Chapter 11

Chapter 11

First Home
I had to go back home and be busy there over getting our own house made ready. The house Hugh bought for us in Hagley was called The Laurels. It was just next to an old pub called The Lyttleton Arms, and facing the park of Hagley Hall, home of the Lyttletons. Hagley Hall was a fairly large Palladian style house at the foot of the Clent Hills, one of which was called Beacon Hill.

So as our house faced this hill, we changed its name, The Laurels, to Beacon Hill. The house was on the top of the bank made by the road going through a short cutting. In the big garden an old damson tree stood at the edge of the lawn. The three-storied house had two front rooms all the way up, with bathroom and cupboards at the back, and kitchen premises down a short passage past the sitting room. A fair sized vegetable garden lay beyond the lawn.

Nellie’s old gardener knew of a man who could come and look after all this for us, before our marriage and then afterwards when the house was being got ready for us. He was called Harry Davis and came from The Lye, a real Black Country area on the Birmingham side of Stourbridge. There was just nothing Davis couldn’t do, or didn’t know about! When he left school at 14 he went to work on a farm, and was knowledgeable about both animals and cereals. After a few years he left that and went to work in a garage, where he soon became a skilled mechanic. He agreed to ride his bicycle to come and work for us. Davis, over the years, became as one of our own family, and stayed with us for the whole of our married life. His wife was a bit of a shrew and often gave him a hard time, criticising what he did. One of his favourite relaxations in the summer was to go out collecting herbs, which he made into various medicaments and teas for the Winter. He had, amongst other things, made a very thorough study of the healing quality of plants, and refused ever to take ordinary medicines.

I found someone to make all our curtains, and Stringers in Stourbridge had all the carpets we needed. During this time we paid a visit to Bournemouth, and found a wonderful antique furniture shop in Christchurch. There we bought a transformed spinet for my dressing table and a lovely old oak dresser for a sideboard. Also some chairs. The Chances gave us some pieces to furnish our maid’s bedroom, and I got a nice old gent’s wardrobe at Townsend’s furniture shop in Bromsgrove. To my regret, Hugh was not in the least interested in furniture or antiques, so I really had to do it all by myself. As I had always been surrounded by beautiful furniture, pictures etc., I did want to have something to remind me of this, even on a very small scale. We settled into Beacon Hill, and had a cook and house parlour maid. As I did not know the first thing about house keeping, the cook really had to teach me everything.

We had finished moving in by the time of Mary’s wedding, but Hugh could not come with me because of pressure of work. I had got a very pretty dress with a large hat, the dress being made out of some lovely embroidered chiffon which mother had bought, I believe in India, and had stored away. There were a lot of lovely flowers everywhere. I hardly saw Mary again. She had a son and a daughter, but very tragically Mary and Thorlief both died young of cancer.

While on my previous visits home, I had discovered a shepherd who had white collie dogs. As the sheep won’t run for a white collie such pups are either destroyed or given as pets. I decided that I wanted two of this shepherd’s white collies, so after Mary’s wedding I collected a dog and a bitch, Shell and Foam, and took them back to Hagley. They had to travel in the guard’s van and howled in misery most of the way, to the annoyance of the guard! I had a kennel ready for them, until such time as I had got them house trained.

It wasn’t long before I realised that I was “expecting” and suffered very severe morning sickness, which lasted me in greater or lesser bouts for the whole nine months. Still I was thrilled about this coming child. Hugh accepted the inevitable!

One of Hugh’s great interests was archery, and he belonged to an old foundation called the Woodmen of Arden. They used to meet at their headquarters in Meriden, in Warwickshire, the Forest Hall. Every year during the August Bank Holiday week they had a four day meeting, on two days of which their main trophies were shot for: the Silver Bugle and the Silver Arrow. These were real party occasions, with the wives and older daughters in their Ascot dresses and super hats. The trophies were shot for in the mornings, after which there was a large lunch, which used to be comprised of “beans and bacon”. But over the years this became modified into an ordinary lunch.

Anyway, in spite of my feeling not too well, Hugh and I drove over from Hagley to the August meeting of the Woodmen of Arden. Hugh won the Bugle, which was a tremendous thrill. The winner of Bugle or Arrow always, with the lassie who had drawn lots for a companion, sat next to the Warden at the head of the table. The ladies were each allocated a Woodman as partner for the lunch, and I was sad not to have Hugh as mine.

During the meal there were many occasions for toasts to be drunk, and as there was a generous, and seemingly endless, supply of both red and white wine, these toasts led to great hilarity. At last it was speech time, and not only did the Warden speak of the prowess of the winner and his popularity among the Woodmen, but he also had to extol the beauty and charm of his lassie. Then the winner got up to give his speech, to much laughing around the table and loud cheering, and, fortified with much good drink, usually made a very entertaining speech, not forgetting to say that it was the support of his charming lassie that had contributed to his success.

After lunch, the Woodmen all went down to the lower end of their ground, to shoot for further prizes, while the ladies changed out of their finery into clothes suitable for shooting. The ladies also shot for prizes and had quite a long afternoon of shooting. Then they changed back into their party dresses and had a cold supper. The Woodmen meanwhile had changed into tails, ready for the dance following the supper. This was always led off by the winner of the Bugle or Arrow, with his lassie, with everyone in long rows down the Hall for a traditional country dance. During the evening there would always be reels, a Strip the Willow, and ending up with Sir Roger de Coverly. It was all very lively and great fun. The Ladies’ Days were always on Wednesday and Friday, and on the Tuesday and Thursday was the shooting for Woodmen only. Hugh always said that Meriden put one in very good training for Scotland, as he usually went for the Twelfth of August, which is the beginning of the grouse-shooting season. As he had been away for six weeks on his honeymoon, he did not go for the grouse shooting that year.


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