There were two or three inches of snow on the ground and a keen east wind as we approached the hamlet.
The old and derelict stone inn we had an ‘order to view’ seemed devoid of life. On closer inspection however this idea was shattered by the noisy greetings of some ten or so spaniel type dogs of varying ages.
The long low herring bone stone building with odd spiral glass windows boasted a central door over which was the inscription, ‘Miss Baxendale. Licenced to sell Beers, Wines, Spirits & Tobacco.’
We knocked. After several minutes the rickety door was opened by a middle aged female. Her attire was in keeping with the derelict nature of the house as if to match. One leg was patched up with an untidy bandage kept in position by a wrinkled stocking.
We were ushered into a stone flagged living room. On a small oak table with a newspaper serving as a cloth were the remains of a meal which appeared to have consisted largely of a loaf of bread. A fire burned brightly in a modern grate and in the hearth was a blackened saucepan containing a very dubious mess.
The remainder of the furnishings consisted of a much worn carpet and Victorian furniture, a settee and two chairs, from all of which stuffing and springs protruded. On every chair there seemed to be a dog and the pervading smell was of frowsty dirty dog.
Before we were asked to sit down a newspaper was hurriedly produced for each of us, a dog pushed from its seat and the newspaper put in its place.
The building consisted of two rooms, each serving as a bar, a tiny office room at one end, and over the top, being the first floor, two attics, one with a skylight and the other with a window on the floor level. Attached precariously to the rear was a corrugated iron roofed structure which served as a kitchen. This boasted the only tap in the house, an ancient sink and a dilapidated oil stove. Up the garden was a privy containing a rusty elsan closet.
Such was the Board Inn when Pamela and I bought it and took up residence in April, 1946.
Our plan which seemed ambitious then (and often afterwards) was to convert it into a comfortable country inn. In those days we knew nothing of building, of licences, of Town & Country Planning (as it was), of justices’ requirements etcetera. We had a little money and great faith.
The hamlet, ‘Newholm’ by name, was some two miles from the old sea port and seaside resort of Whitby on the Yorkshire coast. It consisted of some thirty cottages, a Methodist chapel, a telephone booth and no shops. Water was ‘… by gravitation’ according to the agent, but by chance or luck would have been a more accurate description. Sanitation consisted of an unfinished and sometimes open sewer which served most of the village and apparently ended in someone’s ornamental lake. No one had thought it necessary to fit a drain trap to our only drain hole in the kitchen. Consequently when the wind was in the right quarter we knew all about it.
Our first ally was Syd (Easton), a neighbour. He combined the trades of cobbler, butcher, builder, planner, barman and adviser in chief. Never could there have been greater loyalty and more common sense and skill in one body. When he first introduced himself to us he was in a butcher’s apron delivering the meat. Immediately he heard our plans his enthusiasm and building instincts were kindled. At the moment he was employed, but he could put us onto a good man who would do all we asked. And he did.
Tom (Waller) started on our payroll about a week later. His hours were never really defined. We never knew his age, but when he came he seemed retired and still a bachelor. A kinder and more conscientious worker could not be found in a month of Sundays. He lived for work and usually had to be told to stop.
To begin our work it was necessary to excavate an area 62ft by 15 ft (18.6m X 4.5m) to a depth of 8ft (2.4m) at one end. Mostly solid clay. This with the aid of a horse and cart he did mostly on his own - about six weeks.
(Written by my father, C.F.R. Hilton, 1904 - 1980)
The conveyancing when the inn was bought was done by one Richard Crawford, who undertook such work without having any legal qualification. He operated from the front room of his house in Scarborough, which was designated the ‘estates department.’ When my father arrived there Richard was seated at a table typing with one finger. He wore a green eye shade and a brown apron with pens and pencils in the front pocket. When business was concluded and the document signed he rang a bell and his wife brought in a tray of tea. The document still exists in a frame and a copy, typographical errors and all, follows.
So at the age of six I came with my parents to the North Riding of Yorkshire, where a stone is a ‘stee-an,’ blank dominoes are ‘blonks’ and you live in ‘oose’ the article being usually left out. ‘Newholm’ is pronounced ‘Newum’ or it was then. Naturally I acquired all this within about a fortnight, to the delight of the locals who commented on my departure from my mother tongue with,’Talkin’ Yorkshire? Tha’ll get thy tongue tied in a knot!’ Years later when my ship was in Whitby I went to have a look at Newholm. The taxi driver pronounced all the letters, but I put this down to Whitby folk feigning literacy.
When my grandmother, the family’s social climber visited she was appalled and also quite scandalised to be addressed as ‘Grandma.’ She tried to cajole and bribe me into reverting to BBC speech, but I seem to remember that I only used this on people I wasn’t talking to. I must have been an appalling child.
