|Transcript Title||Abel Smith, Alma (O1999.16)|
|Interviewee||AlmaAbel Smith (AAS)|
|Interviewer||Peter Ruffles (PR)|
|Transcriber by||Mark Green|
Hertford Oral History Group
Recording no: O1999.16
Interviewee: Alma Abel Smith (AAS), joined briefly by Dorothy Abel Smith (DAS)
Date: 23rd August 1999
Venue: Woodhall Cottage
Interviewer: Peter Ruffles (PR)
Transcribed by: Mark Green
************** = unclear recording
Italics = transcribers notes
[queries and notes] = other material
Preparatory humming and chat.
PR: I am going to say a little introduction which is to say that this is Peter Ruffles on a Monday morning 23rd of August 10:30ish or twenty to eleven at Woodhall Cottage which is the home of someone I have known as long as I can remember, and you have known longer than I can remember because you actually came into the ward at the County Hospital…
AAS: Did I?
PR: …with some flowers for my Ma.
AAS: I am glad I did that. I had forgotten that.
PR: Well she didn’t forget ever (AAS chuckles). I think she was probably more pleased with the flowers than she was with what she had produced.
AAS: Leave that one.
PR: You were having Elizabeth at the time. In 1942.
AAS: Yes, that's right.
PR: December. Well I was born in December and I would think she'd been born just a little, was she a, was she a December?
AAS: [Offers PAR shortbread]. I have got a friend. At Tonwell, you know Tonwell.
AAS: It is an offshoot of Holy Trinity, Bengeo, of course. How do you like it Peter?
PR: Oh, as it comes, I'm partial I’m ready for a drink.
AAS: That is rather strong.
PR: Will it be alright here?
AAS: Yes, perfectly alright. There is milk and there is sugar, help yourself.
PR: Thank you. Yes, you were mentioning Tonwell.
AAS: Yes, it must be a couple of years ago now. I had been to Bengeo, I forget the house I went to, made an impression with the, it was a very jolly coffee morning **** there was a certain Mrs Knights, she was 78 so she had been around a bit. For 40 years she had lived down at Sacombe Pound in one of those little houses. To my shame I didn't know her in those days. I used to call at quite a few of the houses but I never got around all of them, and she was a school cook at the Little Munden school up the hill, and she was a wonderful cook and in her spare time she doesn't have very much. Sadly she's had to give up her car because she's not too well, she can't afford it on her own her husband died. Anywhere she happened to mention they had never had a pastoral visit at Tonwell, because there are quite a lot of council bungalows and little houses and flats there, and obviously Colin would never have got around there because when you have 7,000 to deal with
PR: He had a very big parish (AAS laughs) and he was pretty active but he hadn't managed Mrs Knights.
AAS: And so I dropped this hint when I was at that coffee morning, ‘cos father realised he had actually called was there and he was very good, he promptly went off to Tonwell and must have visited her and the result was that he decided that nobody from Tonwell ever ever came to Bengeo church and probably never would. He decided to take the church to Tonwell. Would Mrs Knights like to have a communion service in her house once a month? Well this absolutely made her day and she was over the moon about it, so this is happened on the first Wednesday ever since and he has it at ten thirty so I can get there, and I have only missed one, I think, in nearly two years.
PR: Oh, well done.
AAS: Which is lovely. Sometimes I have got a carer who likes to come too. It is a delightful little event and he takes it beautifully. Bob Meredith did one or two before he left, before he retired.
PR: I just missed him actually he told me he will be in Sidmouth, last week, and I went to Sidmouth for a few days, but he wasn't there.
[AAS offers Peter shortbread, which he describes as lovely]
AAS: I had a tea party last week, some of my ancient girlfriends, and she made two lots of cakes for us, and shortbreads. So, although most of us are too old to have afternoon tea and do justice to it (chuckles).
PR: I see what you mean. It is a lovely shortbread.
AAS: It is a proper one, very bad for us, it is full of butter.
PR: Jolly good. It is August and I am a bit carefree so, good.
AAS: Good. Did you get away this holidays?
PR: Not really. I went to Sidmouth for a day or two, with some friends that is all. I have been doing all sorts of little bits that there isn’t time to do, including this visit this morning. Really even in an ordinary holiday keeps us inside, yes, so many bits.
