Welcome to these Hubbard pages. They're a somewhat disorganised collection of photographs and stories I've published since this website started life in 1998. They've all Grown like Topsy, growing without supervision or prior planning.

That planning has now arrived in the form of hubbardplus.co.uk - my sister Judith's website. She is actively researching our Hubbard family history.

I do not intend to change these pages, as there are so many other websites linking back. Please visit hubbardplus.co.uk

Nick, January 2013


VICTORIAN HANGOVER

Chapter 4

Forest of  Dean

Leaving Ealing and going down to the village at the edge of Dean Forest was one of the biggest and devastating breaks in my life ever that I have experienced. I was extremely happy at Ealing, and had any number of little friends, there were lots of relations in the neighbourhood, and plenty of interests for a child of my age. My two brothers attended a little day school near by, so we were all at home together, also the house was modern and comfortable.

But Mother had never liked Ealing, it was too near London for her; she loved the country with her whole heart, and her one idea when Father retired was to get down to the country, the more remote and inaccessible the better. Discussing the subject in later life, Jack and I have always marvelled that Father should have retired just at the time that his children were beginning their education, for he was then only in his early fifties and his practice was flourishing, and we have marvelled in particular that he and Mother should have selected such a completely out-of-the world spot to which to retire. Father had a book on his mind, and the necessity for peace and quiet in which to get this written, was I believe one of the reasons given for the move. The book was eventually published and is an extremely profound and scholarly work entitled “The Fate of Empires”. Even now, after over forty years, it is well worth reading, both for the far-sighted approach to sociological problems, and for the excellence and fastidious choice of the phraseology, which in itself makes the solid subject-matter supremely readable.

Father’s family raised an indignant protest at his burying himself right down in the wilds of Gloucestershire. He had many interests of a scientific nature, and belonged to a number of learned societies in London, and of course when we left Ealing it became impossible for him to attend the meetings. Our move down there did little to improve relationships between his family and Mother. Feelings had always been strained between them, as Father was a great favourite with his own people, and they bitterly resented Mother’s apparent determination to keep him away from them. Mother considered them “worldly”, besides which she had a devastating gift of putting anyone he loved on a pedestal, and forming her own conception of what they ought to be. Father was, much to his despair, placed upon an extremely high pedestal, and the affectionate, light-hearted ragging at which his own family was adept, and which he enjoyed and appreciated whole-heartedly, was a source of distress and indignation to Mother, who felt it was undignified and disrespectful to him. She could never understand the temperament of Father’s family, any more than they could understand hers. They were poles asunder, and it is no wonder that I, who inherited so much of the temperament and mentality of his people, yet with a distinct trace of Mother as well, should have found myself torn to pieces on a rack of opposing heredities for so many years of my life.

I hated leaving Ealing, hated it with every ounce of my nature. When the “To Let” board was erected in our front garden I would go out and kick it surreptitiously, as a vicious relief to the bitterness which I dared not express. All Mother’s delighted anticipatory stories of the joys of primrosing and learning to milk COWS, and all the other pleasures of country life, left me entirely cold. I loathed the whole idea with all the vehemence of my stormy little heart. When we eventually in this remote and isolated village I hated it in fact as violently as I had in anticipation. My oft repeated moans and longings for the “dear trams” and the bright lights and gay shops were held up against me for many years. I loved London, and all the years that I had to be incarcerated in the wilds of Gloucestershire only served to enhance my longing to get back to London again. I was a true little London sparrow, and the bustle and life of town appealed to my eager temperament and gave me the stimulus for which I craved. The quietness and slow tempo of the country weighed me down and stifled me, and I determined that as soon as I was old enough to become my own mistress I would get back to London again at the earliest possible opportunity. It seems odd that a ten year old child should make such a firm decision, and still stranger that she should cling to it through thick and thin and in the face of every sort of persuasion for a whole eight years however I did at last achieve my heart’s desire, and left home and returned once more to the London that I loved.

It is only in retrospect that I have been able to see what a beautiful part of the country it was that we went to, and to appreciate the exceptional number of interesting old customs and local usages which I was privileged to see as a child, and which are now entirely obsolete. I could see nothing interesting or attractive either in the house or neighbourhood. The house terrified me. I hated the tack of all the modern comforts to which I had been accustomed, and I found the silence of the country overpowering. I have always had extremely acute hearing, and the silence only served to accentuate the small “ticky—ticky” noises, which I have always found so far more disturbing and nerve-racking than the sustained roar of traffic.

Grandfather clock

All the habitats of our branch of the family have been governed for generations by a huge Grandfather clock, which has been in the family for six or possibly seven generations. It is an enormous and most beautiful specimen of inlaid mahogany and rosewood, dating well back. into the eighteenth century, and unusually tall. The first consideration when moving into a new house is invariably “Will the clock get in?” Many houses, otherwise suitable, have had to be turned down, simply because the ceilings were not high enough to accommodate the clock. It has always come down to the eldest son, and the legend attached to it is that it must never be sold “except for bread”. Generations of the family have looked at its dignified face, and listened to its solemn tick and quarterly chimes. It is a perfect time keeper, and is now in Jack’s possession. As he is a clergyman he has never been troubled about accommodation for the clock, as the average rectory is eminently suitable to it, however unsuitable it may otherwise be in these servant-less days. The clock was a very real problem to Father, though he loved it as devotedly as if it had been a living thing. It was entirely due to the clock that Father and Mother decided upon that particular house. After Father gave up his practice he and Mother went about together for weeks viewing possible houses in various parts of England, and the first thing that Father did on entering any house was to ascertain the height of the ceilings, always with the clock in mind.

