As we stood behind Dad, waiting for him to unlock the old wooden back door, I looked up at a mass of wonky tiles, wobbling their way from the top of the door and window frame way up into what seemed like the sky above. A large chimney stood even higher on each end.
Two steep steps took us into the kitchen, where, to the right, an old white sink cemented onto brick pillars stood on the bare grey stone floor, a single tap hung over it, and above, the window looked out onto the fields.
A very black kitchen range took pride of place in the corner opposite, and a fat round black pipe wound it’s way from the fire on the left of the stove top into the chimney wall.
To our left another door opened into a small room with an earth floor and a high window, the underside of the stairs hung from the ceiling. This room was the larder.
Past the larder and up two steps, leaving the stairs to be explored later, was another door leading to the sitting room which was at the front of the house. This room had a front door flush with the outside of the house and a vestibule built into the room to keep the draft out. A multi paned window alongside faced the road. The large open fireplace would provide warmth and the floor to ceiling cupboard to the left would store the sawn logs.
Back to the foot of the stairs, which started from the two raised steps from the kitchen, and up into total darkness. The creaky wooden stair treads wound tightly round on themselves, each one a dark stained triangular shape fanning out from the central support. There was no hand rail but leaning against the wattle and daub wall offered support and balance. The top step ended on the small landing in front of the 1st bedroom, both of which were under the slope of the roof.
The 1st bedroom door, sawn off at an angle to fit, opened into a tiny room measuring about 8’ by 4’ on the floor, but only 8’ by 2’ at ceiling height. The roof of the house formed the rest of the ceiling which dropped away to the floor. Sitting up in bed was impossible.
Up another step and into the 2nd bedroom, a regular sized room apart from the large intrusion of chimney breast rising from the floor in the centre of the end wall at about 45 degree angle towards the front of the house. There was just enough room where the chimney grew smaller to fit a window looking towards Peter Chandler’s farm.
The main bedroom at the front of the house had a trap door into the loft space which spanned the complete length of the two cottages.
Outside it was hard to determine how much garden there was, we followed the grass path through the tunnel of overgrown laurels which ran alongside the well ventilated, tin roofed woodshed, and came to a brick built sentry box housing the “toilet”. The wooden bench with a hole in the middle seemed to take care of all our waste, though goodness knows where it went. The seat was scrubbed daily and there was always the packet of Izal, but nothing could ever get rid of the spiders!
So this house with its rickety walls and sloping floors was to be our home. The furniture came in, curtains put up, and the kitchen range cleaned to perfection. Rag rugs were placed on the floor and our toys and possessions surrounded us
Life began to take on a certain routine. Every morning Dad would stir the embers and re-stoke the fire in the range, he’d be gone to work early on his bike, but there was always porridge and a tin of golden syrup waiting for us to start the day in the warm kitchen.
Monday was wash day, so the copper in the woodshed was filled with cold water and a ‘blue bag’ and the wood fire beneath it lit and kept burning until the water boiled. The white sheets and pillowcases had a thorough boil, were stirred with the wash tongs, then heaved out into a zinc bath on the floor. The bath was dragged to the wringer where the soapy water was squeezed out, next the sheets were rinsed, wrung again and hung out on the line with dolly pegs. The washing line ran the whole length of the garden, and this was the dividing line between our garden and Jimmy Spooner, who lived in the adjoining house.
Bath night was usually Friday, the event took place in the kitchen, where the zinc bath was filled with hot water from the old kettle on the range. Towels were laid around the bath to mop up the splashes and another would be warming in front of the open door of the range. I being youngest had the first dip, then my brother, Mum, then finally Dad – he never seemed to complain though.
Evenings would be spent mainly in the kitchen, playing cards, especially pontoon. Mum’s button box providing the betting money. We’d play board games, cut up old Christmas cards for scrap books, learn to knit and sew etc. while listening to the Archers or murder mysteries on the wireless – a chunky brown Bakelite box with valves that frequently needed replacing.
Jimmy Spooner who lived next door always seemed to be smiling under his big droopy white moustache, he wore baggy corduroy trousers with braces and granddad shirts. He wore hobnail boots, which meant we knew exactly what time he got up and when he had gone to bed each night.
