Dorothy’s Memories by Dorothy Elizabeth Warren

Edited by Kirk Anderson - For Nanny - 1912 – 1999.

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This is a transcription of an audio cassette my Grandmother, Dorothy Warren (Nanny) recorded in 1992.   She recorded it for her niece who wanted information on her father, Dorothy’s brother Bernard Ira Palmer, an internationally renowned librarian.

I’ve published it because, after initially getting it transcribed for family, I found that everyone who read it very much enjoyed it. It’s a lovely little snapshot of family life just before the Great War, as seen through the eyes of a little girl.

Some of the audio recording was a little unclear, but we’ve done our best.   I’d like to thank Sue O’Sullivan for her dictation skills and patience.

Kirk Anderson
March 2014.

Chapters: Part I - Early Memories | Part II - Memories of Burnham-on-Crouch

First house, just on the outskirts of London and during the 1st World War, my parents took a cottage in Burnham-on-Crouch, not exactly in Burnham-on-Crouch, about a mile out at a place called Ostend.  We had one cottage, the third cottage of four that were built on the road through Burnham-on-Crouch to Althorn and at the end of the garden belonging to the last cottage the Creeksea Lane ran down to the Creeksea ferry.  We used to pack up our things my parents, my two brothers and myself, we used to pack up our things at the beginning of the school holidays and move down to Burnham-on-Crouch and spend the whole of our holidays down there.  I think we went from Victoria but I wouldn’t be sure, it wasn’t Waterloo, I think it was Victoria and it was very smoky, noisy, but terribly exciting and when we arrived at, I think we went straight to Burnham-on-Crouch, I don’t think we changed I don’t remember now, I was very young about 4 or 5 and we had all of our luggage with us, there were no buses to take us along the road which as I said before, was about a mile and so we used to leave the cases and baggage at the station and a carter would come along and later he would deliver to us.  Sometimes he would arrive before we did and our things would be waiting at the door when we got there.

As I say, the cottage was one of four and it was right on the road, there was no front garden, we each had a garden at the side of the road, the end cottage had one on the corner of Creeksea Lane and the other three cottages had gardens the other side stretched out in a line along the road so that you went through each garden to get to your own, ours was the very end one, up a gravelled area, no indoor toilet, we had a toilet at the end of this, we called it a garden but it wasn’t a garden and daddy  used to empty the bin, he always emptied it at night, I don’t know why, or at least I think he did but he always said that he was burying Sir John Moore at the dead of night and I had visions of several soldiers coming out and helping burying, where they came from i didn’t think.  We had no electricity in the cottage or gas, we had an oil lamp in the living room, we went straight from the road into the living room and there was an open fire there with two hobs, no oven so everything was stewed, I don’t know what else we had but we had a lot of stews though mother did manage to make pies because we used to get blackberries and sometimes apples so she made blackberry and apple pie, I don’t know how she made it.  The staircase to the bedrooms upstairs wound up and round the fireplace and straight into a room and then you went from one room into the other and the second room had a long sloping window.  We had mattresses on the floor and obviously sheets and blankets and things.  All the females slept in one room and all the males in the other.  Water was laid on but only for 2 hours a day and there was no sink but there was a little drain on the floor beneath the tap so that water wouldn’t go all over the floor.  There was a water tower near and it had an arm with a ball on it and when the ball was down, you used to watch this then there was water and so you used to fill everything with water, all the saucepans, buckets, the kettle the copper, everything had to be filled with water so that it would last us through until it came on the next day and then when the water went off the arm would go up and the ball would be sticking up in the air. There was a ladder up to the tank up there and my brothers used to climb up this and on one occasion they persuaded me to climb up and I got halfway up and I had no head for heights, I didn’t realise that then, and I was scared, after all I was only about 4 or 5, possibly 5 and one of my brother was sitting on the top and the other one had to come up and walk down behind me so I could get down, I was so frightened.

I don’t think we took any toys down with us, I don’t remember having any toys there, probably a teddy or something to go to bed with but we made so much of our days.  There was a little green lane opposite and it led down to a little wood called Foxes Wood and mother would pack us up sandwiches and we would go down to this wood, it was only a short lane, green Lane, there were lots of interesting things to see on the way down so it took quite a while for us to get there and there was a little stream in the wood, I think and we made dams and things like this.  There were lots of things to watch, it was very wild, rabbits and lots of birds, it was very nice there and we were very happy there.  Sometimes we went down to the Creeksea ferry but only with my parents and, I presume my brothers had a bathing costume, I had a bathing costume and we, well we thought it was the beach, it was very shallow at the side so we spent a lot of time in the water and it was sandy.  I don’t know quite what it was for but there was a notice on the side that said “Beware.  Dangerous” and we didn’t ever query what it was, possibly currents in the river, I don’t know but people passed on one occasion, it was very unusual to meet anybody down there and there were two adults and a little girl and the little girl looked at this sign, they were bit red letters and she said “Aww.. mummy.. beware dangeroos”.  Well we didn’t realise what dangeroos were, we wondered what they were and thought of them as being some animal.

