Green Family at The Kings Head
Time can play tricks with memory. I therefore apologise for anything misremembered. I may leave out incidents and personalities which others think more important than some included; again please forgive me in advance. I believe my parents, Ron and Jessie Green, took on the tenancy of the Kings Head in about 1931. I was born in 1937 (in the corner bedroom over what is now the restaurant) therefore my memory obviously only dates as far as early 1940s. I am sure you will agree that the most striking aspect of the pub, its architecture, or rather lack of it. I think it belongs to the "steps" period, for there are steps everywhere. I understand that the pub itself was once thatched but burned down about 1894 and the front part re-built. The outbuildings mainly of flint and old red tiles were pleasing to the eye, but the pub was hideously reconstructed right on the road despite the fact that, until Benefield Road was built, there were three acres of land which could have been utilised. Although I use the past tense throughout there will of course be many instances where the buildings are still the same. The back door gave entry from the yard into what we called the "back kitchen" which, together with the "scullery" and larder were part of the old building. The back kitchen had a large bricked off area which I believe was once a huge oven like a baker's oven. Attached to one side of this was a copper which was also bricked in. The fire beneath had to be lit for washdays and bath night a ritual which existed until, I believe abut 1946. There was a bathroom of sorts upstairs, and the hot water was transferred to the bath by means of a pump, the handle of which was wrestled back and forth, as one might say, between 10 and 2 on the clock. The floor of this back kitchen was cold plain brick and I remember my mother, Jessie standing on a duckboard next to the low yellow sink wringing out the sheets and then folding them before putting them through the old iron mangle with its wooden rollers.
The scullery, where most of the work was done especially when the "kitchen" became the "living room", was not only a passage with three doors in it, but also the smallest room on the ground floor. Even the larder (door right as you come from back kitchen) with its huge wide shelves on either side, was larger. In my very early days there was a second shallow yellow sink here too with a huge brass tap fixed in the wall above and towering over it a huge iron pump utilised to extract the water (or so I was told and presumably it was so since you had to make nine pumps before anything materialised at all) from a well immediately below. The third door in the scullery led on into the main living area. It was always "the kitchen" until certain improvements took place shortly after the war, because the fireplace was a large black kitchen range where most of the cooking was don. A paraffin-fed stove with two rings in the back kitchen was also sometimes used. The floor was of black and red quarry tiles with mats. I vividly remember the succession of rag rugs which graced the front of the fire, beautifully made if I remember rightly, by Mrs Clarry from "along the brook", though I vaguely remember having a go myself once.
The fire in the grate served many purposes: all the hobs on the top boiled the kettles and cooked the contents of the pots, the oven baked and roasted, the fire heated the kitchen (to some extent - that is to say, if you sat near in winter your front was roasted while your back froze) and racks at the top and the large fireguard with its brass rail aired the clothes. I remember the many pieces of bread toasted in front of this tiny square of red hot coals and the time I caught the top of my calf on the metal plate that closed it up leaving a scar which lasted many years. The grate of course had to be polished with zebo every day and the brass cleaned frequently. The food preparation took place on a scrubbed wooden table in the centre of the room, which was sometimes covered with linoleum and which also served as a dining table. There was always a sofa in the room under the window, but only one chair (dad's) was actually comfortable and near the fire.
The room was dominated by an ugly dresser, so large that my father used to say he thought it must have been built in the room. This was obviously not so since it was removed to the back kitchen at a later stage. There was a picture of Churchill on one wall, (exactly the same as the one in the hall at French Hall Farm I remember noting with the perspicacity of a small child) and below a wireless which took up most of the oblong table on which it stood. We knew where we were in those days: Churchill was the goodie and the Germans were the baddies. I remember running to my father one day in high dudgeon shouting that they had "bombed upend".
The report from the wireless had actually said Upend Docks, but my world at that time probably ended at Upend because my father sometimes took me there for a ride when the Daines family visited relatives. The kitchen had four doors: to the scullery, the porch and front garden, the sitting room and passage leading to the public rooms. each one had a step, in fact now I come to think of it you hardly ever went through a door without also going up or down a step, and the one to the outside was about one foot high. The sitting room (now the restaurant) was for high days and holidays. It meant another fire in winter and most days there were already at least three others to clean and provide fuel for. So it was really special and I loved it. The fireplace was of ornate polished black and tomato-red stone and the usual comfortable furniture. Even so the carpet wasn't fitted but a square with a large surround of stained wood.
