Medstead Memories #3
Memories of the 1930's and 40's by Eileen Porter (nee Ward)
I and my cousin Margaret Alexander spent most of our summer holidays with our relatives in Medstead, during the 1930's and 1940's. We have many happy memories and wanted to record some of them.
We both shared the same Grandparents, my mother Joan being the daughter of George and Emma Alexander of Medstead.
All our summer holidays were spent at Medstead either with the grandparents and single Aunt Amy Alexander or with Great Aunt and Uncle Butt. We never went anywhere else and never wanted to. We all loved Medstead.
My mother was born in Medstead and my father in Bentworth, and they were married at St. Andrew's Church, Medstead on April 23rd 1927 (St. Georges Day). My mother had been employed by Lady Bradford at Medstead Manor (now the Convent) and had traveled around with her on various holidays. My father was employed on Rotherfield Park Estate, East Tisted as a painter, decorator and sign writer and specialised in gold leaf work on the ceilings of the 'Big House'. They were fortunate to be allocated a brand new house on the Estate - at the time it was one of two houses in the village to be fitted with a bathroom. I was born on September 30th 1929 and went to East Tisted Church of England School and received a good grounding in the three Rs.
My mother's sister, Miss Amy Alexander, lived at 'Wayside', Medstead, a small asbestos bungalow situated in a grassy lane opposite the War Memorial near the Church. She worked for various people in the village including Miss Causton, Canon Theobald and the Halliday family. She cared for my grandfather after my grandmother died. I recall Grandad going off to work, helping out in various folk's gardens - namely Mrs. Honisett and Mr. Wake. There was a small garden at 'Wayside', the soil was very heavy red clay, and Grandad always grew lovely radishes which we had for tea with Hovis bread and butter. There was a square living room at the bungalow with a fireplace across the corner and two large brass vases on the mantleshelf. There was a large wall clock with chains and weights hanging down, it had a slow comforting tick tock and Grandad wound it up every night. We used to listen to the wireless especially on Saturday nights when they broadcast 'In Town Tonight'. I loved to hear the street vendor calling "Vi'lets, Luvly sweet Vi'lets". After that it was Music Hall with various singers, comedians etc.
There were two bedrooms in the bungalow - Grandad slept in the little room and Auntie slept in the bigger one. There was a Beatrice oil stove in Auntie's room and every night there was a tray prepared with items for the early morning 'cuppa'. When I stayed there (sleeping in the feather bed) I recall seeing the oil-stove lit, and waiting for the kettle to sing for that first cup of tea. There was a galley kitchen at the back of the bungalow with a black range, and what seemed to me to be enormous pots and pans. At the end of the room there was a walk-in pantry. There was a pump to draw up the water from the well, no main drainage, and the dirty water from the sink was piped outside into a bucket. I can remember pouring some water down the sink and the bucket overflowed all over the path! The privy was across the back grass next to the woodshed. They did not have a lawn mower and the grass was trimmed with a long handled scythe. The garden was surrounded by a meadow with lovely wild flowers.
The church was visible from the front gate and there were three bells to summon the congregation to church. Grandad said the bells were ringing "Ben Newman, Ben Newman". I don't know if this was the name of one of the bell ringers, but that's what the bells seemed to say. Auntie and I often went to Evensong and, of course, if there was a wedding we had a good view of the wedding party. The Revd. Riley was the Rector.
Sometimes Grandad would go to 'The Castle of Comfort' for a glass of ale in the evening. As a child I thought this was dreadful, as my father never went to the pub! My auntie knew the lady who lived next door to the Inn. She was Mrs. Fanny Knight - I remember going to see her and having very nice cherry cake for tea. There was a house in the village called 'South Cottage'. It was very small then (it has since been enlarged) and the people who lived there were called Hamilton. There was a daughter called Muriel and I used to play with her when I went to Medstead. Her father was a commercial traveller and used to go around the villages with a suitcase containing dusters, tea towels, ladies stockings and all sorts of haberdashery! Then they moved to a long property in the street quite close to Mr. Arnold, the butcher. There they had a little shop and this did so well that they were able to have a brand new house and shop which was called 'The Handy Stores'. Just down the road from there towards the Green was a Garage and petrol pumps to supply fuel to the few people who owned motor cars. The garage was owned by Dick Licence. Another shop I recall was Broomfields who sold everything! In front of the counter were rows of biscuit tins with glass lids and you could pick out an assortment of biscuits - nothing was pre-wrapped in those days. The sugar was weighed out in blue paper bags. I don't remember any refrigerators to keep the butter cool - I think there were marble slabs. In addition to selling provisions, Broomfields also sold brooms, watering cans, buckets, tin baths etc. These articles were hung from rafters in the shop. They also sold paraffin. The shop had a distinctive aroma - very nice I thought!
There was also an Ironmongers' shop run by Mr. King and there was a large tank outside containing paraffin. Everyone called with their cans to collect paraffin to keep their oil stoves burning. No central heating in those days. Auntie had an oil lamp standing on the table. It had a round globe shade and helped to warm the room in winter.
The postal service was very good in those days. If a letter was written in the morning and posted before 10 a.m. it was delivered locally in the afternoon. The buses also delivered parcels. My mother would write a letter to her sister at Medstead asking her to meet the bus at a certain time, and a rabbit (dead of course) tied up in sacking with a label round its neck, would be conveyed to Medstead in time to be served up for dinner! The same applied to the delivery of a rabbit to Guildford, conveyed in the same manner by three buses! That was what one would call good service - or meals on wheels! There was a railway station at Medstead, but positioned a couple of miles out of the village and I cannot remember travelling on it to visit my Auntie.
One day, when I was about 5 years old, my Auntie took me to see a lady she knew called Miss Scott who lived on the Hattingley Road. It was quite a long walk for a little girl and I remember Miss Scott insisting that I should rest on her bed. I was not too keen on carrying out her wishes! She was an artist and later on showed me some of her pictures and gave me some paints to play about with. In later years I discovered that she was the sister of Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic and aunt to Sir Peter Scott, the Naturalist.
My mother often spoke of going for a walk down the road towards Hattingley with her cousin, Lily Batt. At one point she thought she saw some soldiers and horses - she didn't say anything to her cousin, but carried on walking and when they reached the place where the crowd had been standing, they were nowhere to be seen!
On reaching home my mother related this story to her own mother, and was shocked to learn that there had been a scuffle on that particular site during the Civil War between the Royalists and the Roundheads and that other people had also encountered the scene! My mother was not too keen to walk that way again on her own. It would be interesting to know if anyone else has had this experience in more recent years!
I remember going to the Women's Institute Hall one evening with my auntie to see the local Dramatic Society perform 'The Ghost Train' a play written by Arnold Ridley who later played Private Godfrey in 'Dad's Army' on the television.
I also remember walking to the cemetery to put flowers on our grandmother's grave. As a child I always called it "going down the vale" - can't imagine why! Next to the cemetery was a bungalow and the garage was made into a little shop full of bric a brac - I remember buying a Chinese Puzzle there, with a few pennies I had saved up.