Memories of a Darsham Girl

The following are three messages and a small biography from Mary Felgate in Australia, a previous resident of Darsham. I believe memories such as these  are an important way to record life in days gone by. As Mary says, it is unlikely that many people currently in the village will remember her and Tony, but many will remember her sister Ann & Doug Raynor who returned to Darsham before going back to Australia only a few years ago.


“My grandmother’s Hacon family came to Darsham in the early 1870’s before which they had lived at Westleton back into the late 1700s.  My grandfather’s Smith family came to Darsham in the early 1890’s.  The Smiths can be traced back to the Ilketshall St. Andrews area prior to that for the same period.  I was a war time baby, born in 1942. We lived at Church Cottages and my sister and I attended Darsham Primary School.  From the age of eleven I went to Yoxford School.  On leaving Yoxford School at the age of fifteen I then went to Ipswich Civic College for two years, eventually becoming a Secretary in a Solicitor’s Office in Ipswich. Tony and I were married at All Saints Church, Darsham, in August 1962, after which we lived firstly at Leiston, then at Theberton. We emigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1967. My sister Ann, then 17, also came to Australia with us. I never lost my ties with Darsham and they continue to this day.”


Early Days

I have just been reading the Darsham web pages and thoroughly enjoyed the story of Dudley & Hazel Crane.  I remember them well.   Hazel is distantly related to Tony so it means more to us.  The WW1 and WW2 pages are so interesting.  I learned a lot I didn't know.

Re: WW2 - I recall my mother telling me Darsham ladies were horrified when they discovered soldiers stationed at Darsham House used to come into our garden and collect me in my pram and wheel me up the street to the shop. I was born in 1942 so remember nothing about that.  I do have a photo around here somewhere taken of me in my pram - unfortunately there are no soldiers on it !!

I remember we had a NAAFI girl stay with us at Church Corner.  She shared my bedroom.   One day she took me to the NAAFI at Darsham House.  It was the first time I had seen all metal knives and forks.  Ours had bone handles.   It must have been at the end of the war.  That is about all I remember of it as I was very young at the time.  

I do remember the Land Army ladies.  I have a vivid memory of them in a field of potatoes at the back of the cottage down the back drive to Darsham House. The cottage was opposite the bottom of our garden.  I think the Davis family may have lived there at the time.  That cottage had a deep well with a wooden cover with a door in it by their back door and a pig sty on the field end of the cottage.  The field ran down as far as The Wash stream and was adjacent to The Glebe field.   After the Davis family moved out I think Mr & Mrs Wicks lived there.  I always loved to see the mauve lilac tree in flower at the side of their garden.

I remember going with my Mum to the W.V.S. stalls at Westleton to get my clothes.  I hated the all in one pyjamas she used to get me.  They had a buttoned flap at the back for when I needed to do the "obvious".  I suppose they call them "onesies" today.  I also hated the liberty bodices with the soft rubber buttons that got sticky.  Kids would rebel if anyone tried to make them wear them today.   They were "the not so good ole days".  Most of my clothes came from "Bring and Buy Stalls" or "Jumble Sales".  It got very embarrassing when another village child recognised something I was wearing. 

I remember the day sweet rationing ended.  The village shop was jam packed.  I remember I was allowed some Smarties.  What a treat that was.

  Mary & Tony


Memories of our connection with Darsham Church 

I grew up at Church Cottages opposite the Church. My parents George & Ruth “Cissie” Baillie were very connected with the church.   My mother was also a cleaner for the various Vicars at the Vicarage next door.  My father was the sexton at the Church for some years.  I spent much of my time in the church, especially on weekends.

My father carried out many duties in the church.  On Saturday afternoons in winter he would have to roll up the carpet runner and light the furnace under the aisle.  This gave it time to warm the church for Sunday services.  The grate in the aisle would have to be removed and he would have to go down into the furnace pit, remove the ashes from the previous week, and take down the coke and light the fire, then replace the grate.   My parents and myself were all in the choir and I remember when we walked over the grate of the furnace the warm air would make everyone's surplice billow up. 

