Grandfather’s house was one of a pair of old stone built cottages which would at one time have been set in fields I suspect since most of the other houses round about were much newer being built perhaps in the 1920s or 30’s. The cottages were approached by a shared path from a little wicket gate painted many years before in green but now a chipped soft pale cabbage colour. The path led to the shared flag stone courtyard in front and there were the two front doors side by side each with a sash window to the side and another above for the bedroom. Alongside the other cottage was a stone lean-to housing a brick built boiler for the washing and a single cold water tap and to the side of Grandfather’s cottage a lean-to shed which was not shared.
At the back of each cottage was the toilet a whitewashed brick affair with a scrubbed wooden seat across the width of the tiny building and a ceramic bowl beneath which led I know not where! It was necessary to tip bowls of washing water down to flush the contents on their way but where it went I have no idea!! In summer it was difficult to keep this building really fresh as you might imagine. No soft toilet tissue then but squares of old newspaper strung on a piece of string and hung on a nail which did make for something interesting to read although the toilets in winter were too cold to linger in and in summer a little on the smelly side so that lingering was not often something I indulged in!
The front door opened into a room probably about 12 x 12 feet furnished with a polished table and 4 chairs each with a padded horsehair seat covered with a dark brown leatherette, a small bureau above which hung a large sepia photograph of my mother’s oldest brother. He was depicted wearing his dog collar as he had not long before been ordained as a Methodist minister. There was also a piano and a small worn chaise lounge beside the fireplace, a gramophone with some 78s above which hung an oil painting in a gilded frame and alongside a bookcase containing assorted old books of which I remember best The Water Babies which had some lovely illustrations and whose pages were slightly mottled with brown marks due no doubt to the damp. This room was seldom used however except in the summer months when the front door would stand open all day. Most of the living happened in the back room a slightly smaller room accessed from the front room. There was a boarded wooden staircase – no carpet - up to the 2 bedrooms above and a scrubbed table and chairs, a cupboard with a perforated wire panel in the door in which were kept the fresh foods, and a wooden armchair set to one side of the range. There were built in cupboards in the recesses alongside the fireplace and in the upper ones were kept the china and in the lower ones everything else! The floors were flagstones and the only softening effect was a couple of squares of coconut matting since the damp used to come up between the stones in wet weather and carpet would soon be ruined. The curtains were made of thin cotton and hung on an elasticated wire - talk about the sublime to the ridiculous after Reydon Hall!
I remember the smell of that house a mixture of coal fires, of cooking and of damp. I also remember vividly the pretty little china plates each a sort of square shape and with what looked to me like a strawberry painted in the design! I can also remember grandfather’s saucepans – of which he had perhaps 2 there being no room on the range for more than that anyway, which were black and pot bellied in shape – now I wonder why they should stay in my memory?!
At the bottom of the stairs stood an upturned box on which sat a small galvanised bath containing a couple of inches of cold water for washing hands and on the end of the table alongside a dish with a bar of carbolic soap on it (the towel was a roller one on the back of the door)and for drinking and cooking a clean galvanised iron bucket of fresh cold water covered with a teacloth. When I think of the amount of water we use nowadays for rinsing, washing, cooking and cleaning, most of it swishing away down the plughole, I am reminded of those days when every drop of water used had to be fetched in a bucket from the wash house next door and carried into the house through the front door to the kitchen and then of course all waste water had to be carried outside either to the toilet or flung on the garden. In winter it must have been a nightmare although as a child I don’t remember it being a problem but then I didn’t have to do it!!
A paraffin lamp stood on the mantelpiece ready for darkness to fall when it would be lifted down and placed on the table. The amount of light this gave was minimal and later when I started at the grammar school and had home work to do we did in fact have the electricity installed although only downstairs and only for lights and even then my grandfather would never switch the light on if he was at home by himself for any reason! These paraffin lamps seemed to require a lot of attention what with trimming the wicks, cleaning the glass globe and ensuring they were filled with paraffin each day ready for the evenings. They used to make sooty marks on the ceiling and if there was the slightest draught the light would flicker – not at all the romantic soft lighting we sometimes think of lamplight creating!
Of course the range needed to be fed and Cinderford being a mining town coal was the usual fuel when we could afford it and whatever we could find when we couldn’t! Coal was delivered in sacks weighing a hundredweight each and the delivery man was usually filthy and covered in coal dust so that all you could see was his eyes and if he opened his mouth perhaps his teeth. At least we had no gas or electricity bills to pay though!
Upstairs were the 2 bedrooms the front one slightly larger than the back since the staircase took up some of the space alongside the back one. Grandfather slept in the back room in a big brass bedstead. I don’t remember what other furniture there was since I rarely went in there but in the front bedroom with its window overlooking the street and with views across to the hills a mile or so away there was a black iron double bed and a chest of drawers. There must have been bedside tables or somewhere to put the candle down but I don’t remember those. To begin with we all slept in the bed together! But at some stage a single bed was purchased for me and my mother and her sister slept in the double bed together although in the depths of winter I was often to be found in between them and the bed covered with coats in order to keep warm. Under each bed was a china chamber pot for night-time use. Who would wish to go to the toilet when it meant going outside and round the back of the house in the darkness possibly in the rain or snow!
I was happy enough living at Grandfather’s and the only thing I really hated was the cockroaches, which must have lived in the crevices round the fireplace where it would be nice and warm, and which only came out after dark! Occasionally a field mouse would appear indoors but they were cute and I didn’t mind those although I hated the horrible traps my grandfather set for them.
But if I was happy I am sure it cannot have been easy for my mother, aunt nor for grandfather whose peaceful solitary life had been so severely disrupted.