Days of rhubarb and sugar

Annie, Teenie, Kate, John, Janet with Isa, Mary, Percy with Chrissie

Happy family at the Toll: Annie, Teenie, Kate, John, Janet with Isa, Mary, Percy with Chrissie

My mother must have been happy to be back in the village, although it had its drawbacks – no cinemas for instance. I believe they did occasionally see a film, taking me as a babe-in-arms, well fed and wrapped up, sleeping through it all. But it was home to her, and we all settled down happily. We spent many an hour at the Toll where I was free to wander about the garden and among the chickens. There were several bantams and a colourful bantam cock who was very bossy and would peck at ankles. The big chickens were lovely: white, brown and speckled. They wandered about making nice wee noises and they laid eggs. Sometimes I would find an egg under a plant and take it to Granny. She had a tall, white enamel pail where she pickled eggs for the time when the hens didn’t lay. Their cockerel was to me, very big, but I got used to him. When the hens went broody and started “clocking” (it was probably clucking!) Granny would douse the hen in a tub of water. I was told that there was a great noisy uproar among the hens one day, and when they came out to see what was causing it, they found me trying to get a hen under my arm to give it a dip.

Old postcard of the mill

Old postcard of the Mill

The garden was full of flowers such as lupins and phlox in various colours, orange Tiger Lilies and yellow globe flowers. There was a rockery at the back door and, as well as rocks and plants, there were three big shells: white, beige and brown spotted. When Grandaddy held one to my ear for the first time it was so surprising, just like the sea waves. I wonder where they are now. In spring there were lots of pheasant’s eye narcissus and primroses. There was a huge (to me) Scotch thistle with big purple flowers. Straight in from the gate was the green on which the henhouse stood, with its wee door and a ramp for the chickens to climb in at night. Grandad and I used to walk down to the Mill to buy a bag of grain for the hens now and again. It was quite a walk for wee legs but he knew all the wildflower names so I was learning useful things and, if there were cows in the field, we’d stop and admire them. Plus he knew just where the wild raspberry bushes were. Some of the berries were white but they tasted as nice as the red ones.

The garden had lots of vegetables growing at the far side, and in between was the rhubarb patch and the gooseberry bush. I don’t remember when I was introduced to rhubarb, but I loved it and the first thing I asked whenever we arrived at the Toll was, “Granny, can I please have a stick of rhubarb and a wee bag of sugar?” The red, thin early sticks were good but I liked it any time. It must have kept me in good working order! When “we” dug up the Golden Wonders I liked getting them off the stalks ready to wash and boil for us to eat. The vegetables were for the soup, and Granny’s was the best ever. They didn’t earth up the leeks so much as nowadays and the flavour was strong, just lovely.

In the scullery corner was a big stone boiler with a wee fireplace under it. On the wash days it was filled with water, the fire was lit early and the whites were boiled. They were lifted out with big wooden tongs and carried out to the garden where there was a big wooden tubful of water to rinse them all. This was repeated twice. If it was a sunny day the sheets and pillow cases would be spread over bushes or on the green to bleach and dry them, or they were hung on the line. After all was done, the water in the boiler would have cooled down and it was my turn. I have strong memories of standing in the boiler splashing and laughing and having a lovely time. When the shirts and socks and other coloured things were washed pans of water were heated on the range and poured into the tub. Granny had a wash board (like the ones the skiffle bands used in later years). Green Fairy Soap, which came in blocks of two which were cut apart, was used to make a lather and also rubbed on the cloth. The board was put in the tub, legs first, then you got hold of a garment and vigorously pummelled it up and down on the ridges of the board which were metal. When I was big enough I liked to “help”. They were all very patient!

Getting me dressed after the bath was a lengthy process as children’s clothing was rather different in these far off days. The first garment was my “wee Thermogene jacket” which was reputed to be helpful in counteracting bronchial troubles. We bought it from Max Donald’s and were probably his top buyer! Next was my vest, which had short sleeves and a high neck and was knitted by Mum or Granny. I still don’t like wool next to my skin! It was followed by “combinations” which were an all in one garment covering neck to knees and split in the middle for convenience. The knickers went over them. A woolly jumper and warm skirt topped the lot, plus long wool socks. Hanging round my neck under all this would be an “Iodine Locket”, supposed to help ward off chesty colds. When we went out, there was the big scarf, warm coat and hat, and gaiters which were brown leather and had to be buttoned up the side, covering from instep to knees. My shoes had straps with buttons, for which we had a button hook. The handle was smooth wood and the business end was strong steel, hooked at the end. You put it through the buttonhole then hooked the button and manoeuvred it into place. It wasn’t easy with a restless child when you were in a hurry.

There was no central heating then and we had coal fires so had to be well clad indoors too. I remember the thrill of getting up in the morning and finding the inside of window had been decorated all over by Jack Frost in lovely frondy patterns. We were a hardy lot! Mum made lovely cotton dresses with puff sleeves and gathered skirts, and when winter was over it was goodbye to the restricting woollies for a few months. Strange as it may sound, there always seemed to be more summer than winter at the Toll but memory can be rose-tinted!


4 thoughts on “Days of rhubarb and sugar

  1. Hi Chris,Still enjoying your blog…Loved the picture of your wedding..Unfortunately I only have one picture of ours,as we were married iin 1948,.there were no photographers around in Barnard Castle at that time..none till much later after the war…I treasure the one I have….Much love & prayers..Marion xx


  2. Hello. Just getting around to reading my emails.  Nice interesting post.

    Mum went home this morning. She had a lovely time in Normandy. Paris was rather hot and sticky.

    Hope you had a good time with Elspeth and the girls. Shame I missed them.

    Love Julie



    > Message du 07/07/14 12:40 > De : “It was always sunny” > A : > Copie à : > Objet : [New post] Days of rhubarb and sugar > >

    Anabel Marsh posted: ” My mother must have been happy to be back in the village, although it had its drawbacks – no cinemas for instance. I believe they did occasionally see a film, taking me as a babe-in-arms, well fed and wrapped up, sleeping through it all. But it was ho”


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