He liked to sit in the garden with a catapult aimed at the birds, and at the end of the line of raspberries he hung a loaded mouse trap for the same purpose. His front door opened directly into the only room on the ground floor, and the stairs started to the right of the door and wound round to the left, there was a wall of newspapers under the front window, and a rocking chair beside the fireplace. He cooked on an open topped stove set into the fireplace, and his larder ran along the party wall. Upstairs was just one bedroom. On the back of his house, past the well which drew water if you pumped quickly enough, was a little scullery with no door from the inside, so he had to walk round from his front door to gain access. Like us he also had a porcelain sink under the window and a cold water tap, and this is where he would wash himself as well as the dishes.
Whereas our house was being gradually updated with some home comforts, linoleum on every floor, distemper on the ceilings, emulsion on the walls, paint on the old brown doors, concrete on the larder floor, Jimmy’s house stood still in time, but he seemed quite content.
In the last house in the village lived Mrs Joyce, who was rumoured to be related to Lord Haw Haw, she also had a thing about the birds, every afternoon the sparrows would make a din in the eaves of the house, which prompted her to bang the gutter with a long bean pole to shoo them off.
On the corner of Smithbrook lived Mr & Mrs Newman, although Mr Newman died shortly after we arrived and I never really knew him. Mrs Newman always wore a wrap around floral pinafore and used to walk me round her garden showing me what had bloomed or anything of interest. The duck pond was at the end of her garden, which must have been created by an underground spring as this is where the stream seemed to start
Glad and Bert Hayter lived in one of Broom Cottages with their sons, Dave and Kenny, and Dimp & Ted Holmes with their children Carol, Brian and Linda lived in the other.
Mr & Mrs Liverton lived in the bungalow and Mr & Mrs Silk lived in the house adjoining their garden. There were no more houses on the left side of the street, but high up on the bank Mr & Mrs Shirley lived in the School House. I’ve missed a house between Broom Cottages and the School House, but I didn’t know the occupants
In the field just beyond Mrs Silk’s house a large electricity box on a pole was once struck by lightening, creating a deafening explosion, blinding blue/white flashing and crackling, this combined with the thunder seemed like the end of the world, and sent us scurrying to the safety of the stairwell.
We hadn’t been living there long before some modernisation began. A hole was cut in the sloping roof at the top of the landing, and a wooden framework built outwards to house an indoor toilet. Everyone seemed to think this was a good idea, but watching the construction from a child’s viewpoint, I wasn’t convinced a floor suspended out on the roof would take my weight. I always spent as little time as possible on the toilet, pulled the chain and ran back to safety. At the same time a narrow brick extension was built onto Jimmy’s side wall, from the front door to the back of the house, it was divided into two parts, the half by the front door became the wood store, and the back half became his new toilet so he no longer had to go out to the wooden privvi under the yew tree.
Bailey’s builders carried out the work and dug a cavernous cesspit in the garden, which was regularly emptied by the suction lorry.
Finding a solution to adding a bathroom to the house was not as easy, so a DIY conversion started in the woodshed. Part of the shed was sectioned off, the walls and roof were lined with hardboard and a new white bath installed. There were no taps on the bath, but the old copper gave way to a new electric boiler with a tap at the bottom and the hot water was bucketed into the bath. The outlet went into the stream, so no bubbles allowed
We ran electricity from the kitchen to provide a light and a two bar heater hung on the wall – what health and safety?
Now that the toilet was indoors the sentry box became redundant, so the floor was concreted over and it took on the role of coal shed. The remaining half of the woodshed housed piles of logs sawn by hand and split with Dad’s axe. A large box of kindling wood chopped on the block with a bill hook stood in the corner. If we were lucky and the weather wasn’t too harsh, the lorry load of poles delivered in the autumn would last throughout the winter, coal was very expensive.
All our fruit and vegetables were grown in the garden. Those we couldn’t eat in season were preserved, pickled, bottled or given to neighbours. We picked blackberries from the hedgerows and delicious mushrooms grew around the oak tree in the field across the stream. A row of raspberries were planted to keep us from falling in the stream, but we soon discovered that not only did the biggest ones grow on the far side, but also that we could squeeze round there and still keep our footing.
