Wright Family Album

Basil's memories - Shudy Camps 1925-1930

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Some events - some bright some drab.

Hugh and I shared a big iron double bed.

One Christmas we were looked after by Kitty -  a distant relative, a girl of about 18/19.  She did her best to be fair and to control us, and didn't show favours to the boys, but had a soft spot for Barbara. This Christmas we put our big stockings at the end of our bed on Christmas Eve, as usual.  I slept soundly till Christmas day dawned. I went straight to my stocking and put my hand inside - only to feel a hard irregular piece of coal. My hand was black and I turned out the contents on the blanket.  This also was blackened as the stocking was filled with coal lumps.  Later we did get some presents such as tin-whistle, mouth organ, trinkets and fruit and nuts.

I was experimenting with an oil-filled bicycle lamp.  On this occasion I set up a rough magic lantern display, and I intended to produce a shadow on the wall.  To do this I had to tip the lamp so as to point it high up on the wall.  I had lit the lamp and set it on a book on the bed so as to shine on the wall.  I left the room for a time - then someone gave out a loud scream.  There was a smell of burning and smoke was filling the bedroom.  I rushed in but couldn't get very far.  Mother, with great presence of mind, rushed in and ripped a blanket off the bed and covered the flames with the blanket and so put it out.  I cant recall her scolding me then, but I felt abashed.

One day the older ones were playing,  Some of us were in the garden.  Gordon ran along the veranda and put his hand to grab the veranda door but slipped.  His knee struck and broke the glass panel and he had a gash in front of the knee. Mother quickly cleaned it and bandaged it.  I don’t remember if a neighbour was called; we had no transport.  She probably had to send Philip on a bicycle for a taxi.  He was taken to the doctor's surgery at Saffron Walden, where the doctor stitched it.

From the kitchen there was a short passage, then after turning the corner, we had to go up 3 steps into the dining room.  For high tea I helped to lay the table.  When it was time, mother called us to wash and go and sit down.  I asked mother if I could help, so she gave me a large plate, with scrambled eggs on toast, to take into the dining room.  As I went to go up the steps, I slipped, and dropped the dish on the floor.  Mother really scolded me this time.  She picked what was left of the eggs and toast and we had to eat it!

The Vicarage had a large garden.  When you came to the front gate there was a drive about 50 yards long, with a shrubbery on the left and a few bushes the other side.  At the side entrance there was a circular  area so that cars and grocers' vans could turn.  One of our bikes was left lying in this space.  The grocer's van from Haverhill used to come regularly.  This time the driver came in a hurry and his front wheel ran over the wheel of the bicycle and bent it.  It wasn't mine because I didn't get upset.  Gordon took it to the bicycle shop in Shudy Camps for repair.

In order to get to the village we had to go - usually by bicycle about mile - down a little hill and at the corner, turn left to the short lines of cottages.  One of these, a thatch-roofed cottage, with rather small and dark rooms, was converted into a Post Office and shop.  Auntie Pem owned the shop for a short time.  The children would go to visit her, when we had a little pocket money 'to spend’.

Opposite the Vicarage front gate, there was the Entrance to Tillbrook's farm. In the summer holidays it was such fun to see the farm workers harvesting the corn and oats from the fields.  The horse drawn harvester - which in those days consisted of lengths of iron, welded to radial struts which were pivoted to the axle and 2 iron wheels -with cutting edges to the metal that rotated and cut the corn. Afterwards the stalks and grain were raked together into stacks. These were collected and, during the weeks in late August, the stubble was removed by the threshing machine and the straw was piled into haystacks; this was done with 2-barb rakes. When the field was being harvested the machine circled round the field and cut the corn from the periphery towards the centre.  When this had proceeded for some time there was only a small circle left in the centre.  As the cutter circled round, rats would dash out from the uncut corn, and, to an accompaniment of barking from dogs and shouts from us, the prey had little chance of escape.

On one occasion I recall an ugly argument with one of the boys of that farm and he threatened me with fists, but I managed to run away in time!

