MANY JOYS AND MANY SORROWS
Helen P. Davies
I have written this book for Nigel, Liz, Graham and Malcolm. Christmas 1988
My grateful thanks to Stuart for having the patience to type on the word processor all these pages.
You left me like a broken reed,
A wayside flower you trampled in the dust
While futile women gratified your need,
Your craving for the social life, and lust.
Unlike that flower bereft of tender care
My spirit rose, and soared to sunny skies.
I found another friend my life to share
With faith, and hope, and love, and still I rise,
"It isn't Life that matters, but the Courage you bring to it." That was a quotation by Hugh Walpole, and it was written for me in my autograph album when I was a child, by Jessie Conrad the wife of Joseph Conrad, both of whom were great friends of my parents. In those days the words meant nothing to me, but in later years they have helped and comforted me through many times of doubt and sorrow.
There is of course that other quotation more widely recognised, and understood, which simply says that "God helps those who help themselves," I was taught that at a very early age, probably by grown-ups who thought that God had more time to help me than they did, and so they put the onus on Him!
I ponder over this and wonder why in the whole wide world should God care enough about me, to help me, when there are literally millions of men, women and children who are being tormented, fighting, or starved to death in this cruel world. Why should God worry about me?
I'm not a religious person, I don't attend Church every Sunday even. My Faith waxes and wanes like the brilliance of the moon, but it is always there. And as the moon disappears behind a turbulent sky, so my faith may decline in times of trouble, only to reappear like the sun breaking through the restless clouds after a stormy night. The moon and the sun and my faith are always there.
Like thousands of ordinary people, I have often exclaimed "I could write a book about my life, and no one would ever believe it!" (Knowing me I mean.) Well, just how much do we know about our friends and neighbours? I'm sure every family has a skeleton in the cupboard if the truth were known. How many of us can afford to throw stones? I find it easier to face the truth, and accept it, than to try and believe it never happened. If the Truth is good then treasure it with your memories. If it is rotten then throw it away and forget it before it poisons the mind. In any event Experience is a good Teacher in Life, and if one can overcome the worst, one can live the best to the full.
With these thoughts in mind I decided to sit down and write the story of my life, whether for self-preservation, self-protection, or just to put the records straight for the family, I really don't know, but here it is "So many Joys, so many sorrows.
It was Love at First Sight in that magical moment when my father first noticed my mother in the crowds, attending midnight Mass, in an Anglican Church on New Year's Eve. He was alone, and She was alone, and the Church was in the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, in those days the capital of Brazil, and the second largest city of South America. They were eight thousand miles from their homes in England, which added to the romance of their first meeting. The year was just 1915, a New Year, and a new beginning for each of them.
My father was tall and slim, with medium brown hair, and brown eyes. He would stand out in a crowd, although shy he had a dignified air about him, and the bearing of authority. He was in fact a Science Master in a large Public School for boys in Rio. The story goes, that when he noticed this pretty young English lady wending her way through the crowds, unaccompanied, he felt an overwhelming desire to protect her, and escort her safely home, away from the rowdy festive atmosphere of the Latin American carnival night, and new year celebrations.
My mother was lovely, she was quite small, about five feet four inches in height, slim with a tiny waist and a trim figure. She had dainty feet, and dainty hands. Her face was gentle, and sweet, with high cheek bones, an elegant nose, and a very pretty mouth, especially when she smiled. Her hair was dark, almost black, and she arranged it in a special coiffure at the back of her head with combs. As was the fashion in those days, my mother always wore a hat. Her eyes were a vivid blue, the colour of forget-me-nots, they were still and steady, and reflected a sense of deep serenity, and tranquillity, born of love.
She would have been shy, and demure as my father approached her, but how her pulse must have quickened when he addressed her in English, her own language. She must have been so relieved that he genuinely wanted to protect her, and guide her away from the throng of people shouting, dancing and singing as the peeling bells rang out the Old year, and joyously rang in the New.
One might imagine that their meeting had been preordained, that fate had brought them together. One might say that it was quite natural for a young couple to meet, in church, even in a crowd at midnight, eight thousand miles away from their homes, yes, it is possible. But was it not an extraordinary coincidence, that they discovered they were born on the same day and they were exactly the same age, that being twenty-four, and that in fact my mother was just one hour older than my father! That was surely Fate, what else could they do but fall deeply in Love?
They were born for each other, my father a studious young graduate with his degree in Science from Liverpool University, now teaching Physics and Chemistry to Public School boys in Rio. My mother who was caring for an invalid child whose family had brought her back to Rio from England. My father from Cheshire, my mother from Kent. It was a Romantic beginning to my Story.
They were married on September 15th 1915 in Rio de Janeiro. I do not know when they left Brazil, but two years later on August 9th 1917 my twin sister and I were born in Quilmes, Buenos Aires, in Argentina.
What Birthday celebrations there must have been for my parents whose birthday was on the 8th August, to be presented with twin daughters on 9th August!
My twin was ten minutes older than me, she was christened Muriel, and I was christened Helen. We were in no way identical twins. We each were born with our own individual looks, and our own characters, which remained with us throughout our lives. Muriel was fair with brown eyes like my father, I was darker, with blue eyes like my mother. We each had family characteristics from both sides, but in no way did we resemble each other.
I have only recently come across some early snap shots of my parents, and my twin sister and me, that were taken when we were babies in Buenos Aires, and my father was a Master at the famous St. George’s College, Quilmes. I sadly have no other information concerning those early days in my life.
My parents returned to Brazil shortly after we were born, because the following year my mother gave birth to a third daughter in Rio, before they decided to return to England.
It was a hard decision to make, they had lived in South America for over six years, had married out there, and produced three children, all daughters. My father had marvellous teaching jobs, and judging by old family photographs they had a beautiful home, and many friends. They had both learnt to speak Spanish, and Portuguese, and my father could teach in either language. They had to consider their future, whether to stay in South America, either in Rio or Buenos Aires, or to return to England from whence they came. The deciding factor was the persistent requests from our grandparents in England to bring the family home.
And so, with three baby girls under three years of age, my parents sailed into Liverpool docks, where they were met by eager relatives, who literally welcomed them with open arms.
What a merciful decision it was that my parents decided to come back to England, otherwise we might have suffered the agony of divided loyalties between the two countries.
Our parents had much to remember, and years of very happy memories. But as babies we were too young to be conscious of the transfer from the land of our birth to the land of our forefathers in England. It must have been the latter part of 1919, because the following year my mother gave birth to her fourth daughter in Canterbury.
