`LIFE AT SUTTON
In the early years of the war, the Ghyll Manor Estate was sold and Dad had to find another job. He was appointed gardener at a smallish house (“Beech House”) in Banstead, Surrey. It had Pleasure Grounds, Kitchen Garden, and a small “farm”. The owner was R.T.T. Waring, director of J.B. Jefferies & Sons Ltd., Coal Merchants. The farm was worked by 2 horses and was not part of Dad’s job. The offices of the firm were at 6, Worcester Gardens, the original home of the Jefferies family in Sutton, Surrey. Mr.Waring had married J.B.Jefferies daughter, and before the war the coal merchants business had been run from 6, Worcester Gardens. The road was a cul-de-sac with 9 large Victorian houses off the Brighton Road. No.5, at the end of the cul-de-sac, was quite close to the railway line. No.1 was a rest house for soldiers, No.4 was the home of Mr.Bawtree (a photographer in Sutton; - he used to attend Tadworth Mission Hall). No.7 was a Quaker Meeting House and I think that at No,.8 was someone who had frequent letters from India (David used to get the stamps from him. How, I don’t know!)
In No.6 there were grand steps leading up to a large front door with large bay windows on either side. These were the offices of the Director (R.T.T.Waring) on the right and the office manager, Mr. Meiklejohn, on the left. The Entrance Hall led to these 2 offices and also, on the right, to a third large office with typists under the supervision of a very pleasant man Mr.Hadrick, who was a mine of information to Mum about its earlier times as offices and accommodation for the J.B.Jefferies family. The staircase lead off the entrance hall on the right, and on the left of the staircase a passage way led down to steps and the old kitchen, which was our living room. It also led to a glass door giving access to the garden. Mr.Hadrick’s office was extended into the garden by a large conservatory (very little, if anything,in it). Our living room led down by 2 or 3 steps, to our kitchen and scullery with a door into a small paved yard and the garden. Up the grand stairs there were, I think, 2 large offices above the downstairs offices, full of typist’s desks. I think that Mum and Dad’s bedroom was on the left and a small bedroom (mine)_ on the right. (I don’t think that I suffered still from croup, but I was near Mum and Dad for safety. The last flight of stairs led up to a large landing and 2 large “attic” rooms, one of which was David’s bedroom. The other was a “junk” room reflecting previous occupation by the Jefferies family (Mrs Waring was a daughter of J.B.Jefferies (hence the firm’s taking over the family home when much money was made out of Government contracts for coal).
My mother’s job was to keep the entire house clean and tidy – offices included, with large coal fires in each. It was a terrific task and I don’t know what the financial arrangements for this were. My mother was a terrific worker but the strain was really too much for her. She should have had some help with the offices. David and I did a little floor cleaning and polishing but not nearly enough.
The only members of our family who directly benefitted from the offices were David and me. In the winter, we used to occupy Mr.Hadrick’s office, stoke up the fire, and David used to read to me from books borrowed from the Public Library- mainly G.A.Henty & R.M.Ballantyne. Also, David used to do his homework in Mr.Waring”s office, seated at the Director’s desk (with stoked-up fire in winter). We were never caught in our trespasses. If the ‘firewatchers” (office girls) who came in later in the evening, ever discovered our trespasses they never split on us.
The basement had been developed as an air raid shelter at the beginning of the war. The door in the hall led by a flight of steps to the basement, where all the main parts of the house above were braced by large beams on floors and
ceilings, joined at intervals by steel pipes. A large basement room on the right ran under the length of the house except for the coal cellar under our living room. When the “Blitz” started in earnest, and especially for the V1’s (“Doodlebugs”) our entire family slept down in the large room, where beds had been installed. In this room there was also a workbench and a vice; David and I found this very useful for all sorts of things, especially to hold the “dummy” brass cartridge cases while we carefully prized open the tops to extract the explosive charges. We talked about experiments with these charges, but never actually got down to doing anything with them! The coal hole was never empty – J.B.Jefferies & Co were suppliers to H.M.Government’s Armed Forces. One of the small side rooms in the basement was, I think, for office files etc. The other room was frequently flooded from next door’s (No.5) back yard – a source of great annoyance to us. We eventually raised an earth barricade (without permission!) to stop this nuisance.
