My grandparents married in 1909 when Helen was 16 and Selwyn (I know, poor chap) was 26 (I think) and my father was born the next year. Selwyn (was he ever called that? Shorely not. He was later known as The Major) had visited Lowestoft – his parents lived in Sussex and London – and loved the area, as well as Helen. They lived in a rented house in Cotmer Road when they were first married, while they were having their own house built.
The land they chose was in Oulton Broad and was the first house to be built in that road. The building materials were brought up the river by barge. There were 4 acres of land altogether, the house set well back from the river, with a substantial kitchen garden alongside the flower gardens and lawn and a gardener’s cottage on the other side of the road with a lot more ground including a paddock. They moved in in 1912.
When my parents married in 1947, my mother was taken to be introduced to her new in-laws (yes, that way round). She and the Major got on swimmingly from the start (we’ll gloss over Helen who didn’t get on with anyone) and it was her dearest wish to move up from Weymouth to look after him – his health was none too good by that time. Sadly, they couldn’t sell their hotel for quite some years, the Major died in 1952 and it was 1958 by the time we finally moved in.
When the house was built it was normal to have staff. So there was a butler’s pantry complete with butler, a housemaid’s pantry with a housekeeper and housemaid, a chauffeur, a head gardener and two other gardeners and I don’t know what else besides. We never lived in that sort of style of course, when I was a small child we still had a live-in gardener and another part-time gardener and my mother had a daily help, though we did have a live-in Spanish maid for a while. Later we just had a gardener, later still an odd-job man.
The house had a lot of rooms, though they weren’t as big as the rooms in this house where I live now. Coming in through the front door there was a lobby which we called the air-lock, to the left was the cloakroom and separate lavatory. Straight ahead was the door to the hall, which was large. To the left of the hall was the gun room. Off the hall (clockwise from the gun room) was the drawing room, the passage used as a junk room, the study, the dining room, the door through to the kitchen quarters, the stairs which had two half-landings – there were five stairs, turn right and there were seven stairs, turn right and there were six stairs and the landing was above the hall. Between the stairs and the door to the air-lock was the room under the stairs where we kept drinks, which was known as the beer cupboard. Off the dining room was the conservatory as I said yesterday.
Through the kitchen door into a little lobby and straight ahead was the butler’s pantry. This was lined with shelves on which we kept china and glasses. There was a sink and a dishwasher. To the left was the kitchen. In about 1962 my parents had it done up with all the latest mod cons, built in split-level oven with 8 gas rings on the hob in an alcove with a huge extractor unit, brick-built peninsular work surface with lots of cupboards. The sink had a waste disposal unit and the Kenwood liquidiser housing was built in – you removed a cover and set it in to the worktop. The room had quarry tiles in front of the hob but was otherwise carpeted in pink. There was a big white dresser where all sorts of things were kept and a bit oak Welsh dresser on the other wall. The white dresser was built in and included the hatchway through to the dining room.
Through towards the back door, there was the pantry on the left as you went into the scullery, with the stairs down to the cellar off that. The back stairs were next, then the back door which had a porch, then the larder. The cellar was large and housed the boiler and had a separate small room for coal with a chute down from the drive. We kept the fridge in the pantry and there was a sink in there too. The scullery was no such thing when we lived there, it was a kitchen while the big kitchen was being done up, then it was a little sitting room.
Upstairs, to the left there was a passage. First there was the housemaid’s pantry, then the bathroom which was large and cold, then the upstairs loo. Going past the passage you got to my parents’ bedroom and, as I said yesterday, the bathroom and dressing room were en suite. There was a door from the landing to the dressing room but not to the bathroom. Next you came to the spare bedroom, above the dining room. Then there was another passage, off which was the night nursery (many years later, Al was born in this room) and steps down (because the scullery ceiling was lower than that of other rooms) to a half-landing off which were the day nursery and the back stairs. Go back along that passage and the door to the linen cupboard was on your left (it was a small room, the size of the butler’s pantry below) before the bit of the landing leading to the stairs to the next floor. It was here that Bobby the leopard lived, so I went past him every time I went to and from my bedroom.
The upstairs ceilings were lower so there were eight steps, a half-landing and another eight. Oddly, the window to the half-landing started half way down the wall and the floor didn’t reach the edge of the wall as the window continued to the upper half of the half-landing beneath. Does that description make sense? When I was a child I wasn’t fond of that gap. I always ran up that bit of the stairs because I imagined a hand reaching to grab my ankle. At the top of the stairs there was a room to the left down two stairs (this room was the one where I later had a double bed shared with three dogs), the big bedroom I shared with my sister next, then a little long narrow room with much of the width under a sloping ceiling under the eaves. Then there was the attic with its big water tanks. Oh – before the attic door was the ladder staircase to the hatchway leading to the tower room, that copper-covered dome at the top of the house. Apparently, you could see the sea from there, at least in theory. The house’s name, Seaview, was my grandfather’s joke – the sea is a couple of miles away.
Yes, I have been back there once since my mother left. Friends of friends bought the drawing room half (it was divided in two) and invited us for Sunday lunch and kindly showed us round. It was much altered of course, but the big sash windows had their original curved brass fittings and, as I went up to the top floor, my hand slipped under the banister for the flat bit where a piece of wood was missing. My host noticed my hand remembering. The great pity was that the builder who bought the house had the beautiful parquet floor removed from the ground floor and it was carpeted. Parquet flooring had been relaid, but it was not nearly so nice.
I’ll come back to dogs, but now I realise how clear the whole place is in my memory I want to write it all down. I have never reminisced so vividly before, this is quite strange to me. But if you have been, thanks for listening.