Tatworth Village/Village Life around Rosalie Cottage
Chapter III: Village Life around Rosalie Cottage
Tatworth village shared shopping facilities with South Chard and Chard Junction:[If you look upon a map you will see Tatworth,Forton and Chard Junction have equal standing; In lesser form Perry Street and South Chard, come within their orbit - to the south. All these places, and indeed others, were just a few cottages strung out along the road or track, and are today within the Borough of Chard]. For provisions these all came within the sphere of Stoneham’s Store - that provided all the needs of the villages, including the newspapers. The fresh fish man came to the village on Fridays - catering for all - especially the strictly religious, Bradford’s warehouse, near the station, sold all sorts of farm implements and an assortment of ironmongery, whilst Fowlers animal feed, provided the chicken’s with their corn. By turning right, out of the garden gate to Rosalie Cottage… pass the Village School on the left, you eventually arrive at Lacombe’s Store [ It was Ken Larcombe, the saw sharpener, who married mum’s younger sister Ivy]. The store - close by the Baptist Chapel, provided my brother and me, with our sweets – at a penny a bag… which by, taking it in turn to choose the days’ selection, prevented arguments lasting all the way home. The gobstoppers and stickjaws came from large colourful glass jars, placed on numerous shelves around the walls... the better sweets, costing tuppence… weighed-out… on antique brass scales, and proffered in cone shaped paper bags…, set the scene for another day's series of adventure.
Turning left however, takes you over the bridge and up the road - which leads to ‘Crossways’ – a name given to the meeting of several roads forming a five pointed star. In the centre of the road, an imposing fir tree, similar to that planted in the churchyard, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee 1887. The doctor’s house rested on one corner… a large imposing house, which was named after the place. The most frequented hospital was the local cottage hospital where doctors, reluctant to send their poor patients - saved them their hospital fee. The cottage hospital set broken bones, attend to all minor operations and dispensed potions and cure-alls. The Post Office and Wellington’s Stores supported two further corners of the star… whilst on another; an orchard enticed us lads to scrump apples. Two farms, both with their own dairy, supplied the dairy produce to the village. Board & Son, the butcher, slaughtered their own pigs, delivering by Hackney - pony, and smart high dogcart… took orders twice a week and three times closer to Christmas. The baker baked their own bread, which they too delivered by cart. Shopping for larger household items: clothing, materials, furniture and kitchen utensils meant a trip into Chard by horse and carriage, later there was a bus service, which allowed smaller items to be carried too.
What motor cars there were in 1935 all had an interior of upholstered leather with carpeted floors; plaited silken hand straps, plated ashtrays and polished wood dashboards…? Many built with an open top, able to be covered with an erectable hood, with mica windows, called an open-top tourer. Although they had starter motors the battery was often too low on amps to turn over the engine, especially in cold, wet weather… thankfully all were provided with a starter-handles - tied up with a strap. When starting from cold the choke [butterfly valve in the carburettor used to stop the flow of air] had to be pulled out. Frequently this tended to return to the open position so had to be held out. This proved to be almost impossible if you were on your own and had to turn the engine over by hand… it was then a question of who could turn over the starting handle and race round the car before the choke went back. The battery was kept on the running board as was petrol can and a spare wheel. When travelling up a steep hill it was important not to stall the engine when changing gear for the hand brake was not strong enough to stop the car from rolling back. A block of wood in the back was kept handy for such occasions. As there were frequent, fogs the windscreen was kept fully open to see the road ahead. This meant for a very cold journey.
The roads and lanes were ditched regularly to drain the fields... many having their own spring and watercourse - to carry away the water to brook… stream and river. Most of the vehicles passing over the bridge travelled at the pace of the horse and cart. In the meadows, further down-stream – towards the Combs’s – where the sheep graze as they will in the hollows on the hill-side, the spring waters irrigate withy and osier-beds - the produce of pollard willow trees that provided the village with materials for green and brown – with or without bark: wands, switches, rods, poles and staves.
The edges of the bank are not clearly defined, the verdant growth of rich tufted grass soften the edges and provide a haven for the dragonfly. Here and there, is stunted and broken willow leaning over the water trailing their slender arms that causes the water to divert and reform? Rushes grow in clumps, which give colour, and diversity separates the decayed branches from weed and lily. The chaffinches and sparrows abound for they perch in their dozens chattering away giving a sharper top register to the drone of bee and click of the cricket. The ducks dabbled… to suddenly plunge tails-up to feed from the weed… or stood, on one leg, to appear asleep… made soporific by the sun.