My earliest recollections are of our home in Canterbury, it was situated in the Precincts of the Cathedral. It was the fifth house in the row of houses on the left immediately inside the great Christchurch Gateway. It was probably built in the time of Chaucer, in the fourteenth century, and with a little imagination one can visualise the constant stream of weary travellers on the last lap of their pilgrimage to the magnificent Cathedral. Pilgrims who had travelled from all over the world to pay homage to the shrine of Thomas Becket would have passed our house, and most likely would have stopped to rest under the big trees right opposite, before entering the Cathedral and wending their way along the nave, and struggling up the Pilgrims' steps to the Martyr's Shrine. Thomas Becket was murdered in 117O, and his shrine was destroyed in 1538 by Thomas Cromwell, but in spite of this, the Pilgrims throng every year in their thousands to pay homage, and worship in the Mother Church of England.
It was in this atmosphere pervaded with ghosts of Kings and Queens, Bishops and Archbishops, Sinners and Saints that haunted the great Cathedral, and the Precincts, in which we as children were privileged to live, and grow up.
My father was appointed senior Science Master at the King's School, Canterbury which is situated in the Precincts, on the north side of the Cathedral the opposite side from our house. To reach the school we could either walk right around the Precincts, through the ruined arches called the Dark Entry. Or we could take a short cut through the Cloisters, through the Cathedral, and down stone steps to the cloisters on the other side, and thus out into the dark entry, near the Deanery. Or the third way to the school was by walking or cycling from the Christchurch Gateway, along Palace Street as far as Northgate Street, named obviously because that was the big North gate which led into the precincts and the King School, as children we knew every street, lane, and alleyway in the City. Sadly, the War took its toll, and our beloved Canterbury, as we once knew it, remains in our memories, but like a dream.
Muriel and I, the twins, were three years old when we first went to live in the Precincts. Leslie was two, and Audrey was one. People who didn't know us used to think we were either quadruplets, or triplets. My mother was marvellous, I really don't know how she coped in that old rambling house, and so many young children.
The front door led straight into the dining room. You walked down a step from the pavement, and then through a green baize door, into a big living room which as I remember it, gave such a warm welcome to everybody, family and friends alike. I have such nostalgic memories of that room, it was the centre of our family life. We dined there, around a large solid square mahogany table, we were a family of six, and dined with our parents, even though we were so young. We scampered around the furniture playing hide and seek, and tag as small children. In later years we sat down at the table doing our homework while our mother sat beside the fire, knitting or sewing, and father was teaching the boys from the school, who required extra private coaching for their exams, in his study. There were times when we argued and fought like tomboys, shouting at each other, chasing around the table, pulling each other’s hair, and father in desperation would come out from his study complaining that he couldn't hear himself speak, and threatening to spank us if we didn't be quiet! There was music when my father played the piano which stood in the corner, by the big bay window, with small leaded panes half way up. We could not see out, but neither could people see in.
There were two oak pillars about six feet apart, that supported the ceiling along one side of the room. A settee stood between the pillars, and an enormous carved bookcase stretching from floor to ceiling, covered the rest of the wall. It had two single cupboards, and one double fronted cupboard, all with glass doors, and many shelves containing hundreds of books, beautifully bound, and many of them in leather embossed with gold leaf. Such bindings are rare these days with the advent of paperbacks. Underneath the book cupboards were other cupboards, the doors of which were carved, and these were filled with china and glassware. A similar sideboard stood on the other side of the room, also carved, with big spacious cupboards.
I mention all this, because as a child I really thought this was the centre of our world. It was old and solid, safe, and secure in every sense of the word. We were a united family with a loving father and mother who were always there. Our lives revolved around the family, we did everything together, and we knew exactly where we stood in relation to our parents. They were not particularly strict with us, but if they told us to do a thing we knew we must do it. We respected our parents, and we would not dream of answering them back, we accepted the discipline as we were taught to do, both at home and at school. Maybe it helped having a father who was a School master.
The rest of the house rambled. The dining room led up a brass edged step, which was always highly polished, into the hall. On the left of the hall was my father's study, a room lined with books all round, a large oblong oak table where father sat many many long hours teaching boys, and incidentally girls who needed extra coaching for exams. Entrance exams to University, the Royal Navy, the Army, or Medical School. Maths, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. My father taught them all.
On the other side of the hall, opposite the study, was another door that was always kept locked. This was the door that led down a dark stone stairway, with great thick walls, that were periodically whitewashed to make them lighter. This stairway led down to a huge cellar beneath the house. There was no electric light down there, we always had to carry a large torch, or candle and it was very eerie, of course we would never go down to the cellar alone, and there was really no reason for us to go down at all, but occasionally we ventured down just for a daring adventure.
Down at the far end of the cellar was a skylight, which shed a dim light from the back yard above, and in the ceiling was a covered opening, which was the coal shute. It was through that opening that the coalman delivered the house coal, and this had to be collected in buckets from the cellar.
We were told that once upon a time there had been secret passages behind the thick stone walls in the cellar. One passage was supposed to have led to the Cathedral Cloisters, and another underground, to the town. Presumably they were secret passages for the Monks. I was always very glad that the passages had been well and truly blocked up, and the openings could not be seen. I always wondered if any Monks were ever caught down there, and what happened to them if they were. It was quite possible that Monks did take refuge in our cellars, entering by secret passages, during the reign of Henry the eighth, with the dissolution of the Monasteries. There may have been ghosts, but we never saw any!
From the hall we went up two steps, and through the back door into the yard where there were a number of outhouses, used as storing cupboards, and an outdoor toilet. The yard may have made a small garden, but it was all concrete, and was surrounded by very high walls, roofs and chimneys of other houses that huddled around the perimeter of the Precincts. At the end of the yard was the Kitchen.
Come rain or shine, we had to go through the back yard to reach the kitchen. Granted there was a covered way, but that did not keep the food or drinks hot whilst in transit! It was rather like a small farm house kitchen. Strong sturdy stone walls which were always white washed, (A job my father did. In fact, he used to do all the painting and decorating inside the house. But the outside was the responsibility of the Dean and Chapter.) The floor was of stone, and there was a small sash window, and a huge skylight window, so it was plenty light enough.
Along one wall stood an enormous white pine dresser with dozens of hooks on which cups and jugs were hung, and shelves covered with crockery. In front of the window was a cream coloured china sink, and a wooden draining board that was scrubbed daily, there were large plate racks hanging from the wall, and an old-fashioned knife board for sharpening and cleaning the knives.
