Sunday 22nd January, 1961

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad

Thank you very much for comprehensive letter with all the latest dope. I am not surprised you had to read my last several times to sort out all the bits and pieces. We certainly had variety all right and there is more to come later in this letter.

Firstly let me say that June’s foot is much better now, and can almost be trodden on with safety. Most of the old skin has now gone, and only the hardened edges of the scald are left. The new skin tender and red is toughening up satisfactorily and there is no sign of any part turning septic. For all practical purposes the case book there is now closed, with relief and luck.

The episode of the car is quite amusing to look back on and I agree that good job doors were closed. I take no steps to lock car doors in garage as the girls are not supposed to be let in. There is usually a saw or two, or bottle of some slug killer or liquinure floating about, and it would make hard and unnecessary work hoisting all the lethal objects up out of the way, so easiest way is to keep them out.

Susan has produced another nice drawing this week, in fact the place is covered with them. I am not sure which one is intended for you, will have to find out.

Yes I started the new job on Monday last but not very much to report yet. The Motive Power chap is not very happy – he comes from Newport and as his equivalent job in Cardiff has become vacant already he is after a transfer. The Commercial man is not far off retirement ( less than ten years). He is a big N.U.R. man having started on the deck at Paddington Goods and stayed there all his working life to date. He came to us at Reading for his training. He told me then that he went to Moscow with Jim Figgins* and met Stalin or who ever was the big shot then. Quite a nice chap but has a somewhat limited scope.

So far the drill has been indoctrinate into Commercial Department methods. McDonald has the reins in his hands and insists that everything be standardised on Commercial lines. Remember the three Work Study Assistants so far appointed in the Divisions are all Commercial? My staff have been put with existing commercial assignments to learn their methods. I gather that my first job will be to supervise the Paddington Parcels job which has already started. Applications have been received for us to prepare schemes for the signalmen at Old Oak Common (about six boxes ) Yard Staff at Acton, Parcels staff at Acton, and the Area Board Chairman (who lives at Oxford ) wants Oxford station re-appraised. Can see a merry time ahead. McDonald started off by lunching the three of us plus head of his admin. section.

I am sorry Mum had got ahead with preparations for my visit, but as you appreciate I cannot look very far ahead in planning these trips. Visits are out now for a while I am afraid. Yes Easter will not be long now will it? I have not looked up the date but gather it is in March this year. With February a short month we shall have to start preparations for your visit.

You certainly have got some bother with your electric lighting. I should imagine Bell’s best bet ( and cheapest ) will be to disconnect the existing wiring altogether, put in a 30 amp. fuse box and put you in two separate ring mains ( 13 amp. sockets) one downstairs and one upstairs. At a guess I would say that the 30 amp. box would be about £1 plus say £3 for wire, apart from labour charge of installation. To this should be added the cost per socket outlet which would be say 12/- ea. excluding labour charge. I think your cooker which comes off a separate fuse box would not be affected. Of course by this method you would not have centre or wall lights in rooms, or unsightly switches by the door. Wall lighting could be provided by running a short length of conduit up from the junction box. By the system described, the fuse box, two ring mains, with outlets ( two in Dining Boom, and Front Boom, and in kitchen, and one each in hall, landing, three bedrooms and bathroom) would come to about £ 11 excluding labour charge ( which is anyones guess ). All additional points could be put in by yourself, and this would also give some scope for standard lamp making. It would appear from the evidence of burning that you have been very lucky – that is how Mr Baker’s cinema at Southend burned down.**

Note you will be coming round with the hat and no doubt an advance on car just now would be helpful, but I am afraid I shall have to say I am sending you £5 but not this week. Seriously, I have not forgotten the subject, and have to say the outstanding will be cleared off this year.

I note your request about Norman Allen. So far as he is concerned, I do not think he need worry. As he says not many want to rough it and do much travelling about. My advice to him is to show the maximum of enthusiasm for the work, say that only by Work Study can the present mess be sorted out, and believe it himself. Persons applying for Class Twos are not expected to know much about Work Study, that can be taught. What is necessary is to decide if the man is the right type.*** He should at some stage of the interview mention that he has applied before, is still anxious to take up this work, and has made enquiries from staff as to the nature of the work etc. If he has any sense he will not mention George Welch’s name in this connection unless he is asked point blank. He can mention my name if he likes.

Mann is in the Bristol Area all next week until Friday, so I can not get hold of him but Stevens is at Transom House on Monday and will see Mann that evening so if Norman wants to he can contact him and express his enthusiasm for the work. ( Sorry I realise that this letter will arrive too late to do any good for this Monday ). I should certainly tell him to get in tough with Mann or Stevens on the side and explain the position.

Nothing further to report on the Yiewsley Housing situation. Seems to be a lack of funds on the part of the prospective purchasers, linked with the refusal of their plans by the council etc. Everyone there is as well as can be expected although not exactly bursting with health.

Sorry to hear of the Kenn Rd accident. How we avoided a similar incident I do not know, June took Susan and Carol to the party on Saturday while I went off to the match. I got back about five past five and was just putting the car away when June came round from next door. It appears that only a few moments before, a knock came at the front door, and there was Carol with no hat or coat. She had slipped out of the party and found her way back in the dark across two roads. Of course June nearly passed out when she saw her and was just dumping her on the Benns to go to look for Susan in case she was out anywhere. When I got to the party Susan was there right enough and no one had noticed that Carol was gone. Was able to pass on the shock to the Sunday School Teachers there. No one will ever know what traffic was on the roads that she crossed and I suppose it is better not to think about it. It appears she had lead them a bit of a dance by asking to go to toilet and then not doing anything. Who opened the door for her no one knows. I am pretty satisfied that Susan did not do it.

