, there were local prejudices and rumours galore. They were said to strew broken glass on remote roads and then rush out of the trees to help motorists with burst tyres. I never had confirmation of such an event and in any case, they never bothered us as we cycled past their hidden abode.
The entire school, all fifteen or so, was sometimes taken for walks in the woods, a long queue winding through the trees. Whenever the gypsy boys discovered us, they took a delight in attacking us, throwing stones at us and shouting. This became a bit more serious than playing at Red Indians; indeed quite frightening, although we responded in kind. Mr Savage eventually decided that discretion was the better part of valour and walks were discontinued for some time.
One day I developed appendicitis and I spent some days in Lyndhurst’s little hospital where Mr Savage visited me. I had my cuddly, toy penguin “Percy” beside me in bed and I pulled him shamefacedly under the covers as my headmaster arrived.
Every night in Honeysuckle Cottage, Oney suckle cottageHoneyMum would read me to sleep. We launched into Treasure Island. In the story the gentlemanly treasure seekers were equipping a ship in Bristol and, unknown to them, several pirates were signing on as crew. One of these, the old blind man Pym, was especially sinister. He would approach the inn at night, his stick tapping menacingly along the pavement in the dark. My mother’s reading was wonderful and I could really hear these sounds in the night as this unknown but terrifying figure approached. Suddenly I was overcome with fear, screamed and could not be comforted for a long time. Perhaps there was something in the story that evoked for me the unknown terrors of the approaching war.
I was beginning to read for myself. One book was especially significant for me, Richard Jefferies’ “Wood Magic”. It was singularly appropriate for our wartime, forest existence containing a long fable about a war among animals and birds but also and more importantly for me in the long run, the experiences of the boy Bevis running wild in the countryside. The beauty of this book lies in the fact that much of it is personal description as Richard Jefferies recalled his own nature-loving childhood. Although my mother gave me the book as a present for my birthday in November 1939 and it impressed me greatly, its true impact on me came later when I too used to wander alone in the forest woodlands and heather clad hills. There was a passage in the text that moved me in an extraordinary way. It is near the end of the text and Bevis is running about high in the hills drinking in the wind. The wind talks to him and, when they come to a small rounded mound of earth, Bevis lies down and the wind caresses him telling him stories of the sun, moon, earth, wind and the great age of them all. The wind tells him there is a man in the hill.
“What man?” said Bevis, “and how did he get in the hill? Just tell him I want to speak to him.”
“Darling,” said the wind, very quiet and softly, “he is dead, and he is in the little hill you are standing on under your feet. At least, he was there once, but there is nothing of him there now. Still it is his place, and as he loved me, and I loved him, I come very often and sing here.”
“ When did he die?” said Bevis. “Did I ever see him?”
“He died about a minute ago, dear; just before you came up the hill. If you were to ask people --- they would tell you he died thousands of years ago; but they are foolish, very foolish. It was hardly so long ago as yesterday.”
“Now this man, and all his people, used to love me --- and when they died they wanted to be with me, and so they were all buried on the tops of hills, and you will find these curious little mounds everywhere on the ridges. --- I am always here.” ---
Bevis knew what the wind meant; he felt with his soul out to the far-distant sun just as easily as he could feel with his hand to the bunch of grass beside him; he felt with his soul down into the earth just as easily as he could touch the sward with his fingers. Something seemed to come to him out of the sunshine and the grass.
“There never was a yesterday,” whispered the wind presently, “and there will never be a tomorrow. It is all one long today. When the man in the hill was you were too, and he still is now you are here; but of these things you will know when you are older, that is if you will only continue to drink me. Come, dear, let us race on again.” 10
Something in this and similar passages spoke to me; it seemed to be a sort of understanding. Like Bevis, I seemed to know what the wind meant.
Paradoxically perhaps it was while we were at Minstead that I had my first doubts about Father Christmas. My mother and father clearly enjoyed this Christmas ritual and no doubt previously had I. Where this scepticism came from I cannot be sure but perhaps the fantastic threats of fairies and witches told me by Miss Attie had started it off. The problem of course was that if I confessed to disbelief or even doubt I would get no more presents in my stockings – oh dear – so I kept silent. Maybe, in any case, I was a natural sceptic from the beginning and the tendency has never left me. I remember once at The Chine I had been given my first Bible as an Easter present. For some reason I recall lying in bed, once again in the Blue Room, looking at it on the chair beside me and feeling disappointed at its serious black covers. I had hoped for something more exciting. Of course, I then felt guilty because my parents obviously intended this to be an important gift to me. It was in Bible classes at school that eventually I came to love Bible stories and appreciate my book.
As usual, I caught colds and had to miss days at school. At these times, Mr Busfield would come, visit us, and give me lessons. This was tremendous fun. Douglas Busfield was a short stocky character, square faced with bushy hair and a wonderful way of cheering me up, encouraging me and also enjoying the company of the family at tea. He was not as yet called up into the army where, eventually an officer in the Hampshire Regiment, he went through the North African campaign and up the length of Italy. Being my hero, he was mentioned in my prayers every night as I knelt beside my bed and, throughout the war, I was concerned about his welfare. At last he returned, a popular and much loved infantry officer, bearing with him wonderful photos of Italy and all the numerous beautiful dark-haired girls he had met – rather hurriedly hidden from me lest I should enquire too closely about them. After the war, he continued in service, joining the Parachute Regiment and continuing a highly adventurous life. In the end, he retired into selling school textbooks and ended up in Cyprus where I eventually went to see him and his wife, Sue, not long before he died.
One of my colds turned into something approaching pneumonia and I was in bed throughout the bitterly cold spell in mid-winter that year (1939-40). A huge icicle, at least a yard long, hung down outside our bedroom window. One day, the Doctor came and, thinking I would like to see it closer, he leant out of the window and broke it off. I was distraught for days.
The Furnival Hotel
My mother suspected that the tap water in Minstead, or at least at Honeysuckle Cottage, might be contaminated with sewage. She decided to move and we went off to Cadnam, taking rooms in the Furnival Hotel where we were to experience the full impact of the Battle of Britain. The ‘blitz’ began in early 1940, Southampton became a major target and German planes were all over the place. One afternoon, a fighter plane, probably a Messerschmitt, zoomed down Lyndhurst high street firing its machine gums at civilians. One of the Hotel’s neighbours, a Mr Purkis if I remember, was hit in the back and was in hospital. Another day in high summer, we were all out in deckchairs on the front lawn when a low flying aircraft appeared. Suddenly, we realised it was a German bomber and panic followed as everyone rushed to get indoors. Nothing happened and we soon heard the roar of approaching Spitfires. The sky was often full of trails as the planes fought one another from horizon to horizon and sometimes we saw one of them coming down in flames. The great thing was to collect bits and pieces of these crashed enemy planes and many of my school mates amassed quite large collections, pipes, bits of fuselage, parts of engines and also pieces of anti-aircraft shell that often showered down dangerously. At night, we could see the long beams of the many searchlights seeking out the bombers, waving too and fro above the city only a few miles away. During these heavy raids, we hid in an Anderson shelter, a sort of metal cage, constructed in a back room. Sometimes the noise was horrendous, occasionally a bomb fell nearby generating a big explosion. We got used to the screeching of the Air Raid Warnings and the All Clear. It was scary but I do not remember us being terribly frightened. I don’t think we cried at all, perhaps due to the stoical behaviour of most adults around us.
One day, after a very severe raid on Southampton, my grandparents arrived in the big car driven by Kent. They had spent the night in their concrete shelter built in The Chine garden and bombs had come down all round them. Gargar was extremely shaken and disturbed. She wept rather hysterically, my mother and other hotel guests trying to comfort her. I was shocked by her distress. As she recovered, she took my sister and I for walks in the woods or over heath land near the hotel. She pointed out the plants to us, we listened to the birds and the wind in the trees, built a little hut under a fir tree. I started listing the birds we identified at this time. The family news was however actually much worse. The big “Everything to Eat” store of E.Brown and Son in Above Bar beside the ancient Bargate of the city, my Grandfather’s pride and joy, had been hit and burned to the ground. His main business was in ruins but the ancient Bargate survived – still there to this day. Several other families now arrived and filled the hotel, including a Mr and Mrs Parr who had survived the direct hit on their house in upper Northlands Road. My Uncle Harold and Auntie Dorothy came too with Pat. We had quite a group of children for games in the garden.
Dad was in the midst of the battle. He told us little about it, not wanting to scare us. The whole of lower Southampton near the docks and the great Thorneycroft’s shipyards on the Woolston side of the Itchen, where naval craft were constructed, went up in big explosions and showers of incendiary bombs. In spite of vigorous anti-aircraft defence, the waving search lights, guns and the hard working fire service in which my Uncle Rodney played a role, there was little we could do to stop these heavy night raids as the German began the pounding of all our cities. Dad and his men laboured between falling bombs and collapsing buildings trying to rescue those wounded or trapped among the debris. Sometimes Dad had to walk the main railway tunnel with a torch looking for fallen bombs that may have come unexploded through the roof.
