Memories of Netherstowe House
Colinette Gordon Compton
Memories of Childhood at Netherstowe House
Lieutenant Colonel C.V.T. Gordon
An obituary and short biography
Olive Thorpe nee Garbett
Memories of working for the Graham family
Joan Menzies (Nee Dee)
Memories of the Gordon's and Donaldson's
Rosemary Lawson (Heaton)
Memories of Netherstowe House after the war.
Memories of Netherstowe House as a lad
Memories of Childhood at Netherstowe House
My parents, Colin and Zandra Gordon, rented Netherstowe House from the years 1937 to 1941.
Yesterday, out of the blue, I looked up “Netherstowe House, Lichfield” on the Internet. The first web site showed an imposing Georgian house.
Immediately I felt I was back in the year 1937. My first, happy memory of life is at two and a half years old, tucked up in a small, low bed in my “night nursery” on the top floor of Netherstowe House. Through the closed door I could hear music playing softly on the gramophone as I drifted off into sleep.
Every morning I woke up early, eager to start a great new day, looked after primarily by my adoring nursemaid, Daisy Nichols, nicknamed “Nana”.
During the first year and a half that we lived at Netherstowe my father was working in Nigeria, seconded from the South Staffordshire Regiment to the R.W.A.A.F. My mother accompanied him, so Nana was like a mother to me. She was a very old fashioned nursemaid. She used to boast that she had never seen the inside of a kitchen, and demanded that one of the kitchen maids deliver the trays for the “Nursery meals” up the servants’ stairs, and remove them when she rang the bell.
Whenever Nana had her half day off once a week I was allowed to go down the stairs and visit in the spacious kitchen, where the cook would show me how to roll pastry, and we would have tea and homemade scones with the gardeners, sitting around a huge wooden table, listening to Worker’s Playtime on the wireless (radio) at Noon. They let me slide down the banisters in the main part of the house, which was a real treat.
I remember very vividly Nana pushing me in a large black pram along the country road near Netherstowe. She would sing “Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do,” to make me laugh. In the evenings after I went to bed Nana sat in the “day nursery” next door, sewing, or ironing my dresses, and she would always play music on the gramophone. Nana loved Noel Coward’s songs, so I learnt the words to many adult songs early in life, such as “I’ll See You Again”.
From the age of three years old I was allowed to wander around the spacious gardens and countryside surrounding Netherstowe House, by myself, or with my stepbrother Peter, who was eight years older than me, when he was home from boarding school. Soon after we arrived at Netherstowe Peter saw something floating down the stream that ran through the garden, and on close inspection he saw it was a large sack, with the head of a tiny black kitten poking out of the top, the only survivor of a family of five kittens and a mother cat. Peter named the cat “Tattibogles” (scarecrow) but he was known as “Puss Cat”. He was my constant companion, and never complained when I dressed him in my doll’s clothes. He enjoyed going for rides in my doll’s pram. On Christmas Day in 1940 I was given a child’s size nurse’s uniform to dress up in. From that day I saw myself as a nurse, and Puss seemed to enjoy being my patient, with his leg wrapped in bandages.
During the entire time we lived at Netherstowe, life for me was perfect in every way. Wendy, the daughter of a Royal Navy officer and his wife, lived next door. At least once a week my best friend Chad Coussmaker, whose father was a Church of England minister, and Tim Street, whose father was an Army officer, would come to play in the very large garden at Netherstowe, where I had a playhouse made of wood., and I would host “tea parties” We would make sure that we were always at the edge of the railway tracks just after Noon to wave to the engine driver of the “Royal Scot” train – one of the highlights of our day when he waved back to us.
My parents returned to live with us in Netherstowe House in 1939, when my father was ordered to supervise the training of new recruits in the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment at Whittington Barracks in Lichfield. At that time he was a Major. He had a faithful, young Army “Batman” who was wonderful, and taught me to ride a bicycle. (Sadly I do not know how to spell his name, but it sounded like “May-chen”.)