Not much point in giving you a report on the match. The result was no more than just. I was surprised to see that the team as a whole played as if it did not matter awfully much one way or the other. I saw Doug Hand after the game and he was greatly disappointed. He says he is working in Portishead ( ? in or near the Gas Co. or Works ) right opposite to the Electricity concern and sees Frank Hessel frequently.

Sorry your gardening endeavours upset pencil holding. Why not try one of these? [ i.e. a typewriter]

Note Mum’s remarks on the scald treatment but our book says the same. Dr. said not to cover it at all or put anything on it and ordered bathing in pint of tepid water to which one teaspoon of salt had been added.

Yes the lights in the garage must have been nuts for them. They pulled all the knobs in sight, and it must have been like playing a harmonium.

I must tall you what Susan told me about the party. She said “I tried to get some of the boys to dance with me” and then said ( like an angler who has fished all day and only caught one) “one did for about half an hour”.

Bad luck on your entry in the competition, but your outings sound good also the film. Talking about Madeira, I had a taste of my latest concoction yesterday and it is progressing very well. Shall have to make some more soon – I see some dates left over from Xmas lurking around doing nothing.

By the way please let us have George Hunt’s correct address when you get a chance. We keep sending card c/o Mr P.

Well there it is for this week again. Hope you are well. Won’t be long to better weather now. Love from us all.

[*General Secretary of the N.U.R. 1948-1953]

[**Okay, this is a bit bewildering. Frank Baker ran both the Strand and the Mascot cinemas in Southend/Westcliff. You would think, from the way Alec expresses himself, that the cinema in question had been destroyed by fire, as indeed the Mascot was – but not until 1964. The Strand closed in 1960 and was subsequently demolished to allow for the extension of a nearby department store; I have been unable to find any mention of a fire there. In fact it looks as if Frank might have left the Strand when it was bought by the Essoldo chain in 1955 and taken on the sweetshop/tobacconist in West Drayton/Yiewsley at that point. At any rate the ‘Picture Palaces’ page on the ‘Southend Timeline’ (see Mascot link above) only lists one cinema as having been completely destroyed by fire and that was much later and as a result of boys throwing fireworks, apparently, not electrical failure. If either cinema – or indeed a different one – was damaged but not destroyed by fire at another time, I have yet to locate any information about it.]

[***Naturally, no women were expected to apply.]


Monday 9th January, 1961

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad

Just a day late this week, barring posting accidents. Could not get round to writing yesterday due to the visit of Geoff and family. Yours truly in action from 2-30 pm to 9-0 pm. I am afraid the big news of the week is all bad although things are fully restored now. Will answer your letter first and then enlighten you.

I expect you would have liked to see their faces when they saw the prams. Susan was in the lead and got to the front room door first but she stopped for a second or two in the doorway taking it all in before she trotted in. They had a good time with all their new toys. Yes we will be looking forward to seeing you at Easter, leave dates to you.

I was to have gone to Cardiff Tuesday of this week but plans changed and will probably go next week now. It will only be three weeks now before I go to the London Division, and believe me I shall not be sorry.

You certainly seem to have a large circle of friends and acquaintances with whom to exchange visits. No doubt you will have been able to sample the relative quality of the mince pies. I note the odd numbers etc are still breathing out etc at your bellringers evenings. According to Mothers note she was washing up in the early hours. One thing I expect you got an early morning cup of tea – with a vengeance. I note also that the Lyng cider went down well, and apparently stayed down. Some contract to mix it with sherry.

Dan Mann is anxious to live in Bristol itself, I would have thought that he would have taken the opportunity to live outside but it appears that his wife likes Bristol itself although I do not remember which part.

A correction on the Vinegar of mine. I thought it was the plum wine that had gone off because of its colour but I found my two large Jars of plum after I wrote to you and they both tasted fine. It seems that the apple wine that I had in the same compartment had turned dark as well as turning vinegary. Have made some Apricot/ Grape/Orange/Celery wine – some mixture.

You have certainly dug quite a big slice of land. If a piece that size were dug in our garden that would complete the work for one year.

Dropped a no note to the Council about the garage. Had told them it would be av available for inspection from Oct* 15th but no-one came. Last week some one came to the front door and mumbled something about “garage”. June offered to open the doors but he did not want to see inside or go round the back of it to inspect. He walked off without saying anything and nothing by post yet.

Nice to be able to see Mrs Hillman again. Some changes up at Alexandra Rd. I expect Dad will patronise the do it yourself shop.

Well to tell you the story of our plight this week, we start on Thursday. We went to bed about 10-30 pm and were disturbed at 11-0 pm by Carol, She was crying and coughing and became sick. Things got steadily worse as she could not get her breath. We took her down stairs but the reaching continued so we sent for Doctor. He soon came and made out a prescription which he said should be made up at once, I dressed and got car out and hammered on the back door of the local chemist. Eventually a chap came to the door in his pyjamas only to tell me the chemists house was next door. I tapped on that door for about twenty minutes without success.

Went over to Ruislip Manor and by luck saw a man leaning out of the upstairs window. I called to him and he grumbled a bit and then came down. Got back with the medicine and it seemed to do the trick. Carol took it very well and dropped off to sleep so June decided to stay downstairs with her. One arrangement we had on advice of Doctor was kettle steaming on the hob to moisten the air. Unfortunately this fell off and poured scalding water over Junes foot at about 5-0 am and we had to ring Doctor again for her. I am afraid June had a very rough time and was in great pain with shock. Of course this has gradually diminished but she can only now put a shoe on and has the largest blister I have ever seen. I had Friday off to help out a bit and the impending visit was in jeopardy for a while. Everything going on O.K. now. What next?