One night, with the city on fire in all directions, Dad drove home after the All Clear, zig-zagging through the shattered streets. As he came down Archer’s Road and approached Northlands Rd, he could see plumes of flame licking skywards from exactly where our houses were. Drawing up outside however he found that, although neighbouring properties were in flame, both Tudor Wood and The Chine were standing stolidly in the glowing dark. It turned out that the whole district had been showered with small firebombs, many lying smouldering in the lawns and flowerbeds. The hard tile roof of Tudor Wood was more steeply pitched than most houses and several bombs, having hit it, simply jumped off to bury themselves in the garden. At The Chine, a bomb had come thought the slates but buried itself in the thick mattress on one of the maids’ beds, its occupant fortunately having retreated to the shelter in the garden, and smothered itself leaving just a big round burnt patch in the mattress from which it was extricated as a souvenir.
Among the characters now gathered at the hotel were various intriguing people. One lady, a Miss Churchill of all names, her grey hair all over the place, was telling everyone to have faith in Jesus Christ. She went on and on about the Bible so that Mum was embarrassed between admiring her Christianity and being irritated by her unbalanced state of mind. The dotty old dear would take us well-mannered children aside and tell us Bible stories with numerous morals. I found her oddly interesting; felt sorry for her because everyone thought she was mad but ultimately also found her boring. I could not believe a word she said, however hard she tried. Another rather smart lady had had a vivid dream, which had accurately informed her of the death of her son- to the minute. I was intrigued by how her son might have been able to contact her when he was suddenly dying but found no answers from anyone. One guest was a schoolmaster. He had taken us to Romsey Abbey when a huge air raid began, explosions going on all around. He said the great building was quite safe and for some reason we believed him. He took me to look at the Latin inscriptions celebrating various defunct personages commemorated on the walls and with which I became fascinated since I was just starting Latin.We translated several of them, together. If I had had inspiring teachers like him later on, instead of idiots, I would have probably greatly enjoyed the language.
The family decided that staying in an overcrowded country hotel was not such a great idea and my Grandparents purchased a sizeable house just outside Lyndhurst, the country town capital of the New Forest. They bought it from a certain Lady Canterbury. Lord Canterbury had recently died and she no longer needed the place, which they had used as a hunting box. Granddaddy and Gargar changed its name from Gorsey End to Forest Chine and proceeded to move some of their best furniture there from The Chine where the risk from bombing was now very high.
Forest Chine was an old country cottage, probably several hundred years at its oldest, onto the end of which a three-story tower block in red brick had been added. The garden was about an acre in extent backing immediately off the main Southampton Road. This indeed was a major disadvantage, cars went streaming by much of the time and the traffic noise was considerable even though the vehicles were out of sight beyond a thick rhododendron hedge. In front of the house lay a circular lawn and up in the hedge a wooden tower with a decaying summerhouse on top peeped out onto the moor beyond. A drive way gave onto an open turning area to the side of the house beyond which stood a range of outhouses, disused stables and a big garage. These outhouses were used to store goods from E Brown and Son, which was still functioning from its lesser shop in Portswood, a Southampton district. The end room was converted into a playroom for Elizabeth and I. All our toys were brought down there from Tudor Wood and it was named “Pooh Corner”. It was presented to us with a great flourish and we enjoyed its use immensely. It gave us a private area to ourselves apart from the adult world in the house. In the back garden, we soon established a well functioning vegetable garden and a long chicken run. Ada and Sally were among its august members although I don’t think they contributed much to our diet. Elizabeth was given a cat, Honey Ginger Roo, a temperamental animal occasionally inclined to scratching, who used to sleep at the bottoms of our beds and for whose attentions there was some rivalry. In the garden lived a curiosity, a bald blackbird whose nest we sought out diligently.
The peaceful days of having Mum to ourselves were now over although we were not yet to understand the implications of this. The master bedroom became the abode of Granddaddy and Gargar. Elizabeth and I each had a small cottage bedroom under the eaves, while Mum had the biggest room at the end of a long corridor, where Dad could join her at weekends. There was a further spare room, coloured green – so again I took a dislike to it. Downstairs, the old cottage hall became our main living room with its antique gate-legged table in the middle and radio on a sideboard with a Minerva statue perched on top. In winter, this was a cosy room as we gathered around the fireplace. A big sitting room contained the best furniture from The Chine and was used whenever guests called. At the back of the house and somewhat separated from the living rooms were the kitchen, a pantry and a scullery from which a hatch led forwards into the dining room.
Often we would sit around the winter hearth together with Gargar. She would tell us wonderful stories about magical goings on in the glowing caverns under the coals. She had a fertile countrywoman’s imagination remembering much of the lore of the Essex countryside of her own childhood. Gargar was however also particularly given to showing us off to honoured guests. When there were visitors at Forest Chine, Elizabeth and I were dressed in our best clothes and kept upstairs waiting for the call. My grandmother would call out in a rather cooing voice, “ John, Elizabeth, are you there? Do come down and meet Mr or Mrs So and So! “ On cue we would dutifully trip downstairs to meet this utterly boring adult, in my case fuming internally with resentment while being charming as required. Grrr !
Essentially, Mum ran the house although I vaguely recall other helpers coming in to clean or to cook at least sometimes. Gargar dusted and looked over everything. Granddaddy was driven into town once or twice a week to function on the city council, to look into business or officiate at the magistrates’ court. He always had files of impressive papers to take with him. Dad remained at his post in Southampton, living in Tudor Wood throughout the air raids; a somewhat stressful and lonely time no doubt enlivened however by the companionship of his many friends in Woolston, especially a Mr Frank Cousins. I think my Uncle Rodney and Auntie Cicely looked after The Chine.
Elizabeth and I soon settled into Forest Chine, which we were both to come to love greatly. At this time, we established the extraordinarily imaginative games that gave us so much pleasure for years. I had obtained big wall maps on which I plotted the progress of the war with little flags. The flags retreated to El Alamein and then gradually worked their way back along the Mediterranean coast. The Russian front ebbed and flowed on an enormous scale. I learnt much geography in this way. These maps were the inspiration for our territorial games. We imagined every room in the house and each flower bed in the garden was an island country. Mine was called Crookland, hers Pinland and of course there was a Jerryland, which was the enemy. We took various roles in the almighty conflict that raged around our little estate patterned on the news we were hearing on the radio. Then Elizabeth invented a spy called Amice, after AMICE, the initials that proudly followed my father's name in engineering communications. Our game now became truly inventive as Amice spied on my armed forces and I had to catch him. I never did but then he never got away with his tricks either. The fun lay in the alternating stories we would tell each other in turns capping one another’s tales and building them up as we went along. Long after, when at boarding school for example, I would continue my own version of such stories in my head when trying to go to sleep. They became entrances to an alternative world. I also became a favourite dormitory storyteller after lights out – mostly from Uncle Rodney’s “Boys Own” volumes from before World War 1, wreckers at Cape Horn, secret passages under the Potala of Lhasa and other imperial tales of the period.
One of the attractions of living in the New Forest was the possibility of wandering free as air over the wild, uncultivated moorland and through the glades of the great mossy beech woods. Although I was only eleven, I was allowed out in the forest on my own. Evidently in those years, the fears for children that nowadays create such anxieties for parents and so inhibit the exploratory yearnings of children were not present. There was a greater public trust perhaps boosted by the common anxieties of the war.
The country around our house was open moor land through which ran deep bogs often supporting dense alder groves, peninsulas of woodland extending out from beech woods on higher land fringed by firs on knolls or scattered birches. Hidden beyond a heather moor, behind a rise dominated by big oaks and backed by an alder wood swamp I found a strange field in the centre of which revolved long metal beams squirting water onto a gravel bed within a raised circle of bricks. There were numerous drains, a little wooden hut as a shelter and an old man who looked after the place. It was the Lyndhurst sewage farm. My bird watching walks took me regularly to its barred, wooden gate on which I would lean watching the revolving beams. The old sewage farm attendant would come over and chat with me: a true forester with a rich Hampshire accent. This solitary, little middle class boy who would turn up looking for birds must have amused him. We became good friends and he would invite me over the gate to eat my sandwiches in his hut or inspect the property. The place was bursting with tomatoes growing wild. He explained to me how the seeds having reached the lavatories of Lyndhurst, came down the sewage pipes and out onto the filtration beds from which they escaped into the surrounding meadow. There were other plants too but it was tomatoes that survived this treatment most gloriously. Being a forester, he told me many things about the birds and mammals, the foxes, deer and ponies of the moors and woods. He was a good naturalist and we talked a lot as I chattered away about my enthusiasms. I gradually realised I had found myself a real friend and in the absences of Dad this was an escape from a feminine dominated household. I don’t think I ever knew his name and people at home were amused rather than surprised by my enthusiasms for “Sewy”.
Another casual friend was the ‘gentleman’s’ hairdresser in Lyndhurst high street. I soon learnt a special way of talking, brief manly statements and comments quite different from the more elaborated discourses that went on at home. In those days barbers always seemed to entertain their clients with extensive, wandering conversations touching on the war, politics, local questions, the forest ponies or whatever was of interest. It was an entry into a classless arena of society, for anyone might turn up at his place with its cut hair all over the floor, big mirrors and bottles of Brilcream and other more intriguing objects for sale.
Mum had begun to teach me French while we were at Furnival Hotel. Somehow, she had met a French lady who had fled to England when Paris fell to the Germans. ‘Madame’ now began calling on us not only for a sociable occasion with Mum and Gargar but to start me off properly in the language. She brought large maps of Paris with her and together we explored the city – speaking as much French as we could. She was a woman of great charm and elegance of manner and I greatly enjoyed her company. I am sure it meant much to her to go around her beloved city in this way, a city to which she could not be sure she would ever return. On my side, I developed a fondness for the language that I have never lost.
