As well as being an auction house, Russell’s business was an estate agency. There was a house that just wouldn’t sell. The owner had had nothing done to it for years and eventually he died. Whoever inherited it sold off most of the garden for building – two bungalows and three houses were built there, with their own little slip road – and the house itself languished unloved. It needed a good deal of repair. A couple of ceilings had come down during the war, though the house itself wasn’t hit, and they’d had temporary replacements installed, which had never been renewed. So, after several months, Russell decided to buy it himself. This was at about the time we got married and he got the structural work done, meaning to put it back on the market.
It’s a detached Edwardian house, so was then about 65 years old. It has a big bay window facing the road with a large porch at the corner, a good size kitchen, utility room, toilet, big square hall that is quite large enough to be used as a room, a sizeable drawing room and a slightly smaller dining room and, upstairs, four bedrooms and a bathroom – that last was rather small and uninteresting, at the end of a long passage. Outside, there was a small front garden with a cherry tree, a narrow flower bed and path outside the kitchen leading to a small square lawn and a patio, and a garage.
As I said before, I just didn’t feel at home in our first house. It just didn’t suit me, though I’m still not really sure why. So Russell suggested I look at the house in The Avenue, to see if we might move there. And that’s what we did. It was much more fun to plan decorations and a new kitchen than just to move into a house that wasn’t my choice. I was especially pleased with the kitchen, which I designed myself. I had a peninsula unit coming out into the room at right angles to the main window, which had the sink at the end. Standing at the end of that peninsula, the working area was to the right; first the sink and then all the worktop. Opposite on the right, was an alcove with the gas rings and cupboards underneath, an eye-level grill on the wall with an extractor fan above, and a separate oven, so that I didn’t have to bend down to it. Beyond that was a big walk-in larder.
I had an extra-wide work surface fitted to the peninsula so that it jutted several inches out to the left (that is, the other side from where I stood to cook or wash up), so that kitchen stools could be tucked underneath and, when you sat on them, there was room for your knees. To the left of that was the boiler and another seating area where we had breakfast. The wall opposite the window had wall cupboards – I always liked to have plenty of storage space. A builder friend of ours was impressed by the design and always asked my advice on kitchens in houses he was building. I don’t know how it was that I got it all right first time, I was only 21, but I was a keen and efficient cook, even in those days.
As i said, the bathroom was poky and not very inspiring and I wanted to change that; or rather, to have an entirely new bathroom. So we converted a bedroom into a bathroom/dressing room for me. We came unstuck over the decorations though. I chose a wallpaper in a dramatic jungly print, with lots of greenery and vines. We ordered it and waited, and waited. It was in the mid-1970s when industry in this country was in a pretty poor state. Relationships between management and workers were, in many factories, antagonistic and there were strikes on the one hand and unfairness on the other. You could go into an electrical showroom and see the fridge you wanted and order it, but it would take at least three months to arrive. And, having waited months, they finally said that the wallpaper was out of stock everywhere and had been discontinued, so I had to choose another one; which I can’t remember at all. We did have a really lovely dining room wallpaper though, in deep red and cream, and the hall was blue and white with a dark blue carpet that showed every bit of fluff and needed hoovering daily. The drawing room was painted pale green and we bought a beautiful Chinese washed silk rug for it, that is now in our bedroom. No idea of the colour schemes in the bedrooms, so they were probably neutral.
I was very happy there, with baby Eloise. We had nice neighbours and the house was stylish and comfortable. I planted a chamomile lawn and grew vegetables and herbs in the flower beds. Then I became pregnant again and Alex was born in April 1976. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember that this was a famously hot, dry summer. Being fair skinned and prone to burning myself, I worried that my babies would get sunburned and we didn’t take full advantage of the fabulous weather really; but then we also had another project on the go that year.
Alex was born at home, but not our own home. He was born at Seaview, my childhood home, where my mother still lived. She had just remarried in February 1976, to my dear stepfather Wilf Edwards. Will was thrilled and happy to be welcomed into the family, having lived alone for some years since he and his first wife had separated. Anyway, it was not too long after Alex’s birth when Russell came and suggested we have a little outing to look at a house that was coming up for auction – his partner did the property auctions. Russell was quite casual and relaxed about it, my mother was happy to look after the babies and off we drove.
It was another Edwardian house, a former rectory. I remember so clearly walking in through the front door for the first time. But that’s another chapter.