Well will close with those few words and hope you are fit. Love from us all.

The mystery of the missing brother

Teddy in approx. 1924 and 1944

Now we come to one of the sadder chapters of our family history, the story of June’s missing brother. That is to say, he wasn’t literally ‘missing’ – he didn’t go off hiking one day and never come back, or anything like that – but he was deliberately expelled from the family for conduct that has never been specified, and there was no remotest possibility of forgiveness or reconciliation for the rest of his life.

William Edward Frank Baker (Teddy) was born at 112 Tenison Road, Cambridge, on 26 March 1922, the first child of Frank – then a cinema manager – and Edith (nee Mullinger). There is a photo of him as a small child, certainly less than two years old, and then a gap in the record until he joins Lindisfarne College, Westcliff-on-Sea, in January 1934 at the age of 11.

I have a full set of school reports, which seem to suggest that he was ill during his first summer term and missed quite a lot of school, after which he struggled to catch up. His strengths were maths, ‘handwork’ (presumably carpentry) and, unexpectedly, French – although he clearly enjoyed larking about and was not particularly serious about his work. As far as his conduct goes, his headmaster – one Edward Daws – repeatedly refers to him as a pleasant and good-natured boy; not academic, perhaps, but practical and straightforward, and one who should do well in later life.

Of course, you have all worked out already what’s coming young Teddy’s way; he was born in 1922, and would therefore have been 17 at the start of the Second World War. In 1939 he was living with his parents at the Victoria Hotel in Wolverton (‘The New Queen Victoria’), and was described as an ‘Assistant Hotel Manager’. His father was the manager. Teddy’s parents, two sisters and his baby brother (June, Pauline and Peter) all lived there as well; so did his maternal grandfather William and his mother’s sister Nell – plus a barmaid, the barmaid’s child, and another couple who were probably lodgers. This is a household of ten people, and although the building is quite large it was operating as a hotel and may also have had letting bedrooms – which would have been more than enough to keep the family busy cooking, cleaning and otherwise catering for themselves and their guests.

Details of Teddy’s wartime career are not available at the moment; the MoD will not release them without the consent of the next of kin until 25 years after the individual’s death. He was in the RAF, he was not a pilot, and he served in the Far East; that’s all I know.

In 1943, Frank and Edith inserted a notice in one of the Southend newspapers (not yet identified):

BAKER: Of age on March 26th 1943, William Edward Frank (RAF) eldest son of Mr and Mrs Frank Baker, late of Strand Cinema and Mascot Cinema. Now of Tower Arms Hotel, Iver, Bucks. [2739A]

And then there is silence. We have Teddy’s own word (in a letter to Alec Atkins after Edith had died) that he ‘lost contact with his family in the 1950s’. June’s only comments about this ever were ‘he was a tyrant’ and ‘he broke his mother’s heart’. Alec went to considerable lengths to track him down via the secretary of the RAFA at Uxbridge in 1987, because Teddy had been left a small legacy in Edith’s will. Teddy decline to benefit, and asked that the money should be sent to the World Wildlife Fund instead. Alec was quite brusque, saying that he didn’t know why Teddy had remained apart from his family and he didn’t want to know, and there the correspondence ended.

In late 2003, June was contacted by an heir hunter in connection with Teddy’s own estate; Teddy had apparently died in early 2001 – about six months before Alec, as it happens – and there was a small sum of money to be distributed between his heirs. As Pauline had also died by then, and had no children, June and Peter shared the legacy between them; June was reluctant to accept the money, but recognised that it would enable her to help her grandson, Robin, so put most of it into an account for him.

And now there’s nobody left to explain how and why a family member was so effectively shut out that his death wasn’t known about until more than two years after the event. Nothing about Teddy’s school reports indicates a ‘tyrant’ in his youth; he was never in trouble with the police as far as I know, but until I can access his service record it’s impossible to know what may have happened to him during the war. My best guess at the moment is PTSD, which changed his behaviour, or possibly some involvement in the infamous RAF mutiny of 1946. Or, indeed, both.

Teddy never married, nor had children, and the rest of his life is a mystery. He may have worked for the RAF in a civilian capacity, as I received the garbled impression that he was a steward in the Mess at RAF Hendon, but unless I can make contact with someone who knew him towards the end of his life this is unlikely ever to be resolved.

I’ve applied for Teddy’s death certificate in case it sheds any more light on the subject, but at the time of posting this it still hasn’t arrived. I’ll update if there is anything of interest to report when it does get here.

Anyway, Teddy was a perfect example of the way the family as a whole tended to deal with problems – i.e. ignore them, and the people who create them, and simply make them go away. There was a similar case in the 1980s when they tried to magic away someone who did not fit their template for an ideal human being – but somehow or another, and to their eternal chagrin, I’m still here, and I’m the one who gets to tell the story.

I’m really sorry, Teddy, I wish I’d known you; I think we’d have had quite a lot in common!

The Mystery of the Missing Pearls

Sunday 20 June 1960: Poets’ Walk, Clevedon

So, although I’ve mentioned it before, this was how one dressed for a Sunday afternoon walk in Clevedon in 1960. In my collection of old photos this image is dated 1961, but we’ll come to that in a moment.