Dad used to bicycle down to see us at weekends. Petrol rationing meant he could not use the car. His things filled a saddle bag and he travelled light. We would stand out on the road mid-morning waiting to see him appear on the long stretch of road leading to town. It was great to have him around us and he would take us for long walks in the forest. These soon took the form of expeditions in imitation of the great explorers who sought out the sources of great rivers, Nile, Congo, Amazon. We would follow a swift running brook winding our way through woods and alder swamps to find the muddy hole from where the water was bubbling up. Dad was a great tease. As we were carefully stalking some unknown bird in a bush, he would toss a pebble onto the far side misleading us. We were outraged but he always had a good laugh. We didn’t mind and it taught us to have a different perspective on what we were about. One excitement always came from the antics of the grey stallion of the district that would round up his mares and gallop them wildly through the open woodland and over the moors. In due course, we also learnt to ride and enjoy cantering or sometimes galloping across the moors ourselves. I think we rode well and I only remember one dramatic fall over my pony’s head. Elizabeth naturally enough became much enamoured of horses.
Gargar was far from forgetting her work for soldiers during the previous war and one day an army truck broke down outside our house. When a young officer came in and asked for some water or something, he was at once invited to stay for lunch. The forest was by this time full of both British and American troops and tanks preparing for D-day. I remember the young lieutenant well. He could not have been more than eighteen or nineteen and behaved with such courtesy and charm that we were all entranced. He had a quick lunch with us while repairs were being completed and then away he went – into what fate I shall never know.
Another day we had the news that an American tank had slipped out of control on the corner in Lyndhurst high street running over and killing one of the boys from school (Watson). We were all very distressed. I did not know this lad well but as I was Head Boy Mr Savage asked me to write a letter from the boys at school to his parents expressing our condolences. I was saddened by this first death among my own contemporaries and over the years have from time to time visited his grave in Minstead churchyard.
Elizabeth and I used our imaginations supported by reading to invent a world of our own in the forest. At the far end of the sewage farm, we would climb the fence and follow the stream of cleared water flowing from the meadow through a dense, swampy wood to join the brook that eventually became Beaulieu River. The barely traceable, winding path through the trees was kept open only because the stream filled up with silt and from time to time and had to be dug out and the banks sharpened. Our narrow passage through the alders led to an open area of grassland bordered at no great distance by the rising heather moor and broken by copses of oak, ash and birch. These grassy areas were a haven for the ponies that grazed in numbers there, occasionally accompanied by a few cattle. Hidden deep among surrounding woods the whole place was a sort of secret glade far from the nearest road and we were the only ones to know the way to it – or so we imagined. We called it “The Happy Glade” from some book we had been reading and it became the destination for many of our walks. The grey stallion often took his mares there and the bird life was rich: Herons standing in the stream; Buzzards mewing overhead; Grey Wagtails catching insects and Mallard ducks paddling along the banks; the place felt remote from human activity, peaceful and often silent apart from the sounds of nature. From time to time in the spring, the liquid bubbling cries of the Curlew filled the air over the bog land.
In a different direction, we walked through thick woods to find a tightly growing plantation of larch or spruce: it was dark and gloomy between the densely set trunks, and we called such a place a “Witches domain” and hurried past. Each stream, wood, glade and remote property among the trees had its own atmosphere and particular appeal and to this day I have a detailed knowledge of the area. Thanks to conservation and the strict New Forest laws, it has changed hardly at all in sixty years.
Years later I wrote a poem about these experiences that were as rich in winter as in the summer months.
Treading the grey forest of my childhood’s dreams
where, melancholic under ghostly beech,
metallic hollies stand around
and frost-crisped leaves rustle
to disclose wet humus unfrozen on the ground,
the sudden discovery of a half-iced pool
reawakens old moods under a carapace of time.
The dusk is burying the snow-clad heath
and frozen air chills cheeks to flame the face before the waiting hearth,
wind clapped branches suddenly feather snow in air
and puddles, wholly ice, lift like plates from moulds.
The wild beats of pony hooves ring like a bell the hardened land.
Here in December woods with the rare squirrel
and the straggling tit flock
hurrying to glean last morsels from the naked twigs
old perspectives emerge among cold sentinels
empty trees netting the tide turned sky.
Visiting the winter forest is like
rising at six of a Christmas morning
shivering down a cup of tea
walking the snow muffled streets to the cold church
for a piece of bread and a sip of wine
the fire below the altar suddenly
bringing blood red berries home.
My solitary walks stalking birds without a pair of binoculars allowed me to develop a tracking skill whereby I could approach close enough to identify a bird species or to watch behaviour. Often I would feel a deep relationship with nature: the changing seasons and the weather; the contrasts between the deep shady woods with their mossy stream banks and the gravely brooks; the denser birch and oak groves in which I often hid when I saw other people approaching; the pine woods with scant undergrowth and beds of fallen needles and the high moors of heather with their deep bogs requiring skilled walking to avoid a plunge into the peaty mud between the tussocks and where the wind blew and the clouds raced reminding me of the passage in “Wood Magic “ that had intrigued me so.
One day I was returning slowly home through a wood of tall beeches when a Grey Squirrel popped out of a hole in a tree trunk a few feet before me and sat still on a branch regarding me. I was immediately filled with an extraordinary joy so intense that everything seemed to spin and merge as I fell to the ground amazed and weeping, crying out spontaneous thanks to Christ for so beautiful a world: there was no thought in this, I seemed overcome by a moment of oneness with all things. The moment passed and being seemingly inexplicable, with time it became almost forgotten. I was to remember it much later at Sherborne School as I struggled with the materialism of the biological sciences that had captivated and intrigued me. As my childhood’s religious belief foundered I felt a curious sense of being bereft and I recalled this experience then, telling myself there was something ‘other’ that I could not understand with my increasingly rational mind but which had been for a moment incontrovertibly real.11
For some months Elizabeth and I were sent for coaching with Miss *** who ran a sort of private schoolroom for the purpose in a large cottage on the far side of Lyndhurst. Elizabeth and I were dreadful gigglers and often got into trouble – especially later on during a beach holiday in Swanage where we lodged in a pious Christian guesthouse full of vicars. We had to be separated at table to stop us laughing at all the absurdity going on around us. Returning from our coaching we found everything funny, sheep, ponies, people, “whirly woollies’ we called them, bursting into showers of mirth.
Christmas at Forest Chine was a splendid event. Dad came down to join us and Elizabeth and I wrote a play in which Dad was given a major part – usually the villain of the piece. There was a large double door opening from the sitting room onto the sunroom and this provided the curtains for a stage. The family sat one side and we actors performed on the other. What with a wonderful meal, the shortages of the period overcome through the joint graces of E. Brown and Son and Lankester and Crook Ltd, the putting up of extensive decorations of streamers, laurel, holly and ivy, board games to defeat Dad with, model aircraft to be clumsily stuck together and an atmosphere of family cheer, these were memorable times.
Lyndhurst lay considerably further away from Beechwood House than either Minstead or Cadnam so it was decided I should become a weekly border. I used to go back home for the weekends and always looked forward to these returns to family. Strange to say however when the ends of term would came and we packed up our things and abandoned our dormitory I often used to feel a deep sense of sadness at the ending of time and a curious, longing nostalgia for schooldays and companions. This sense of lost time and longing was to become an unwanted companion in my life for many years. Maybe it was the sudden loss of the homely ways of the thirties, the moves from peace to war, from Tudor Wood to Minstead, from town to country life, from family to boarding school, from one mode of being to another that stimulated the onset of such feelings. Sometimes it is still with me.
Oakmount Preparatory School for Boys was very much the creation and expression of its owner and head master, William Guthrie Savage, a determined man, who, by taking his school out from Southampton into the country at the start of the war, had saved his life’s work from collapse. He ran the school with the help of his wife, a motherly woman who often seemed distant perhaps because she could hardly mother the whole school. Their son Joe was one of the schoolboys. Mr Savage was gifted at teaching boys but in a way quite different from Douglas Busfield. Mr Busfield was capable of sensitive insights into the hearts of his pupils causing several of them to become his lifelong friends far into his post-war retirement and, in the days before child psychotherapy, he showed great ability in assisting ‘difficult’ children- even among the Greeks in Cyprus after his retirement. With Mr Busfield, I always sensed the presence of fun and a felt sharing. Throughout the war, his name came up in my nightly, bedside prayers together with those of my family.12 WG was totally different, a big, very physical, extravert, he was forceful in imposing his view; joined in vigorous inter-dormitory fights, which he stimulated to create a healthy boyish rumpus flicking his towel like a twelve year old and oblivious of his towering presence; sometimes scathing in his comments about parents and with a lack of sensitivity to the finer or conflicted feelings of more introverted boys to an almost sadistic extent. Apart from my resentment at hearing that he had referred to my mother as a ‘bitch’ on account of her fussing about me, I had several brushes with him in spite of being his head-boy for most of the last year I spent at Beechwood House.