Wonderful view

The house stands high above the Severn valley, and has the most wonderful view from the dining room windows that could be found anywhere. They look out over the great bend of the Severn between Gloucester and Bristol, and face squarely towards the area called Arlingham Warthe, which is enclosed on three sides by the vast loop of the river. North-eastwards, about twelve miles away, lies Gloucester, the Cathedral tower showing clearly as the sun strikes it. Beyond that lies the great bulk of Bredon Hill, and on a clear day the Malvern Hills can be seen in the far distance. Directly opposite, across the river, runs the great scarp of the Cotswolds which drop from their plateau like table and sheer down to the Severn valley. Swinging south-westwards comes the huge dark outline of Stinchcombe Hill, near Dursley, crowned at one extremity by the monument to Tyndale, which is clearly visible even at this distance. Stinchcombe Hill has the most extraordinary effect on the weather, and the cloud formations above its flat top are most remarkable. The Severn is tidal all up this stretch, and at low tide there are vast expanses of sand3 most of them adjoining the far side. The sands look most attractive, but are actually extremely dangerous, as there are shelving rocks below and when the tide begins to turn the current swirls up under these rocks causing quick sands which are quite unrecognisable as such on the surface. It is seldom that a year passes without a casualty on these sands, despite notices and warnings to bathers. We were so frequently and sternly warned against going on these tempting looking sands, that I have grown up with a most wholesome respect for the Severn, “old Treacherous” as we came to call it.

The cattle  used to wander far out on the sands from the Arlingham  fields, but they had some special sense which warned them when the the tide was beginning to turn, for we would see them all begin quietly to make their way back to the fields without any apparent signal being given. On one ghastly occasion one wretched animal left it too late and got caught in the quick sands. The owners either were not aware that it was trapped, or knew that it was impossible to reach it, for it remained there, slowly being sucked down, for several hours. It was over the far side of the river, a good three or more miles away, and a couple of hundred feet below us, but I have never forgotten the long drawn-out horror of that afternoon.

House

Apart from the situation and glorious view, and the fact that it would accommodate the old clock, the house had absolutely nothing whatever to recommend it. There was no gas, electricity, or water laid on, no bathroom or indoor sanitation, none of the doors or windows fitted, and in that exposed position it was a veritable palace of the winds. It had originally been a little four roomed cottage, dating from about 1700. The two front bedrooms, one of which was mine, were part of the old cottage, and had a connecting door, while from one of the lower rooms, used as the schoolroom, ran the winding staircase in the thickness of the wall, up to the other bedroom, and on up to the horrors of the big attics which stretched overhead. A much larger part of the house had been built on about fifty years later at the back, and another staircase made, which passed the door of my room. The room which connected with mine was used as the maid’s room, and a chest of drawers stood in each room on either side of the door. The maids used the old winding staircase, but as they were all local girls, accustomed to dark and lonely cottages, none of them ever seemed to mind that narrow circular staircase, which always filled me with such dread. That staircase, up which I never went unless obliged, the maid’s bedroom which for many years I never entered, and the ultimate terror of the attics, became so etched into my youthful mind that ever since those days I have suffered from a recurrent nightmare in which an unknown part of an otherwise familiar house, filled with nameless horrors, and occasionally partly glimpsed through a half open door, have invariably been the main features.

Baths had to be taken in our bedrooms in small hip-baths of Victorian vintage, and the maids never seemed to think anything of carrying huge cans of water up two long flights of stairs from the kitchen, which was below ground level under the dining room. I say “below ground level”, but it was not actually entirely so, as the slope of the hillside was so steep that while the front door opened into the hall at ground level, the garden door at the other end of the hail led out on to a flight of ten or twelve steps down into the back garden. The kitchen was under the later part of the house, and the ground outside was just below window level, but under the front of the house stretched a huge coal cellar, considerably larger even than the big kitchen, the front wall of which was hewn out of the solid rock.

