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The small town of Eye in the county of Suffolk is where it all began. That is where my Mother met my Father, a meeting which made our family possible. Without that meeting there would never have been the large Tuffs family get together of 2012, the almost clan like gathering organised so admirably by my nephew Peter Tuffs, in fact there would not have been a Peter Tuffs! So this collection of rare titbits of almost forgotten family knowledge starts near the town of Eye, with my mothers arrival for her first day of work at Thornham Hall. This was the first day of a long journey she would make, the year was 1917 and the destination was unknown.
My Mother, the then Ruby Mutimer was thirteen years of age when she started working at Thornham Hall. It was not her first job for she had worked at Thwait Vicarage/Rectory since shortly after her eleventh birthday. In those days it was usual for girls schooling to cease when they reached the age of eleven while boys would continue for a further three years. It was also expected that the vast majority of females would go into service in the houses of the better off and most of the fourteen year old lads would, in some capacity, start work on the land. I can only imagine what it must have been like during those first days our mother spent in Thornham Hall, it must have been daunting for someone so young to be suddenly thrust into that enormous country house with it's 95 rooms and the large staff required to run it. The property was owned by a Lord Henniker but in 1895 he took up a position as the Governor of the Isle of Man. So he then let the property on a long term lease to the wealthy ex military man, Colonel Michael Hughes, who lived there with his wife Edith until they ceased to lease it in the mid 1930's. They were the master and mistress who employed the young Ruby as a scullery maid, my mother truly started work at the lowest level possible.
I recall years later enjoying a visit to a country pub with Mum when an old English gentlemen walked in and boomed a commanding "Good evening" to all and sundry. I was surprised to hear mum reply "Good evening sir", in a quiet and subservient voice, in truth I almost expected her to curtsy. She told me the old gent reminded her of the Colonel from her days in Thornham Hall, but it was obvious to me she did not wish to say more so I changed the conversation. During my growing up years neither of my Parents ever spoke at length about those early days and they had the right to shut me up when my questions became too invasive. However, I have always possessed an enquiring mind and over the years have gathered nuggets of information that may be of interest to my kin-folk. I recently found online, this little gem of information that came from a letter mums boss, Colonel Hughes, sent to the estate manager of Sherdley Hall in St Helens, Lancashire which was another of the Colonel's property's. It was dated, December 9th, 1917, and the Colonel replied to a query he had received about whether they should still pay a sick Mrs Holland who was employed by the estate. Part of the letter he wrote back stated, "owing to her infection, for two weeks she was unable to do any work, therefore, she receives neither wages or insurance money from me for those weeks!" This was close to Christmas and I think that our mother and the many other staff the Colonel employed, did not find the man to be a barrel of laughs to work for!
I also discovered that the Colonel was very Victorian in many of his attitudes, he hated all things modern and refused to consider the newfangled inventions like electricity or the telephone. The ninety five rooms in the house had no heating, there were no bathrooms, not even running water. That was the environment the young Ruby Mutimer found herself during that wartime December of 1917. I do not imagine it was the most joyful of Christmas atmospheres the thirteen year old had ever known but it was the first of many she spent working for the Colonel at Thornham Hall. As the years passed, our mother grew to be a woman. The scullery maid of 1917 was no more and by the early to mid 1920's she had become one of the main cooks. This was the woman who would meet in the not to distant future a young ex soldier who had recently served his Country in what was grotesquely known as The Great War, I doubt the young man ever described it in that way for amongst the millions who died was his only brother!
The young ex soldier's name was Henry Walter Tuffs and he was, of course, my father. To his friends and family he was always known as Wally and I am quite sure that was the name his young wife Emma would have called him. The year he married Miss Emma Oakley I do not know but it was probably in the region of 1921/22. There were no children in the marriage so it was probable that the young Wally and Emma married for love and still would have felt that way when he started his new job working as a gardener for Colonel Hughes at Thornham Hall. However, something went wrong in their relationship and we now know, thank the Lord, that by the summer of 1924 his affections had shifted at least in part to one of the household cooks, Ruby. I have often bemoaned the fact that there are no photo's of our mother when she was young so I know not whether she was attractive, but I choose to believe it was not only the smell of freshly baked bread that attracted Wally to her kitchen. Whatever the reason, we know for a fact that by the autumn of that year, 1924, the twenty year old Ruby Alice Jane Mutimer had realised she was pregnant and a twenty five year old married man called Wally Tuffs was the father of her unborn child!
At this stage I want to point out that no one alive knows for certain the way future events unfolded. As long ago as 1999, near the date which would mark the one hundredth anniversary of my Dads birth, I wrote to all my siblings asking for facts, photo's and information about our parents early years. I was able to learn a little from some of the replies and have gained more from additional information gleaned elsewhere. I have of course had facts reinforced and added to from the many priceless conversations of yesteryear discussed with my brothers around the big old oak table at my home in Wales. So what follows are only my carefully worked out assumptions on the way events unfolded for my parents during the long and sometimes heartbreaking journey embarked on by the two of them. I hope you agree it is better to have these well researched assumptions written down for future generations to read, than to keep them as thoughts at the back of my mind that would die with me. This way I leave a record of those long ago events for others to ponder.
