(Lucille Baker and memories of Charcott and Leigh, 1948–1959
Lucille Baker – now Mrs Wade – moved to Leigh when she was two. Her mother became a cook to Lord and Lady De Lisle at Penshurst Place and she was bounced on their knees in the kitchen there! The family lived at Old Park House. Lucille does not know where the house was but she was told by the family that it had been knocked down. She remembers the house being like a big barn – sort of mediaeval – with a huge garden and walking across two fields and along a road to get to Leigh School.
The School sticks in her mind, mainly because of the infant teacher, who used to get cross with Lucille for arriving late. “Trembling like a leaf, I was told to go and stand behind the piano, where I just cried. My half-sister René, who was about twenty, used to walk up the road with me and one day she came in and saw what was happening. She told the teacher that if it happened again, she would wrap the piano round her head. I don’t remember any troubles after that: but I was only at Leigh School for two or three years”.
“Mother used to love animals and she did not approve of the Hunt that came across the fields around our house: and we used to go into the woods where there were animal traps and we’d move them so they wouldn’t work”.
In 1952, Lucille’s mother obtained a job as cook at Knotley Hall, at that time a boys’ approved school. The family moved to No. 2, The Street, Charcott. Her father worked for Kent County Council. He had been an American GI, but Lucille never remembers any anti-American feeling. “He was huge and white haired and smoked a big cigar”. Her mother and father had met during the War when Lucille’s mother was in the Red Cross with the US Army.
Lucille started going to the Chiddingstone Causeway School – most of the children in Charcott went there. Her particular friends were the Grayland sisters* who lived next door at No 1. “We called the parents Aunt Madge and Uncle Stan and their daughter was Christine.” She also used to play with Christine’s twin cousins, Sally and Dawn, who lived at the Bakery. Their father, Norman, and Uncle Stan were brothers; and they ran the Bakery. “I remember going round there early in the morning to get the bread. It was wonderful. We used to play in the woods – there was Gasson Wood – and pick the wild flowers for Mum. And there was a huge, white shire horse called Dobbin who was always in the field where the aerodrome had been: we used to play games and run under his legs: he never seemed to mind. We had bikes, too, and once I was in a cart behind my big brother’s bike. It came off and a lady in a car nearly ran me over: but no one worried about me: my brother was chatting the lady up: he was like that”.
(* also see Roy Grant)
“I was a bit of a tom boy. The boys didn’t fight me. I had bright, red, tight curls. I climbed all the trees and when it snowed, I’d make slides on a slope and go down them in my dress. So, of course, I’d get ice all over my clothes. We had a huge dog called Ferdie and he was a bit of a mixture – I’m not sure what of . . .”
“Opposite, where the garage is now, was the blacksmith. What I really remember about him was that he had a sow that was always having piglets. My mother used to say ‘oh no, not another lot’.”
“We often used to go along to Knotley Hall. We joined in all their barbecues and things. There was lots of singing around the camp fire. Although it was an approved school, some of them were lovely young lads. When I was about eight, I fell madly in love with one of them. His name was Billy Crook and he was about twelve, I suppose. He kissed me once. But I never saw him again. There was a seamstress there who didn’t like some of the boys and she would blame them for things and say she was going to send them to the Headmaster. Sometimes mum used to hide them in the kitchen”
“When I was eleven, we moved up to the North East. I married and had two sons, whom I brought to Leigh and Charcott around 1971. I went to the Chiddingstone Village Shop and Mr Martin recognized me and asked me if I wanted my eggs wrapped in paper. That was because he remembered that when I came in with mum’s shopping list, I always said that the eggs had to be wrapped”.
“Even now, not much has changed in Charcott – although the prefabs have gone. And I can even recognize bits of Leigh School. Although it is over fifty years ago, I still think of my time here as the best days of my life”.
Parish Magazine Article: April 2012: by Lucille Baker (edited by Chris Rowley)