Our House at West Ealing
After my grandmother’s death in 1902, when Ben was a few months old, the home at Chiswick was broken up, and we
went to live at West Ealing. At that time it was on the very edge of the country, and our road was not yet fully built up. The
road ended in Argyle Road which on the opposite side was open fields right across to Harrow Hill.
Perivale was a charming little village, where we often went for walks, and the little
church near the stream was a real beauty spot. Every summer Mother would organize a “hay party” in the neighbouring fields, to which a dozen or more of our little friends were invited. There was a grand
picnic tea in the field, and we children played games and chased each other with armloads of hay. It was a yearly treat to which we looked forward with the greatest eagerness, and prayers for a fine day were always included in our morning and evening devotions. The occurrence of a rainy day on one occasion, and the bitter
disappointment in my little heart at the consequent abandonment of the hay party, was my first introduction to the great bewildering fact that our prayers do not invariably receive the desired response. I worried and raged internally over that for many years. We had always been taught that God hears and answers our prayers, yet over and over again I prayed earnestly, even vehemently, for something, and it never happened. Before I was very old I had become a confirmed little sceptic as to the efficacy of prayer.
Maud the cook
Maud, the cook who was with us all the eight years we were at Ealing, was a severe and terrifying person, who kept even Mother exactly where she wanted her. Maud wore her hair skinned back into an extremely tight bun, and wore a very small and stiffly starched tuft of embroidery by way of a cap. This was balanced exactly on the top of her head, and I used to look at it with awe and
admiration, marvelling how it ever retained its position, without any visible means of support whatever. Maud always flew at her work with an air of grim determination, and the slightest dust or disorder was attacked as a personal enemy. George, of course, was the bane of her life, and though she could just tolerate Jack, neither of the boys was ever allowed in her kitchen. If either of them as much as put his nose round the door, she would bring her fist down with a crash on the table which set everything ringing, and order them out. But Maud was always kind to me. I was
a quiet and polite little soul except when George was about, and she allowed me the free run of her domain. On Saturday mornings, which were devoted to pastry making, she would give me odd scraps of pastry to roll out and make into tiny shapes, and she would give me the delicious trimmings from the edges of the tarts as they came out of the oven. There was invariably an apple tart for Sunday, and
Maud always overloaded it with cloves, despite anything Mother could say. I always thought the cloves were the tops of the apple cores, and could never understand why they were left in. Later on
when I met apple tarts minus cloves, I thought they tasted quite wrong, and wondered why apples had changed their flavour in such a peculiar way.
Florrie’s reign was short. Her idea of taking us for a walk was to go straight to some house in a poorer part of Ealing where I hung about in boredom, not unmixed with indignation at being taken to the back door, while Florrie gossiped with her friends. She always bound me to dart secrecy as to these expeditions, and gave me close instructions as to what I was to report to Mother as to the direction of our walk when I got home. I knew there was something wrong somewhere, particularly when I was told to tell Mother what I knew to be lies, and eventually I disclosed everything, whereupon Florrie disappeared from my ken.
Florrie’s successor was a very nice girl of the name of Dorothy, who remained with us for the rest of our time at Ealing. Dorothy had lost a forefinger, and the stump afforded ma a horrible fascination. When sewing she would wear the thimble on her third finger using the second very skilfully in place of the missing first, an operation which never failed to fill me with admiration.
I well remember ray first lessons in sewing. Each afternoon I had to sit and sew with Mother from half past two till three, while she read aloud to me from some improving or instructional book. Mother had developed the art of sewing and reading aloud
simultaneously, a feat I have never seen performed by anyone else except Aunt Jessie. I can knit and read, as can thousands of other people, but sewing and reading, particularly aloud, is a feat I have never mastered. The half hour of sewing and reading was a fixture throughout all my childhood, and to those early days I owe a tremendous amount of the variegated information with which my brain is
stirred. As I got bigger Mother would regale me with books on astronomy, geology, natural history, simple chemistry, and physical geography, but my prime favourite was a very old work on antediluvian monsters. The beautiful resounding names, such as brontosaurus, ichthyosaurus, dinosaur and pterodactyl, gave me untold delight, and I could identify each one from the illustrations at a very early age.