Although the willow provided the villager with osier and withy the fields and roadside hedges contributed most for hedging stakes, fence poles and hurdles. The rich crowns of chestnut, hazel, ash and willow in the lanes tell of past harvests by itinerant Gypsies, bodgers, basket makers and woodworkers… whilst the stick maker eyes the furze, debating its worth. Each piece of woodland known locally for its special use. Birch twigs as strainers, split Beech for tent and clothes pegs, and hewn for chair seats; Larch for ladder poles, Oak for staves, Ash for hurdles, Hazel for wattle, Ash and Elm for wheels; all these were known - where they grown and how accessible. Further away - behind the hills and valleys, the fallow deer graze, their young calling to their mothers… sounding like the cry of gulls… their fathers - the stags, round up their hinds, burping and grunting like pigs!
Over the bank, that bordered the stream… and into the field - abundant with wild flowers, the damp tufted grass wetted our knees and soaked our socks and shoes. There grazed the bull - its nose ring green and wet… guarding the tea-plate sized mushrooms … that rewarded the brave early birds...!During our summer holidays, my brother and I would go mushrooming with either Aunts Ivy or Florence [Florence was grandmother’s sister married to Uncle Wilfred in 1945… the same year Ivy married Ken Larcombe] Ivy and Ken lived over the road in White Cottage, next to the school… their daughter was tragically killed in a cycling accident, when a teenager.Back at the cottage mother would be helping grandma with the preparations for breakfast. The results of our gatherings were taken from the trug to be eaten.
Cottages in 1935, had no cookers, as we know them today, fridges, washing machines, lights or electric heaters. There was no indoor sanitation, main drains, bathrooms or toilets; no tissue paper, gas or telephones, few cars… no aeroplanes, no plastic materials: building blocks, composition wood, and no masonry drills. You had your dwelling but no services. The water was from the well or brook, heating was by oil, lighting by candle, and transportation by horse.
Later in the day: mother would take us gleaning - corn for the hens; picking damsons, greengages, blackberries, and apples from the hedgerows - for grandma to cook for dinner; then later on in the year cob nuts were collected to be dried ready for cracking at Christmas. We always had a slice of bread and butter with the pudding instead of custard or cream. In some instances, the tart was eaten before the main course to dull appetites.
The garden, corralled within the four-foot, knapped flint wall – that flanked the road… gave space for three plots - one for each of the cottages. All held neatly grown vegetables, and flowers for the house… the varieties always are the same: larkspur, pinks, sweet-williams, wallflowers, hollyhocks, London pride and lilies. It was the wife’s preservers to look after and plant the flowers for cutting.
The cottage gardens, at the turn of the twentieth century - in all country villages, did not boast a lawn, for the inhabitants had to make maximum use of the ground they had. Mowers were after all too expensive and considered a luxury. Perhaps there may have been a patch of grass, cut by a scythe or grass-hook that graced below the washing line, a play area for the children - where mother parked the pram, with the sleeping child… The kitchen garden plots, for this was really what they were, became very fertile, through much labour over many years, plus: an annual dressing of swept chimney soot, a frequent scattering of road and field manure, and applications of well-composted kitchen and garden waste… the result being ‘finely textured and black’.
Many of the village cottagers were farm labourers earning perhaps £1.50 per week. It was almost impossible to maintain a family on such a low sum. That is why these gardens had to be productive. Their narrow cinder paths flanked by brick or tile. The man of the house worked the productive side of the garden, it was his job to see that a further crop was possible - by ensuring correct composting followed on after each harvested crop. Most of the villagers were in competition with each other to see whose plot was the most productive… this did not prevent seeds being exchanged or given away and cuttings passed on. Digging and sowing went on late into the evening making use of every moment…
In unison, the runner beans canes were formed ‘in line’, the onion sets proudly flew their flags of browning leaves and the earthed-up potatoes - perched on top of pin-neat banked rows, again, marching in serried ranks, just behind bushes of red and black current, gooseberry and wired raspberry canes. All these dietary delights were hemmed in, by a neatly cut, eighteen inches high box hedge. Even today, I cannot pass box without that scent reminding me of granddad’s garden - a picture of neatness and colour… Although the family had very little money, the garden landscape and ordered existence, declared continuity, rustic comfort and bucolic charm.
