Sunday 17th March, 1963

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad,

Thanks for the letter once more. It duly arrived on Friday. I have a magazine for you at the office and will try to send it off soon. Since last writing to you, we have been over to Ealing a time or two, and June has been over in the week. Mrs Baker seems to be bearing up very well. Affairs are it still in a bit of a mess, and no funds other than the pension coming in. However the prospect is promising. Mrs Baker has decided to stay on at number 17 and see what can be made of the place.

Peter has had a crash in his car, and fortunately the other car came off worst. Peter’s brakes failed and he ran into the back of the car in front. His car has been repaired but the other one (which contained an expectant mother) has had to have complete rear remodelled. There were no casualties but some apprehension was felt for the woman. It seems that Peter has to pay the first £25 [equivalent of £635 in 2023] on his policy so that is a cloud for a start. To follow is a worse one, as sometime last month his lights failed at Iver and he had to leave car to get a torch. Whilst he was away the police dropped anchor on the car and knocked him for parking without lights. When he reported to the police station next day to explain the situation it was ascertained that he should have had the car tested the week previously, so they nabbed him for that as well. As a result he has a summons to appear before the Slough magistrates. Of course this is all of great help to the financial situation.*

The girls have not been too bad this week, but Carol is in the wars now. Yesterday she was really suffering from the effects of her booster injection from Dr Lambert on Friday. When I got home on Friday she was complaining very tearfully he that her arm hurt. She went to bed but was kept awake crying with the pain. All day yesterday she was walking around bent down with her chin on her boots and one arm clutched up to her side. I must say she looked very poorly indeed. She was not to be left however when we went out to the shops or when June went over to Ealing on the train. She didn’t sleep too badly last night and today that are signs of the pain having abated although she does not move her arm at all.

The marble clock has stopped a couple of times in the week but it is going again now and seems o.k.

Thanks for sending the pattern of your wallpaper for us to see. It seems quite nice. From its appearance I can imagine the difficulty you have been getting the match from sheet to sheet. It must be a good deal of waste as you say.

I think the double glazing idea is a good one, but should imagine it is rather expensive. Best way of double glazing I know is to have another set of windows outside like a porch or conservatory. With luck we will get ours this year.

Have you had any rain your end? We have had a lot here. I do not see it when in the office as I have an outside wall. My window opens (if it ever does) on the station. I have only had a couple of wet trips to the station and on one of them I took the car so cannot grumble.

So far we have not allocated any ground for the girls to plant their seeds in. We plan to take down the wire fencing we had at the bottom of the garden as being unsightly and redundant. This will give access to three sides of the square plot for planting purposes, and as we cannot do much with it they might as well have a part of that. I suppose you would like it all dug and ready for planting by the time you arrive. Only three weeks next Thursday. How the time flies. I have not heard what we shall have for Easter, but I expect it will be the Friday to the Tuesday. I shall have to have a day or two to go with it.

I see from your letter that today is the day you have fixed for the visit to Lyng. By the time you get this the visit will be over so hope you had a good journey.

The sky here overcast and signs are that it will rain soon. I must say things are a lot warmer and welcome. The chap down the bottom is pottering around his plot. I do not know what he is supposed to be doing, but he will be driven in by rain soon.

Last Sunday we visited June’s friends in West Drayton and all passed off without a hitch. Their kids are still short on manners, but our two are no angels when out.

I am very sorry to hear about Jessie’s husband’s brother. I do not think I met him although he must have been at the wedding. I am afraid I did not rate a recollection of many of the people who were there.

What is wanted for your new glasses? Do you want them for outdoors or indoors? Nice to have a trip to Lewis’s. The trouble with these big stores is that they make you envious for the things on offer which you know you cannot afford.

I hope your back payment of the tax will not cause a hole in the pocket. Some game to do that to you.

