|Transcript Title||Barnes, Margaret (O2020.2)|
|Interviewee||Margaret Barnes (MB)|
|Interviewer||Frances Green (FG)|
|Transcriber by||Mark Green|
Hertford Oral History Group
Recording no: O2020.2
Interviewee: Margaret Barnes (MB)
Date: 6th March 2020
Venue: Mandeville Road, Hertford
Interviewer: Frances Green (FG)
Transcriber: Mark Green
Typed by: Mark Green
************** unclear recording
[discussion] untranscribed material
italics editor’s notes
FG: Ok, so, I am Frances Green and I'm here this afternoon on Friday the 6th of March 2020 interviewing Margaret Barnes, née Burgess, well-known on the Hertford scene, I think.
We are here at her lovely home, Mandeville Road, looking out over a very spring-like garden. Any readers or listeners who are interested in family history connections looking at the [Hertford] Oral History Group collection will find her Aunts - Mollie and Jone Burgess - and they were interviewed in September 1993 about life at number 9 West Street in Hertford. Her Uncle Peter Burgess, he recorded his own recollections and submitted them in 1998. Her late husband John Barnes has also contributed memories to the Hertford Oral History Group, those are not at the time of recording yet up on the website but hopefully we will have those in due course. Her Uncle Tony, he died in 1985 and although a prominent player in the community we didn't get a recording of him.
But today we are interested in Margaret and her own family line, her experiences. Margaret and I met a few weeks ago and we just had an initial discussion about all the records and recollections that she has got and I know that she has got some really great remembrances and stories. So we know that we are not going to get through all of them today and we agreed that we would start with an hour's recording and see where we got.
So, Margaret, let's kick off. if I can ask you to introduce your parents so - the line of the family that comes down through your parents, what they did and where they were when they were doing it, and then bring the listener into your story and how you came to know Hertford.
MB: Well, I was born in Danbury in Essex, in Danbury Palace which sounds very grand. It was a big house that was leased by the County Council from its owners as a maternity home during the war. I was born on March 29th, 1943, and my father was the village chemist and he had his own shop there. He was actually apprenticed at Sheffields in Hertford. He was there for 5 years, and then he managed to buy this business in Danbury which he ran for 40 years, retiring in 1973. My mother had a.., my father was born in Carisbrooke in the Isle of Wight, along with his two sisters and two brothers and they all moved to Hertford at the end of 1918 to 9 West Street. His sisters lived there until the…, I think it was 1996 something like that when they both finally ended up at Broad Oak Manor Nursing Home. My mother originally came from north London where it was countryside in those days, Wood Green, Bounds Green Farm - an old farmhouse she and her brothers and sisters lived in, but it was going to be pulled down and lot of building was going to go on. They built many many new houses there, so when she was 16, that would be 1926, her mother, her sister and her two brothers moved to Danbury, and moved into a little new bungalow there. My grandmother was a very enterprising woman and had all sorts of schemes and things that she did and she started serving teas on the lawn for the people who are on their way from er, to go to the seaside at Maldon. So of course the family had to muck in. [Laughs].
FG: So was that your father's mother, or your mother's mother?
MB: No this is my mother's mother. So, this is my mother with her family but not the father because they were separated and eventually divorced. So I didn't know my mother's father very well. Eventually, they moved and she took over running a dairy and a milk round. So my mother ended up delivering milk around the village, and first of all on a bicycle and then eventually she drove a van and she was doing this at the start of the war, and it was how she met my father because she delivered milk. He by this time had got a house down the bottom of Elm Green Lane, country lane, and the story goes that one day when she went to deliver the milk she found red roses in the milk bottle.
Anyway they got married on Boxing Day, because that was the only day my father could have off, in 1941 and then I arrived about a year later and then my brother, Ivan, he was born December 1945 also at Danbury Palace, and just missed out on being the 2000th baby to be born there. When the 2000th baby was born the Queen, who we latterly knew as the Queen Mother, came and presented the baby and mother with a layette. So, my early life was spent until I was 10 in this house down the bottom of the lane. We were the last but one house. There were no houses opposite, there was a little wood opposite, and you just went a little way down the lane and you were in fields with cows and lovely horse-chestnut trees and harebells which I absolutely adored. I always loved flowers. My mother loved flowers, woods where we picked primroses and kingcups and bluebells, wood anemones. So I grew up loving the world around me, flowers and birds as well.
