Photo: Illustrative image for the 'LIFE AT BUTLERS - 03' page

Early years

By Martin Edgar


When Harry and Grace arrived there was no electricity but they did have mains water and drainage to a cess pit. I believe that there was a range in the kitchen which would have been the main source of hot water, and also a copper in the scullery for the weekly wash. Mother also had a paraffin (kerosene) stove with oven and two burners, which was kept in the scullery by the copper. There was of course no refrigerator. Food was kept cool on the slate shelves of the larder in the scullery, with an opening to the outside to let in cool air. Much effort was put into various forms of preserving, such as bottling fruit in Kilner jars, making jams and marmalades, preserving eggs in buckets filled with isinglass, etc. The apple crop would be carefully laid out on the slatted potato trays, no apple in contact with its neighbour to stop any rot spreading, and put down in the large cellar for winter supplies. For lighting we had an Aladdin lamp for the dining room, and quite a few brass oil lamps with their glass chimneys. They all burnt paraffin, and we did not really use candles. The Aladdin lamp had a woven fabric mantle over the wick, which burnt to ash on first lighting, but kept its shape. After that, the ash mantle would glow incandescently, and gave quite a good light, much better than the ordinary oil lamps.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'LIFE AT BUTLERS - 03' page

By the beginning of the war in 1939 there were three children - Bill born in 1931, Robert in 1933 and me in 1936. We had a nanny (Hodgie) to help with the children, and I am sure Mother must have had help in the house with cleaning, etc. Running a family household was hard work in those days. My earliest memory is of standing in the kitchen with Hodgie, watching the Guy Fawkes fireworks outside. It must have been 1938, as the War started in September 1939 and there certainly would have been no fireworks then. Then there was being taken in a pram and sometimes walking, again by Hodgie, on the mile and a half walk to the Anne Boleyn and back. That also happened to be where the nearest bus stop was.

The heart of the house was the kitchen and the dining room - the kitchen because we had breakfast there on the scrubbed pine table and because it was warm, particularly after the range was replaced in the early war years by an AB, similar to an AGA. That was fired by anthracite, with which you filled a hopper so that the AB burned continuously. It was ideal to lean against and warm your bottom on a cold morning. The AB also provided constant hot water to the bathroom upstairs. There was no water in the kitchen, and all the food preparation was done in the scullery, which was where the washing up was also done. The scullery had a stone floor and a back door to the outside, so there was quite a contrast in temperature!

The dining room had a fire in the black marble Victorian fireplace - fires were not allowed in the bedrooms unless you were ill, a large mahogany table (now with Rupert) and chairs, and on the far side of the room a roll top desk where Father did his business. Thomas Brock now has the desk at Manor Farm, West Worldham. There were large alcoves on either side of the fire, with a built-in shelf in front of a bookcase on the left, and a bureau slope in front of another bookcase on the right, all in mahogany. The radio, battery powered by a car battery recharged weekly at Warrens the Garage in Rochford, was on the left hand shelf. This was the room where everything happened - the drawing room across the stairs was kept only for best e.g. the rather stiff teas when neighbours like the Perrys from Paglesham or the Bentalls from Wakering came in. In winter, the Aladdin lamp would be on the table, with two oil lamps at each end of the mantelpiece. Mother and Father each had wingback chairs, and one boy would draw up another chair in front of the fire. The other two boys would sit on rush seated stools, one at each end of the fender with the front feet hooked over it, toasting the front of the body with the fire and with noses deep in books. You took care to be out of a draught. We consumed pages of Kipling, Arthur Ransome (e.g. Swallows and Amazons), and I read everything Felix Felton wrote (e.g. Bambi, etc), though I always skipped the last dozen pages as the books always finished in a tragic death. Or we would listen to the radio "Dick Barton - Special Agent" every night at 6.30, or the magazine programme "In Town Tonight" (sounds of traffic, it stops, "We stop the mighty roar of London's traffic to bring you . ."), or on Thursdays the comedian Tommy Handley in ITMA ("Its That Man Again"). In later years that was replaced by "Round the Horne" with its dreadful double entendres, or by Jimmy Edwards and the awful Glum family. Anything else was done on the dining table, whether playing Snakes and Ladders or Ludo, or doing hobbies. At one time I took up making model steam engines which you cut out of printed card and glued together, or I practised italic script which I rather fancied at the time.



Chapter title, click title to go there


01How we got there
02What was there 
03 Early years
04 The war
05 Peacetime
07Year 1950 
08Year 1953, and working at home 
09End piece - clay soil and what to do 
10Years 1954 to 1957 
12Editorial postscript
all chaptersLife at Butlers - the complete 12 part article  
This page was added by Bob Stephen on 14/09/2018.
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