Winchmore Hill : Memories of a Lost Village
by Henrietta Cresswell
Chapter V: REMINISCENCES
In this chapter we learn more about Henrietta Cresswell, and the sort of person she was. She refers to herself in the text as Winifred.
“Some children.” Said the Doctor’s wife, “are brought up, and some are lugged up;” but it is doubtful whether her own did not bring themselves up. When Winifred was between three and four years old she longed with all her heart to be a boy. To tell the truth she was always hearing of the superiority of the “Lords of Creation,” and felt that her importance would gain immensely by the metamorphosis, and being an egotistical little person she longed greatly to better herself if it could be done. She confided her ambition to the ever-sympathetic ear of her grandmother, who, kind old lady, sagely remarked—“Well! We must see what the new Parliament can do. They are going to do everything; so we must wait and see.” To Winifred the laughing remark had the value of a prophecy. All her hopes, as so many other people’s have done before and since, were centred in the election of the new Parliament.
At length the great day came. The Doctor, after some grumbling because those who “chose to undertake the governing of the country would not do it without bothering him,” duly recorded his vote for “the gentlemen’s candidate,” and Winifred waited and hoped. It was too serious and important a matter to be talked about; but, like the parrot, she “thought the more,”
and few grown-ups can have any idea of the tragedy of disappointment when she found it had been “all a take in,” and that she was condemned to wear her hated petticoats all her life, and would always be expected to “love her needle” and “sit still like a lady.” The petticoat grievance was a reasonable one, as the Doctor and his wife were old-fashioned people and kept Winifred in skirts below her ankles, while those of other little girls of her age were up to their knees. When she grew big enough to climb trees and take long walks alone she spent many an hour endeavouring to make invisible darns in those skirts. Thorns and tenterhooks
appeared to have a spite against her, and however careful she tried to be, she seemed to get more muddy and ragged than anyone could have believed possible.
It is the ambition of every woman to have a house of her own, but Winifred’s beginnings were decidedly troglodytic
; when she was a tiny child, it was her great delight to make the Doctor dig a large hole in the garden, in which she could sit. His energies usually gave out when the cavity was some two feet square and perhaps eighteen inches deep; and, indeed, she was rather alarmed when that great depth was attained, lest if he put his spade in much further he should fall through into Australia, where everyone lived head downwards. At that time she was a lonely little maid with no one to play with, and had to be happy alone and amuse herself. A turned-down flower pot served as a seat, and she collected toads from under the leaves of the Winterheliotrope
, black and yellow newts—effets, as they are called in North Middlesex—out of the coal cellar, and frogs from the area, and kept them in her hole, which was too deep for them to jump out of. One hot Sunday morning a painful tragedy occurred. She had just found a fine young frog under the leaves of the Chinese day-lily
, when she was called to get ready for Church. To keep him safe she covered him with a small disused hand-light. He was left in the shade, but, alas! the sun neared the zenith, the shadows shortened, 80 degrees in the shade was nearer 120 degrees in the sun, and when she returned home poor froggie was as dead as a door nail. All his limbs were extended, and his corpse stood stiffly up against the glass as rigid and hard as if he were made of bronze. Poor Froggie would never go wooing any more, and little Winifred felt herself a murderer, and despair entered into her soul. She cried bitterly about that unfortunate frog, and wondered what it would be like to be roasted alive in hell. The sermons she had to listen to on Sundays contained much matter about worms and flames, and being conscious that she was always such a naughty little girl, however hard she tried to be good, she never doubted that if she died she would go to the hot place.