AAS: Wonderful. Marvellous****
PR: It is a good thing. It is a privilege really, but it does stop you doing some things that you want to do or really things that you would really like to take more time over. Everything is done at a rush. I will take my jacket off if I may.
AAS: Yes, do take that off.
PR: Now, what I would really like to just talk about a bit is [AAS checks that Peter is comfortable] I suppose family history and development as you have seen it. How did you come to be Mrs Abel Smith?
AAS: Well that goes back a very long way at the Mansion House here. There was Uncle Henry and Auntie Viv, my husband's uncle and his wife. They had three daughters and sadly for them they had no son, and the estate had been entailed so the daughter's couldn’t inherit and so, anyway my mother, my mother's maiden name was Hanbury and she was of course born and brought up what is now Hanbury Manor hotel. Her parents built that in the 1880s they had it ready in 1890, just in time, she was the youngster of the family, just in time for the new baby to be born there. So, my mother never knew any other home until she married in 1912. And then of course that was a dreadful time and two years later her whole world fell apart, but in the meantime she's being a good friend and contemporary of the three girls at Woodhall. She used to ride a pony over and ride with them in the park there. I’ve got very fond of all this park. And as, then she grew-up and they used to dance together here and there, and this is why she knew this place so well. Well then, as I said Uncle Henry had no son, and he was a very good chap, he was a wonderful farmer, during the First World War he was a great friend of one of the local farmer, tenant farmers, Fred Vigus by name
PR: Oh yes, a well-known, early days, yes, yes.
AAS: Burrs Green Farm . He was a wonderful farmer. They made great friends and he used to go round in a pony trap, I suppose, with the squire, to farmers near and far, helping farmers and advising them as to what to do and what not do during the difficult years of the First War there was no such thing War Agricultural Committee in those days. Second War of course there was that cropped up.
PR: Yes, a little different.
AAS: Between them they had tremendous knowledge and experience and they did a lot and they were very helpful.
PR: And so your, your link from Poles. It was called Poles was it, all the time yes? Where did the name Poles come from?
AAS: It has been Poles that plot of land since Doomsday Book. We, in my generation and my children were pretty annoyed when the hotel changed the name, but they thought that that American clients might get it mixed up with Poland and the Polish people.
PR: Yes, for commercial reasons, and it…
AAS: At least they took the family name.
PR: Yes, exactly, yes. It could have been a more twee name that might have attracted the Americans even more - some consolation.
AAS: Anyway, they keep pretty busy there still.
PR: And when did you marry, what sort of?
AAS: 1940. Well I first came to live in Hertfordshire in ’38. My poor father was in his final illness and he managed to go and live at Thundridge Vicarage. My mother was sort of casting round as to where we could live, and he went temporarily into a little nursing home at the top of Port Hill in Bengeo, and the house is still there. In those days it was a nursing home.
PR: Grafton, not Grafton Towers?
AAS: I don't know what its name was.
PR: I think it probably was, at the very brow of the Hill.
AAS: At the Brow the hill, yes. Not a very pretty house.
PR: No it isn't. I think that is probably the one, yes. So you were…
AAS: So we went there, and mother being a very good letter writer all her life…
PR: That was a good shot, you have done that before I think you practised that.
AAS: No, but I hit the brickwork, so it has fallen short it is very useful when the fires on. You don't want it on for a long time, no.
[not clear from the tape: but presumably AAS as thrown a piece of rubbish into, as this is late August, an unlit fireplace]
AAS: Where was I?
PR: Yes, you were married in 1940.
AAS: Yes, I, we went to Thunbridge Vicarage in ’38, the spring of ’38, and we had to have rather a big house because father was very ill, he had to have a day nurse and a night nurse otherwise he would have been in hospital. And she knew, and she knew the Old Vicarage was exactly the right sort of house we needed, room for everybody. I was still at home my two older sisters were away married already, my brother Bill was still at school, and she wrote round various families she had known or known of years ago and people were awfully kind, and in those days and there's always somebody having a tennis party on a Sunday, and I got invited to quite a few. Particularly to Youngsbury. My greatest and lifelong friend was Margaret Puller Youngsbury, we played together as children. And Tim used to get involved in these tennis parties to. Neither of us could play tennis. I had never had a lesson in my life, except for my elder sister ‘not the way you would hit the ball’ and so this went on. And then he took me to the Aldershot Tattoo that summer, which was rather pleasant. I upset my cider over his nice car However he got rid of that and we married in 1940.
