Lighting was originally by paraffin oil lamps with a long glass chimney and wicks that had to be regularly trimmed to prevent the lamp from smoking. As a child I was always fascinated by the fact that you could light a cigarette just by holding it at the top of the glass chimney.
Keeping a cottage warm in winter was quite an art. The first thing of course was never to let the range go out, and to be sure that when you came down in the morning you could put on a handful of sticks, give the ashes a tickle with a poker and bring it all back to life again.
Like many of the cottages in the village, you stepped down through the front door of my grandmothers first cottage ducking your head as you did so, if you were a man, to avoid a head cracking. The floor was brick and you did not need to be told that there was no damp course if you were first down in the morning in bare feet on the damp bricks. My grandfather would often roll up the previous days News Chronicle, light one end of it and go all over the bricks with it to warm the air up before breakfast was started.
Without a damp course it was impossible to consider wall paper unless it was nailed to the wall. To make up for this we had folding draught screens decorated with magazine covers that you could put behind your chair if you sat between the door and the chimney. Mind you the best efforts were made to block the doors with curtains and draught excluders. I don’t recall any carpets but fireside rugs were made by cutting up old clothing into inch strips and looping them through a sacking backing so that the two ends came through to form a pile. The characteristic colours of these rag rugs were grey, blue, black and brown.
In the first cottage was a fairly large white washed pantry with a rickety wooden floor over a small cellar. Down here were kept the Bramley apples which were expected to last long enough to provide apple sauce at Easter. The pantry its self always had the smell of home-made wine brewing. The wine was always started off in a cloth covered large earthenware crock used at other times for keeping bread in. Once the initial vigorous fermentation, started off by floating the yeast on a piece of bread, had died down the wine would be decanted into two gallon ginger beer stone jars and left in the cellar for a year before bottling. That cellar really did have a delightful smell.
The wines of choice were parsnip, dandelion and wheat. The latter had the reputation being as potent as whisky but I guess this was because it was much easier to drink and was always served in tumblers. In later years when my grandfather became confined to bed a Mr Smith would come round occasionally on a Sunday to cut his hair and it was courtesy to offer him a glass of wine as he was leaving. But I remember one Sunday when to every ones amazement he refused the offer of a glass of wheat wine. When pressed he said he had a couple more calls to make and the last time he’d taken a tumbler of the stuff he found that he was unable to refuse a second and that later he’d woken up to find both himself and his bicycle laying up in hedge.
When I began to develop a palate myself for these home-made wines I began to wonder how boiled wheat could make such a wonderful brew. Perhaps it had something to do with the five pounds of muscatel raisins that went into each gallon. One might be excused for wondering why the wheat was there at all.
Every cottage garden in the village had at least one apple tree in it. One of the few recognisable apples that I remember was the Bramley Seedling. But most trees gave green apples of all shapes and sizes often resembling cats heads in shape but all being wonderfully sweet and juicy when ripe. And when we got one that was not ripe we used to bruise it on a stone and suck out the juice. I guess many of the trees were seedlings that had been selected over the years but most seem to suffer the disadvantage of not keeping well. Of the red apples there was The Beauty of Bath that got a bit mealy when over ripe, followed in season by the crisper Worcesters. There were also trees that were covered with deliciously sweet little orange-red May apples as we used to call them.
Before the war Froyle had no rubbish collection service, villagers had to dispose of their own. The village had two recognised dumps for this purpose, two disused chalk pits, one in Upper and one in Lower Froyle. The Lower Froyle one was of especial interest because the remains of the old lime burning kilns were still there. Subsequently another tip was started nearer the village at the foot of Well Lane without any one being particularly perturbed by the rats that scurried around. Typical of the rubbish of the period would be ashes, sifted to see nothing burn able was left, tin cans, glass and stone bottles and jars and unmendable bits and pieces from the house such as toys, bikes, pots and pans etc. There would be very little that was combustible, that would all have been burnt on the fire in the house. There were of course no plastic bottles which people will be digging up from our more recent rubbish in hundreds of years time. There was no garden refuse this was all composted or burnt and furniture was just not allowed to wear out. It was common practice for people to have a quick appraisal of the rubbish dump if they passed it in the chance of finding an old pram wheel for their barrow or to make a scooter for their kids. The cans very quickly rusted away but the bottles and jars survive to give future generations of tip diggers some interest and possibly a bob or two for their trouble. One thing that always amazed me was the relatively good condition of some of the toys that we used to find and cherish more than our own newer ones but one must remember that some of the rubbish came from some pretty upper crust families. The other characteristic of country rubbish tips is the speed at which they become overgrown with stinging nettles.