She had a rooted belief in Old Nick
as portrayed in the “Ingoldsby Legends
,” which the Doctor read to her before bedtime, as she sat on his lap in the rocking chair, till she nearly knew them by heart. At one time her mind was occupied by ideas of buried treasure. In stories beginning with “Once upon a time” great wealth was found in most surprising ways, but she was convinced such things only occurred in books, and, like giants and fairies, would never come her way; but she might bury something of which she alone would know the secret—only what could it be? At this time the Mother set the “screwdrawer” (escritoire
) to rights, and among other things turned out a sample box of old pens. No other family would have put all the used pens back into a box and kept them ten years or so; but there they were, at least fifty samples, gold pens, silver pens, bronze pens, and black pens, pens like hands with the index figure for the nibs, short nibs, long nibs, points turned up and points turned down, an extraordinary collection of varieties, and they were all given to Winifred. She played with them for a few days, and then decided they would do for treasure. With great solemnity she dug as deep a hole as she could make with a trowel, and planted the little tin box of pens under a black currant bush. But the extraordinary part of the matter was that, though she never forgot them, it was years before she dug them up again! What became of them after that I know not. Possibly their condition was such that little value was left even to “make believe” about.
When she was eight years old she became the proud possessor of a map, enlarged with the help of her uncle from the Ordnance Survey, of all the roads within one mile of home, and anywhere in that radius she might walk alone.
She could read by the time she was four, and was soon able to write well enough to send letters to the Mother when she was away at the seaside, not baby letters only, but ones containing the news of the house and village.
Winifred’s world was a very small one, and she lacked imagination.
The fig tree against the garden wall, close to the crack where the redstarts
built, was the one out of which Adam and Eve made aprons
, and they pinned them together with the thorns from the gooseberry bushes. No doubt there was a connection with the saying, that “Mend well went to Heaven, rag-tag stayed upon earth, but the Devil ran away with pin together.” Joseph was put into Vicars moor Well
, and it was also on the brickwork edge of it that Rebecca sat and drew water for her sheep. It was the Ding Dong Bell Well into which poor pussy was put by little Jacky Thin, and from whose depth she was rescued by Johnny Stout.
The mouse in “Dickery, Dickery Dock” ran up the tall clock in the Doctor’s study, and –
“Dickery, Dickery, dum tree,
The cat ran up the plum tree,”
referred to the great Reine-Claude
greengage. The cock robins buried the Babes in Winchmore Hill Wood, where there were oak leaves enough to cover any number of corpses, and blackberries for them to eat before they lay down and died.
The “Round pond and a pretty pond too” was, of course, the one on the green, but the second line—
“About it wild daises and violets grew”—
referred to some former time, as there were no violets there now.
“The tall weeping willows” that shaded it round were regarded as poetic licence: the willows were there, only they didn’t weep; and so on in all the stories she read or heard told—her little world held them all, or else she gave them up as a bad job. Highfield Park was not then the free playground it became later, but in hay time she was allowed to go there, if any of the women servants from the great house were at work; but she always slipped away to be petted by the men, and ride in the empty wagon or astride on Dobbin’s back. There was a curious specimen of humanity often employed as oddman at Highfield. He was known as “Friday,” or “Man Friday,” and, as far as the Doctor could discover, had never possessed any other name. he was tall and gaunt and loose limbed, with long hair falling over his eyes in elf locks, and he was not quite “all there,” but he was very kind to Winifred, who regarded him as a friend, and more than once she had sat in his lap while he lunched, and shared not only his bread and cheese but his beer.
She was friends with every dog in the village, even with Morgan’s greyhounds. There was a pack of thirty or forty of these dogs, and they ran in a large field adjoining the Trapgates. Sometimes they would jump the high quickset hedges and alarm passes-by. They were also exercised in the roads, and did a good deal of damage. Many a small dog was worried, or even killed, by them, to say nothing of cats or poultry. In the early days they were neither led nor muzzled, unless positively savage and unmanageable.
Nearly opposite the Doctor’s house
was that of Eaton, the carrier
. He had two horses, gingerbread chestnuts or duns, with long silver manes and tails. The carrier was an important and responsible person, and his horses were well fed and strong, and did the journey to London and back two or three times in the week. Their tails were relied on to make fishing lines. The carrier also kept Muscovy ducks
, and these or the geese on the green provided quills for floats. The surgery furnished corks, the Doctor’s shot-belt leads, the woodstack or a ground-ash supplied a rod, and a farthing hook could be bought at Miss Lowen’s
—even a bent pin could be made to do in an emergency. The New River was free fishing to all, and if one of the children nearly fell in and escaped by a scramble, it took care to be quite dry before returning home, so no awkward questions should be asked.