Mother’s standards in sewing, as in everything else, were extremely high and exacting, but fortunately I was very neat fingered and once I had managed to master the needle I loved our sewing sessions. When I went to school I remember my amazed contempt at finding that “big girls” of fourteen and fifteen did not even know how to darn. Also my rather patronizing gratification when my sewing used to be passed round the class as an example of what sewing should be.
Mother was extremely musical, and could play the piano very well, she could also compose the most charming little things as easily and spontaneously as she could
invent stories, though unfortunately she seldom troubled to write them down. She started teaching me the piano when I was still so small that the music stool had to be twirled to its highest limit and a couple of thick books
placed on top for me to sit on before my hands could achieve the correct position. I well remember my thrill when my fingers at last became long enough to strike an octave, though they eventually lengthened to such an extent that I can easily strike two notes beyond the octave. I have always had difficulty in playing passages
in octaves, as my natural span is one beyond, which is disastrous. Mother’s teaching of the piano was as thorough and as old fashioned as her teaching of all other subjects. Commencing with five finger exercises, followed by scales in all their variations, and later by chromatics and arpeggios, I waded stolidly through the lot. I learnt Hamilton from cover to cover, followed by Czerny, and later by Heller’s Studies. There were no easy short cuts or tempting
by paths along which children of later generations seem to be lured towards proficiency on the piano.
The teaching that Mother gave me was so good that when I went to school I was the only one in the junior house of about sixty girls who was advanced enough to take lessons from the music mistress of the senior school. I loved music as passionately as Mother did, and kept it up for many years after leaving school, becoming eventually almost good enough for the concert platform. Later circumstances obliged me to drop it entirely, and for years now I have hardly ever had the opportunity of touching a piano, and if ever I do get the chance, my unpractised touch and forgotten technique are a source of sore misery to me. I still cling, however, to my dreams of once again possessing a piano, and, more unattainable, still of having the time and facilities to devote to recapturing my early prowess.
There was quite a clan of Vizard relations at Ealing. Aunt Wese moved there when we left Chiswick, and had extremely comfortable rooms in Windsor Road, near Ealing Broadway, where she had all her own furniture and was catered for and waited on by her landlady. Such an arrangement sounds too good to be true in the light of present day conditions. Uncle Andrew and his wife and two grown-up daughters lived in The Grove near by, and another aunt, Bella, the third in the family and eighteen years Mother’s senior, had a house with her two schoolgirl daughters, in St. Stephen’s Road, quite near us. Aunt Bella had also nursed in South Africa, and had there married a senior Army officer, a relation of Colonel Paget, of Paget’s Horse, which became famous during the Boer War. I never saw my uncle, and have only vague recollections of Aunt Bella, as her daughters finished their education and they all returned to South Africa when I was about five. I remember Aunt Bella as tall, stout, and very deaf. Hereditary deafness runs very strongly in the Vizard family, Mother became almost tone deaf towards the end of her life, and the same disability has recently begun to develop in George. My chief recollection of Aunt Bella and her daughters is connected with their departure. Aunt Bella ran true to form in that she was closely connected with the work at St. Stephen’s Church, which we all attended. I remember being told that she was going a long way away, across the sea, and on the last Sunday before they sailed the hymn "Eternal Father” was sung in Church on their behalf. I have always loved that hymn, and the beautiful words and stately tune with its wailing undercurrent which sounds like waves beating on a lonely shore, can bring tears to my eyes now, as it did then when I was a child of five. They sailed in the “Tintagel Castle” and Mother took me on board to see them off. That was my first experience of the yearning, heartbreaking love of ships and the sea which has haunted me ever since.
We three elder ones were taken to Church from a very early age. At St. Stephen’s Mother always elected, for what reason I have never been able to discover, to sit in the very front pew of all, where there was only the seat and no book rest in front. I well remember the misery and discomfort of the endless services, for we had to stay right through the sermon, and were required to show at least an appearance of attending to the preacher. My little legs were at first too short to hang down over the edge of the seat, and as I was always put into freshly starched, frilly underwear on Sundays, the scratching was almost unendurable. No wriggling was allowed, or if indulged in when the scratching became unbearable, was promptly subdued by a warning pat from Mother. Later on when my legs grew long enough to hang over the edge it was even worse, as they came nowhere near the floor, and the misery of acute pins and needles was added to the scratching.
I was always a delicate child, with far too much nervous energy for my slight physique, and most of my early recollections are overshadowed by the memory of constant tiredness.