Tradesmen of all sorts delivered to the village until the shop opened. Playfoot Page & Webster butchers brought our orders of beef – roast on Sunday, cold on Monday, minced on Tuesday, sausages, bacon, and liver, sometimes there would be pigs trotters for a sticky treat. Our basic supplies were often supplemented with birds and animals which were to be found hanging in the larder under the stairs. “Preparing a chicken” meant gently plucking the feathers into the zinc bath, a few at a time so the skin didn’t tear, then pulling out and discarding the entrails, the heart, kidneys and liver were cooked and eaten later. The head was chopped off and the crop taken out. A quick singeing with a match to any remaining stubble and “voila” ready for the oven
Pheasants came as a brace and rabbits were plentiful until myxomatosis took hold
The grocer sold tins and packets from the back of his mobile shop and it was always exciting to see what was new this week.
If there was something we needed that couldn’t be delivered we would catch the bus, usually into Petworth because we could visit Granny Smith while we were there. It was too far to walk to Halfway Bridge when we were little so Roger sat on a saddle on the crossbar of Dad’s bike and I sat in a seat on the back of Mum’s. We left the bikes with Mrs Gamblin and got on the bus. The conductor rang his bell, collected our money, gave his machine handle 4 quick turns and presented the tickets. If we were lucky we could get the front seats on the top deck.
A couple of years in Lodsworth and it was time for me to join Roger at school in Easebourne. Bill Hyde stopped his bus at the gate and off we went through the village, past the allotments where Dad grew potatoes, past the village hall – home of flower shows, dances and allsorts, past the garage and the nursery, past Mrs Stratton’s house where doctor Bell’s surgery was held in her front room, past the pub where we sometimes stood at the side door to buy our crisps with the little blue bag of salt, to the telephone box and the shop where we stopped to pick up more children. Onwards past the high wall of Masefield’s garden, Ernest Shepard’s house, the top of Church Lane and out of the village to cross the main road into Selham, we passed Morley’s timber yard, turned right at the council houses in Selham and into the top end of Midhurst, eventually arriving at Easebourne Primary School.
Now that we were both at school Mum went out to work at River nurseries, growing and packing chrysanthemums for Covent Garden. During the school holidays we sometimes went with her, but more often went to work with Dad. This was much more fun as we were free to explore the woods, climb trees, hide and generally scare each other.
Dad was an outworker for Morley’s making paling for fencing. He would create a working area amongst the piles of chestnut trees that had previously been felled, set up his apparatus for sawing the poles into measured lengths, shaving, splitting, cleaving and bundling all under a tarpaulin to keep as dry as possible. There would always be a fire to burn his rubbish and to keep him warm. When we were going to be with him for a week or more he would erect a tent for us to play in, we would toast our sandwiches very carefully on a forked stick, green so as not to catch light. The smoke would seep into our clothes and we’d all travel home by bike rosy cheeked and tired.
The church became a large part of my life, not because I was religious, but because I liked to sing, and the acoustics in the church were brilliant. I joined the choir with Betty Simmonds, Peggy Martindale, Elizabeth Hurst and Mrs Kingshott who sang descant, which I always felt gave us the professional touch. We rehearsed once a week and sang twice on Sundays, matins at 11.am and evensong at 6 pm. Occasionally we would be required to sing at a wedding or special occasion such as Petula Clark’s sister’s blessing.
Not only did Peggy sing but she was also a bell ringer, and if necessary, due to the absence of other team members she could ring 3 bells on her own, one on each arm and one on her foot. My own attempt to ring the bell was disastrous, I was always too late pulling the rope and couldn’t keep my balance on the box I needed to stand on, so I left it to my brother who was the expert.
Life in the cottage stayed much the same until one day there were no footsteps to be heard on the stairs next door. Jimmy had died.
It was the end of an era. The builders started knocking the two cottages into one, a modern staircase replaced the two old ones, a new doorway brought us into Jimmy’s old sitting room, my old bedroom was transformed into a bathroom with running hot water from the new Raeburn which had replaced the black range, and there was hot water from the tap over the new sink in the kitchen. The 1st bedroom was no longer needed for sleeping and was instead used for storage. Jimmy’s old bedroom was divided into 2 new rooms and a window built into the wall facing the garden. The zinc bath was hung on the shed wall, only brought down when there was enough snow for sledging. In came carpets, electrical goods, television, record player, transistor radio and the swinging sixties.
The house was renamed Kozy Cott.1
Cherie Corley née Smith
1 We were told that the cottages were previously known as Holly cottages 1 & 2, but they didn’t seem to retain their name and we were not sure which side was which, so our address was just ‘Smithbrook’ until the cottages were knocked into one.