In life, a person will come and go from many homes. We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist
I very much enjoy the TV programme, ‘A House through Time’, in which David Olusoga explores the lives of those who occupied a house through the decades. The well-to-do and the ne’er-do-wells. Those on the up and those on the make. All human life is there, as the saying goes.
It prompts this Reflection on some of those who once inhabited the places in which I’ve lived.
I grew up in a house built after the Great War, as one of the ‘homes for heroes’. The irony I always saw was that my father first rented and then bought the house from a German Pork Butcher who owned both it and the one next door, where he lived with his family. The Steins, although just before hostilities broke out in 1914, changed their surname to Stone. Sadly, that name change did not stop some miscreants from breaking the shop’s windows during the war. Not an unusual occurrence to those shop owners who bore German names. I do not know how the Stones came to buy the houses sometime after their building.
The room I shared when I first lived in London was in a house in Leinster Gardens. Built in mid-Victorian times, I suspect it had a tale to tell from its first days of grandeur, as a property of choice close to Hyde Park, to what it had become when I lived there. A hostel for those newly arrived in London with multiple ‘tenants’ occupying each room (in my case, I shared with three other young men). Most noteworthy in Leinster Gardens were the two ‘false’ houses. They are façades built to match the look of the rest of the street. Transport for London maintains the ‘buildings’ as they hide a short area of uncovered underground tracks. From the road, the ‘houses’ look as if they form part of an unbroken terraced row.
The first house I bought back in 1976 was a bargain as the owners dropped the price to help a quick sale. They were in their mid-twenties and bought the two-up, two-down for £9K some three years earlier. Their asking price to my first wife and me was £8.5K. Quite a reduction. The reason was their imminent divorce and their wish to dispose of assets quickly. I don’t know the whole story. However, it did make me ponder on how their lives together must have changed. That first excitement of buying and moving into their new home to this hasty disposal. A relationship can turn sour for a host of reasons and in no time at all.
I’ve moved home many times and on one occasion bought from the family of an old lady recently deceased. When first viewing the property, there were all the signs of her recent occupation. Food in cupboards, toiletries in the bathroom. The family must have struggled to come to terms with clearing those last vestiges of someone they loved. I believe the house had been the old lady’s home for all her adult life after marriage.
When settling in Wiltshire, our first house, built in the Edwardian era, was the oldest I’ve occupied. On the architrave above the front door were the words “Gordon’s Villa”. Who was Gordon, we wondered? The first owner of the house? Our research disproved that. The first owner was a widow of the surname Evans, who built the house and several other nearby cottages on what was up until then, farmland. There was a thought that Gordon may have been her husband’s name. But that was not the case either. Another idea was it may be the name of the builder. That proved impossible to confirm, but it seems a bit of an arrogant act to carve your name so prominently over the threshold of someone else’s home. Finally, someone offered a left of field theory that the name might be in honour of General Gordon, killed in the late 1880s in Sudan. He was a figure held in high regard, and statues to him abound all over England. We moved from there a couple of years ago, so our research ended and thus the mystery remains.
None of the properties I’ve occupied over the years, offer the rich history of those houses featured in the TV series. However, everyone’s dwelling place, be it grand or small, has a story of human existence to tell. The celebrations, the heartbreaks, the laughs, the tears, the fallings out and the making up. But our time within our homes is temporary. The places in which we dwell will see us come and will see us go.
And this week’s music? Well, I’ve already shared ‘Our House’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in an earlier Reflection, so this time, it’s Madness