I found the long services exhausting, so much so that I fainted on several occasions. I remember the black shame of recovering consciousness to find myself being carried out of church in the arms of a kindly sides-man, also on subsequent Sundays of having to endure the stares of the choir boys, who were obviously eagerly looking forward to the diversion of seeing me do it again. The fainting usually occurred during the interminable weariness of the Te Deum, and to this day, during the Te Deum, I always have to hold on to the desk and focus my mind on any subject other than the words which I am mechanically repeating, or the familiar swaying dizziness will begin to creep up, probably due to sheer force of association. After two or three genuine faints I began to realize that if I fainted early in the service I would be taken home, and thus released from enduring the remainder of it, and was also excused from attending Church the next Sunday. I therefore staged several very convincing pseudo faints, but after a time Mother got wise to this, and I was made to sit down and put my head between my knees, which undignified procedure so insulted my sense of the fitness of things that I soon abandoned the trick, and could only live in hopes of another genuine collapse. I have, however, always been prone to faint, and poor Mother could never be quite sure when I was really going to faint, or when it was a put-up job. As I was always pale and frail-looking, my appearance often deceived even her eagle eye.
The years at Ealing were quite the happiest of my childhood. I was an extremely pretty child, and much of Mother’s time and energy were directed towards preventing my becoming aware of it. Her “at home” day was Monday, and I looked forward to that afternoon as her callers invariably asked for me to brought down to the drawing
room. In later years Mother told me that she always had to ask them not make any remarks about my appearance when I was present, as my prettiness would call forth spontaneous exclamations which Mother, quite rightly, considered bad for me. My hair, which was flaxen fair, fluffed all over my head, and soon reached in thick curls to my waist. My big blue eyes and wild rose skin made up a picture of a perfect little angel, and I was quite accustomed to people turning round to look at me when I was out walking. Mother had done her work so well that I never could
imagine why they did so. I also had great ideas on pretty manners, and could be relied upon to behave perfectly in company. I was entirely free from the Vizard shyness,
I also had great ideas on cleanliness and daintiness, and well remember always asking for a clean handkerchief after only one use of the current one, also my disgust when I had to learn that a handkerchief was intended to be used more than once. Nothing pleased me more that putting on a complete set of clean clothes, a pleasure which I have enjoyed all my life, and I would uncomplainingly endure any amount of scratchy frills for the pure pleasure of being clean from top to toe.
My two elder brothers and I attended a little dancing class which was a great delight to me. Jack and I invariably partnered each other, unless forcibly separated, which we frequently were, for we soon became the stars of the class. Much to our disgust we were often off to partner other small boys and girls who were less adept. Whether Jack enjoyed dancing I do not know, but he was always gentle and amenable to any demands made upon him, and performed everything required of him with grave and serious conscientiousness. He and I were often called out to demonstrate some step or other, and I used to be called upon to demonstrate a pas seal. George, of course, was the enfant terrible of the class. He made no attempt whatever to learn any steps, and his one idea was to retire to a corner whence he would take a flying slide across the polished floor, sending the decorous little dancers scattering in all directions. If firmly grabbed by the dancing mistress and forced to partner some unfortunate little girl, he would drag her awkwardly round the hall, than at the end of the dance, instead of escorting her politely to her seat with a nice bow, as the other boys were taught to do, he would drop her abruptly in the middle of the floor, and shoot off again in another flying slide. No wonder he became extremely unpopular, and a partner to be avoided at all costs.
I had scores of little friends all round the district, and was never without some juvenile cavalier in attendance. One of my most faithful swains was a charming little boy called Charlie, who lived opposite, and was about or years older than myself. We used solemnly to promenade about hand in hand , and he was always most polite and attentive. Many years later I saw his name on the Roll of Honour in St. Stephen’s Church to the memory of those who had fallen in the 1914 war. Another was a slightly older boy called Tom, the only brother in a huge family of sisters. They were a Scottish family, and Tom wore the kilt, which I considered then, as I do still, as the most attractive of masculine wear. There was another small boy who used to follow me with dumb devotion, and who loved to secure me as his partner at the dancing class. I believe he was a very nice boy, but he had a congenital deformity of the fingers, which made me shudder when I had to hold his hand while dancing, and I did my best to avoid him.