My father was seldom home, and my mother kept busy with Red Cross and Mother’s Union volunteer work. During the day time I only saw my mother occasionally, when she called Nana and I to go in the garden to learn about planting flowers, or to cut the grass, sometimes in the afternoons. At five o’clock every evening I would be bathed and dressed by Nanny, and I was taken to visit my mother in the spacious drawing room (lounge) and we would listen to “Children’s Hour” on the radio. My favourite part was “Said The Cat To The Dog.” Then I would return to the Nursery, and be in bed by 7:00 PM. My mother changed into a long dress every evening, and would come to the nursery to hear my prayers and say goodnight, before returning downstairs for dinner.
In early September 1939 I remember Nanny taking two days off to visit her parents in Reading, Berkshire. My parents had to look after me in the evenings, which was very unusual. I missed Nana very much, so as a special treat one evening I was allowed to take a bath in the large bath in the bathroom near their bedrooms. I remember how white everything in that room was, except for the black and white tiled floor. Then we all sat downstairs in the lounge, and snuggled up on the couch. Although half asleep, I remember hearing a news report – a recording of Neville Chamberlain announcing on the radio that the country was at war with Germany. Early the next morning I crept into my mother’s bedroom and sat on the floor at the bottom of the bed wrapped in an eiderdown, pretending I was the news announcer Alvar Lidell, and repeating the Prime Minister’s speech over and over again. My parents were amazed that I had such a retentive memory at such a young age.
The Second World War did not affect me at all. We kept chickens and ducks at Netherstowe, and had a huge kitchen garden, so were never short of food. We were never afraid, and would go off into the countryside to play, with no problems. Chad and I walked to a preschool on our own, down country lanes. The little school was owned by two spinster sisters, who were very strict, and I tried extremely hard to be a perfect student because Chad told me I was like his sister, and he was looking after me, so I HAD to behave.
One of the highlights of our life during those years living in Netherstowe was the very formal wedding of a daughter of the Bishop of Lichfield and his wife. Chad was a page, and I was a flower girl. I had been to the Cathedral many times, and was very happy to be “on show” briefly - sprinkling rose petals in front of the bride. Bishop Edward Sydney Woods and his wife often came to tea at Netherstowe, and I was allowed to attend the tea party for about five minutes, to perform a dance or sing one song. The elegant, imposing Bishop and his friendly wife loved me as if I was a grandchild, and Nana and I stayed at the Bishop’s Palace on more than one occasion. The big treat was walking past shops in the city; an amazing change from country life.
My parents gave some glittering dinner parties at Netherstowe, and young officers were invited when they first came to Whittington Barracks. One invitation was sent out by my father, with the caption “to meet my eldest unmarried daughter.” I can imagine the young men were NOT happy when a very outgoing five year old appeared at the top of the main stairs, and made an entrance into the dining room, but they treated me as if I was a princess, and I was overjoyed by the attention.
Because my parents had lived overseas for many years, when we moved to Netherstowe almost all the furniture, china and glass my parents amassed was bought at the famous Winterton Sale/Auction Rooms in Lichfield.
In 1940 my father was promoted to Lt. Col., and was put in charge of training A.T.S. In August 1941 it was necessary for us to move to an apartment in Whittington Barracks. I remember feeling very sad leaving our lovely Netherstowe House for the last time. Looking out of the back window of our large car, seeing the removal van arrive, and knowing that all the furniture would be going into storage, I knew it was the end of a happy chapter in the stories of all of our lives. Wendy moved about the same time, and Chad and family had moved away a few months earlier.
My friend Chad became a padre in the Church of England foreign service, and he is now a Canon. I trained as a nurse, specializing in paediatrics. Although Chad and I only ever met three times in our adult lives we have remained friends all these 70 years, writing annually to each other from whatever part of the world we lived. It is amazing to our friends that we remember that part of our childhood.