PR: Where you married here at Watton or at Thundridge your end.
AAS: Thundridge, my end, yes. Mother was in hospital having her very serious operation for the...my sister, her little boy and a brand new baby, were also at Thundridge Vicarage so she was very helpful to me. I don’t whether we had a car. I remember walking down to Ware. There was a cake shop, I don't think it's still there, just on the corner on the right as it turns towards by the Church
PR: Yes, on Priory Street corner, yes Crews Bakery.
AAS: I got my wedding cake from there, and Tim of course was in France with the army. He had joined up in ‘38 he had joined the Territorials, he went on and they put him in anti-aircraft, and he was down in South Wales. Went to France for some months, to Le Havre it was they went and they got away by the skin of their teeth, the Germans were pouring over Northern France then, and they had already attacked the huge Scottish army or brigade at Saint-Valéry-En-Caux, which is famous for its awfulness and there next point of call would have been Le Havre, and so the British Army had to get out very quickly.
They had put them in trains and took them chugging away in the train, two days nearly to Brest on the west coast, and there they got a ship by a miracle, I can't think how they did it, and they sailed away and landed up at Liverpool. But they could easily have gone to the bottom of the sea ‘cos there was a big ship, the Lancastrian that went down with all hands and we lost all track of them of course, and eventually there was a telephone call from Liverpool. So that was good. He got the uniform he stood up in and absolutely nothing else at all. That didn't matter.
My sister's husband was in that lot as well, so I was able to telephone to her tell her that he’s safe, and so she went tearing up to Liverpool and there was a cousin too, Anthony Tabor. His mother was an Abel Smith and he was in the same lot, so I could alert her so we were quite happy people that day. And he came on land, they had even left their guns behind, haven't brought anything with them at all, and somehow they were kitted out with new guns and sent to South Wales to build anti-aircraft gun sites. I'm very muddled I'm afraid.
PR: No, it's extremely coherent you have got a clear flow here. So, what was happening at Woodhall here?
AAS: Woodhall. Oh yes to go back to Uncle Henry. He was a wonderful man I'd say he was so keen on the farming. He was an excellent landlord, I believe, and a popular squire around the village, and he was also MFH, Master of the Fox Hunt and he went hunting regularly. After the first World War they realised they couldn't possibly live in the Mansion House any longer and in the meantime they had rather fallen in love with Queen Hill at Bramfield, which is where Dorothy now lives. You've been there?
PR: Yes, several times, yes. I will tell you something very naughty about Dorothy later. [laughter]
AAS: And anyway, they were hunting around there one day and poor Uncle Henry he fell off his horse, but I never quite gathered whether he fell off his horse and that killed him, or whether he died of a heart and tumbled off. Didn't matter it was a nice way for Henry to go.
PR: Yes, yes, yes, certainly. And was when Tim was away, what was happening?
AAS: Oh yes. We lived at Saffron Walden ?. It was very, very worrying. One of the first things that Tim did, with uncle Henry dead, the younger brother took over was meant to, but he had been in the army all his life and really wasn't interested in country life, and Woodhall in particular, he had no appetite for it at all, did nothing. He left everything, he got hold of an agent and he went through two or three agents. He was only there for 7 years, and then he died.
PR: I mustn't keep you talking, have some tea.
AAS: And so my late father-in-law, who I never met, and very little was done on the property which was bad. Mind you they were suffering badly from death duties after uncle Henry - there wasn’t much cash.
PR: No, no, and an enormous expense, all the time. I always think that just maintaining the wall.
AAS: He didn’t. There was another new hole in it.
PR: Yes, I saw that, a new one.
AAS: People drive too fast.
