Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Marwell of My Childhood

Marwell Cross Gardens was a very different place when I was growing up.

I don't know why it came to mind this morning but it did so I googled it to see if I could find any old photos.  Of course I could have just emailed my friend who I am still in touch with and who's family (who seemed a part of my own family) lived and worked on the land for many years.

The only photos I could find were of it in the present day.  A very different place to the Marwell of my childhood.

An imposing house, guest houses, stables, formal gardens and, as far as I can tell a price tag of over one million pounds.

You can take a virtual look here if you are interested: http://www.primelocation.com/for-sale/details/33455428#ow0wJ8dRzxjtDuY9.97

Marwell was a curious place and the people who lived there may have been considered a little curious themselves, certainly Barbara was rather eccentric.

Barbara was the mother of my school friend Frances.  A tall, imposing woman with a booming laugh and a keen sense of humour.

As a mother I suspect she was slightly difficult to love.  As a kind of substitute mother it was much easier and, although I wasn't conscious of it at the time, I did love my second family as much as I loved my own.

Marwell was (is) set in the valley of two small hills about a mile from Bigbury where I grew up.  It's reached down a winding lane and sits on the corner of two roads with a small wooden sign post declaring it to be Marwell Cross.

The first sighting is a little before the crossroads through a gate by the large wooden shed that served as a garage.  From here you could look across the land to the right where a row of half a dozen or more large green houses stood in a row.  To the left, hidden from view by the shed was a paddock where Caprice, Barbara's temperamental, pure white (I know, ALL horses are grey ...) Welsh Mountain (with a touch of Arab) horse spent much of her time.

Caprice was certainly a horse that lived up to her name.  One moment she would be nuzzling up to you gently nibbling your ear and the next, if you weren't careful, she would take a sharp nip out of your shoulder.

She and Barbara were a good match.  A swift tap on the nose if she misbehaved when she was being groomed and Caprice would snort loudly and then blow gently through her nose fluttering her long lashes innocently.

Barbara and Caprice ready for the meet (in the days before fox hunting was banned) were a magnificent sight.

Holding her tail high, her hooves gleaming with oil, her mane neatly braided Caprice knew she was a thing of beauty.  Barbara sat astride her, her back ramrod straight, not a mark on her gleaming white jodhpurs tucked into the long black boots with the brown top that proclaimed her the leader of the hunt and on her head not the traditional hard hat but a black dressage hat, a little like a shortened version of a mans top hat.  A riding crop in one hand and a flask containing brandy attached to her saddle.

Barbara wasn't beautiful but she she had style that reached far beyond mere beauty.

Walking a little further down the road it was easy to miss the arched wood doorway set as it was in a wall so covered in ivy it was almost completely hidden.

The door was opened by means of a large, rusty ring that, when twisted, lifted the latch on the other side of the door.  Kicking the bottom of the door where it had swollen tight against the frame I would walk into the dimly lit walkway to the house.  Trees on either side of the path met overhead and even on the brightest of days it felt like you could reach out and grab handfuls of the thick, soft, green air and there was complete silence.

At the end of the path to the right was the entrance to the house.

Except ...

Well, it wasn't a house like ANY otherThe back of the building which reached into the trees that lined the path was a World War II Nissan hut!

Half cylindrical and made of corrugated steel and it was BIG.

At some point the steel had been overlaid with something.  I'm not sure what but it had been rendered and pebble dashed.

On the front an extension had been built and a covered veranda built across the front and down the path side of the building.

You entered the house at the point where the front veranda met the side veranda.  To the right you walked the length of the building to reach what would otherwise have been an outside toilet which I avoided wherever possible as spiders lurked in the Ivy that clambered over the outside of the building and forced it's was between the breeze blocks and the corrugated plastic roof.

The small extension on the front was the hub of the house.

Immediately on the right as you went through the door was the kitchen.  Little more than a narrow corridor perhaps 9ft long and 5ft wide with a solid fuel burning Aga where much of the cooking was done.

The kitchen opened off a larger room, I'm not sure what you would have called it.  The living room perhaps as that is where most of the living was done ...

Much of the room was taken up by a large table covered for most of the time in part finished flower arrangement for Barbara was a florist.  Buckets of blooms stood around on the floor filling the air with perfume.

Along the back wall sat a long narrow uncomfortable looking sofa.  I never saw anyone sit on it as it was always covered in a collection of coats, bits of bridle and various tools for flower arranging.

It was the untidiest, gloomiest and yet most comfortable room I have ever been in.

Other than the glorious riot of colour from the flowers everything seemed to be in various shades of grey.  The carpet was so well worn that any pattern had long since disappeared and the two large armchairs were threadbare and full of lumpy cushions.

leading off again to the right was the bathroom which made up the final part of the extension.  A cold, dark room housing the hot water tank, a sink and the bath but no toilet.

Beyond the extension you entered the part of the house inside the Nissan hut.

A huge room with the domed ceiling of the Nissan hut above you.

This room by contrast was always immaculately kept and rarely used.  A large open fire place on the left and a door to the veranda and access to the toilet on the right.

Again the air was gloomy as the only light was from the windows leading out the the enclosed veranda which in turn was shaded by trees.  There was a faint smell of damp and dust but also a kind of majesty about the place almost like being in a church.

At the very back of the Nissan hut were two bedrooms.  One belonging to Frances my friend and the other her parents.

Looking back it was an odd house and a very odd way of life but to me it was always just as it had always been.

There is so much more to tell of this wonderful place and the things we got up to during the long summer holidays but I'll save that for another post (or two).

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