When a funeral was to take place my father often had to dig the grave.  This was not always easy as the ground was clay.  I was one of those children who always wanted to know what was going on.  I suppose you could call me “nosey”.  These days I look on it as a “thirst for knowledge”.  Consequently I often went wherever my father went to do his duties.    I recall he was digging a grave near the south wall of the church.  An area that was not usually used for graves.  On this occasion many ancient bones were unearthed.   As a young child I did not think of the relevance of what happened.  I would look at the bones on the pile of earth and ask whether they were from arms or legs etc.   Once the funeral was over my father then had to fill in the grave.  Once again I would be there.   If some important people were being buried the grave would sometimes be lined with laurel leaves.   If it was a double grave it would be dug deeper and when being filled in a slate sheet would be put in at the level the next grave would be dug.  When I told Local Historian Olive Reeve about this she commented on what a gruesome upbringing I had.  To me it was a natural part of my life. 

At the end of the church there is an ancient grave which looks like a raised coffin.  At one time the lid had slid off to one side and it was full of Slow-Worms.  They look like little snakes.  Slow-Worms were often to be seen in the grass and on the paths around the church.  They scared the life out of some people who did not know they are harmless.  When I was at Yoxford School I mentioned this during a nature lesson.  One of the boys asked me to take one in to school so he could see it.  My father put one in a jar and I took it in.  The boy  asked if he could have it.  I no longer wanted it, so I gave it to him.  It scared the daylights of other pupils when they saw it.

On special occasions the Church flag would have to be raised.   I had pestered my father on several occasions to let me go up the steeple with him.  He had always said it was too dangerous.  He must have got sick of me pestering him so let me go up with him one day.  It was the first time I saw how big the church bells were.  He explained how they worked.  Then we went right out on top of the steeple.  The view was wonderful.  All was fine – until it came to go back down the steeple stairs again.  That was a lot more daunting than going up.  I never asked to go up again.

My parents were both bell ringers.  My father could ring 2 bells at a time and Wilfred Balls could ring 3 bells, one with each hand and one with his foot.   There were occasions when it was a family affair.  Sometimes we were short of a ringer and when I got older I was able to join in.  My father would ring bells 1 and 2, I would ring number 3 and my mother number 4, the Toll bell.  I could also ring the Toll bell. 

My mother and Nana Edith Smith were also cleaners at the church.  Saturdays were taken up dusting and sweeping the church, the altar brass candlesticks and vases had to be polished with Brasso.  I hated cleaning brasses then, and still do.   It was a dirty job.  The Hymn Books and Psalters also had to be put out.  When the Altar cloths had to be changed my mother had to go to the Vicarage to get the next set of Altar cloths.  They were kept in a big ottoman  at the top of the Vicarage stairs.  I would often go and help her.  It was a heavy job to remove the cloths from the altar and fold them correctly.  It was also a heavy job putting on the new set.

In preparation for Holy Communion the communion vessels and wine and wafers had to be got ready. On one occasion my mother was getting something from the Church safe in preparation for a service when she accidentally caught her thumb in the safe door as she was closing it.  She had to seek medical attention and it was extremely painful.    When a wedding was to take place the Parish Marriage Registers would have to be set up ready for signing.  For a Christening the top had to be removed from the font and water put into the font.

My Sundays were taken up with Church attendances.  It would be Sunday School, Matins and Evensong.  Once I was confirmed Holy Communion would be an extra service to attend.  As I got older I began to resent having to attend church so many times on Sunday when many of the other youngsters in the village were able to go out and do other things.   Sundays were always for church or for a walk in the village, especially in summer.   My mother would say it was not necessary to do any work on a Sunday.  She was horrified if she saw washing on anyone's line.

Choir practice would often be held mid-week during the warmer months, especially if there was a special service coming up.  Darsham had a great church choir and had a good reputation for their performance.   Alice Fisk of Westleton was the organist.  She was also my Godmother. My Nana Edith Smith was born at Westleton and was a Hacon before her marriage.  Our Hacon family and the Fisk family were friends for generations right up to the time my mother, and then, Jim Fisk died.        At Christmas time the choir would go around the village Carol Singing.   That was always an enjoyable occasion.  We would be transported to the further flung farms.  At Low Farm (now named Trustans Farm) we were often treated to hot mince pies and a drink.