But the pride of the kitchen was the old black range, gleaming from the black lead polish, and elbow grease. It seemed to dominate the kitchen scene, although having been made redundant from the joys of cooking and baking, nevertheless it proudly produced enough hot water on a Saturday night for the whole family to have a bath at least once a week. The rest of the week we had to make do with cold water. It was a miracle that the bath water was ever hot, considering it had to travel through the ancient lead pipes from the kitchen, across the yard, upstairs somehow through the antiquated plumbing, to the little old bathroom with the sloping ceiling, and tilting floor.
In the corner of the kitchen was the old copper bailer. For those who don't know, a copper boiler was a large copper cauldron that was built into, and supported by bricks. Underneath the cauldron was a grate, in which a fire had to be kept burning to heat the water. On the whitewashed wall outside the kitchen door there hung two enormous zinc baths. These were brought into the kitchen on Monday mornings, and were stood on large wooden orange boxes, ready for the weekly ritual of washing day.
Washing Day every Monday started immediately after breakfast, when the huge zinc baths were filled with water from the boiling copper. My mother, and the little maid who helped her, stood side by side up to their elbows in hot soapy suds. Everything was washed by hand. When all the sheets, pillow cases, towels, and tablecloths had been washed and rinsed, they were plunged into the copper to boil. After that they were heaved out of the boiling copper with the aid of a wooden copper stick, and plunged into the big zinc bath which now contained rinsing water tinted with "Reckitt’s Blue" to bring out the whiteness. (There were no washing powders, or detergents in those days. No advertisements claiming to make your washing whiter than white! In fact, there were no such things as washing machines. Washing day was a test of endurance, especially in large families!)
How my little mother worked. Having rinsed all the household linen in the Reckitt’s Blue water, the whole load was sorted out and put through the mangle, with the little maid turning the great handle, and my mother guiding the articles through the large wooden rollers, before hanging it all out to dry, on half a dozen lines in the yard. With the aid of pulleys, the lines would rise up, allowing the washing to get the full benefit of the wind. That concluded the Monday morning ritual!
There was then a break for dinner, Monday dinner was always the same, cold meat, left from the Sunday roast, and hot vegetables. This was always followed with rice pudding, which had cooked slowly in the oven while the washing day routine was in full swing.
After dinner was cleared away and the dishes washed up, the afternoon session began. That was the washing of all the family clothes, and with four young children there was plenty to do. The household linen was brought in and folded ready to press once more in the mangle, and the personal washing was then hung out on the lines to dry. By this time the children would all be arriving home from school, and there would be a very welcome cup of tea for everybody !
It had taken a whole day to complete the family washing. And indeed, this is how it was in nearly every household in the country. The Monday ritual of washing day.
Having finished the washing, we can wander around the rest of the house. There was another room downstairs that led off the hall. That was the play room, it was an all-purpose room. There were long rows of pegs along one wall where we hung our coats and hats when we came home from school. There was a large cupboard full of toys, always very untidy. For some reason or other there was a huge butler's tray, beautifully polished wood, which rested on a trestle behind the door. Of course, there never was a Butler, but the tray came in very handy as it was often piled high with washing that was waiting to be ironed! In the centre of the room was a lovely large round table. Then one day, I remember a bed, and a chest of drawers arrived in front of the window, and the room became a bed sitting room for the young pretty maid, who came to live with us. Then sometimes while we were playing in her room, her boyfriend would come to visit her. I remember he wore a soldier's uniform, with lots of shiny buttons, and big heavy boots. They used to hold hands, and kiss. I thought that was lovely! I was only about five years old, but then I always was a romantic girl. It was very sad because our lovely Daisy left to get married, but she gave us a pretty photograph of herself with her nice boyfriend in his uniform. We heard later that they had a new baby, so it was all very romantic!
There were two old and narrow staircases. The first led to a large landing, which was sometimes used as a spare bedroom, which was handy if any of the children were ill, as it was next to our parents’ bedroom which was up two steps, and extended behind the house next door. As I said it was a quaint old rambling house.
Our Drawing room was on this floor, on the front of the house, overlooking the Precincts, above the dining room. It had a large bay window, and a wide window seat with a cretonne floral cover to match the curtains. It must have been a very large room judging by the amount of furniture that I remember, both modern and antique, and a second piano.
Sometimes as a treat in the winter on Sundays, the fire would be lit, and we would have tea in the drawing room. We were allowed to make toast with the toasting forks (It tastes so much nicer made in front of a coal fire.) nice and hot with lots of butter and honey. Sometimes we roasted chestnuts in the hot embers, burning our fingers as we retrieved them from the ashes.
Father played the piano, and taught us all to sing nursery rhymes, and popular songs. We made quite a little choir amongst ourselves. We also sang hymns that we learnt in Sunday School, and mother used to sing with us, she had a very pretty voice.
My father was very musical. He played the piano, and although he had very few lessons he accomplished a great deal through hard work and practise. I would lie awake at night after we had gone to bed, listening to his rendering of the most famous and popular works of Beethoven and Chopin, and Mendelssohn. I learnt to love them all and in later years I
endeavoured to play some of them myself, although like my father I never had proper piano lessons, I only learnt to play the violin. My father played very well, especially Chopin's waltzes, whenever I hear them I remember my father, and my childhood memories come flooding back. My mother also played a little, but she was far too busy with household chores, and caring for the family, with no time to devote to other activities. But she was a marvellous needlewoman, she made a lot of our clothes, dresses, blouses, skirts, and lovely party dresses. They were nearly always identical, but in four different colours. During the long winter evenings while we were in bed she would knit us all long brown stockings, so warm and comforting in the cold weather. She was a wonderful mother, so gentle, and kind, and everything she did for us was done with loving care. She was a perfectionist in everything she did.
We had a marvellous view from our drawing room window. We could see the length of the Precincts, the lush green lawns bordering the Cathedral, the roadway, and the paths, in those days there were small beech trees growing at intervals along the paths. Immediately opposite the house there were tall elm trees, which in the heat of the summer days spread their leafy boughs above the seats below, where the visitors used to rest. High up in the trees the rooks would nest, and their harsh "Caw caw" as they fluttered among the leaves was music to my ears. Sadly, those trees were hewn down in later years, presumably to make way for some hideous gift shop, selling souvenirs of commercial value, and toilets, for the human need.