PR: And so did Tim…
AAS: Tim inherited in ‘37 ‘cos meantime his father, obviously didn't go to Woodhall the big house. He had been living in Roehampton in rather a horrid little terraced house, and Tim lived there for quite a while as a boy and wasn't told anything about the estate or anything. He was quite cut off from it although in the holidays he used to stay sometimes at Woodhall with his Uncle and Aunt and that was rather nice, but they got nothing for his boy to do, absolutely nothing. He used to go and play billiards with the butler, he remembered doing that. There was a great big billiard room, and he's got a good eye, he was quite good at billiards. Quite enjoyed it, but wasn't much occupation for a sturdy boy, 14 or whatever. And then his father went to live at Watton House which is quite a big victorian house in Watton, quite near the bridge that leads onto it from the railroad, just there and Tim went to live with him. He was growing up then. He didn't stay long at Eaton. He had absolutely no education as a little boy. He had the most awful childhood and boyhood. I can't think why his parents were quite so strict, perhaps it was the fashion then, in several families.
PR: Yes, I should think so.
AAS: His mother was a very bad asthmatic and you can imagine that in the ‘20s the doctors could do very little for that. And of course she was an awful hypochondriac with that, and she didn't dare her little Tim to risk getting infected with anything if he played with other children, so he wasn’t allowed to. He wasn't allowed to play with other children, so he didn't learn how to relate to other children or how to share his toys or anything else. He was allowed to go to Nanny, Hertingfordbury Road that was one of his highlights.
PR: How did she become connected? She was at his birth wasn't she, from birth at any rate.
AAS: From birth yes. She was a very good Nana. She had been, she started as a nurse or a junior nurse, for a family in Norfolk called Bacon. They had four little girls at that time and she helped to bring them up and then after she left she went to a cousin of ours another Bacon family who were first cousins, they had three little boys so she brought them up they actually lived in Essex not Norfolk. Somehow they knew the Abel Smiths at Woodhall, they were all good friends and when the three little boys got old enough to go away to boarding school my in-laws have got themselves married and we're having their first baby so she was switched over here this way
PR: Which was geographically convenient for her.
AAS: It was indeed.
PR: It must have been.
AAS: And of course her father was something to do with Stephen Austin the printer, which is now developed into the Herts Mercury.
PR: Yes, yes, he was. Well of course when I was little it was step , really why I always refer to your husband as Tim which I really ought not to do as he is a generation up on me…
AAS: Everybody did
PR: …but yes and certainly all. Tim was Aunt Gert’s boy you know…
AAS: he was
PR: …absolute, yes, the centre of her very many interests because she had a lot of families.
AAS: She was a wonderful woman and she seemed to think that she knew about me, but she couldn't have done, and she gave me a tremendous welcome first time Tim took me down. Gave me a hug. Didn’t know a thing about her. Somehow it worked.
PR: She may have…
AAS: She never faltered.
PR: Yes, no, no, until the very end of her life when she was still. The last time I saw Tim was when you had invited Diana Colville another of her daughter-in-law’s Diana Lee’s
AAS: She was married to somebody else by then but sadly came adrift quite soon.
PR: Yes, yes, but yes. You invited me out to tea when Diana was here. I still have a Christmas card from Diana really for Aunt Gert’s sake as much as anything, but I think we both enjoy keeping that little Hertford link as an exchange, and of course coming out on the 390 bus sometimes here was a big highlight for the sand pit?
AAS: Oh, she was wonderful she would toddle off round from Hertingfordbury road into North Road whatever, get the bus, come to Lodge and walk all the way down. Her little old short legs…
PR: Yes, they were…
AAS: Tell me what it is.
PR: Yes, yes, and then of course there were your visits, and Tim’s occasionally well quite often to 64 Hertingfordbury Road, and I used to be put on I don't know how many times has happened but I can remember standing in the bay window looking for your car, little green Wolsley I think you had at the time, little green car and come through Cross Lane and then park in the bay the one with the big double gates, and as soon as I sighted you for Aunt Norah and Aunt Gert, then it was my cue to disappear because they wanted to give you their full attention, and then I’d look out.
AAS: I would call through the hole in the hedge, the fence, there was a paling fence between your houses.
PR: Yes, that's right, I would watch you come up their garden path to pay your…
AAS: Oh, they were sweet, they loved my dog. I had a little terrier in those days for years…
PR: Yes, I remember.
AAS: …and whenever I turned into that road after some rather dull shopping in the town, the little dog would jump up and start wagging, saying here we are, and old Nanny always had a tit bit for him when we got there, always.
PR: A very big highlight in their week in their later years.
AAS: It was very privileged to know them. I remember Vivian, Norah after Nan had gone. Norah went to an old people's home in Hatfield, at the top of Fore Street.