When I was 10 we moved up to the other end of the village because my Father had bought a little plot of land that was almost an acre, which had little lanes all the way round it. It was triangular shape, and he bought that and had a house and a shop, a chemist shop purpose built which adjoined it. And that was where, well, we lived or my parents lived until 1973 and then my parents, my father retired and he had another house built this time on the Isle of Wight in Ventnor and retired there.
So now, how do I know Hertford? Well my father had got his two sisters living here. His mother was there, just at the time that I was born and one of his brothers, Tony. Peter was in Malaya, unfortunately was a prisoner of war in Singapore. And so from being a baby I visited number 9 West Street and my very first memory is, I can only have been well I wouldn’t have yet been three because my grandmother died in 1945, December 1945, just before my brother was born. And I was sent upstairs, and she was sitting up in bed, and I was to ask her if she wanted any bacon for breakfast. So that was my first memory of 9 West Street, but then as we got older my brother and I went to stay there for holidays. We saw our aunties quite a lot because they would come over to Danbury and visit us and come on the train, and we would go over to visit at West Street.
My father had a car, it was a Ford Anglia, a black one, MNO 755. A very easy number to remember. And of course cars in those days didn't have any sophistications. No heating, nothing to warm up windscreen wipers or anything like that and I know that we would be wrapped in blankets sitting at the back and, although the journey was only between 30 and 35 miles from Danbury through Chelmsford and then along a lovely rural route which used to be the A414, because the A414 goes through Danbury to Maldon and the sort of coast and Chelmsford. But some years back they rerouted it so it goes through Harlow and North Weald and those places, and the rural route is still there, straightened up considerably from what it was when we went there as children. There were lots of big bends, but it was a nice ride, but it seemed to take ages. I'm sure we were always saying ‘are we nearly there?’ We knew when we were getting near because they would be great excitement when we got to Sawbridgeworth hoping that the level crossing gates would be shut so we can see the steam train go by. And then perhaps we could have another treat when we got to Stanstead Abbotts or Saint Margaret's, the station was called, when the gates there might be shut and of course a man came out and opened and shut the gates. There might be another steam train and then we got to a big crossroads, the Amwell crossroads, which of course is now and absolutely enormous roundabout with more than 4 roads going off it, and then we knew we were really getting near, when we were at the top of Gallows Hill. We came down the hill into Hertford, and there were these unusual houses on the left that had got green roofs. The tiles were all green, and they still are, Woodlands Road, Woodland Mount, and then of course along the Ware Road and the next excitement was seeing the big notice that said Wisdom toothbrushes, the Addis factory. Because of course my father sold Wisdom toothbrushes in his chemist shop.
Then of course the road went straight on through Hertford itself, along Fore Street and a narrow little bit where the Shire Hall clock stuck out opposite the Salisbury. and then into Parliament Square where there was the stag to see, or the hart, on the war memorial and then curved round into Castle Street. And at the end of Castle Street there were two strange houses with completely flat roofs. They were tall and narrow. There were only two floors and there was a sort of garage there and then the road went round to the right, there was a big sort of ‘S’ bend that took you into West Street and there was another road that went up and that was Pegs Lane, that went straight up from the end of Castle Street. And then you went round the bend and on the bend there was the Black Swan, the pub. Occasionally something would run into it if it took the corner too fast, and then opposite number 9 which wasn't far along the street, was the brewery. Nicholl’s brewery, so you would sort of see beer barrels and things being rolled in and out.
Well the house of course to us children was an absolute fascination because we lived in sort of modern houses but this house dates back to the sort of 17th century (note: actually 1500 or earlier), and it was very fascinating. The rooms, well it had no indoor sanitation, there was just a tap in the kitchen. At first there wasn't even anything that heated the water but they did eventually have a little electric heater to heat the water, otherwise it was all boiled up on the stove. I mean all the washing was done in the kitchen except for big things like sheets and towels ‘cos that went to the laundry. The laundry man called, I think once a week as, I mean the baker called I can't remember how many time a day, but the baker called you know. The butcher I don’t know - the butcher didn't call, but certainly the baker called. And the milkman came, and I remember because I slept up in the attic, I remember in the early hours you know waking up in the morning and hearing his horse clip-clopping along the street, which was quite fascinating. They had got electric light by the time we went to stay there except not in the two attic rooms. There was still a gas light there. I remember auntie lighting that.