I never returned to visit Netherstowe House. Maybe one day I will have the opportunity. I like to think the spirits of Bobby and Puss Cat come out at full moon, playfully chasing each other across the grass. If there are any ghosts there, they are all happy ones.
An obituary and short biography
Lieutenant Colonel Colin Victor Thomas Gordon died on 18th April 1982 aged 85.Colin Gordon originated from Glasgow and enlisted in the Scots Guards in 1914.He served in France in 1914-15 and in 1917, and was commissioned into the South Stafford's shortly before the end of the war.
After five years with the 1st Battalion in Singapore and Burma, he had a tour at the depot and in 1927 was second to the Royal West Africa Frontier Force, with which he served for most of the next nine years – in Sierra Leone and with the Nigeria Regiment.
At the outbreak of the war in 1939, he was again at the Depot where he stayed on with the Infantry Training Centre, commanding it in 1940-41. He later commanded the 9th Battalion and retired in 1946 to reside in Torquay, where for several years he was branch secretary of the Overseas League Club.
He was a staunch supporter of the Regimental Association, taking part in the visits to the Regiment at Luneburg in 1958 and Berlin in 1970, and attended the reunion in 1974. A few months later, he was in a serious road accident resulting in the loss of a leg. His strength of character brought him through a long convalescence and the ability to conquer the use of the artificial leg.
He spent his remaining years at the Officers Association Country Home at ‘Huntly’ Bishopsteignton in Devon, where he captivated the admiration of all the members for his sheer determination to come to grips with his disability.
He possessed an exquisite sense of humour and sharp rhetoric. His pre-war interest and active participation in amateur dramatics left a lasting effect on his personality, so much so that at times you felt, with him, you were in the presence of an actor.
When my wife and I visited him late last year he still retained an enthusiastic interest in all aspects of the Regiment, and, despite his disability, insisted on showing us around Huntly and the beautiful garden.
His wife died during 1973 and he is survived by his daughter, now living in America, to whom we extend our sincere sympathy.
Supplied by Whittington Barracks.
Memories of working for the Graham family.
Olive’s next-door neighbour, Joyce Draper, took her for afternoon tea at Netherstowe House in the Autumn of 2009. When they were driving down Eastern Avenue, Olive realised she once worked down there. Olive had a very pleasant surprise when they drove up to the house.
Olive started her first job at Netherstowe House when she was 15 years old in 1937. She would travel alone from the Nelson Pub at Chorley, where her father was the landlord for forty years. “I remember I had to cycle nearly five miles down dark and lonely lanes like Abnalls Lane. There were very few houses in those days”.
Olive worked from 9-5 six days a week as a maid doing mostly cleaning duties. They also employed a full-time cook. Olive only worked there for a year as father decided he didn’t like her riding home in the dark.
Olive said, “I remember the Grahams had two daughters. They had parties and dinners regularly although I finished early and I didn’t see the evenings there. I have memories of being happy there, it was a lovely house. I couldn’t believe how the building looked now, it is so beautiful.”
Memories of the Gordon's and Donaldson's
My Grannie Dee lived first at the end of the drive leading to Netherstowe House, in Stychbrook Cottages. Grannie Dee worked at the house for the Donaldsons. She was their cook. They were lovely people, they had two children Peter and Wendy who we played with. I loved to go there because they had a big garden. I played a lot with Peter while Grannie Dee was working.
One day Peter showed me a cupboard, a bit like an airing cupboard,. He told me you could get to the Cathedral from this place. We didn’t make the journey as he got stuck and I had to pull him out.
I remember the Donaldson’s cousin came from Canada. He talked a lot about Canada, which I loved and always hoped to go there one day. My daughter Tracey moved there quite recently, so my wished cam true and I went to on holiday to visit them last year.
Lt Donaldson’s was in the Navy and they always had lots of people at the house. I think Peter and Wendy went to Miss Austin’s School in Gaia Lane. I was told by my Grannie me that now I was ten it was time to earn some money, it was cleaning silver with Ruby the maid.