Loss of the pearls

It was not possible to go out walking on a Sunday afternoon in, say, shorts, tee-shirt and sandals; it was necessary to be ‘properly dressed’, because the object of the exercise was to look as if one had been to church that day, even if one had not. Nor was any music (other than of a sacred nature) allowed to be heard escaping from one’s home. Nor were children to be seen and heard playing out in the garden, and no housework was to be undertaken except cooking. (Think of the scandal if the neighbours heard the Hoover or the washing-machine; think how awful it would be if anyone was hammering or sawing on a Sunday!)

If you think those stultifying scenes of home life in ‘Pirate Radio’/’The Boat That Rocked’ are exaggerated, think again; not every household worked that way, but some certainly did.

Leonard, of course, as the son of a very religious mother, attended church every Sunday. He was captain of the bell-ringing team for many years, also in the choir, and was I believe a church warden as well. Eva was a stalwart of the flower-arranging rota, and the church was always full of chrysanthemums cut from the garden at Devonia. In short, they Had A Position To Maintain – which meant that their guests had to toe the line and dress up for a walk as if they were setting off to meet the Queen; men in suits, women in dresses, children in their best shoes and hair-ribbons. That was just the way they did things in those days.

So, this accounts for the whole family going out for a walk on Sunday dressed to the nines and June wearing her pearls, and as there were two Sundays during the holiday this clearly happened twice – on Sunday 20 and 27 June. The picture with this blogpost must have been taken on Sunday 20 June, because – devastatingly – June’s pearls vanished during a Sunday walk on that trip and were never seen again. She never felt them go – just, one moment they were there and the next they weren’t. That couldn’t have been the same day that the photo was taken, for reasons I’ll list below*, so the pearls must have been lost on Sunday 27 June. As soon as the loss was realised we all turned back – to the top of Church Hill, for those who know Clevedon – and searched; however I’m pretty sure we were all looking for an intact necklace, perhaps with a broken clasp, whereas in retrospect the more likely scenario is that the string broke and the pearls were scattered to the winds. Eventually we gave up and left – whether walking on or turning back I now can’t remember – and the loss would have been reported to the local police, probably by telephone, in the hopes that they might be handed in. They never were, though, and June’s lament ever afterwards was that ‘somebody’s had those’.

In any case, Leonard’s letter makes it clear that they started the ball rolling on an insurance claim when we got home. Whether the eventual payment came up short or not I can’t say – maybe the letters will give some indication – but the money was clearly used for something else; June never had another set of pearls, at any rate, which is a bit sad – but, as they wouldn’t have had any sentimental association if she’d bought them herself – maybe she just didn’t see the need.

And from that day to this, every time I embark on that walk over Church Hill, I’m half looking out for my mother’s pearl necklace; you never know, it might turn up. We recently found a gold ring that had been buried in our garden since the early 1950s, so stranger things have definitely happened! However we also live over 150 miles away now, which cuts down our searching activities a bit.

Photo dating

All the slides in Alec’s collection are dated, by Alec, in his own hand. He used to give slide shows, which we called ‘pictures on the wall’, and this dating would have occurred round about the time he bought the first projector. The date of that is undetermined at the moment, but 1963 or thereabouts might be a reasonable guess.

However, unfortunately, the picture shown – which was clearly taken in June 1960 because the pearls are present – was dated 1961 by Alec. This, in turn, is going to call into question all his other datings – particularly the early ones – which will now have to be re-examined in some detail.

It does, however, mean that the picture taken in Pinner Park, which I used in conjunction with a post about that, was also taken in 1960 rather than 1961. You will note all three of us are wearing virtually identical outfits in the two pictures, which reinforces the status of the park visit – best clothes and best behaviour. How exhausting!

*Reasons for dating this particular picture to the week before:

1. It was taken on a bench on the path between St Andrew’s Church and the clifftop which is known as Poets’ Walk. We would have set off from ‘Devonia’ (then at 8, Tennyson Avenue – later renumbered to 10, Tennyson Avenue) and walked out along Church Road and through the gate at the end, where a path branched up and around the headland. (We flew kites there sometimes, but not of course on Sundays.) We would then come down from Church Hill along Poets’ Walk and returned either through or around the churchyard or – if we had more energy and the weather was good – continued down to The Salthouse Inn and back along the road. (N.B. this probably had something to do with the old superstition about never walking around a church ‘widdershins’, i.e. anti-clockwise!)

In short, Poets’ Walk was after Church Hill where the pearls were lost – and if June is still wearing her pearls at Poets’ Walk then clearly this must have been a different occasion.

2. I have a vivid recollection of what June was wearing when she realised her pearls were missing, and it wasn’t the brown and white dress and cardigan shown in the picture. It was a pale yellow and cream dress which was very flattering on her and set off the pearls to perfection. The obvious inference to draw from this is that the weather was much better on 27 June than it was the Sunday before, but clearly the string the pearls were on was no longer up to the job. June was devastated, but for once she didn’t actually manage to find a way of blaming her children for the loss. There were very few occasions thereafter when that could truly be said to be the case.

Breakfast in the Park

A few times in 1960/1961 Alec and June took the children to have breakfast in Pinner Memorial Park and feed the ducks – at a distance of just over three miles from home. Although described by Alec in his letters as ‘spontaneous’ or ‘spur of the moment’ these jaunts required a considerable amount of planning, in which he of course did not participate. The food had to be prepared and packed – without the use of plastic containers, which were not especially common then – and the children had to be dressed up smartly as if they were going to church. The following picture is from 1961, but will give a fairly clear idea of what was involved.

