“WHEN LIFE WAS SIMPLER” by Elizabeth Cochrane, daughter of John Peter Fane de Salis and his wife Susan
A THORNBURY CHILDHOOD
I lived in Fairfield House from 1937 until I was married in 1952. When we first bought the house from the Sears it was called Ruskin House, and my parents renamed it for two reasons – one the paddock belonging to the house had originally been where a fair was held, and second my father had been left some money by his uncle by marriage whose house in Exeter was called Fairfield.
Description of Fairfield House
It was a large house with a drawing room, dining room, sitting room and cloakroom. Beyond the green baize door was the kitchen area consisting of pantry with a whole wall of fitted cupboards and a sink, kitchen with a built in dresser, sink, and Aga cooker which my parents had put in, and a Beeston boiler which did the central heating installed by us, and burned all the rubbish. There was also a small room which the cook had for her sitting room, a larder and a lobby with an airing cupboard. A back door here led into two more rooms, a washhouse with a pump for water, and a laundry which had lots of old flat irons. The back door proper to the right of the kitchen had a row of old-fashioned bells on the wall, but I think the only one we used/worked was that by the back door. This door led into a small paved yard, in which was another pump, and a small conservatory, and off this were a whole row of coal sheds etc. and from thence a passage led to the stable yard. This was cobbled and on one side next to the house was a stable with loose box, harness room, and a garage. For ease of access from the house, a door was made from the washhouse through a cupboard at the back of the harness room. Above the stables were three rooms, one of which was a workshop. On the other side of the yard was a potting shed, a row of woodsheds and two compost pits.
Upstairs on the first floor were seven bedrooms, five were doubles, one small single and one enormous room which later had a bathroom made at one end, and a new window was made which can be seen in the photograph of the front of the house. At the other end of this room a lift was installed for my paternal grandmother, which came out on the ground floor in the sitting room. It was actually sited in the small conservatory in the back yard. There were also two bathrooms, one with a large roll top bath, basin, linen cupboard and lavatory, and the other had just been a lavatory but a modern bath was added. There was a flight of back stairs to the kitchens.
At the top of these stairs was another flight to the top floor, and what had been six servants’ bedrooms, and a box-room which gave on to a further unfloored box-room. My parents had the wall taken down between two of these rooms, on the road side of the house, in order to create a large playroom. The cook slept up here, and during the war so did all three of us children, as the Paying Guests all slept on the first floor. After the war this floor was let as a flat, with a kitchen being made in one of the bedrooms, with a bathroom in the box-room. All the bedrooms had basins put in when we first lived there, including two of those in the attics.
To return to the gardens: there was a door from the stable yard which led to the kitchen garden, which had a greenhouse half sunk in the ground. There were pleasure gardens too which were accessed from a door at the back of the hall. In the paddock next to the flower garden was a grass tennis court which was put in by my parents. Our old pony Pieby – short for Piebald which she had been in her youth – lived in the rest of the field, and later on she was joined by Horace the donkey. During the war we also kept hens. Horace really belonged to the Howards and used to live in the Pithay, but used to get teased by the village boys, so he became a companion to Pieby. He absolutely adored her and used to bray all the time if we took her out, so occasionally we took him too and he had to trot really fast to keep up!
Park Road and Thornbury Park
At the back of the field was a gate to a short lane leading to Park Road. At the junction of this road with that leading to the drive to Thornbury Park was the pound for lost animals. At the top of the long drive to Thornbury Park lived Captain Bennett with his two daughters, Anstice and Evelyn. Anstice never married – she was a friend of my mother’s. Evelyn did marry and left the village. I do not remember Captain Bennett but he was famous for being able to tell exactly when a pear would be ripe – to the minute! After he died there was a house sale, and among other things I bought a small table which I think had been carved by him as it had his initials among the other decorations. The house and grounds were then bought by the Rudolf Steiner Foundation.
Opposite the church was the Glebe field, with the verger’s cottage at the back, just by the Fairfield garden. Gus Thurston was the verger – a great character. He was tall and thin with a rather grey face, and very kind to us children. When I stayed at Fairfield with our baby son, I would take him to church in his pram and Mr. Thurston would keep an eye on him in the churchyard while we were at the service. He would also act as butler if we had a formal dinner party, and my mother was always amused that he served people in strict order of precedence!