I do not know what closures are involved on the E.R. The main point of interest is what happens to Stratford Works (the Swindon on the E.R.). It seems there is a plan to close it down altogether which would cause great redundancy. So far as my job is concerned it is largely what I make it. there is not a lot of variety and is mainly confined to one room with few other contacts. The plain truth is that the E.R. H.Q. Work Study section has had its functions transferred to the line managers (who are jealously protecting them) and has not been told, or worked out what its new function in life ought to be. In short they have no work. Russell and Cook cannot touch on any subject under the jurisdiction of the line managers (in the traffic field) or the functional offices in the other fields and as the input of staff through the Work Study School is tailing off there is no scope there either. If they do not find a job to undertake soon I can see the staff being taken away either permanently or by secondment to other departments. As far as I am concerned they can do as they please. Having got on the bottom rung of the new scale, I am set for the next nine years with 5% increases per year if I keep out of trouble. Any move would be to my advantage as I am sure they would not ask me to move without a slight rise within my own scale.

I must remember to tell Geoff about the runner beans. Have not seen or spoken to him since before you came up.

A bit rough on the poor old horse to be still on hay. I suppose it will be a week or so before he gets any grass to eat, and then I expect he will keep it cropped short.

A good racket this of Mother’s, going to all these places and coming back with samples. When does she go to Littlewoods or William Hill?

Note you have finished at the papering and I’ll bet you’re glad. I must say that is a job I do not enjoy it all. Painting is o.k., but give the papering the professionals.

You hit on the main snag with fitted carpets that they wear all in one place. Unless you get a really good quality one you get the wear and the carpet is finished. The thoughts of these pale green cabbages. Could not fancy any of them they always put me off. We had some tinned runner beans in the week and they were not bad. June got a tin for me for Friday (as she could not think of anything else) and we had what was left over yesterday – cold**.

I expect the visitors who stop the work in the redecorating business are always welcome. Does the wine bottle come out too?

Well I see there is another good drawing from Susan to enclosed with this letter. She says it is a wedding. On the left is a nun, then a church, then the bride and groom. I do not know who the party is on the right – Susan says it is not the bride’s mother. Note horseshoes and such a in the foreground. It’s all there – just sufficient line to give the complete picture.

Well I have had a cup of coffee planked in front of me so will close and deal with it***. So for the time being, love from us all. 

*The tone of sympathy towards Peter in this paragraph is bewildering. He failed to maintain his vehicle in safe condition and drove it knowing it was not fit to drive, causing a potentially devastating accident to an expectant mother, and the police very rightly ‘nabbed’ him for disregarding the safety of other road users. In later life he ended up as the manager of a council vehicle depot, in charge of their maintenance facility, so it would be nice to see this as a ‘wake-up call’ which alerted him to his responsibilities – but Peter was always an arrogant swine and for a long time seemed to teeter on the brink of a potential criminal career.

**Ugh. Have I mentioned that June was an awful cook? Not to mention that she was obsessively parsimonious, despite there really being no need for it, for the rest of her life. She bought what was cheap and was desperate not to waste it – which, with food, is not always the safest option.

***It’s so tiring to see how ungracious and grudging he always is. He has kindly been brought a cup of tea, but says it is ‘planked in front of him’. Work colleagues are useless, other people’s children are rude, systems are set up to fail, those who want to be paid for their services are greedy, children are ill deliberately to upset their parents etc. etc. etc. I never remember him saying a spontaneous or generous thing in his life; he was always involved in some kind of perpetual battle, Alec v The World. The World was always going to get him in the end, so he set out to get it first. IMHO it’s far better to assume the best in people unless they show you otherwise, but what would I know? I’m only a child, after all…


Wednesday 18th October, 1961

Leonard to the family:

Dear Alec June Susan and Carol

Just a few more lines to follow short note on Monday to say we had reached home safely. It was a lovely journey and we were able to enjoy the various landscapes enroute. Stayed at Andover for 35 minutes where we had a look around the shops and Mum made a few purchases including some sausages which proved to be some of the best I’ve ever tasted – made apparently by a local butcher. We spotted Stonehenge this time much better view being obtained on the homeward journey than coming up and apart from Andover we did not get out of car en route. 