Wednesday 30th December, 1959

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad

Herewith a line to thank you very much for week-end at Clevedon which was most enjoyable. Hope my stay did not disorganise local arrangements any.

Found children pretty rough when I got back. They both have catarrh and of course that means wakeful nights due to not being able to get breath. Carol took it particularly badly although Susan was not much better. They both had bad coughs and one night I sat up with Carol until 4-0am as she screamed the place down if she was laid down. All this of course with teeth coming through as well. Carol was coughing and spluttering all over me so it was not surprising that I caught it back. My cold was one of the specials and lasted nicely over Christmas. Luckily no cough developed, and it is in final stages now thank goodness.

Well with the Children ill June could not do her Xmas shopping (other than presents) until Christmas eve and I had to take her to Ruislip Manor that afternoon. There were lots of cars about as you may expect and the car park at the back of Ruislip Manor Stn. was all but full. While waiting for June to finish off the shopping I moved out so as not to get blocked in.

With the money Dad gave us for the children we bought a Dolls House and managed to smuggle it in to 84. It has had good use already and was certainly one of the star attractions on Christmas morning. Carol liked her Big Ears and Susan has dressed and redressed her new doll. I am afraid that they squabble a bit now and then but we have pooled all the toys so there are fewer occasions for it. After one such battle Susan started crying and came to me with the tale that Carol had scratched her face. Could not see anything.

We had intended spending xmas day on our own and Pauline ( who was staying with us ) but understood from Peter that things a bit quiet that end so he brought the lot over in his car. I tried to get through to wish you Happy Xmas at 7-50pm but after three attempts the operator said there was no reply. We assumed that perhaps you had popped out for a while possibly with the Astons. The next day we went to West Drayton for the day. During the early morning the Bashams and Great Grandma arrived from Southend. She is still very active and had not previously seen Carol. Coming home it poured and gave car a very good wash off. Had to go through a deep puddle near Cowley and was doing thirty at the time. Car coming in the opposite direction so no avoiding it. Water and spray flying in all directions.

On the Sunday Mr & Mrs Baker and Peter paid the arranged visit. Peter disappeared after dinner to meet his pals and I took the others back about 9-0pm. Weather continued to be bad. Generally speaking the girls have been very good over Xmas. They have had a deal of excitement and seen a lot of people but they behaved well and slept much better than for some time passed. June’s Mum has given them a dressing gown each and they look a couple of nibs. Susans is red with a Bambi on it while Carols is light blue with an elephant motif. Received a couple of ties and a pair of socks from West Drayton. Susan received a “T” Shirt and Carol a pair of Blue Shorts from Headstone Lane and they both have lot of puzzles and games from relations friends and neighbours. They have had so much as usual that I cant keep track of where it has come from.

Carol is talking a lot now although she says a lot of gibberish. Yesterday she came out with the following long sentence;- ” Bye Baby Bunting, Daddys gone to Roses Atishoo Atishoo Pop goes the Weasel. ” We ran over to Greenford to take presents over to Delph and Roy and spend a few hours with them. Christopher making great strides but does not talk much. To-day we drove to Ealing and caught District line to Sloane Square for the girls to have their hair cut at Peter Jones, Pauline met us and toted the girls round to see her friends and colleagues. The car is going really well. We have done about 175 miles since we had it from Peter. Yesterday June paid a visit to Greenford to have tooth extracted by dentist. It was a back tooth and caused some trouble in coming out. Broke off a couple of times. Susan, Carol and I sat in car until patient returned. ( Rained all the time ) Pain was very bad yesterday and although a little easier to-day Junes face is still swollen and puffed.

Hope you were able to enjoy your Christmas and possibly go visiting. By the time you receive this letter you will have the New Year supper for the ringers well under way. My regards to those of them that I know. Thank Dad for his letter duly received on Christmas Eve. Gave a couple of bottles of wine to neighbours. Have had no complaints so far. Peter has gone off with a bottle of sherry (H.E.B.) He seems to like it. So for that matter do Susan and Carol. Carol in particular takes big sips and keeps asking for more. We have to pour out some for her to drink.

Mother will be pleased to know that Sheila the doll she gave Susan last Xmas has a new wig. We glued it on and June made it some more clothes. (It was naked all the Summer.) We hid the doll in the piano so that Susan would not see. Now it has golden blonde hair tied in two plaits. Susan approves. We got a small Xmas tree and stuck it in a Walls Tin* in the approved manner and put it on top of the T.V. There have been one or two raids on the chocolate ornaments but that proved to be as safe a place as any. Wilkinson leaves us for Birmingham at the end of this week. Do not know who is in charge of what after that. Well will wish you a very happy new year and hope to see you soon.

Love from June, Susan, Carol and Alec

*This would be a Walls ice cream tin covered with crepe paper; as Frank and Edith Baker had a tobacconists/sweet shop at this time, ice cream tins and cigar boxes were often forthcoming. Two of the latter have persisted in the family to the present day.

Thursday 30th October, 1959

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad,

I am writing this letter to Clevedon only on the assumption that will have been let loose by the time of its arrival. Please let me know if there is any delay in release.

Thank you both for your letters received since I last wrote. Glad to know that Dad is going along fine although somewhat handicapped. I note that the news leaked out in Bristol, but so far I have not heard of any similar leak this end although many people ask after Dad from time to time.