My best friend was a little girl who lived two houses up the road. Her mother was an artist, and after a
lot of persuasion she coaxed Mother into letting me sit for her to paint a miniature of me. When it was completed, not without sulks and boredom on my part, she was very anxious to enter it for the Royal Academy. Mother would not permit this however, probably with the idea that if it had been exhibited, and I had got to know of the fact, it would make me conceited.
Dolls never meant much to me, though I had a large family of them, as all my many elders and betters took it for granted that I should be devoted to them. The dolls’ pram and cradle were real museum pieces, both having been in the family for generations. The pram was a miniature of one of the earliest types, having only three wheels, two at the back and the third centrally in front. The front one had become bent in the course of years, and the pram always ran sideways much to my annoyance, but otherwise it was in perfect condition and a most interesting old relic. The cradle was also a beautiful old specimen, shaped like a little wooden coffin on rockers, with a wooden canopy over the head end. Some of the dolls that were passed on to me were over a hundred years old; two of them were of the earliest type of wax doll, and these I subsequently presented to a museum. There were two others, very early Japanese dolls, so perfectly modelled that it was quite obvious which was the boy and which the girl. What eventually became of these I do no know.
I was an inveterate reader as a child, and was plied with all the well-known books such as “Little Meg’s Children”, “Alone in London”, “Jessica’s first Prayer”, and “Froggie’s little Brother”, besides which Mother had a number of books from her own childhood which I was encouraged to read. But somehow I found these suffering and virtuous children most horribly boring, and “The Wide, Wide World” and the series of “Daisy” and “Daisy in the Field” left me completely cold. I loved the adventure books which were given to my brothers and always resented bitterly the fact that I was a girl, and therefore expected to like the dull and soppy books which were considered suitable for my age and sex. There was one dreadful work entitled “Ministering Children” containing a series of stories about good little girls who spent their time visiting the sick and afflicted, which Mother always seemed keen for me to emulate, yet which filled my youthful soul with nausea, It was certainly not due to any lack of effort on the part of Mother and Aunt Wese that I did not develop into the most perfect example of “Ministering Child”, as, in addition to this improving diet, not to mention the multitudinous “little good books” already referred to, I was frequently taken “visiting” by one or the other. Aunt Wese was an inveterate district visitor, and both she and Mother had a series of “Poor Ladies Homes” and Homes for Incurables on their list, to all of which I used to accompany them. Being a polite and amenable little soul, I took it all in my stride, and probably the sight of a pretty and well-behaved child gave a good deal more pleasure to the sick and afflicted, than the sight of poverty, age and sickness gave to me.
My brothers and I were also made to attend a little “Missionary Class”, of which I remember very little beyond the fact that the lady who held it in her drawing room possessed a large number of minute Skye terriers. They were horrible, snappy little brutes who would hide under the sofa frills and make sudden attacks upon our heels. George, of course, would incite their wrath by surreptitious kicks and foot scuffling, then turn huge innocent brown eyes upon their mistress, quite unable to imagine why they should fly at his heels more than at anyone else’s. The Missionary Class occasionally came to a grand climax in an Exhibition at the Victoria Hall. Each member of the class was dressed in the costume representative of some country or other where missionary work was carried on. One by one we had to come forward on the platform, and sing a verse to correspond with the country we represented. I was dressed as Canada, and my verse began as follows:
Saskatchewan in Canada
Sas — katch - e— wan in Can - er - der
and it was many years before I learnt the correct pronunciation. On another occasion Mother was prevailed upon to allow me to take part in a Historical Pageant at the Victoria Hall. Two of my grownup cousins were taking part, dressed as mediaeval ladies in high conical headdresses. I was cast for the part of Princess Mary, daughter of King Charles I. I was dressed in accordance with the Van Dyke portrait of the three children, and the boy who took the part of the young Prince, later Charles II, had red hair, which quite captured my heart. His surname however was “Whitehead”, which I found very puzzling, it should so obviously have been “Redhead”.
I entirely lost my juvenile heart to the elegant and languid gentleman who represented my royal father, arid this was probably the beginning of my lifelong admiration for King Charles I. I could not have been more than about four or five at the time.