Well now thank you all once again for a most enjoyable break from our normal routine. It was nice to be with you just for the long weekend and to hear Susan and Carol enjoying themselves – they are growing up fast. Now we have been over to the school entrance we can picture Susan leaving Mummy at the gate and trotting off inside and being met again at 3:30 p.m. 

Needless to repeat really, but we did enjoy the views taken on your holiday this year. What a wonderful thing to be able to look back on them in the years to come – the colours were grand. Expect you have since heard from your Mum and Dad June that they duly reached home alright last Saturday. It was very kind of them to come and spend the evening whilst we were with you and we were pleased to see them once more, also for Peter and Pauline to come along too*. A pity your sister could not manage it but I’m sure if you get the opportunity to show her she will be delighted with those holiday pictures especially the ones of the children. 

You are getting on with various improvements in house and garden – little by little does it and there is always something else to be done – we have not finished yet and I do not suppose we ever shall. The dahlias look nice and those you gave me are now in greenhouse drying off. 

We had heavy rain here Monday night and  this continued in storms on Tuesday with half a gale blowing as well. Yesterday (Tuesday) I pulled up the tomato plants in the bay just inside the greenhouse on the right hand side and brought in and planted there eleven more indoor chrysanths. Had to put boards on the garden to dig them out as ground was very wet.

Monday afternoon I was able to pick 4 or more pounds of tomatoes and Bill Aston came over yesterday for 3 lbs – Mum had the other pound for the house so we are waiting for more to ripen off. Apart from Aston have seen no one since we got home but Mum has seen Mrs Cornish. Understand it was very foggy here all day on Sunday visibility at times been poor.

The grass on lawns has grown a lot and needs cutting at first opportunity.

Have sampled one of the bottles of your wine – you can guess which? All mine were satisfactory on return, the grape wine still fermenting strongly. Some of the others I must rack off and store for future consumption – can get on with this when nothing at all can be done outdoors. Found a mouse in trap in garage when we got back but no further success this week so far. 

How did you get on at Reading on Monday? Mum has been busy on one or two jobs since Monday but she must tell you about them herself.  Shall soon be starting fires – had to have electric heater on these last couple of evenings. Weather has deteriorated rather suddenly and we can consider ourselves extremely fortunate in having such sunny days whilst with you. 

Hope the girls liked Wonderland. I looked for it at Ruislip (Forbuoys and Prangleys) without success but spotted it in Andover. It is evidently issued on Wednesdays. 

Well I think this is the lot for the present, hope you don’t feel too tired after our visit. Once again many thanks for a lovely time. with all our love to you both and lots of kisses for two very lovely little girls. Mum and Dad 

P.S. Your chrysanths (? Westfield Flame) in full flower – very nice.

*NB how carefully Leonard distinguishes here between Pauline-the-girlfriend and the other Pauline who is of course June and Peter’s sister. Pauline-the-girlfriend presumably didn’t last long as I have no recollection of her, but thought the world of Brenda Hawkeswood; the next girlfriend I remembered seeing was the one Peter ended up married to, but that wasn’t until 1967. I can only imagine that (a) five in a car would have been a squeeze back then or (b) the two Paulines didn’t get on, and Peter – being in possession of a penis – decided his needs took precedence over those of either of his sisters. It was ever thus.

Eva to the family on two thirds of Leonard’s third sheet of paper:

Dear Alec June Susan and Carol

Thank you very much for the nice holiday we had with you. The time passed all too soon and we are here with nose to grindstone once more. We had lovely weather didn’t we, they say here that the fog on the Sunday cleared about 5. We had one of the best drives home it was very nice country and I like Andover for shopping. The sausages (chipolata pork) were super. it was a small butchers halfway up the hill. We had a nerve to go into the station but nobody challenged us, expect they thought we were the superintendent and his wife!!!

Norman Bakers mother died suddenly while we were away or rather the day before and was buried on the Saturday only 63.

Dad has been busy getting in the chrysanths into the greenhouse, they are just coming into flower some in the ground and some in flower pots on the gravel. 

