Ern and myself

Now to get back to Ern and myself. We saved twenty pounds (felt like millionaires). Ern’s Gran was selling her home furniture well we went out on our bikes to have a look at it all and it looked good as it sat in her house, we couldn’t afford much anyway. So we gave Gran our money (the whole twenty pounds). When we went back to get it the rest of the family had taken what they wanted and we were left with all the junk. There were straw pallias’s (I didn’t know what they were used for) my mum said years ago people slept on them instead of mattresses. There were two pictures which took up all the wall (of Queen Victoria’s funeral) a towel rack full of wood worm and a round table that tipped up when you leant on it and a big iron bedstead with big brass knobs. Anyway we bought it all back to Mrs Bicker’s lodge until we had a place of our own to live.

Getting married

We had a cheap wedding at the Registry Office on 14th October 1947 (same day as my mum’s wedding). Lord and Lady Darnley came to see us on the morning of our wedding, shook hands and gave us a lovely cake. We had just a few people back to the hall and a very small buffet. I had a couple of Land Army girls, Tim had quite a laugh with them, it was a really bright full moon, we all walked up to the village in the evening it was great.
Vi gave birth to a baby girl on 27th October ‘Trudy’ so I was kept pretty busy as housekeeper for them all, seven days a week. Mum used to get cross, she said they expected too much of me. Anyway when Vi was up and about (in those days you would stay in bed for two weeks) I told her we were going to look for a place of our own, she said ‘Why? We get on so well’ which we did but we also wanted to start off on our own. Ern went to see Mr Lawrence the farmer. He said if Ern was willing to train for pruning trees he could have work.

Mr Lawrence was the main figure in the village. Mrs Wilson was his sister she had a lovely photo of her and her brother taken when they were presented to the Queen. Mrs Wilson had one son John, he was not interested in the farm. Mrs Lawrence was mostly in a wheelchair, she had three miscarriages so they didn’t have any children. Such a shame because Mr Lawrence was a real toff, such a lovely man (to look at as well as his nature). He was a Justice of the Peace as well as President of the Agricultural Committee. Anyone who needed help, he knew the answer. He let us move into a Nissan Hut down Lodge Lane until he had a house vacant on the farm, it was huge and very nice if we had some furniture for it !!

Mr Lawrence said Bert Bower can move your things for you, well really we could have put them in a pram. When Bert came I felt awful, he was a right old gossip! He put our bits in the lorry, they all fitted in one corner for Mr Lawrence. The first night in the hut was awful. We sat without music, there was no noise at all, we both looked at each other and said ‘Isn’t it horrible not having Vi’s children around us’. We had never been without them, always playing snap or snakes and ladders or just playing with them. I didn’t tell Vi.

After six weeks of living in the hut Mr Lawrence said the house at Round Street ‘Sunny-Side’ is available, you can move in any time so if you want t go and see it you can. Well we came round to have a look. A Mrs Holmes was living there but Mr Holmes had died. I most certainly did not want her moving out on my account so I went to see Mr Lawrence but he said Mrs Holmes wanted to go to live with her sister who lived at Brighton and had two teenagers. So I went to Mrs Holmes to make sure that it was true. I told her we were in no hurry to move in but she had made all her plans, so on the 1st May 1948 we moved to Sunny-Side. I loved everything about it. We had hardly anything, nothing on the floors and no curtains but still we didn’t mind too much. We had each other. BIG THRILL I thought I was pregnant. You didn’t go to see the nurse early, in those days you waited until your waist thickened. We were so thrilled, Ern went to the lodge to tell his mum, she said ‘surely that could have been avoided’ I could not believe her. Mind you I wondered how we were going to manage. I suppose that is what she thought.

We were so happy. We used to walk in the cherry orchard in the evenings, the birds would be singing. I used to stand and watch the bumble bees on the blossom. They looked like they had little yellow wellies on with all the pollen on their legs. They looked like black and yellow velvet.

Having a baby

We had a little canvas crib given to us, so we titivated it all up, Ern made a v shaped top ‘It arf looked posh’. We put muslin all round it and wait for it a Big Blue Bow, I got really excited about it. We never stopped talking about it when we were on our own. I kept saying to mum ‘What’s it like mum how will know when it’s on the way’. ‘Don’t worry my girl. You will know soon enough, it’s no picnic’. But I used to think it cannot be that bad for mum to have had ten. Mum said I could go up to have my baby in her house, so that gave me a nice safe feeling. I said ‘What happens at first’ she told me how it should start with a small plug of jelly followed by back pains then front pains, so now I was all ready for the word go.
Mr Bates daughter who lived opposite us used to do a taxi business, she said she would take me when the time came, up to the villages for three shillings.