Along near the river there were farms and again, we would have lunch down there.  We were allowed to wander along the path and we found a farm where they had swedes and swedes when they are big and fresh are nice and sweet and I do know that sometime later there was a pumpkin here and we dug up a swede each, we had a penknife, peeled the swede and I couldn’t eat it now but we ate it then and it was marvellous.

Just a little way along from the cottage was a little general shop.  It was the only shop in the village, it was hardly a village, just a sort of little hamlet and daddy used to take us along there to buy barley sugar for us with our pocket money and that was twisted barley sugar.  It tasted absolutely wonderful.  Somehow or other we did have some money because we used to buy scented cashews there and on the other side of the road there was a lane and we walked up this lane and there was another lane and we turned left and there was a pig farm .  It may not have been a farm but there were certainly pigs there and a lot of little piglets.  There weren’t many people about and we found it very interesting to watch them and we fed them on some of our scented cashews and these pigs loved it so after that, they got to know us, I mean they only had one or two but it didn’t stop them running up to ask for them.

Just a little way across the road from us was a farm and they had lovely red apples.  When you cut through the apple the apple was pink inside and we used to buy 3 ha’pence worth of apples and we’d get about 10 or a dozen apples and share them between us.  There was a little pub near, I can’t remember what it was called but I think it was owned by some people called Pamp........ and we could buy honey cakes.  We used to pay a ha’penney each for the round flat honey cakes and we thought they were delicious.

It was our job in the morning to go along to the farm near where they had been milking the cows and we had to wait for the milk to come through the cooler and we had a can and a jug and we would buy the milk and take it home, it was only a few yards along the road and mother used to let it stand and after an hour there was a nice thick head of cream on this and we would have blackberry and apple pie or just stewed apple and this lovely thick cream.

I always felt that it was rather wrong that we should be right on the road, there was no pavement it was just a lane, after all we had a front garden in London so I found stones and made a little garden in front of the house no more than about a foot wide, I didn’t have any earth, I just put stones round it, a little path up to the front door, and of course there were loads of wild flowers about and I picked wild flowers and put them in this.  I thought it was marvellous but of course, all the flowers died and somebody cleared all the stones away.

It was very quiet along there, there were no cars coming along, just occasionally the carter would come along, of course he had a horse and the milk float would go by and he had a horse and you’d get a lift sometimes down into Burnham-on-Crouch itself in this carters van.  My grandparents lived a little further along at a little village called Althorne and my grandfather was the lay preacher at the Methodist church there and he would sometimes come and pick us up, he had a pony and trap.  He also rode a tricycle but when he was picking us up he’d come along in the pony and trap and we thought that was great, it wasn’t very fast but it seemed very fast to us.  Sometimes we walked there with mother round to grandma’s.  Grandma was very stern.  We didn’t dislike her but I can’t say we were very fond of her, she was very stern and it seemed to us that she didn’t smile, I suppose she must have done.  I stayed with her on one occasion and Sunday was a very holy day.  We were only allowed to read the bible, we weren’t even allowed to knit or sew.  I did feel that was wrong on a Sunday because after all, that was productive, but grandma wouldn’t have it.

We didn’t have things like coke or things like that to drink.  You could buy big bottles of lemonade with a round glass stopper in the top and a hook on the side that pressed down and we used to buy, no not buy pick from the dishes, there were the dishes near and of course the dishes weren’t polluted as they are now.  There were no cars going along making smoke, it was all nice and clean and there was wild mint growing there and we used to pick wild mint and put it in these bottles with sugar and hot water and give it a good old shake, leave it for a little while and then we had the most marvellous drink.  We thought it was wonderful.

On one occasion we went down to Burnham-on-Crouch early because War broke out, I don’t know why we did this but my parents made arrangements for us to attend the local village school, that was in Burnham-on-Crouch itself and I thought they were very stern there, I don’t suppose they were any more than they were in my own school but I stood in the middle of a puddle in the playground and refused to come out and so they left me there and of course eventually I came out and went into school and had the ruler across my hand.  I was most indignant.

The senior children in the school, at blackberry time, would be taken by the teacher to pick the blackberries and they all went somewhere or other, I don’t know where to be made into jam.  They took the afternoon off and went blackberrying.  On one occasion my brothers and I took French leave so to speak.  We reckoned we were going blackberrying, we didn’t ask permission, we wouldn’t have been granted it.  You had to go in a party but we went to a sandpit near and we found a lizard.  It was a very lucky lizard.  We made a castle for him, I don’t know whether he appreciated it or not but we made a castle for him with little holes; he went in and out of the hole but he didn’t have much choice.  Of course, we were in trouble when we got back.

