This post was updated on .
I want you to picture a house in the idyllic Surrey countryside. I then want you to visualise the concern of the normally contented old lady who lives there. Her equally old husband has just informed her of some very disturbing news that would change their lives. It seemed the wonderfully peaceful and quiet retirement they had both been so enjoying was about to end. He had just learned that the vacant lodge house of the Unstead Park estate, the only house near to their home, had just been let to a married couple. Worse still, they were moving in the next morning and, horror upon horrors, the old gentleman had heard they had nine children, and six of them were of School age!.
A restless night had passed for the well to do and unhappy pair and in the morning they heard the sound of a motor vehicle approaching. As they peered nervously through their net curtains they could see a lorry pull up to the entrance of the lodge house. After some minutes of frantic and noisy unloading of it's contents the lorry drove away, leaving a woman of sturdy appearance standing amongst a mass of furniture and boxes. With her were two lads, who looked to be about twelve years of age and, at their mothers command, they started to carry the furniture into the house. The net curtain watcher's saw the woman pick up an enormous box and, as she followed her boys into their new home, the old folk turned to each other. They concluded that the newcomers were a scruffy lot and they would stick to the decision they had reached the previous evening. They would have absolutely nothing at all to do with their new neighbours!
Unaware of all this, the woman, who was called Ruby, happily positioned the furniture in her new home. Her sons, twelve year old Bob, and his brother Len, who was thirteen, did all the heavy lifting. Soon the rest of her family would be with her, all save her nineteen year old daughter Gladys who was now a married woman with a child of her own, and her eldest son, Wally jnr, who, as a twenty one year old, was serving his country in Japan. I know not if the net curtain watchers saw the second lorry arrive with it's precious cargo of furniture, chickens and even more children, or if they saw Ruby's husband, Wally snr, arrive. Future events would prove the old couple certainly did not see fifteen year old Violet's appearance, pushing Ruby's six week old baby boy in his pram.
I of course knew nothing of any of the above, for I was that six week old baby. This wonderful feel good story of of our families time in the lodge house of Unstead park comes mostly from the memories of my sister Phyl, who was herself just a child when these events occurred. I will be forever grateful for her telling me of them. There has also been some input from my sister Violet and from facts that I have gleaned from the oak table gatherings of the past three decades. Let us start with my Dads arrival at his new home only to be told there was no water supply. He was not perturbed for there was a house nearby so he sent Bob and Len over there with an empty jug to ask for some water. He did not tell them to ask politely for all the Tuffs children were well mannered, for they followed their dads example. Obviously he had no idea of the hostility his new neighbours felt towards us and he was shocked when his boys returned with an empty jug. My sister Phyl said she remember's dad was really mad, especially when he spotted that the old couple had an outside tap so close to our home.
Still, water was essential, as was Dads cup of tea, so Bob and Len were sent to the village standpipe with a galvanised bath. This was about half a mile away and they had to make this trip several times every day until our home had it's water supply turned back on. No doubt our fair minded father would have wondered what the old couple thought when they saw these two young lads struggling to carry the water home. Guilt, he may have surmised, as they watched them come and go to the village tap with the galvanised bath. Of course he didn't know of the old folks horror at the thought of a large family living so close to them so when he told his children to stay far away from their house, they were probably pleased.
However, life had to go on and it did. Not long for our families precious chickens for the foxes killed them all. Whatever had protected them in our old home, had failed to do so at Unstead Park. This meant that Len, Bob, Dot, Phyl and Gordon couldn't go to school on an egg on that Monday in September, when they started their new term for the first time ever at Bramley village school. It was to be Lens last term as a schoolboy for, on October 26th of that year, he had his fourteenth birthday which meant in the new year he would have to start work. Of course his brother Bob would miss him terribly and I discovered just recently, that to make him feel more independent and grown up, he was given his first ever pair of long trousers.