There was a bookcase on one wall. Most of the books, which no one seemed to read anyway had pencil drawings on their otherwise clear front pages. These "men", that is to say round heads, larger round bodies, and smaller circles for buttons and eyes were apparently the result of me at 3 having had the measles and my bed being put under the bookcase for easy access. The large sash window of course gave out directly onto the road and across to the village green and thatched cottages. There was a door through to the bar which was never used, but in those days no access to the garden.
The plain flat wall outside was a dream to play two-ball against, but I can see now how the constant thud thud against the wall could become a touch infuriating if you were a grown-up trying to have an after lunch nap by the fire. I cannot remember the sequence of improvements in this part of the house, but the large pump in the kitchen must have been replaced fairly early on by running cold water over a deep white enamel sink with a draining board, but it may well have been after the war that the kitchen range was replaced by an ordinary fire in a red brick fireplace and an electric cooker fixed into the scullery.
The polished furniture was brought into the kitchen which was also carpeted. A water heater which could be switched to sink or bath, 5 gallons or 20 was put under the draining board. My father said it was called a UDB which stood for "under draining board" and that, as far as I am concerned, is what it was: The fireplace was designed and built by "uncle Ted" Kemp, I think he was Uncle Ted long before he married my step-mother Nell's sister. It was he who decorated most of the rooms when the materials slowly became available. I seemed to be around to ' help' him quite a lot and the experience has stood me in good stead with a plumb line and folding pasted wall-paper throughout my life, although I am pleased we no longer have to make the paste with flour. The other stuff we put on the walls was distemper and both this and the whitewash for the ceilings rubbed off like powder after a while. I remember we found about six layers of wallpaper in some rooms when they were first scraped off.
Entry to the pub proper from the living room was via a passage where coats were hung, which appeared to have been sectioned off from the clubroom as an afterthought as the two walls on the clubroom side were merely wooden. Turning to the right led one into the serving side of the bar. The door to the bottom of the stairs was on the left at this point and my father always maintained that the house had been built and then it was remembered that stairs were needed to get to the bedrooms.
There was a foot-high step down before going up them and not only were they in a ridiculous place but also quite steep and narrow. Many was the night I stood at the bottom of the stairs to say goodnight to my father, hugging my hot water bottle and wearing my dinkie curlers. Invariably he would say :" aren't you going round to Mr Poulters to get that iron mongery out of your head before you go to bed?" The bars have of course since been turned around. Prior to 1961 we had the fire on our side and you had to cross the public bar to get to the cellar door. the customers were in the L-shape abutting the taproom wall and the front wall of the house. The entrance from the road was up two steps from the front centre of the building. Oddly enough, depite all the steps and especially these two I don't remember them exacerbating any tipsy situations. On the mantelpiece of the serving bar stood a large bottle which at one time had a Greene King label on and an ornate stopper. It looked like a beer bottle which hadn't stopped growing.
The trick was to guess how many pints it would hold as the glass was apparently much thinner than one would expect and therefore it held (an unbelievable) 24 pints. Or so it was said. On reflection I don't ever remember it being checked. There was a bracket holding a paraffin lamp on the wall above the fireplace. As far as I was concerned we had always had electric light (it was somehow always referred to as electric light: even when many other things were powered by electricity you still went to pay your electric light bill) but the power failures were numerous during and after the war so the candles and other lamps were always at the ready in the back kitchen. The draught beer came from the cellar via two quite attractive pumps over a copper tray. There had obviously originally been five in a row but three had been removed. The beer was bitter and mild and two pulls with a little dash extra to overflow the froth a bit, made one pint. Half pint bottles of the slightly more expensive beers: IPA (Indian Pale Ale), Brown ale and stout were kept on shelves under the counter and more still in their crates underneath.
Their larger brothers, the pint bottles were arranged on shelves on the stairs wall, and their crates likewise. There were several shelves here going up almost to the ceiling carrying respectively the minerals, cigarettes and tobacco, spirits and liqueurs and on the top shelf five beautifully decorated spirit barrels. I suppose, even in those days it was illegal for a young child to be in the bar at all during opening hours, but life was so different then. Almost all the customers were very well known to us and were like an extended family.
©2000 John Gunson, Village Recorder
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