I know nothing of the viewing visit to the Board Inn, but in April it and the previous owner were just as my father described, although the bandage may have been discarded. What I do remember was the fascinating experience of living in a house undergoing refurbishment. After ‘Owd Tom’ had excavated sufficiently (and removed the decayed remains of some of Miss Baxendale’s past dogs) the brick walled, corrugated roofed kitchen was easily demolished (as local clay had been used for mortar), foundations were set and building began. Local sandstone from a burnt out mill was used and ‘Owd Tom’ did most of this work too. His large tea mug was replenished at suitable intervals and I remember his face mostly disappearing into it while his ears stood out a good way on either side.
The stone from the mill matched the existing building well enough even though each stone had a slight curve to it. This was fortuitous later as the awaited planning application had been held up for months.
Town & Country Planning officials heard that some unapproved building was going on and came to inspect. Looking at the new wall with Syd‘s or Tom’s special old looking mortar one of them said, ‘This wall needs pointing up. Hardly surprising, it must have been here for hundreds of years.’ My father asked, ‘Isn’t it difficult to get a permit?’ ‘Never mind that,’ was the reply, ‘We’ll see to it.’ And they did.
Syd was certainly very handy. I often watched him work at various projects. To this day I can see him fitting the brace to one of the garage doors and I now realise that many of the things I now know how to do were developed from practising what I saw Syd do years ago. Not without help from others. Syd may not have been quite the angel my father makes him out to be. He certainly knew how to look after his own interests and was ready to take credit for others achievements as will be seen later. However he used his deceitful skills to our advantage more than once and I cannot accuse him of more than enlightened self interest.
Syd was a slender man, but his wife, Vera, was of generous proportions. It was occasionally suggested that he was lucky to have one who would keep him warm of winter nights. He always explained that she was so fat that she lifted the bedclothes off him so that the cold wind blew around him.
One day when my father was particularly busy with pub business two officials came to see our chickens. We kept them for the eggs which were strictly rationed at the time and much needed for pub food. Syd was asked to conduct these two individuals to the chicken run a couple of hundred yards away. Two or three hours later all three returned, the officials looking exhausted and mud splattered, but saying all was in order. After they left my father asked Syd what had happened. Syd explained that there was a difficulty with the number of chickens. We were only supposed to have two dozen and the same number of day old chicks had just been delivered putting us well over strength. Day olds still counted as chickens. Syd had shown the men his own chickens about sixteen in number, but free range and about half a mile away. Syd had had an enjoyable time ‘helping’ them count the chickens by chasing them in and out of hedges. One up for the countryman and more fool anyone who thinks of him as a yokel.
At that time there was no electricity supply to the village. Oil lamps were used. My father located a Hornsby Ruston petrol-paraffin engine of considerable age, a dynamo and a large number of nife batteries. These batteries can be charged and discharged time after time without damage. They were much more bulky than lead-acid batteries. No good for a car, but that was no problem for a static generating plant. The engine itself had a single horizontal cylinder and a large flywheel. It produced 24 volt electricity. When lights were switched on in the evening they were often found to be rather dim as the batteries had been run down the night before, the gradual decrease merely adding to the atmosphere. The generator would then be started and there was light as miraculous as in Genesis. I remember the accompanying solid thump-thump-thump from the shed in the back garden as a most reassuring sound Akin to the sound of a mother busy preparing a meal in the kitchen. Later the village institute, an asbestos building next door, was also given electric light. I think they got it free. My father was a qualified electrician although he never did it as a job.
Years later an article appeared in the Caterer & Hotel Keeper magazine telling how electricity had been installed in a Yorkshire pub. Syd was the man who had done it and took the credit. I don’t think any of us minded. He was entitled to any credit that was going. And he wouldn’t have had to tell any lies. He had cast the concrete block the engine stood on and had supervised the bedding down of the engine. However electricity scared him.
The extension at the back of the house ran the full length of the building and afforded space for more than just a kitchen. In the early stages of construction, before the roof went on, a second hand railway tarpaulin was used to keep the weather out. Clearly it had been much handled when folded up and holes had been worn at several of the folds. I remember buckets and basins being placed under the leaks during rainy weather.
The completion of the building included a restaurant with a small but picturesque cocktail bar rigged out to look like the back of a covered wagon. Also there were panelled alcoves for more intimate diners. A stone fireplace was included and my father remarked to a regular customer that the mantelpiece would have to be made of several stones, no single stone of the required length being obtainable. At dead of night the man and his brother returned with a long stone with earth on one end and green lichen on the other. Obviously a scratching post from a nearby field and presumably from the brothers’ farm.
The joiner at the nearby village of Aislaby laid a fine tongued and grooved floor and made an excellent oak refectory table in traditional style. This had the corners rubbed off and the foot rail worn away so that as the wood darkened with age it would begin to look antique. If it still exists it probably passes for twice its present age.
Newholm also had a joiner. He was a kindly old gentleman. When my toy cart needed attention the village children advised me that he would mend it and he was happy to do so. Syd, who built the cart, must have been elsewhere. In December the joiner came to the inn seeking provisions for Christmas. He said he thought rum was good for keeping out the cold and asked whether my father could suggest anything else. ‘Some people prefer whisky,’ said my father. ‘A bottle, then,’ said the joiner. ‘Ladies sometimes prefer gin.’ ‘Oh well, I’ll have a bottle of that too.’
