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Broad How During the War: people

TC, Min, Mary, Jane and Judith lived in Dorking in Surrey but were on holiday in Norfolk when the Second World War broke out in September 1939. They decided not to go back home but to go straight to Broad How and stay there for the duration of the war. In fact the family lived at Broad How for the first four years of the war, returning to Dorking in autumn 1943. During this time various relatives and other people came and went.

Annie and Berta


At the beginning of the war, as well as the five members of the family, there were two Swiss maids living at Broad How, called Annie and Berta. Annie only stayed a short time, before returning to Switzerland, but Berta married a local man, Jack Thompson. Jane Wynne Willson, speaking in 2011, tells the story:


‘Berta became a great friend. She was a lovely person and she met Jack Thompson at a village dance, because the village hall at Patterdale hadn’t burnt down at that point. It was where the car park is opposite the Patterdale Hotel, there was a big hall and that burnt down one night. It wasn’t bombed or anything, there was just a fire. And Violet Barker from the little shop opposite behaved in a heroic fashion, because there were sheep and cows or horses or something underneath, and got them all out. And it just burnt down and it’s never been replaced. That’s why the village hall in Glenridding is now used for the whole valley.


There was a dance there and they met there and he fell for her but he didn’t know what her name was, but he knew she was living at Broad How. So this letter came through to ‘The Swiss Girl at Broad How’, it was really sweet and it led to them getting engaged and then getting married. And that was a great event and I do remember that, and we’ve got a photo of the occasion. And we all went. He was a Quaker, at the Friends Meeting House in Penrith. And it was great. Very very nice. So she left.’

This is the photo of Berta and Jack’s wedding in Patterdale in 1942. On the back row, from the left, are Bill Harrison, Elsie Routledge, Molly Pattinson, George Harrison (then 7 others). On the middle row starting third from the left are Betty Harrison, Mary Calvert, Mrs Redhouse, ‘Pease’, Berta, Jack Thompson (then 7 others), Min (then 2 others). On the front row from the left are Juci (Judith), Jane, TC (plus 7 others).

Mary remembers meeting Berta by chance in Penrith years later when they were looking for a bread bin in a shop at the bottom of Poet’s Walk and she heard a familiar voice. ‘And I went across and blow me there she was. I shared a bedroom with her at one point. She was a lovely person.’ Mary, Jane and Judith went to visit her after this, and Berta then came over to see TC one day at Broad How. This would have been in the late 1970s, after Min’s death in 1976.

Emma Wildt

For a time, early in the war, Mrs Emma Wildt, TC’s mother-in-law, came to join the household. This arrangement only lasted for a few months as Jane explains:


‘And also my grandmother too, my father’s mother Mrs Wildt came, very early on in the war, from the East End of London, I remember that very clearly. And she stayed for not that many months, she didn’t like it. There was no fish and chip shop! But I remember her clearly and she was in the room downstairs… she slept in that room which was ideal for an older person really. [Now the room with the piano and children’s toys]… And I had a job every morning of going in and fixing a little velvet ribbon which she had round her neck, with a popper at the back. She used to describe me as ‘a very willing little girl.’ And I remember she used to sit by the fire in the sitting room, and she did mending, but her sight was very poor… But she had to go down to what is now the garage room to the cloakroom there.  That is why there are those wooden bars down the side, so she didn’t fall on the stone steps. She used to darn, but her sight was so bad that after she’d gone to bed Min had to unpick the darns and do them again, because they weren’t really very good. So that was rather sad. She didn’t stay very long. And Aunt Edith, her oldest daughter, she came up and learned how to bicycle… She only came to stay and then she took her mother back I think because she wasn’t really very happy. I mean she just didn’t like it, she didn’t feel comfortable there really.

Emma Wildt and Juci [Judith] Laszlo

Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Lilian Harris and Mrs Redhouse

After Mrs Wildt’s departure the household was enlarged by the arrival of TC and Min’s aunt, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, the older sister of their late father Maurice, Seretary of the Women's Co-operative Guild, and author of 'Life as We Have Known it'.   Accompanying Margaret were her friend and companion Lillian Harris and their housekeeper Mrs Redhouse. Margaret, Lilian and Mrs Redhouse stayed for 14 months from spring 1940 to summer 1941.


Like Mrs Wildt, Margaret slept in the downstairs room that now has the piano in. Jane remembers:


‘…whether it was for my grandmother or for her, the door was reinforced so it was quieter. And there wasn’t a door through into the kitchen then; that was a cupboard. And there was an open grate, so she had a fire.’


Mary particularly remembers that Aunt Margaret had a commode. ‘We were fascinated by this commode. It was wooden, dark wooden. We were simply fascinated by it.’ There was a bed against the wall, with the commode, then a screen so you couldn’t see them from the rest of the room which was a sitting room.



Mrs Redhouse slept in Crook-a-beck with a long distance bell for Margaret to ring if she needed her in the night. Lilian had Mill Moss. 