The possession and upkeep of a good vegetable plot - that produced vegetables all the year round, made good economic sense… that it will also form a creative pastime, an essential part of rural life. Necessary digging and planting regulated every month of the year – Seeds had to be ordered and the ground prepared. Every part of the country, county and town had its own special produce - those things that grow best. You have only to look around at neighbouring plots and hedgerow to see what flourished. It is far better to ask established gardeners what fruits best, and when to plant out. Eventually you too will be an expert - on your particular plot. Do not forget, the greenhouse and cold frame are necessary adjuncts to any vegetable garden… for it saves money, labour and time to prepare your own seedlings… At the end of each growing cycle, a selection of each vegetable should be set aside - to provide seeds for the following year… cutting, dividing and layering would also multiply your stock. This sound advice was followed and advocated by my granddad… one of his daily topics of conversation; the only other, was a comment on the weather that, whatever the barometer declared, ‘Was detrimental to good health and sound crops…’
Looking out of the front door - to the right, just behind the privy, lies a small orchard - bearing desert apple, pear and plum… each contributing their own delicate blossoms in late spring – before the bulk of the flowers display their blooms – each to their part in the flowering season. Up against the garden wall, hidden by the trees, the compost rots… those parts the chickens fail to peck… The garden provides vegetables and fruit for the whole year… augmented by the fruits of the hedge.
Chicken runs take up the bottom of each plot, fenced off with wire, to keep the fox at bay - the nesting boxes built-up to form a backdrop to each garden end backing onto the stone boundary wall, which separated the street and side lane, from the garden. Most people in the country kept chickens. Special containers were kept in the kitchen, or just outside, for the hen food. They were fed twice a day once with corn and once with all the meal leftovers. The grit, to keep the yolks and shells strong, was to be found by the hens from the ground. The eggs were collected in a bucket from the straw filled nesting boxes each morning. Fresh straw lined the boxes to keep the eggs from breaking and to give the hens a nesting bed. Most popular breeds were White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. A cock bird was in charge of the flock otherwise the eggs would not be fertile. All the other cocks would be penned up and fattened for eating. Sharing the chicken run was a duck. It made no difference to the chickens who continued to cluck and scratch around in their dust holes. The duck, which happened to fly down one day and liked what he saw, waddled about seemingly unaffected by a different breed. He washed in the chicken’s water bowl and ate the same meal. Eventually, I am sure, he thought he was a chicken… stayed there for as long as I can remember.
Rosalie Cottage had the largest share of the garden for it was the end cottage and the boundary wall circled around the line of privies – one for each property – all faced south. Each privy had a wide, scrubbed, wooden seat on top of the box, with the closet running to a cesspit. The latched, ledged and braced, door was short at the top and bottom to aid ventilation and the interior walls were lime washed. Strung on string were neatly torn leaves of newspaper - to act as toilet paper. High up in the corners were large cobwebs that were home to, what seemed to my childish imagination, enormous hairy spiders. Bricks had been laid on compacted bare earth, which, over the years moss had grown in the joints, made the floor soft to walk on. A bucket was kept handy to pour down the hole - each user had to fill the bucket from the stream for the next person. In the winter, a hurricane lamp was kept by the backdoor for lighting the way. Outside the privy grew an elder to help keep the flies away… a sprig of elder was also used for horses, for the same reason, and kept under the horses’ bridle. Country sanitary arrangements included at that time using pail-closets, ash-boxes, ashbins, midden-privies and wet and dry middens. It was not until the 1950s that all these simple arrangements began to be replaced with flushed closets.
The lichen and moss pointed brick path from the front-gate continues right round the house, past the wide, solid front door and the espalier trained pear-tree, to a door in a lean-to workshop and wood-store. On the other side of which, separated by a wall, is the kitchen. In the lean-to was to be found all the necessary garden tools, baskets, bicycles, stacks of firewood and in pride of place my granddad’s military helmet. The shed held Harry’s grandfather Phillip’s shoe mending, iron-trees, embedded in large tree stumps… and still used, and the winter fruit store with boxes of newspaper wrapped apples.
In the autumn, the outhouse was cleaned and the pickling jars washed and sterilised. Eggs, put-down in Isinglass, walnuts hodded, dried and stored, apples and pears wrapped in newspaper, root-vegetables stacked and covered with straw and beans placed in salt. Herbs dried, soft fruit made into jam, tomatoes pickled and plums made into chutney. Attached, to the side of the lean-to, was the greenhouse, which displayed a line of dried out tomato plants and my grandfather's rocking chair. Cobwebs abounded in every corner displaying numerous skeletons of flies. I do not think the potted tomato plants were meant to be particularly productive…the greenhouse was my grandfather’s funk hole – to get away from the family – it was either this or ‘the club’. The water butt stood outside the greenhouse and quite often, this water was used to rinse hair after washing because it was so soft.
