Doctor at the dolls’ house

A couple of months ago I had no idea of its existence.  When my cousin was making a start on clearing my aunt’s house, my Mum suddenly thought to enquire as to whether the dolls’ house was still upstairs.  If so, she would like to give it a home!

Their father, Alf George, had made the house for them in the early thirties.  He had no shed where they lived in Croydon, but Mum recalls that he would sit in the kitchen with his fret saw making things.  He was obviously quite a creative man – we have other evidence in the form of miniature paintings and poems.

The dolls’ house he made for his daughters was modelled on Steyning Lodge in West Grinstead, Sussex, where his wife (my Granny) had lived prior to their marriage.  He made wooden furniture for the house, too.

Steyning Lodge West Grinstead
Steyning Lodge West Grinstead in the 1920s
Steyning Lodge West Grinstead today

 

 

 

 

 

On investigation it turned out that the dolls’ house was indeed still there, on top of a wardrobe, and on a recent visit it was duly retrieved and taken back to Mum’s house, where we have all now had a chance to inspect it.  I’m amazed, really, that a) I had never known of its existence and b) it survived another generation of children playing with it.  It is remarkably intact.  There are still items of wooden furniture, floor and wall coverings and some little curtains which, as Mum said, had “seen better days”.  She promptly set about making some fresh curtains.

On the front of the house Grandad had painted a climbing plant and on the rear of the house, along with a well, is the image of Tubby the cat.  Mum caused us much amusement when she recalled having been told off by her Mum for standing on the house!  She must have been very small at the time.

Tubby the cat

She remembered other items of furniture, some of which I definitely had in my own dolls’s house.  When Mum visited at Easter I dug out a box which I thought could contain dolls’ house furniture.  We didn’t find what we were looking for, but Mum suddenly exclaimed “oh, it’s the Doctor!”.  It turned out that this wasn’t a new-found interest in the Time Lord, but that she had spotted a china doll which she had had as a child and which they called The Doctor, apparently because ‘he’ looked a bit upright and stern!  (This doll has always worn a dress to my knowledge).  She also found a few metal kitchen items which had been part of a kitchen range set.  So these, and the Doctor, went home with Mum and are now inside the dolls’ house.  The hunt will continue for any other original items which could join them.

The dolls’ house

 

Is there a doctor in the house?
Dolls’ house interior
Tubby the cat sitting underneath a table
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Call the midwife

It’s lovely that the Call The Midwife series is back again!   We’re avid viewers.  At the start of this series they had reached the harsh winter of 1962/63.  I reckon the cold that winter explains why I was always cold as a child – I think I never properly thawed out!

I have mentioned before how I like to listen to podcasts, and recently I listed to one from The National Archives podcast series.  It was a talk given back in 2016 but is still available on their website at http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/heidi-thomas-researching-call-midwife/ .    The talk was by Heidi Thomas, who is the producer of Call The Midwife.  In it she gives really interesting  background on how the popular series came about.  The original memoirs of Jennifer Worth gave enough material for the first one and a half series and subsequently they have continued in the same vein, but it is all  most carefully researched.  A practising midwife gives advice on the various delivery complications and medical conditions and is always close at hand when a newborn is on set.  They have prosthetic babies, bumps and umbilical cords in a variety of skin tones too!

There is also great attention to detail on the music played (it must match the year if apparently being played on the radio) and on the food that appears on the tables.  A large amount of viewer correspondence is generated by the china used at Nonnatus House – Royal Doulton Cascade.  Heidi Thomas relates how the Irish Traveller community helped with the episode which focussed on issues within their own community at that time so that it was a true representation and I wonder whether they had similar help from Jewish advisers in the episode the other week.

In Granny’s 1937 diary there are many references to neighbours and friends, but one person was referred to as ‘Rushie’.  It turns out that this was an affectionate name for Mrs Rush, the Community Midwife.  She delivered my Mum and no doubt her older sister too.  She had obviously become a dear friend by this stage:  “the children and I went to see Rushie”, “took Granny round to see Rushie”, “sent postcard to Rushie”.  But then on 8th September we read “dear Rushie passed Home”.  Looking on Freebmd I discovered that Mary Rush, aged 75, died in the September quarter of 1937 in Croydon, which would mean she was born around 1862.  Although there is a Midwives Roll 1904 – 1959 on Ancestry, I can’t find a likely entry for her and have not been able to identify her for certain in a census.  Unfortunately that may be all I can find out about Rushie for now, but, like the midwives in the series, she was obviously a cherished member of the local community.