I have re-covered three pillowcases and one to go with the tick cut from featherbed,

 that makes my pillows decent looking. Also cut in half one of the curtains I used to put on the door and hung up in dining room at each end makes it a bit fuller. Can’t afford new ones yet. Also put the other door curtain in stairs window as there is a terrific draught in the winter.

Been busy gardening this afternoon nipping off the daisies. 

No more now lots of love again thank you for a nice time. From Mum and Dad.

At the bottom of this sheet a small drawing of two people in a very overgrown garden titled ‘Guess where BB’ on the back of the remaining sheet is a village with a tractor in the foreground and what may possibly be Stonehenge in the background…

Sunday 5th March, 1961

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad,

Thank you for your last letter, on time as usual. Another enclosure from the girls this time but I do not know what is in the envelope. We too look forward to the post, and the girls are pleased to be allowed to leave the table to go and get the “Gardeners Gazette” as it is sometimes called.

The route you have received from the A.A. seems to be very much the same as the one that I followed on the way down only instead of passing through Maidenhead we went through Henley, Hope your visit to Heavitree goes off satisfactorily. Note you are having the car given a short servicing before you come up here, Had mine tested last Wednesday, and guess what – it failed. They refused a certificate on the grounds that the reflectors were the wrong colour (Orange ) and therefore illegal, and there was said to be insufficient reserve of travel in the handbrake. The reflectors have been attended to, but the brake will-be done this weak when I hope to have car tested again.

I had heard you tell the story about the walk at Martock many years ago, probably when I first joined the rail. Not very good old days as you say.

Acton Yard L.D.C. not much worse than any other I suppose, but the same principle applies – it’s the noise that is heard. Have got four of them taking an appreciation course of three days starting next Tuesday when they can let off steam in private.

Geoff mentioned something to me about all going over on Easter Sunday but we have not yet decided what we are doing on that day so have not made any promises yet. Glad you are able to look out a couple of bottles of wine for us. I found the bottle of plum you brought up last time ( 2nd grade ) and found it still a bit sharp. Added some sugar to the bottle and put it back for a bit. We drank the ( 1st grade ) bottle some time ago.

No I do not think that I can do with any more chrysants, shall have nowhere to put them. Thank you for offering though.

We had not flown the kite until this week as you know we do not get a lot of gales here and even a strong wind is unusual. This week-end it has been glorious without a trace of wind to spoil it. As a result of the heat, the soil is beginning to dry out at long last. Still too tacky to get on but if this keeps up it will not be long before it is workable. Sounds as if our garden is a small edition of Cornishes, I suppose he does do something to it occasionally.

Bad luck about Mr Heal’s mother. When things move suddenly like that though people even a short distance away often fail to make it in time. It must have been a most unhappy day for them.

I am not sure that Mrs Salway knew Carol, but she certainly saw Susan a time or two. Sorry to hear that Aston seems to have some internal trouble, probably due to too many sandwich lunches in the past. Nice to know that mother helps in the garden, I thought she occupied the deckchair and gave advice.

I am glad that the Clevedon cricket ground is not to be used for building, I do not think It was much of a prospect as a building site.

Was interested to learn of the opinion expressed about Susan’s drawings. She really does seem forward for her age in most things, and her little drawings do have more than a little talent.*

I agree this is lovely weather. Three days in a row and the week-end to boot. Hope we have not had it all by the time you arrive – not long now. I can- see I shall have to arrange for a coin operated parking meter to be fixed outside our place when you are here, may be able to make a bit.

Glad to hear your new shops are having such a good effect on the other traders. Good job they are not too near Elford, it might make him wake up.

Made a gallon of “Braverys Extra Special Jungle Juice” yesterday with slight variation. In addition to the four pounds of potatoes I added about one pound of very old and stale parsnips, ( my own that had lain in the soil since last year ) and used Sultanas instead of raisins which were not obtainable. Threw in a whole oz. packet of powdered yeast and the whole lot is in a state of vigorous ferment now.