Needless to say, schoolmasters were in short supply. Mr Busfield was soon off to the war. A friend of the Savages, Mr Ogden, known to them as Oggie, young and keen, did not last much longer and for a short while we had a strange young man who used to write obscure invitations to us on the class blackboard. He did not last long before Mr Savage sent him away. Miss Collins was however a formidable teacher. In one of her classes, I remember going around the coasts of Britain learning all the capes and headlands. All of this meant that Mr Savage himself had to teach most subjects to us. In particular, I remember his classes in Bible study. We worked our way steadily though the whole of the Old Testament. He was an excellent storyteller and I can recall much of the Bible to this day. Indeed, I joined the Bible Reading Fellowship, which published two series of daily readings with commentaries, one in blue for youngsters and one in black for adults. I read these dutifully for several years.
Perhaps one especial reason for remembering the Bible classes was however of a different origin. One day I was taken sick in class and vomited all over my desk and floor. In deep disgrace, I was sent from the room while the mess was cleared up but nothing further was said and I was left to rue the event in my own conscience. Once also, while at home for the weekend, I went with the family to church. I fainted during the sermon. O dear- such matters were difficult to bear, as indeed was my sad aptitude for falling ill from colds and missing school.
Once, when I was at home recovering from a cold, my father came down for the weekend. I was very distressed about missing school because my work was falling behind. We were together in the Forest Chine garage doing some carpentry and I told my father tearfully about my unhappiness at being absent from school and not doing well enough. My father simply said, “ Well then – are you doing your best?” I considered his question and told him that, given the circumstances, yes – I was doing my best. “Well then “, said my father “That is the most you can do isn’t it?” I found this kind thought a great comfort. It told me that whatever problems I had my father would still love me.
Decaying stables, barns, servants’ quarters and various types of sheds flanked the ramshackle old property that was Beechwood House. Some of these Mr Savage converted into supplementary classrooms or bike sheds and in one he set up a rifle range. We were taught to shoot accurately using.22 rifles, even becoming familiar with the heavier routine army rifle, the.303. WG had a stack of the smaller weapons and masses of ammunition. I became a crack shot and indeed years later qualified as a marksman on the army ranges scoring something like 95 %. Mr Savage also taught us in class the basic mathematics of anti-aircraft gunfire, the algebraic equations used to calculate the angle at which to point the gun to get a shell near a moving plane. I found all this fascinating and, as with Latin, might have been a reasonable mathematician had not my subsequent teaching been so abysmal.13 WG was clearly dedicated to confronting the Germans should they invade. We dug trenches facing towards the not so distant sea and I have no doubt he would have put us in them armed with the.22s had the Germans approached!
One day, exploring the maze of outhouses I came across the strung up and decaying body of a hare maturing for the jugging. There were maggots busy on it and I was horrified. I shuddered every time Mr Savage went out to shoot pigeons for our menu- or more likely his own. I remember at supper time in summer out he would go with his twelve-bore not knowing what an adversary he had left behind. I set to work praying on behalf of the pigeons – and was delighted to discover the power of prayer. Whenever I applied myself in this way, he always missed!
It appears I was a relatively bright boy and near the end of my time at Oakmount became top of the Sixth Form almost continuously when the weekly order based on the accumulated ‘prep’ marks was read out. I was also made Head Boy although the fact that two others were much better at sports than I sometimes made for problems here, Mr Savage delegating responsibilities to them rather than me – which caused unnecessary hurt.14 Also, once I had passed my Common Entrance exam for Sherborne School, I found it harder to be top of the form every week. I was moreover a hard worker rather than especially intelligent, – a fact I have always had to appreciate. In general, Mr Savage must have approved of me but I often found it difficult to approve of him!
He established an aquarium in our classroom and kept pond creatures from the surrounding district there for our education in natural history. He maintained it well and the various creatures flourished. The denizens included large, ferocious dragonfly larvae with great pincers and cruel mouths. In spring time Mr Savage would gleefully drop tadpoles into the aquarium and watch until they swam near the scorpion-like monsters that whipped out their pincers, impaled a tadpole and sucked it dry. I found this terribly cruel – probably not only because at home I was not allowed by Gargar even to fix nails in trees lest it hurt them, but also because I seem to have had a natural empathy with living creatures other than myself. At Furnival Hotel, I had joined in a game with a magnifying glass burning up ants with the concentrated rays of the sun. After a time, I felt ashamed and sorry for the ants and desisted. Similarly, at school, one boy had a little toy handgun that fired matchsticks. We used to shoot the legs off spiders until they had none at all. I felt truly terrible about this and stopped doing it but somehow was unable to express my feelings or opinion lest I be judged a sissy.
One day Mr Savage caught a boy saying rude things about another boy’s mother. Furiously, he set up the school boxing ring, forced the two boys to put on gloves and fight it out. Since the offended boy was much bigger and far more athletic than the offender, the latter could have been severely beaten up. The bigger boy seemed embarrassed however by the role into which he was forced and, although he easily won each of the three rounds greatly distressing the other, he did not pursue him with the vengeance that Mr Savage clearly expected. Since Mr Savage was himself guilty of making similar remarks I disapproved strongly – but again found no way to express it. We were of course not a little afraid of Mr Savage although not actually scared by him. After that event, I think most of us had some doubts about his universal propriety.
Mr Savage also delighted in beating us; although much of this was rather a joke as he rarely hurt us severely nor, I believe, did he often intend to. He had a number of implements to apply to our bottoms, which he graded according to the severity of the crime. The basic weapon was the Barrel-stave – indeed a broad stave from a barrel the application of which caused a pink bottom but not a marked one. Then there were the slipper and plimsoll, which had similar effects. Lastly, there was the cane, which he rather rarely used. This marked the bottom to which it had been applied with neat parallel lines. WG had a good aim. In the dormitory in the evenings the condition of our bottoms was often carefully appraised and with increasingly expert eyes.
I usually managed to avoid beatings but one day, with several others, I went sliding down the banisters straight into Mrs Savage. We were hauled before the headmaster and, after conviction, were lined up outside his study door. Each of us in turn gave a timorous knock and from inside he would bellow the prophetic words “COME IN AND CLOSE THE DOOR.” One by one, he told us to bend over the sofa and he then gave us four of the best with the barrel-stave, six being the maximum number for a more serious offence. These rituals ended up by giving us a naughty feeling more akin to delight than punishment. Maybe it was the same for WG.
Dormitory life was naturally enough far from peaceful. In this old house there were many non-human denizens, and these included both rats and mice. They were terribly noisy and used to rush about and squeak inside the walls or behind the wainscots reminding us of Beatrice Potter’s tale of Tom Kitten and Mr and Mrs Whiskers. Although disturbing, I don’t remember us objecting very much to their activities – they simply became part of the scene. We used to tell each other stories and I was soon the favourite storyteller. My stories, culled mainly from Uncle Rod’s bound volumes of Boy’s Own Paper from before the Great War, seemed to go down better than most.
At this time, none of us had reached the age of puberty but already hints of future sexual pleasures and abuses were apparent. One boy, let us call him George, was maturing sexually faster than the rest of us and turned the dormitory into a sort of pre-pubescent bordello going round from bed to bed ‘having it off’ with someone different each night. One of the littlest among us, a feeble character at the best of times, must have objected and as a result became the object of bullying attention. After some days, several of us began to feel uncomfortable about this undoubted cruelty until one of us, the only one big enough to throw the intruder out of his bed, took it upon himself, with our general approval, to stop the bullying. Being on the right side felt OK by me and, in any case, since my bed was literally on the far side of this protector, I myself was rarely bothered. We were of course also aware that the noise being generated from our dorm might soon attract Mr Savage’s attention. We dared not even imagine what his response would be to our collective crimes.
George was an unhappy boy. His early maturation did him no good. He repeatedly challenged Mr Savage by acts of disobedience or insolence and was regularly beaten with the cane, his bottom becoming eloquent testimony to the ferocity of his punishment. George became increasingly isolated from the rest of us and I began to feel sorry for him even to the extent of admiring him a little. I did not understand what was going on at all and was obscurely distressed by it all. Rather more fun came from the kitchen girls who arrived in the early mornings in summer in the kitchen below our dormitory. We used to call out to them and dangle strings with objects on them outside their window, which they would try to catch in a sort of reverse fishing game.
The war was of course going on thunderously above us, especially at night. When the sirens sounded, we were hurriedly taken down to the spacious cellars deep below the big building where Mr Savage had fixed up rows of bunks that accommodated all of us where once bottles had lain on shelves. It was damp and gloomy down there lit only by the moving beams of our torches or a candle; the muffled sounds of the air raid going on above. One night, a huge spider began crawling on the cellar ceiling a few inches above my head in a top bunk. Shuddering, I drew Mr Savage’s attention to it. He squashed it instantly with a great slap from the newspaper he was carrying - leaving its messy, long legged corpse stuck flimsily to the wall. I regret to say I gingerly removed it by one leg and dropped it down the side of my bunk. Hopefully it reached the floor but it may just as well have fallen on the boy beneath. To this day, I remain ashamed of myself!
