The Willowcroft

From our garden gate, near the entrance to Willowcroft Road, we could look up the street to the village centre of my world. A large three-story Georgian mansion named The Homestead was across the street, and dominated the neighbourhood. Our modest home was one of four adjoining houses, each having three bedrooms, a parlor and a living room. The row had a central entry passageway, for access to the back doors of the two middle houses, that also formed a convenient shelter for the bicycles of the Butler and the Porter families. The entry was unlighted, and on dark winter nights the bicycles were a murderous hazard to many unsuspecting people navigating the pitch-black entry and blundering into them. High wooden gates, each with a latch and bolt, gave privacy at the end of the entryway. The winds would snatch this gate from the hands of all but the strongest visitors, and we would hear the loud slam from inside the house.
 
Our row of red brick and pebble-dash homes was built in 1923 by the Shardlow Rural District Council. With a continuous pitched roof of blue slate, they resembled most Derbyshire houses of that era. A photograph showing workmen laying the foundations appears in a collection of old Spondon photographs published in 1995. Wood-framed windows with small glass panes were provided in every room. Each home was heated by coal fireplaces, and illuminated with coal gas lamps. Electricity only came to our part of the village in 1935, when I was ten years old. Winters were cold and draughty, but the beautiful frost ferns that formed on the glass windows would fascinate me as a small child gazing out.
 
A boiler behind the hearth of the fireplace, controlled by a flue damper, provided the hot water that rose to the copper boiler in the bathroom over the living room. From there it would also flow to the kitchen taps and the large glazed-earthenware sink when needed. Another open boiler or dolly-tub in the kitchen was provided for washing clothes. Water was scooped by saucepan from the sink into the bowl of the boiler and heated. It had a brick surround and a gas fireplace beneath. A wooden lid covered the boiling water, except when the four-legged, wood-handled 'dolly peg' was being used to pound and punish the clothes. On washdays, regardless of how cold it was outside, the back door or the kitchen windows had to be opened as the fire needed an air draught. The kitchen would then be filled with clouds of steam when the lid of the 'copper' was opened and the steaming clothes were lifted over to the hand-operated mangle and its spring-loaded wooden rollers before being dropped in the wicker basket.
 
Next came the rigging and wiping of the clothes lines, hanging-out the sheets, and the propping up of the lines to get the wet clothes clear of the vegetables growing close to the path. On a breezy day the lines of washing, flapping and billowing into sails, was an impressive sight to a small child.
 
Progress next came in the shape of a gas-fired washing machine with a horizontal paddle and a set of hand-cranked rubber wringer rollers attached at the back of the tub, so that when the lid was lifted, the ends of the clothes could be slipped into the rollers, and pulled out of the tub with less effort and slopping water than previously. The paddle was moved by a handle through the lid, and a penny could sometimes be earned by cranking the handle to and fro for a hundred turns while Mam put a hasty lunch together in the hour between our school duties.