We had a proper fandango last Sunday. On the previous day Peter drove Pauline over in his new car after fetching June and Susan over to West Drayton. Apparently he asked June if she thought I would be interested in having his old car for round about the price he paid for it. Of course she said she would consult me but that it sounded too good an opportunity to miss in view of the condition of the car. I was asked if I was interested but would not give him an answer until I had had an opportunity to discuss it. We made up our minds to have it over night and next day I telephoned him to say so, but he was out. When he returned he said he had sold it and was delivering the car that afternoon. Mr Baker and he then got their heads together and put the sale into reverse. I got the tip that the car was ours and then got Doug to give me a hand to get the fence down so that car could get in. We had just finished when up comes Peter and two friends in two cars. Of course the darn thing was too big to go in clear of Doug’s runway. There then ensued a discussion as to whether it would be best to move the coal bunker or take shed down. We settled for taking front and part of one side off the shed. By so doing have got it cross-ways with front wheels on small lawn in front of shed and rear wheels on concrete apron in front of the place where shed door was. The fence has been temporarily rebuilt round it to keep children in. Considering the age (1939) it is in very good condition. It has a reconditioned radiator, three reconditioned tyres, and one fairly new. One new inner tube, complete heater awaiting fixing, brakes recently adjusted, two new brake hoses, lighting system overhauled, new front wheel bearings. The make is Vauxhall, is twelve h.p. grey, new inner roof lining, good upholstery and carpet. The engine is in very good nick and so is the battery. Despite all the rain and the fact that it has been standing idle all the week I have been able to start with the starter on about the second or third attempt each day. Defects are, doors which cannot be looked, windows that slip down without being wedged, and trafficators that do not work. When I can get round to it, I think I may be able to do some of those jobs myself.

Kitchen still progressing. As you know with the removal of the pantry a large gap had to be filled in the plaster. I have done so and sanded it down and have since filled in some remaining irregularities in the surface. I hope to sand these down on Friday night or Saturday and put on the primer at once. Given sufficient time to dry I shall then ( I hope ) start putting on the undercoat. The kitchen dries fairly quickly so there should not be too much delay between coats. I have to take up Dahlias soon but don’t know when I shall find time to do that. Shed will have to be rebuilt and some concreting done also new design of fence erected so that I can run in easily. I don’t intend to get garage just yet but hope to stand the vehicle in front of the shed which will be repositioned about ten feet to the rear of present site. Sorry to learn that your kitchen arrangements still holding fire. Should have thought they would have finished by now. Are they part time only?

Not much news about Susan’s Sunday School last week, we were really too busy to listen*. Carol says Cheerio mornings now. Susan says that when she has grown into a big girl she will have a big Grey car like Daddy and Uncle Eric. She has been out kissing the sidelights. Well that is all for now, more next time.

Love to you both from June, Susan, Carol and Alec

*Well, what does that tell you?

Monday 21 September 1959

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad

Thank you both for your letter duly received. We are still having trouble with your grandchildren. Since writing last we have not had a clear night’s sleep. To-night for variation June put them in the same room. Carol is in a single bed. This changed the tune. Since she has been in there she has been laughing and crowing and playing games with Susan. This lasted about half an hour and then she started climbing out of hers and into Susan’s bed. I looked in once to find her sitting on Susan’s head. We eventually put them back in their proper beds and put the light out. We had not been downstairs five minutes when Carol fell out of bed. Of course she bawled and that meant hot milk each. We put them back, Carol still bawling, and waited outside. Two seconds later Carol was seen sliding gratefully out of Susan’s bed on her head. Carol was taken back to her old room and the cot. That produced the greatest sounds yet. They both contributed to it. As I write June is up in the large back room and both the girls are in the single beds. How long the silence will last is anybody’s guess.

Your trip to Swanage and the surrounding area seems to have been a good one. Of course I have heard a lot about that country. We had dealings with a lot of the stations when I was in the Bristol Passenger Train Office. No news about the applications for jobs. I think that the announcements for the interviews for the D.O.S.O. job may come out soon. Pauline flew to Jersey yesterday for her holidays. A bit late I fear but it is still dry anyway. We still have had no rain. Yesterday two of June’s old friends came to tea and brought there 8 year old daughter. We had not seen them for two years and we all notice a difference in all three children. They had of course not seen Carol before. Over the weekend I cleared the remains of the wine you brought up. It is very clear now and free from sediment. I have also got a gallon of apple fermenting away in the shed. I made it from a recipe not in H.B.B.** The formula involves the use of Barley which is supposed to mature the wine quicker. Carol woke again a few minutes ago and has had a bawl. It is difficult to concentrate with that noise going on. Cleared some of the rubbish etc. from the front garden on Saturday but otherwise this week-end has been quiet from the gardening point of view. Hope you did not bother with the plays on T.V. on Sunday* they were both awful. The set is switched on now but no-one is looking in. I am afraid we have become quite disjointed over this bedtime lark. June has just come down now so that means they are both off at last. This I am afraid is only the first stage. We usually get about four sessions during the night and finish up by putting Carol in the big bed with June.