The kitchen had a great big old dresser that was sort of built-in on the wall and it was covered with willow pattern dinner service and plates which they used. There was a cellar that went off the kitchen, and that was always a bit exciting. It had a very distinctive smell because it was a bit damp down there. There was a window and that went onto an opening which, um, was in the street because there was a grating in the pavement, so that just let the light in and if it had been very wet and damp you could find frogs in there. And auntie's hadn't got a fridge, in fact they didn’t have a fridge I don't think until the 1990’s. All the food was kept down in the cellar and they had a cupboard which was known as the safe, which had sort of gauze on the front, metal gauze with little holes in it so that it was ventilated. But you know the butter and the cream and the milk and the meat and stuff was kept in there, but then of course they probably went out shopping every day. I mean that part of the holiday when we went there, was to go out into the town and do the shopping and that was a novelty to us because we lived in a village, and of course it was so easy to get into the town you just went to the corner of the street. There was a little shop on the corner of the street Mr Swallows, up a few steps. I don't remember going there much, I don't think the aunties patronized that much, but you could cross the road at the corner and there was a lane called Water Lane, the end of which is still there that comes out by St Andrews Church, but it started in West Street and there was a great big red pillar box, free standing pillar box at the start of Water Lane on the corner, and I remember a wonderful big bush of flowers call the hibiscus.
So you could go along Water Lane, and you could get into the Castle grounds, and of course the Castle grounds to us children was absolutely wonderful. So different from today. So peaceful because you hadn't got the roar of Gascoyne Way and all the traffic going by, and they had a full-time head gardener, and they must have had under-gardeners as well but whenever you went there, there would be somebody working. No machines, nothing making a noise, nothing blowing leaves away and making a terrible din. And they had greenhouses, glass houses where they grew all their own bedding plants and planted the things out, and it looked absolutely wonderful. But I think it was in the, I don’t know whether it was in the ‘70s, certainly when I was teaching I had a boy in my class whose father was the head gardener, and he was the last one. And then things went, well, not so good and they have never been the same since. But, you know, my aunt would stop. Auntie Jone was very keen on gardening, she’d stop and ask about the plants and, you know, and we were fascinated because there were ferns that grew out of the old walls.
Anyway, we were on our way to the shops. We probably would have gone that way if we were going to Charlie's. Now Charlie was the Butcher it was called Allinghams and it was just by the stone bridge, and he was quite a character, I was a bit frightened of him, but his meat and his sausages - well my brother and I have never tasted sausages like it, I've never tasted one like it since. They were absolutely delicious, and auntie would buy sausage and a little bit of liver and we would have mixed grill for our evening meal. It was, oh, it wasn't like we had at home at all. Anyway you would ask Charlie for what you wanted, and then when he wrapped it all up you didn't pay him, there was a lady called Mrs Rist who sat in the little kiosk away from the counter and all the meat was hanging up, and he would shout out how much it cost and then you went to Mrs Rist and you paid her. So that was the meat.
Another shop I particularly remember was in Parliament Square. I think there's an estate agents there now. Anyway, you went down a couple of steps to get in it. It was the greengrocers run by Dick Ketteridge.* He always wore a brown khaki coloured overall and of course in those days you didn't pick anything up and help yourself. I'm talking about the 1950s. He put the stuff in the bags. I remember going with auntie Jone, she always said he was a bit expensive, so I don't think they bought everything there, but he had very choice stuff. But what fascinated me was, he’d only got one hand for the other one he’d got a silver hook, and of course the stuff we bought was put in brown paper bags and the fascinating thing was anyone with two hands took each corner and then swung the bag so it went over and over, and it did it up. Well he somehow could manage to hook this hook on one side of the bag and his hand the other and swing it and do it all up. It was absolutely fascinating.
* (note: there is an HOHG transcript of his daughter Millie Bilton).