The old High road was narrow, with wide grass edges, crossed by little grips
every few yards, and with deeper ditches at the sides. Steady horses were needed for the long night journeys in Winter, and in foggy weather it was difficult to keep to the road. The Doctor usually walked the ten miles each way whenever he visited the “old Lady in Threadneedle Street
,” and on one October night found himself overtaken by a thick fog. Opposite to the “Cock” at Bowes Farm
there stood a pump by the roadside, on one of the wide grass margins that gave the London Road its name of Green Lanes. The handle of the pump was to the North and the spout to the South. The children had this fact impressed upon them, because on this particular night the Doctor did not know it. He had reached the end of Alderman Sidney’s wall
and crossed the Bounds Green Road, and was adrift, so to speak, in the open. Pym’s Brook
was filling the whole valley with a dense white mist, and the yellow smoke of the city was rolling down to meet it. Cold, weary, and cheerless, he stopped to light his pipe, and unthinkingly turned to shelter the flickering lucifer match, and, too late, realised that he had lost his direction and had no conception which was his way home. He wandered off the roadway on to the turf, feeling more confused at every moment, when suddenly, to his great relief, he stumbled against the pump and knew where he was, but for the life of him he could not remember whether the spout or the handle was towards Winchmore Hill. He had to chance it, and by good luck found himself on the rising ground of King’s Arms Bridge
, and the fog rapidly thinning showed him the lights in the cottages at the foot of Alderman’s Hill and the low one-storey hovels of Malice Row
, which were built, it is said, to spite an opposite neighbour.
Winifred soon became a useful child, who could do shopping in the village and be trusted to pay the week’s bills for her mother or grandmother. She was such a responsible person in this way that her cousin, who came from a West of England watering-place, and had never in her life been out walking by herself, suffered for it. She was sent with a half witted servant girl to pay the butcher’s book, and came back without having seen it was properly receipted. Poor child, she knew nothing whatever about such things, but the old Lady regarded her as culpably ignorant for nine years of age, as she had employed Winifred as her little messenger for years. By this time the boy with the fair curls was becoming a person to be reckoned with, and he and Winifred played together. As with all children toys had their season. In autumn clay lanterns were greatly in fashion. They were formed of thin slabs of the tenacious yellow clay, and were rather damp and cold to handle. A candle end in a clay socket and a piece of glass for the front made a lamp which lighted a garden path as well as the family tin one from the shop.
were as absorbing as many people find games of Patience. Winifred had a set of five, laboriously chipped out of some very superior Cannel coal
found in the cellar, which she was convinced were equal to real Whitby jet
. She sat on one end of the stable step and practised her game on the other, and in these kindergarten days I would strongly advise a course of Knucklebones to train both the hand and the eye of any child. One-ers, two-ers, three-ers, four-ers, bonce, spanners, and pigs-to-market, to say nothing of all the variations of which they are capable, make as good a game of skill for a solitary girl or boy as could be wished. The Doctor made a wonderful pair of scales out of cocoanut shells, polished till they were like mahogany, and was most talented in cutting Jacob’s wells
out of apples, making walnut shell baskets, date-stone cribbage pegs, and pearls from haddocks’ eyes. Of course there were indoor toys, a splendid box of bricks, dissected maps, spillikins
, and many others.
A much valued swing hung in the park shrubbery above the old saucepans and broken crockery. Hoops, good useful iron ones, were loved as if they were sentient beings
. Fishing was with Winifred a passion, not because she met with great success, but she enjoyed the long solitary afternoons by the river when she was allowed to follow the gentle craft in the beautiful grounds of Beaulieu
. There was a bend in the river under a great pine tree, which was far from the house, and one of the most peaceful places possible. Near it was an eighteenth century ruin and grotto with ponds and rockeries, which was a sort of dream country. The trees of Beaulieu were a fine botanical collection. Are they still there?