Nurse Backhouse used to call in once a month to feel my tummy and tell me all was well. She did not come the last month just said I will come when you call me for the birth. She said the baby should come on 29th August, she was nearly always right and was very good.
A week before I was due I got out of bed and was bleeding quite a lot so panic panic. I go up to my mum. Doctor Hasler came to see me and said I had a small opening but it was the afterbirth (placenta) breaking away. He told me to take things easy. Anyway Mrs Walker lived opposite my mum she told me I could walk down her garden which was nice and private and down to the college lane. I did not want to be seen by folk. When at last it was time for the nurse to come in, Nurse Backhouse was on her day off. So you will not believe it but a nurse Backaline was called, she was very old, she had been with my mum when I was born. So they had a lot to chat about while I was in agony. In those days one had to lie on your side to give birth. I did not even want to take my knickers off in front of my mum. Nurse kept saying ‘bear down dear’ I thought she meant bow over. Eventually my mum said ‘just strain girl as if going to the toilet’ I understood then, so after what seemed a lifetime I gave birth to a lovely baby GIRL!!! Eight and a half pounds, mind you she was beautiful lots of black hair and all nice and round. I found a small pink bit of ribbon out of one of mum’s bed socks to put on the crib. Mum was very proud. Mrs Walker gave me a very pretty ‘Vyella’ dress, it was ever so posh. In those days you kept them in long nighties for six weeks and long petticoats we called ‘beds’ (can’t think why). They had ‘belly binders’ and a cork with cotton wool over their tummy button so that it would be nice and flat.

I had to stay in bed for ten days, everyone did. The day you got up, the first place you went was to church to give thanks for the Lord for safe delivery. It was always called ‘being churched’. Only myself, mum and the vicar. You were considered very wicked if you did not go.

Now my baby was the best one ever. She was so good, always feeding and sleeping (still very good at it now). She was really pretty with big brown eyes and fair hair, we loved her to bits. Ern used to say will I ever see her awake. She was such a happy baby. I fed her myself for nine months. We were so happy, still broke but money could never buy us such happiness. I felt a bit like the nightingale, God gave us a pretty baby to make up for not having any money.

Ern cut the tall irons off our bed to make it a bit more modern, mum gave me a very old twill unbleached sheet so I bought a green dye to make it look like a bedspread, I thought it looked very ‘posh’. We painted liquid lino (also green) on the kitchen floor which was cement, so it was very easy. We bought some cheap lino for the sitting room as that had a wooden floor, it was more like cardboard, it nearly broke up when you touched it. We varnished a border where the lino didn’t reach, it was the biggest border I had ever seen. I had an old jute mat given to me, I couldn’t shake it because it would fall apart, so I used to use a dustpan and brush, before that I had used a shovel (none of your hoovers for me). My sisters had them but we could manage with what we had (‘little heros’). I had a small kettle which we put in the Kitchener (stove), you could open the top of the stove and pop the kettle down in and we had a cup of tea in no time.

When I first moved here in 1948 I had an old bucket lavatory, it had to be emptied every day (lovely job). I was lucky because in August they put us cisterns and flushes in.
I must tell you this, the workmen were nice chaps. I had only one smock before Jen was born. In those days you tried to hide your bump. Anyway I washed it out in the morning brought it in and put it on to walk up to see my mum. One of the workmen looked at me and said ‘I hope that’s not damp love’, funny what one remembers.

Cobham Hall, badgers and daffodils

Cobham Hall postcard c.1900

Now a few more yarns from Cobham Hall. One morning Lord Darnley told Ern’s Dad (Mr Bicker) that a badger had fallen into the swimming pool, it was lucky because it was dry at the time. It had been a lovely pool in its time. They reckoned Lady Marguerite would run across the south front lawns ‘naked’ to jump into the pool. Mind you it was very private so I suppose she made the most of it. It was a gorgeous spot, the lawns sloped down and it was next to the ‘acacia gardens’ (they were beautiful trees, covered in white blossom and the leaves were shaped like little French nickers and the most sweet smelling). I do get carried away, I relive every moment that I am writing about. Anyway we had a large plank put down and up the side of the pool. Mrs Knight had one side and me the other, we stood at the top with long poles to prod and poke the blessed thing he was very big and fat, black and white with a long nose. It took us ages to coax him out but in the end he ran up the plank and away to the cover of the trees.