 

A 1930s midwife

https://www.rcm.org.uk/oral-history-archive-images

 

 

 

Marmalade sandwich, anyone?

Along with countless others up and down the country, no doubt, we thoroughly enjoyed the Paddington 2 film.  As a child I loved the Michael Bond books and Paddington’s fondness for marmalade sandwiches,  though there was never marmalade-making on the scale seen in the prison kitchen in this latest film!

I have to admit that I have never made ‘proper’ marmalade – that is, chopping up Seville oranges and making it from scratch.  But I do enjoy the convenience of using the large tins of prepared fruit to make a batch every now and then.  It’s nice, but not quite as nice as my Mum’s home-made marmalade (“there’s nothing quite like Granny’s marmalade”, as my daughter put it the other day).

So January has come around and with it the Seville oranges on the market stalls.    Mum duly went off to buy some, but needed us to buy the jam sugar, which her local Co-op doesn’t stock.  I spoke to her on the phone earlier and I gather that she has already chopped the fruit and tomorrow’s project will be making the marmalade.  She doesn’t consume a huge amount herself, but it’s great that she still has the energy to continue making it, as her mother did before her.

In Granny’s 1937 diary the marmalade-making in Croydon seems to go on for days and days!  It started on Monday 18th:  “cut up oranges in the evening”.  The following day:  “made marmalade and cut up more oranges evening”.  Wednesday 20th:  “Dull and cold.  Made marmalade”.  Thursday 21st:  “cutting up oranges after tea”.  Friday 22nd:  “making marmalade and cakes morning…cut up more oranges after tea”.  Saturday 23rd:  “made marmalade”.  And then a two-day respite before Tuesday 26th:  “Did ironing, sitting room and shopping.  Cut up more oranges in evening”, and finally Wednesday 27th:  “very cold east wind.  Made marmalade”.  Phew!  I wonder how many jars she made and how long that lasted her family?  The 1938 diary, which I have just started transcribing, describes the marmalade-making in a similar vein and at much the same time.  Seville oranges are only available to buy in this country for a very short time, but apparently you can freeze them whole quite successfully, which would enable you to make marmalade at any time.

I suppose having risen to the challenge and successfully made my own Christmas cake for the first time there may well come a time when I might try my hand at ‘proper’ marmalade-making.  I think I should at some point…I might just need a week off work to do so!

Marmalade sandwich, anyone?

Orange tree in Cordoba, Spain

Seeing the old year out

I was intrigued by the entry in Granny’s diary for 31 December 1937:  “Alf and I saw the old year out.”  Intrigued, because these days we tend to talk about ‘seeing the New Year in’ rather than the ‘old year out’.

The turning of the year, however, has been celebrated since early times, with gifts being exchanged at New Year rather than at Christmas up until the nineteenth century.  In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the whole twelve days of Christmas (finishing on 6th January – Epiphany) were important, whereas today 6th January is fairly insignificant in this country, although in other countries the 6th January is the main day for the exchange of presents, mirroring the bringing of gifts by the Wise Men.  Although superstition has it that you must take your decorations down on or before 6th January, it seems that many people have done so a long time before that and seem to think you odd if you wish them a ‘happy Christmas’ after the 25th December!

Mum was recalling going to a New Year’s Eve function with my Dad at The Parrot pub in Guildford, possibly just before they were married.  Dad had a little Bubble Car in those days and she remembers it was very frosty when they came out.  Often we have either been to friends or had friends and family to us on New Year’s Eve.  At Christmas we were remembering the Millenium, just before my niece was born.  The long evening had all got a bit much for our 5 year old:  we woke her up at midnight so that she could see in the new millenium, but I’m not sure that she thought much of that idea at the time!

