PEGGY WEBSTER’S MEMORIES OF A COUNTRY CHILDHOOD
My childhood home had no electricity or running water and the loo was at the bottom of the garden. Lighting came from oil lamps and candles, water from the well and cooking was done on a wooden stove. I am sure that the authorities today would condemn such a house as being unfit to live in, but I remember it being neat, clean and cosy.
Even now, over 80 years later, if I catch the smell of candles or paraffin or freshly-baked bread I only have to close my eyes to bring it all vividly back: the smoke rising from the chimney of the litde thatched cottage; the brick floor of the kitchen with its covering of home-made rugs; the piles of apples carefully stored between layers of straw in the shed; my father’s shotgun on the kitchen wall.
It was a simple life, close to nature and very much geared to the seasons. Pa worked on a farm and although Ma must
have found it hard bringing up a family on a farm labourer’s wages, I don’t remember us going short of anything. Tea was always on the table when we got home from school, we grew our own fruit and vegetables and we kept chickens and a pig.
Our grandparents lived nearby and my sister and I spent almost as much time there as we did at home. Nanny was infinitely patient and while she didn’t exacdy spoil us, we could certainly get away with far more than we could at home.
We often used to sleep at Nanny’s in the huge brass bed
in the spare room. We would snuggle into the soft feather mattress, warmed by a hot brick wrapped in a jumper, and she would tell us bedtime stories by candlelight. Storytelling played a large part in our childhood, for in those days before television or radio we made our own entertainment. Everyone seemed to be a good storyteller and many was the evening spent round the fire, the flames throwing dancing shadows into every dark corner of the room as we children tried to outdo each other with scary stories.
Every morning we walked over two miles to school in the next village. Through fields and woods, over stiles and bridges we walked in winter and summer. We thought nothing of it for we knew no different.
I look back on my childhood as a magical time and much of that magic was connected with nature. I remember long, sunny days spent playing in golden
fields, glow worms shining in the grass at night and shooting stars streaking across a star-packed sky.
It was a world now gone forever. A safe and peaceful place where we woke to the lowing of cattle, not the noise of car alarms.Where we had breathed the scent of honeysuckle in the hedgerows, not traffic fumes.
We didn’t have a lot in material terms but I sometimes think that for all that, today’s children, despite all their video games and expensive toys, don’t have nearly as much as we had.
-As told to Anne Britten by Peggy Webster