Also in Parliament Square, that was opposite Dick Ketteridge’s, there was a little sweet shop, the Lewis's sweet shop. They seemed to be a very elderly couple. Auntie must have gone in there and bought a few sweets, but I particularly remember her going in there, that was auntie Mollie, well both of them did, they were always giving little presents to people. They would have a nice little wickerwork basket with a handle, and they put in it a little posy of choice little flowers from their garden and perhaps an apple, or perhaps little jar of jam or something that they’d made, and they would take it round and I remember Mrs Lewis used to have these things. And also they would give things to the Stanbridges. Now the Stanbridges were at the corner of Water Lane and that was a bicycle shop. Mr Stanbridge repaired and sold bicycles, also they bought their paraffin there, for their paraffin heaters and, um, I never quite, not being scientific, but they took the accumulator there to be charged. I think that was for working the radio [laughs]. So, yes we used to go there, and Mr Stanbridge I remember him when I was much older because I used to have to take my bike there to get it repaired, and you go in the shop and I always hoped Mrs Stanbridge would appear because Mr could be a bit fierce and he would tell you off, if you'd got a puncture or broken something, you know, you were are in trouble. To get into the shop they had to come up a few stairs and they came through those screens you put up if you want to keep the flies up, you know, the long strands like a load of ribbons and you’d wait until somebody appeared through all these strands [laughs] but he was very good at fixing your bike up, you know. Fixed mine up with a great big basket and everything. So that was the Stanbridge’s, and they certainly got little, little gifts from the aunties.
Now have I missed out any, any other prominent shops? Of course there was Botsfords, they had two or three shops, that was such a useful shop. A shame the last bit’s now closed down. There was a lovely shop that sold clothes, when I was a bit older, in Parliament Square, Boynton House. But yes, so that was quite an exciting bit of the holidays. The house was exciting. Downstairs the dining room there was a huge table that took up a lot of room and there was a very big window because that room had once been a shop, a tailor shop and the tailor sat in there. Along the top of the window under the sort of fan lights in the woodwork was a row of holes that were, oh what, about an inch across. I was always fascinated by them. Bloomin’ draughty it was in the winter if you were sitting at the table. Apparently, my grandmother had them put there to stop the window from getting steamed up [laughs]. There was a cupboard under the stairs that had um, well they got the brooms and brushes and all that sort of stuff in it, but I remember the bills and receipts were all put in there and when I came to clear the house in about 1996-7 they were still hanging there. And in those days you had a piece of wire that was twisted at the bottom and it's stuck up as a spike and then it was curved round so it made a hook and you put your bills on this spike So they were hanging up in a cupboard under the stairs.
The entrance hall from the front door was very tiny. The stairs were almost spiral they sort of went round the big central chimney stack, and they were quite, quite sort of lethal. There was a drawing, the drawing-room went from back to the front of the house. The dining room was, yes, a bit smaller and the kitchen was a bit that had been added on much, much later, than when the house was first built. The drawing-room had you know easy chairs and things, but it had a piano. We hadn’t got one at home. So that was absolutely wonderful. I grabbed my cousin’s book that she was learning from and tried teaching myself, and aunties gave me a little bit of help. So that was a lovely treat when we came to Hertford.
Upstairs there were three bedrooms on the first floor. One went, the one over the drawing-room, went from back to front, it had a window over the garden, and there was a cupboard at the back and you could walk through that and get into the third bedroom which was on top of the kitchen. It had got a sort of little bridge. You could see the bridge outside, yes, and then right up in the attic there were two rooms, and the staircase up there was even worse. There was a sort of bannister between the two rooms which was always a bit rickety. Every room had books in it, the house was absolutely crammed with books. They were everywhere, and one year - I think it was 1961 - when my brother was 14, 15, he made a, I've got them here, he made an inventory of all the books and it's well over a thousand. They were on all subjects, absolutely fascinating. So, there was always something that you could read and when I first stayed there I slept right up in the attic. Auntie Jone had one room and the other room had been my father's room, and I remember once I think, I don't know whether I was reading What Katy Did or whether it was one a bit later, but I know I was reading it in bed in the morning and I got to the bit where she’s had a bad accident and was, you know, really ill and I was crying and then I heard auntie Jone coming in and I remember hastily trying to clear the tears away so she didn't see.