We had a visit from Peter and Brenda this afternoon and they brought with them Brenda’s two little cousins aged four and two. The girl is very shy and hardly speaks at all but the boy who can toddle steadily round with the minimum of help joined in the fun. Heard a squeal from the front room at one stage and walked in to find he had pushed Carol over and she was lying all arms and legs and voice between the armchair and the wall, They did not leave until well after eight ( nearer nine ) and both children had been well off to sleep long before then. It was a pity to wake them, but I believe they are quite used to it. Gave Peter plenty of wine while he was here and a couple of bottles to go home with.**

Managed to tip over a cup of coffee with the carriage of this machine a few minutes ago, and that brought the pangs on for a bit. Panic over now but lost the drink. I am afraid I shall have to draw the line here this time, it is now 10-30pm much later than the time I usually do this letter – for reasons already explained.

More next time, love from us all.

[*So why refer to them as having been ‘committed’ or ‘perpetrated’ then? It seems especially ungenerous, but is all of a piece with the remarks about Mr Aston – and his own mother – in this letter.]

[**’Plenty of wine’ does not sound like such a great idea considering that Peter was driving with his fiancee and two young children in the car – and there were no seatbelts in those days.]

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!

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?

Wednesday 14 October 1959

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad

Thank you both for your letters duly received and appreciated. Extra carbon in this week for St Mary’s Bristol. Very sorry indeed to learn that Dad in hospital for operation. It came as quite a shock, and as we had had no warning ,completely unexpected. By the time you receive this letter the operation should be over and we all hope it has been a success and that you are feeling as comfortable as possible. As you know I have some experience of these things and I am sure that although you may feel a little low at first each day will bring on improvement and you will soon take an interest in your surroundings. Perhaps few people actually like hospitals, but I have often felt the value of my having spent my time at Winford. June and Susan send their love and hope you will be out soon. Carol of course is too young to comprehend, but Susan asked me “is my Grandad in Hospital”?

I am afraid that you will have to resist the temptation to get back to the garden too soon however much it may fall in arrears or you may hinder full recovery. I enclose the Amateur Winemaker which should fill up a half-hour or so. I do wish we were a bit nearer so that I could come in for a chat as you were able to do for me when at Winford.* As things are, I think it will be better if I waited for your return to Clevedon and then fix up to come down for Week-end. I am feeling a bit better these days and we have all shaken off the colds we had and have had one or two fairly good nights. Carol woke up late last evening and got herself into a frenzy, could not comfort her anyway. I eventually nursed her back to sleep on my knee but previous to that she seemed to have extreme difficulty in drawing her breath. She is as right as a trivet to-day. I think she may have been frightened by car or motor-bike. The louts have started letting off fireworks in the streets at night and I have been after them a couple of times. Dorothy next door has telephoned the police but they have not been observed yet.