Meanwhile, something strange was happening closer to home with our well to do and unfriendly neighbours. One day when Gordon and Phyl were playing in a field near their home the old lady called them over. I'm sure whatever unease the children felt evaporated quickly when they were given lemonade and cake to enjoy. After that the old couple would often call my elder siblings over and give them things, some sweets, or a book, even a game. This behaviour must have puzzled my parents but in time the old lady visited them. She said they had been surprised to find they enjoyed watching the children play and even came to look forward to it. She said they regretted refusing to give us water and felt terrible when they realised that there was a baby involved. She offered her sincere apologies, but alls well that ends well and just before that Christmas of 1946 the old folk gave our mother a big box of toys they'd had stored in their attic. She said they had belonged to her children and she hoped mum's children would enjoy playing with them. In those days a worker in a tied cottage would only have earned about five pounds a week, so I'm quite certain that some of the old ladies box of toys would have been wrapped up as Christmas gifts by my mother. It might have meant we had two presents each, thanks to the old couple's kindness. The same old couple who had vowed just a few months earlier to have absolutely nothing at all to do with us!
When fourteen year old Len started work in the January of 1947 he probably cycled the five miles to his place of work for the weather was mild. However, three weeks later the first snows came and the cycling had to stop, as did much of the country, for the weather was mild no more. In southern Britain snow fell everyday for fifty five days in a row and February saw the coldest and darkest month of the century. For day after day no one saw a glimpse of the sun and that included the five younger members of the Tuffs family as they trudged back and forth to their new school. How my parents kept the house warm on their meagre income is a mystery, but I expect every scrap of dead wood that the children were sent out to find was lugged home for the fire. None of this worried me for I was still a babe, snug and warm and well looked after. Around this time a letter arrived for my parents, sent by my big brother Wally who was serving his country in far away Japan. I am fortunate to have a copy of that letter, dated December 30th, 1946, and in it Wally mentions about my weight at six months of age was sixteen and a half pounds. My mother had obviously told Wally this in her Christmas letter to him and I know that both mother and son prayed that by the next festive season they would have no reason to write letters, for they'd be together again.
The snow and the cold of that winter seemed to last forever but in time it gave way to a late spring. In addition to the money that dad gave to my mother she was now receiving a small weekly amount from my brother Len's wages. When summer arrived Mums housekeeping income increased yet again for my sister Violet started full time work, so things were not quite as hard as they had been. This meant my father could, on the odd occasion, afford to walk to one of Bramley's two pubs to enjoy a pint. I expect he enjoyed more than a pint when an event occurred later that year. I know not the month it happened but if the old couple who lived near us had peered through their net curtains they would have seen great excitement. Flags and Bunting galore were hung on and near our house, for soon a very special person would arrive. All the younger children, probably dressed in their Sunday best clothes, waited down the road for his arrival. They started waiting much earlier than they needed to, such was their excitement, as they all watched for the taxi that would be bringing their big brother home, home from far away Japan to good old Blighty!
At last it appeared and my seven year old brother Gordon couldn't contain himself, and he ran up to the driver, pointing and shouting loudly, "It's the house with all the flags on". I'm quite sure that his big brother, Wally, was grinning from ear to ear as he watched Gordon and his siblings race his taxi home. The flags and bunting that greeted Wally for his homecoming had been loaned to us by his boss, Mr Jeffery. But the many hugs and kisses he received were supplied by his family, as were the tears of relief and joy some of them felt at his safe return home. I can imagine how happy my dad was as he shook his eldest sons hand. I can almost see them stepping back to look at each other with gratitude and pride and then the inevitable bear hug that would have followed. It is easy to picture the noise and the laughter of those magical moments as, with all his siblings crowding around him, her eldest son embraced the mother he loved so much. I'd like to think that after the longest of hugs she took her sons hand and led him over to a cot and introduced him for the first time to his little brother---------ME!
This long story of events that transpired during our time at the lodge house of Unstead Park is almost over. But of all the events my sister so lovingly wrote to me about, one stands above all others. It is not the one about the old couple who were at first so unfriendly and then so kind. It's not the one about the coldest winter we all endured for that was followed by the hottest of summers. It's not even about that wondrous day my brother Wally returned home, safe and well, to the family he'd longed to see. The event that touched me so much was the one that enabled a nine year old girl to buy her own Christmas gifts. It's about the many chestnut trees that grew in Unstead Park and it's a story I love. Once again I thank my sister Phyl for reminding me of what happened in the build up to that long ago Christmas of 1947. If you want to find out more you must read my memory No.(53), it's called, 'The Unstead Park Chestnut Tree's'.
|Free forum by Nabble||Edit this page|