On Sunday evenings sometimes, we would watch the crowds of people wending their way to Evensong, as the beautiful chimes of Canterbury Bells rang out from the great Bell Harry Tower. We got to know many of the people, by sight and would look out for them, recognising them by the hats they wore, or their umbrellas, or the way they walked. "Oh, look there goes that lady with her hat with cherries on it!" Or "I can see that poor old lady with her dark glasses who's got a white stick." And another regular, a young lady always last, and always in a hurry, "Ah, here comes old pigeon toes!" The poor woman had knock knees, and walked with her toes turned in. I can't imagine who named her pigeon toes, it wasn't very kind. But to us the congregation would not be complete without her. What small minds we had, but it was fun to watch the grown-ups going past the house to Evening Service. When the service was over we watched them all come out again!
But there were serious occasions too. I remember one very hot summer's day there was a big Army Parade. I have no idea what the occasion was, but I do remember hundreds of soldiers, presumably of the Buffs Regiment, marched into the Precincts and were lined up, I suppose for inspection, in the terrible heat of the midday sun. They seemed to be there for ages. Anyway, one by one they started fainting, they dropped down like ninepins! The poor lads were taken over to the grass lawns beside the Cathedral where they lay down until they recovered. I can remember it well because some people came to our house to borrow blankets and rugs for the men who had fainted. I wasn't very old.
And talking of borrowing things, on several occasions I well remember ladies coming to our house to ask my mother if she could lend them a hat, or a scarf, or a beret to cover their heads, as they were not permitted to enter the Cathedral bare headed! I think the verger must have known how good hearted my mother always was, and he would have recommended them to "Try Number 5."
Every year on Armistice Day there would of course be a Remembrance Service in the Cathedral, and the soldiers, the Buffs of the Royal East Kent Regiment would parade through the Precincts. Although we were too young to realise the meaning of Armistice Day, it was a day in the year that we always recognised, because on November the eleventh every year the Union Jack was hoisted outside our house, and although there was great activity outside with the soldiers parading, and the noise of their boots marching, and shunting, and the Officers commanding "Eyes Right!" our curtains were drawn, and we knew we had to be very quiet, especially during the two minutes silence, when we were expected to remember the soldiers who had been killed in the Great War but we were only small children and knew nothing about War, but I always cried when I heard the Hymn, "O Valiant Hearts" the music is so beautiful and the words so inspiring, and I felt so sad, and the two minutes silence seemed awfully long. Nevertheless, we were proud that the salute was taken outside our house, even though we were behind the drawn curtains, and unable to watch.
The children's bedrooms were up a second staircase, rather narrow, old, and rickety, with sloping ceilings, and ancient oak beams supporting the walls along the passage.
My twin sister and I slept in the front bedroom, overlooking the Precincts. I could lie in bed, and by stretching I could see the Cathedral clock, I could hear the "caw caw" of the rooks up in the trees, and the cooing of the pigeons when I wakened in the morning. My other two sisters slept in the back bedroom, which had a small dormer window. Sometimes as small children we climbed through the window, and crawled along the gutters, amongst the rooftops.
There were only twenty-eight months between the four of us, so we all went to bed at the same time, and in those days that meant about seven o'clock. We often got into each other’s beds, two at the top and two at the bottom, and we would chant all our multiplication tables from one to twelve, that we had learnt at kindergarten school.
We chanted from "twice one are two, up to twelve twelves are one hundred and forty four." We could chant our tables backwards! Somehow I don't think the tables are relevant these days, with decimalisation, and everything packed up in tens instead of dozens.
And we used to sing, all the songs we learnt at school from the National Song Book. "Cherry ripe, Sweet Lass on Richmond Hill, Raggle taggle gypsies, Do ye ken John Peel," All the old national songs, and we sang at the top of our voices, I don't know what the neighbours thought!
Sometimes my younger sister Leslie would tell us stories, and we would all cuddle up in one bed, because she told us creepy ghost stories, and in the dark we clung to each other with our heads under the bedclothes. Leslie was a very good storyteller, especially when she told ghost stories.
There were of course many stories of Ghosts in and around the Cathedral. Obviously there must be a ghost of Thomas a Becket who was murdered in 117O in the Cathedral. But the one that intimidated us as children was the ghost of a woman called Nell Cook. The legend tells us that Nell Cook was killed and buried by some Monks, after she had poisoned one of the Canons of the Cathedral, because she was jealous of his niece! Her ghost is said to walk through the Dark Entry, the ancient way with arches, near to the cloisters at the east end of the Cathedral. They say she walks through there on Friday nights, when the moon is shining. Needless to say we children never ventured through the Dark Entry on Friday nights!
As children we grew up with a deep sense of security. What greater protection could anyone have, living as we did, in such close proximity to God's own House, only a stones throw from our own, in the Precincts, which one might call His Garden?
The Precincts were locked at night. In the winter the great oak doors of the Christchurch Gateway were locked at six o'clock. The Night Watchman and caretaker of the precincts lived in the first house just inside the big gateway. It was his responsibility to unlock the gate when residents wished to go in or out. One would have to call him by ringing the bell, or hammering on the heavy iron knocker.
We felt safe and secure knowing that there were no strangers around at night, and there was a Night Watchman to protect us. Sometimes we would hear him when we were tucked up safely in bed, he wandered round the Precincts with a lamp, and he had to extinguish the lights in the old gas standard lamps that in those days stood around the Cathedral, there was one that used to shine into our bedroom.
At the same time he would call out into the darkness, "It's 12 o'clock, a fine night, and All's well! "It was a comfort to know he was there, and protecting us.
We were indeed very privileged as children, and the more I think about it, the more I realise how very fortunate we were. Had my father not been a Master at the Kings School, we would never have lived in the Precincts. Our neighbours were mostly connected in the same way with the Cathedral. There were the Canons, the Dean, the Bishop and Archdeacon, and other dignitaries of the Church, their wives and their families. The Archbishop lived in the Old Palace, only two hundred yards from our house.
Every Christmas it was traditional for the Archbishop to give a big party, which the children of the clergy of the diocese were invited, and also the children of Masters of the Kings School. There were about two hundred children altogether.
Every year from the age of three, until we were about fifteen, we were invited to these Christmas parties at the Old Palace. We attended parties given by both Lord Randall Davidson, who was Archbishop from 19O3 till 1928, and Lord Cosmo Lang who succeeded him. Both the Archbishops seemed to take a kindly interest in us, I suppose partly because we were close neighbours, and also we were all much of an age. I remember we were taken into Archbishop Davidson's study to be introduced to him, my younger sister was about three years old, and she sat on his knee. She asked him why he was wearing a dark shade over his eyes, the fact was that he was nearly blind at the time, and he was an old man.
Many years later, in 1931 we attended Archbishop Cosmo Lang's party, and we all four took large mounted photographs of him, and asked him if he would kindly autograph them for us. I still have my framed photograph, which I keep with my treasures.