End of First tape
PR: Hear a bit more about your relationships with the community which is so well known, your visits.
AAS: My efforts yes, I was very well-intentioned, but I was quite energetic in some ways. I tear about the garden like nothing at all!
PR: I should say so yes, yes.
AAS: But there are lot of cottages and I wanted to do them all. I was extremely shy…
PR: Were you? [Surprised]
AAS: Oh very, and very unsure of myself. One of my earliest recollections with my two elder sisters, ‘seems silly little thing, do get out of the way, you are too young’ and so I hadn't got a great deal of self-esteem and I wasn't quite sure that people would want me knocking at their doors but they were incredibly nice. The ones I did get to know. Wonderful people, and what struck me and it has struck me many, many times over the years, what wonderful people they were because they had wretched little houses, tiny, tiny little houses, but they had the highest principles you could imagine, and they were God fearing people all of them. Come in.
PR: Come in. Dorothy, gosh.
DAS: How did you get here?
PR: This is very serious.
AAS: He is taking me to task.
DAS: Very naughty of you.
PR: You, you’ve spoiled….
DAS: I am sorry.
PR: …my opportunity because I was just going to say in a minute something very naughty about you.
AAS: Anyway, come and sit down.
PR: I don't know whether I dare now.
[general conversation about handbags/appointments and general conversation between Dorothy, Alma Peter about the recording having been all arranged etc]
PR: We are into Nanny Turnbull of course, and now talking about visiting in the village such a wonderful opportunity from Woodhall to serve up as you keep writing down listening to me but very, very demanding what a challenge.
AAS: It was, and there were babies there. There was no help.
PR: But your description of yourself flying about is as I remember it very, very well
AAS: Being very disorganised, I got (overtalking)
PR: Yes, I wasn't thinking, I was thinking of the physical movement and the speed before you had your beastly stroke, I remember I was in Evan Marks the jewellers in Fore Street and you came nipping by, but there's a sort of slope around by the war memorial up to the Mercury Office and through to Fore Street proper and I just got this picture of you zipping along and that’s, I don't know where you were going and you weren't heavily laden, but you were moving at considerable speed and it was just one of those little visions.
[more general conversation, Dorothy preparing to leave]
DAS: You were going to very naughty about me, now what was that? I think you should cut it out.
PR: Well, I will say it now. For some years a cheeky resident, well known in Bramfield referred to you but I didn't know it was you, as a member, I thought it was as a member of their family, as ‘our Dot’.
DAS: Oh, how naughty.
PR: What a naughty, and for a long time I was trying to make this one of the members of one of the Bramfield families, and then the church warden role came in and I thought oh, I know who our Dot is. But it was very friendly sort of very funny because you're certainly not a Dot in my mind.
DAS: I was always known as Dotty at school. Dotty by name, Dotty I am.
PR: Our Dot. I was going to sneak that in and then surprise you when you read the transcript it is a good job that you are here for it.
DAS: Sorry Peter to disrupt you.
PR: Thanks very much for letting me come
DAS: Not at all.
AAS: Sorry about that. That's me all over. I got all absolutely ticked on my calendar, but I didn't pass it on to her. I saw her yesterday.
PR: Well yes, but not a momentous visit.
AAS: My brain goes up and down and sideways or just stops, and it is quite uncontrollable now.
PR: When did you have this beastly stroke?
AAS: The stroke ’84. Just coming up for 15 years. Oh well, one has to come to terms with it.
PR: Well you have done because your work has continued hasn’t it, despite the…
AAS: Well tried to. I have tried to, but I think I must try and concentrate on what we trying to do. I have got in a muddle rather. I get more and more disorientated. Do have some more tea.
[tea is poured]
PR: Another thing that I've always thought what a great tribute to the family really is the voting things on local government because Tim was chairman of the parish council wasn't he, I think? Rural District.
AAS: That was his big thing. Eddie Williams his right-hand there, years and years he did that.
PR: Much later when Ralph [pronounced Rafe] stood you might have expected them and us thing within the privacy of the ballot box for people to have said oh no we've had enough Abel-Smith’s around here for a long time, but he got a thumping good vote.
AAS: Yes he did.