At 6, Worcester Gardens a “Tradesmen’s Entrance” led from the road to the green-painted door that gave access to a small backyard outside the scullery. The fairly level gravel path became our “cricket pitch” and we chalked a ”wicket” on the green door, giving us something approaching 22 yards. Our bat was made for us at Rusper by Dad, carved out of a single piece of willow (OK for a tennis ball – we never had a “real” cricket bat). After a while, we became friendly with the children of an Irish family living in No.3 Worcester Gardens (2 boys roughly our own ages and a buxom girl). With them, we chalked another wicket on the fence at the end of the road (No.5) and had a full-length pitch, a cricket “field”, and fielders – who could ask for more in war time?
The garden was walled-in on all 3 sides – high brick (6 feet high). On left and right sides ran herbaceous borders. Near the bottom left corner was a wooden animal house with wire netting on door and window. Here we kept rabbits. At the bottom, the garden was mainly occupied by a wire run with bathing pool (?for ducks) and a low house. In the bottom right hand corner was the dead tree trunk, still standing, from which I dug out the larva of a large Lamellicorn beetle (almost certainly Stag beetle). At the bottom of the right side of the garden was a raised chicken house with a large covered run. Here, and in the old duck enclosure, we kept rabbits. All of these were very useful in war time when rationing was severe. The middle of the garden had a lawn at the top, near the house, and a large rose pergola below it with paths leading to the main path running round the garden inside the herbaceous borders and animal accommodation. The animal accommodation was installed by Mrs Waring, who was very keen on animals of all sorts. The garden was maintained in reasonable condition by Dad, but Mum was responsible for the chicken. David and I collected food for the rabbits - the breeding produced regular litters and I realised that this was the reason why Dad took them every now and then to visit Mrs Waring’s buck or bucks at Banstead (Beech House). Collecting rabbit food was a major occupation for David and me. I knew a number of places where grass and other herbs could be pulled and shopping bags (no plastic in those days) filled. As part of the war effort, an undeveloped field in the “snobby” Chiltern Road area had been allocated for allotments. Dad had one there and in summer we trudged up there to collect grass, cow parsley, hogweed etc. after school (in summer) and at the weekends (a walk of about 1 mile). Many of the large houses along the Brighton Road were requisitioned for the Canadian soldiers as the war progressed and we found the large disused gardens a nearer source of rabbit food. I also discovered that a large amount of waste food (especially bread) was readily available near the kitchen doors. This was scrounged with a feeling of virtuosity – it was wicked to waste food that was rationed in wartime and cost lives at sea. I succeeded in keeping out of harm ‘s way and was never ”accosted”, let alone “arrested” during my “rabbit food” expeditions. I don’t think that David ever joined in these forays.
To return to Worcester Gardens – I found it easy to climb up on the top of the garden walls and so kept an eye on what was happening in Nos.5, 7 & 8. I was never shouted at or ordered off. No.7 was an interesting house, very like No.6 but not lived in. It belonged to the Quakers, who held meetings there on Sundays but was rarely occupied on other days. Dad arranged with the Quakers to develop a large part of it into an allotment, so I had more-or-less the run of the garden. A big attraction was a large cherry tree near the wall between Nos.7 & 8 – ‘white-heart” cherries of great size and flavour, easily picked from the top of the wall. I was never reprimanded by any of the Quakers.
For us boys, arrival in Sutton meant new schools. David went into the 3rd form at Sutton County Grammar School, where both our uncle Don and uncle Cecil had attended for short periods as fee-paying pupils. There, he continued his brilliant career in Forms 3,4 & 5 (science). Things were more difficult for me in Sutton East Central Junior School. The Headmistress decided that I was too big to go into the 2nd form so she put me in the form containing the oldest pupils. From that form you went , on attaining the correct age, into Sutton East Central School (in the same building but, I think, with a different playground). In the form into which I was placed, the pupils were far ahead of me, particularly in Arithmetic, having done 2 or 3 years more than me at school. I particularly remember my difficulties with “long division”, which no-one explained to me and I don’t think I ever got help from David, who was too busy with homework to teach me. My class was held in part of the large “Assembly Hall”, about half of which was fitted with desks and seats. The part near the windows had several rows of shelves under the windows that were full of all manner of books, which we could read during certain selected periods each day. I found these enthralling, and discovered many books that became my friends for life. “Treasure Island” – I was spell-bound with horror as blind Pew came tapping along the road, or Billy Bones died of the DTs. I found “Kidnapped” and was frozen with horror by the climb up the ruined tower and the flash of lightening revealing the wickedness of the uncle. It was my first encounter with literature and I loved it. I remember little about the classwork. We were taught by an elderly, motherly lady, Mrs Harvey. But also by the tall, thin acidic Head Mistress, Miss Wingate, who took an instant dislike to me and I hated her with a corresponding intensity. However, she was a very good pianist and introduced us to ”Songs of Praise” – my first experience of good, meaningful Hymnody. “Morning has broken, like the first morning, Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird. Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning! Praise for them springing, fresh from the Word” Ever since then, Songs of Praise has been my favourite hymnal and in later years I was able to play the harmonium at home (very badly!) and sung some of these lovely hymns. I don’t think Mum approved!
