Re-reading The Private Life of a Country House 1912-1939, reissued by Clio Press, Oxford, in 1992, one enjoys again Leslie Lewis’s account of what life was like in an Essex house during those years. She describes Pilgrim’s Hall as a small house, but an aerial view shows it as a quite considerable mansion. While I like most books about the pre-WWI period and the 1920s, strings of references to then commonplace objects, like Lifebuoy soap, Glaxo, Californian Syrup of Figs, Fry’s chocolate, ABC teashops, the Boy’s Own Paper, etc can become a bit tedious. Leslie Lewis avoids this and has an absorbing tale to tell, of an age which persisted into the 1920s, even in some cases almost to 1939, of how the better-off managed their country houses.
The cars? Well, around 1912/13 the house was served by a dark green Austin landaulette driven by the uniformed chauffeur Simmons he is remembered by the child as mending innumerable punctures in the garage, ringing the holes in the tubes with a well-licked purple indelible pencil before applying the patches. Before he went off to the war, that is… The Austin was supplemented by various horse-drawn vehicles, suitable for distances of about eight miles each way; the cob that pulled the dog-cart moved her ears constantly to gain instructions and knew automatically when a smart trot to catch a train was called for, or a more sober gait needed with nursery parties. (I can almost see why some people preferred horses to cars… !)
After this cob died in 1920 or thereabouts a Model-T Ford was acquired, a tourer with side-curtains and a Stepney spare wheel. The lady of the house used to crank up the Ford and drive it herself; with a double-dogcart it sufficed for station work, picnics, going to point-to-point races, and general chores, along the roads near Ongar and the North-Essex villages. It was succeeded by a Chevrolet tourer, on which Miss Lewis and her brother were taught to drive by the ex-under-coachman. He also looked after the oil-engine which supplied the house lighting-plant, primed with a blow-lamp, its big flywheel half buried in a concrete base. It was sold in 1939, when mains electricity had reached the house. The Chevrolet was augmented by a Sunbeam landaulette, driven only by the aforesaid coachman, until it was given to one of the author’s brothers, then at Oxford. (I recall how this was often the case, an Overland tourer I knew, of about the same age, being given by father to a son, after the parent had bought another Overland.)
After the Chevrolet went, it was replaced by “a delightful touring Sunbeam”. Bicycles were also much used but the transport needs of the household are described as getting easier for the women when an Austin 7 become available to them. There is a picture of it, a late-model Chummy, Reg No VX 9176, being driven by the author’s brother Bill in the grounds of Pilgrim’s Hall “against the house-rules”. Another picture is of a rear-engined friction-drive GWK two-seater with an aunt at the wheel and grandfather beside her, in about 1917, outside Springwells, in Steyning, its Reg No BB 3047. The starting procedure used by the lady, and the GWK’s remarkable fate, are well worth reading about?