We used to plant hundreds of daffodils, all those you see down the hall are what we put in.
Mr Bicker used to be the grave digger for Cobham so when he used to be off I was left to milk Buttercup and Daisy the cows. He was very good at digging graves.  He would have to measure the ground to get it about right, it had to be the shape of the coffin, people were very fussy in those days. They put green netting stuff all around so that no one saw the earth. It wasn’t an easy or nice job, he used to get ten shillings for doing it. When he had an old grave he said that sometimes the old coffin would cave in. I will tell you more about that later.

Anyway when we used to be planting bulbs we would have three barrows filled with them, we had a special tool for planting them, one at a time, right way up. One day Mr Bicker said ‘I will leave you two to plant them, it is four o’clock and I have to go to milk the cows’. Off he trots, well we looked at each other, we both decided we were fed up so off we go up the Avenue, we took two barrows and we just broadcast them under the trees and covered them with leaves. When Mr Bicker came back, he just looked at us and said ‘Didn’t take you two buggers long to get rid of them did it’ we said ‘No we have really worked hard while you have been away’. We had a good old laugh about it BUT next spring I think every one of the blighters had grown. Mr Bicker said he didn’t recall planting that lot. They did look pretty. I think even Lordy thought they looked nice.

Daffodils at Cobham Hall

Ern would shout his father’s name just like Lord Darnley, it used to be so funny, we would hide behind the shrubs when we knew his dad was close by, he used to like to be with Mrs Knight on her own sometimes, so we would wait, then Ern would shout very loud ‘BICKER’ his dad would run out from where he was, come past us and say ‘Watch it, the old mans about’ meaning Lord Darnley. We had so many laughs. Mr Bicker never found out it was Ern.

Sometimes when it was snowing, we used to go inside the hall, it had lots of flat roofing, so it let the water in, so we would go in to mop some of the water up. Used to be quite interesting. When we worked outside every morning we had a place called Pinkies Hut, a man called Pink once lived there. We used to light a big fire, put the kettle on and have our ten o’clock break and again in the afternoon. It was really cosy, we had chairs to sit on and an old sack on the floor, we used to dry our clothes off as well. When we had to cut tall flowers we would get soaked, like Lupins, Delphiniums, Manarda, Dhalia, Plox of all colours, Tulips and even Snowdrops. We would put them like a little posy with ivy leaves around them. Sometimes we would get an order for a hundred bunches for the florist, so we were kept pretty busy. I got on well with Mrs Knight, her name was Emily, she had lived in the village since she was a young girl.

Tom Kingman worked down the hall in the kitchen garden (nice looking chap). He was Bill Kingman’s brother (you know Aunty Min’s husband). He told us he had his calling up papers to go into the army. He came down to see us just before he was being sent too war. Next news was he was killed first time out. I cried when I heard the news, he didn’t want to leave the hall, it was so sad. His poor mum never locked her door and always left her light on, she was sure he would come home to her. She was about to have her 100th birthday, (she lived all alone in a bungalow in Manor Road, Sole Street called Glengarrie) when one night she put her electric blanket on and it smouldered and she was suffocated with the fumes. Poor soul, she had always looked after herself and got around right up until the end. She had one daughter, her name was Nellie. One day she was walking along the pathway on the Meopham road on a Sunday afternoon when a motor bike mounted the footpath and it killed her instantly. She was doing someone a good turn at the time, she had been to Nurstead to feed someone’s cat. It was tragic, some folk get more than their share of sorrow. They were a big family, lots of boys.

Getting back to Mum, she had a big black and white dog named ‘Chuff’ we were walking over the church fields one day, I was about six months pregnant with Jen, when out of nowhere came this huge dog. Our dog was on a lead, this beast flew at Chuff, they had a terrible fight, I was scared stiff.  I kept saying to mum ‘Let go of the lead’ but mum wouldn’t. A man came along, the shepherd (owner of the dog) pulled the dog away, when I looked at Mum her hand was bleeding really badly. I kept crying I was so worried about my poor Mum. She just kept saying don’t get yourself all upset, think of your baby. When we got her to the hospital they thought at first she would lose one of her fingers but luckily they were able to make it better. Mind you mum could never use it after that as it was always bent. After that she found a good home for Chuff, he went to a farmer somewhere. One thing for sure, I wasn’t going to have anything to do with it. Remember Dandy?
Now I must tell you this, my mum attended all of us girls at the birth of our babies, except for Lena (she went into hospital for Les) mum told me after Rob’s birth ‘that’s the very last baby I will deliver’ she said and it was.