The “games” played on the tarmac playground at Sutton East J & M were very different from those played at Rusper The major one was ”fighting”. I was immediately asked “whose gang are you going to be in?” I was completely confused and my days of “gang warfare” were short. I became friendly with several boys who were not in “gangs”. The “gangs” used to travel by bus on Saturdays to Banstead Downs to fight with sticks, stones and dustbin lids. My friends were Charlie Davis, Denis Howell, Neil Faulkner, Neil Clements etc. and it is surprisingly true that all on that list eventually went on to the grammar schools or technical colleges. There were, however, more acceptable games that were new to me. We played “fag cards” – topses (flicking against a wall until the winner gets his card overlapping one already down and then can pick up the lot (but you could call “no bridges, no edges”). The other card game was “long skates” – who could flick a card for the longest distance. But “doubles” (2 or more stick together) were not usually allowed. “Dibs” (made of baked clay in cubes with ribbed edges) was played to go through a routine after casting a handful on the ground – onesy, twosy threesy, - finishing with “creeps” (flicking then all into the spaces beneath the grounded fingers) and “crackers” when you picked them all up from beneath your hand while one was thrown in the air and then caught. I always wanted to acquire a set of “dibs” but couldn’t discover where they could be bought. They were never sold by boys, and in any case I had no money. I never had “pocket money”.
On one great occasion I had a Birthday Party for my friends. It went off very well but we discovered that one of my friends (Neil Clements) came from a Christadelphian family. Dad had to go to his home and explain what our Christian position (Open Brethren) was. We proved to be acceptable! And the party at 6 Worcester Gardens was a success. I met one of these friends in later school days at Godalming when I was vice-captain of soccer. Charlie Davis appeared in a Technical School IX – a great, pleasant, surprise. At Sutton, my brother David had objected to him because the cuffs of his jersey were frayed! (I had never noticed it!)
After taking the “11-plus” exam, our little group of friends all went up into the Sutton East Central School for a short time before we all left to go to secondary schools. The experience was awful! Our form master was a young man, and he kept order by corporal punishment – on the spot. The culprit bent over for a walloping with the cane. None of our group was walloped and when the secondary schools’ autumn terms started, we all went our various ways to good secondary schools. For me, having passed the 11-plus entrance exam. at Sutton East Central J & M, the journey to Sutton County Grammar School was the same as to the Central School, but a little shorter. I opted for the Science set. Neither Classics (Latin) or Modern (German) appealed to me and David was already in the 5th form (Science) and preparing to take the School Certificate.
At Sutton County Grammar School, “Non-fee payers”, who had passed the 11-plus examination, entered the 2nd form. “Fee-payers” could start in the 1st form and, presumably, those who didn’t make the grade had to leave after 1 year to make way for those who had passed the 11-plus examination. My friend Neil Faulkner also went to Sutton Grammar School but he chose the “Modern” class (which learnt German). I chose the “Science” class which took Physics and Chemistry as separate subjects (but did not study Biology). I had no difficulty in keeping up with the work, and at the end of the year I came 5th in the class .
The large grass playing field at the Grammar School also contained the air raid shelters. I think we did a little A.R.P. drill, but never had to experience an air raid during school hours. Break times were not infrequently marked by fights between individual boys – the combatants were quickly surrounded by a circle of boys yelling “SCRAAAP” at the tops of their voices, and during the fighting swearing was very common. The prefects usually broke up the fighting quite quickly but I was appalled at the ferocity and swearing of the combatants. During the war, school children had a 1/3rd pint of milk at lunch break time and for this we took our own mugs (all of the 1/3rd pint bottles had been requisitioned by the Government because they were ideal for growing the Penicillium mold from which penicillin was extracted). The prefects used their enamel mugs to break up the fights – a hit on the head with an enamel mug is a good deterrent. (The mugs were also used to stop boys from forming a “scrum” and pushing and shoving at the end of break to get into school through the narrow doors.) I spent most of my dinner hours investigating the insects (especially beetles) in the grassy fringes of the playing field and on the air raid shelters. (I always had a screw-topped bottle (part filled with dry grass) in my pocket for beetles.)