Saturday, 25 July 2015

Days of plenty in Redcar: a middle class household before the First World War

In old age, Mrs Katharine Isobel Ellis Hill (1905-2005) looked back to the golden times before the First World War broke out ... when she lived with her parents and her brothers in the little hamlet then called Nunthorpe Station, and they went to visit her father's parents in Coatham ...

Her memory of the end of those happy times was very vivid and painful:

King's Head, Newton-under-Roseberry
On Aug 4th 1914 my godmother had a picnic for the young people staying with her & about 12 of us walked 3 miles across the fields, climbed Roseberry, had tea at the King's Head & walked 3 miles back.  
As I ran across the last field & the others went away I crossed the road & saw my father in his Territorial Uniform (khaki) vanish round a bend on his motor bike – I called after him but he did not hear – 
I rushed into the house & asked why? & someone said, 
"There's a war with Germany, so be a good girl."   
I never see that corner of the road without seeing my father on his way to Ypres & the Somme.  7 weeks later Duncan was dead; our house was closed for the duration & I was parted from all my little friends, pets, the garden (& all sense of security forever) & the servants who were old friends.
Katharine's brother, Duncan Stubbs
(Her father's account of the day is here and an account of the death of her brother Duncan is here.)

But to return to life before the War ... 

Katharine looked back across the decades to meals at her grandparents' house, 7 Trafalgar Terrace, Coatham.

7 Trafalgar Terrace, Coatham, in 1904

Her grandfather John Richard Stubbs, had grown up with the open hospitality of his mother and her neighbours in Boroughbridge.

Her grandmother Ellis Macfarlane grew up on the west coast of Scotland, in Helensburgh.  Her father Duncan Macfarlane was a Canada merchant; her mother Mary (also a Macfarlane) was the "lovely little girl" mentioned in Three Nights in Perthshire; with the description of the Festival of a 'Scotch Hairst Kirn' (1821).

This little book, several times reprinted, recounts the author's visit to Mary's childhood home – Ledard, "a large, beautiful farm-house" near the head of Loch Ard.

Mary's father, Donald Macfarlane, had himself taken the great Sir Walter Scott to inspect the nearby waterfall, which Scott described to great dramatic effect in Waverley and Rob Roy.

(Sir Walter hasn't been in fashion in England for many years – this post on Louis Stott's literary blog will put you in the picture).

The book describes the harvest festivities, with plentiful accounts of the food and drink:
sweet and ewe milk cheese, some of the delicious trout for which the neighbouring lochs are famous, basons of curds, with bowls of sour and sweet cream, and piles of crispy oatcakes, together with rolls and butter. 
So we can imagine that, with that sort of family background, food played a significant part in John and Ellis Stubbs' daily life.

When Katharine looked back across the hardship and rationing of two World Wars to a dimly-remembered time of plenty, this was what she recalled:- 

(And by the way – we have no way of knowing now whether a retired solicitor and his wife always ate so lavishly; it seems very likely that Katharine, only a small child at the time, was remembering special occasions)

Meals at No 7 Trafalgar Terrace, Coatham, up to 1914
Table seated 4 at each side & one at either end.  There were leaves to insert & extend it for many more.  There was always a large, starched, white damask cloth. 

Every day at breakfast 
Boiled eggs: 3 wore blue knitted caps (soft boiled) and 3 wore red knitted caps (set boiled)
Porridge: cooked all through the night (oatmeal) eaten with salt in Granny’s Highland fashion.  With a pint jug of thick cream on the table 
On a side table were hot dishes in silver serving dishes with lids. These were kept hot with little methylated flames on stands underneath them:- 
Bacon & fried eggs
Fried bread
Sausages or kidneys, tomatoes in season (not winter)
Scrambled eggs or poached eggs
Fish: kippers or haddock as a rule, or Kedgeree 
And cold dishes:-  
A large ham with an inch of fat – the whole sprinkled with breadcrumbs
A large joint of pressed beef
Cold chicken or (in season) a brace of partridges or grouse, a brace of pheasants, sometimes a woodcock or snipe 
On the table:-  
Toast in silver racks.  Hot bread buns.  White bread.  Brown bread.  (All home-baked)
Marmalade.  Honey.
A pint jug of cream
A large piece of butter (½ lb approx) stamped with the mould of the farm that produced it 
Luncheon was always a 4 course meal plus fruit & cheese 
Afternoon Tea:- 
Thin, buttered, white bread
Thin, buttered, brown bread – both cut in triangles
Scones in a heated dish
2 sorts of home made jam
Small cakes – iced in pink or white, called Maids of Honour
Chocolate cake, iced
Plum cake
Brandy snaps filled with cream
Madeira cake, or similar
Biscuits, gingerbread & plain
Little jam rolls
Tarts filled with jam or lemon curd, or curd with currants
China and Indian tea. 
6 courses with fruit:  Soup. Fish. EntrĂ©e.  Roast or Game.  Savoury.  Pudding.  Fruit.
Wedgwood pattern Y2109, first introduced in 1887
The few remaining plates of this Wedgwood service prompted another memory from long ago:
I first saw this service at Hogmanay when it was laid on a white damask cloth for tea, with about 15 to 20 people sitting round the table, nearly all family.   
Traditionally the youngest child had to cut the Yule Cake and I remember being lifted onto a chair & helped to make the first little cut. This was at Trafalgar Terrace, Coatham, (after my grandparents had left Park End, Ormesby).  It belonged to my grandmother Grace Ellis Macfarlane who married John Richard Stubbs at Helensburgh in 1871. 
I can also remember that it was brought out for the big tennis parties we gave at the Red House, Nunthorpe, where we had 2 tennis courts, so invited a good many people at a time, & had a lot of parties. 
It was originally a double service which is probably why some of it survived 2 world wars – as it was stored away in both, & in the second world war was in store at Easby Hall – where quite a lot of stuff was stolen, & books & upholstered furniture destroyed by damp. 
Hogmanay was the day at Granny’s house.  Every traditional Scottish dish was on the long table for tea, & presents piled on a side table (Christmas was a very secondary occasion). 
No one was allowed out of the house, or into it, on January 1st the doors were kept locked until the first foot knocked on the door, usually before breakfast.  He had to be a dark man, a fair one was very unlucky, & carried, if I remember, salt into the house.  Everyone rushed down to greet him & he was led away & plied with food & “a dram” 
The village boys at Nunthorpe used to sing under the windows on New Year’s Day 
“My little hen goes cluck cluck cluck
And I’ve come to wish you very good luck”

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