These were of course nationally stressful times and for a long time there was still a possibility if not an expectancy of a German invasion. Hitler had not yet turned his attention towards the Soviet Union and the outcome of the air war was not yet decisively in our favour. My father, in the thick of the air raids on Southampton, must have been very aware not only of the terrors of war but also the horrors that could follow a successful German landing. One day at school in 1940, I received a letter from him that I have never forgotten. In it, he told me that, whatever was to happen, I should never despair. He gave me a slogan to remember at all times, a slogan that he said had been helpful to him, ‘NIL DESPERANDUM’. Quite where he had gotten this ‘mantra’ from I did not know but I was deeply moved. Although I did not yet understand the horror neither of this war nor the conditions it could bring about, I felt the deep seriousness of my father’s letter. I could sense it involved a facing up to potential despair – the nature of which I could not imagine but which I could intuitively sense. Even now, I remain deeply moved by my father’s attempt to convey his deepest feelings to me and have never forgotten his concern for me at this time
War or no war, summer time in the New Forest was delightful. Later on, in the long light evenings of 1943, we were allowed to read books in the dormitory. The war was at last beginning to turn our way and these were peaceful, sunny days that I remember with happiness. On a hot afternoon Mr Savage would bring the whole school out onto the lawns under the big lime tree, tell us to take our clothes off and, while we ran around in the sunshine, he sprayed us vigorously with a hose pipe to everyone’s delight. Now and again too, he and Mrs Savage would pack a huge hamper and take us all out into the depths of the woods where a cheerful bubbling stream would be running under the great trees. Again, we would strip off and play in the brook while he and his wife sat together like a king and a queen in some fairy tale handing out goodies from the hamper to us all.
Then came D Day. Suddenly the vast array of tanks, infantry, jeeps, trucks, GIs and Tommies that had been hidden in the woods began their irrepressible movement towards France. Overhead flowed a stream of planes towing the gliders for the assault and a constant roar of aircraft filled the air day and night going out and returning from the many small airfields that now lay scattered about the New Forest moor lands. We stood outside the school gazing upward at this vast armada. It was a time of hope that was to lead to victory.
Tensions at home.
During those years, I spent a lot of time at Forest Chine recuperating from one form of cold or another. Once it was suspected that I had TB and I lay out in the fresh air on a camp bed during fine days for several weeks. These of course were also the times when I got to know the forest around us and its birds very well and attended various tutors to keep my school work up to date. Meanwhile Elizabeth used to hang over the garage gate waving at the splendidly romantic Italian POWs who would roar past the house crowded into the backs of lorries on their way to and from work joyfully singing Italian opera.
It was now possible to risk going into town and Mum and I made several trips there by bus. I remember one especially well. We had done some shopping, probably visited Tudor Wood and walked a little around the bomb-shattered town passing the large NAAFI near the Civic Centre where many servicemen were enjoying a cheap meal. The waiting room for the bus was then in Commercial Road and we were sitting there on hard wooden chairs waiting for our bus to return to the forest. All sorts of people came and went, soldiers and sailors in uniform, shabby workers going home after the day, old women clutching bags. Generally, there was an atmosphere of fatigue. These were people who had endured and survived the heavy bombing, who had lost sons and daughters in the War. Both they and the city seemed grey and tired. We looked around and Mum said to me “Aren’t people interesting?” I had never thought of people in that way before – a sort of almost disinterested interest in others – how they were, what they may have been feeling. This was my Mother’s genius and I have never forgotten her remark, which was a kind of revelation to me. Yes- indeed – people are interesting! Mum was always at her best when somewhat distant from home and its worries. Her true character then shone through and at such times I learnt much from her example.
One day Uncle Hugh came home from his Concentration camp. Colonel Hugh Gibbs15 was a veterinary surgeon, had been in the Indian Army and served in World War I in the veterinary corps – very important in those days in looking after the cavalry horses. He fell in love, married a young French aristocrat and in due course, she inherited the chateau of St Lo in Normandy. He was there with his family when war broke out in 1939 and tarried there while the Germans swept across France. He was making his way to the coast in his military uniform when he was captured. At first, he was interned in a PoW camp but, when the Germans came to realise that he was actually a retired officer, he was transferred to a civilian concentration camp. Conditions were grim but it was not a death camp and, at the end of the war, he was free. Tall, elegant and still healthy Uncle Hugh was an impressive figure of a man. I went for a walk with Granddaddy and him in the forest. He looked me up and down remarking that I was fortunate in living the best years of my life. I wondered about that but could hardly argue. Uncle Hugh had picked up some remarkable expressions while in India. I remember at lunch table he was once talking about a colleague, “He was a real White man!” he opined with great approval. Uncle Hugh was not a racist but he never quite transcended the world of pre-1914 India and its imperial glory. His wife, Yvonne, had made a remarkable journey across Vichy France and Spain to reach Britain in the middle of the war bringing her youngest son with her. She lived to be 100 but the chateau she had loved was destroyed during the D-day battles.
As the war began to draw towards a close, trouble was brewing at Forest Chine. I never understood all its complexities but clearly, a chief reason was the fact that it was now safe enough for the family to return to the city and live once more at Tudor Wood. Gargar deeply resisted this because for her it would mean separation from Elizabeth and I and the departure of her daughter to her own home. The atmosphere became very bad with Gargar saying terrible things about my father. She used to get my mother cornered in some room or another and start a terrible row that echoed all over the house with my mother weeping copiously. At her worst, Gargar was a very domineering woman, a bully in fact and my grandfather had no will to interpose himself in these rows. Sadly, he was quite a weak person when facing such domestic troubles in spite of all his years as a magistrate upon the bench. I began to feel very stressed by these episodes and fearful of Gargar. The house acquired a dark atmosphere. I became frightened of the up stairs corridor where it ran past the stairway to the little tower and used to sprint along its length for fear of ghosts.
Late one evening, after a terrible scene, which I could overhear from my bedroom, Gargar passed along the passage to the toilet. A few minutes later, my mother, evidently not knowing Gargar was there, also went to the door and was about to go in. Suddenly I screamed my head off and went on screaming overwhelmed by a great fear that Gargar would do my mother harm, maybe even kill her. Mum of course came running to me and tried to calm me down. It took a long time as I was truly traumatised and have never forgotten the terror of that moment. I felt that maybe I had saved her from something – I could not imagine what.
Elizabeth and I were often looked after by a kind of nanny who lived in, presumably to take the pressure off my mother. I think I always resented these women because it was my Mother’s attention alone that I craved. Even at The Chine in the mid -thirties when I was about five or six, at a time when Nanny Marsh had to sit outside the Blue Room door until I went to sleep, I sought a kind of revenge. She had to bring a big basin of water to the room to wash me. One evening, I placed a pillow on top of the half open door. As Nanny Marsh came through, it dropped with a great splash into the basin, which smashed on the floor. Now, at Forest Chine, we were being given tea one afternoon by the resident ‘nannie, a big woman. Suddenly, as she was about to sit down, on a mindless impulse, I whipped the chair away and she fell flat on her back on the floor. This was truly dangerous and I recognised with horror the seriousness of what I had done. Fortunately, she was not hurt. I think Mum recognised how troubled my mind must have been although I am not sure she understood it. I was made to feel how bad I had been but not severely punished. Of course, I had to apologise deeply but I am not entirely sure I meant it.
The rows continued and I was becoming increasingly troubled in myself. There was cruelty involved here for my mother was no match for Gargar. One day, they were in the Green Room at Forest Chine and I was in the little room that passed for our study and was also Elizabeth’s bedroom. A row was developing and once again my Mother was collapsing in tears before a relentless, high pitched, wordy assault – probably accusing my father of goodness knows what. Suddenly I could take it no longer. I rushed into the room and, shouting at the top of my voice, ordered them to “SHUT UP.” To my amazement it immediately worked. They did, looking both surprised and ashamed. My Grandmother in particular went off muttering to her room and would not speak to me for some days. My Mother was very gentle. I cannot remember what she said but I knew I had won a battle within myself as much as anywhere. I was not a little afraid of my suddenly discovered power. For a while, the house became quieter.
These troubles were to persist for a very long time but as I grew older, I began to gain some understanding of Gargar’s increasing paranoia and its roots ( Footnote 5, p 13). I had begun boarding school, at Sherborne in 1944 and so had much less first hand experience of what was happening in the family than did Elizabeth. She was very confused by the family strife in which Gargar played upon Elizabeth’s love of Forest Chine to put her against Dad. I believe Elizabeth suffered a great deal at this time concerning which we have not spoken very much. When finally we did move back to Southampton, Mum and Dad did their best to please her but it was not an easy task. Even the canary, Pipinella, they gave her was not a success. Dad tried to resolve the troubles in a surprisingly sharp letter to Granddaddy to which he received an emollient but ineffective and somewhat counter-accusatory reply. 16 These problems were not of a sort that the men of the family could resolve. In fact Gargar and Granddaddy also moved back to The Chine as the war ended so we all came back to our two homes.
During the period during which the war continued to move increasingly away from Southampton and some years afterwards, I enjoyed several happy family holidays with Mum, Dad and Elizabeth at Swanage, Woolacombe, Barmouth in Wales and Aberdaron from where we crossed the dangerous straits to Bardsey Island and I made a collection of marine animals along the shores. Dad took Elizabeth and I up Cader Iris, returning down the infamous Fox’s Path - quite a credit to Dad who was not so young and where I discovered the joys of scree running. I have not worked out exactly when all these holidays took place and Dad was usually only able to stay a few days with us because of business. Barmouth was a week of total rain, Aberdaron was tremendous fun seeking out all the Holy Wells on the pilgrims route from Chester to Bardsey. I think it was at Swanage that Dad and I went almost daily to the in-door shooting range down near the pier. One day I would outshoot Dad; another day he won easily. On the last day, we ended up with exactly the same score – undoubtedly a satisfactory outcome for both of us. But I seem to remember I won easily at Ping Pong !