PR: In the privacy of the…
AAS: And it was a pity that he couldn't keep it up but he couldn't there was no kindred spirit so to say on the Council, and he's a very abstemious chap in spite of his height and the others they sought of hustled through to the end of a meeting in order to get to the pub before they served last orders there was too much of that sort of thing.
PR: There was quite a bit.
AAS: He didn't like it he didn't feel he could cope, and he got all of the estate to look after as well, and it is an immense job.
PR: Well that alone is good reason for not standing but he served on both East Herts and the County Council didn't he.
PR: They are two different, they are quite different bodies and very demanding but was always supported privately has people obviously had to do in the voting booths, and the is esteem with which the whole family has related to the village, the churches and the community and the schools.
AAS: I have always felt, wanted to feel, that the whole estate is one sort of big family.
PR: Do you still give parties for estate workers I remember coming…
AAS: Oh yes, we still have the Farmers shoot. Oh yes, don't say I have done something silly. I know it is there.
PR: Oh yes, a salute to home carers.
AAS: Oh no, that's another one which is relevant all the same.
PR: This is a ‘98 job, yes.
AAS: This is the one I meant to give you, that's more like time ‘95.
PR: Yes, ‘90 yes it would have been 1991.
AAS: With apologies to whoever wrote the drunken sailor. I just cribbed them from somebody else.
PR: I'd like to borrow those and make a copy would that be possible?
AAS: Yes, if you like.
PR: Love to.
AAS: I stuck my neck out and spin, I don't know what you think about the alternative service book
PR: Not very much.
AAS: Not much.
PR: Not really happy, really. Well I don't think is a bad thing generally but is not, but I'm happy with what I am familiar with.
AAS: Some people call it the awfully silly book. Do you know Miss Ann-Marie Parker?
AAS: Of course, you do, yes. School librarian wasn't it. I only met her this year, which I'm truly thankful I have. She is a delightful person, very helpful.
PR: Very knowledgeable as well, good research.
AAS: Yes, she is very knowledgeable, educated at Abel Smith School I may say. You know Dorothy’s little book of?
PR: Yes, I didn’t know Ann-Marie was a former pupil of….but you have been a governor of schools.
AAS: No, only Stapleford. A very poor one. I am glad to say that my daughter-in-law now does it far better. I was always going to go and visit but didn't get around to it.
PR: So, she is able to do a little bit of public work as well is she, it must be harder and harder.
AAS: She works very, very hard that girl and what she does she does very well. Mind you she's, she knows what she wants and she goes straight for it.
[phone rings: Alma answers ]
PR: It is quite an epicentre of activity your circle, but it's all there.
AAS: It's all there. I have got some photographs that I particularly wanted to show. I am an idiot, I have got two little drawers here which are ideal for me for my work, but I fill them too full.
PR: Oh yes, yes. So…
AAS: What about the village. Yes, I tried my best to get around but it wasn't very good. Some people I missed out on which was sad. In years past, oh that cottage, I have never really been to that cottage how awful. My sins of omission were legion.
PR: Well count up the sins, not the sins of commission, the acts of good because you really have been everywhere and everyone in Stapleford and Waterford, as well as the Bengeo, Tonwell and Watton bit has known you and been grateful for all the things that you have done.
AAS: Don’t keep on, I will get big-headed.
PR: Well, it is absolutely true, and I think by proxy your work as an ambassadress of the family in a sense being…
AAS: I was told to keep up with the Bengeo gardeners, cottage gardeners do you ever go to their shows?
PR: Well I did this year for the first time, because I've now been elected to represent Bengeo. I have changed wards and I thought I ought to do some Bengeo things I am going to Bengeo Church I hope once a month and I've done quite well so far, since May.
AAS: I liked Ian Pearson a lot. He is a little bit forbidding but he has got an enormous sense of humour.
PR: Yes, yes.
AAS: One has to get through to him.
PR: He is good, so…
AAS: Delightful wife
PR: I suppose we ought just to finish by tracing the various places that you lived on the estate in a sort of triangle, because the family
AAS: Yes, I can do that. When we were, yes when we married in July 1940, it was just at beginning of the Battle of Britain. we used to go for walks and we were just by Cardigan Bay in Wales, and we used to go for walks and see some dog fights overhead which was exciting at that time but in retrospect it was ghastly.
PR: Yes, yes, yes.