Yes, now what did we do when we came for our holidays? Well, sometimes we’d be brought over by the car, in the car, the parents brought us over. Sometimes my brother and I came together, sometimes we came separately, it was a great excitement if we came on the train and we were brought via Hertford North, because that train line was much more exciting, because there were steam trains. After we've been through Cuffley coming towards Hertford, auntie's would always get up, there was always a great to-do, and they would shut the window. Now the window was in the door. It was like a sash window. It came down, it was fixed with.. there was a leather strap which you pulled and that would pull the window up, or let it down, I can't remember which way round it went now, and the strap was fixed. It was a strap that must have been three or 4 inches wide, leather, and it was fixed on a sort of nail just under the window. You could then have your window open as much as you wanted it. But after Cuffley you had to make sure you’d shut it because you were approaching the Ponsbourne Tunnel, which was between Cuffley and Bayford, and if you left the window open and you were in a steam train you then ended up covered in smuts, particularly if you’d got a white shirt on you’d have little black spots all over the collar. So that was always great excitement. A great excitement for trains because of course we didn't have trains near us in Danbury, they were 5 miles away in Chelmsford. I could hear the trains from my attic bedroom at number 9, and that was as well as the horse clopping along.
But one special outing, a real treat, when we stayed at number 9, was to go on the train to Buntingford. So, we would go from Hertford East and then we had to get out at St. Margarets, that's what it said on the station St. Margarets, Stanstead Abbotts because that's where the branch line went off to Buntingford. Steam train of course. Such a pretty ride. Oh, it was absolutely delightful. So we would go all the way to Buntingford and then we’d get off and then we went into the High Street to a little tea, tea shop, and had tea and then we would come back again on the steam train. And that really was that was a splendid treat. We went for walks locally. I went for some bicycle rides with auntie Jone, on auntie Mollie's bicycle she doesn't use it anymore, but auntie Jone did. She cycled a lot. She used to cycle to Cuffley every day when she taught at school there, and back. I know we went, we walked to Waterford and I’ve got a photograph of the others sitting beside the river. We had a picnic with my cousin Susan, because she lived next door, she was 2 years younger than me. And I remember we paddled in the river and we tried to catch minnows. We loved going to Hartham. We particularly liked going up The Warren, we called it, where are all the trees are on the steep slope because there was a path that went up and you could walk along the top. We loved that, and of course there wasn’t all the football and all that sort of stuff there, and there wasn't a swimming pool in those days either. I think the old baths that my father used to swim in, in the 1920’s, I think they were packed up, but um, we enjoyed the rivers.
We went to Whipsnade on the bus, probably on the Green Line. The Green Line was a posher sort of bus, more comfortable. Yes, we went to Knebworth House and that was just the house of course there was none of the attractions or anything with it, and the same with Hatfield. We went there. But, um, we took picnics occasionally. I always remember auntie Jone once picking a huge great dock leaf or something like it and using it as a plate. I rather thought it was a bit unhygienic, but it was lovely being out with the aunties, particularly auntie Jone because she knew all the birds. She knew all the birdsong. She could tell you that's a robin singing that's, you know, whatever it was a warbler, and the flowers. It was absolutely magical.
FG: We obviously got recordings of your aunts later in life. How do you remember them when you were young yourself, what were their personalities like?
MB: They were, they seemed old. I mean I remember auntie Mollie having her 50th birthday which would have been 1952, when I was 9, and somehow she got the name the Ancient Aunt. Well she had been ill, she did suffer from odd things you quite liked having a bit of a fuss, and she took the walking with an umbrella as a stick, and a stick, you know, so she nicknamed herself the Ancient Aunt and when she signed a letter because they always wrote us letters. We were always writing letters. My brother and I wrote to the aunts and they wrote to us, you know, told us what was happening and she would sign herself AA, so auntie Jone, not to be outdone, she was actually a bachelor of art, so she was BA, so she signed herself BA but she said it stood for Batty Aunt. She had a wonderful sense of humour and aunt, they could both be a bit severe. Auntie Mollie was the older one and she particularly could be a bit severe. And I remember one day my brother and I both staying there, the piano tuner came. I think his name was Mr Silverman, which was rather attractive, anyway he tuned the piano and of course once he had gone we were keen to see what it sounded like so we went, my brother and I, went in to play it. Auntie Mollie came along and she said it wasn't allowed, you shouldn't play a piano straight after its been tuned, it is not good for it. But auntie Jone said, well, she said, that's strange she said, concert pianists always have their pianos tuned just before they give a recital [laughs].
MB: But er, no, no they were wonderful, they were both wonderful with children, particularly auntie Jone. Auntie Mollie was the one who taught me things like knitting different stitches and sewing and embroidery and art because she taught art and embroidery. Auntie Jone when we were little, she was teaching junior children and her main subject and great interest was French, and so there were always French words interspersed with things, you know. An umbrella was always a parap.. parapluie, and if we wanted a rubber to rub something out a gomme, and handkerchief a mouchoir, you know, things like this and so that was always great fun, that was auntie Jone. I remember she brought me the most beautiful French doll, not very big, home from France once when she had been there. And um, no they, they were absolutely wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I mean holidays with them was such a treat. They really really were.