We have not lit any fires yet in grate but have put on the electric heater regularly in front room where children play all this week. Susan – little demon – although told not to touch heater put her cardigan over it. Of course it soon got scorched although it would not catch fire as only very hot air is produced. She also made off with Carol in pram when June was in one of the shops. I dont know what she will do next. I give her a good talking to each time but it does not seem to have any effect. She went to Sunday School last Sunday for the first time. (That may do the trick.) Tried to get her to tell us what happened but could get little information. June took her down to the Methodist Church where they look after the very young children and left her in charge of the Sunday School Mistress. She asked Susan her name and she answered “Susan Jane Atkins” When she was collected a little later she told us that she played with a dolls house and sat on a funny long seat. There were other little girls and boys there and she sat between two girls. One of the girls had brown hair tied up with pink ribbon and was called “Janny”. That was all she could tell us. When I last wrote to you, and was typing the bit about Carol and the wasps I guessed it would remind you of the Bee-Hive at Westbury. Not very strange that it should have stuck in the memory is it? Doug and I knocked the pantry down last week end. It came away fairly easily but it has left a bit of a mess. We filled in the gap left by the timber with plaster, and the corresponding channel in the ceiling with polyfiller. Bought myself a plasterers trowel for 4/6 and find there is nothing to it. Now that the pantry is gone it reveals the fact that the wall with inside kitchen door slopes outward from outside wall to the plaster, and inwards from the plaster to the door. This will not notice when all the painting has been done, but is just one more example of botched work in this building. We intend to put gas stove where pantry was so that cooking can proceed minus draft. On the list of purchases to be made are new sink unit and fridge. We hope to decorate dining room in the Autumn and the two main bedrooms fairly soon. The back bedroom now contains two life size crayon portraits on the wallpaper. (By Susan.) Part of concrete path I made is cracking right across and surface is crumbling and sandy. You can poke out the sand with your fingers, Looks as though I shall have to resurface it. My electric razor packed up last week end. Something broke inside whilst I was shaving. I had a look inside and the cause is a complete fracture of the only moving part. I am sending it back to factory for comments. Your kitchen should be super by this time. I expect you did find it interesting to watch. Peter (who failed to pass test) has just bought himself Riley Car £700**. No comment. Pauline seemed to have had a good holiday although I have a feeling they realised they had picked the wrong time to go. Jersey after the Season is much the same as any other place I suppose. Peter has got new job at Isleworth Swimming Baths. I don’t know any more about that yet. Don’t worry about office affairs Dad. We all have a moan now and then but the main essential at the moment is patience. I think I have the feel of the situation as well as anyone and I am convinced that something big is going to break before long. We heard yesterday that as a result of pressure the B.T.C. have revoked their decision on expenses and the position is restored to that which it was before we wrote our protest. As Wilkinson said in his reply “Status quo ante bellum”. As I forecast the only member of our group who was interviewed for London Asst. job was Manning. He had a grilling on rules and regs. with particular reference to L.T.E. Working ( former District Inspector ). Of course he is normally good on rules but got caught on those. Chamney who was formerly my assistant Spl A and who got Asst to at Worcester Spl B got an interview. Rose*** a former Traffic Apprentice Spl A also got one as did Norman Thorn Head Of Research Swansea formerly Traffic Apprentice and of Westbury. An unknown client from Lincoln also got one and that was that. No announcement has been made. The Old Oak L.D.C. after a stormy meeting with their members turned down our scheme. They said it was an excellent scheme and had no fault to find with the arrangements or the time a allowed but it did not give them enough money. My guess is that they are going to get it. Sorry to learn that Mums hearing aid broke down, that probably explains the trouble we were getting on the T.V. ( What price the election ) Cant see that anyone has incentive or cause to vote Lab. these days. I stopped up to midnight to see the results and a fine effort it was by the B.B.C. Eric next door was in charge of the equipment for all the election broadcasts in the London Area. We went to Michael [Benn]’s Christening a week last Sunday but Susan as usual announced that she wanted to go to the toilet so June did not stay till finish of service. I stopped and walked home with carol. She walked all the way home except for crossing roads. Have brought the wine in from the shed now. It is getting a bit too cold to keep a good ferment going out there during the night. Have put all the active jars in airing cupboard. Suggest that you fix yourself up with one of those, they can always be used for airing clothes when not wanted for wine. Well I am sure we all wish you both the best for now, that it will not be too lonely for Mum and that Dad will soon be able to get about again. Love from Alec.

*Winford Hospital – As a child Alec had been for over a year in the Fever Hospital just outside Clevedon, with either diphtheria or scarlet fever. He used to point out the building whenever we passed it, and recount how his mother was only allowed to visit him on Sundays and nobody else at all, and how all the toys and books (and presumably clothes) he had taken in with him had to be burned when he left. When he emerged from hospital he was lagging behind his school friends and was of course socially isolated, but his parents tried to make up for this by getting him a dog (Mike) which he loved dearly. Winford Hospital seems to be a very different sort of place, so it’s possible he may have gone there for physiotherapy after he left the hospital at Clevedon. I can find nothing about the place at Clevedon online except on Google Earth (51 deg 26’26 N; 2 deg 49’19W).

