“LIFE IN TIME EFFINGHAM”

Margaret (née) Mitchell

The late Margaret (née) Mitchell was born in North Wales in 1926 to parents William McCowan Mitchell and Rose Mary (née Knapp). She did not marry. She wrote the account below in September 2000. Her parents and her brother John are all named on a single gravestone at the extreme eastern end of St. Lawrence churchyard. It is understood that she died in 2010 in the north of the country and that her ashes were brought back to Effingham and interred in this grave.

 

Life in Wartime Effingham

I came to live in Effingham in the spring of 1940 with my parents and my brother John who was two years younger than me. We used to live in Streatham and, just before war was declared, John and I were sent to Scotland to stay with our Uncle Jack and Aunt Bella who had a fairly big house at Scone near Perth. My Aunt Janet came with us, with her son David. John and I went to the local school and I didn’t like it much as I was extremely shy at that time and everyone spoke such broad Scots. My class was two-thirds boys and one-third girls. Not much was happening in London so I was glad when we all went back to London for Christmas.

My school had evacuated themselves to Hove and I was sent down there and had my first and only experience of boarding school. It clearly wasn’t very sensible to evacuate schools to the South Coast, so my parents looked for a house in the country and we went to live in The Street at No. 1, Browns Cottages. The two cottages were built for the staff at the big house, Browns.

I went to school at St. Teresa’s Convent and I remember that the Vicar, Mr. Floud, wasn’t at all keen – he thought I was going to some Roman Catholic den of iniquity. Manor House School would have been more convenient but my father didn’t like it. He thought it was snobbish. So I went to the Convent and always cycled – there was only one car which picked up day girls. Cycling uphill was always hard work though it was fun going home. For a few weeks before the invasion a large number of Canadian soldiers were camped under the beech trees which then afforded good cover. Mostly they ignored me completely but I had a few comments about my school case strapped on the back of my bike.

As well as the soldiers who were camped in the woods around Effingham with their ammunition dumps, Yew Tree House next to Home Farm was used as the Sergeants’ Mess for a time – there was a sentry with a rifle posted outside.

My father joined the Home Guard and they did not have much equipment to begin with: he had a wooden rifle. Then they got more equipment and uniforms and sometimes trained at night in the countryside: crawling around with a heavy weight wasn’t good for middle-aged men and my father developed angina. He was not very well for some years and died early. He had been very fit and on holiday he swam for miles in rough seas. He did not like cars and was happy to walk to and from Effingham Junction when there wasn’t a bus. We were very pleased when later the road was widened and we had a footpath all the way to the Junction, even over the Common.

There were very few cars then and petrol was rationed severely. Roads were very narrow with no pavements. In 1940 we were told that we [would] lose 15 feet from our front garden but in fact, many years later, the road was widened [on] the other side. We only had a small gate with a couple of steps down to the road. The houses opposite did not have fences or hedges: Jack Ede’s, No. 4, had a magnificent garden with aubretia falling down the wall and a flower bed crammed full of wallflowers in the spring and asters in the summer. Nearer the house Jack had a herbaceous border and masses of dahlias. He used to look out of his window and see our garden, which appeared to be an extension of his.

The “top road”, the A246, was very narrow and the crossroads were extremely tight; there were no traffic lights and coming up The Street you were faced with a notice saying “HALT – Major Road Ahead”. I suppose it didn’t matter much as there were so few cars. We had to go by bus: the 408 went along the A246 and the fare to Epsom was 9d and to Guildford 10d. There was also the single decker, the 432, going on the “lower road”: this took longer but it was often convenient to catch it when we had heavy shopping as it stopped nearer to the house, outside the infants’ school. At one time the 432 stopped for a rest outside the Douglas Haig [hotel] and we could get on there.

We lived very near to Home Farm, run by two brothers called Curtis who had houses on the Effingham Common Road. They kept a herd of Guernsey cows and a huge bull. The milk was bottled at the dairy and to begin [with] it was delivered every day by horse and cart. ‘Our’ horse liked to take a bite out of our hawthorn hedge, which made my mother cross. Occasionally the cows were driven down The Street to better pasture on the present Leewood estate and, of course, they had to be driven back again to be milked. Imagine what would happen now! Later the horses were replaced by electric floats which ran out of power in bad weather and had to be rescued. The floats were all charged up at night outside the dairy.

There was also a small farm called Middle Farm; one of the Curtis daughters lived there when she got married. I don’t know what, if anything, she grew, but she kept geese who were rather noisy. There was also a small farm, Killick’s, next to The Plough. They had a rather muddy pond which used to flood when it rained.

Bread was delivered three times a week from Hansen’s in Bookham (now Pearce’s). Once or twice a week Hansen’s baked a few fruit cakes and I often walked into Bookham and queued for about half an hour so I could buy one before they sold out. No wonder we were all thinner then.

In some ways, of course, we were better off – we had two grocery shops, Bridger’s (now West Mead), which sold practically everything, and also Stanton’s, which also sold everything and had a wine and spirit licence. Stanton’s also delivered orders. There was a Post Office in Church Street ([now] Ken Hall’s house), with a blacksmith’s just down the road (now the mower and garden machinery place) with a cobbler next to it. We had a butcher, Madge’s, on The Street next to Yew Tree House, at the foot of Madge’s Lane. There were also three cafés, the Welcome Café with a hairdresser’s next door [on] the other side of Sibley’s; the White House by the crossroads had a café in their extension which sold ice cream (what bliss to have one, or better still a double); and Colets building onto Orestan Lane, [which] also sold sweets. So we didn’t have to go far to get what shopping we were allowed – at one time the ration was one egg a week, but we kept chickens. No corn to feed them, of course: we had to boil up all the potato peelings and other scraps and then add our ration of some disgusting substance called Balancer Meal. However, the chickens liked it.

There was an old hall belonging to the W.I. where they had their meetings and which was used for the baby clinic and the distribution of orange juice, etc. Next to it was a greengrocer’s: he had quite a big plot of land, with glasshouses where he grew vegetables and some flowers.

There were a lot of tall elm trees which have all gone – there were some at the bottom of our garden and others along The Street by the Douglas Haig who had a piece of ground where the town houses were built – this was used to grow vegetables for the pub.

I suppose some of Effingham’s buildings are exactly the same as they were in 1940, including the three churches, but the changes have been far greater. The schools are vastly bigger than they were, especially the Howard and St. Teresa’s.

12.9.2000   Margaret Mitchell