The house

Theirs was a double fronted house.  The plain brown wooden front door was in the centre with matching windows either side.  The door was opened each morning (unless the weather was too bad) and closed, I suppose, at dusk.  I was never there in winter and being a child was not responsible for opening or shutting it.  Callers knocked on the inner vestibule door and walked in.

The front room was not used.  The furniture in it was large heavy, black, old-fashioned and imposing.  There were mirrors, three pictures, a fireplace and a strange spicy, shut-up smell.  The pictures fascinated me.  A very large one depicted a young woman reclining in a garden.  The others were a pair.  One had camels silhouetted on it but I cannot remember what was on the other, unless it was an oasis.  The background was a pinkish colour like sunset or sunrise.  The piece of furniture which dominated the room must have been a sort of sideboard, but with a high back with decorated mirrors.  It had cupboards and drawers and stood on fat legs, which were echoed in fat pillars at the ends.  I cannot remember how it was finished off at the top.  The chairs and occasional tables were all placed round the edge of the room.  We went in to fetch the chairs before meals and to put them back afterwards, but the room was never used.  It was a local custom.  If there was a front room, it was reserved for christenings and funerals.  It was the place coffins were placed before the funeral for friends and relatives to pay their last respects.  Being the best room in the house there was naturally a carpet.  The whole atmosphere of the room was vaguely foreign, but I never asked any questions about it.

The living room led to an open hallway which included the cellar steps behind a door to the right across the hall in the corner.  Above the cellar steps a single flight of steep stairs led to the first floor.  The stair carpet was held in place by stair rods.  The kitchen did not have a separate door, but was the area between the living room door and the bottom of the stairs.  The sink, cooker and a wooden table with two drawers were arranged against two walls.  Next to the sink on the same side as the stairs was a tall window looking out onto t’back.  Near that a long length of towelling joined in a loop hung from a roller fixed high on the wall.

At the top of the stairs the wooden banister turned back on itself to the end of the stairwell then across to the wall, leaving a space where it was possible to stand and look across to the top of the stairs or down onto them.  This was in contrast to our house where the wall of the third bedroom filled the space over the stairs and there was only a straight length of banister on the landing.  These banisters had railings which again was quite different from ours with their panels.  Our grandparents’ house was Edwardian whereas we lived in a 1930s house.

Near the top of the stairs another ladder-like stairway led to the attic.  There were two bedrooms leading off the landing.  The one we shared with our parents on early visits was above the living room.  The other bedroom was above the front room; I cannot remember ever setting foot inside it.  The bathroom was above the kitchen.  Although it seemed old-fashioned to us, it was ahead of its time in the area.  It had a pedestal wash-basin, a bath and a toilet with a cistern high on the wall with a chain to pull.  We had a chain at home too, but plenty of people we knew had levers!  The hammered glass window was directly above the kitchen window.

The landing, which would otherwise have been very gloomy was lit by a skylight in the attic.  There was patterned glass in the bathroom door and the bathroom wall was constructed of tongue and grooved panelling below with patterned glass above to allow a little more light in.  The woodwork in the bathroom was painted pale green.

The bedroom still contained furniture from days when running water was ‘unheard of’.  There was a wash stand with a large jug and bowl which would have been used regularly between weekly baths.  Not far away, up Tong Lane, was what remained of a pump.  I wonder how many families had had to fetch all their water from that?  (We also stayed with a family in the Midlands who were still using a tin bath in front of the fire for a weekly bath.  Later they had a bedroom converted to a bathroom.)

On one visit to Lancashire we were aware that many houses were being modernised.  The outside toilet became almost a thing of the past.  New housing estates were being built with every modern convenience and the old houses were having bathrooms as well.  The Tong Lane property was declared unfit by the council, was compulsorily purchased and demolished to make way for modern housing.  Also in the bedroom were a wardrobe and a dressing table, with mirrors and drawers.  The two double beds took up most of the floor space and were pushed together and right up to the wall next to the window.  The bedding included bolsters, which are very long pillows, the width of a double bed.  As my sister and I had a single bed each at home a bolster was often placed between us to stop us disturbing each other.

A story Mum has often told us concerned household manage­ment in the days when she lived with her parents.  The pillows and bolsters were made of white and black striped ticking filled with feather or more usually flocks.  Flocks were particles of stuffing material, probably cotton waste from the mills.  During spring cleaning the filling would be transferred into clean ticking and the dirty ticking washed ready for next time.  Such an operation had been in progress when Grandma suddenly said, “Eee, I’ve swallowed a flock!”