My mother always made our party dresses, all four exactly alike, but different colours, in taffeta, silk or velvet. They were always very pretty, my mother was a fine needlewoman, and had the patience of Job. It was no small feat designing and making four identical party dresses for four young lively children who couldn't stand still for the fittings. We always wore white socks, and black dancing pumps. There was such excitement leading up to the big day.
The distance to the Old Palace was only a few hundred yards, so of course we were able to walk there. There were boys and girls of all ages, all very shy, and somewhat nervous, until the games started, and we got to know at least some of them.
The parties were usually organised by the Archdeacon's wife, and his grown up daughters. We played games like Hunt the slipper, Oranges and Lemons, Musical Chairs, all of which were played to music. We danced the famous old dance "Sir Roger de Coverley" a real old Country dance. It was all very dignified, and the girls were very charming and the boys very courteous, and it was great fun once the party was in full swing. Strangely enough I don't remember much about the actual teas, but no doubt they were delicious!
At the end of the party, at six o'clock we all assembled in the Archbishop's Private Chapel to sing Christmas Carols, and we always finished by singing a great favourite of mine, "Once in Royal David's City," after which His Grace gave us his blessing, and so ended a wonderful experience which my sisters and I shared every Christmas, throughout our Childhood. And even now, over 6O years later when I hear the carol "Once in Royal David's City" my mind takes me right back to The Old Palace, and the Archbishop's Christmas Parties, and the beautiful carols in his Chapel. I think we must have enjoyed the privilege of attending at least ten children’s parties at the Palace, over the years.
Christmas traditions seldom changed when we were children. A year from one Christmas till the next seemed like eternity. Three hundred and sixty five days was an awful long time to wait! When we were small we had a penny a week pocket money, and when we got a little older we were given threepence a week. We had little tin money boxes designed like pillar boxes, and we saved up our pennies week by week, to spend on Christmas presents. By the end of the year I had usually managed to save about six shillings, which was just about enough to spend on presents for the whole family! There was a lot of consultation, and making of shopping lists, and secret whisperings amongst the four of us, when having broken into our money boxes we finally set off on our Christmas Shopping expedition, with our pockets full of jingling pennies, and our hearts full of hopeful anticipation. We searched the brightly decorated shops for tiny gifts that we could afford according to our means, a jam dish, or a glass vase, or an ornament for mother, which might cost sixpence. Handkerchiefs or notebooks for father, about the same price, and probably a pencil and scribbling pad for my sisters. Everybody had something however small.
In those days Woolworths was the famous "Six penny Store." They sold just about everything you wanted, but nothing cost more than six pence. It was a dream! Crockery, cups, saucers and plates sold individually. Cutlery, Knives forks and spoons, Cooking utensils, saucepans, pots and pans. Nothing more than sixpence, (old money!)
There were propelling pencils, and fountain pens, bottles of ink, boxes of paints. Hammers and screwdrivers, nuts and bolts, hooks and nails. Books and toys, celluloid dolls, (no
plastic in those days,) and mechanical toys made of tin which you wound up with a key. (They are collectors' items nowadays, and worth a great deal of money as antiques.)
That was the beauty of Woolworths! No furniture, no radios, or televisions, no clothes or expensive luxuries like they sell these days, but what could you expect if you only have sixpence to spend in a "Sixpenny Store"? A lovely dream of bygone days!
It was in Woolworths that I first met Father Christmas, I was five years old, and I was out shopping with the maid. I remember Father Christmas came up to me and he asked me what I would like for Christmas. I told him I had always wanted a Teddy Bear and he said he would try and send me one. Sure enough I found a lovely Teddy Bear on my bed on Christmas morning. He looked just like the famous Rupert, and so that is what I called him. Dear Rupert he went everywhere with me, even to Boarding School!
As Christmas got nearer our house was a hive of activity. Secret whisperings, and doing up of presents in coloured papers and ribbons. We bought packets of coloured papers, and jars of glue to make paper chains. We never had ready-made ones, it was traditional for us to make our own. Our big square dining table was covered with newspapers for protection, and we all sat round it making yards and yards of coloured rings into chains, to be hung from the central light in the ceiling, and stretching to the far ends of the room. Father had to get up on the ladder and bang in the drawing pins and hang the chains for us, as we were much too small to do it. But we children put in many hours of preparation making the pretty chains which stayed up for as long as possible, until twelfth night. It was considered unlucky to leave them up any longer.
Christmas meant more to us than just the giving and receiving of presents, eating and drinking, and making merry. As children we were very conscious of the religious aspect of the Christmas Story, and the Birth of Christ. We attended Sunday School from a very early age, it was held in a chapel in the Crypt of the Cathedral, and was run by the Bishop's wife, and the Archdeacon's wife, whose daughters helped.
When I was about ten years old I was highly delighted when they told me that I had been chosen to represent the Virgin Mary in a tableau portraying the Nativity. As Mary I would have to sit beside the crib nursing the Baby Jesus in my arms, with Joseph standing beside me. I would have to smile at the baby, and sit absolutely still, without batting an eyelid, for about an hour, while the other children of the Sunday School walked through the Crypt singing carols, and after the three Kings, and the Wise men had paid homage, and presented their gifts, the children would one by one come and peep at the Baby. There were lots of friends and relatives in the Crypt but I didn't notice any of them. I adored being the Virgin Mary simply because it gave me the opportunity of sitting there holding a beautiful large baby doll, and I could dream of being a real mother nursing a real baby of my own. I had a very strong maternal instinct even in those days!
I suppose Christmas morning in our house was very much the same as in any home where there are children. Every country has its own traditions, and may differ in some ways according to climate. We in England would hate to have Christmas in the summer for instance. We look forward to a white Christmas, with pure white snow, and Church bells, and carols. Real pine Christmas trees decorated with delicate glistening baubles and tinsel. And a Fairy with her wand high up on the top, above all the lights and glitter. We always had real Christmas tree candles, all different colours. They had special candle holders which were clipped somewhat precariously onto the branches of the tree. They were most attractive, but a nightmare for parents who had to keep watch, and prevent anything catching fire. Lovely and romantic though the candles were, I can't help feeling that the tiny electric light bulbs are much safer.
We hung up our stockings of course, but we never expected to find them full of expensive presents. We used to have one gift from our father and mother, usually they had some idea of what we would like, according to our hobbies. A book, or a box of paints, a doll, or teddy bear. Then there would be so called stocking fillers, some fancy soap, sweets, an orange, apple, and some nuts, handkerchiefs, a skipping rope. Any other presents we received from relatives or friends usually consisted of large boxes of chocolates or toffees, or tins of biscuits to be shared amongst us.