‘But one of the things at the beginning of the war – and I’m sure it was the beginning of the war – was that the second bathroom was made upstairs. Because there was only the one bathroom, but with so many people in the house… And that was done by subdividing the space between the two corner bedrooms. And you could get into the small bathroom by two doors. So it was a very good place for playing hide and seek and rushing round. And then there was a sink, in the bit which hasn’t got a window.’ (Jane)


Annie did the cooking originally, but she was only there for a short time and when she left TC did most of it. Jane remembers very clearly the first Christmas dinner that TC cooked, which would have been in 1940. The trolley she refers to is the one that is still in the kitchen.


‘We used to have all our meals at the end of the sitting room. And she got it all onto the trolley, the turkey, fortunately not the gravy, but the vegetables in earthenware dishes. And everyone was ready for the meal, Lilian and people, that was when Aunt Margaret was there. It was the beginning of the war and she’d never cooked a whole Christmas dinner… And one of the wheels just came off and it just went bouncing down the hall the turkey and the one with the sprouts in just went into smithereens. And then honestly it was just awful. But Lilian hadn’t arrived yet, because she would eat with us. Aunt Margaret didn’t and Mrs Redhouse didn’t eat with us, she sort of hovered around Aunt Margaret. Margaret was a semi-invalid and she didn’t come in and eat with us. But Lilian always did. She of course was blind and deaf, Lilian, very poor eyesight, she was partially sighted and quite profoundly deaf, well pretty deaf. And she wasn’t aware of this misfortune with the turkey. And so they picked up the sprouts, and put them into a different dish. And then I just remember that while we were eating the meal you could hear her crunching on these bits of china, or pottery, in her mouth. But they hadn’t told her. But that was awful.’


Jane also remembers how difficult it was sharing the small electric cooker:


‘I think they were very very good to have those three really. Mrs Redhouse was a trial. Because all the cooking facilities in the kitchen was this little cooker, electric cooker, with solid rings, three solid rings not even four. And you see just when poor TC was trying to cook the meal Mrs Redhouse would come up with her little saucepan cooking Bengers or sweetbreads or something disgusting – invalid food for Aunt Margaret, and she’d say ‘Any room for my little pan?’ And poor TC had to let her have one of the rings. Bengers is a sort of thing like gruel, it’s a sort of milky thing like Fairex really but for invalids.’


Mary remembers that


‘Every day at 11 o’clock, Mrs Redhouse would bring in ‘Miss Davies’s roar-regg [raw egg]’. This was a ceremony – we used to watch it in horror. She would bring in a cup, with this raw egg in it, and a dessert spoon, and Aunt Margaret would lift the yolk out with a [slurping noise] and then she’d drink the white.’


Margaret and Lilian were very interesting women. For thirty years, until she retired in 1921, Margaret was General Secretary of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, running it for many years from the Vicarage in Kirkby Lonsdale.   A plaque commemorating her, and the work of the Guild, was unveiled in the church yard in Kirkby Lonsdale in 2016.  Lilian was also very active in the Guild. There is more detail about Margaret’s life and work in Jane Wynne Willson’s book ‘The Chain of Love’, a copy of which is in the bookcase in the hall at Broad How. There is also a website about her life and work.


In about 1986 Theodora (TC) was interviewed by Chrys Salt about Margaret for a research project commissioned by the Guild but unfortunately never completed because the funding ran out. This is what she had to say about Margaret, Lilian and Mrs Redhouse at Broad How during the war:


‘During the war Margaret and Lilian were evacuated to our house, Broad How, our family house at Patterdale. It was a bit overpowered because we had a boy from Newcastle on Tyne as an evacuee… So there were usually about 12 at the house…which was quite a tight fit. And of course Mrs Redhouse who was Margaret and Lilian’s slightly bullying housekeeper.


… When she was at Patterdale with us during the war….she was quite elderly….she used to take up a seat outside our gate in order to waylay people and get them to talk out of friendliness. People couldn’t avoid her. She’d sit in this little deckchair with a rug around her…she would find out what people were called. It’s the custom of Westmorland, or used to be, to call people by their trades…There was Fishy Bill the Fishmonger. And Posty the Postman. Fishy Billy used to come out there and Margaret by this time was pretty old…well Fishy Billy didn’t really like being called Fishy Billy…because he was fishy. And he used to have favourite customers who he’d give bits and pieces to during the war. So he didn’t like the name Fishy Billy because he was a bit underhand. And Margaret came out with “Oh you’re the famous Fishy Billy are you?” ‘


Margaret and Lilian in 1941

Andrew Tierney

The only male inhabitant of Broad How during the war was an evacuee from Tyneside called Andrew Tierney. He lived there for somewhere between one and two years, coming with a whole primary school who were evacuated to the valley. He was about a year older than Mary, so probably about 10 years old when he arrived. Jane recalls how it wasn’t a particularly successful placement for him, being the only boy in a house full of women:


‘We weren’t an ideal family for him at all. He would have been much happier on a farm or something like that. He didn’t like it being so many women, girls… The first evening he arrived quite late and everybody looked out of the doors of their bedrooms when he arrived, people like Aunt Margaret and Mrs Redhouse they all looked out and he said ‘Wonderful lot of old wenches round here.’ Then he had to hide under the rug in the back of the car when we went through the village in case anyone saw him with a lot of girls. And he led us astray a bit, smoking and suchlike.’


Mary agreed: ‘Poor Andrew, he was misplaced.’ Being the only boy he was given a bedroom to himself, so he slept in the room we call Goldrill.


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