FG: It's an amazing set of memories that you've got. Thank you for recording them so fluently.
So, take us on from there Margaret. You're having your holidays with the aunts while you are living in Danbury as a young girl. What is the next stage in life beyond that?
MB: Well, the next stage was, I went to Chelmsford County High School for Girls and prior to that I went to a little private school call Heathcote School, in the village of Danbury. I think from the moment I went to school or even before that because my mother had done a little bit of teaching, ‘cos I said my grandmother always had great ideas. And she saw there was a little school that was for sale in Chelmsford and she thought my mother could run it. So she got it and my mother did it for 2 or 3 years but it was really too much for her doing it all on her own. I mean she was all on her own. I don't know how many pupils she had - about a dozen or something, but mother was wonderful with children, absolutely wonderful. So, I never wanted to be anything else other than a teacher.
So of course, when I got to the sixth form at school, I had start choosing where I was going to go and what I was going to do. For a while I thought perhaps I’d be a music teacher but then it dawned that I wasn't good enough. I'd started music far too late. So it was obvious I was going to be a junior school teacher so I had to look around for training colleges they were called in those days, teacher training colleges to go to. So I got all sorts of brochures and I knew there was one in Hertford. Balls Park Teacher Training College. And I think I had to have three choices, put three choices down and I chose - they were all parks - I didn't want to go to London or anything because being a country girl I needed the countryside and I knew that Balls Park was going to be was going to be lovely.
So, anyway, that was my first choice and I was very lucky because I had an interview in the October of 1960 it would have been, and I was awarded a place there. I came and stayed at number 9 with the auntie's. I think my brother came as well. It was October it must have been, yes, October and we walked up the drive for my interview. I remember I got a brand new coat I was all dressed up looking so smart, and we walked up the drive and it was a beautiful day and the sun was shining and there were autumn colours in the trees and there were squirrels running around which we didn’t have at home so that was all a novelty. Grey squirrels.
I thought this is lovely, and ever afterwards my brother used, and I used to call that sort of a day a Balls Park day. Because later I taught in Hoddesdon and he came over to see me once when I lived in Rye Park and it was one of those awful grey, dismal days, and they were always called Rye Park days, forever after. Anyway, I got my place at Balls Park and I did 3 years training there. There’s quite a few stories to tell about that. Yes three years there, it was lovely because I’d got my auntie's in the town, so at weekends I could escape from the sort of institutionalized life and I would go down and have Sunday tea, at 9 West Street. Then often auntie Jone and I would go to church. They went to the Congregational Church. I don't know whether it was still called that when I was at College, but it was certainly called that when I was a child, because they were pillars of the church, my aunts, and I went to the Sunday School there. I remember going to the Sunday School there.
Yes, so I had three good years at Balls Park and then I had to start teaching. Well I applied to Hertfordshire County Council and you also had to apply, I also applied to Essex County Council but I didn’t, but I knew I didn't want to go back and live at home. And I got a job with Hertfordshire County Council. You didn't get any choice of where you were going, you were put where they, you know, I said the area vaguely but you were put, you know where, where they got spaces. And so I ended up in Hoddesdon, at Haslewood Junior School in Hoddesdon. And I was fortunate to get lodgings in Rye Park, not the most delightful of areas but with the most delightful lady. She had recently been widowed. She had no children. She was very tiny; she was much shorter than me. I mean I don't think she can have been five foot and she was absolutely lovely, and I was with her for 3 years. She said that she would take a lodger until she was 70, so I presumed she was 67 when I went there and she recently been widowed, and her widowed sister lived next door. So that was lovely.