The Vicarage was situated at the far end of the village and we were sitting targets for the tramps, and occasional hawker. One tramp came and told his story to Mother.  She agreed to give him a task to do.  This was a simple job - such as to put a screw in a carpet sweeper.  When it was done, Mother gave him a crown.  He was angry, saying it was worth more that that, and threw it back at her. Mother was very upset.  She went and found another coin - there was nothing to spare, I am sure.  We children did not know that she was often at her wits' end to get the cash to feed and clothe all 7 children.  David, the youngest, was born at the Vicarage, in 1926.

During our 5 years at Shudy Camps I don’t recall Daddy joining us more than 2-3 short holidays.  About 1926 Father bought an old car -a 2-seater with a drop-hood and a "dicky". The bonnet sloped down to the front and 2 oil lamps were the only lights.  Daddy brought the car named Ruth - from somewhere near London.  He taught Mummy and Gordon to drive.  After some time "Ruth's" decor was stripped and the older children took it round the front field.

Ruth vandalised, Phil, Betty, Basil, Gordon, David, Barbara, Hugh, gloomy Doris.

Daddy never owned another car; although in the late 1930's the boys were lent a Morris Oxford, by Dr. Maisie McGill, when we lived in Wokingham.  Gordon and I learnt to drive.  Daddy was asked whether he would buy a car.  He answered "I had to choose between getting a car or a telephone - and I decided on a phone."

One holiday I had a "tummy infection" and was put to bed, on a semi-starvation diet.  Mother came in to rouse me.  She was always cheerful.  She would go to the window, draw back the curtains and open the windows, singing "Let the blessed sunshine in".  By her triumphant faith and cheerful bearing she was a wonderful Mother and influenced all of us children for the rest of our lives.  One of her favoured expressions was, "0 be a brick, Basil (or Doris) and fill up the lamps", or whatever.
She loved her "bairns" (Father's expression) and we knew it. She was not demonstrative;  her great gift was that she shared it with all alike, so that each of us felt it, and not one of us became jealous of another member of the family.

One summer John Gray came to stay for a few weeks.  He was the only son of one of Father's fellow students - Rev Dick Gray, at the CMS Training College, Islington.  Regrettably, our family was closely knit and of such close age-group that John was left out of the outdoor games and cycle rides.  When we set up a swing from a branch of the walnut tree, it was good fun.  One day the rope broke.  John was the poor fellow who landed in the nettles!   He nicknamed us "The CAN’T FAG family"

It was a big day during the summer when Mother arranged a visit to the sea-side - at Clacton. We were a mixed-age party who went by coach; and were excited.  We had our spades and buckets, cricket bat and ball. One of the events was when we boarded a steamer, powered by a coal-fired engine. I felt sick as we made a big circuit to return to the shore.   I was never sea-sick on the large ocean ships to/from East Africa.  It was a happy day for all of us. It was possibly the only occasion we went on a trip to the sea-side.

In contrast, the winter of 1929 was severe. We were cut off from the village by deep snow and it was some days before the Grocer's van was able to reach the approach road, past the Hall. It was a relief to the whole family when we could replenish the simple stock of food, especially bread.

Another year. Mummy went to join Daddy for Christmas, and Kitty was deputed to look after us for most of the 4 weeks' holiday.  Hugh and I were put up by the Vicar of Horseheath and his wife, who were kind.  On Christmas night there was a severe frost; so when I cycled over the 2 miles to the Vicarage, carrying Hugh on the back pillion, we had to walk up the last hill. I don’t know how we kept on the bicycle. We were late on reaching the Vicarage, much to Kitty's consternation.

The Vicarage had only an open fire in the sitting-room and if we felt cold, we could go and warm ourselves by the big kitchen range. On some winter days we had baths in an oval galvanised iron bath in the kitchen. I don’t know if this was because we were short of water. We were not on the mains but pumped it from a well. We boys took it in turns to pump the water to the attic tank.