Unusually, this year we decided not to either see the old year out or the new year in, but we did enjoy the company of good friends who came to us for lunch on New Year’s Day, after we had watched the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna on the TV.  On the 1st January 1938 my grandparents also enjoyed the company of friends:  “Mary and Jack came to tea 5.30 and spent a jolly evening.  Rings and cribbage.  Left 11.45.”

I was curious to know how my grandparents spent New Year in other years, so decided to open a few more diaries.  At the end of 1938 I read  “Mary and Jack came to tea and saw the old year out with us”.  By that time the following year Britain was at war.  My Granny, Mum and Aunt stayed on in Cowfold following their summer holiday there, but returned to Croydon to spend Christmas.   “Saw the old year out together”.  By the end of 1941 the family had moved to Guildford, after the bombing became too much in Croydon.   “Alf and I sat up and saw old year out”.

I then picked up the 1975 diary.  Now aged 87, my Granny had been a widow for almost 3 years and earlier that year had had an operation to remove a cataract from one eye, which was not the routine procedure that it is nowadays.  I have to say that the entry for 31 December in this year brought a tear to my eye: “I left [Betty’s house] after a very happy Christmas holiday, with a thankful heart for all this past year had brought me…  Sat in my dressing gown and listened to a watch-night service, from Kingsbury London, and so saw the old year out and the new year in.  Thanks be to God”.

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

 

 

Christmas Past, Christmas Present

A few weeks ago we travelled up to London to visit a museum I had never come across before: the Geffrye Museum.  Reading about it in Family Tree magazine inspired me to visit, especially since it is closing in the new year for a substantial refurbishment.

The Geffrye is housed in Eighteenth century almshouses in Hoxton and is wonderful for a social historian, depicting as it does the changing styles of home interiors through a series of period room from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

The Geffrye Museum

Currently they have a ‘Christmas Past, Christmas Present’ exhibition running through the rooms. We were fascinated by the decorations used and the type of foods consumed.

Twelfth night scarcely features on a modern calendar, except for the few who go wassailing and perform mummer’s plays. But in former times it had a greater prominence and I was interested to read of ‘Twelfth cake’ – a fruit cake made with yeast.  Originally this contained a dried bean or pea and the person finding it was then elected King or Queen of the night.  I quite fancy making a Twelfth Cake, but I think I might omit the dried bean!

Moving on to rooms from the nineteenth century, items of furniture became reminiscent of those in grandparents’ houses and the increasing popularity of the Christmas tree also became evident. Mum still has a tree decoration which her mother remembered being on their tree during her childhood in the 1890s.  Mum was talking about Christmas trees the other day:  during the second world war they did not have a tree and in the subsequent few years, when the family were sharing a house, there was no space for one.  It was not until they were able to move to their own home when Mum was in her late teens that they were finally able to have a Christmas tree.

1870 period room

Despite the increased popularity of sending Christmas greetings by email, Messenger or WhatsApp, I don’t think we have received fewer cards in the post this year. The custom of sending cards dates from the 1860s and it’s certainly a tradition I’m keen to maintain.  Reading my Granny’s 1937 diary I am surprised how last minute the Christmas preparations were:  cards were being sent out only a couple of days before Christmas.  “Wednesday 22nd December – busy day writing and doing up packets, then to Waddon Post Office after school”.  I guess with several collections and deliveries a day there was no worry about cards not getting to people in time.

But we have many things in common with the celebration of Christmas in my Mum’s family 80 years ago: going to Church, having turkey, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake.  They listened to George VI’s Christmas message on their brand new wireless; we will watch the Queen on TV.

This year the Father Christmas figure, now 87 years old, has once again taken up his central position on Mum’s Christmas cake; the little paper lanterns I made with my daughter when she was a child have been blu-tacked in their habitual place and the small plastic tree I bought in Woolworths in 1987 has once more been found a position.

The Geffrye displays brought back memories for us of paper chains, wrapping paper and board games and was a great way of learning about Christmas Past. The museum closes on 7th January, but I definitely recommend a visit. https://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/ .

Happy Christmas!