I had a strong connection with the Vicarage.  My mother was a cleaner at the Vicarage, as had my Nana Smith before her.   As a young girl my Nana Smith, then Edith Hacon, had been a domestic servant at the Vicarage for Rev. Dr. Tennant.   Before I started school I would go to the Vicarage with my mother. I have happy memories of my time there.  When Rev. Maitland was Vicar in the 1940's I would be welcome in the kitchen with Miss Mason, his housekeeper.   Miss Mason used to cut the crusts off  Rev. Maitland's toast and I would sit with Rev. Maitland and eat the crusts.  The big kitchen was always warm.  It had a row of bells along one wall with a bell pull in every room. 

I still remember the layout of  the Vicarage.  Next to the kitchen was a china pantry and next to that stairs leading down into the cellar.  In the back hall there was another china pantry and by the back door was another large kitchen for the dirtier jobs.  There was also a flight of servants' stairs leading to the upper level.  At the top of these stairs could be accessed the Box Room which often accommodated servants in the early days, and also another flight of stairs which went to the attic.  

I think there were 5 bedrooms. The black and white tiled bathroom was next to the Box Room.  Downstairs opposite the front door was the main staircase with a polished bannister.  On the right of the front door was the Vicar's study.  On the left of the main hall was a Drawing Room and Sitting Room.

Out at the back of the Vicarage there were garden rooms used for various things over the years.  There was a little covered patio, and in the middle of the back courtyard was a pump.  On the eastern side was what was called a Summer House.   By the back gate there was a pig sty.  Yes, it was used for pigs in Canon Lee's time as Vicar. Next to that the stables, complete with mangers,  and an upstairs loft where straw was kept.  The old Village Bier was kept in the stables.  In the centre was a coach house, later used as a garage.   On the end was the Gardener's room.  

In Canon Lee's time the grounds were akin to a farm.  Besides pigs, there were chickens, geese, and goslings.  The geese made a dreadful mess.   I recall one time a lot of apples had fallen from the trees in the orchard and the pigs were put in there.   They ate so many fermented apples they were staggering about drunk.   Canon Lee also had a golden retriever named “Astra”.  Astra had free rein anywhere.  One day she got into my mother's kitchen and took off with some rashers of bacon.  Mother was not best pleased.  She told Canon Lee and was most put out when he didn't offer to replace the bacon.   Canon Lee's granddaughter Elizabeth often stayed at the Vicarage during weekends and school holidays.  We were great playmates.

Across the road from the Vicarage was the Vicarage Kitchen Garden.  For many years it was in full use.  After my Grandad Chester Smith retired he did a lot of jobs in the Vicarage gardens.  I believe it is now used an an extension to the Cemetery.

When the Vicarage was empty between Vicars we had the keys and had to go and open the windows to keep the house aired.  There were rumours of a ghost at the Vicarage.  I have been there at many different hours of the day both when it was occupied and when it was empty and never saw or heard a thing.   But, when my Nana Smith worked for Rev. Dr. Tennant she always maintained she was walking down the front stairs and saw the front door handle turn, the door open and close, and the door handle of the Drawing Room turn and the door open – but no one was there.    Nana was not given to flights of fancy.   Canon Lee's wife also said she was asleep in the small bedroom at the top of the front stairs and woke to see a lady standing in the room, then disappear.

Long after Rev. Maitland left the village to live in Ipswich he and Miss Mason made regular visits the village.  Miss Mason was sister to Mr. Mason who lived opposite the school.  Neither Rev. Maitland or Miss Mason used their chocolate ration during the days of rationing during and after W.W.2.  They saved their ration and used it to buy bars of Cadbury's chocolate and distributed them to the pupils at the school.  Needless to say their visits were eagerly awaited.

Rev. Ruglys followed Rev Maitland as Vicar.  He was Vicar when my sister Ann was due to be born at the end of 1949.  When my mother realised Ann was on her way and she had to get to hospital, Rev. Ruglys offered to drive her to Ipswich Hospital.  She said his driving was so erratic that she wondered if she would make it there.   Mother kept in touch with Mrs. Ruglys until Mrs Ruglys passed away.

Rev. Waller was the last Vicar mother cleaned for.  He was an elderly ex-Naval Minister.  Mrs Waller was a great cat person.  Some of her cats were not what you could call “housetrained”. 

It was not Mrs. Waller who had to clean up after them.  My mother was not impressed. One day she caught a cat in action.  Thoroughly fed up, she rubbed it's nose in it.  Mrs Waller was not impressed when she found out.

