Our first home was humble but we loved it, the old treadle sewing machine I had been given was put to regular use and I found I could improve our home with very little money and lots of enthusiasm. Most of our furniture was hand-me-downs from older relatives, who could now afford to upgrade. By trial and error I learned how to make fitted covers, giving old chairs a fresh new look. Our local market had several fabric stall where “imperfect” yardage could be bought. The little snags or other problems were easy to deal with by hiding them in folds or at the back of cushions.
I had already covered all our beds with home made coverlets and had towels galore made from off cuts sold at a weaving mill and this gave me a taste for homemaking on the cheap. Another cotton mill sold end pieces of sheeting and I found this really useful for making curtains, pillow cases and even children’s dresses and nighties. It cost a few pennies for a tin of powdered dye and the job was done in an old enamel wash bowl on the gas stove. I would sometimes get a bit carried away and underwear and white socks that were past their best, got a new lease of life in the dye bath. Add some trim or embroidery and our children had pretty dresses for all occasions.
After a year of saving we were able to have a bathroom installed in one of the bedrooms. It was a wonderful addition but it meant that when the twins came along we only had two bedrooms for six people so we needed to move house to accommodate our growing family. I was hospitalized for almost three months, due to high blood pressure, probably caused by struggling with two toddlers on the two busses that it took me to get to the doctor’s appointment. Dave and the two little girls moved in with his mom and, when the house next door to her became available, he suggested me buy it, and this we did. I had always got on super well with Dave’s mom so the idea of living next door was quite appealing.
It was a huge old house with eleven foot high ceilings, beautiful crown mouldings round the edges and a big plastered ‘rose’ in the centre of each ceiling. Originally the houses had been lived in by mill owners and had been built sparing no expense but had fallen into disrepair over the past hundred years. We invested in a new roof but the rest of the improvements were to be done by us.
One improvement that sticks in my mind was wallpapering the hallway and stairs. A roll of English wallpaper measured twenty two feet. This was the exact amount needed to cover the high wall that went up the staircase. Determination overcoming fear, I bought a very plain paper and Dave installed a long plank between the railing at the top of the stairs and a high step ladder in the bathroom hallway. Along this contraption I walked, or sidled, with the gluey paper in both hands, Dave stood below me and guided the bottom of the paper to it’s allotted space while I matched up the top end.
In this manner we managed to complete the job and finishing off the eleven feet walls in the rest of the hallway was a piece of cake after this balancing act.
We moved into the house when the twins were about three months old. First priority was a thorough cleaning. The previous tenant had been a very old lady who had found the big house too much to handle and things had got really neglected. One afternoon I was up a high step ladder cleaning the paintwork around the windows, with a Brillo soap pad, when the door bell rang. Dave went to answer and I guessed it would be his mom. Dave announced that it was the vicar and, guessing he was joking, I replied “unless he is wearing rubber gloves, tell him to —- off”. I turned round and of course there stood the vicar in his long black robes, he had come to bless the house! Not my finest hour. A cup of tea and a promise to have the twins baptised soon got me back in his good grace.
The place was really in bad shape and we had to do a lot of work in it but it was a lovely home with tons of space for our family. The huge front door opened into a stained glass porch which then opened into a big hallway. The wide staircase had an enormous carved banister that at one time had been very grand. The long hallway had the living and dining rooms leading off and finished up in a big kitchen.
An enormous claw foot tub in the big bathroom made the hot water go cold really quickly but the kids used to love to ‘swim’ in it and much fun was had every evening.
We had room to eat our meals in the kitchen so used the huge dining room as a playroom for our four daughters. There was enough room for their playhouse, all their doll strollers and various toys plus a big couch where we could all sit in front of the fire for storytime.
There was always a fire lit for evenings spent in the living room, after the kids went to bed. It was warm and cosy for about ten feet around the fire, after that it got chillier as you left the cosy space. Making cups of tea was always a challenge as neither of us wanted to take our turn down the long, cold hallway to the kitchen. One night as I hurried down the hallway I saw that the cat was sitting on the counter. It’s head was bent so it could see the floor and I saw it was watching a mouse eating the food from the cat’s dish. So much for it’s hunting instincts! Oh the joys of an old house.
The biggest drawback was the ccllar, it was dark and scary. Part of the cellar was just backfill from the house, with a brick wall built around it. This was the wall where the steps went down. To keep this aired out, spaces had been left in the wall and these I found handy for storing stuff that I didn’t want the kids to get into, bleach and household cleaners etc.
One day I decided to clean a carpet, so went on to the stairs to get the shampoo. It was not in its usual space, so I put my arm through to see if it had fallen onto the dirt behind. Instead of the shampoo bottle I felt what I thought was a suede purse. Immediately my mind went into thoughts of hidden treasure. I could imaging the old lady, who was the former householder stashing away her savings in the wall cavity. Dreams of untold wealth flooded my greedy brain. I pulled the purse from the cavity but instead of holding a nice fat purse I held before me a long dead cat.
Running next door almost unable to speak brought my father in law to the rescue and cups of nerve-settling tea were quickly made by my mom in law. The dead cat has never been forgotten but most of the memories of that old house are good ones.