My parents were not well off, how could they be, with four young children? But even if they had been wealthy they would not have indulged us with luxuries, or lots of toys. My mother did not buy us toys or presents every time she went out shopping. We never asked for such things, because we knew we would not get them. Presents were something very special that we were given for Christmas, and Birthdays only. We could look forward to those days, and knew we would have something specially chosen for those occasions. Our parents would never have given us things we wanted just to keep us quiet, or for the sake of peace. Rather in those circumstances they would have given us a smack on the bottom!
When we were young there were no such things as television sets, no videos, tape recorders, no microchips, or computers. There were few electrical gadgets to lessen the everyday household chores. Wives and mothers had to work really hard to keep their homes clean, doing everything by hand, polishing, scrubbing, washing and ironing. Old houses like ours were very time consuming, and hard work to look after. Granted my mother had a little maid to help her, with four small children and the old rambling house, she needed help. In spite of this she seldom sat down, and was never idle.
The only carpets we had were in the dining room, and the drawing room, and they were not fitted wall to wall, they had polished surrounds. All other rooms in the house had either-polished floorboards, or polished linoleum, and rugs in the bedrooms. I remember how mother used to boil up beeswax in an old square tin, on the gas stove. The house used to be filled with the aroma of beeswax polish, a lovely clean, pungent smell. It was marvellous for polishing the floors, and the heavy antique furniture. But it was hard work polishing the floors.
One day a travelling Rep arrived at the house, he was demonstrating a wonderful new machine, it was in fact the new Hoover Vacuum Cleaner, which was a new invention! To prove the wonders of this new machine the Rep threw down some scraps of paper onto the carpet, and showed us how to switch it on, and turn it off, and so on. We were all enthralled, and needless to say my mother ordered one then and there. It is amazing to think that the ordinary everyday vacuum cleaner was such a luxury in those days.
It was my father who made our first Wireless Set. It had no loud speaker, but somehow we plugged in earphones, which were attached to a metal band that we fitted across our heads. We had to take turns to listen in to the programmes, with the earphones. It was very exciting in those days, how different it is now with so many changes, and modern technology. I remember the night when our King George V was so ill, and the announcement of his death.
I remember the big bands that broadcast dance music, and Jazz, all the Popular music of our days. The wonderful bands of Henry Hall, Jack Payne, Victor Sylvester, Geoff Love, and many more. There used to be family arguments as to whether we should have Henry Hall, or Children’s' Hour. My father didn't appreciate so called Jazz.
Our entertainments were very simple, with lots of outdoor activity. We used to go for long walks from an early age. Sometimes father would take us across what we called "Scotland Hills", on the outskirts of Canterbury, it was moor land with patches of heather, and I remember so well collecting tiny delicate harebells amongst the rough grasses. We walked miles through the woods, collecting primroses, or bluebells. It was perfectly safe to walk through the woods in those days, but I wouldn't dream of doing so now, and I certainly wouldn't let any children of mine roam the countryside without an adult.
We loved to pick wild flowers, and collect as many different specimens as possible to press between the blotting paper and stick in an album, looking up all their names, and writing them under the flowers. I suppose we had a passion for flowers because we had no garden, only a concrete back yard where we could skip, or play ball games.
We never seemed to sit down, we were always on the go. Apart from skipping and playing ball games, we had wooden spinning tops, with whips to spin them. Of course it was more fun if several of us competed to see whose top could spin the longest. We also had large wooden hoops, and hoop sticks to trundle them along. We could run around the precincts with them, as we needed plenty of space. All these games were so simple, and yet we derived such fun playing with them, and they cost so little, a few pence for a top, and a shilling or so for a hoop, and maybe sixpence for a skipping rope. When we were older we had scooters, and used to scoot everywhere.
When I look back on my childhood, I can't help thinking that our way of life was much less complicated than the lives of children today. I have thought about it a lot, and have come to the conclusion that there are two reasons for this. Firstly children of my generation were considered to be children at least until they were eighteen years of age. The majority of children respected the authority of their parents, and their School teachers. Discipline was accepted by children, because generally speaking if they did not do as they were told to do, they would have been reprimanded, and children were taught to be obedient from an early age. The fifth commandment says "Honour thy father and thy mother." Most people do so, simply because they love their parents, and so want to please them. Likewise it follows, that obedient children do not get into trouble, and are more popular in the community, and therefore they are happier themselves, and make other people happier. People, not only children, are happier on the whole when their lives are disciplined. They know where they are going, and what they are doing, and why.
I think one of the biggest influences on present day society was the introduction of the term "Teenager." This was I believe introduced by the Americans. It had a tremendous impact throughout the whole world, especially in Industry. The original term Adolescent was always recognised as the age between childhood, and womanhood, or manhood. The years of adolescence were the years of growing up, the years when the body, mind and spirit developed to maturity. Painful, yes, we all know the moods, the uncertainties, the insecurity, and the anguish that young people suffer in the process of growing up. These days this long tedious development seems to commence at a very much earlier age, and children’s' years of innocence are all far too short. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I don't know whether children began to develop more quickly, at an earlier age, because of the attitudes of the present day society. Or present day society changed their attitudes because of the earlier development of their children? It is a moot point.
The changes in Society will be recorded one way or another in history, in books, magazines, films, plays, documents, and videos, and in every country throughout the world. Every generation witnesses great changes, physical, spiritual, political, industrial, technological, and so on. For my part I feel I cannot keep up the pace, and I am thankful I do not have to at my age! I endeavoured to bring up my own children more or less in the same way as I was brought up by my parents. I did suffer a lot of recriminations from my children who used to say, "Things were different in your day. That is old fashioned, and Times have changed." And now, believe it or not, my children are hearing the same arguments from their children! It happens to every generation, but with the vast technological achievements of the present generation, the changes in life are so rapid that I think it is inevitable that human nature itself, will undergo great changes, and not always for the better.
The introduction of new technology does not always make for happiness or immediate prosperity, not everybody likes change, and many people fear change, which is quite understandable. But nevertheless there will be great changes in the next decade, and I fear the greatest change of all may be in the character of our human race. Already we have witnessed it in the Miners disputes over the closing down of various mines, and the introduction of new technology, Miners fighting miners, fathers against sons. Sons against brothers. Fighting amongst families, this is only the beginning and it is a rotten example of what change can do to society.