I always thought my young life was pretty uneventful.  When I look back,  I am glad I had the childhood I did.  We never had much but I was never bored, nor complained I had nothing to do.


Mary Felgate (Nee Baillie) 2016




Writing this in 2016, it is difficult to realise that  60 years has passed since these memories were made.

Pocket money was something children just did not have, or expect, when I was growing up.  I certainly never had any as there was no money to spare.  Having said that, there was little to spend it on in Darsham.  Most children were expected to help out in the house and in the garden.   I must say, I always preferred to help out in the garden.  I never expected anything in return.

The only way many villagers, including children, could earn a bit extra was to work in the fields in summertime. I remember going to the corn fields at harvest time. This was in the days of the reaper and binder, some years before the advent of combine harvester.   We helped our parents stand the corn sheaves in stooks.   As an added bonus, at the end of harvest we used to go gleaning to gather dropped heads of corn for the chickens.

After school I would help my mother pick blackcurrants in one of the fields bordering the drive to  Darsham House.  As the blackcurrant field bordered the end of our garden it was not far to go.   We would sit on a box or upturned bucket to fill our woven punnet baskets with the blackcurrants, and put a scrap of paper in with our names on so the collector could mark down how many baskets we had filled.  We also kept count ourselves.  Some of the older children of the village would also cycle to Bramfield to pick blackcurrants and gooseberries.

The lower field beside the back drive to Darsham House was eventually ploughed up and planted with runner beans.  When the beans began to grow we went bean stringing.  The rows had tall poles at intervals with a strings across - at the bottom, the middle and the top.  Our job was to tie the vertical strings.  We had a huge ball of string and had to  tie one end to the bottom string, loop it around the middle string, and tie it off on the top string. As we were up and down all the time I do recall this job was not too kind on our backs.  From memory, I think we were paid by the row.   When the beans were large enough to begin picking we filled hessian sacks with the beans.  As we filled each sack we placed our names in the top of the sacks to keep count of how many we had picked, and leave them at the end of the row to be picked up.   Bean picking went on for some time as the beans grew throughout the season.  They were sent to Birds Eye to be turned into frozen beans.

In autumn there would be blackberry picking around the hedgerows.  We would take our wicker baskets and maybe a bucket, and a long stick with a bent nail in the end with which to pull down the higher brambles.  Why is it that the biggest juiciest ones were always on the very top of the hedge?

We would take them to Mrs Emily Holmes who lived next door to Mr Burtenshaw's shop.  She would weigh them, tip them into large wooden trays and pay us the going rate per pound.   I think they were collected from her by Mr Calver of Bramfield to be taken to a factory and made into jam.   Mrs Holmes would also pay us for mushrooms we collected in the fields.   There was another species of “mushroom” that grew in the fields that Mrs Holmes would also take but I cannot recall the name of it. It was a thick bronze colour and was not one we would eat.   I do remember the best ones of those grew in the fields where the RAF pylons stood.

For a short period strawberries were grown on a field bordering Wash Lane.  The field belonged to Home Farm.  We all thought strawberry picking – Yum. We sat on sacks moving down the rows on our bottoms, again filling the woven punnet baskets and keeping count of the number of baskets we filled in the same manner as before.  If we had thought we would have our fill of strawberries, we were only partially correct.  It got to the point where we didn't want any more.

After I was married I lived at Theberton, and there was seasonal work in the fields there.  There was work in the potato fields at Holly Tree Farm  to remove the weeds between the rows of the sprouting plants.  It was the same field where the Zeppelin crashed in W.W.1.   When the potatoes were ready to be lifted they were churned out mechanically.  Women of the village had the back breaking job of picking them up and filling the hessian sacks.  The potatoes went to Birds Eye to be turned into frozen chips.  Any damaged ones we could take home.  We soon discovered they were only good for frying as chips.  If boiled they went to mush.  But, hey, they were free.  We didn't complain.  

 How different life was back then.  I am sure we were happier than children and young people are today.  Everything was so simple.   We did not think we were badly off.   It was just after the second world war, when everyone was in much the same circumstances.  It was a level playing field.   We did not have great expectations and were happy to jog along the way we were. 


Mary Felgate (Nee Baillie)