Sorry this letter will be a little late this week. Have not felt up to writing any more due to lack of sleep.Have resumed after a two-day interval. June took Carol to see the Doctor yesterday to see if he could suggest some way of getting over difficulty. He says she has got catarrah and is teething. We can expect her to wake up in the night. Last night we put her cot in with us and she was not too bad, only woke up about four times. June is up now trying to settle her off for to-night. I have just read Susan a couple of stories and she seems to have quietened down. Still no news of applications. The L.D.C.s have been given copies of the Old Oak Common Carriage Cleaning Report and are now reading it. A special saloon has been provided at 0.0.C. and they have been given two days off to read it. Budworth, and Welchman are there to answer any questions they may ask. Wilkinson told me today that he may want me to go down and help put the scheme in if they accept it. Of course Barnes will do his best to stop it. We had some rain here on Tuesday night. It was just about enough to lay the dust and the effects soon wore off. Had a look at my apple wine this morning only to find that about fifty small flies were flying about under the polythene. There must have been a hole in it. I had to dig out all the pulp (which was on the surface) and throw it away. I hope that the pulp has soaked for a long enough time to get all the goodness out. June tells me that there has been a lot of wasps round the pulp where I threw it on the garden. She had to get spade and bury it. Must be good stuff. Carol bawling again – sounds like Eddyson Bell Record. Well I hope you are both in good health as we are (except Carols Catarrah). Love from June, Susan, Carol and Alec

*The TV schedule for Sunday 20 September is online. The BBC play would have been Sartre’s Crime Passionel which sounds really good and has a stellar cast, but probably wasn’t the light entertainment Alec was hoping for. ATV had ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’, presented by Val Parnell, featuring Jane Russell and Jewell and Warriss***, and there was also a play called ‘After the Show’ which starred Hermione Baddeley. This, however, was on at the same time as the Sartre, and it would have been impossible to watch both. However, Alec lived in the London Weekend TV region and there’s no telling how the schedule may have varied where he was. Of course it’s quite possible he tried the Sartre, gave up on it, tried ‘After the Show’ and gave up on that, too.

**I’ve been unable to identify ‘the H.B.B.’ but I’d be willing to bet it was something along the lines of The Home Brewer’s Bulletin.

***Apropos of not very much, except that for the last several years I have been involved in LGBT publishing, Jimmy Jewell’s ‘This is Your Life’, aired on 30 January 1974, was the first time I ever saw two men kiss each other on the mouth.

Sunday 21 June, 1959

Alec to his uncle and aunt

Dear Don and Joan

Regret your last inadvertently destroyed since reading but will endeavour to answer the main points. Yes definitely we would like you to stand as God parents in spite of advancing years, It was always our intention to ask you in view of the fact that you were geographically barred from Susan’s. We have moved the mountain to Mahomet and are also arranging for Pauline to come down for the week end to act as a Godmother. June of course will make the third. The difficulty of providing young Godparents from my side of the family is that there are no young people who would be qualified for the job. I should not worry two hoots about it if I were you because we would like you to attend (if convenient of course) whether as a participant or as a spectator.

Again yes, the typewriter is my own, purchased second hand a few weeks ago. It is a portable. Olivetti ( Lettera 22 ) I confirm that July 12th at 3-30pm., is the date and time of Christening service. Sorry to sound a bit disjointed but am putting these things down as I think of them.

I hope that you have been having this good weather your end. It has been really enjoyable and the only time I have regretted it was when carrying cans of water for the garden. My gosh does it need rain. Apart from a few spindly weeds nothing appears to have moved in the last month. I understand that most of the farmers round the outskirts of London have got all their hay in already. I expect it is the same your way.

The roads are pretty well jammed with cars at week ends. It is quite some way to the coast from here and I should not like to do much driving under those conditions. Next door neighbour has gone off to Broadstairs in Kent for weeks holiday. He motored down but does it in easy stages.

Both children doing well. We all went to Chessington to day to see June’s cousin and small son (8 months). Journey took from 9-30am to 11-45am and had to start back at 3-30pm. Two changes and about four escalators to negotiate. Not a trip to be taken regularly. Shall have to pack up now or shall need cats eyes, hope to see you with more news soon.

Alec to his parents

Dear Mum and Dad

Just the usual line to let you know the events of the past week. Still no rain and continuing sunshine. Doug and family to Broadstairs yesterday for one week. From the look of it the weather will continue fine for them for a while yet. I hope we don’t use up all the good weather before we get down to Clevedon. Glad to hear that paths as good as completed but sorry to learn that you found it very tiring, I expect the ready mix took the worst out of it though. Susan was invited out to tea by a neighbour last Friday and gave away all our secrets as usual, and asked for a boiled egg for her tea. Carol got four teeth all at once, no wonder she complained about it. We all went over to cousin Joan’s at Chessington to-day (what a jaunt) – left here 9.30 a.m., arrived South Ruislip station 9.45 a.m. Susan to Ladies – missed a Central Line train and had to wait for the next – arrived about 9.55 a.m. Arrived Waterloo via Tottenham Crt Rd, at 10.50 a.m. and caught the 11.5 a.m. arrived Chessington at 11.35. At the house at 11.50 a.m. Of course we had to start back at 3.30 p.m. and repeat the dose. Oh for a car, could have been there and back in an hour. The girls were quite good on the trains. On the Southern we travelled 2nd, on privs but had compartment to ourselves each way. Good thing too Susan used her pot at Vauxhall, did not fancy carrying loaded pot out of train at Chessington so slung contents out of window. (Non corridor stock). Two of Geoff’s Dahlias have now come up making four in all including the two which already had shoots on them. No sign of the rest but have watered them well and not given up hope. Have planted out French Marigolds, seed of which I bought when you were up. The seedlings were about 1.25 inches long. They flopped at first but soon recovered and about 95% have taken and grown on well. Clematis now on the point of flowering and there are a great number of flower buds. Am going to bud a few roses next month. The briar stock I have will be just the thing to provide a vigorous base and I must select a good bud from one of the better roses. The big rose which we all thought was dead was severely pruned about a week ago and I see that there are quite a few leaf buds forming so all is not yet lost. The apples are getting bigger and now are attracting the attention of Madam who keeps on saying that she must not touch them but I see one or two about on the ground where they could not have fallen. Must give her the benefit of the doubt though as they do fall at this time of year. Third lot of Mesembry, doing well. They are about in fourth leaf and very sturdy, I think the first two lots must have been killed by leaving them out in the rain. Still one or two buds on the Syringa. Quiet last week with Barnes away but very busy, did not get as much done as intended. Wilkinson has been appointed Development Assistant to Divisional Traffic Manager B’gham and Cecil Moore has got Staff Assistant to Ditto at Cardiff. It is rumoured that John Allen (Chief Clerk Paddington D.O.S.O.) has got Staff Assistant to District Traffic Manager Bristol. It is also stated on good authority that neither Baynton-Hughes nor Barnes have got anything. Shall have to persuade them to apply for other jobs. Wilkinson job may not be advertised if it disappears under the new set up. Shall await events with renewed interest. Must point out that although we looked could not find a letter for Susan with your last, Thank you both for your letters, Dad need not worry if he cannot compete with typewriter, it does not have to run into several chapters. Clock gained about 10 minutes last week, shall make a small adjustment when winding. Well shall close now and until next week.


