(extract from "The Clock of Time" by Gertrude Ruston) (I have added pictures to the story)
"Very Early Memories"
My earliest recollection is of a two storey house in Woodford, Essex, attached to an office for my father. The piece of land on which it stood was a triangle, the garden going to a point between two streets.
I can still visualise that garden which was very large and full of the most beautiful roses of all colours, kept in order by a gardener who came in several times a week. He was particularly fond of my mother's caraway seed cake, which he called "lousy bread", and he was always delighted when he received some for morning of afternoon tea.
At that time, when I would not have been more than two or three years old, I would be up in the garden in the very early morning helping my father catch snails, my job being to put them into a large earthernware jar filled with common salt. Poor things! I can still remember them frothing. This early morning gardening was quite a tradition between my father and me and we both enjoyed it.
Our gardener was a nice old boy and I spent a great deal of time with him as well as the early mornings with P.R., which probably accounts for my love of gardening today.
There was a patch of lily of the valley in a corner near the house which was most precious, guarded carefully by the gardener and my father, and definitely not to be touched by the rest of the family. As was the custom in those days P.R. had a buttonhole each morning and the lilies of the valley, when in season, were always selected for that purpose.
As a small child of about three I attended a type of pre-school, child minding centre or kindergarten - I don't now what they were called at that time, but I remember we had to pay fees for the privilege. Roses were always plentiful and the gardener used to give me bunches to take to the teacher, which probably accounts for the fact that I was quite popular with her.
Returning to the garden and the lilies of the valley, I expect the very fact that we were forbidden to pick those flowers made it all the more tempting to do so. I found the temptation too great, picked some for my teacher, my sin was discovered, and I was forbidden the freedom of the garden for several days, a truly terrible punishment!
We always had a maid and a charwoman, but I never remember seeing washing or ironing about the house. One of the drawers of my bedroom was always full of beautiful white starched pinafores with gophered frills, and I wore a clean one each day. I was a fussy child and could not bear dirty hands or a dirty pinafore, so I must have soiled more than one a day on many occasions. Times have changed; pinafores are out of date, and no housewife would tackle gophered frills today.
Due to my age I was still at home and spent considerable time in the kitchen with the maid. On one occasion, when there was to be a very large dinner party, the maid had the best china on the kitchen table (one of those old fashioned ones with rather wobbly side extensions) and I leaned on the table and there was a terrific crash. I cannot remember if there was enough china left for the guests, but I can recall very clearly being sent up to my bedroom by my mother, and told to remain there as a punishment. When my father came home he was very angry as I had been warned several times not to lean on the table (a new one was on order). He turned me over his knee and I was chastised. I can recall that I did not cry, but told him he was very rude. As he left the room, after telling me to go to bed, I can distinctly remember seeing a smile on his face.
Two birthdays come to mind at this time. On the first my father brought me home a beautiful doll's pram - unexpected and truly wonderful. The second occasion was one on which my father had forgotten the day and I reminded him of it when were were doing our early morning snail catching. He apologised for forgetting and said he had some money on his dressing table and I could take some of that. There was rather a lot, but he had not said how much I could have so I to it all. Although I think he was rather staggered, and my mother was aghast, I got away with it. Unlike my sister, I was never afraid of him, and although he bitterly resented the fact that I was not the son he had desired, I think he recognised that there was many of his genes in my makeup."
If you are interested I can add more of mum's memories of her youth. Times were so different way back then.