Yes, my childhood was different in many ways from the days of my own children, and grandchildren. As my father was a Schoolmaster, we enjoyed long summer holidays. My parents used to rent a small house or bungalow every year at Tankerton, a small town near Whitstable, on the East Kent coast. It was only eight miles or so from Canterbury, but we spent many long lazy summer holidays swimming, and sunbathing on the beach. Mother would pack a huge trunk for the entire family, not only clothing, but sheets pillowcases and towels, and most important our bathing costumes. We were all very enthusiastic swimmers, and spent hours swimming, and diving off the raft. No matter what the weather, we swam. No matter whether the sea was rough or smooth, we were in it. My father was a keen swimmer too, it was he who taught us all to swim. I remember he promised to give us a sixpenny piece the first time we could swim without help, and one by one we all earned our sixpences. It was years later that we all got our bronze and silver medallions for the Royal Life Saving Society, at boarding school.
Along the sea front at Tankerton there were hundreds of huts, like small chalets, they were most useful, and saved all the hassle of carrying swimming gear, food, clothes etc. backwards and forwards to the house. We had a primus stove to boil the kettle, or fry up sausages and things, and make snacks. Lockers to hide away fishing nets, spades and buckets, balls of string, kites, and all the paraphernalia that children accumulate throughout the long summer holidays by the sea. There were lines to hang up the wet bathing costumes and towels, and a cupboard full of pretty crockery from Woolworths, and a singing kettle always ready to whistle its heart away, announcing to the whole world that it was tea time at the "Kraal." (That was the name of our hut, I never really understood why, but I imagine the previous owner must have had sentimental reasons for wanting to remember some far away African village.)
I remember shrimping at low tide. Armed with our shrimping nets, and buckets, often with our dresses tucked into our knickers, we would scan the shallow water for shrimps, that must have seen us looming above them, as they darted away like a flash of lightning into the mud for safety. I remember how the shrimps tickled our hands as we collected them out of the net, and plunged them into a bucket filled with sea water. It's funny the things you remember when you get older, the smells, sounds, and sensations that take you straight back to the days of your childhood. After passing many hours paddling around shrimping at low tide, we would return to the hut with our catch, a bucket or two full of shrimps. Somebody with greater courage than I had, would fill a large bucket from the locker with water, and boil the shrimps for tea. I don't think I ever stayed around to watch that operation, but no doubt when the shrimps had turned to a lovely pink, like the ones you can buy in the fishmongers, I was there to enjoy the taste of them. Sometimes, by way of a change, a crowd of us would go to the end of a long groyne, a long natural rock that made a small quay for us to stand on. We had a long piece of string each, to the end of which we attached some bits of broken up mussels for bait, which we had broken off from the rocks. With our lines, and bait we would tickle the water and try to entice the crabs that swam around the groyne. We used to catch quite a lot of crabs, mostly about three or four inches across, but we always let them go, and threw them back into the sea. They never suffered the same fate as the poor shrimps that were boiled for tea!
As I sit here recalling my childhood memories, I can feel the warm sun on my body, my arms and legs, strong like timber, golden brown, and glistening with the salt from the sea. My face burning, the skin tight, and glowing with radiant health, and happiness, my long hair sticky and tangled from swimming and diving off the break waters. What carefree days they were! No worries that our parents couldn't solve for us. No responsibilities beyond obeying our parents, which to my generation was quite a normal obligation. No school for eight whole weeks from the end of July until the middle of September. Long hot carefree days, when the sun never ceased to shine, and the temperatures soared above ninety degrees, or even a hundred in the shade. And at the end of each day we would watch the sun, a flaming ball of fire sink slowly away, and disappear in the crimson sunset, behind the Isle of Sheppey. Only then would we wander bare footed back to the house, exhausted and hungry, and ready for bed. Then in bed in the warmth of the summer nights we would throw off all the bedclothes, and fall asleep contented and happy, dreaming of another day.
When morning came we all quickly dressed, rushing down to the beach for an early morning swim, before breakfast. On the way down to the beach we would call at the baker's shop, and buy hot bread, or rolls just out of the oven, for breakfast on the beach. Delicious hot rolls with lashings of butter, and marmalade, a good start to yet another day.
We played cricket on the beach, and leapfrog, and hopscotch. We also borrowed a friend's rowing boat, and learnt to row. We used to meet the same families year after year who used to come down for holidays from various parts of the country, and all the children played together. The beaches were not sandy, they were pebble beaches, and we ran around with bare feet. We seldom wore shoes, and our feet got very hard, and strong, and swimming made us physically fit.
The highlight of the summer holiday was always Regatta Day, about the middle of August. In the morning there were Children’s' Sports on the green above the grass slopes leading to the beach. I remember winning a clock one year for running one hundred yards, and another year I won a book. In the afternoon there was the Regatta, Sailing and Swimming Races. I didn't know anything about sailing in those days. I can only remember what seemed like dozens of yachts, and fishing boats sailing around, intermingling, and racing close to the wind. But it seemed to me there was never any end or beginning to the races. I could never work out who was in the lead, or who was behind! I have in later years learnt the art of sailing, and can at least now understand what happens in a regatta, when the gun either sends the boats out at the start of a race, or welcomes them back at the finish! While the yacht races were going on, there were swimming races, and the greasy pole, the highlight of the afternoon.
In the evening we looked forward to the Community singing, and a wonderful Firework Display. By this time it would be quite dark, and the cries of "Ooo, and Aaah," echoed for miles around the coast as the spectacular colours and flares, and fairy lights, rockets and squibs exploded into the night.
Another day, another year. I can't help feeling that traditions built up in our early childhood days give us nostalgic memories that remain with us throughout our whole lives, and no matter what lies ahead no one can take those memories away.
I remember my school days vividly. At the age of four we attended St. Bede's Kindergarten School, which was in a large Edwardian style house in a row along what was then called St. George's Place, the beginning of the Dover Road. Sadly that part of the City was bombed during the last War.
I felt very grown up going to school. It was quite a long walk for us, and so our teacher who walked our way, used to pick us up and take us to school with her. Getting to know her so well no doubt helped us to settle down in a strange new world, meeting many other boys and girls of our own age group, outside our own family circle.
Miss Greenwood, our Headmistress greeted us at the top of the steps leading to the front door, and she always stood at the door to say goodbye to us when we finished school at the end of the afternoon.
She was a tall, dignified lady with her hair piled high on her head, Edwardian style. She wore Edwardian style blouses, and long skirts, and button up shoes, and I remember that she always wore a narrow velvet ribbon round her neck. She was a kind and gentle lady.
There were two classrooms. One for the infants, and another upstairs for the older children. We all had tiny desks and chairs. I remember doing a lot of painting and drawing, and learning the alphabet. But somehow I don't remember ever learning to read, or write... It must have come naturally! I would have remembered if it had been difficult. We also played a game called "Ludo," and did "stickprinting."