One Sunday at Swanage, Dad heard that a Welsh preacher was going to give a sermon in a little chapel near the sea. We went along. The dramatic Welshman leaned forward out of his pulpit delivering a sermon I shall never forget, more for its style perhaps than its content. Yet the text has always remained with me - “And Enoch walked with God.” Who was Enoch? What did it mean to ‘walk with God’? Dad revelled in it, commenting on the wonders of the Welsh ‘hwyll’ – that unique gift for oratory that fine Welsh speakers have.
Dad had a very warm feeling for Wales due no doubt to visits to relatives in Merthyr Tydfil when he was young. At Aberdaron, for example, after morning service one Sunday several of the Welshmen including the churchwarden, Welsh speakers to a man, spirited him off for lunch although they had never met him before. “He’ll see you later!” they said to Mum who had to lunch with us alone that day.
One time I went alone with Dad to Shanklin in the Isle of Wight to visit my other Granny – Granny Crook as we called her. This was a very different sort of family visit for Granny was an exuberant old lady living with all faculties on the go till 96, a strict Christian who had a cold shower every morning and was always cheerful. My grandfather had died much earlier and I had never met him. They had had six sons and two daughters – Ernest, Arthur, Herbert; known as Bertie - i.e. my father, Katie, Harold, Frank and Elsie - all of them of course my uncles and aunts. Ernest was killed on the Somme in World War I, a captain in the Royal Field Artillery17 (D Battery, Howitzers. 59th Brigade. National Archives:WO339/23384). Arthur was a doctor. Dad had been an engineer but took on the management of the family firm in WWI after Ernest’s death and stayed running it until his retirement - with Harold, who like Ernest had served in the artillery in WWI - at Thessalonica. Frank was a dentist serving in the Middle East in WWII mostly I think on a hospital ship. Katie was an ambulance driver in the war and Elsie, whom I never knew well, painted and was evidently known in the family of the 20’s as a “flapper”. All of them married and gave Granny a galaxy of equally energetic grandchildren. The Crooks were a different breed altogether from my mother’s family – extravert, hearty, medical and military, full of fun, Tory, some with county pretensions, not especially gifted with sensitivity and definitely not intellectual but always easy and enjoyable to be with. The six brothers, the ‘Crook boys’, were a bold bunch, ragging around Woolston when small and later, from Shanklin, rowing a whaler entirely around the Isle of Wight sleeping on beaches. There were holidays for climbing and ski-ing in Switzerland, from which many tattered photos remain, and Dad spend some time at a Swiss school – not sure quite why.
I always enjoyed the company of my uncles and aunts although, as a small boy, I was rather afraid of Uncle Arthur, a meticulous doctor and seemingly rather a formal man. Harold was always good fun although said to be very strict with his daughter Pat. He taught me the elements of photography. Frank the dentist, a big jovial man, ended up operating with one eye and for whom I felt I might have been the last, possibly sacrificial patient. Katie was wonderfully warm and like her mother always happy. I never knew Elsie well.
As time went on it seemed to me that Dad differed considerably from his brothers – I felt he had a greater depth and thought more deeply. Although a skilled engineer, he was in other respects a self-educated man. I was touched after the war to find the profound and difficult books in his collection, which had kept him going alone at Tudor Wood during and after the blitz. Basically scientifically minded and a practical Christian, he could however never get his mind around Picasso.
The essential basis for Dad’s character, I believe, was that in training to become an engineer Dad worked as an apprentice on the machine floor of Thornycroft’s, the naval ship builders at Woolston. This meant that as a young man he rubbed shoulders with a wide company of friends including many of working class origin. Class in the Edwardian era was a basis for fundamental distinctions in behaviour, accent, jargon, dress and income and none of these were a barrier for Dad. As Mum used to say – he could talk to anybody. Before the first war he was very much involved in research projects – motor torpedo boat trials in the Channel, and later, when working with Rolls, hill climb and speed trials in the rickety machines at the birth of motor racing. None the less, he was quite a shy man steering clear of cocktail parties and such like frivolities. He gave up a career as a city counsellor mainly, I think, because his shyness impeded his speech on public occasions.
Dad had a deep sense of duty and loyalty both nationally and to his family. As a baby, he had been severely burnt across the chest and arms in a cot fire. I think he had got hold of some matches. In 1914, like everyone else, he ‘joined up’ and we have pictures of him in uniform. The burning had deformed his fingers on one hand and he was deemed unfit for service because he could not handle a rifle. I do not think this alone kept him out of the army because he could have served with the Royal Engineers. Ernest, who was intended to inherit the firm, was away at the front and the authorities released Dad to run the family firm in support of his aging and unfit father. When Uncle Ernest was killed on the Somme, Dad took over the management. In the early days of the 14 -18 war there was extraordinary social pressure on young men to join the army or navy. Those who were not in service faced difficult questioning and were sometimes shamed. I believe that for Dad not to have experienced military service was always a personal difficulty and may have led him to his resolute mantra –‘Nil desperandum’. A corollary of this was his persistent contribution to Civil Defence especially as head of the Air Raid Precautions teams in Woolston during the heavy bombing of WWII. Furthermore, he went on with an active engagement with the problems of civil defence in atomic warfare even into his old age. His giving up of engineering, to him a wonderful hobby as well as a career 18, to run a family business must have been very hard for him and I am not sure that the rest of the family always appreciated this adequately.
Dad never lost his interest in engineering. His greatest delight at Lankester and Crook was the bakery. He enjoyed the machinery in this large building and the whole process of cake and bread making. He was a member of a master bakers’ association. One year he installed a new machine for making ringed doughnuts and we all went over to see it functioning on the first day. When from time to time we discussed my future, he would point me in the direction of engineering but he was happy enough with my eventual choice of biology. As a result of many skiing visits to Switzerland, he also had a keen interest in mountaineering and its history. He encouraged me in this direction also and warmly supported Sherborne School in its first expedition in the Cairngorm Mountains of which I was a member. More a naturalist than a climber I none the less ended up as a pass-crosser in the Himalayas many years later.
As we have seen, Dad was a thoughtful father to me and he never responded with resentment to Gargar’s hostility towards him. He knew she was “ a bit round the bend” and he refused to criticise her – indeed in referring to the early days of his marriage, he said he had liked her. Dad could keep a wise silence; not mentioning for example Uncle Frank’s complex marital difficulties and taking a sometimes-puzzled interest in my increasing attachment to Buddhism. He was discreet too concerning disagreements in the boardroom of Lankester and Crook.
In those years, we went to Shanklin more than once. I don’t remember exactly how or when but one voyage stands out in my mind. The Red Funnel paddle steamer took us out past Ryde into the Channel in a tall sea. I stood up in the bows watching the great waves in my own turmoil of excitement. We docked bumpily against the pier at Shanklin 19 enabling us to pass quickly up the cliffs to Overstrand, the family home.20 The elegant house stood in a large, beautiful cliff-top garden, which however was always in a sad process of slow shrinkage as the cliff crumbled onto the beach below. Between the garden and the actual cliff edge ran a public path and every time it became dangerous through rock falls another slice of garden was taken by the town council to connect it up safely again. The garden lay on two levels separated by a line of fine pine trees through which at night shone the moon trailing its silver wake upon the sea beyond. The croquet lawn lay next the house and beyond one could wander around a tennis court, the rose garden, flowerbeds and along the neat gravel paths. Down near the cliff stood a large greenhouse in which splendid nectarines grew. On one of the lower lawns, a mulberry tree produced fruits that deeply stained the fingers when picking this delicious fruit. It was a fine family house, fit for a large adult family, and to which the Crook parents had retired from ‘Woolston Lawn’ across the Itchen in Southampton, presumably on Grandfather’s retirement . From Overstrand, the two of them were to make their numerous voyages, cruises or visits to places like Egypt to ease my grandfather’s asthma. Granny made long daily entries in her many diaries providing quite an insight into their lives. 21
One year I remember we went regularly to the summer show on the pier. Elizabeth and I became especially enamoured of the chief comedian – a young man called Chick Martin. He had a theme song that we loved; “ Chickery chick, chi la chi la chickela romeo, in a bananaka, wallaka wallaka can’t you see – Chickery chick - its me!” We still sing it.
Granny Crook was religious in a ‘low-church’ sort of way. Every morning we all knelt by our chairs after breakfast and Granny would read the prayers of the day from the prayer book and then a short reading from the Bible. This was a serious although not a pious family occasion; one that may have originated from my Grandfather in memory of his early days in Wales. My sister and I, so often given to dreadful giggles on such occasions, were suitably silenced by Granny’s straight-faced look. Having raised so many children, she was not one to put up with giggling or any other childish misbehaviour yet her sunny nature always gave us warmth and encouragement in a noticeably unsentimental way.
The time I went to Shanklin with Dad by myself was very special. His very intermittent presence with us during the war and his absences during our holidays due to business meant I did not know this man whom I adored at all well. I was to discover his warm heart coupled with his very real and practical Christian faith. Although C of E like my mother, his faith, like Granny’s, was closer to Methodism, perhaps again influenced by ‘chapel’ in Merthyr Tydfil. We got up early one Sunday morning and went through the silent, darkened streets to Holy Communion. There was something mysterious and wonderful about that walk together, the bread and wine, and the cold morning air before breakfast.
