The Ireland family home: The Oaks, Dorridge Road, Dorridge, Warwickshire, as it was in the mid-1950s. My father, Harold Ireland, bought the three-storey Victorian house in 1945, and the Ireland family lived there until 1958. The flagpole was erected for the Coronation in 1953. The house in the background of both pictures, which was built to a similar design about the same time, has since been demolished.
Other members of the extended family are welcome to contribute old documents, pictures and letters to these pages. Reminiscences can also be recorded for posterity — or for as long as WordPress maintains this website. (The domain, hourglassera.com, will expire if it is not renewed annually, but the underlying URL, alanireland.wordpress.com, should remain operative indefinitely.)
Looking back, I still remember what was, I think, our first visit to The Oaks, at 102 Dorridge Road, Dorridge, in 1945. One of the things I noticed, possibly because it was so unusual, was the low, shallow Victorian sink in the kitchen. This was the first casualty of my parents’ modernization program, which later saw them remove the coal range in the servants’ parlor, take down the row of numbered bells that had summoned the servants, and cut the ornate knobs off the banister posts of the main staircase. Alas, no one gave a second thought to such acts of vandalism in those days.
Curiously, another thing I remember about that visit is finding a bird’s nest on a low branch of a tree — unmistakable evidence, even to a 4-year-old, that no one had been around for a while. Later, or possibly on another occasion, we opened the french windows of the “sitting room” and had a picnic on the step, before returning to the house in Sheldon — our first home, which was later devoted exclusively to my father’s dental practice.
The month was May, which also saw the celebration of VE Day at street parties around the country. For days before the Sheldon party, delicacies were taken to a collection point. Ours included a jelly, which wobbled alarmingly on the plate that I was given to carry. In the harsh daylight, it seemed naked and slightly absurd — a perfect expression of my own feelings as a small child in wartime Britain.
On the day of the party, we sat at a long tressle table in the middle of a minor street, off New Coventry Road. I recall spotting a bowl of apples — or what I thought was a bowl of apples — some distance down the table, and asking my father to get one for me. It was to be a day for the children, each of whom was to receive a Bible — until they (whoever “they” were) ran out of Bibles, and had to dispense Blackie dictionaries instead.
Other wartime memories are of lifting the lid of a large pot on the stove and seeing, to my horror, that it contained the head of a cow, and of returning by bus from the Bullring in Birmingham, where my father had bought a cock. The bird was in a sack on the floor of the bus, and was quiet most of the time. But every now and then, there would a tremendous, muffled commotion as it tried to escape.
My next memory is of man and bird locked in mortal combat on the back lawn — my father flailing madly and the cock shrieking and flying high into the air as it fought for its life.
There was an air-raid shelter at the end of the back garden, half under the ground and half above it. To enter it, you went down a few steps and opened a thick, heavy hinged door that had a small square window, without glass, in the bottom right-hand corner. I remember this window because it revealed my presence in the shelter whenever I hid there, sometimes to escape from the family doctor and his dreaded vaccination needle. By 1944, German air raids had petered out, and the shelter was already little more than a curiosity.
The was no air-raid shelter in the back garden of The Oaks, which in those days ran all the way to Gladstone Road. The family caravan, which in 1955 accompanied us to Le Lavandou in the south of France, was permanently parked at the far end — in part of the garden that was, in 1956, going to be turned into a nature reserve. My mother, Elsie, had just read A Sanctuary Planted, by Walter J. C. Murray, and had visions of undertaking a similar project. A few shrubs were duly planted in the middle of the lawn, in positions intended to create two vistas. I dug a small hole, which I thought might be the beginning of a pond. But in mid-1957, when I was 16, this dream was unexpectedly swept aside by another.
I was sitting in the dining room of the Strand Palace Hotel with my parents and Jean-Francois Gury, an exchange student from Plombieres-les-Bains in Lorraine. My parents had joined me at the hotel at the end of a few days I had spent in London showing Jean-Francois some of the sights, before he returned to France. Half way through the conversation, after perfunctory inquiries about what we had been doing, my parents announced that they were buying a cottage near Henley-in-Arden.
“It looks like one of those,” they said, gesturing towards a large mural that showed some thatched cottages surrounded by flowers: an idyllic English scene, designed to promote tourism. Then they qualified the statement: “Well, it will look like one of those.”
The “cottage”, which turned out to be two tiny dwellings under a single tiled roof, had belonged to the Church of England. It had been built in the 15th century in the manner of the period, with wattle and daub between the exposed timbers of the framework. The wattle and daub had, however, been replaced by red brick at some time in the 19th century. Many of the timbers in the front wall of the building had also disappeared.
During the renovation of the cottage, a few small areas of wattle and daub were found when interior walls were stripped. One of these, at the top of the stairs, was preserved for posterity.
We were told that these homes, which shared an outside pump that provided the only source of water, had been used by the parish of Ullenhall as accommodation for the poor — the stunted poor, I would say, judging from the lowness of the ground-floor ceilings. Initially, I struggled to imagine the family living in such cramped, miserable conditions, in a building that, according to an article in the Birmingham Mail in 1961, had been scheduled for demolition. Click here for another view of Wild Pear Cottage, looking like a derelict Hobbit house, in 1957.
