Blanche M Ballsdon (nee Bearman)
Extracts from 'Runwell, A Personal History'
This personal history was originally written by Mrs B M Ballsdon (1903-1991), the fifth daughter of Mr and Mrs William Bearman, and is published with the family’s permission.
Sunday was the day when the young ones went to morning service and the Lord and Lady of the manor attended and he read the lessons. In the evening Mother and Father came with us and we had our own seat. Sunday Dinner was so homely as father could be with us. He carved the luscious joint from our local butcher and we ate it with mother’s Yorkshire suet pudding with gravy, the old fashioned way, followed by mother’s fruit tart and custard. She always bottled and made her own preserves and wine. My father never forgot his little Hock and, as a treat, each week he bought a large bag of boiled sweets which were put in a large glass jar for us all. Fruit, milk and eggs were very plentiful and cheap in those days: a penny a pint of milk straight from the farm which we had to fetch. A farthing would buy a liquorice strip and we saved our pennies when given any, for Christmas, etc.
We never lacked anything to do at any time of the year as mother taught us boys and girls all kind of things. At the village hall we got up games, plays and old-fashioned dancing. Summer started its pleasures in our old world village with walks across the fields with their hedgerows and the wild flowers so gay and the trees so lovely in bloom.
Easter seemed to start off with mother up very early for Good Friday bakery. No one wanted to lay abed with the lovely smell of hot cross buns and rolls and we all breakfasted in the warm kitchen. The cooking was done in the oven by an open fireplace which kept all warm. My father finished work at dinner time that day, having only one delivery. If his garden was doing well, with the boys helping, he would come out with us all. Mother packed our tea in a basket kept for that purpose and off we went down Hall Lane to a very large wood on the estate of Colonel Kemble. With his permission, the villagers assembled to pick primroses and violets to decorate our lovely old church on Sunday morning when we all helped to trim it. On Sunday, we girls put on our Easter bonnets, each one having trimmed our own and vying with each one another for the best, and so to church.
Whitsun was just as nice, as we all attended Sunday afternoon school at the Hall, taught by Miss Kemble. As the weather was generally warm we were taken round the lovely garden and given a button hole each. There was an orange tree at the front door but I had never seen fruit on it.
The school holidays were a joy to all mothers and children alike as we had lovely summers. Pea picking was the great thing and took up our time and how we enjoyed our lunch at the side of the field. It always tasted better out of doors with drinks that were put in the hedge to keep cool. The money earned was spent on something new for each one.
Blackberry time came September and we were up early before school to fill the skips ready for the milkman when he called to take them to market. Next was the Harvest and how we loved playing hide and seek in the sheaves. All the villagers collected fruit and veg [sic] and helped to arrange it all with the harvest loaf and sheaves of corn. It was splendid to see it all with the beautiful solid brass lectern in the shape of an eagle, the likes of which I have not seen else where in my travels all over.
He [my father] deserved a holiday in the summer and one day it was very special. We were all taken to Southend. It was to have our photo taken together as a group of eleven. I was about four at the time and mother made all our dresses that we wore as well as her own. On other holidays Father hired, a wagonette for days to visit relatives in other villages. My mother’s parents lived in a tied cottage provided by my grandfather’s employers when he retired to Galleywood and so we were taken for a holiday to them. Only the young ones went and walked there and back with Mother pushing the old fashioned pram with bars underneath. There was a wood at the bottom of the garden which was lovely to play in and water had to be fetched from a well at the bottom of a steep hill in a neighbour’s garden. The eldest boy used halter to fetch two buckets and the rest carried one and I expect lost a drop on the way back. The bars on the pram very useful on the way back home, we came across a full skip of tomatoes with the cover still on so they were put underneath. We asked everyone we saw but could not find an owner. There was a large oak tree opposite our house so a large notice was put on it but none claimed the tomatoes so they were used up by neighbours or anyone else, before going bad.
Winter was mostly severe with snow higher than hedges and then floods after. As the years pass me by I always think how hazardous it was for my dear father but he always got through somehow.
At Christmas, Father worked until midday delivering parcels, cards, etc, and he had a large trolley on the back of his cycle for them. It was made of basketwork with protective waterproof material. Many the rides we had in it. But he was home for Christmas dinner and what a lovely meal, with three penny pieces in the pudding. The stockings had been hung up overnight and Father Christmas had been as the wine and cake had been eaten when we got down stairs, The rest of the day we were very busy opening the contents and playing with them after attending morning service and learning what Christmas was about, the birth of Jesus.
