Life at Mawarden Court in the 1920's and 1930's

This account was written by John Henry Cook who was born in 1921 (now deceased). He was the son of The Rev'd William Henry Cook, Vicar of this Parish from 1913 until he died in 1937.
 
I was born in the vicarage (Mawarden Court at that time) at Stratford-sub-Castle, about two miles north of Salisbury in the valley of the river Avon, living there until my father died in 1937. In that time we had no electricity, I can remember the coming of gas, water came from a wind pump operated by a local farmer. Sometimes the supply failed due to lack of wind or perhaps other reasons and we had to resort to hand pumping from our own well; the farmer eventually installed a motor driven pump which moved a disc up and down above it so that one could see that it was working. No more failures for lack of wind, just mechanical breakdown. Drainage was to a cesspit which was emptied from time to time.
 
Outside the "back" door (actually it was at the side of the house) was a yard in which stood the coach house. No longer used for that, of course, there were big double doors at the front to a room that had housed the coach. At the back there was stabling with stalls for three horses and, over the coach house, a hay loft.The stables, by then, were a fuel store, the stalls forming bunkers for coal, coke and anthracite. At one end was a crusher to reduce the coke pieces to a size more suited to the stoves. In one corner stood a heater for the greenhouse which had been built alongside.
 
In the coach house lived the family's bicycles, my father's suspended from a bamboo pole below the ceiling by ropes slipped under the saddle and handle bars to keep the weight off the tyres. It was a massive and majestic machine with a small projection, a step, on one side of the rear axle. He used this in mounting the machine, propelling it forward, then taking his weight on the step and moving his body forward to sit on the saddle. This was much more dignified and stately than using the pedal as a step and swinging the other leg over the saddle which was all I could manage.
 
There, too, was a bench with a knife polishing machine (no stainless steel cutlery then), a drum shaped contrivance with holes round the periphery into which the knife blades were inserted and polished by the turning of a handle. I began to feel old when I saw one of these as an exhibit in a folk museum!
 
The bench was also home to shoe polishing materials, the whole being the province of Charles King, the gardener, who was also Sexton of the village church.
 
The coach house was home to a variety of other things, including the parish bath chair, a magnificent machine of wicker with two wheels below the seat and a single wheel at the front steered by the occupant using a "T" grip handle, whilst being pushed by an attendant from behind. Alternatively the handle could be turned 180 degrees so that the attendant could go in front, towing the thing behind him. This contrivance was lent out to parishioners in cases of illness.
 
No electricity, no gas. We were lit by oil lamps and a few candles. One of the lamps had a rather disconcerting habit: a table lamp of somewhat advanced design, it had an inlet for additional air to improve combustion situated in the stem, just below the oil reservoir - just the place you would naturally grasp to move the lamp. Where upon, starved of oxygen, the lamp would smoke fearsomely.
 
The oil was kept in a lean-to shed at the back of the house in a cunning tank with a hand pump to raise it to fill a jug. The jug sat on a perforated platform so that any spills drained back in to the tank. A small room - little more than a cupboard - in the house was known as the lamp room. Here the lamps were filled with oil and the wicks were trimmed.
 
Cooking, too, was by paraffin oil. A stove with three burners, rather like three oil stoves side by side, was fed from a common reservoir at the end.  A removable oven sat on the burner at one end, so, effectively there was an oven and two burners for saucepans. Occasionally, if mal-adjusted and left unattended, this contrivance would belch out.
 
There was a coal fired kitchen stove but this was only used to warm the kitchen, and a cast iron boiler, using coke, provided hot water.
 
I can remember the gas coming to the village, I suppose in the 1930's. It didn't have all that impact on our ways.  It would have been very costly to have the whole house converted. Instead we signed up for a package deal - three lights, one in my fathers' study, one in the entrance hall and one in the kitchen, and a gas ring in the kitchen (this must have been a boon for the cook) and a gas fire in the dining room
 
There was still no mains electricity in the village or for several miles around by the time we moved away in 1937.
 
 
A Postscript from Miss Alison Cook, daughter of John Henry Cook, who kindly passed these memoires to David Todd.
 
My brother, Joseph John Lawrence Cook,  (Lawrence after the church denomination), was christened in the church in 1958, and there was a tea afterward in "The House of Steps" - a tea room which I'm not sure exists now. Among the guests was the Nurse maid by now a little old lady (I cannot remember her name - I was only 8). When my mother saw her coming over, she quickly removed Joseph's dummy and put it in her pocket. To which the lady said, "Don't worry dear, we kept a comforter in the kitchen in a jar for Master John. - Mind you, his mother never knew." Even in those days I felt that the world had changed so much, which is why I remember. Alison Cook