Sometimes we three cycled to Tilbrook's farm to get milk, and hooked the milk cans on the handle-bars of the bicycles; on coming to the back door we would cycle into the scullery, much to Mummy's amusement.

On one or two Christmas holidays there would be a concert and our family would perform in them.  I recall Betty and Gordon sung community songs.  One was:  0 No John.
    "My father was a Spanish Captain
    Went to sea a month ago.
    First he kissed me, then he left me,
    Bid me always answer No.
    0 No John! No,John! No John! No!"
Also Londonderry air. There wasn't a village school, so we didn't do a Nativity Play.

Canon Thornton was the Vicar, as well as Squire and lived at the Hall.  He was quietly spoken.  His housekeeper, Miss Rodwell, was a friendly person. One occasion my brothers and I went with one of the Hall workmen with whippets, to catch rabbits.  The whippet would descend the rabbit warren.  The men dug out further down the hole and when the rabbit tried to escape it was caught by the dogs. On one summer holidays, the Canon allowed us to swim in his lake. We splashed about in the shallow end, but it was very muddy. On Sundays we dutifully attended Church and occupied the length of the Vicarage pew.

There was no Sunday School. Mummy used to have family prayers daily with CSSM choruses and read from the Bible. The one response to anything of a religious nature was in our last year.  Philip and I arranged short acts of devotion in the front lounge.  There were 2 prayer-desks, placed opposite each other, at which we knelt.  We read part of the Prayer Book service, but I don’t remember that we had an audience.  We didn't keep it up for long.

Our family, like most missionary children, had the accepted code of conduct and behaviour which we inherited from the parents, and was part of the post-Victorian training.  The big asset in that culture was the security. We learnt to give and take in a family unit.

Mummy was given a well-bred rabbit, and I helped with its care and feeding.  One day when I went to clean the cage, there were lots of baby bunnies!  They were common greys.  Mother never explained to me how they could have been conceived.  I think a wild male had got into the cage - and this was the result!

In the lovely summer weather, the four boys spent a lot of time out in the garden.  We caught butterflies; went searching for birds' eggs and went for walks.  There were a variety of birds - of which I remember the yellowhammers frequenting the hawthorn hedges.  The hedge leaves were tasty - "a little bit of bread and no cheese".

On Sunday afternoons the younger ones went for walks.

Occasionally I would exhaust the games that we had for Christmas. In order to counter this sense of boredom Mummy told a little rhyme. She would imitate the puffing of the steam trains going up the hill, -"I THINK I CAN, I THINK I CAN, I THINK I CAN", when it reached the top, then it would free-wheel, "I THOUGHT I COULD, I THOUGHT I COULD, I THOUGHT I COULD".

(Ed:) School - all went to St Michael's, Limpsfield, Surrey, but the boys left and went to Weymouth College when they were old enough (around 13).
1. St Michael's.   2. Daddy at Service on cricket pitch, St Michael's.  3. 1928 Basil's class (he is seated far right).  4. 1928 Phil's class (he is seated far right).  5. Phil in the 1st XI (he is in the middle of the back).  6. Gordon in Weymouth uniform.  7. Gordon in O.T.C uniform (Officer Training Corps).  8. Mummy & Daddy (readily discernible) watching Weymouth 1st XV.
1.   2.   3.   4.   5.   6.   7.   8.

What a joy it was, when we came home at the end of the St Michael's term.  We were met at Bartlow station by the garage owner in his T-model Ford.  We 5 piled in (Gordon and Betty had left St Michael's).  We got more excited as we got near the Vicarage drive. When the car drove slowly up the drive, we all sang a song to tell Mummy of our arrival.

We boys spent a lot of time climbing the lower branches of a tall Wellingtonia tree, nicknamed ‘Jumbo’.  We became agile at climbing the rough branches, but didn't risk going to the top.  It was good fun cycling  through the shrubbery and along the drive, and the days passed quickly.

Doris' memories

David's memories

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