To have a child out of wedlock in the 1920's was in many peoples eyes the greatest disgrace possible. I feel certain that would have been the case in the eyes of Ruby's Victorian minded employer, Colonel Hughes, and life would have been extremely awkward for the young mother to be. As soon as possible after the baby was born, in the March of 1925, he was taken to his Grandparents home in the small village of Thwaite, also in Suffolk. It was there that the baby boy, who was called Walter, was to be looked after by his fifty eight year old Grandmother, Julia Mutimer, who was ably assisted by her husband Robert, the new babe's seventy four year old Grandad. What those aged Grandparents were thinking when Ruby left her baby with them to return to her work at Thornham Hall no one can know, what hurt the young mother felt as she left her young son we can only imagine. But we can assume that during that time much heartache was felt and many tears would have flowed, but life had to go on, and as Ruby resumed her duties at Thornham Hall, far away from daily contact with her son and his father, it did.
I know not where or when I was first told that my father, Wally senior, decided that this was the time for a swift departure from the the locality of Thornham Hall. It is something I discovered in the long ago mists of yesteryear. However, it is hardly surprising for he would not have been popular with Ruby's many male relatives or with his wife's family. I know not the size of the Oakley clan but, perhaps, in their eyes he had let their Emma down horribly. There may not have been a sister called Annie of western fame to come gunning for him but there could well have been relatives who would have liked nothing more than to shake hands with my father's throat. So he was wise to disappear which for a while he did. How well Ruby coped at this time I have no knowledge, neither do I know how often she was able to see her son. In those long ago days the women working in service often just one half day a week off. To get to her parents village meant a long, tiring walk of many miles and so visits were certainly very rare. It is probable, therefore, that the two people the baby grew to know and love most were not his parents, but his grandparents, and this situation continued until 1931 when Wally Jnr was six years old!
The activities of our dad, Wally senior, during the rest of 1925 are unknown. Where he lived and how he made a living were never revealed to me. Whether he visited Ruby or saw his son are also unanswered questions but I like to think he did both. What is known beyond doubt is that by the February of 1926 he was once again regularly visiting the mother of his son for in the summer of that year Ruby realised that, once again, she was pregnant. I would not think badly of her aged father if he hit the roof when he was informed of this and I expect her mother despaired of her youngest daughter. Ruby did manage to keep her Job but I suspect the Colonel and his wife were far from happy with her conduct. I can imagine the many letters flooding back and forth between Ruby and her Mother and, perhaps, Ruby's siblings as well, letters wondering what on earth should be done. The result was that it was decided that when the baby was born it would be best for it to start it's life living with it's Aunt Emily, who was my mothers half sister, who for unknown reasons was always known as Dod.
On November the sixth of that year, 1926, Ruby gave birth to her second child, this time a girl who was named Gladys. As with the birth of her son eighteen months earlier, circumstances dictated that as soon as it was possible Ruby would have to return to her duties at Thornham Hall. The new baby, little Gladys, was taken to the home of Ruby's eldest sister, Dod to live in the village of Hoxne, a number of miles away. I can almost cry when I imagine the emotional stress my wonderfully loving mother would have been enduring. She was just twenty two years old and unmarried with two children under the age of two.
Both of those children lived far from each other and far from the daily cuddles their mother longed to give them. The ache in her heart must have been almost unbearable and hope for the future in short supply!
The next few years are a mystery but we know young Wally continued to stay with his Grandparents in the village of Thwaite and Gladys remained in the home of her Aunt Dod in Hoxne. I also know that as the 1930's approached, probably in 1930, my future parents left Suffolk and for reasons unknown to me, journeyed to the town of Woking in Surrey. It was there that Wally and Ruby could at last be together, free from whatever had kept them apart for so long. Now they were a couple but still, not yet, a family. I presume that our father once more found work as a gardener but what sort of work our mother did I have never discovered. I do know that at that place of employment she met and befriended a woman I was to know later as Aunt Doll, a woman I know to have helped our parents in many ways and who was to become a lifelong friend of my mothers. It was at her house in Woking that Ruby had her third child, and on May 23, 1931, my sister Violet was born. It was near this time that Doll informed Wally and Ruby of a gardeners position she knew of and said that a house went with the Job. My father swiftly applied for the position, cycled ten mile for an interview and was immediately employed. Can you imagine the feeling of absolute joy my mother must have have felt, when in the early August of that year she entered for the first time one half of Longacre Cottages, the house that would be their home for many years. I can picture the scene as, with baby Violet safely in her arms, she followed her man through the front door of their first ever proper home. They had reached their destination and the long Journey was finally over, for the Tuffs Family had arrived in Shamley Green!
