Villa Castrorum was built in the 18th century and 1797 was painted on the lintel over the door. In the 18th century indoor plumbing was not a big thing and all the wonders of modern sanitation never actually came to pass before this beautiful old house was torn down and replaced by an industrial building of no beauty at all.
Some improvements were made from the time dad and the rest of the family coped with the outside “dry” toilet across the yard at the end of the Little Stable and the water pump outside the back door. Washing under the pump on a cold winter’s day apparently was not as bad as digging out the waste in the toilet and spreading it on a field.
The next major push forward was to create an indoor bathroom by taking a third of one of the front rooms and walling it off and installing two modern flush toilets. Sounds great but the toilets were outside at the end of the yard and the bathroom’s hot water came from a gas geyser.
I never understood why the toilets were built outside but have an idea that Victorian values were in play and the idea of bringing an outside function indoors was a bit distasteful. Or it was cheaper.
The toilets didn’t have any lights except candles and they were the perfect habitat for giant killer spiders. Torn newspaper was sometimes provided but more often Izal toilet paper was the preferred option. For those who never had the pleasure of using Izal it had the look and texture of tracing paper and the absorbency of a brick.
In toilet entertainment was provided in the form of a selection of comics. The cream of British children’s publications were available strewn around the floor until they got too soggy and were cleared out. The Beano, Topper and Dandy were my favourites but Susan’s Judy had some interesting stories as well. As the years went on Valiant joined the illustrious band and Captain Hurricane interested me more than Desperate Dan. Dad didn’t like the modern comics and was happy sticking to the classics.
On a cold winter’s night the thought of crossing a farm yard in the dark to go into a pitch black toilet filled to the brim with spiders didn’t really seem like a lot of fun. I had adopted the habit of relieving myself outside the kitchen door and then popping back in as quickly as possible. I was only 4.
On one such dark and windy night I was just about to perform when dad appeared out of the gloom. Looking at me and realising what I was about to do he remarked “We have ducks you know?”
“They’ll think it’s a worm and peck it off” he said as he went into the Dairy to do something agricultural. Only a few words but it was enough to make me run to the toilet, cure me of my old habit and give me a lifelong slight fear of ducks.
I mention the Dairy and must explain another improvement made to our home. When The Cottage was shut off and used as a separate house the kitchen was lost. A lean-to extension was built at the back of the house made totally of corrugated iron. A partition wall divided the tin shed in half and one side was our kitchen and the other was the Dairy.
Tin shed it may have been but it was a wonderful place. It was where the family gathered to eat vast meals and speak to each other in very loud farmer voices often expressing strong views. Today it would be described as a kitchen diner but I don’t think the term existed then. Kitchens always had tables.
The Kitchen had a few cupboards, a sink and a gas cooker. I don’t recall the sink having hot water but I may be wrong. I do faintly recall having a bath in the sink but I was much smaller then. Mum didn’t have many modern conveniences to make her life easier. In fact she had none at all. She did the weekly wash for a family of two adults and five children and please remember we lived on a farm not the cleanest working environment.
Mum washed our clothes on a Sunday and got us out of the way by sending us to Sunday school at St John’s. I learnt an awful lot about the baby Jesus and filled up my sticker book with each weeks interesting sticker. While mum was doing her laundry I was learning enough about Christianity to make me question the whole thing.
Before washing machines, tumble driers and modern washing detergents the weekly wash was a huge chore. My Granny Cox had a real problem with washing day when mum was a little girl and often found solace in the West End Bar. On more than one occasion a messenger would come to get mum from Vauvert school to go an fetch granny. Granny Cox had a hard life not helped by losing her husband in the First world War.
I spent a lot of time with Granny in the early 1960’s when I often sat with her as she slowly lost her senses with dementia. Mussolini wasn’t marching down the road to get us and there was no need to try and climb out of the upstairs window to get away. She died during the very cold winter of 1963. I would never sit in judgement on her life and as I’ve grown older I have come to understand more of what made her who she was.
One thing the schoolgirl’s trips to the West End Bar to collect her mother did to directly affect my life was to give her a lifelong aversion to drink. She was tee total (except for a Babycham at Christmas) and she passed her dislike for drinking on to me and I haven’t knowingly imbibed alcohol for the whole of my life.
The laundry process was to heat up the geyser in the bathroom which I always was a bit nervous about. It gave a big “whooomph” when it was lit and I always expected it to blow up especially because dad always reminded us it would blow up if it wasn’t filled with water beforehand.
Once the bath was filled with water all the clothes were dropped in and washing powder was tipped on top. Then they were swirled around and pummelled. Although mostly seen today being used as a musical instrument the washboard actually had a place to play in washing. Soiled clothes were rubbed over with a solid bar of soap and then scrubbed up and down the washboard to get the dirt out.
Dad tried to help once and skinned the knuckles of both his hands so badly that mum sent him out before too many clothes became blood stained. It was hard work and the next process was harder. That was the wringing the clothes out to get them as dry as possible. The clothes were twisted and twisted as hard as possible with water streaming into the bath.
The mangle was used as well and though hard to turn the handle it did get the clothes drier. All of the wash was put into a heavy basket, taken out side and strung up on the line to dry. While it was drying mum would prepare our tea, always from fresh ingredients mostly grown on the farm. She baked her bread daily and kept a hundredweight bag of flour in her bedroom cupboard where it was safer from getting damp or for the mice to find it.
Then she would do her jobs on the farm before collecting in the washing and dishing up our tea. After clearing up she would then do the ironing. The rest of the evening was her own.
Life did improve over the years. We got electricity and her first twin tub was seen by her as a miracle machine and she loved it even though it didn’t have the functionality of a modern machine it was so much better than the hell of washing day before it arrived.
I still haven’t got to the bull in the bathroom. Perhaps tomorrow?