Boxing Day was for Party time when all were at home and what fun it was with a large tea party and then bon-bons, sweetmeats, music and presents for all beneath the tree which we had all helped dress Christmas Eve. So lovely to have us all together, I am sure, as I feel the same when my own are.
I, like my sisters, went to the church school at five years old. It was opposite the church but was about ten it was closed down and made into a house which is still there. That meant that the village children were sent to a council school about four miles away and very steep hills to get there. When I became thirteen I had to become very mature. I was offered to take the School Certificate and I passed and was allowed to leave. A lady in the village that had been a boy’s home before they bought it had two little girls so asked mother if I might to go in the daytime and keep them amused. Doing that I learned quite a lot about keeping house, as well and earned enough pocket money which was a help.
We had all been taught to do the chores when not at school. The girls cleaned the parlour which was only used on special occasions. Tea leaves were put down on the carpet to stop dust rising (no electric gadgets in those days). I didn’t care for the dusting as we had a lot of precious ornaments etc and worth a lot now. I think when I look back the `whatnot` was my worst fear and I tried to pass that job on to my sister.
Our neighbours were two spinsters who lived there all the time my parents did and both and never and both were very kind to us all and good friends and never a cross word to us. We shared a tap in their garden and fetching water was a busy time but then father put a water butt from the house pipe to catch lots of rain and made it easier for washing day. But after the Great War a tap was put in our own garden so things were changing for the better then.
The Great War
It was during the war that my father bought a new piano and my younger sister and myself were taught to play by the church organist. There was a cycle regiment billeted in people’s homes so we took it in turns to give some pleasure, a sing along and a cupper.
Runwell Hall was my first place of service and when my father arrived in the evenings I used to slip down to the kitchen to say hello and goodnight as I missed my parents very much being so young, but soon got used to it.
The whole of Runwell was owned by Colonel Henry Kemble JP, but all the farms were rented out to local farmers except the one the estate manager lived in at the bottom of Hall Lane. I was terrified of his horse as he rode it everywhere to supervise all the property.
Before I was fourteen, my eldest sister left the Runwell Hall. She was 24 and had been there as a housemaid since she too, was fourteen. I was given her place and learned what service was like at the front of the house. The events of old times were many including Hunt Balls, tennis parties, and, always parties. There were no bathrooms, only hip baths in front of the bedroom fires. There were oil lamps and candles everywhere and shutters to be closed after dark, with a bell attached. But it was a happy and contented time for us all even if it was an early rise. At 6 am the lady of the house rang a bell near our bedrooms and from then on it was a very busy day for all.
The washing for the house, and the servant’s dresses and aprons was done by a lady in the village who had a large trolley loaded with the baskets which was pulled by her up and down hill. Our parents did our personal underwear. We all wore print dresses in the morning and black in the afternoon with stiff cuffs and collars and pretty frilled aprons and very nice they looked and made one feel quite important.
I had been there for about two years on £8.00 a year wage when Mother said I should ask for a rise, but Miss Augusta Kemble told me she could start another girl and train her on a lower wage. But it so happened that a friend of hers in the next village who lived in Rettendon Hall was looking for parlour maid as hers was getting married. I was given excellent references as to my honesty and capabilities. The wage was £16.00 a year but rose to £24.00 by the time I left.
I soon knew how to do all the work and I enjoyed the responsibility of caring for the silver and glass and waiting at the table. When visitors and parties were there I was helped by the Housemaid and we worked very happily together. My father was a very caring and loving man and always went back with me after his hard day. I think now what a lucky girl I was.
A new car
I had been there about eighteen months when the owners decided to buy their own car, which was coming into fashion, having always used horse and carriage. It was a large Hunting County of course. No one could drive a car round so they advertised in ‘The Times’ for young man to teach the coachman. He was far too nervous, he said, of such a thing. However, an answer came from a young man just out of the army whose father had a car hire business in Fulham, London. He was taken on for six months but they kept him eighteen months as they liked him so much and for his willingness to help. He taught the eldest daughter and she soon picked it up but the owner was older and slower and bought a motorcycle and sidecar and did well with that.
We became very attracted to one another and my parents liked him very much and he was always welcome to my home. His home being in Fulham he went home when ever possible on his motorcycle to see his parents. When the time came for him to go back to his home for good we were naturally despondent. He asked Father and Mother if they would let me go to London to work so we could continue our friendship and we were both overjoyed when they agreed.
Again I was lucky to obtain a parlour maid’s place with a titled family in St John’s Wood near Regent’s Park. My time off was spent with my future in-laws at Fulham and eventually we were married at St Mary’s Church, Bryanston Square. We had three sons who are a boon to me as I lost my love after 48 years of very happy marriage.