I remember coming back from school one day.  We had a wretched thunderstorm and I had a navy blue ..................... dress with a white collar for school and we did get a lift home part way along the lane by the carter but we were absolutely soaked because the cart was open anyhow and when I got home, mother had the fire going and she undressed me and all my underclothes which were white were a bluey mauve and all my skin was a bluey mauve as well.  She wrapped us up in towels and we sat round by the fire and we had hot cocoa, you didn’t have chocolate in those days which tasted wonderful.

We had no bathroom and when it came to bath night mother used to light the copper which was an old fashioned one with a fire underneath and put the water in it.  She didn’t let it get too hot of course, and then she raked the fire out and then we each had a bath, the same water I’m afraid, first one then the other, topped up for the last one with a kettle full of water from the fire in the other room.  I suppose we were reasonably clean, we thought we were clean, hair was washed in warm rain water.  It was a fun old time for children.  We had no things to entertain us, there was no radio in those days, or television there was no piano to have songs at the piano.  We played draughts and things like that in the evening on the table, we had the lamp but we spent most of our time in the open air and there was so much there to see and we never tired of going into the fields and down the Creeksea Lane.

Down Creeksea Lane there is a big Elizabethan house and a Captain Jackson lived there while we were there and one time while we were down there in Burnham-on-Crouch he held a garden party for all the people of the village all the way round and of course we were staying in the house there and we had an invitation and this was the most wonderful garden party.  It was a lovely place.  I can remember the house now, it was red brick and I think it was in the shape of a ....... but I wouldn’t be sure and there were white posts and fences and there were all sorts of things going on, competitions of all kinds.  My brother won a treacle bun competition.  There was a line stretched out and a string hanging from it and there was a bun dipped in treacle on the end and he had his hands tied behind him and he had to eat this bun, the first one to eat the bun won the prize and he ate his first.

We could get ................................. I don’t know what it was, lemonade I suppose.  We didn’t have to pay for any of it.  Everything we wanted there was free.  It seemed like heaven, sandwiches, cakes all kinds of things, buns, everything free.  I can see that house now.  What’s happened to him, I suppose Captain Jackson must be dead by now, after all, he wouldn’t have been a young man then.

We heard all kinds of tales about the place people told us, I don’t know how many of them were true of course and out of Crouch there is what looked like an island and there seemed to be a building on it and the rumour was that from Captain Jackson’s garden somewhere, of course there were many doors there but there was a door and it was probably a door to an ice house or something but the story was that this was a passageway that led right under the river Crouch over to the island.  Goodness knows why it went over to the island, I don’t know but we didn’t explore of course but we found it all terribly exciting.  Such simple little things were exciting in those days, I suppose they always are when you’re very young.

There was a regatta in Burnham-on-Crouch itself and we went down with my parents to the regatta.  We didn’t go into restaurants, it was always a picnic that mother took with us in a basket and the people hired boats to go out for a row.  I remember my brother who was a little older than myself being on the side of the boat on his elbows and pushed but he pushed a bit too hard, overbalanced and went in and the people who were rowing out with my brother hanging on by his elbows, sort of hanging over the edge of the boat and so they had to bring him back again and we hauled him out. He was very wet.

Out over the water there was a slippery pole and people put things on the end of the pole, it was raised of course and they sat on the pole and they had to work their way along and if they worked their way along without falling in the water underneath, well, I think there was a ham or something like that on the end, but very few people seemed to get along to the end, they’d get a little way and then in they’d go.  It was all terribly exciting.  We spent the whole day down there, just watching boats and there were races and there was a big crane park behind and the boats would be reeled up and into this crane park and those that didn’t get in there were all lined up along the side.  There were various Inns along there.  Altogether a very exciting time but I suppose when you’re young, it is exciting.  This is about 70 years ago, just over 70 years ago.

We always went to grandpa’s chapel on a Sunday and heard grandpa preach to us and go along to grandmas to tea and I can remember being at grandmas late and she had what seemed a big kitchen and the kitchen table was very hot.  It was a lovely summer’s evening and it was getting dusk I suppose and the table was pulled up to the back door and the door was open and we all sat round this table and we had cups of cocoa and slices of bread.  There seemed to be a never ending supply in those days of wonderful dripping with gravy at the bottom.  I suppose we had more choice than we have now but there seemed to be so much of this lovely dripping, and it tasted wonderful, with a little pepper and salt on it and I don’t think I’ve ever had meals that tasted so wonderful as that.  It wasn’t just once but it was always so good.

We didn’t have the cottage much longer after I was about 6 or 7.  My mother had a brother living near and he got married and he hadn’t got anywhere.  I think he was a riding master, I don’t know where, but he lived in this cottage, they let him have the cottage for a time and then they had a family and then I suppose we went to other places for holidays, I don’t know, I don’t remember but I always remember the wonderful days, I suppose it did rain down there but it didn’t seem that it ever rain down there.  They seemed to be eternally long hot sunny days and I can see the field at the back with all the blackberries around.

The cottages have gone now.  You’d never think if you walked by that there had ever been four cottages along there, there’s not a sign of them.  I can’t remember whether the pub is there or not. 

Recording ends.