41 Swain Street - My Home until 1947
The owner of the house in Swain Street from around the early 1900s until 1947 was Gladis May Lewis. She was my grandmother. In 1921 she was widowed, leaving her with three children aged 8, 6 and 4, her husband having died from septicaemia. Below is a photograph of my Nan and her son, two daughters and two smaller friends of the family. This was taken, I believe, outside the kitchen window at Swain Street.
Nan was the GWR agent for the area which involved collecting parcels delivered by rail and distributing them throughout the locality. I don't know whether she took on this work when she was widowed or if it was something her husband, my grandfather, did before his death. Parcels were delivered with a horse and cart. The horse when I was a child was Kitty, a black Welsh cob pony. She also owned two shire horses which were used for heavy work that involved pulling trucks along the East Quay. All the horses were kept in stables up the yard from our house in Swain Street. There were double gates at the top of the garden opening out opposite the back of the Cinema for the shire horses to go in and out on to Station Road (now Harbour Road). The horse and cart came down our yard and out the gates into Swain Street. When we were children Nan employed two men, a father and son, who each worked with the horses she owned, Mr Sully and his son, Arthur.
Initially I believe that 41 Swain Street was leased from the Wyndham Estate because in the early 1920s Nan bought the property from them at a time when the Wyndham Estate was selling off properties.
The house was ‘L’ shaped and was an old farmhouse with very thick walls and small rooms downstairs running one into another. From the front door a black and red tiled hall ran through the front part of the house and linked by a sharp corner into a passage from the back part of the house with a curved steep stairway leading off from the left. In the front part of the house was one room from the right of the hall, which was always referred to as the Nursery, and one room to the left leading into another and thence into a room at the back. This in turn led into another brick floor hall with a small room to the right for Nan’s office and through a doorway into the passage from the main hall, forming a circle. Immediately opposite the back hall and more or less opposite the stairway was a pantry with a slate worktop and shelves. I can remember that the floor of the pantry was worn into a dip. The only light came in from a high up window from the kitchen and the pantry was quite dark.
The passageway then led on through to the back and into the kitchen which looked out on to the back garden and then into a brick floor room with a skylight where the toilet was, and on into a coalhouse/general outhouse with a wringer and other things stored there. Except for the three front rooms, all the downstairs rooms were brick floored. The back door was along the passage near Nan’s office and up one or two steps as the whole house was below ground level.
Outside, about one third up the yard, on the right, was a water supply running into a large rectangular, metal tank. On the left hand side of yard were outhouses and a chicken run where we kept hens. Just before the chicken houses there was a tall building which was a once a grainstore but at the time when I was a child had old cinema seats stored on the ground floor from Mr Peel's cinema, the Cosy, which was in, what is now, the Doctors' surgery. Mr Peel had a new cinema constructed in the 1930s, the Conquest which is on the Esplanade. (The old Cosy Cinema building went on to become a garage, a shirt factory and a nightclub).
An old staircase led up to the top floor. The staircase was said to have come from HMS Fox which came into Watchet in the 1920s to be broken up. Many houses in Watchet have relics from this ship. Above the steps was a wooden arrangement for a pulley to hoist the sacks up into the grainstore. Here is a photo of Mum standing at the foot of this staircase. Behind her you can see the open door to the lower floor of the outhouse where the cinema seats were stacked.
Further up the yard were the stables on the right and opposite on the left a large dutch barn where the cart was kept and also hay and straw supplies. Beyond that was our garden with three apple trees, a plum tree and plenty of ground for vegetables and fruit all of which were looked after by Mr Sully, the horses providing plenty of good manure for the garden.
We were very fortunate to have a house with a bathroom (upstairs) and toilet indoors (downstairs). We also had a fridge and a telephone both used in Nan's business. Both of these were very rarely in houses at that time but the fridge was bought by Nan to cater for her tea garden business which she ran from Esplanade House before the war. We had mains electricity – something which was not in all houses in Watchet at that time. In the winter the bedrooms were cold with lino on the floors and in the winter frost on the inside of the window panes as well as outside. Our bedroom was on the end nearest the papershop. There was a street light outside which was strung across the road and swung around on windy nights, but in those days street lighting went off at around 11.00 pm.
The three front rooms downstairs had wooden floors and two had a carpet square laid in the middle of the floor with the outer border varnished in a dark stain. The other room on the far side of the front door was called the nursery although I don't remember being in the room very much. This room had a linoleum covered floor. All the rooms had small firegrates. The dominating colours of all the rooms were cream and dark brown making the house quite dark. However, the inner front door had coloured panes of glass which shone on to the tiled hallway when the sun shone in.
Above is a picture of a school friend of my mother's in her Grammar School uniform standing on our delivery cart. After the war GWR stopped its delivery of goods by horse and cart and so the delivery part of Nan's business was over. She sold the house in 1947 to Mrs Bright who, subsequently, opened the front rooms as a coffee shop. I believe that Mrs Bright later sold on to a Mr and Mrs Baldwin who ran a small chip shop in the rear of the property from what was our coalhouse/outhouse.
Nan retained the top part of the garden because of the water supply and stables as she still had the two shires working on the pier for the Paper Mill. In the 1950s this work was also stopped as the Mill modernised and no longer needed coal. They decided to use a tractor to pull the trucks on to the pier and to the side of the ships and so Nan sold the shire horses. For a while she employed a man to drive the tractor but ill health and modernisation forced her to wind up the business.
In 1954 Nan had a house built on the top part of the garden behind the Swain Street house and sold Esplanade House back to Mr Peel, from whom she had bought it in 1947, and we moved into Little Silver in 1955. The Council bought the very top part of the original land belonging to the Swain Street house and in due course converted this and the orchard next door behind the old town hall into a car park.