Every day we were lined up in two rows, and we learnt to sing all the popular songs from the National Song Book. Songs like the Raggle taggle Gypsies, Cherry Ripe!, Sweet Lass on Richmond Hill, and Do ye ken John Peel. The piano was played by the teacher who escorted us backwards and forwards to school.
I well remember the piping hot milk, and biscuits we were given at lunch time, before going down two flights of stairs to the garden to play. And I remember so well the first time we were allowed to use ink to write. The smudges and blotches of ink on our fingers and exercise books, when we dipped our pens too far down the inkwell. The messy blotting paper, saturated with ink that had been spilt. The tears and the shame, not to mention the disappointment at failing to produce a perfect page with no smudges or blots!
How well I recall the pungent smell of fresh ink in the newly filled inkwells. It is one of the many strong associations of childhood memories, like Lifebuoy soap in the bathroom, and Euthymol toothpaste. Tobacco in my Father's study, and Yardley's Lavender in my Mother's bedroom. All nostalgic childhood memories, and a thousand more!
We left St. Bede's Kindergarten at the age of eight to join what was called the Secondary School, Simon Langton Girls' School. The boys had their similar School, next door. The days of our infancy were over, and we soon grew into strong, healthy schoolgirls with good healthy appetites.
Every year we automatically moved up a grade, and into a different classroom. Unlike many schools of today, we each had our own desk, and our own textbooks for each subject which were kept in our desks. We were responsible for these books for the year, and left them behind in the classroom when we moved up to the higher grade.
Pupils remained in their desks for all basic lessons, except Science, for which we went into the laboratory, and for Art, which was taught in the "Art Room." The various Teachers came to us, to teach us in our own Classrooms. We did not have to move out of our classrooms, and go to the Teachers. It seems to me to be a very simple way of organising both the Staff, and the Pupils. Approximately three hundred odd girls sat at their own desks in their own classrooms, and waited for a dozen or so teachers to come to their particular classroom to teach their particular subject.
In the present day system, I understand that it is the teachers who remain in the Classrooms, and the entire school, perhaps as many as eleven hundred (?) pupils do an "All Change,"
milling along corridors, and clashing on crowded staircases to reach the Teacher, who is to take a class in his or her specialised subject.
I may just be old fashioned, or perhaps I don't have a brain to understand computers, but I can't help feeling that it would be quieter, quicker, and easier for the teachers to do the "All change" at the end of each lesson, instead of hundreds or even thousands of pupils. There must be some logical reason for the present day system that I don't understand.
I was eleven years old when we were thrilled to discover that mother was going to have another baby. It happened that I was in mother's bedroom one day I noticed some tiny baby garments on the bed. It was such a surprise I told my sisters, and we were all very excited at the prospect of having a new baby in the family. We just had to know if it was true, and mother confirmed the wonderful news when we asked her. I often wonder if she had left the tiny baby clothes about on purpose, knowing that one of us would be sure to find them and discover her secret. After all, we had been a family of four girls, with less than four years difference in our ages, and now after a gap of nine years there was to be a new addition to the family!
In the summer of that year my Godmother came to stay with us, from Buenos Airies. It was her first visit to the United Kingdom. She was a plump middle-aged lady, with a motherly manner. She asked us to call her "Madrina," which I understand is Spanish for Godmother. I also remember how she insisted that I should brush my long hair one hundred strokes a day, and she made me promise to do the same every day for the rest of my life, so that I would always have beautiful hair. I didn't keep that promise for long.
We came down to breakfast one Saturday morning and Madrina told us that "Mummy had gone to fetch the new baby!" I remember the feeling of shock. We knew that the baby would arrive one day, but did not expect our mother to go off in the middle of the night to fetch it! Although my twin and I were eleven years old, Audrey and Leslie were nine, and ten, we were unbelievably innocent about sexual matters, and the way babies were conceived and born.
I vaguely assumed that mother would have an operation, and a lot of pain. I couldn't imagine how the baby would arrive otherwise. At least that was nearer the mark than the absurd story about finding the baby under a gooseberry bush, or the other fantasy that babies are delivered by a beautiful stork!
All of a sudden the house felt very empty, as we hung around waiting for news. Father was still at the Nursing Home, and we had to bide our time until he returned. We all dearly longed for a baby brother, but the longing was far deeper for my parents who desperately wanted a Son.
About nine thirty that morning my father returned from the Nursing Home. We all clamoured around him waiting to hear the good news, but his face told us what we were waiting to hear, he looked so despondent, and disappointed as he announced that we had another sister! One can only imagine the feeling of hopeless frustration that his own dreams of a son had been shattered, and his disappointment was so hard to bear.
We heard later that our darling mother had cried bitterly when she was told she had given birth to another baby girl. She so desperately wanted to present our father with a son.
However, regardless of her sex, the new baby was given a warm, and happy welcome when she came home. She was a beautiful baby weighing eight and a half pounds, well formed, with large blue eyes, and fair hair. We all adored her, and loved taking her for walks in her pram, and showing her off.
She was baptised in the Cathedral by the Bishop of Dover, and given the name Beryl. As it happened her Godfather was a Geologist, and he pointed out that "Beryl" was a very appropriate name for the Godchild of a Geologist, because there are emeralds which are called Beryls.
It was a lovely Service. The beautiful Font, and the surrounding steps were decorated with bronze and golden chrysanthemums and jasmine. The service was attended by the children of the Sunday School, and many personal friends of the family. There was a big tea party afterwards, which was attended by the Bishop, who was a friend of my Parents. It was a very happy occasion for everybody.
The advent of a new baby naturally brought changes in the household. All babies need a lot of attention, extra work, extra washing, sleepless nights and so on.
It must have been about this time that my parents began to think about sending us away to Boarding School. We heard snatches of conversation, and there was a school brochure lying around. But it was some time before the decision was made.
Father paid glowing tribute to the school. I sometimes wonder what my mother thought about it. The house would be very lonely if we four girls were sent away. She would be left with only the new baby.
The school had a very good reputation, and was recommended to my father by the Bishop of Dover, who knew the Headmistress well. That was sufficient reason for our parents to finally decide to send us to Ashford, only fourteen miles from home.
I felt uneasy, but it never occurred to me to ask if we had to go away to school. Neither did anyone ask us whether we wanted to go. My answer would have definitely been negative.
And so it was that my twin sister and I left the Simon Langton School at the age of thirteen to face a new life away from home. Leslie joined us the following year, and Audrey a year later.