My Grannie worked for the Gordons. She cleaned for them. Mr Gordon was a major in the Army at Whittington Barracks. The Gordons always had lots of people from the barracks at Netherstowe house. The daughter was Colinette and she went to Miss Austins School too.
Netherstowe House seemed very big to me and had lots of out-houses and a very large garden. I think the house was made into one because they made things for the war.
Memories of Netherstowe House
My parents, Trevor and Nora Heaton moved to the Lichfield area in 1942 to live away from the city of Birmingham during the war - my father commuting to Oldbury where he owned a manufacturing factory, the Brades, which was involved in providing tools etc. for the war.
They lived at first in Longdon Windmill, which was situated at the top of a hill, and was only reached by driving through fields. It had very few facilities, and was very primitive. My mother hated it, especially as the fields always held cows and she felt she could not escape from the Windmill without a car (fear of the cows!), and she rarely had the use of a car as father had to drive to work. From there, they moved into Longdon village and rented Brookend House, where I was born in September 1943. Father was in the Home Guard as a part-time fireman, and the Home Guard met at the Swan with Two Necks - a pub situated opposite Brookend House. Rumour has it that that is where he was when I was born!
Just prior to my birth, my father went to an auction at The Old Crown Hotel, Bore Street, Lichfield on 20th August 1943 and bought the freehold property of Netherstowe House. They moved in soon after, my mother having little furniture to fill this large house, and even fewer curtains to maintain the ‘black-out’ required.
Father, Mother and my brother Anthony (born 1942) lived at Netherstowe for the next 7 years. We shared the house with a number of staff – William and Anne Sanders, who worked in the garden and helped with the cleaning. When they left, we were joined by Albert and Sarah (Sally) Wood, (brother and sister). They had 2 bedrooms in the attic, and spent the daytime in the back kitchen. They took over the gardening – the 8 acres surrounding the house, plus a very large vegetable garden. Sally had long hair, which she wore in a plait wound around her head. Albert would be in the back kitchen, served tea by Sally, and he would then pour the tea into his saucer, and fan it with his hat! All fascinating for a small child to watch! Also staying with us was Maud Alice Windridge, our cook/housekeeper, a tiny little lady who stayed with us until her death when I was 20. Unable to say her name properly we called her Abba. We also had a daily help – a lady called Granny Dee, (real name Ellen) who lived in the cottages at the beginning of the drive, and who would come to clean the brass and silver.
Nanny, (Sheila ), joined us soon after we arrived. She was 16, and her parents owned the greengrocers in Lichfield. She stayed with us until we left. She married Cliff Thorn whilst employed by mother, and he came and lived in the house with her – using a room in the attic as a lounge and another as a kitchen. I was a bridesmaid, and Anthony a pageboy at her wedding. With accommodation provided, Cliff was able to have a daytime job and in the evenings attended night school where he obtained his degree. When they left he went to work at Aston University and became a University Professor.
Also in the house was a ‘guest’. One night my father was in the local pub, when he was alerted to an officer in deep distress, suffering from battle fatigue. He brought him home and contacted Whittington Barracks informing them that the officer would not be returning that night. Peter Lamb recovered and continued to fly missions, but he lived for the next 18 months in the front bedroom. After the war he went to Rhodesia and married the Bishop of Salisbury’s daughter – my mother becoming godmother to his son Peter. Nigel Lamb, another son, now flies for the Red Bull Aerobatic Team.
My memories of Netherstowe are all happy. My brother and I had 8 acres of garden to play in. There was a derelict cottage on the right, where we made dens, a steam running through the garden, (poo sticks!), and trains at the bottom on the top of the embankment. We spent many hours lying on the grass watching the trains, taking down their numbers, and waving at the train drivers. There was also a tennis court, extensive kitchen garden, two pig styes, stabling, and 2 paddocks with ponies grazing. There was a very large copper beech tree in the middle of the main back lawn, which was beautiful.