But within a matter of months, plans had been drawn up for a complete renovation of the building and the addition of a wing that would house a double garage and a kitchen downstairs and a large bedroom and two bathrooms upstairs. A year later, as I perched on the ridge beam of the new roof with one of the builders, I remarked that the word “cottage” had become a bit of a misnomer. “It’s quite big now,” I said. “Big?” he exclaimed. “It’s a bloody palace!”
In the meantime, our new home had acquired a name — “Wild Pear Cottage”, which immortalized some straggly pear trees in the back garden. They were, I think, old and neglected, rather than wild. Other possible names had been considered, including “Toot Mere”. This would have honoured the small pond, with its requisite family of moorhens, to the left of the gate in the picture above. For two pictures of Wild Pear Cottage in 1998, also showing Elaine Ireland, click here and here.
The thatched roof, which reportedly had a 50-year lifespan, was put on by an Irish thatcher who hung up his leggett, after working for a few weeks, and went off on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, leaving most of the new wing under a tarpaulin. Fortunately, he reappeared about a month later, spiritually refreshed, and finished the job.
The ground floor in the original part of the cottage was lowered, so that taller members of the family wouldn’t bump their heads on the ceiling beams. I’m not sure this was altogether a good idea, as the surrounding land has drainage problems. Harold once reported that, after a night of heavy rain, there had been a plop! as he had stepped off the bottom stair into two to three inches of water.
Wild Pear Cottage, a Grade II listed building, was the home of Harold and Elsie Ireland until 1979, when they moved to a hobby farm in Llandeilo, Wales. Address: Wild Pear Cottage, Deans Green, Henley-In-Arden, West Midlands, B95 5RJ. A map of the area, with Stratford-upon-Avon at its center, is shown in the above early 20th-century paperweight, which I bought at an antique shop in Stratford in 1974. Henley-in-Arden can be seen in the upper left of the map. — Alan Ireland, 2012/13
Jessie’s leaf: A sister’s gift survives for more than a century
“Illa” is Priscilla Marion (see the family register of Charles Knowles), who was born in 1870, while “Jessie” is Jessie Edith Mordue, my father’s mother, who was born in 1887. — Alan Ireland, Palmerston North, NZ.
Commemorative photograph of a successful rowing team
‘The bride wore a striking gown of ice-white embossed satin’
The press coverage of my parents’ wedding in January 1940.
As a journalist, I read this with incredulity. For a start, the press no longer reports such weddings — except, perhaps, in the pages of a wedding supplement. They are of little or no interest, except to the immediate families of the bride and groom.
But that fact aside, one has to ask: “Who are these people? What are their views? Have they done anything unusual in their lives? Did they have any wicked anecdotes to pass on to their guests at the reception?”
All we are told is that the bride is a nurse and the bridegroom is a dentist, and what those in the wedding party were wearing. Evidently, in the England of 1940, nothing was more important than the quality/ele-
gance/attractiveness of one’s attire. We are, for instance, riveted by the fact that Mrs So-and-So’s brown hat was “trimmed with squirrel”.
Perhaps this is the kind of triviality that grips people in the early days of a war in which scores of millions will die. Forget about the Nazi menace. Forget about the Panzer divisions, poised on the border of France. Focus, instead, on a “heart-shaped decolletage set with buttons”.
Perhaps there is a kind of reassurance in the formalities of a rigorously contrived event — a phenomenon one also found, in the closing days of the war, in the ballroom dances that were held, often on the spur of the moment, amid the rubble of bombed-out buildings. People would drift into the circle of dancers, sometimes still clutching their salvaged possessions.
Round and round they would go, drawing a new sense of direction from the choreog-
Years later, my father was still exercised by the appropriateness of dress. If we were dining at a posh restaurant, for example, he would glance around the table, and say to me: “And you are the only one who is not dressed for the occasion.”
In 1953, I had been sent to a boarding school in Yorkshire, where the “uniform” consisted of green corduroy shorts and a green jersey or windcheater. I had taken to the latter, and would wear it everywhere.
Many years later, when I was visiting my former home after a long absence abroad, I remembered my father’s fussiness about dress, and lugged a suit in a special case all the way from New Zealand to London, only to find that he no longer seemed to care what people wore. The era of “trimmings with squirrel” had evidently died a quiet death at some time in the 1960s.
In the meantime, the ill-fitting suit that he had bought for me in 1959, when I had visions of becoming a sales assistant at W H Smiths in Stratford-upon-Avon, had been sent to me in Japan, where it had compared very unfavorably with the two suits I had had made in Hong Kong in 1962. After wearing it only a few times, I gave it to a young man from Arkansas, who promised to “become known in it”. I think he liked the large, funky lapels.
But some ideas about the appropriateness of dress never die. When I mentioned to my mother, early this year, that I had been applying sun block to my lower legs, she replied: “Aren’t you a bit old to be wearing shorts?” I had to tell her that people of all ages wear shorts in New Zealand. Indeed, one still sees elderly gents wearing the “walk shorts”, teamed with immaculate, knee-length white socks, that were popular in the 1970s.
Alan Ireland, 2012
Identity Card of Alan Stuart Ireland, issued on December 19, 1940