The kitchen 'out back’ was accessed from the parlour with its own backdoor, [with tiny single pane window], leading to the garden and the brook. Hung on a hook is a dull green length of seaweed - to tell the weather. Of no more than eight feet by seven, with a sloping roof and brick floor, the kitchen catered for many; at its back room provided for the clothes washing copper boiler raised up on a brick plinth.The cooking was done on individual paraffin burners - any baking or roasting then the parlour range was used. The butler sink had a wooden draining board and the waste ran to a cesspit. The rest of the room was taken up by hanging pots and pans arraigned around the walls. It was all rather primitive but the cooked results, although simple fare - eaten with relish.
The Sunday joint would yield a bowl of dripping to use on toast or bread, instead of butter, chunks were put round the next joint to be cooked, or used for pastry or dumplings. Dripping was never wasted. As there were no refrigerators, food had to cooked almost at once and in hot weather the milk boiled. There was no farm collection of milk in the twenties and no pasteurising so it was literally from cow to customer transported in a churn from the dairy and ladled out… bottled milk was available, but by ladle was cheaper.
Boxes of Sunlight soap kept on a shelf together with bluebags and starch; black-lead with brushes for the range and a whitening stone for the front door step. From this shelf hung the cooking utensils - the blackened frying pans and battered saucepans… there, too, hung the battered, steep sided pan that held simmering milk, the skimmed surface curds, removed - to make the clotted cream. All the preserves were homemade using the fruit and vegetables from the garden. The meat from the butcher; the milk delivered straight from the dairy, as was the butter and the cheese. During the war granny, mixed margarine and butter together with wooden butter knives… shaping the patted result into a roll. This was to save money and eek out the ration coupons.
In one corner of the outhouse was a round boiler, on which, large wash pans or coppers were heated once a week to do the washing; extra soiled washing soaked overnight, and scrubbed, before putting into the boiler… to be pummelled with the dolly. After boiling the clothes taken out of the pan with a wooden spoon and put into a bucket of rinsing water… After the first rinse the clothes wrung out and rinsed again, and perhaps, even for a third time with a cube or little cotton bag of Ricketts blue dye dissolved in it - to whiten the washing. Back into the mangle for a final pressing then hung to dry. The washing line, stretched from the house corner to the nearest corner of the privy. It was a belief that a bluebag held against a wasp or bee sting would take any pain. The coloured articles went through the same process using a cooler water temperature. The mangle with its large wooden rollers was kept next to the greenhouse door. When the clothes were dry, they were collected from the washing line sorted and ironed on a stout linen cloth, laid on the living room table. There was a selection of flat irons for different purposes, in the main though; it was a favourite pair that was placed on the hinged plate over the fire. These were used alternately. Gophering irons for rounded pleats went out of use in the twenties although still used to curl hair. The irons were left on the hearth to cool before being put back into the scullery.
For my grandad’s stiffly starched collars - used for best, the ironed result kept in a special round box kept on the top of his wardrobe. These collars were attached to the shirt by a small stud. There were no shirts with collars attached before the 1930s. Thereafter, the ‘soft-collar’ became available for casual wear but still needing a collar stud front and back. It was during the Second World War that attached collars came into being - normal dress for men, shortly afterwards, a permanent fashion.
For washing-up the crockery, an enamel bowl was used in the butler sink… soda, sprinkled into the water, helped dissipate any grease, there being no washing powder or liquid soap… perhaps a block of soap was pared down to help the process. All housework was done in strict routine. One of the weekly events was to sharpen and clean the knives. The knife blades were made of polished steel, not stainless, and had to be cleaned with emery cloth… if this was neglected the blades would rust. The range then treated with black-lead and the fender and fire irons cleaned - with wire wool. Brass doorknobs, fingerplates and lamp bowls cleaned weekly, so too the windows and pictures. Paraffin lamps filled daily - using a funnel, wicks trimmed, and the glass chimneys’ washed. Although workers homes were poorly decorated and furnished, great pride was attached to cleanliness and neatness, no home was smarter than my grandmother’s!
The imposing panelled front door was painted leaf-green, which set-off the brightly shone brass knob. Opening inwards - to the right, the door lay open, propped open with a large cast iron dog… Linger awhile… take a last glance at the flower beds on either side of the front door and there, beyond the large stone door step, neatly laid as a border, a small box-hedge. In the beds are sweet williams and marigolds, in February, snowdrops and crocus. Now… smell the air, it is filled with the unforgettable smell of box… the sweet william just distinguishable…, in the distance the ticking clock invites you in.