This cellar was another source of terror to me, as, owing to the slope of the ground hardly any light entered at all, for the tiny window was host completely blocked by the cabbages in the neighbours’ garden which ran alongside. I should like to mention here, that when we went to live there coal was eighteen shillings a ton, and we had several tons delivered at a time direct from the pithead. Opening out of the coal cellar was a still more frightful compartment, a real chamber of horrors. This was entirely enclosed by rock and masonry, there was no window, and no entry whatever except by the door out of the coal cellar. It was said to have been used as a wine cellar, but when we first went there I was told, in reply to a nervous query, that there was nothing inside but a lot of furze. This word, of course, spelt itself in my little mind as FURS, and for many years the horrifying thought of the mouldering bodies of furry animals added itself to all the other terrors. Eventually I realised that my informant had meant piles of gorse and bracken, though what piles of that sort of furze were doing in the cellar I have never made out. By that time however the harm was done, and in all the twenty-five years that we lived in that house I do not think I have dared to look into that wine cellar more than twice at the most,

All the rooms and passages in the basement were stone flagged, and occasionally a stream would break out from under the rock floor of the coal cellar and run through under the huge built-in dresser in the kitchen and flood the entire floor. The maids would report the finding of “evvuts” on these occasions; we presumed they meant newts but the girls took everything quite calmly and thought nothing of mopping up bucketsful of water, and chasing evvuts all over the kitchen. The larder was a huge, dim room, icy cold even in summer, and in the winter it was so bitterly cold that the custards and blancmanges froze solid. Largest and grimmest of all these great stone—flagged rooms was the scullery, at the far end of a dark, stone passage, down which would howl all the winds of heaven. One side was completely filled with a huge block of masonry comprising an old-fashioned baking oven and two enormous coppers, which used to be used for brewing beer. Another section was taken up by a vast brick tank, about six or eight feet high and almost as much square. This caught all the rain water from the roof of the house, also from the wide expanse of the scullery roof. Near by was the pump over the well which was the only source of drinking water. 

Water

Water was always a problem as the well used regularly to go dry for at least three months every summer, and often longer. During these periods every drop of drinking water had to be brought to the house from a spring about a quarter of a mile away. The masonry round this spring was believed to be Roman, and it was the only spring in the district that had never been known to go dry. Each of the cottages and farms around us had its own well, and in emergencies we could always borrow a bucket of water, but over the usual summer period our water was carried for us by the miner who lived in the nearest cottage. He used a yoke and pair of buckets, and thought nothing of making half a dozen journeys to and fro to the Roman well after a long day’s work in the pits. The coal mines were about five or six miles away, beyond the crest of the nearer hills, so they did not spoil our district at all. Most of the local men worked in the pits, and would leave home between three and four in the morning, walk to the pit head, then walk another three or four miles underground before arriving at the coal face. They would cover the same distance after work, have a wash and a meal on arriving home, then spend the rest of their time working in their gardens, or in the case of our immediate neighbour, in carrying heavy buckets of water. They were certainly tough, those Dean Forest miners.

Sanitation

The greatest trial of all in that house, worse by far than lack of light and water supply, was the utter misery implied by the words “no indoor sanitation”. The only “convenience”, if I can justly apply that word to the appallingly primitive building which backed on to our neighbour’s pigsties, was at the far end of the long garden. There was no chance of slipping out quietly and unobserved, for the garden was wide open to the view of all our back windows and was also overlooked by our water-carrying friend’s cottage. In wet or snowy weather obeying the calls of nature was a nightmarish procedure, specially after dark. Wellington boots and an old cape were kept by the garden doors also a lantern of obsolete pattern, in which a piece of candle in a square tin holder was protected by four pieces of glass. I can hear the rattle of that lantern now, and how I hated it. At one time the house had been used as an overflow for the children from Westbury Workhouse, and the sanitary arrangements were made on a multiple pattern. There were three holes of varying sizes, in a long board, which always made me think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, one for Father Bear, one for Mother Bear and one for Baby Bear. The unspeakable misery of “going down the garden” has often made me marvel that we did not all grow up permanently constipated and suffering from piles.

Mother, having been brought up in the country and loving it, took all these difficulties and drawbacks in her stride. My brothers were only at home during the holidays, and boy-like, did not take much notice. What Father made of it all I never knew. I loathed and abominated the discomforts, particularly coming straight from our comfortable, modern house at Ealing. Many of our relations, particularly those on Father’s side, would never come and stay with us simply on account of the frightfully primitive conditions, and in this way Father was more than ever cut off from his own people. Mother’s relations never appeared to hanker for the fleshpots of civilization to the same extent, so nearly all our visitors and guests were Mother’s relations and friends rather than Father’s. As I take after Father’s family in character and temperament as much as I take after Mother’s family in appearance, all my childhood recollections of that house are clouded by my hatred of the primitiveness and discomforts.

Yet, in spite of all its shortcomings, the old house had a tremendous personality and charm, and my hatred of the discomforts has always warmed in my heart with an intense love for the place, so much so that my feelings and memories can never be anything but sharp and acute; a sharp sweetness and an acute bitterness; never under any circumstances a mere indifference.

Electric light was brought up from the village a few years before Father’s death, and this made such a difference to the comfort of the house that the love that I felt prevailed to such an extent that my husband and I opened negotiations to buy the old place. It was a house of such fascinating possibilities that we should have had endless joy in modernising it without spoiling its original charm in any way. But the owner had the same idea in view and went to live there, and carried out improvements and alterations precisely as we had hoped to do. The house was enlarged by several rooms, water was laid on, with a bathroom and indoor sanitation. It is now one of the most delightful houses that can be found anywhere, and I have since stayed there a number of times. 

“Down the garden” still exists though long disused, its terrors now no more than a memory to an erstwhile frightened and unhappy little girl.

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