Back in town
After the war we were all back in Northlands Road but our days of childhood were almost over. I went off to public school far from town and that’s an altogether other story. Later I went to University College, Southampton reading Zoology and Botany, and ultimately on to Jesus College Cambridge for doctoral research. I had become an enthusiastic biologist and while at University College I lived at home. After some years largely out of contact with Mum and Dad, it was good to live at Tudor Wood and get to know my parents as a young adult and to appreciate their qualities. I was very fortunate to have parents who not only supported me in all things but also even did so when I moved into areas quite different from their background. In particular, as a scientist, eventually contributing actively to evolution theory 22, I gradually became unable to believe in Christian doctrine. As a student in Southampton, I remained respectful of many aspects of the Christian life and indeed of the tolerant Anglican Church. I continued to attend Sunday services with my parents but kept silent through most of the Creed. One day I was standing next my father. I had stumbled through this prayer when, at its conclusion, I heard my father say quietly “ – in so far as it can be believed.” This expression of honesty and doubt within his faith moved me very deeply. Later, I wrote a poem about it:
Long after the uncertainties began
I still went to church with you.
It seemed there was nothing else to do
And any way there was love.
Stumbling hesitatingly through the Creed
One day I heard you say:
“-In so far as it can be believed.”
And my heart leapt
Letting go of all fears of losing love,
Thrilling me with the vast courage
Of that great doubt.
I sang the hymns so high
Into the rafters I think
The tiles moved.
Elizabeth went to school in Southampton and then moved on into nursing training in London. She joined the Service Civil International and worked courageously under severely deprived conditions with Tibetan refugees in the Himalayas and lepers in the jungles of Orissa. Eventually she became a Londoner with a flat in Notting Hill working as a skilled trainer in social work in the boroughs of Lambeth and Kensington.
My account of our childhood stories has thus been told and it only remains to tidy this article up with some account of the melancholic fate of our two homes. Granddaddy had retired by the time of their renewed life at The Chine and it never regained its former glory. There was one last rained-off attempt at ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on the great lawn but the old city friends were fading away and the politics of the town were changing. Gargar loved to work in her garden, we still heard the news and cricket or football results at 6 pm and to a degree the old atmosphere was there but it was not the same. Gargar’s paranoia was sadly developing severely. She used to take me aside for long tirades against Dad. Fortunately, I knew that virtually everything she said was complete nonsense, so I did not need to take her seriously, yet it was stressful to listen to all this raving. I came to pity Gargar deeply, for I had retained a love for her throughout all the troubles. There was no point in arguing or even remotely debating whatever she was saying but I learned to calm her down by an open yet uncommitted listening. She seemed to feel I was giving her the attention she undoubtedly needed and usually after about half an hour she would quieten down and switch to something else more positive. It was undoubtedly at this time that I learned to be a skilled listener in which a sort of compassion underlay a skill at calming another’s mind. Later on, I was to fall quite naturally into the role of therapist. All this perhaps took a little of the burden off Mum’s shoulders.
Mum indeed still bore the main burden of trying to maintain something good going at the The Chine but it was a losing battle. Gargar took to secret drinking, getting our odd job man, Fred Muir, a former employee at E. Brown and Son, to smuggle spirits to her from time to time .I think he did it out of misplaced kindness but maybe she also paid him. Even at Forest Chine, she had once become almost addicted to the opium in a cough mixture so this tendency had been developing for some time. The combination of drunkenness and paranoia was driving Mum distracted and I was not allowed to go to The Chine any more. Once or twice, I did so and soon realised why I had been told not to go there. The atmosphere in the house had become quite appalling. It is difficult to say exactly how because the building of course was unchanged. Somehow, the tragedy of Gargar’s deterioration seeped everywhere. The place felt cold, unloving and unloved, bleak and seemingly even curiously uninhabited. And indeed all the joy of the past had fled. When Gargar at last died, I had the impression that the doctor had helped her on her way perhaps out of compassion for Mum. It had been a long nightmare for her and a personal tragedy. Gargar and Granddaddy share the same grave next to several others of the earlier Brown family in the old cemetery on the Common, now a nature reserve strangled in brambles. Meths drinkers who used to rave around the place in the evenings smashed the gravestone: indeed a sad end to a couple who had given much to their city.
Uncle Rod occupied The Chine for a while endeavouring to run a chicken farm in the lower garden. As with most of his enterprises it came to nothing and, soon after Mr Baker, the stalwart accountant of E.Brown and Son,23 died, the firm closed and he and Auntie Cicely moved to Burnham on Sea in Somerset where they could play golf to their hearts’ content and forget the family troubles. The old home was converted and leased as flats. It was sold at a poor price to developers who knocked it down, divided up the grounds and built a quite handsome block of apartments renamed Foxlea upon the site. Only some of the old trees remain around the ancient drive way.
Tudor Wood lasted longer. My mother and father enjoyed their last years together there. My father, although not a natural gardener, loved to work the garden and greatly enjoyed it. He was the church warden at St Marks and they had good friends. I was frequently in an out of the place and, together with my Greek wife Eirene and children as well as Elizabeth, made the Christmases into wonderful occasions. Eirene and Mum had a close relationship and when, after my father’s death, she and I separated, it caused a new kind of mostly unspoken rift in the family.
Mum continued to live at Tudor Wood for many years after Dad’s death- peacefully from a heart attack in 1972. At first her involvement with the Mother’s Union and Dr Barnado’s charity, as well as St Mark’s church, kept her busy and active socially in spite of her colostomy but, after a severe fall, she probably had a number of minor strokes and gradually lost her intuitive feeling for others and her considerable social insight. I was worried about her now and guilty that my own problems did not enable me to be closer to her. Elizabeth however did everything she could for her and finally took her to live in her cottage at Shalford in Essex.
I used to go down to Shalford to see Mum. Gradually she lost contact with us but often I felt she experienced a sort of happiness in the shelter Elizabeth provided. Once we sat in the garden and listened together to a taped talk by Krishnamurti. I wondered what Mum had made of it. After a while she remarked, “What a pity it is that such a man should die.” There were bad times of course. Sometimes she would call out for ‘Granny’ in her sleep and we realised that throughout her life it may have been her kindly granny, who had moved with her mother to Southampton from Essex and was at The Chine during the first war, who had always been her inner support, not her domineering mother. Another time, she sat smiling quietly in her chair wordlessly looking out over the golden fields of corn stretching towards a rim of trees on the horizon.
Copper whispers blowing in the wind,
beech leaves chase the rough grasses down the field.
At ninety-two, I ask myself
will she see another spring?
She rests there, quiet, her busy conversation gone,
anxieties softened now in forgetfulness of age.
Beside her in the garden, dozing off,
I see her smiling in a ray of autumn sun.
She set my character in grooves
so like her own, wakeful morning worrying;
skilled diplomacy; collusion
in the many faces of a smile; all silent now.
Will she see another spring?
Falling like leaves – the boxed up photographs,
cracked vases and old-time
letters carefully stored away
in chests of drawers, yellowing archives
only she remembers, rarely now recalls;
ancient faces; raucous tones; the quarrelling;
the tears behind the racks of bathroom towels.
Not her mother, remembered gentle granny her support.
And will she see another spring?
Suddenly, imagining her presence gone,
the house falls empty, only paper memories remain.
She sits here smiling in the autumn sun
Oh dear – such sadness at your gratitude for my having come.
Her departure from Tudor Wood had left the empty house full of valuable antiques highly vulnerable and one day I was to return there from Essex to find that a huge robbery had been taking place, most of our valued heirlooms stolen, parts of the house wrecked. The police were useless and the whole event, clearly a planned and skilfully executed operation, was for me highly traumatic. I have never quite recovered from the shock and the enormous anger that I felt and which, of course, I have never been able to express, the robbers never having been apprehended. Of course, we had insurance but that did nothing to heal the heart.
Then began our attempts to lease the property, at first to students and then to others. Occasionally we had reliable and respectful tenants but mostly they were inconsiderate, careless, and often damaged the property in one way or another. Elizabeth ran the show and was always troubled; the agents often proving themselves to be mightily incompetent. The best let was one of the last – to an agency that used it to accommodate women coming to the UK for work from East Europe, Poles, Latvians, Ukrainians. They looked after the property well and were a pleasure to meet. Finally, we decided, reluctantly, to sell. The cost of modernising the property for further leasing would have been prohibitive and the return limited. The choice was really undebatable.
The last let was a disaster. Somehow, the incompetent agency carelessly let in a group of young vandals who wrecked the place, rendering it quite untenantable. They ran when our groundsman sensibly told them the Police would be coming. The place was a total, indeed disgusting, shambles and all details were given to the authorities – who as usual did nothing remotely effective. Yet the sale went through since the house, in any case, was to be demolished.
Our last visits to Tudor Wood were very saddening. The poor old house looked miserable, boarded up, shrunken in on itself with no means of comfort. Although we did a little farewell fire-ceremony in the back garden, it did little to ease the trauma in my heart. It was strange to feel so sorry for the house as if it were a living person. It seemed a live animal, abused, beaten, and now deserted. My feelings on saying goodbye to it in that state were quite distraught. All the memories of the burglary were there too, augmented by a hatred for the vandals who had left it that way. I struggled to overcome these feelings but with little effect. I simply had to say “yes’ to them and acknowledge the pain.