Before you do so, you observe… a small hallway, off which - on either side, further doors. The one on the right leads to the parlour, behind the open front door, and to the left the living room. Straight ahead, leading upwards ranged the stairs, narrow and devoid of covering. They are scrubbed white, with stained brown edges. Stepping inside a couple of paces, you mount the stairs, clasping tight to the banister… taking good care not to make too much noise on the uncarpeted boards. At the top, a small landing gives you access to three bedrooms… all with sash windows looking out onto the front garden. All the bedrooms have brass bedsteads and knitted bed covers - in colourful squares. The mattresses were similar to the palliases I used when camping with the Boys Brigade – but stuffed with feathers not straw, which, as always, dipped in the middle… Over all, an eiderdown, made the coldest nights snug and warm. Each room had a washstand - bearing a large china bowl, jug and soap-dish - ranged on the top shelf. At either side, hang two pink towels on rails. On a lower shelf, two chamber pots – handles, pointed to the side, this completes the arrangement… The chamber pots, plus the water from the bowl, were emptied into a slop pail, hiding its contents beneath a wooden lid. This was done every morning by my grandmother - who cast their contents into the drain outside the back door. A small rug, with indiscriminate floral pattern, lay at the side of each bed. The wood floors - stained and polished, in keeping with popular fashion, were complimented by the small rose-printed wallpaper and painted skirting. The rooms were simplicity itself, in keeping with the rest of the house and inhabitants.
When the evening games were over there was a general movement around the table, as things were cleared away. The next day’s breakfast was prepared and the fire set-up - to draw gently during the night. Both my uncles and grandfather arrived home from the Poppe Inn, and were enjoying their last smoke outside... you could hear them outside discussing who won the last game.
The following day our family would be off to see Mother’s Sister Dora who lived in Bridport with husband and daughter Sheila. At Easter, time wild daffodils grew in profusion along the overgrown lanes. Later the bluebells adorned the glades in the woods - carpeted with their sky blue colour. My mother’s passion for wild flowers which gave just as much delight as the flowers at home; she told us tales of her childhood picking the kingcups, cowslips, foxgloves and all the other delicate flowers so tiny buried within the tuffs of grass. The cliff top walks to the top of Thorncombe Beacon to see Lyme Bay revealed below. The Pilgrims Way and the ancient village of Stanton St Gabriel, remains just showing behind the headland. The cliff top grass was soft, springy, and full of downland flowers. The lark would soar up singing in the sky watching where you went. Dorset was so full of surprising churches and ancient sites, delightful villages where the broad accent rang out true - unashamedly deep and melodic. The stroll along the pebble-strewn beach all the time looking for traces of prehistoric monsters and footsteps of Neolithic man. At the end of the day a lovely tea on spotless white cloth and the best chine and then home back to grandma's… another magical part of our holiday.
We boys, cajoled to drink our hot milk faster, tried to see the faces in the fire, as we watched the last soldiers - the burning soot, gradually retreat up the fire back. Meanwhile, the candles, in their brass holders, were being lit and the stone hot water bottles filled – to be buttoned up in their felt jackets… All the rooms other than the parlour were lit with tallow candles. The butcher made up the tallow from strips of fat. Then, up the creaking stairs… guided by the candle’s flickering flame – caused by the guttering wax - we cast our own ghostly shadows on the walls. As a door slammed outside the wind whistled round the eaves… it was strange how suddenly the candle flame would almost go out as a hidden puff of wind blew! It needed no urging us to get into bed, as fast as we possibly could… to hide under the bedclothes. The overly soft mattress sagged in the middle rolled us into the middle, we turned away… the candle snuffed… the hurried prayer, joined by my mother:
There are four corners to my bed, There are four angels at its head, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Bless the bed that I lay on.
Mum’s footsteps faded away as she went downstairs - causing the stair treads to creak once more..., the footsteps gradually died away… the beds springs stilled, all was quiet…
Waking the next morning was heralded by cooing dove and crowing cockerel, my eyes focused on faded, flowered wallpaper, fluttering lace curtains..., and my ears detected the noise of grandma riddling the parlour fire. The poker dropped against the brass fender… it was time for getting up. It did not take us boys long to get down stairs… the stream beckoned attendance… we were never in mind to disappoint it… as we struggled into our still damp shoes... another day dawned!