AAS: And one great friend we knew the family very, very well, my mother before the previous generation they lived in the north of England and he had a sister and a brother and he joined the RAF and was a fighter pilot and he died in the Battle of Britain, and his brother was killed later on in the war, and it was all terribly sad. His father of been killed in the first war so his mother was a very sad person, and I saw her quite a bit.
PR: I remember your mother, I mustn’t distract the flow, your mother was living at the end of her life in St. Andrews Street.
AAS: Yes, she was, which is Beckwith’s shop. When she was, when she left the Vicarage at Thundridge, I can't remember the date, she bought a little house next door which is called Pine End she lived further down Poles Lane, and in her young days that had been the Butlers house and she knew it was a very nice little house and would suit her, she bought it for £800 I don't know why that has stuck in my brain but it has. And sadly she never lived there because she really got very ill, and she did far too much and she just had a very big operation when we were married and we went straight up to London and visited her in hospital, and she had been told by the doctor's that she was to do absolutely nothing for 2 years, but not a bit of it. Two, three weeks she was up and around, and she was doing war work. She went and got involved with a big canteen place. Can you imagine anything more unsuitable?
PR: Yes, for a convalescent.
AAS: With those heavy saucepans and things you find in a canteen and on the trot on her legs all day and of course it undermined her health very badly, and she couldn't keep that up obviously but then she couldn't get possession of Pine End house because there were other people in it and they didn't want to move. And so she looked around and she found there was some empty rooms in that little old house just over the street. She dumped herself there for a short time.
PR: I remember going into visit her there and in a sense she was doing what a lot of people do nowadays which is move into very small accommodation in the town centre for convenience, when mobility and things are less easy. But yes that’s, I wondered how that happened.
AAS: She, she hadn't got a car of course, she had got a bicycle, she used to bicycle off to Western House that was one of the things she did and helped feed the old people there.
PR: Mrs de Falbe
AAS: That’s it, yes. And she remembered all sorts of people in the village of Thundridge, she had known them all in her young days.
PR: [PR clears his throat]. Sorry that was an interruption just to boast about remembering going into the back of St Nicholas Hall. So, did you first on your marriage when presumably the war was over what would have happened you would have married, and Tim would have been away for a long time.
AAS: Yes, he was away for a while.
PR: Where were you living?
AAS: He was always a bit deaf and he went, he had a rather tiresome ear, he took a house in South Wales near Swansea. He was very, very lucky because the ghastly bombing of Swansea happened and he was in regimental headquarters that night and the house that he was in was bombed, and there were four men that were killed in the room that he was in Gun operations room that was the one. . [Note: See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swansea_Blitz ]. But he was very lucky he was sitting in, I think it must have been a private house previously, and they must have been in what would have been the drawing room of that house. He was sitting back in a bay window with earphones on, suddenly the whole wall went across the room like that. Ghastly bomb, and it missed him by inches and he was alright and he came home covered in dust I've never seen anybody quite so dirty. And then we were so lucky the gun operations room was is moved to Neath, Neath. which is a small town a little further out of Swansea like Ware is to Hertford. And we were able to find a little semi-detached house there because so much have been bombed everybody was clamouring for houses, and we got one and we haven't been there many weeks when Dorothy was born there in that little house, and so…
PR: So, her birthplace is in Neath. I didn't know that. That is an unlikely thing, but special circumstances.
AAS: Years and years later she made rather friends with that nice vicar we had, George Thomas.
PR: Oh, did she, yes?
AAS: He was as Welsh as they come, and he was most interested when…
PR: Tonypandy, yes.
AAS: He heard she was born in Wales. That was a great thing. Anyway, we were very happy there for some months, and then he brought the baby back here and christened. And this house was vacant at the time. Tim went, had to go to an army medical board and they noticed he was a bit deaf. And so they said well you can go home and do your farming or whatever at home we don't want you here. So we came back and set up house in this Cottage it had not much in the way of conveniences ancient or modern, it was extremely cold but we were young and we did not mind.
PR: Why was it built?
AAS: It was the Clerk of Works house in the last century, but we reckon is late 18th century for this part is, this is the old part.
PR: For guests.
AAS: It is a wonderful little house. Suits me.
PR: And then in time you graduated?
AAS: And then we went to that house, the River House it is called now.
PR: Yes. What did you call it?