Within weeks of arriving in Shamley Green my Mother returned to Suffolk with the intention of bringing home six year old Wally junior and four year old Gladys. Sadly her seventy nine year old father had died the previous year, so it was only her Mother she could thank for the years she had cared for young Wally. There must have been many tears as the loving Grandmother said farewell to her daughter and grandson, but not as many as when my mother went to collect her daughter from her sisters home. I have learned through my sister Violet that both Gladys and her Aunt Dod cried so bitterly at the thought of parting, that our Mother felt compelled to let young Gladys stay a little longer. So it was only Wally junior who met his excited dad and his baby sister when his Mother took him home. Plans to collect Gladys in the near future were certainly made but first more money to travel would have to be saved. However, as always in life, events changed for the family started to grow. In the late spring of 1932 Ruby was able to tell her son that mummy was going to have another baby, and on October 26th of that year Wally junior met his baby brother Len. Before another year had passed, young Wally was gazing at another newborn babe and this brother was called Bob. The family Tuffs were growing and in the April of 1935 another addition arrived, this one was a little sister who was called Dot. The family was expanding fast and soon their small semi-detached cottage was getting cramped, something would have to be done.
Far away in Suffolk our sister Glad now considered herself to have two mothers, Mummy Drane who she lived with, and her far away mother, Mummy Tuffs, who never forgot to send presents for Christmas and on birthdays. No one realised it at that time but circumstances would lead to Glad staying with Mummy Drane and her three children throughout her childhood. But Glad was always part of the family mindset and over the years she received many letters and messages of events in Shamley Green as they happened. However, there was one event that occurred on the seventh of September, 1938, that neither Glad nor any of her siblings had any knowledge of at all. It took place in a registry office where the mother and father of the six Tuffs children got married. It was, I imagine, a quiet affair for Ruby was no blushing bride and the reason may have been due to the fact that on her wedding day she was almost nine months pregnant. In fact when Glad received her twelfth birthday card from her parents it would have been full of news of her new little sister Phyllis's arrival on the planet. Including their parents the family Tuffs now numbered nine, and it was around this time that my father approached his employer with the idea of taking over the other half of their cottage. Dad was obviously a good worker for permission was granted and the two small dwellings became one large one. Nature abhors a vacuum so Dad very quickly solved that problem for in the April of 1940, son number four arrived when my brother Gordon was born.
It may seem strange to all the many descendants of Walt and Ruby that with eight children on the planet, my father once again volunteered to join the armed forces when war with Germany broke out but, in the early 1940's that's what he did. I know that the main reason he did so was that during those early years of World War Two our parents realised that financially they would be better off if he joined up. So he did, and once again Dad put on a uniform and, having accepted the Kings shilling, went wherever he was needed. The only definite facts I know of his role in those war years is that for a time he was responsible for guarding some German prisoners of war but, like so many soldiers after the horror ended in 1945, he had no wish to discuss his wartime experiences. If any of my siblings have extensive knowledge of actual events I request they write them down for us all to share.
It had certainly been quite a roller coaster of a journey for the two of them since they first met two decades and eight children earlier in Thornham Hall, Suffolk, I would soon arrive to become their ninth child. That journey of togetherness had two more decades to run before those same children, together with their mother, said their farewell to a wonderful dad and husband. In my memory No.6, 'A Soldiers Story', I give my take on how he must have felt in May, 1945 as he returned home to his loving family and I have little more to add. Except to say I'm forever grateful and proud that I was fortunate enough to be the final player in the Walt and Ruby story!
PS. January, 2014.
Some more information has reached me regarding the above story, which somewhat muddies the waters of exactly where my parents met. It does, however, do so in a delightful manner for we now have even more information about the start of Walt and Ruby's life together in those long ago days of 1924. This new information was given some time ago to my nephew, Peter Tuffs, by his aunt Gladys and knowledge of it has only recently reached my domain. My sister Glad told Peter of a letter she received from our mother on her fifty fifth birthday that gave some answers to questions she had asked. The precious letter informed Glad that in 1924 our mother went to work as a cook in a place called Stayer House in the nearby town of Eye. It also said it was there that she first met my father, which is at odds with the Thornham Hall meeting place I have always been led to believe and its still firmly engraved in my mind. However, the Stayer House story also has the ring of truth to it and it may well have been the place where the love between Walt and Ruby first blossomed. However, the wondrous truth is the two did meet and our family history commenced!
There is a photo of this Stayer House in the Tuffs Family book but I must confess to never having heard mention of it from either of my parents. That my mother started work at Thornham Hall as a thirteen year old and was eventually joined there by my father is also a certainty. I'm know she ended up working there again after her time working at the mysterious Stayer House. The question some family members ask is which of the above dwellings was she working at when she fell pregnant with her first child. The answer to me is not important for the result was that child became our brother Wally, who arrived to enrich all our lives. In the years to come his example as the first born member of our family was what was proved to be of lasting importance!
PS. June, 2022.
'Kens Cosy, No.126'
'If beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' then,' He who has ears to hear, should listen,' and listen I have in the decade since this story was first written. New facts discovered by my newest old friends have shone more light on the wonderful story surrounding my parents.
So please update your knowledge by reading the above 'Kens Cosy' story.
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