It may perhaps have been noticed how very little part Father plays in the memories of my first ten years. He was in fact an almost entire stranger to his children till he retired from practice in 1910. All we ever saw of him was during a couple of hours on Sunday afternoons, and a fortnight in the summer. He had been junior partner in a firm of doctors at Hemel Hempstead when he and Mother first met. She was then Assistant Matron at King’s College Hospital Convalescent Home, where her eldest sister ( her twenty two years senior) was Matron, and Father had been the visiting doctor. Both my elder brothers were born at Hemel Hempstead and Mother always looked upon the place as her real home. Shortly before I was born Father had severed his connection with the firm and had. “squatted” in Kensington, where he eventually built up very flourishing practice. He would never have the surgery and consulting rooms in the same house as his own family, with the result that one of my main early memories of Father is seeing him flying at high speed to the station when we were out for our morning walk. He never got home till long after we were in bed.
Every summer during our years at Ealing Mother would rent a house at Pevensey Bay for the month of August, and Father would join us there for the second fortnight, Pevensey Bay was a very
different place then from what it is now, though the little row of houses, one or other of which we occupied, was still standing the last time I was there, a year or two ago. These were almost the only houses, with the
exception of a hotel and a few small shops. The miles of beach were almost entirely our own, and we ran absolutely wild. Mother kept a special collection of
clothes, passed down to us from older cousins, which we wore on holiday, and in which we could scramble about regardless. Our first action on arriving at the house was to tear off our shoes and socks, for we invariably went barefoot except on Sundays, and even if we arrived in pouring rain it was an unspeakable joy to paddle about in the puddles, and feel the cool mud squishing between our toes. We had a standard test for the hardening of our feet. Alongside the road at intervals were long heaps of broken flints for road repairs, and as soon as we could walk over these barefoot we considered we were really seasoned. Jack could achieve this desirable feat first of any of us, but despite my most assiduous efforts I was invariably a bad last, and could seldom manage it before at least the third week, and even then only by dint of acute suffering.
As Pevensey Bay is quite a long distance from Pevensey Village I, owing to my propensity for fainting, was often let off the long walk to Church on Sunday morning, and instead used to conduct Pin to a service which was held on Sunday afternoons in a little Mission Church at Pevensey Bay. This Mission Church was in the care of a curate, who used to visit most conscientiously at all the houses and cottages in his district. He and Father became very good friends owing to their mutual interest in archaeology. He was the Rev. A. A. Evans who later became so well known as the author of many delightful writings on archaeology and Nature study. My childhood memory of him is as a tall thin man, who was always very kind to us children. He had a very gentle, charming manner, and always expressed deep appreciation of my performance of “Onward Christian Soldiers” on the battered old piano in our holiday quarters. Even at that early age I was unconsciously aware of the gentle, kindly, cultivated soul which shone through his frail frame, and of which all his writings, which I followed up to the time of his death, were so fragrantly redolent. Many years later, after I was married, I met him again, I having by that time succumbed to the hereditary family bug of archaeology, and was amazed to find that instead of the tall, thin man of my childhood's memories, Mr. Evans was a small, fragile little figure, shorter than myself, and so thin and frail that it looked as if a puff of wind would blow him away. He remembered Father and the noisy children at Pevensey Bay, but seemed far more shy of me then, than I had been of him in my childhood.
Our pleasures were very simple and unsophisticated in those days by comparison with the entertainments provided for present-day children, but I am convinced that we got far more thrills out of them, One of the high spots of the Pevensey holidays was the “old black man”. He was, I believe, the Boots at the Hotel near the Castle, and in his spare time he would get himself up as a nigger minstrel and perform on a banjo outside the row of houses at Pevensey Bay. We got to know him very well in the course of our successive visits, and Mother was very generous in her recognition of the pleasure that he gave us. As well as his banjo he had what Ben called a “dancing dolly” which caused us immense joy. This was a little wooden marionette, dressed as an imaginary kaffir, the body being a block of wood with the legs hung very loosely on strings. The old black man would borrow a chair, and seating himself upon it in the road, would support a long pliant strip of wood by sitting on it, with the end projecting between his knees. The dancing dolly was held by a skewer in its back, which he held so that the dangling legs just touched the strip of wood. With the other hand he would rattle and tap out a brick rhythm on the strip of wood, with the result that the dancing dolly’s legs jerked and flew In all directions, while he sang in accompaniment. It was really a most ingenious little toy, and had been made entirely by the old black man himself. He must have been a most kindly soul and devoted to children, for I am sure that our clamorous delight over his banjo and the dancing dolly gave him quite as much pleasure as did Mother’s generosity. Ben in particular delighted in his performances, and as soon as we arrived at Pevensey each summer, the little fellow’s first outcry was for the old black man.