Stonnall eye-witness history
My Time in Stonnall
by Linda Gerwinat
Moving to Stonnall
Fortunately for rest of the family, the Manor House and the garden afforded her a sufficiently big challenge to keep her busy for many years. She was an avid gardener, and did manage to create a super garden, with assistance of my grandfather, father and mother.
The really strange thing is that I have no recollection of the day that we arrived in Stonnall, except some very hazy memory of the pleasure and amazement I felt at the size of our breakfast room, which in later years I roller skated around, accompanied, on a occasions by Pauline Blakemore, or Margaret Greaves, or the Gill Family. The room housed the Rayburn and, apart from my bedroom and the garden, this room was my sanctuary when I returned frozen to the bone from riding at the Boydells, or from Gorse Farm, Lazy Hill, where my ponies grazed, or in teenage years from the field owned by The Mountfords in Mill Lane.
The first day at Stonnall School was a little daunting, but I thought that Alan Ball was one of the kindest teachers that I had ever had - and indeed he was. Some of the braver and more rebellious elements tasked his temper to the limit, but for me, a sensitive and anxious child, he was wonderful. I met Roger Ward-Davies on my first day. He was older than I was and very interested in the sweets that I had in my possession! Sometime later he would join us for a bicycle ride to Footherley Woods, with my mother as supervisor. We were ghost spotting. Roger insisted that it was haunted!
Life in the Village
Joyce and I roamed across the blackcurrant fields both on foot and on horseback. Life was full of sunny days and long hot summers, it seemed. I remember one hot day, when Billy Platt and a group of other friends, possibly the Gills, went on an adventure to climb up Lazy Hill in the sweltering heat. Billy must have been in charge, because we would have had to cross the Chester Road, which at that point was a tricky thing to do. In fact, the Chester Road was a little bit like the end of the earth, a nerve wracking thing to negotiate safely, and there were many serious accidents, some of which my father and grandfather would try and help out with, often forcing open jammed car doors. Later on, Trigger our Black Labrador lost his life on the road, having escaped courtesy of Co-op milkman, Norman, who suffered with neuralgia.
Stonnall Old and New
The lower part of the village opposite to where the Kirkhams lived was bordered by wide grass verges with drainage ditches, apart from the council bungalows, there was no new building at that end of the village, and in the centre of the village, all the old house had big gardens which have now disappeared to infill building. Stonnall was a village of locals with long histories and my family were probably the last interlopers before the Main street bungalows were occupied.
Before we moved to Stonnall, when I was a toddler, we lived at the Beeches in Shenstone. The land adjoining and at the rear of the property had not been sold for building then, and we had a dog boarding kennels and a smallholding, with pigs, chickens and the attendant usual assortment of animals. When we arrived at the Manor House, the garden was very overgrown and neglected, so my grandfather bought a couple of pigs to turn the land over. We also had a few geese that hated me, and a number of hens, but then the garden was colonised by my grandmother and the livestock had to go. Gradually a lovely garden evolved, but the old pig sty, stable and greenhouse with a well remained.
The Manor House
The original staircase from the Manor House and the original living room fireplace, I always understood had been stripped out and sold to America. This possibly did happen, but in those days, it was usual for containers of antiques to be sent to America, so it was probably a less impressive transaction than it sounds. Apart from the huge timbers in the roof, the old straw filled ceilings, the wonderful Georgian oak boards that gleamed of honey and the space that the Manor afforded, it was to an eight-year-old just a home like any other.
Tales of Tunnels, Highwaymen and Ghosts
Mr Hofton’s first wife, Dolly, loved children, and on occasions invited the Gill children and myself to visit for squash and biscuits. [The Hoftons were neighbours in the South Monor House - Editor] We were allowed to wander freely around the downstairs rooms, and on one occasion ended up in the cellar. North Manor House did not have a cellar, so this should have been adventure enough, but I was completely taken aback to see the entrance to the tunnel. I was really quite nervous about it because, having been told that it had been filled in, the sight of the arched brickwork and huge door was really amazing, I now understand that what I saw was the entrance to the staircase down to the tunnel, (Julian has been doing a lot of work on this.) Julian has told me there was a second entrance in our courtyard, something which my father thought was a sewer cover. I remember rushing home to tell my parents, who were underwhelmed by my revelation and who probably assumed I was mistaken. When you are aged 8 or 9, the prospect of the possibility of strangers being able to access your home via an underground tunnel is mildly disturbing!
Some Stonnall People
When the Boydells still lived at Marlais House, there was often some entertainment in the form of Mrs. Wynn, Mrs. Boydell’s mother, chasing her grandson Christopher down Main Street. He usually escaped without socks or shoes, and normally outran her. He would have been a young teenager at the time. Our family were very vocal, disagreements between the generations were frequent, but the Boydell household were in a league of their own, when it came to disagreements, with three sons, their parents, a grandparent and a host of stable girls usually supplementing their number. My family, although loyal to each other in many respects should really have been housed separately!
pickers around us filled bucket after bucket, I gave up after about two and a half hours with my bucket still not full, but only about a couple of inches from the top. I think I got paid about one shilling and sixpence, and decided there and then that that was the end of my fruit-picking career. The regular pickers were a tough breed, determined, energetic and very hard working.
The Last Few Months at the School
This, of course, was the beginning of the end for many of the friendships in that little school. By the following September, we would be allotted places in four different schools in Lichfield: the new Kings Hill Comprehensive, the Central, the Friary or King Edwards, and gradually our paths diverged as life took over. I wouldn’t be being completely honest if I said that I was really happy at school. It was still not that long after the war, and children are very adept at finding one’s Achilles heel. So when there was any trivial disagreement, I inevitably took flack because my father was German. Clifford Denton, whose family lived in the houses below the post office, had a German mother, but he was not around for very long because his mother could not settle and I believe the family relocated to Germany.
The days when we had cookery classes were the best. The boys from the grammar school would eat the decent cakes that had been made and throw the others around. Mine, sadly, fell into the latter category.
Our school hats were frequently used to clean the steam from the windows of the bus. This was in order to make them suitably scruffy so as to be cool. Then, there was Joyce Burton and her attempts to squash a certain King Ed’s sixth former into submission on the back seat. She did actually achieve this but then went on to greater things in the shape of her better half, Iain.
One of the brighter moments, that caused much hilarity, was when Bryan Preston, the younger son of the Prestons who kept the chemist shop in Aldridge, had his foot run over by a Harper Bros bus. I don’t think it could have done him too much damage. He has recently been Mayor in Saltash, on the Cornish border. His parents retired to St Germans many years ago.
My Teenage Years
During these years my parents were friendly with Margaret and Alan Ball, and were introduced to caravanning by them, so many weekends were spent away from the village, and gradually I spent less and less time actually in Stonnall, as visits to friends from school played a bigger part in my life. By the time I was 15, my friends and I went to the Deep Litter club in Chesterfield. This was literally a Deep Litter hut that had been converted to provide a Disco and venue for small local bands. It was very popular then and we loved Saturday nights. During these teenage years, I still occasionally attended church with the Burton family. I used to be in the church choir during my junior School days but this probably got put on the back burner when I went to the Friary.
The Reverend Ward-Davies had the dubious honour of baptising me when I was 14. This happened so late because of my parents' illness when I was a baby, and then the years just rolled by. Later I attended confirmation classes with Joyce Burton, but did a runner at the second class because I had not learned the Apostle’s Creed as requested by the Reverend Ward-Davies. He very kindly came to my home to see if I was worried about anything, but I didn’t own up to my laziness.
Farewell and Lasting Reflections
© Linda Gerwinat 2014
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