The Vicar when we first lived in Thornbury was Harry McLeod, who had seven sisters, five or six of whom lived with him. He was a bachelor, and only one of the sisters was married. One of them, Mary, was a great friend of my mother’s. He used to preach rather boring sermons, probably very erudite, so we children used to attend the children’s service at three o’clock, instead of matins. I really liked getting a picture stamp to stick in my album! The choirboys used to rush up and down outside the church before the service, so my father took them into the Glebe field to play cricket to quieten them down. There was an old man in the choir whose name I have forgotten who used to sing falsetto, and who was supposed never to have missed a Sunday in his life. Once he even preached a sermon – I suppose there was no-one else available! One other choir member I remember well: Billy Poole, the plumber. He had a lovely baritone and every Christmas used to sing ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ as a solo. He also used to help with the choirboys’ cricket.
The Howards, being the Squires so to speak, sat in the second row from the front on the right, and in those days the pews were still more or less tied to your house, so we sat in the third pew. I think there was a little brass ‘frame’ on the pew shelf to hold a visiting card – but this was not used.
Just inside the church door on the right was a doorway in the wall which could only be reached by clambering over the pews. Inside were some stairs which turned a corner and then ended in a blank wall, which always intrigued me. When I visited the church a couple of years ago I found a passageway had been opened between the pews, and when I climbed the stairway it continued round the corner to a door. When I opened it, there was a man with a computer – I do not know who was the more surprised!
After Mr. McLeod retired we had a new Vicar, Bobby Rawstorne who with his wife and children, became great friends of our family. He was also related to one of my great-aunts, who was also my godmother. Bobby officiated at my wedding, and christened three of our children. These Vicars did of course live in the Victorian vicarage which is now a private house, with a new vicarage in the old garden I presume.
Thornbury House and Thornbury Castle
The next house was Thornbury House, where Major and Mrs. Howard lived with their two daughters Ann, and Elizabeth, who was two years older than I was. We became good friends and she married a friend of my brother Patrick, and subsequently became godmother to our third child. They had a butler and a great treat was to visit him in his pantry and be given strings of brown crystallized sugar to suck. After a few years the Howards moved into the Castle and their house was bought by the Rudolf Steiner people, and many years later demolished for a housing estate. Major Howard was a Herald in the College of Arms, and when he became a King of Arms he was knighted and became Sir Algar. He really looked the part with a white droopy moustache! Eventually he became Garter King of Arms who is the most senior. Elizabeth and I used to play in the grounds, and had one small tower which still had a roof for a den. As I was also Elizabeth, Lady Howard used to call us Lizzie H and Lizzie D. Lady Howard loved her garden, and amassed a collection of different irises in what had been I think the tilt-yard. Much later he inherited Greystoke Castle in Cumberland and eventually sold Thornbury Castle, because he said he did not want two! By this time I think Lady Howard had died, and Sir Algar retired to sheltered housing near Winchester.
Next to Thornbury House, opposite the yard at Fairfield, was The Hatch which was occupied by Charles and Freda Taylor, and Freda became a good friend to my mother. After C.P. as he was known, died, Freda became one of our paying guests (P.Gs) for a time. This house was also sold to the Rudolf Steiner Foundation which thus owned three properties in the village.
Round the corner, at the top of the road to Kington, was a house behind a high wall which belonged to Miss Christian Mackie. She was the daughter of a Vicar of Filton, so had probably lived in the area all her life. She had once been engaged, but was jilted, so went to the top of the hill in Filton – which was not built up then, and put the jewellery her fiance had given her down a ‘wabbit hole’ – she could not say her r’s! As she lived alone and during the war rations for one did not go far, she used to dine with us several times a week. If ever there was a vacant space at the table, the place setting had to be removed, ‘because my dear’ she said to my mother, ‘you never know who may be sitting there’! In the winter she would wear a teddy bear coat with a hood, and carry a lantern if out in the dark. One evening she was accompanied home by a soldier who could not see inside her hood so had no idea of her age. When she reached her front door she opened it and said to the soldier, ‘Goodnight young man, I’m 70 years old!’ She had C.G.Mackie J.P. on the door to deter unwanted callers. Of course in those days everyone was very formally addressed so she was Miss Mackie to us all as she was much older than my parents, and one day she remarked sadly to my mother that there was now no-one left to call her Christian. Her house was very old-fashioned inside, but the only room I remember was the kitchen which had a long high mantle shelf over the range with a row of beautiful copper kettles ranged in size, and on the hearth a huge one called ‘Old Susan’ sitting on a brass tripod. I was given one of the kettles for a wedding present, which we used to use on our Rayburn, and which is much treasured. Old Susan was left to my mother when Miss Mackie died, but unfortunately had to be sold when we left Fairfield.
