Tuesday, October 15, 2013

England, Continuing Day 3: Caldecote at Last

Julie saved the best for last on our whirlwind afternoon: Caldecote, where my mother was born and where she lived until she was seventeen. On the way there, we passed a small, unassuming house and chapel--where, Julie said, my granny probably went to church. (Julie, I hope I am remembering correctly here.)

I tried to see my granny, who was in her 50's in my earliest memories, as a little girl in those long-ago days and the road was probably little more than a horse path passing in front. I feel sure there were roses, though. Granny once wrote me a letter about her childhood, growing up on a small piece of land where they had chickens and milk goats. Unfortunately, I did not keep the letter; youth does not often recognize the importance of such simple things.

This photo was taken, I believe at this same intersection. The little girl in the photo is my mother.

And then we were in Caldecote. This, Julie said, is a newer Caldecote and the older village is further on. My mother lived in what might be called the newer part although it has been there for many, many years to judge by the age of the houses in the area. And right here, or right about here, she said, was where my mother's childhood home once stood.

This is the home where Julie grew up, designed and built by her father.

My mother's home was called Ashlyn. As a child I imagined a quaint country cottage with thatched roof, whitewashed sides and dark timbers but that was not the reality. My grandfather (Ernest Thomas Hagger) was a farm labourer who managed to save enough to buy a piece of land. Every one of his five children were born in a different house, all in the Caldecote area. Thomas began building a small house for his young family, but before it was finished he was promoted to farm manager at Highfields farm, quite a step up. As manager, he was entitled to a house at Highfields, so that is where they moved. He continued work on Ashlyn, finished it and rented it out. My mother was born at Highfields.

This story was told to me by Julie: One day Thomas was asked to do a favor by the manager of another farm. Would Thomas mind keeping an eye on the other farm while the manager was on holidays? Thomas agreed to do it; from what I have learned about him, Thomas was an agreeable, well-liked man in the community. That afternoon my mother, who was three at the time, began to cry inconsolably. Nothing would comfort the little girl; she sobbed her heart out. Her older sister May noticed the time, 3:00pm. The family was mystified at the cause of my mother's tears.

At that same time, Thomas was on his way back from the other farm. He had stopped, to light his pipe, someone said, when a car came along the road and struck him where he stood, and Thomas died immediately.

So, at long last I knew the story of this grandfather's death, over 20 years before I was born. Thomas died on June 23, 1930, just weeks after my mother's third birthday. He was only 41.What did my granny do, with five young children and her dependable husband suddenly gone? How did she support them and herself without the primary wage earner?

This part of the story came from my cousin John a few years back:  The driver responsible for Grandad's death worked for the Ford Motor Company and delivered new cars to dealers throughout the country. He didn't drive a lorry but drove the cars themselves. I can remember seeing these drivers  hitch-hiking back along the roads when I was young. Anyway this particular driver was way off route when the accident occurred. Granny could have taken the case to court but Fords offered her a £3,000 settlement which she was advised to accept. This money was put into a fund which paid her a monthly income. She also had a government "Widow's Pension" which paid out a princely sum of 10 shillings a week. So somehow she coped but as Dad says "There wasn't much spare money to throw around."

The photos of Ashlyn show a small, corrugated tin-covered house covered in vines and probably flowers.

It was very small, 4 rooms with a narrow hall and a kitchen on the back, but it survived for many years as home for some of my aunts and cousins. Julie and her siblings lived just next door in a house designed by her father, my uncle Roy Swindells. What a place that must have been, all the cousins running in and out, and the sisters and their brother getting together for tea! I don't wonder that my mother would sometimes be homesick for it; when I was young I didn't understand that longing but now I see that she must have felt the separation keenly, especially as the youngest of the brood. She often told me I was like her older sister and in truth often treated me as such.

Today the original Ashlyn is gone, but a new home stands in its place, with a nameplate that reads

and a very large and vociferous dog inside. I did not venture nearer than the road, relying on my camera's zoom for this picture.

And what of Highfields, the farm where they lived for a brief time? The house is still standing although showing signs of neglect. It has been divided into three rental units.

The horsekeeper's cottage, a fair-sized house really, is also still standing. Julie said this house was important because it had the radio; she and I both wonder about the significance of that.

I looked down the lane of Caldecote, a lane that probably has changed little since my mother's girlhood. An overgrown hedge bordered one side, ripe red rosehips dangling, and the other was lined with small trees. It was quiet and peaceful the day we visited and I carry a little of that peace with me still.


Then we were off to the older village. More on what we found there in my next post.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

The picture of the old sign post is indeed of the same junction; the old chapel can be seen behind it. The little house in the top picture was where Aunt May and Uncle Basil lived for a while.

Granny Sue said...

Ah! I think Julie did tell me that, John. It struck me as odd how people moved around in those days, from house to house in the same area. I suppose because not many owned their own places at the time? Or because of the nature of their work on the farms?

I've been re-reading some of Julie's emails from a few years ago as well as yours, and I was surprised at how many of them were farmers. I don't know why that should be surprising since that was probably the occupation of most of the population of the world in earlier days; I had just never considered what they might have all done for a living. Many of the Haggers hired people to work for them, though, so apparently they were a few steps up from labourers themselves.

Rowan said...

What a sad story about your grandfather. Lovely though for you to finally see the village where your mum grew up.

JJM said...

"Julie said this house was important because it had the radio; she and I both wonder about the significance of that." Quite conceivably not everyone in Caldecote had a radio, which meant that, especially in time of war, that's where your major news source was (since the newspaper wouldn't come out until the next day). I remember as a child in the Netherlands in the early 1950s, my parents were the ones with the telephone, and neighbours would come by to use it; but another family had the television, so people would gather there to watch it.--Mario R.

Granny Sue said...

That makes sense, Mario. Larry told me that when he was a child his family had the only TV in the neighborhood and everyone piled in to watch it in the evenings, the only time apparently that it was broadcast. A tiny house with all kinds of people, roasting potatoes in fire, crowded around, drinking coffee...it's part of a story Ill be telling tomorrow, actually.

Nance said...

During the WWII years with rural Iowa not far from the hard times of the Great Depression, my folks had a radio and the neighbor had a battery (and neither had electricity) so once a week they got together and hooked the battery to the radio and listened to the great old radio comedies like Amos and Andy.

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