There were enormous Cedars of Lebanon
and a Maidenhair tree
as tall as a good-sized oak, and numbers of specimens of rare shrubs and forest trees of every variety.
In the sixties a Mr Adams took the grocer’s shop
at the Wood corner
. He was rather a remarkable man, and a good entomologist. He was also very musical, and had a great ambition to possess a chamber organ. He set himself steadily to work to obtain money for its purchase by catching butterflies and moths for the collectors, and came to Winchmore Hill because it was such good ground for his pursuit. He reared caterpillars also, and would name any specimen taken to him, and his presence in the village was a great interest to the Doctor’s children. It was a triumphant moment to take him a goat-moth caterpillar
, all crimson and orange like a piece of Christmas beef, or an apple-green privet hawk-moth
larva, with mauve stripes upon its sides. The Doctor knew all the commoner butterflies and a few of the moths, but the latter were so numerous, and many rare ones abounded in the neighbourhood which only an expert could name for certain. These were all taken to the Wood corner, and Mr Adams never spared trouble in answering the children’s questions. He made over £100 by his hobby, and purchased the organ he so much longed for. In the hot summer of 1868 there were a most unusual number of butterflies and moths of all kinds, including a perfect visitation of humming bird sphinxes
, and on many elm trees an exudation of sticky matter was crowded with wasps, bees, and hornets. A particularly large nest of the wood wasp
was built in a tall rosemary bush in the Grandmother’s garden. This species is not common. The great stagshorn beetles
were very common, not only in the wood, but in the village itself, and cockchafers
could be caught by the dozen by searching in the white blossoms of the guelder roses
or shaking the old filbert tree
in the corner of the Doctor’s garden. At one time an evening walk through the wood was a sure way of finding glow-worms, a few imprisoned under a glass gave enough light to see the time by a watch.
The filbert tree was in an angle of the wall, and made a sort of bower
, which was known by the strange name of “Jellypump Cottage,” but a far grander edifice was built when the boy was old enough to help, and he dignified it by the high-sounding appellation of “Crown Palace.” The tarred fence formed the back, the chief support of the front was the post used for the clothes line (most people washed at home in those days), logs and boughs, old clothes props and remnants of carpet formed roof and walls, and some rough thatching was added of the straw from physic bottle crates. The dwelling boasted two rooms at least four feet square, and the whole structure was so picturesque the Doctor sketched it, unfortunately only in pencil, as the effects of colour were worthy of any artist’s palette.
Winifred made a little pathway of tessellated pavement up to the door. Small round pieces chipped from the many coloured fragments of crockery in the shrubbery, laid in circles and diamonds, and grounded with portions of broken flower pot. They were all placed in a setting of clay, which, alas! dried and shrank, so that the carefully worked out design was quickly kicked aside and ruined. How she longed for real cement, that it might have lasted for hundreds of years like the Roman pavement pictured in her history book. But not only Crown Palace and its pavement are things of the past; the house and garden have vanished away in the depths of the railway cutting. Highfield Park is unrecognisable.
The upper ten-acre and the lower ten-acre, the pond where they sailed the “Torch” (which had a copper bottom) and the “Waterwitch,” and loaded them with wriggling black tadpoles as cargoes of slaves, are all gone. The hollow tree, which the Doctor set on fire in taking a wasps’ nest, the old wall of the Back Lane (now Compton Lane) with Lawyer Compton’s fireplace left in it, the banks of sweet violets, the thickets of acacia bushes, hawthorn, lilac, and laburnum, the wild gardens of Lords and Ladies with their handsome spotted leaves, the wilderness of fool’s parsley and butcher’s broom, “Holly Bower,” “Yew Shelter,” where are they all now? All are destroyed and have vanished. At the bottom of Compton Lane there was a little dell
, and at one side of it a huge pollard elm that must have been there for many centuries. The ivy that mantled it had a trunk of enormous thickness, and formed a network round the aged tree. This was cut down many years ago—long before any building was contemplated, and it was a work of ruthless destruction, as the timber can have been of little value, though the giant elm was in full health and foliage, for its beauty alone, it was worthy of preservation, and its undoubted antiquity should have caused its life to be spared.