At the bottom of the hill past Miss Mackie was a cottage where Stanley Clark the milkman lived. He used to bring round the milk in a churn, with a pony trap. But I think we had milk delivered in more hygienic bottles, from elsewhere.
Shops and local businesses
To return to Castle Street – the next house I remember was Stokefield, where lived Mr. and Mrs. Dutson and their three sons, Derek, Alan and Kenneth. They were about our age but for some reason we never knew them when we were young. In later life Derek married Paddy Audsley whom I had met while working in Cheltenham, and who lived with us for a while.
Then there was a cottage lived in by Mr. and Mrs. Flower – I remember that because I thought it was a lovely name.
That brings us to the Priory where Miss Jenkinson lived, and which my parents rented from her after they sold Fairfield in the late 60s I think. They still had one P.G. – Mr. Gasson who had originally come for a fortnight and stayed for twenty years! So he moved with them, and the large room on the left of the front door was his bedsit. He was welcome to sit with the family, if he wished. When my father died, my mother, then 68, was very bothered as to what the neighbours would think if she lived alone in the house with him! There was a lovely walled garden at the back of the Priory, with an apple tree with a huge mistletoe plant at just the right height to pick.
Next door was Miss Lloyd at Lion House. I remember nothing about her, but I do remember the lion on top of the house.
The other house I recollect was Porch House where I went soon after coming to live in Thornbury, to have some jhodpurs and a jacket tailor-made. I do remember the old tailor – Mr. Eddington? with very courtly manners.
At the top of Castle Street just by the footpath to the fields, was the little house to which our cook, Beatrice, retired. She used to take lodgers, always policemen, had an Aga put in to cook for them, and always had a waiting list! Her front room was right on the street, and she loved to sit in the window and watch the world go by. After I had my first child and when I stayed at Fairfield, I used to push him up to her house and she would mind him while I shopped.
Now we have reached The Plain, and then the High Street. There was the pump, and later a seat where my father used to sit when he was old, and The National Provincial Bank, which we patronized. I think the Fire Station was somewhere here, and when we first came the fire engine was pulled by a white horse. This of course had to be caught from the field behind, and harnessed up. Then I think there was the Congregational Chapel, and Trayhurn the butcher, which we also patronized.
The shop I remember very well was Brownings, for antiques. Mr. Browning was a great pal of my mothers who used to purchase all sorts of bits and pieces, and several of my pieces of furniture came from him after my marriage.
Next came a large drapery which changed hands several times. I think it was called Worthingtons. I do not think we used it much. I think The White Lion Hotel was about here – or was it The Swan – I know there was one each side of the road. Prewetts the Stationer certainly was used a lot and was very good I think. Sweets the butcher and the Post Office were up at the top but I cannot remember which came first. We did not patronise Mr Sweet. Then, facing down the street, was the saddler, and round the corner Mr. Maggs who had a general stock including toys. I used to get 3d. a week pocket money and I went up to Mr. Maggs to buy a rubber ball. I can remember trying them all out before deciding which one had the best bounce! He must have been fed up with me!
Now we cross the road, and go down the other side. The Exchange Hotel was here, and my father used to go up there every day for his lunch after he had retired, as my mother was out working. The first shop I can recollect was Mr. Riddiford the grocer. My mother thought a lot of him. During the war, when I was home from my boarding school, Beatrice (our cook) was forever sending me up the village on my bicycle to collect items from Riddifords. One never to be forgotten day I went up six times!
Another shop we used a lot was Mr. Hawkins the ironmonger. He was also the undertaker, and after my father died came down to drink sherry with my mother and arrange the funeral. He was called Leslie, and had a brother too. He used to sit on the left in the church, almost opposite us.
After that I suppose was Mr. Rugg, the chemist, a large double-fronted shop. Mr. Wilkins the draper was somewhere here, and this was the shop we always used. There was a baker whose bread my mother did not approve, so we bought our bread from Mr. Roberts, a real baker, of whom more later. Then came a sweet shop kept by an old lady, and on the corner a fishmonger – I think. This later became Mr. Matthews who sold furniture.
Round the corner in The Plain, was Fred Church, sweets and tobacco, another double fronted shop I think. He was rather a character and called everyone dear -even men! He used to save sweets for us to take to boarding school before rationing started. I do not remember anything more on that side.