And then my, my two aunts lived at number 9 and my uncle, Tony, lived at number 11 with his wife Marjorie, my auntie Marjorie and my cousin Susan. Well auntie Marjorie worked for the Mercury, she was a reader at the Mercury and she knew that I was interested; I got to the stage after 3 years in lodgings that I’d quite like a place on my own. And she knew this. Well she was a reader at the Mercury and she saw that the house next door to her, number 13 it was, never had a 13 on the door. They always called the White Cottage, so I suppose perhaps 13 was a bit...er... [laughs]. Anyway, she thought that it was going to be in the Mercury that, that week to be rented, because the elderly lady who had lived in it had passed away and her daughter was going to let the cottage. And she thought perhaps I might like it. So I thought oh yes, so she said now, for heaven sake, don't apply for it before the newspaper comes out. So anyway, I wrote my letter and of course I had to give references and I gave my uncle. Well, these people had lived at number 15, who owned number 13, but they have moved on, and they knew my uncle, so I gave him as a reference and of course as he was a JP and everything. I came over to see the place and was interviewed by this, by this lady and I was lucky because I think she said that she'd had 30 applicants, and I got it. So, I was thrilled to bits.
Well, it was a very simple little cottage with 2 down and 1 up. Originally I should think it was 1 down and 1 up, and it had been a little, a little shop. The roof of the back went right down and there was just one storey at the back and that was the kitchen-come-bathroom. There was no bathroom. You stepped straight into the front room off the street, and the room was a funny shape because there was a bit cut off the corner and there was a big door and you opened that and you went up a spirally little staircase into the one bedroom. It has a sort of a little bit of landing with a bit of a partition and then the ceiling was the roof really, and it had a big double bed in it and a tiny little window. And it was furnished.
The kitchen had a sink at one end as you looked out on the, it had a little long garden. Aunties’ garden, number 9, went along the back of my garden because it went along the back of number 11 and number 13. It was an L-shaped garden number 9. And in the kitchen there was a sink at one end, a proper sink with a cold tap, and that is where I did my, you know, cooking, washing up. And at the other end there was a wash basin with a cold tap and then it had got an electric water heater. So, I got hot water. The loo was down the garden…um, how many yards…10 yards perhaps, I don't know. It was only a tiny pocket handkerchief of garden. Anyway, it was in the corner of the garden. It was a proper one with a chain to pull, a chain. That was like the aunties’. I didn't describe Aunties loo, did I? That was a chain, and it had a wooden seat with a round hole. It was a proper loo, but the seat didn't lift up or anything. It had a little lip on it and every morning when I went down there, I would search under the lip to make sure there weren't any snails attached just under where my legs were going to be when I sat down. Of course, inside I had a chamber pot to go under the bed. Well I didn't have it under the bed I had it on the landing, which I carried out with a piece of newspaper and that every morning had to be taken down these stairs carried down the garden and emptied down the loo, and I always hoped that the gentleman who lived next door wasn't looking out his bedroom window as I carried it down [laughs]. Because I forgot to say in 9 West Street when I was a kid, every room had its washstand with its, you know, a beautiful wash basin, matching jug and if you were lucky matching chamber pot under the bed, and a matching bucket. I mean buckets were carried up and down. In the morning hot water was brought up so that you could wash and then everything had to be carried down again, you know, it was all quite a business.
They had not when I, no, not when I was little but they did actually buy one beautiful washstand and basins from Panshanger, because Panshanger was being sold up in the early 1950s before it was pulled down, and they went to the auctions and bought various bits and pieces. Anyway, the White Cottage, yes I, I thoroughly enjoyed it there. I didn't go without a bath because auntie Marjorie next door she let me go in there twice a week for one. I would scurry out of the front door in a long, what I called a housecoat, with my washing things in my shopping basket and into number 11. Their front door was in the side passage. They didn't have a front door, it was inside, and then I would have a bath twice a week in their, in their house. So that was nice, and even today I still think how lucky I am to be able to have a bath every day.
FG: Margaret that's all fantastic. Have you got any more memories about your time in the White Cottage?
MB: Well, yes. It had a little long garden with a big border, oh and a wonderful honeysuckle that grew. There was a weeping willow that hung over the wall from next door, the honeysuckle was beautiful. In fact I have got one in my present garden that I grew off it, so I've still got it. I had a right of way from my back garden through Uncle’s back garden, that was number 11, into the passage that was, and down the passage which was between number 9 and number 11.