The only piece of the Park that has escaped the builder is the St. Bartholomew’s recreation ground, but even that is sadly altered, though it remains grass-land.
The eight mile stone, just beyond, stood in a lonely stretch of road on the grass by a marshy pond. The five barred gate close by led to a field where bluebells and lady smocks flourished and mushrooms might be gathered. Opposite the mile stone is the lane to Barrow Well green. After passing over the New River Bridge there was a stretch of vegetable garden, and a most peculiar one-roomed dwelling, shaped like a tool shed, the front perpendicular and the roof sloping away behind. Its door and window reminded one of a chapel. This was called Hope Cottage. The gardener’s name was Tom Jolly, and he lived there with his old wife, and sold fruit and vegetables.
The Doctor was asked to paint a picture in a young lady’s album, and he chose a view of this abode, writing under it: --
“The Residence of Thomas Jolly, Esq.”
“Oh, why should we be melancholy? Who live in Hope and always Jolly.”
Map of the streets around the Cresswell Home
People in Chapter V
The Doctors wife
The gentlemen’s candidate - The doctors vote in the election
Man Friday at Highfield Park
A half witted servant girl
The boy with the fair curls - Henriettas brother
Mr Adams - local entomologist
Tom Jolly - Gardner selling fruit and vegetables in Barrowell green
Places in Chapter V
The fig tree against the garden wall
The Vicars Moor Well
The Doctors Study
The great Reine-Claude greengage
Winchmore Hill Wood
The pond on the Green
A large field adjoining the Trapgates
Eaton the carriers house was opposite the doctors
The old High road
The Old Lady in Threadneedle Street
The Cock at Bowes Farm
Alderman Sidney’s wall
Bounds Green Road
King’s Arms Bridge
The grounds of Beaulieu
The grocers shop at wood corner
The old filbert tree in the corner of the Doctor’s garden
Jellypump Cottage or Crown Palace - a bower made from the Filbert tree
St. Bartholomew’s recreation ground
The Cresswell Garden with the hollow tree, the pond, the upper and lower ten-acre
The old wall of the Back Lane (now Compton Lane) with Lawyer Compton’s fireplace left in it
The Dell at the bottom of Compton Lane
The eight mile stone (opposite the lane to barrowell green)
Hope Cottage, Barrowell Green (shaped like a toolshed)
Events in Chapter V
The parliamentary election which her grandmother told her would allow her to turn into a boy!
When she was young, the Doctor used to dig a hole in the garden for her to sit in.
Henrietta feels like a murderer as her froggie is killed in the heat of the midday sun.Henrietta feels that she is such a naughty little girl that if she died she would certainly go to "the hot place"
Henrietta buries a box of old pens under a black currant bush as her treasure.
Henritta describes all the local places used in her play imagination.
Henrietta describes how odd man Friday at Highfield Park would share his lunch with her, including his beer.
Henritta describes the pack of dogs that would sometimes escape and savage or kill small dogs, cats or poultry.
Henrietta describes how the children put together all the items to go fishing from local businesses or places.
The Doctor nearly gets lost on the way home from London when a thick fog descends and he does not kow which way the pump at Bowes Farm points.
Henrietta describes how she ran important errands for her mother and grandmother, but her older cousin was not used to doing this and made mistakes.
Henrietta describes the different games she played over the year, especially knucklebones
In the 1860's a Mr Adams took the grocer’s shop at the Wood corner
In the hot summer of 1868 there were a most unusual number of butterflies and moths of all kinds
A large nest of the wood wasp was built in a tall rosemary bush in the Grandmother’s garden
Henrietta laments the loss of her house and garden as well as the flowers and landmarks of her youth, which were destroyed when the railway line was built.
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