On the avenue where I lived as a child, everyone knew everyone. We knew every neighbour, the kids, the parents, the grandparents, what car they drove, what school they went to, where they worked, when they were likely to be in or out, even what day they liked their chippy tea. No-one could sit on Mrs Beck’s wall without her hammering on the window, Mrs Moustakas made delicious Greek chicken soup if you were poorly, Howard Benson conjured up the best games and we were all scared of Mr Newell. Everyone fancied Gary Hardman or Richard Barnes, the Myers’ dogs were mental, No2 was posh cause it had an extension and at 7pm on a Friday the coolest girls walked down the backs to go out on the town and we younger girls would stare at their outfits with wide eyes. There was a strict rota on who got to play Scatter, who got the best blackberry bushes to pick from and who could be in the Secret Seven, and every kid knew Vicar Barnes (different house to Richard) was a dirty old man but he dished out Thornton’s Special Toffee in exchange for dance shows with flashes of gym knickers. We knew the history of most of the houses, who’d lived there and in what order.
It’s not like that anymore is it? In our rapidly changing, transient, buy & sell it world, unless you stay in the area you grew up or have lived somewhere for ages, it’s rare to know many people on your street, let alone who lived in the house before you. I knew that the lady from whom I bought Moregeous Mansions had been there for a while then rented it out, and that originally the house was quite grand, long before the area was studentified. That the new West Wing was once stables, with a large orchard long since sold off to build on and that for some reason it was once connected with the neighbouring property on the rear through a hallway door. But not much more really, which is why today’s visit was such a lovely occurrence.
As Mr M was filling the skip (yep, another one) this morning, a lady slowly drove past with her window wound down, then reversed. Excuse me, she asked, do you know what’s being done to this house? I do, he replied, why do you ask?
And, quite wonderfully, she said, Because I lived here from being a little girl, it was my house, my name’s Ann.
She wasn’t to know, but we knew of an Ann, from her name written on a wall under many layers of wallpaper and her height carved into a door frame near the old bathroom, along with her sisters too. So of course, in she was invited for a nosey round and her jaw dropped with all the changes, especially the knock throughs into the new kitchen. With a smile on her face she explained to us that this area, the old West Wing ground floor, used to be her dad’s gardening room which they as kids played in, calling it Rose Cottage. The West Wing first floor was her granny’s sitting room and Ann was amazed at the transformation into two more bedrooms when she saw the new extension from the inside. She remembered tapping the walls along the first floor hallway and knowing there was a door there somewhere, telling us that two brother once owned both our house and the one on the rear side and that they were the ones who’d had the connecting door installed. We found it when we removed all the plaster and Ann had never seen it revealed as it now is, though it’s soon to be properly blocked up. She remembered as children them carving their changing heights in the old bathroom door frame and Mr M remembered seeing the marks before out renovation began.
The first floor bedroom we’d called the yellow room, now our ensuite in the central core of the house, had been Ann’s and our new guest room where we’re currently living was her sister’s room. It’s somehow nice to think of the two girls having such a happy childhood in the place we now call home.
Her parents’ room is also our master bedroom with it’s fantastically decorative wallpaper up on the now dangerously bowed ceiling (the subject of an Anaglypta blog post coming up soon).Up on the top floor, in the teeny room which was my office and now is our highest dormer bedroom, slept her gran. We’ve now extended this once small space up into the loft so it now has a brilliant West facing view which Ann had never seen before, though she’d lived there for over twenty years. That was a great ‘new’ bit of the house to show her 🙂
I could see so many memories come flooding back to her as she ran her hand up the stairway walls with it’s original paper of circles, birds and flowers, a pattern which would have been so magical for a child to gaze on at eye level. I remember my sister and I adoring my nan’s living room carpet, trying to find the reindeer amongst the woodland and being fascinated by it’s intricacy. I’m going to be adding some Moregeous magic to that hallway paper and can’t wait to get started on it.
It was fabulous to see her gazing round with that look people get when they’re stepping back in time, with such a beaming smile, but also a little gobsmacked at the changes. I loved hearing her speak about such good memories, it’s always felt like a happy house and now I have proof! We’ve said to Ann to call in again anytime to see how things are progressing and I truly hope she does. That was a wonderful start to today 🙂