It’s been months since I wrote the last piece in this series. I had reached the time when we moved from Weymouth to Oulton Broad, to my father’s family home. I’d meant to stop there, as I was writing about my family’s story and not mine. Now I’ve changed my mind. I’m not sure how much I’ll remember though.
I’m not sure why, but although we moved house in the summer and in time for the start of the school year, it was decided that my sister, who is five years older than I am, would remain at her school in Weymouth until Christmas. She lived during the week with friends, whose daughters were much the same age as she (this is the family I mentioned before, whose daughter Roseanne was born the same day as Prince Charles and who received a fabulous layette from Buckingham Palace) and, at weekends, with Grandad. She enjoyed this time in many ways, but did feel cut off from us, and found it very hard when she started a new school in the middle of the year.
This must have been the start of a happy time for my parents. My mother adored the house – it was she who had been desperate to move there. My father was considerablymore ambivalent. He had not had a happy childhood and I think he must have felt that the weight of being ‘the Major’s son’ would be hard to shake off. However, he had many friends from childhood days and it was a lovely place to live.
The house was called Seaview. Sounds like a seaside boarding house, but it was Grandpa’s idea of a joke. It was three miles from the sea by road but, being three stories with a copper dome on top, one could see the sea from the topmost room. All we were ever able to see was a grey-blue haze, but this was the theory.
Six years ago, we were invited to lunch by the people who now live in half of the house. It was a strange feeling, revisiting. We were shown over and I found myself looking for features that I didn’t know I still remembered.
Can I describe the house? I don’t know. It’s completely clear in my mind and I could walk every inch blindfold. This may take a few posts and I apologise. I’m being self-indulgent. I absolutely understand if you skip.
The house was built in 1912, so my father was not born there but moved in as a toddler. It was the first house to be built in the road, and my grandfather bought the prime sight, with a wide river frontage on to the broad. Building materials were brought to the house by river on barges – from Norwich, I suppose. It was typically Edwardian, with big windows and airy rooms with high ceilings.
A wide yellow front door led into a lobby, which we called the ‘airlock’. On the left was a cloakroom and washbasin, which led to the downstairs loo. It was always cold. Back into the airlock and into the hall. This was huge. Well, large. On the left, a short passage led into the gunroom, which was lined with cupboards, wooden doors below and glass ones above. My father did not shoot, so the upper ones were used for books and the lower ones for stuff that never saw the light of day. At the end was a desk and on that stood the telephone. In front of the telephone was a dogbasket. We stood in the basket to make phone calls. In retrospect, this seems odd, but it was quite natural at the time, and of course no one had more than one telephone in the house, which was always kept in the hall.
Going clockwise round the hall, the doors then led to the drawing room, the passage (it led outside but was used as another glory hole), the study, the dining room, the kitchen area, then, the other side of the stairs, the cupboard under the stairs. This was sizable, and was known as the beer cupboard, but all the drinks were kept there. Now, it’s a spacious cloakroom.
The rooms were not all that large, in fact, though I thought they were at the time. I suppose about 16 foot by 14. There was a large bay, the width of the room, in both the drawing and dining rooms, with big sash windows. The central panes must have been 6 foot wide and 5 foot high at least – one above the other, of course. The side windows, which were the same height of course but narrower, were the ones we used to go in and out to the garden. The dogs used to queue up to go in and out and there were always paw and breath marks, however often they were washed. When our pony roamed about on the lawn during the summer, she used to come up onto the terrace and knock at the window too, hoping for a treat. I was awfully glad to see, when I returned a few years ago, that the brass fingergrips were still the original ones, as so much else had changed. It was a pity that, although the fireplace was still there, the cast iron fittings weren’t. The doors closed, which kept draughts down when the fire wasn’t in use, and really drew it up when it was. You lay and lit the fire, closed the doors for a few minutes and it was ablaze. The wall the fireplace was on was angled to throw maximum heat into the room. There was a rather ugly, massive wooden chimneypiece which, some years later, was simplified so that only the mantelpiece itself remained.
If you can’t picture it, then obviously I haven’t explained fully enough 😉