Janet Ash (Stone)

The year was 1942, the month December.  It was a stormy night, the night I was born at Hanover House, in the front bedroom facing the sea.  The weather that night must have been reflected in my personality and future life!

It was war time and Mum and Auntie were supplying meals for soldiers, who I am told loved to put me on their shoulders and amuse me – what a start to life. As with most children I thought I was hard done by. I would lie in bed at weekends, without a care in the world and hear Mum run up two sets of stairs to fetch stock for a shop customer.  

As I grew older my sister Susan and I were expected to ‘do our bit’, which I did reluctantly, as there were always other things I would rather be doing.  I must add, we were always rewarded for our efforts. There was one job I did like and that was mowing the lawns.  Dad had to go into hospital for knee operations and was out of action for some time, so I volunteered for lawn mowing.  After much persuading I was allowed to use the kick start Atco mower and it was fun, mowing straight lines up and down the lawns.

In the summer we had to help in the kitchen during the weekends.  It was hectic but Uncle managed to crack jokes, much to Auntie’s dismay, and we kids enjoyed it. We each had our own job. Auntie would take the orders and wait at table, alone except when Molly Humber came to help on Sundays. I would lay up the tea tray with the appropriate number of cups, saucers, plates, milk jug, tea pot, hot water jug, sugar bowl, spoons and knives.  Mum would fill the milk jug, tea pot and hot water jug (I might have burned myself!). Uncle would, in his own time, cut the brown bread, so thinly, and butter it, together with the pre-cut white bread and/or scones and select the cakes.  Dad would be continuously washing up and supplying us with clean crockery, etc.  

Afternoon Tea would consist of bread, butter and jam and cakes. Cream Tea would be scones, cream, jam and cakes. It was very hard work for the grown-ups but this was not appreciated by us children until we looked back on it later in life.  It was no Gordon Ramsay kitchen. Certainly no swearing, just a few tears of frustration, rude noises from Uncle and sniggers from Sue and I!  In season there would be Alf Woodford’s prawns and shrimps and Monty Rowell’s strawberries from the walled garden of Brook House.   Later supplies also came from Mr Richards at Atherfield and Mr Hawes at Swainston.  All very delicious and for special treats some were put aside for our own tea time.

Our lives revolved around food.  Every day we had meat, vegetables and pudding at lunch time, afternoon tea and supper.  I can recall occasions when Auntie cooked individual steak pies served with mashed potato and tinned garden peas.  This may have been for the Estate Shoot, I can’t remember.  What I do remember was eating leftovers for supper and they were superb.  In winter after school, dinner was heated on a plate, on top of a saucepan, all ready for our return home.  In summer we probably had to fend for ourselves a little more.

We did not have a television but I was invited by Mr and Mrs Walter Newbery to go next door to watch Six Five Special, Dixon of Dock Green and Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
Robin Shepheard and his mother Joan also lived there and Robin was heavily into skiffle. You could hear him belting out Cumberland Gap and other such numbers from his bedroom.  I remember him once playing with a group of mates for one of the ‘socials’ held in the Seely Hall.  I had a very good relationship with this family, calling the ladies Auntie Newbery and Auntie Joan and spent many laughter-filled hours in their company.  

Winter was a little dreary, but summer was magic.  My friend Anne Hookey, from Downton Farm, and I would go to the beach as often as we could.  We would tell her Mum that my Mum said we could go if she agreed, and vice versa, not quite true but invariably we were allowed to go.  Sometimes we had to try to find a grown-up to accompany us.  If we were lucky we would find discarded lemonade bottles and take them home to get the penny deposit refunded, or find a stash of loose change in the sand from some poor tourist’s pocket!  

We also liked it when the campers arrived in the Hookey’s fields. Boys’ school camps were our favourites. We got to know one or two boys quite well – not on the same terms as today I might add! Other summer pursuits included sitting on the grass verge on the Military Road, taking down car registration numbers and taking tea to the harvest fields, honey or jam sandwiches – can you imagine that in high summer!  We’d make a den in the brambles to hide in, only for it to be ransacked by Anne’s brother David and Robin Shepheard. We got stuck up trees and I cut my foot paddling in the stream so we had to send for Dad to help.  He was busy and not amused. One evening Anne and I ventured up to her father’s barn along the Military Road with two boys, formerly from Portsmouth Boys’ School camp. We knew one of them from previous years. They walked us home in the dark and Dad was standing by the front gate awaiting me!  ‘Indoors now!’ he shouted.  I ran up the lane, indoors, past Mum and upstairs, into bed and under the covers quick sharp.  There was no repeat performance!

I belonged to the church choir and we had a good view of the comings and goings in the congregation.  We swooned when Geoff Mariner brought his mother into church; he had film star good looks, so handsome.  We did actions to the words of hymns and made things from hankies during the sermon.  Mum would glare at us through her mirror above the organ.

Life on an estate, owned by the rich, was very much a case of ‘them’ and ‘us.’  I did not doff my cap or treat ‘them’ any differently.  Rebellious or what!  All the families worked hard to earn a living and when the Estate was sold off most were able to buy their own properties.  My naive thoughts back then were that if they were Conservatives I didn’t want to be one.  Funny how life turns out!  I remember one evening, after the shop was closed, Lord Sherwood walked straight in through our back door, and I was having my bath in the tin bath in the kitchen.  As he started to enter the kitchen Dad jumped up from his chair in the living room and said ‘You can’t go in there my daughter is having a bath’.  He only wanted a refill for his soda siphon.

Avice French came to live in the village in 1949 and we soon became good friends.  We were in the Girl Guides and would cycle to and from the meetings at Brighstone, often cycling home in the dark.  The bonus of attending these meetings was the fact that the Boy Scout meetings followed the Guides.  

I was very much a country bumpkin. I knew nothing about clothes and on one occasion went to Freshwater with my friend Beryl Humber from Mottistone, trying to impress the boys. I put on a pair of nylons but had nothing to keep them up, so used safety pins.  What a disaster that was! When I left school I went to the Technical College in Newport to learn shorthand and typing.  I turned up in white socks and wore a bottle green hand-knitted cardigan. I felt so out of place with girls from Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin who had bags of knowledge of the fashion scene!

Dad took me to Whiston’s Cycle Shop in Newport and we bought a bike, a drop-handled racing bike no less.  I thought I was made. On Easter Saturday I was cycling to Freshwater when I came off in the gravel on Compton Farm bends.  I was picked up by Den Phillips – wow - how handsome he was. Some girls get all the luck, except I had dislocated my shoulder and severed a nerve. Once again, Dad was busy and had to take me to St Mary’s.  I spent several weeks in a metal contraption to keep the arm elevated so that the nerve would mend. Once a rebel, always a rebel!

Once I left college I commenced work as a Junior Shorthand Typist for a Newport firm of chartered accountants. My wage was £2.5s and the bus fare was £1.10s per week. My parents loaned me the deposit to buy a Vespa 125 from Borough Hall Motors. I paid £1 per week in hire purchase. Dad drove it home from Newport for me and I learned to ride on the Military Road, frightened to change gear as Dad warned me it was a bit fierce. Once I had mastered it there was no stopping me! I don’t recall ever paying the deposit back. Petrol and a shot of Redex was around 7s 6p and lasted for ages – I was quids in and free to go where I liked.

As I write this I learn of the sad and untimely death of David Hookey, aged 61. I have just returned from attending David’s funeral and have never seen Brook Church so packed, with mourners sitting in the choir stalls and on the altar steps.  Brook will not be the same without him.