My father had caught the drift and said, ‘What about wine?’ The joiner said, ‘I don’t know much about that. What have you got?’ ‘Red or white.’ ‘I’ll have one of each.’ And so it went on, the joiner ordering a bottle of every drink in stock until there was too much for him to carry home. My father offered to deliver it, but the joiner refused. He said, ‘Ah’ll lerrit get about that I’m doing some work for you and fetch it bit by bit in my tool bag. And this he did - merry Christmas!
It wasn’t just the severity of that Winter that caused problems. It was very late and put back all the planting and seeding so that the harvest was very poor. I remember seeing scabs of snow on North slopes and in sheltered places in May that year.
With the addition of the restaurant there was much more work to do. Mrs. Scales, a war widow, came in to clean. She had two sons, Colin and Dennis. Dennis was my age and Colin a year or so older. We used to roam all over the countryside with Syd’s son Alan and our golden labrador bitch, Sue, who went everywhere with me.
Mary Parker presided in the kitchen, or at least supported my mother. And then there was Kathleen.
My grandfather came from a family where servants were the norm and my grandmother aspired to this. Therefore, once my grandfather’s stage career blossomed, one was engaged. This was Kathleen. However, by the time we took the Board Inn my grandparents had moved into a flat and had no need of her. So she came to us ready and well able to undertake any domestic task, including looking after me whenever I could be caught. I imagine she would have been middle aged by then, but that may be a mistaken impression. She certainly seemed an old maid to me, but with a twinkle.
Waiting at table in the restaurant was a duty Kathleen took on as though born to it. In those days of rationing most people knew little of gastronomy. There simply wasn’t much choice of foods from which to learn. Kathleen would reel off a list of cheeses (or perhaps it was on the menu) and people would look blank. She would help out by asking, ‘Do you want smelly cheese or ordinary cheese.’ In due course the cheeses appeared on the menu under the headings ‘Smelly’ and ‘Ordinary.’ Is this the first example of an educational menu?
My bedroom was in the attic with the skylight and a dormer window had been added. It was adequate for me, but I remember my father hitting his head on a cross beam. He was well able to take it and I am fortunate to have inherited the same kind of robust cranium.
I would go to sleep most nights to the sound of revelry from below. Current popular songs included such mindless numbers as ‘Maresy Doats and Dozey Doats’ and ‘Chickory Chick.’ If you can’t remember them you are lucky. But the records played downstairs were of real songs. I remember ‘Pedro the Fisherman’ and ‘La Bella Margarita.’ The latter sung by a light tenor with a Mediterranean accent and presumably filling some with nostalgic memories of wartime operations in Italy where signorinas showed themselves grateful to be liberated, or the other way round.
The Board Inn became a popular country inn just as my father had planned. The public bar with its flagged floor (or was it concrete?) suited the locals in their wellies. Meanwhile the saloon bar was refurbished with beams from old houses that were being demolished in Whitby’s Baxtergate. Some of these were originally ship’s spars and still had sheaves for the running rigging to pass through. A carpet was added and the effect was of old world comfort.
This ideal state of affairs naturally had its drawbacks. A pub is open seven days a week and suitable people to relieve hard to find. I believe my parents tried at least once, but trial and error is the only way. I think they never made a trial that did not end in error. Also they held private parties after hours which produced the sounds of revelry that lulled me so pleasantly to sleep while my parents overworked. Another consideration may have been that I was left to run wild more than was considered good for me. The remedy was to sell up, but this was in the future.
Childhood memories are supposed to be of everlasting Summer, but I think the Winter of 1947 must be remembered by all who experienced it. There were very heavy falls of snow. Barker Lane between Whitby and Newholm was filled up level from hedge top to hedge top on either side. Newholm was cut off as were many communities in the Dales and much more seriously. Many villages in the dales were cut off for a long period and animals on the moors starved and froze to death. Farmers made good use of horse drawn sledges, large boards on steel shod runners.
Of course I was not aware of all the consequences of all this. All I was aware of was deep snowdrifts that you could jump into without getting hurt or even properly dirty. It was cold and smaller children howled when the frost nipped their ears and noses. It was not so much the severity of that Winter as its lateness. Seeding and planting were delayed and crop yields were very low. I remember even in May there were still scabs of snow on North facing slopes and in sheltered places.
On a visit from London my grandfather showed me how to dig up pignuts. I passed this knowledge on to the local children and in return they introduced me to ‘sweet briar’ which is obtained by peeling the tender shoots of the wild rose. It was whilst doing this that we became aware of Kathleen walking by arm in arm with a man well into middle age. A girl asked me, ‘Is he her young man?’ I said, ‘Ah doant knoa.’
So it was that Kathleen’s marriage forestalled the question of her redundancy when the pub was sold. I never knew his name, but he was a barber who had regular work cutting soldiers’ hair at Catterick camp.