Being in the country did help with the war years. We could barter with the pigs, garden produce and eggs. We had hens, ducks, and pigs all through the war. Evan a donkey I remember though he did little for the war effort! During the severe winter of 1947, the cellars became completely flooded. We stored the fruit down there, and it also held a large fridge. I remember Nanny, Anthony and I going down the stairs with a fishing net, trying to retrieve the fruit floating around the cellar, and then opening the fridge door, and trying to catch the food as it floated out.
My father had a black Jaguar car, number plate EEA 770, and when he returned from work every evening, Anthony and I would often be at the end of the long drive to welcome him home. We would then wind down the windows, and holding on whilst standing on the running boards, be conveyed back to the house.
Anthony and I had a great friend Christian, who lived in Stowe House. This is a lovely house nearer to Lichfield, at present on the market for over 1 million! We spent many happy hours either at his house or ours. He was an only child, and therefore glad of other children who lived near. His parents were Finley and Christina Mungall. I am still in contact with Christian, who lives in Texas, and we correspond every Christmas.
In 1948 my parents left for a world tour, selling garden implements, and were away for nearly ten months. We remained at Netherstowe, looked after by Nanny, Abba, and the other staff. Nanny had a large map on the wall in the nursery, and every time a postcard arrived we would chart their progress, and mark where they were with a coloured pin. As there was no transport with my parents away, Nanny would walk Anthony and I into Lichfield to school every day – about 3 miles. The school was run by 2 sisters – Miss Austin’s School.
The following year, on his return, Father had a stand at the Birmingham Trade Fair, and he was introduced to King George VI and the Queen when they visited the stand. He presented the King with some tree loppers. Dad was a very keen golfer – with a handicap of +2 – he was a reserve for the England Walker Cup team, but was never needed!! He was a member at Little Aston Golf Club - he and mother being Club Captains at this club, and father being President there for 2 years.
Netherstowe House is now a fine hotel, and in October 2009, the owners invited me to visit them, and stay for a night. My father died many years ago in 1967, but my mother only died last year at the age of 98. So sad that she could not go back with me to Lichfield to see our old home. But as I am still in contact with Nanny, the owners of Netherstowe House kindly asked me if I would like to invite her and her present husband Bill, for a night, and meet up again after all these years. Cliff died many years ago, and Sheila lives now on the Isle of Wight, and we live in Bristol. My husband and I duly arrived in October, and had a wonderful reunion. Apart from my wedding day in 1965, we had not met since 1950 – nearly 60 years ago. We had a great time recalling past events. Nanny, (I cannot call her Sheila!) was wonderful. Now aged 82, she and I had a wonderful time remembering life as we lived it in the 1940’s Definitely an upstairs/downstairs routine. Life for us was spent more with Nanny than with my parents but it was a very happy household. She was amazed to find that she had been allocated the same bedroom that she had had all those years ago. I was not in the nursery, (!) but in Abba’s old room.
The billard room is now the dining room. When my parents first moved into the house, mother could not find enough material for the black-out curtains, so father invited anyone from Whittington Barracks who would like to play snooker, to come to the house. In payment for using the table, the officers and men would give mother material coupons so that she could cover the windows, and they could have the lights on in the billard room. A fair swap!
Father sold the house at auction on the 13th November 1950. Sold by Edward, Son & Bigwood, at The Grand Hotel, Colmore Row, Birmingham. I believe that it was sold for around £4,000. So ended a most happy period of my life and I am left with many happy memories.
Memories of Netherstowe House as a lad.
When Brian was about seven years he lived nearby, he was often collecting conkers as little boys do. This day he was in the grounds of Netherstowe House when he was challenged by a gentleman who was dressed all in black with a large black hat. The man said “Don’t pick my fruit, why are you picking my fruit?” Brian replied “God put the fruit on the earth for everyone to pick!” The man surprised by my response then allowed me to pick his fruit.
Brian was given to understand the man’s name was Mongul. Could this be the Mungell family that Rosemary Lawson knew?