Susan Coney (née Phillips) is a prolific researcher and recorder of local history, especially about Truro. Here, she shares with us part five of her memories of growing up during the 1940s to the 1960s, recalled and recorded during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.
At home one early evening, I was told that I had to share my brother’s bed (top to tail) – I was six at the time and my brother twelve. He was not best pleased but I thought it was quite exciting. In the morning my grandmother came into the bedroom saying ‘Susan – I’ve got something to show you!’ I went into Mum and Dad’s bedroom and there in a cot in the corner of the room was a tiny baby wrapped in what looked like cotton wool – my sister. Apparently, I stayed by the cot virtually all day with my sister’s tiny hand wrapped round my little finger – I thought she was beautiful and couldn’t take my eyes off her. I didn’t even realise Mum was pregnant – children didn’t in those days. My sister weighed just under five pounds which meant she should have been taken into hospital to be checked and monitored, but Dr Hood said that my grandmother was the best nurse she could have, having had six children herself and had been the family midwife. My sister was literally wrapped in cotton wool which, apparently, they did in those day to keep a premature baby warm – hence the expression ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ maybe?
My sister was to become my best friend and playmate. There weren’t any other children close by who were the same age as me (apart from two that I have mentioned before). All three of us children, my brother, sister and I, spent most of the time playing in our garden which was quite big. Most houses, especially those ‘out of town’, were built with large gardens in those days, not like the patch of garden that new houses have now. I expect when we moved into the house the garden was just the corner of the field in which the houses were built.
Soon after we moved to our house, Dad set to work on the garden.
He sectioned it off with privet hedges into a large vegetable garden at the back and a lawn at the side. There was also a small lawn at the front of the house. Just beyond the little lawn by the side of the front gate was a patch of garden which was left to go wild – why? – because under that patch was the cesspit. This cesspit was shared between two houses and must have been very small as it often overflowed into the road over the pavement! Not nice and it stank! Dad had to call the council on many occasions to get them to empty it. I think it was quite a few years before the estate was connected to a main sewer. There are still many houses in rural areas that have their own septic tanks.
There was a path from the gate up to the front porch and around to the back. Dad put some steps up into the vegetable garden with paths either side. Later, he made his own concrete paving slabs to lay on some of the paths rather than having gravel.
Dad cut a gap in the side hedge at the top of the vegetable garden and made tall gates for it so that he could park his vehicle off the road. He also built a big shed at the top of the garden where he stored all his tools. For a short while, he bred budgies in this shed. When birds first hatch, they are funny little things with big, closed eyes and no feathers. I didn’t like the look of them.
In the vegetable garden Dad grew potatoes, lettuce, peas, runner beans etc. but not cabbages – he used to say that cats liked to pee on them, so he didn’t fancy eating them. I don’t remember him growing carrots either.
Mum used to ask one of us children to dig up a few potatoes for dinner and maybe pick some runners or peas (one pod of fresh peas for the ‘picker’ and one for the colander!). Dad also had a large patch of strawberries which he covered with a fine net to keep the birds off – that was another delight – picking some strawberries for tea – many of them were eaten before they got anywhere near the kitchen. We also had a couple of apple trees – cookers I think – but the crop was never that good from what I remember. Dad said that as our garden was up high and not that far from the sea, there was too much salt in the air.
Over time, he made three flower beds in the lower part of the lawn, initially growing sweet peas (one of my Mum’s favourites), then hydrangeas which were magnificent and of various colours. Sometimes he would bury a bit of iron near to a bush to change the colour of the flowers. My elder son, when he was about five years old, buried a small box with his holiday pocket money inside (a £5 note I think) in the biggest bed – why he did that I don’t know and neither does he – but he never found it again! Maybe one day someone will find this buried treasure!
We had four or five rowan trees on the bank by the side path which were always full of blossom followed by berries. Outside of the front door was another flower bed often plated with fuchsias and at the side of the porch we sometimes had hollyhocks.
In the small garden in the front of the house, Dad had some ‘tea’ type roses, but they were not as successful as he would have liked – again due to the ‘salt in the air’, perhaps. Underneath the front room window was a beautiful and unusual bush with large red hanging flowers like claws – it may have been a lobster claw bush. I think it is still there. One or two of the hydrangeas might still be in the garden too. Dad made two arches over the front path. The one nearest the front porch was a mass of honeysuckle – you could smell the scent from all over the garden. The other arch had a rambling rose all over it which was full of small pink roses. My sister and I would pick some to put in our hair.
The side hedge next to the road (probably a very ancient field boundary) was full of primroses in the spring, another of Mum’s favourites, and mine too.
Dad always loved copper beech trees and one day he found a sapling about two feet high. He planted it at the bottom of the garden in the far corner by the road. I am delighted to say that small sapling is now a huge mature copper beech which is taller than the house. I do hope it has a preservation order on it.
Dad’s copper beech ‘today’
How Dad found time to do all the work in the garden I do not know. He was working all week including Saturday mornings, and often drove the ambulance for the St John Ambulance Brigade on a Sunday as well as bell ringing at Kenwyn Church. However, I do remember Mum cutting all the grass with a push mower on many occasions.
Late in 1985, Dad had a very serious heart attack so Mum and he decided to move into one of the small bungalows at the top of the estate. It must had been a wrench for him to leave his wonderful garden. The new garden at the back of the bungalow was very small but he made it a riot of colour. Even though he was no longer very fit, he was able to tend it by tying long handles on trowels etc. Dad was very resourceful.
I have some great memories of playing in our garden but that’s for another time.
Susan Alecia Coney (nee Phillips)
Although I was never very interested in history at school, it is now a big part of my life. I enjoy both the research and writing about it. Initially, it was about my family and their involvement in the community but this sparked a more general interest in Cornish history, of its people and places. I have been involved in a number of projects relating to Truro and have enjoyed this opportunity to record the results for future generations.