1955-65 period room

My mystery object

I mentioned in my New Year blog post that my recent write-up of the George family history had resulted in my Mum presenting me with a  small family-related artefact.

It was as a result of my discovery that Len Lansdowne, my Mum’s uncle, had worked for Dunn & Co in Croydon as a sales assistant in the early part of the 20th century.  She recalled, and promptly found, the item pictured here.   It is 2.5 inches/6 cm long, the lower part curves in both directions,  and it bears the inscription “Britain’s Best Bowlers by Dunn & Co”.  But what is it? I have to say, I am mystified!

I decided to post my query on the Norfolk Family History Society facebook page.  Family Historians are so helpful to each other and I was grateful and encouraged to receive a good number of comments and replies.  Suggestions have included a shoe horn (not big enough, and the two-way curve doesn’t work), a button hook (no hook), a ‘rounding jack’ for re-shaping a bowler hat (sounds plausible) or a smoking pipe ream (could also be possible). I googled ‘rounding jack’, but all the images are for a much larger implement.  Pipe reams seem to vary a lot in style, but I could see it might work in that function.

Someone else suggested contacting a hat museum, and lo and behold I found there is such a place in Stockport, so I have emailed them to see if they have any ideas.  The fact that it has the company’s name inscribed on it might suggest it was some sort of promotional item, but I do feel that the strange shape means it must have had a specific use.

I have also emailed the details to Family Tree magazine and gather that my query will appear in either the April or May edition, so I’m looking forward to any further suggestions that might generate.

Other than that I’m at a loss what to think about it, so if you have any bright ideas do leave a comment!  I continue to be intrigued by my mystery object.

Dunn & co mystery object
Dunn & Co mystery object

 

 

Advent

My Granny, Emily Eliza Mitchell, was baptised at Shipley, in Sussex, on Advent Sunday in 1888, 128 years ago.

I learnt that piece of information 24 years ago, when, following a fairly traumatic birth, we took our first baby daughter to Church on Advent Sunday for a Thanksgiving Service.  She is partly named after her great grandmother, and my Mum remarked on how appropriate the day was.

I do like Advent.  There’s something about all those great Advent hymns in minor keys (‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’, ‘Come thou long-expected Jesus’, ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’ etc), the purple of altar frontals and liturgical robes and advent candles to light.  And of course Advent Calendars.  I remember as a child being thrilled when our neighbours the Madgwicks gave us an Advent calendar (no chocolate ones in those days!) and I still like to have one.  It brings out the child in me to count the days till Christmas!  When our children were small we made a large Blue Peter-inspired one which involved toilet rolls and lots of tissue paper, glue and paint.    It got re-used for a number of years.

Last Sunday being Advent Sunday it got me thinking about what my ancestors might have been doing during that period in years gone by.  Not counting the days with chocolate-filled Advent Calendars, that’s for sure.

David George, my earliest proven ancestor on my Norfolk George tree, married Elizabeth Jefferies on Sunday 7 December 1806 at East Dereham – the second Sunday in Advent, but only a year later they buried their first baby, Mary Ann, on 13 December 1807, the third Sunday in Advent.

David’s son John George married Emily White on Sunday 6 December 1840 – also the second Sunday in Advent.

His son David, my great grandfather, married Elizabeth Mayne in Croydon on a Saturday – the 29 November 1873 – the day before Advent Sunday.

On my Wakefield tree, my great grandfather William Wakefield married Annie Neighbour on 10 December 1893 in Newington, again the second Sunday in Advent.

Caleb Osborne, the cordwainer from Shipley in Sussex, married Mary Botting on the Tuesday after Advent Sunday in 1802 – the 30 November.

My Mitchell and Phipott ancestors, on the other hand, seem to have had a distinct aversion to doing anything like getting married or baptised during the back end of the year – apart from my Granny, that is.

I discovered  when Advent Sunday was in years gone by on this website: www.timeanddate.com/holidays/uk/first-day-advent , where you can also calculate all kinds of dates.

So Happy Advent!  I hope this season is not too frenetic for you and that you can find some space to welcome the coming light:

“O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.” 

Advent