Memories of 20 Totts Lane by Brian Albon
A description of 20 Totts Lane as it was circa 1974
Members of the Parker family had lived in Totts Lane from the 1880s both in No 20 and the house next door.
At the front of the house there was a wall I don?t remember any gate. There was a pathway across the narrow front garden ofthe house and up to the front door made of bricks and stone loosely laid on the ground. The path round to the back of the house was gravel and cinders. A fairly deep ditch separated the property from a field on which are now the allotments.
Going through the front door, on the left hand side of the front room were wooden boards lining the wall for about half the height of the room. On the right hand side were two alcoves one each side of a central range. The range was taken out in the mid-sixties and a completely new open fire was built in its place.
At the bottom of each alcove was a cupboard of slightly less than half the height of the room, with two opening doors. Between the right hand side of the range and the cupboard was a 15 amp round pin electrical socket; the only one in the house except for one on the cooker control box. A paraffin lamp always stood on the top of the left hand cupboard and had survived from the days before the house was connected to mains electricity. A table and chairs were placed in the centre of the room and a sofa stood under the front window. The floor was covered in lino, and rugs made by Mrs Cox who lived at the other end of the block, were scattered round. The hearth was made of stone and was always kept white. This had been done by getting chalk from a pit near the Bennington/Aston junction on the Watton road, long since filled in. This was mixed with water and rubbed onto the hearth. A single bulb hung from the centre of the ceiling without a shade.
From this room a door lead into the kitchen with a single step down. This was very worn in the centre and probably made of stone. The floor was made of brick or stone, again with homemade rugs scattered round. To the left was a walk-in cupboard under the stairs and then another door which lead to the staircase. At right angles to this door was the back door leading to the garden. Next was a large white porcelain kitchen sink supported on two brick piers with only a cold water tap. There was no provision for running hot water at all. An electric cooker, small table and small cupboard completed the kitchen.
Going through the door to the staircase, the stairs made a sharp left turn then up to a very small landing. The door to the room on the left almost opening onto the stairs themselves. The door to the other room being in line with the stairs. The dividing wall between the two rooms was made of tongue and grooved wood. The ceilings were made of lath and plaster and on more than one occasion large pieces fell down when broken slates allowed water in.
Returning downstairs again and out of the backdoor. Slightly to the right and across the yard was a wash house which contained a large bowl suspended by brickwork over a hearth. This was used on wash days to boil the clothes. There was also a large mangle with exposed gearing.
Fairly close to the back door of the adjacent house was a well. I remember it having a wooden cover at one time and my mother dropping a stone down the well through a crack. It had water in it at that time. I believe a concrete cover was put over it later on, but the well itself was probably not filled in.
Immediately outside the back door and joined to the outside wall my grandfather had built a wooden shed for his motorcycle. Later on this was demolished and a flushed toilet was built here in a small brick extension. I don?t think the house ever had a proper bathroom.
Moving further round the back path, at the nearest point that the property came to the ditch, there was the original brick-built toilet. Connected to the side of it were brick coal sheds which joined the house by the front door. The one nearest the house was my grandparents?, I think the other one was for the next door neighbour.
The garden was used mainly for keeping chickens for eggs, and cockerels for Christmas. An allotment was also worked on ground which the large house opposite [White Hills] now occupies, although this was already built by 1974. Pigs were also kept on the allotment in earlier times.
I am told that an Anderson shelter was built in the back garden in the War years, but had been cleared before my time.
Brian Albon, November 2012
Background to my Grandparent?s lives in Totts Lane, Walkern.
My Grandmother was born in the Camberwell area of London in 1893, the eldest of eight or possibly nine children. She was one of only three of the children to live to be adults. Her father worked in the family business building and repairing baker?s ovens.
At some later time the family moved to Swanley Village, Kent where in 1920 my Grandmother married my Grandfather, Bertie Parker. It is assumed they met when Bertie went to Kent to find seasonal work on the farms. It is known that Grandad did go to Kent for this type of work, probably with others from Walkern.
Exactly which of the following was their first home in Walkern Is not known, but they have lived in three places. Froghall Lane, Church End, and Totts Lane. The house they lived in at Church End is believed to be at the end of the block furthest from the road. I think that the majority of their married lives were spent at Totts Lane.
Gran was a regular churchgoer even when the congregation had diminished at some services to two or three people. When she became unable go to church in her last years the rector used to go 20 Totts Lane to give her communion.
It is already on the WHS website ?Memories? section that she assisted Mr. Green the undertaker in his work . Apparently she originally carried out this work for nothing.
My Grandads? story starts much nearer to 20 Totts Lane. He is believed to have been born in the house next door. This was in 1888. His father was originally from Shephall, Stevenage. His mother was originally from Clay End and lived near the King?s Cross pub, but was living in Totts Lane at the time of her marriage.
Grandad was one of a family of six children, two boys died when little more than babies. One of them was scalded to death. The child managed to pull a saucepan of potatoes boiling on the range onto himself. The inquest was held in the ?Yew Tree? pub.
The only girl in the family later lived next door to 20 Totts Lane and her married name was Hill as mentioned in one of the memories on the WHS website.
The eldest boy in the family later lived in a gypsy caravan on Cadcroft Common, Walkern, where he died in 1940. He was crippled in one leg and so did not serve in WW1. My grandfather had bought the caravan for him from a yard in Stevenage Old Town. It is thought that at one point they may both have lived in a small timber house, long demolished near the High Street end of Winters Lane.
Another brother joined the Army in WW1 and after many injuries and minor wounds was seriously injured by gunshot in the hand and face. He was bought back to Sidcup in Kent. This hospital specialising in some of the first facial reconstruction attempted. However, after a short time he contracted pneumonia and died. I think his grave is the only WW1 soldier?s grave in the churchyard and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. For several years now I have put a cross and poppy on his grave for Armistice Sunday. He was a Trainee Baker in Walkern before joining the Army.
My Grandad was also a soldier in WW1. He was a member of the Manchester regiment. According to the 1911 Census my Grandad, his eldest brother and their father were all hay pressers. Later on Grandad was the steersman on a traction engine which pulled threshing tackle. He worked with ?Happy? Jack Izzard a well-known Aston character and the Haggars also from Aston. Another workmate was Bernard Edwards from Walkern.
He travelled many miles with the threshing tackle, in his younger days by bicycle and later he had several motor cycles. Only the last one was new, this was a James Cadet. The others were second hand and he used to joke that he had pushed them more miles than he had ridden them. He rode this motorcycle until he was 80 years old. In those days there was no requirement to wear a crash helmet . When he rode his motorcycle he wore a cap and an Army greatcoat with an ex-Army bag tied to the carrier with bale string.
Finally my Aunt?s family lived next door to 20 Totts Lane in the fifties until they moved to Stevenage Road, Walkern.
Brian Albon, November 2012