I have wondered much about those distraught feelings. Tudor Wood, I realised, had become part of myself rooted in the childhood experiences I had had there. I was grieving not so much for a place as for part of myself. The being that I am is composed of the narrative of my past and central to that remains the story of Tudor Wood, which has come to include my unhappiness around my Mothers difficult death that, quite irrationally, I had felt I could have prevented – ridiculous of course when the lady in question was 96, senile and very ill. It is still painful to remember Tudor Wood although many of my dreams remain placed there, happy ones as well as sad. One’s childhood never evaporates entirely; the events and places of those times remain the root of one’s being. Yet, finally, in looking back on The Chine and Tudor Wood in full awareness of our family story, it is with gratitude and affection that I remember them. The passing of generations is never easy: Time to look forward with the next one.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
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The illustrations for “A Tale of two Houses” are drawn from a very extensive photographic archive going back into the nineteenth century. Many early Crook photographs are labelled or have notes on their backs but few of the Brown pictures are marked, making identification often impossible.Those shown here illustrate the people and places of key interest to this memoir. Some of them illustrate themes in the story as well as persons involved: for example, my father’s speed trials with Rolls, the soldiers at The Chine, Lord Mayor Treloars Hospital etc - all of which events occurred well before my time but which, through hearing much about them, influenced my life.
Plate I a. Georgie and Bertie, ie Mum and Dad. Probably 1929.
b. Tudor Wood before sale in 2006.
c. Mum and Dad in Tudor Wood garden at tea. Early thirties.
d. The squeaky pushchair.
e. Self and Elizabeth with nurse around 1933-4.
f. The arrival of Elizabeth.
g. J and E in The Chine garden . Around1933-4
Plate IIa. Edward Brown, Sarah Brown nee Bartlett with a daughter- about to be married
b. Alice Hurrell – ie: my maternal Great Grandmother Hurrell.
c. Maud Brown nee Hurrell
d. Fred Brown, Maud and daughter Georgina- my mother.
e. Georgie and Rodney- sister and brother .
f. Georgie acting.
Plate IIIa.b. The Chine. 78 Northlands Rd. Southampton. 1920s
c. The big lawn with dovecot- probably in the twenties.,
d. Alderman F.R. Brown JP.
e. Maud with daughter Georgie.
f. Maud , Georgie and Rodney .
Plate IVa. Mrs F.R. Brown, followed by Georgie with matron and nurses while visiting Lord Mayor Treloars Hospital .Alton. Probably late twenties.
b. Georgie Brown, ie, Mum, meeting a patient .
c. Mother Maud ( rt) and daughter Georgie. In the mid twenties.
d. Soldiers in The Chine garden in the Great War.
e. Charity fete in The Chine front garden in the twenties.
Plate Va. Troops at The Chine, maybe 1915.
b. Two soldiers of the time .
c. A soldier who had photo taken at The Chine
d. Soldiers around the dovecot at The Chine, with Mr Brookman .
e. Lt Ernest Crook. RFA.
Plate VIa. The speed drivers :Saltrim, Yorkshire 1914. ‘The Boys” . H.C.Crook.
J. Hedge. W.G.Hardy. and in front- L.Hinds. E Stokes.
b.Porthcawl Sands.S.Wales. 1914 .L Hinds in 25/50 Talbot
c. Waddington Fell. Clitheroe.Yorkshire H. Day and HCC (driving).1914.
d. Down the slip to beach at Porthcawl. E.Stokes ( at wheel) and HCC. In 15/20Talbot. Second car J.Hinds &W.G.Hardy in 25/50 stream-line body.
e.Caerphilly Hill.Near Cardiff.S.Wales. L.Hinds and another.1914.
f.Caerphilly.Hill. E.Stokes and HCC. 1914.
( Captions on back of originals)
Plate VIIa Ernest Crook before the Great War.
b. Ernest with wife Marjorie and son Rex – probably 1914.
c. Dad ( Herbert Crook) with brother Frank as pillion. 1914?
d. Dad as Corporal. 1914
e. Granny Crook with daughter (?) and Bertie. 1914 ?
Plate VIIIa. Participants in Old Folk’s Outing. Brockenhurst. 8.7.1931.Mr Shearman –
‘old all sorts’- and Mr Haysome
b. Old Folk’s Outing .8.7.1931. M. Jurd, 83 years.
c. Old Folk’s Outing , 8.7.31. Age 88.
Plate IXa. Bertie, Georgie, Fred, Maud ( Buzzy) and Rodney .1929-30
b. Bertie, Maud, Georgie and Fred.
c. Maud, Elizabeth , John and Granddaddy. 1938 approx.
Plate Xa. “Gargar, Mum and Elizabeth. The Chine front garden - 1935 approx.
b. Mum – 1930?
c. Granddaddy and Gargar on the beach at Newquay .Cornwall.
d. The White Rabbit
e.Driving on The Chine lawn. I935 about.
Plate XIa. Self and Elizabeth in the Tudor Wood wheelbarrow.
c. Calshot; Rod on left , then probably Ivor Betts one of his friends , Elizabeth in
play pen and unknown.
d. Self on duty. Jubilee. 1935.
e. Self, Mum and Elizabeth at Calshot .
Plate XIIa Overstrand , Howard Rd. Shanklin. IOW
b. Overstrand garden.
c. Samuel Bater Crook and Polly – Granny Crook.
e. Crook family gathering around 19 2 .Arthur, Rex, Marjorie, Grandfather , Granny,Bertie , Peter Elsie.
f.Samuel Bater Crook .
XIIIa A party with Mum and Shortie- in New Forest 1940. Soper, Duggie Byrt,
Bob Bacon , Self, Elizabeth , Shortie, Mum.
b. At the Furnival Hotel, Cadnam.1940. Uncle Harold, Pat, Mum, Auntie
Dorothy, (Front row) Pat, Self, Elizabeth.
c. Polishing shoes at Forest Chine.
d. With Michael Levien and Honey Ginger Roo at Forest Chine. 1942.
e. Bird watching without binoculars.
Plate XIVa. Councillor Herbert Crook with Mayor and Mayoress at opening of Northam Bridge, Southampton I930.
b. Dad( Front on left) with his Air Raid Precautions team at Woolston.
c. John and Elizabeth, portraits in Dads wallet 1944.
d. Mr Marjoram . Tudor Wood gardener.
e. Colonel Hugh Gibbs.
Plate XVa Seaside holiday. Where? 45-46?
b. Dad, a holiday friend, and Self on Cader Idris
c. Lankester & Crook staff outing . Reading and Windsor.July 1952.
Central figures: Self, Dad. Auntie Marjorie and Mum . Front left: Rex.
d Dad with grandson,Stamati.
Plate XVIa. Mum at Christmas.1978?
b. Self carving turkey .
c. Mum at Christmas.
e.Elizabeth,Mum, Stamati, Tanya.
Plate XVIIa. Mum with rose.
b. Dad at Christmastime at the head of the table Late 1960s
c. Tanya, Mum , Self ,Stamati , Elizabeth .
Plate XVIII Three generations.
\ a. Maud Brown , Alice Hurrell, Rodney and Georgie.
b. Auntie Cicely, Elizabeth, Self. Nanny Marsh, Gar gar. Granddaddy
Brookie, Mum. Elizabneth’s birthday –1935?
c. Dad, Elizabeth, Eirene,Mum, And in front Tanya – cat- a guest- Stamati. Xmas time. Mid sixties..
Plate XIX. Some places.
a-b Tudor Wood under construction and completed.1929.
c In its prime
d. Calshot beach huts
e. The hut at Calshot. Mid thirties with Mum and Uncle Rodney. Note the shrimp nets.
f. Forest Chine. Lyndhurst.
In order to clarify the relationships between the various cousins and other relatives mentioned in this memoir I am adding some diagrams of the family trees centred upon my sister and myself.
The first shows that we stem from four grandparental families: a paternal lineage of Crooks and Berrys and a maternal lineage of Browns and Hurrells. Fully constructed family trees running well back into the last centuries exist in our family archive but here I show only those relatives known to us by direct acquaintance or through parental references.The Key to the family trees shows the Crooks of Devonshire and maybe Welsh origin and the Berry’s from Thame on my fathers side and, on my mothers, the Southamptonian Browns and the Hurrells from Southminster in Essex.
The first tree shows the families descended from Samuel Bater Crook and
‘Granny Crook’. Neither their immediate ancestors nor the numerous descendants, children and in some cases grandchildren of my cousins , who do not appear in the narrative , are included.
The second tree shows the relationships of descendants from my great grandfather Brown including Michael Levien and Uncle Hugh.
Mary Maud Hurrell my grandmother was the daughter of Henry Garood Hurrell (1843-1876) of Essex who died young and Alice Bennett . Alice moved with her daughter to Southampton on Maud’s marriage to Frederick Robson Brown. Henry came from a large Essex family, the offspring of Henry Shuttleworth Hurrell ( 1810- 1882) and Mary Ann Garood. The eldest was Charles Henry (1838-1857) followed by Clement (1834-1900) who was one of the first veterinery surgeons fully qualified scientifically (MRCVS). Henry followed ( also a vet),then daughter Mary Ann (married Shuttleworth ) who later also moved to Southampton. Next came William Asbey, a cultivated man, a widely consulted vet, but additionally very interested in church architecture and with a Christian, philosophical turn of mind. Finally we find Alice Harriet (married Greenslade .) Of these we heard many tales from my Grandmother Maud. Clement and William ( Uncle Willie ) both died in the terrible ‘flu epidemic of 1900.