AAS: We called it the Estate House because it is always been the estate agent for many, many years it had been the estate agent. Elizabeth was born there. Well, in Hertford Hospital in ‘42 and then in ‘46 Ralph was born in that house.
PR: Yes, I can just remember Ralph’s birth and the excitement it caused in Hertingfordbury Road.
AAS: Oh yes. Frightfully exciting, there hadn't been a male heir since goodness knows when. She was very on her toes about it.
PR: Yes, yes quite a good story I was only 4 or 5 years old and I can certainly remember the buzz.
AAS: And anyway, from the windows where we used to see the derelict old stables further up the hill, and we had a sort of castle in the air wouldn't it be lovely to do that and to live there, but we knew we never could and I can't remember quite what happened the years passed that was ‘42 I'm talking about and then up to ’56. I think it was round about ’56. There was a bit of a crisis in the Middle East and petrol and so on went very dodgy. I don't quite know what Tim did, he is pretty clever about some things. But he had come here as a very young man, he’d dropped in the deep end as a young man of 24 when his father died, and he had he had to cope with two lots of death duties within 7 years but he, he hit on one or two wise advisors and he managed to mortgage the estate which was a good thing because it was a terrible millstone around his neck for many, many years.
PR: But it made, it achieved the pressing, immediate need, wonderfully really but a great deal of anxiety because of it.
AAS: Because when his father first died, he went up to London and he met the family solicitor, trustee or whoever it was. Only one thing for you to do my boy and that's the sell the whole thing set yourself up in somewhere else.
PR: Well it would have been easy to do, and a lot of worries would have passed away.
AAS: But he said no, I am going to stay here and I'm going to make it work and he did.
PR: Yes, yes, and then you were able to make this conversion of the…
AAS: Yes, we did this wonderful conversion, but we did it just in time because the very next year inflation just went up like that, and you couldn't have touched it. We did make a very nice house out of it, and we had many happy days here. We had parties for the young because they were growing up, two girls were growing up then.
PR: Does Ralph live there now?
AAS: He does yes. He has got two young boys. They are splendid young boys, Thomas and Edward.
PR: They are away at school now are they?
AAS: Thomas is, he has been there nearly 2 years. Edward is going next month so I'll be rather sad about that because I won't have either of them popping in to see me. They are very sweet they often come and see me.
PR: Well, that has been really valuable tying in of things, you have given it a shape you know, a pattern lots of odd bits that I think people will recognise and you have explained how they have come about.
AAS: Well I am glad you think so because many things unsaid. Undone. I remember so well an awful bombing at Watton during the war, ‘41 I should think it was. We had a stick of bombs over this way, one fell in the middle of the Avenue up the hill on the other side and one fell the other side of the wood there, in the field. One fell on Watton. And the last was a little row of very, very old cottages, probably about to fall down anyway but it just went down like a pack of cards. Two people were killed poor things, and of course it shook the houses on either side and opposite, and upset everybody's nerves very badly. [ Note: see Workhouse Yard, Mill Lane, Watton-at-Stone, https://watton-pc.org.uk/files/web_guide_full.pdf ],
PR: I didn't know about the Watton bombing.
AAS: Mill Yard it was called. Do you know where the scout hut is?
AAS: Yes, well it was here.
PR: Ah, so right in the built-up part of Watton.
AAS: Oh yes. Extraordinary. There was a Mr and Mrs Parker died. They were downstairs, and their children were upstairs and unscathed.
PR: We have reached the end of our tape, which means you have talked for an hour for someone who says their concentration span is not too, not very good…
AAS: I always wondered whether there was some, when I go to Scotland there are so many gorgeous local views and shops on sale. I wanted something of Hertford and I found at the very beginning of Maidenhead Street, the top of Maidenhead Street, there is a little shop, do you know Hinds the jeweller?
PR: Yes, yes.
AAS: Number 2 Maidenhead and next door, or next door but one, is a card shop.
PR: And they are now doing, yes…
AAS: Two or three of that one, because I have used them, two or three of Hertford, Hertford Castle was rather nice.
PR: The gazebos in Ware and yes. Well, I will post back to you very quickly your millennium thoughts because they are so appropriate for this time although you wrote 10 years ago. I will do a little copy which we can slip in with the….
AAS: Right, that is very nice,
PR: But I won’t keep them long.
AAS: It is difficult to get things…