Mum should have been a midwife

When Lil lived in Manor Road Sole Street ‘Glendale’ she was giving birth to Maureen, mum was on her own the nurse and the doctor were already with someone else. Mum was very good but when the baby came Mum said she had never seen anything like it, first the baby did not cry and she had a thick skin all over her, by this time the baby was going blue, mum was worried sick, then she noticed a pucker of skin on her shoulder, mum said she took a chance and pulled at it, it came away like a big plastic bag. Mum kept pulling and it came away from all over her body, then the baby started to cry so did mum. When the doctor arrived, he said ‘Well done Mrs King, you have saved her life’. He said he had seen this before but it was most unusual, it was what was named a ‘caul’ it was in fact just a skin that sometimes forms on the baby as it grows, he said years ago they used to give them to sailors for ‘good luck’. The saying was that you would never go down if you owned one of them (horrid thought). Mum burnt it along with all the rest of the rubbish, that was another belief. My mum always stuck to it as well. The saying was when the birth was over you had to burn the afterbirth, otherwise you would have bad luck and the baby would not survive. Good job they had closed in fires, not central heating. I think my mum would have been a wonderful midwife. She never got into a panic.

Entertainment and days out

When I was a girl living in the village we used to go to the ‘Old Mill’ behind the Mill Café or rather tea rooms every Tuesday night we would have a magic lantern show. We thought it was wonderful, there was a big white sheet they put the pictures onto it from a big machine thing, when it was on the man would tell us about it. He would tap the pictures with a big long cane, sometimes he would put music on to blend in with it.

It used to be really exciting if you sat next to a boy that one liked. Some of them would be more like a history lesson. Then we would have a part from the Bible so we could sing, one of the songs we sang was…

Climb climb up Sunshine Mountain, heavenly breezes blow,
Climb climb up Sunshine Mountain faces all aglow
Turn turn from sin and sorrow look into the sky
Climb climb up Sunshine Mountain you and I

After a while they had a few old out of the arc pictures but at least it was something to do.

Some Sundays I was allowed to catch a bus into Gravesend to go to the real pictures. It was six pennies to catch the bus and six or nine pence to sit up the back in the pictures, much nicer in the back with a boy friend, always a chance he might put his arm round your shoulders. In Gravesend there were four cinema’s The Majestic, The Regal, The Super and Plaza. You could stay as long as you wanted, some people would sit and watch it all over again. The Majestic was the best one, it used to have a man playing the organ before the film, he used to be right down the front he seemed to rise up out of the floor. I hated it but all the old dears loved it, including my mum. They would come round in the interval with threepenny tubs of ice cream, we didn’t have them many times.

The Empire Theatre, Gravesend, today

One day we went into Gravesend, Mum, Lena, Ern and myself before we were married. We went across the Thames on the ferry boat (it was very cheap) then we caught a train and went down to Southend for the day. We went into the Kursal Amusement Park, the rides were also very cheap. We had a wonderful time. We went into Kelly’s house which was all wobbly, on the ghost train, the caterpillar which blew all our dresses up in the air and showed my mum’s knickers with elastic in the legs. We laughed all day. We saved our money for ages so we could go. We talked about it for ages. Never did go anymore.

Another thing when we were kids, whatever we had wrong with us Mum would make it our own fault. If we had a stiff neck she would say ‘I expect you have been sitting in a draft’. If we had a cold, ‘Expect you have been sitting on wet grass’. If it was a pain it was ‘What have you been eating?’.  Mind you Mum’s cures were worse than whatever you had wrong in the first place. If we fell over or had any cuts she had a bottle of iodine with a little brush in the lid, she would paint it on and it drove you nearly crazy. It would smart something awful. We had Epsom Salts for tummy ache, you couldn’t get off the seat of the lavatory next day. We had to gargle with salt water for sore throats. Mum would cook the tops off the turnips and then we would have to drink the green water to ‘clear our blood ’. We could not have vinegar because that we supposed to dry you blood up.

Until we moved into Gravesend we had never seen ‘chips’ let alone tasted them. Mum would boil joints of bacon and we would have the brown rind from the outside, I loved it (I still do).

It was always horse and carts in those days, we would try to stand on the bar at the back, until the driver saw us, he would give us a good clout round the ears and tell us to ‘Bugger off’, we didn’t dare to tell mum. The first bus I saw that came through New Barn, was number 49 and a man called Pat was the driver.

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