I lived here from the age of three or four until I got married. I don’t remember the move at all, so probably was the younger age – all I remember was walking along the passageway in our flat at the hotel and seeing my parents’ four poster bed being dismantled. That was unusual enough to stick in my memory. But I know nothing about the move itself or arriving at the house.
It was built by my grandparents in 1912 and my father wasn’t born there, but lived there on and off. I’ve written before in “the family story” about his parents’ divorce when he was five when, with his father serving in the army during the first world war, his mother took up with another man and had to leave when she became pregnant by him. Daddy was farmed out rather, to grandparents, godparents and boarding school until his father returned and he could spend holidays at home again.
An early memory is of our gardener, Mr Weavers (pronounced locally as Weevus) coming in for his elevenses, when I could hardly understand a word he said in his broad accent. He was a kind man and a very good gardener. We had many greenhouses, most of them brick-built to the staging, two of them hothouses. Water was piped into tanks in those two so that it would be warmed and not a shock to the plants.
To this day, I love an old greenhouse. Whenever I visit a grand house and garden, I’m always keen to check out the kitchen garden and hope that there will be the original greenhouses. We had five brick ones and two aluminium ones, one of which was at least 30 feet long and took up half of the length of a bed in the kitchen garden. It was on tracks and I am not sure whether the purpose was to start tomatoes in its shelter and then move the greenhouse along to leave them outside, then plant something like potatoes for the autumn, or whether it was just moved back and forth each year so that disease didn’t build up in the soil. I do know that my parents were intensely interested in gardening, and keen to get stuck in – but the kitchen garden in particular was Mr Weavers’ domain and they weren’t allowed to do much there, so they had a spare bit of land dug up for their use, where the seventh greenhouse was put. There was a half bricked conservatory as well, by the way, which had a grille in the floor for steam to come up when the furnace was lit in the winter. This had an outside door but was reached from the inside through the dining room.
The kitchen garden was huge. Three houses were eventually built on it – big houses, but with long, narrow gardens. The house is by Oulton Broad, but set well back from the river. The lower lawn flooded – presumably it still does – in the winter and, in any case, the building line has been preserved. The kitchen garden had six, I think, beds running from east to west, which must have been about ten or twelve feet wide and maybe fifty feet long. This is a guess, but I know they were longer than mine here, which are four feet by about thirty-eight. We grew all our vegetables, as well as flowers and fruit. The kitchen garden was separated, for most of its length, by a tall hedge. I think it was yew – evergreen, certainly, and I think it was some sort of conifer. Not privet, I know. At the top, by the drive, there was a white picket fence. As you went through the gate of that fence, at the right hand side next to the hedge, there was the pump house to your right and one of the beds to your left, with the left-hand end of the first hothouse straight ahead, along a concrete path. The pump house housed – wait for it – the pump which drew water from the 60 foot deep artesian well right up to the tanks in the attic. There were four of them, each holding 250 gallons of water. The water was pure and there was no need for chlorine or anything else.
In my grandparents’ day, there were several gardeners, but we just had Mr Weavers and occasionally someone to help with some heavy work. He was always “Mr” Weavers to us. My father would call him by his first name, Willy, but no one ever called him just by his last name. They thought it disrespectful, though it was not at all unusual in those days. “Tradesmen’ and “servants” were often called by their last name, if men, or first name if women. Not in our house. “Mr Malcolm always gives a fellow a handle to his name,” someone doing some work for us was heard to say, and he was liked for it.
When I married Russell, his parents’ maid Hilda still called him Master Russell. I was Mrs Russell, of course and, back in those days of my childhood, my mother was Mrs Malcolm. Winkie and I weren’t Miss, though – the world had moved on a bit, even in the late 1950s.
I could go on for ages about the garden alone. Drop a gentle hint when it’s time to move on, darlings, won’t you.