** £700 in 1959 would be over £16,000 in 2019, so Alec’s incredulity is well-founded. At the time June’s brother Peter was working in a handful of jobs that would hardly have made him a wealthy man, although he could have inherited some money of course. It’s also possible that he was betting on horses, which didn’t actually become legal in the UK until the following year. I have no information and am only speculating, but knowing Peter’s character I can well imagine him having pulled off a coup of some kind – although I’ll refrain from speculating further as to precisely *what* kind.

***There is a good chance of this having been Don Rose, who later surfaced as one of the British Rail staff moved en masse from London to York in 1967. June was still in touch with Don’s widow, Vera, almost until the end of her life, although the contact has now been lost.

Monday 12th October 1959

[On reverse of timetable paper table 179 Wellington, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Bewdley, Kidderminster, Stourbridge Junction, Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington Spa]

Leonard to the family:

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Many thanks for both your letters received last week but very sorry to hear you have all been feeling poorly. Hope by this time you have fully recovered although weather against everybody at the moment. The sudden change from the long summer to cold wind and rain is not altogether appreciated but the rain is badly wanted all over the country. Anyhow it looks as if the best summer for a couple of hundred years has finally left us and we must settle down for the winter. Have not lit a fire yet but we put the electric one on intermittently on Sunday – just to warm the air up a bit. Last Friday evening we had a grandstand view of a big fire on the hill – straight up from the end of the Avenue. I think it was the biggest in the locality since we have been here. Rather strange thought a previous fire at about 2.0 p.m. same day broke out in same spot.

Note Susan taking more interest in general things such as changing the clocks to winter time etc. and that Carol knows what a wasp is. You must tell her one day how you poked a stick in the entrance to the bee hive we had many years ago and what happened. Glad to hear you are getting some better nights now and hope they will continue. Shall be pleased to receive those two publications you mentioned in due course.

Am afraid elderberry wine is off this year – the middle of September is the time to gather the berries and I was too late. The sloe wine appears to be going on alright but I shall leave it as it is for several weeks yet. Note your apple wine good so far. As mum told you we have workmen here enlarging kitchen & so far so good but expect they will be with us for most of the present week. Already we can see it will be an excellent improvement. Are you doing away with your pantry to make more space room in kitchen? – you will have a deal of rubble for hard core. It was surprising what we had from the work going on here but I was able to place the lot in position for future paths. I have not done much on garden this week – have been too interested in the work going on here.

We are very sorry to hear about your Mum & Dad, June – it must be hard not to get a break at all and obviously there is not much chance as long as they remain in business. We both hope that what they have in mind will prove satisfactory and enable them to have a bit of peace and quiet. Can understand Peter getting filthy on a building job* having regard to the state the men here get in by the time they finish work nightly – and they have had good weather. It must be much worse when its wet.

Hope Pauline had a good holiday and spent an enjoyable weekend with you – the children we know would be delighted to see her again.

Not very satisfactory news from the office point of view Alec – cannot understand why Work Study Section being treated so in view of good reports on their activities up to date. What happened re: the Assts job at D.O.S.O.?

No more now – Mum will write later in week and enclose one for Susan.

All the best and once again lots of kisses for our two darling girls.

Mum & Dad

*Peter would have been 21 at the time and had bounced from job to job without ever really settling anywhere. I remember him turning up at our front door unexpectedly in various vans, to use the toilet or scrounge a cup of tea when he happened to be passing our way, but my main memories of him from this time would be from a year or two later when he was a mysterious presence which arrived down the ‘sideway’ of my grandparents’ house on a motorcycle and had a wash in the scullery before sauntering through to his bedroom to change his clothes. We would usually be sitting around the table at this time, tucking in to salami and beetroot or sild on toast. [I have only recently, sixty years later, got the beetroot stains out of my grandmother’s tablecloth.] Anyway, twenty minutes later Peter would saunter back, hair en brosse like a young Joe Brown, wearing his best bib and tucker, heading out on the booze for the evening. Peter didn’t sit and socialise; Peter came in and went out again; for him, home was nothing more than a place to store his clothes.