P.S. Thank you for making the arrangements with the Vicar, and note that all as planned. At the moment of going to press, Pauline will be coming down for the week end. Probably having Monday morning off to travel back.

Sunday 14 June 1959

Alec to his parents

Dear Mum and Dad

Herewith letter in answer to both of yours and items in June’s Birthday letter. We are all well and hope you are. It has been very fine here these last few days and have made the most of the sunshine. Looking forward to our visit, please say if all arrangements now confirmed.

Office Barnes now on leave will return on 29th June, shall not have very much of him before go on leave myself. More than a strong rumour that L.W.I. has got Hammond’s job no doubt Geoff has same info. Yes I know all about new S.M. Clevedon. If you remember, I told you. Re L.W.I., a probable candidate for his job is G.E.R.P. Quite a number of high powered vacancies brewing up so await the future with interest (not personal).

Children Had some trouble with Carol yesterday, she has cut another tooth and she let the road know about it. The pantomime started at about 6.0 p.m. and she was still howling at 11.30 at which time I nursed her off to sleep. She was awake at 2.30 again and June had her in with her while I went in Susan’s room. All was then quiet until 5.45 a.m. To-day she has not been herself but this evening seemed much more normal although we did have about twenty minutes of ructions before she dropped off. At the moment all is quiet. Susan has been the same as usual, very good and very naughty. She pulled all the blossom off the Double Orange you brought up some time ago, and she persists in digging in the wrong places. I took her for a walk this afternoon soon after dinner and we went to the park. She tried all the swings, roundabouts and see-saw and was quite tired when we got home.

Garden Since you were up have completed the path to the bottom of the garden. I dug out all the loose top soil from the part to be cemented and transferred it elsewhere, the filled in the vacant space with all the old rubble and brickbats I could find. When this was completed, I took all the best of the broken paving stones and used them for the two outside edges of the path and put cement down the middle. (Carol now awake and bawling.) After two days this had hardened into quite a good path. Have taken out all the Spring stuff from the front and removed all the London Pride. This has left a big hole as you may imagine but I transferred about eight barrows of top soil from the back levelled the bed up and planted Scabious down the middle. So far have not put anything else in. Have had to carry bags of water all over the place as still no rain. Your Dahlias making good progress but those from Geoff that we planted have not yet hit the surface. (Four weeks) The pinks have been quite a good show but they are a bit thin on the ground. The rose hedge is magnificent but all petals dropping now. Carol tried to eat one for her elevenses. Geoff’s mesembryanthemums are now sturdy plants and we await the first flowers. My third lot seem to be more of a success than the first two tries but still only about 1/2 inch tall in the box. Cut all the lawns to-day but the earth is badly cracked. (Carol quiet again.) Susan rolled the top lawn this morning. Rolling pin tied on behind tricycle. Planted out a number of asters outside dining room and a couple of Perennial Daisies the rest are in pots waiting to go out in the front. Note you have been busy shall expect to see results when we arrive.

Wine Note the Elderflower and hope it is a success. I have not made any for some time but have been watching the price of fruit. All the items seem to be listed at 1/6, Gooseberries, Apples, Strawberries, although doubt whether the latter are at the pound rate. Some of the Grapes too are at 1/6. Have finished your Elderberry and have some in more bottles. I shall have to have a sort out before long.

General Very sorry to hear that Mother had fallen down, it is usually quite a shake up when you don’t expect it. Hope all effects now over. You have probably heard from June that Susan has damaged our T.V. She amused herself by banging rolling pin along the top. The woodwork is quite dented on the top forward edge and will take a French Polisher to put right. It is not too terrible in appearance if you do not know it is there but will not have it done yet awhile in case we get further trouble. June liked her new blouse and looks quite smart in it. Have not seen our Vicar about Christening and have no intention of making any sort of contact with him over our arrangements. Have you heard from Don and Joan in this connection. They mentioned that they would be willing to come and stand as Godparents but pointed out that they were getting on a little and the job was that for a young person. Have not replied to this as take it as acceptance. Donald Campbell and Bluebird at the Lido yesterday. Some crowd there by all accounts. Clock still gaining as a result of my alterations but have again lengthened the pendulum a shade and hope for improved timekeeping. Well that is all for the present except to wish you all the best until next time.

Love, Alec

NB: Posting dates got away from me briefly due to a holiday and an unexpectedly heavy workload, plus having the PC completely decoked and having to find everything again afterwards. Normal service has now been resumed!