Across the road, on the far corner of Gloucester Road, was Symes’ shop, which later became my father’s garden shop. There was a fish and chip shop somewhere there, and a pub. I remember there were eight pubs in Thornbury at that time!
Savory’s the ironmonger was just at the top of Castle Street, and was a very useful shop. When I went back recently, I saw it was still there, but a shadow of its former self. I believe the chiropodist came next, and then Mrs. John’s the second-hand furniture store. She had two enormous gilt-framed mirrors on the wall facing High Street, and would never sell them because she could keep an eye on all that went on up the street. When she died her son wanted to get rid of all the second-hand goods as he wanted to keep modern furniture, so at last we were able to buy the mirrors. I had the largest which I have always refused to part with, and it is hanging now in our tiny hall and helps to make it look bigger. The second one was bought by my aunt.
The first house I remember on that side was the Robinsons who had a Down’s Syndrome son called Alan. Then Wigmore House with the Drs. Prowse, and their children Roger, Alison and Hilary. Roger was the same age as me; we did not see much of them but did go to each other’s parties. Mrs. Prowse was very good at children’s parties and I remember a cake with green icing – very unusual then, and a treasure hunt where each child had to follow a ball of string!
Later on when I was married, the Nedham family lived in one of the houses, with two little boys, younger than my children. They were great friends of my husband and myself. In one of the smaller houses lived Charles Eardley-Wilmot who I believe was a distant cousin.
In St. Mary Street was Mr. Roberts the baker. He did not have a shop, just his bakehouse with a proper old bread oven, a table to mix the dough, and the sort of table/cupboard where the dough was left to rise. I am sure it has a special name! When we first came to Thornbury he used to deliver the bread in an old-fashioned baker’s horse and cart, with him sitting up in the front. He was very fond of the bottle unfortunately and his bread deliveries became later and later – maybe the middle of the night – so everyone who wanted his bread had to put out a box or some safe receptacle… but his bread was so good everyone wanted it. Eventually either the horse died, or he became too often incapable of driving it, so we had to go up to the bakehouse to collect it. He was very often late, so you stood around waiting till the bread was ready, when he would take it out of the oven with the long-handled paddle. As well as his large red nose he was rather bald I think, and had very rubbery-looking hands: from all the kneading I suppose. After the war, when we had German au pairs, the current one was supposed to collect the bread but obviously found it a nuisance going to the top of St. Mary Street, so she bought bread from the bakery in the High Street. I cannot think why no-one noticed but of course my mother was out at her job, so the first we knew about it was when Mr. Roberts turned up at the back door to ask what he had done wrong! My mother had to pacify him with a glass of sherry and promise it would never happen again.
Fairfield House and its occupants
To return to Fairfield House and its occupants. We had I think, before the war, several maids – my mother had been born in Ireland and for the three years or so when we lived in Bristol had always had Irish servants, and we had them in Thornbury for a short time. When the current girls returned to Ireland, we had British maids, the first of whom was probably Beatrice Smith, the cook. I think we had a housemaid and a parlourmaid, a nanny for my little brother, Shaun, who had been born in Bristol in 1935, and a governess for myself and my brother Patrick. We also had a gardener called Clark, who later was in charge of the market garden and probably stayed with us till he retired – I do not know! When Mr. Clark retired, we had an old man called Gale to garden. He was a terrible talker, and the only way to escape was to stand by the garden gate, and then slip through it at the end of a sentence! Beatrice came from Berkeley I believe, and lived in, as did the nanny and governess. The nanny was replaced by Yolande Studer, a Swiss girl who married later and lived in Henleaze and remained a friend. This was after Patrick and I had gone to boarding school in the summer of 1939. From 1937 we had a Swiss Fraulein who had to return home at the outbreak of war, when we had a daily governess, Miss Bruce, who lived with her brother Captain Bruce in a house at Kington, opposite the turn to Kyneton. Miss Bruce was Peter Scott’s aunt, being sister to his mother, and Captain Bruce had been on various expeditions with his brother-in-law Captain Falcon Scott – but obviously not to the Pole.
We had my mother’s great-uncle, William Aldworth, living with us from quite early on, and he remained with us until he died in about 1954. Rachel De Salis, my paternal grandmother lived with us after the war until she also died in 1954. She had a little dementia, could not get about much and so the lift was installed for her. We had a series of German au pair girls to look after her. Then my maternal grandmother Stephanie Aldworth also lived with us until she died in 1956. She was not very well but in full command of her faculties!