Another thing that Froyle lacked in common with all other villages of the era was a main drainage system. The cottage lavatories were wooden or brick built structures situated at a discrete distance from the back door. Inside was a bench with an appropriate sized hole in it to sit on with a large specially shaped bucket, possibly that it could not be mistaken for any other, underneath. Two holers were not uncommon but I always thought that that was taking friendliness a bit too far. On the wall would be carefully torn sheets of newspaper impaled upon a nail or threaded on a loop of string. Sometimes old copies of magazines were there for the same purpose, John Bull and Tit Bits being top of the hit parade for this. Much of my early reading was done in such establishments, bathed in the aroma of Lysol, until the call of “I hope you are not reading in there, I’m waiting to go” would stir me into action. The contents of the bucket were emptied as needed into a large hole at the top of the garden and lightly covered with soil, not too much so that the hole would last a long time. Because there was no main drainage the only place to throw dirty water was onto the garden, which is why the runner beans always did so well, or into the field at the back which always produced an area of corn much greener and taller than the rest.
One must remember too that these were the days of the chamber pot. Who would want to get up from a warm bed to go down the end of the garden on a wet and windy night for a James with only a candle to light your way? Going to bed was always by candle and in winter you had a stone water bottle to warm the bed. It was usually covered by a piece of blanket to stop you burning yourself. When you got down into the bed you were aware of a circle of dampness where the heat of the bottle had driven the dampness of the sheets away. Spoken about like this one wonders how one could enjoy oneself and yet any Londoners who came down, and my Grandmother seemed to have a perpetual stream of visitors, always went away looking forward to their next visit.
The main occupations of the villagers were either on the farms or in the building trade. There were other occupations, a butcher, a baker, three publicans, a vicar, a school teacher and a man whose job it was to keep all the ditches clean and cut the tall grass and hedge rows back at the side of the road. The post was delivered by van and as a Londoner I thought it quaint that there was only one post a day and that not until mid-morning. Unfortunately it was accepted that those villagers in the building trades would often be out of work for long periods particularly in winter and when there was work they might have to cycle ten or even fifteen miles to get to it.
From Gran’s house it was exactly a mile to the cross roads where one could catch a bus either to Aldershot in one direction or Winchester in the other. The first bus was at about eight in the morning and the last at about ten at night. This meant that if you went to the pictures in Alton you always had to leave before the end of the film if you wanted to catch the last bus home. The four to five mile walk otherwise was not too bad in summer but could be pretty miserable in winter, the normal picture going season. The saving grace of those big green giants of The Aldershot and District Traction Company was their absolute reliability. They always arrived on time. There were always the same conductors who despite of the length of the run seemed to know all the names of the local passengers. Perhaps it was because they seemed to have time to sit and chat between the stops which were further apart than the town services.
A ride on the bus was always something to look forward to, especially upstairs where the seats unlike the London buses were in banks of four which you had to step up to to get in. The most usual ride would be to go to Alton on a Tuesday for market day to see the animals being auctioned off and to try and run your fingers through the greasy wool on the backs of sheep and to scratch the backs of the pigs. And there was always the chance of a bit of excitement if one the animals broke away and ran through the stalls. The men would grab hurdles to try and direct the pig, say, back into a pen but more often than not the pig had no idea of the rules and would run with his head down straight under the hurdle and through the legs of the holder tipping him on his back much to the delight of the onlookers. The escapees did seem to appreciate the cheers of the crowd because the louder they shouted the more vigorous were the animals efforts to evade capture. In defence of the would be trappers it must be said that a foothold on the cobbles was not improved by the earlier passage of cows.
|Bill Elstow 1999|