Well I didn't have anywhere to keep a bicycle and auntie Marjorie and uncle Tony kindly let me keep my bicycle in their out-house. So, each morning I would go through the gate into their garden and then into the passage, and [laughs] the aunties’ kitchen window was a tiny little window, opened out onto this passage. Well it was alright at first, but auntie Mollie was usually at the window, with the window open, to ask me how I was or, you know, something or other. After a few years it did begin to grate a bit, and especially there was one day when I didn't feel well and didn’t go to school. I can't remember what happened now, but I knew that any minute now she’d be knocking on the door [laughs]. Maybe I ‘phoned her up because I had got a ‘phone, but I forgot to mention but the auntie's had an out-house opposite the back door, and that was where the loo was. It had its’ own little cubicle, the door was painted a pale green with a latch that lift up, lifted up, and that was a proper loo with a very long chain. The cistern was ever so high up for you to pull, and there was, there was a little lamp in there. I don't know whether it had paraffin in it or what that would be lit at night. There was always a distinctive smell in there because they had Izal toilet paper which people often remembered, because that had a sort of disinfect-edy [sic] smell to it. It was fairly soft but of course toilet paper in those days, in the 50’s, was sort of a bit stiff and shiny [laughs]. I'm sure it wasn't very effective, but I wasn't keen on the smell of the Izal.
The shed, the outhouse as it was called, was full of all sorts of useful things, tools and goodness knows what. There was probably a bench which was covered with stuff and there were bicycles, two which we could get at, but the fascinating thing was hanging high up on the wall, was a penny farthing bicycle and this belonged to uncle, next door, and had it been handed down from his grandfather who was a farmer who lived in Essex and he had a farm called Pease Hall, near Chelmsford. So that was always fascinating.
So back to the White Cottage, well I lived there for 7 years and it was very old of course and bits, you know, kept falling apart and the loo down the garden was getting a bit not-too-watertight, and so I wrote to my landlady and sort of asked her about a few repairs. I was lucky while I was there because I was free to decorate, you know. I painted window frames and bits and pieces and made my own curtains and bought odd little bits of furniture. Anyway, I asked her about repairs. Well, she got rather shirty and said that she couldn’t do any of that and she thought she would have to sell it. So, I panicked a bit and thought well I knew my father wouldn't let me buy it because it was an old place, I mean he’d had a fit when my uncle bought number 11 because it was in such a ramshackle state. I remember going round it, in the early 1950’s, it really was terrible. It had two staircases and all the rest of it, but of course uncle was wonderful with carpentry and so, you know, that was alright. But my father always liked things, things new. So I knew my father wouldn't support me if I wanted to buy an old place, so anyway I looked around and eventually I found they were building some new flats at the bottom of Queens Road, called Hale Court.
There were nine flats there, three floors and three on each floor, and so I ended up buying a flat there and my father helped me because it was difficult in those days, especially for a woman to get a mortgage. They didn't want to know, saw you coming, but anyway my father helped me with a deposit, and I was able to buy the flat. So, I lived in that flat which I didn't like too much. I did, because I’d had a little garden which I tended at the White Cottage, but I did tend the gardens with another chap, at Hale Court, so I still did that. It was a convenient place and um, but then the top floor had been bought by the Malaysian Rubber Research Association, who lived, had the place at Brickendonbury, for their workers and it was lovely at first because the chap on top was very quiet but then it got noisy, and the lady below me, you could hear the sounds and I had a piano, which must have driven everybody potty.
Eventually, I was there for 9 years but then I got married. I met Edward Walker and got married that's a long story, and through him I ended up having an allotment on Folly Island, and we got married and we looked around for a house and I found this house, 84 Mandeville Road, which look like a bungalow but when we got inside we found it wasn't. It was a strange house, it was split level, you went downstairs to the kitchen and the main living room, and the garden was a complete slope. Just a grassy slope with a buddleia bush and a bramble at the bottom and that was it. And so we bought this and settled down here. We were lucky because it was empty for a bit before we moved in so, we were able to have it rewired and completely redecorated and everything and that was it, and I have lived here ever since and I have been here 37 years.
FG: Fantastic, fantastic. So that brings us up to, in a way, to where you are now in terms of living. But there's a lot of life as we've been talking about separately which we haven't covered. So Margaret and I have agreed that we will resume at some future point, and we'll go back and find out about her Balls Park time and her teaching career and explore some other aspects we haven't had time to do today.
But in the meantime, Margaret, it has been a delight. I've been sitting here transported back, which is exactly what you want from an oral history recording, and it really does bring Hertford and your life in it to life, which has been absolutely fantastic. So I look forward to more at some point in the future. Thank you very much.
MB: Thank you.