My uncle, John Aldworth, was married from Fairfield to Margaret Giraud, and they lived on the top floor for a short time before going to his army posting. Margaret came back for Roger’s birth in 1941, and she had a resident nurse. John was subsequently killed at Caen after D-Day. Another cousin, Stephanie Prittie-Perry, was also born at Fairfield in l940 – her parents lived in Hong Kong as my uncle was in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. They then returned to the east and were interned in Stanley internment camp. However Steph remained in this country and lived at Fairfield for some time, I suppose until her parents came back. My uncle then became head of the Bank, and they went to live in the Bank flat in London until he retired.
We had many visitors and paying guests in the war. My mother was working for the British Overseas Airways Corporation, first in Bristol and then in White Waltham, where she became Staff Administration Officer. It obviously was more sensible to have well-behaved P.Gs rather than the unknown qualities of evacuees with possibly unruly children! We had army officers who came for weekends, employees from B.A.C., especially after the raid when one of our friends in the village, Adrian Squires, was killed, and friends who lived in Bristol and wanted to escape from the raids.
We also had people from the BBC which had evacuated from London, including Sir Adrian and Lady Boult, and their bad-tempered black pony Sam who used to get driven in our small cart for messages, picnics etc. by my great-uncle Willy. Then we had heralds from the London College of Heralds, who stored their archives in the Castle. Most notable was Anthony Wagner, who later became Sir Anthony, Garter King of Arms, after Sir Algar retired. Some came for a few days, some stayed for years and became close friends.
One of our residents who was with us for years was Cyril Gordon Taylor, known as C.G., brother of C.P. who lived at The Hatch. He was Editor of a magazine which was passed round to its members who each contributed something before passing it on to the next person. I never actually saw inside it, though I should have liked to! He wrote for Punch, which we used to take, and I still have several of his poems, some humorous, some more serious. He acted as head of the family while my father was in Africa, and sat in his place at the head of the table. Also he would write to me each week at school, which I much appreciated.
Another rather interesting family consisted of two old ladies from Eastwood Park at Falfield. I remember one of their hot water bottles gave out, so they had to resort to the stoneware sort – in fact gradually all the rubber ones wore out and were unobtainable so we all had lumpy stoneware jars wrapped in a piece of blanket.
I cannot remember their names, nor can I find them in the Visitors’ Book which was only sporadically filled in, later, when someone thought of it! But I do know that one of the old ladies died when with us.
All these people who lived with us, shared our meals round the large Georgian breakfast table, and sat with us in the evenings. We always used to listen to ITMA (It’sThat Man Again, with Tommy Handley, a very popular programme) on the wireless which was a great favourite, and all play Racing Demon, a card game – but not on Sundays as my father did not approve of cards on Sundays.
So we had four deaths, five births, including my children, and three marriages – which definitely made Fairfield a proper home! My friend Paddy Audsley married Derek Dutson from our house, as her father was still in Africa. And of course I was married from Fairfield.
Memories, memories, where does one end! There was the Hon. Mrs Mundy from the top of the village near the station, who went on riding to hounds till a very advanced age. She sometimes came to lunch on Christmas Day and got kissed under the mistletoe by my father, which made her day! There was the Baptist Chapel on the hill near the council school to which we were sometimes taken by my mother when we had had enough of Mr. McLeod’s too boring sermons and hence scarcity of congregation, because at least the Baptists sang, said my mother!
We used to go for walks down the two different lanes leading from the Pithay, and Elizabeth H and I used to play in the hollow oak which was in the field which led to the cemetery. Quite difficult, as we had to wriggle on our tummies to get inside! We used to cycle for miles and knew all the best places for primroses, cowslips and mushrooms. A favourite place in the summer was Littleton Pill. This was four and a half miles from Thornbury, so we cycled there, and Uncle Willy drove the tea in the pony cart. It was much slower than the bicycles, so arrived in nice time with tea in large thermoses with wickerwork covers. One essential piece of equipment was a tide table from Prewetts as the object of our outing was to swim. This had to be strictly on an incoming tide, as an outgoing one could be very dangerous. It was of course very muddy but the mud was not smelly, but quite clean and good for the skin! One picnic which took place each spring, was to pick primroses in a wood on the way to Littleton. We would pick all afternoon and return to fill all the vases in the house, after tea from the pony cart. It was so nice to be able to walk or bicycle anywhere with no fears for traffic or all the other hazards which parents fear in this day and age.
Elizabeth Cochrane, nee de Salis.