Whstd home >
“You can take the girl out of the village, but not the village
out of the girl”
up in Wheathampstead
Deborah de Mornay Penny
My Parents are Mr
Anthony & Mrs Barbara de.Mornay Penny and my sister Yvonne de.Mornay Penny
used to live at number 11 Caesars road, my grandmother Doris Penny and my
uncles Bob, David, Donald and Martin all lived next door at number 15. My
Auntie Beatrice (Beat as we would call her) and her husband Ern lived at
number 17. There was an adjoining path to both houses at the front and
back which my grannie and auntie had created. At this time other
neighbours were Mrs Pike at number 9, Mrs Slough next door at number 13,
Mr & Mrs Curry opposite, Mr & Mrs Baker, Mrs Onions (who pronounced her
name: Oh…nions, which we found hilarious as children. The Polish family
Ratusianack’s lived towards the end of Caesars road and the Puddy’s in the
middle end corner house. Vincent Puddy has remained a friend to this day
and lives within an hour’s drive of me now. My sister and I have always
referred to Vincent as our brother; we have known each other since we were
about 4 years old.
mother and father now live in Wells,
Somerset. My mother, Barbara, a lively sort, bags
of energy, bags of love and still very much the same. Mum used to be a
post lady for a while and would deliver the mail all around the
Butterfield Estate. My father Tony, once described by one of my friends as
“quietly extrovert”, the dearest calmest father imaginable was and still
is adored by all of my girl friends! Dad could fix anything, cars,
shelves, TV’s but most of all he was and still is famed for his amazing
collection of vintage radios. Dad has restored, built and even won a prize
for best radio…a hobby that he still pursues today. The smell of the
soldering iron is something that will always bring back memories of our
home in Caesars road. Dad would often be repairing a radio on a work top
in the kitchen while mum would be cooking something tasty for dinner. Mum
was and still is a great cook even won the cookery cup at St.Helens school
many years ago.
sister Eve (Yvonne) and I now both live in Glastonbury,
adjacent streets. Glastonbury
only has a population of around 10,000 and like being in the village you
soon get to know a lot of people. We both went to Wheathampstead Secondary
Modern and left in 1977 & 78. Eve went on to study to be a RNMH nurse and
I undertook a degree in book illustration followed by training to be a
teacher and various other things.
Penny (Dolly) my grandmother was a real character very down to earth
always wore a woolly hat, thick woollen stockings, and several jumpers and
smoked Woodbines, right down to the filter! When quite old she could often
be found sitting propped up on one arm at the kitchen table, with a
delicate line of ash hanging precariously to the filter of her cigarette!
Dolly loved her garden and one of her favourites flowers were snap
dragons, she would have lots of these in the front garden at no.15.
Dolly & Korkie
would shop daily in the village. When I was quite young I remember
shopping trips with her to the village on Saturdays. Dolly new everyone in
the village and a shopping trip for just a few things could take a long
time due to the conversational pit stops along the way. Dolly would always
tease the butcher (Simons) and insist on the best cut of meat and “not
that old bit of scrag end!” she had a lovely sense of humour.
I can remember one occasion when out with my Grandma that I was
totally embarrassed (Dolly); at school I had been the May Queen and made
to dance around the May pole. I had been paired up with Mark Seeby who was
a relative of the butcher…my Grandma (Dolly) had hinted to the butcher at
us getting married, she was very funny. Our trips to the village would
also involve a trip to the bakers next door to the butchers (“Halls”) for
some tasty white baps and a loaf of bread. Dolly used to say hello to
everyone, and was quite a character. On return from the village it was
round to Auntie Beats (Mrs Ibbotson) for tea and cakes (“elevenses”, she
would call it). Auntie Beat had two children Jim and Margaret. Jim has
sadly passed away but Margaret still lives in Knebworth.
A watercolour painting that I did of “Halls” the bakery at around
Beat’s kitchen was immaculate, part of the reason being that there was
virtually nothing in it! she said that it was so clean because she used to
be “in service”, when I think now she could have been like another Daisy
from “Downton Abbey”. Auntie Beat always had lots of cats, when my sister
and I were old enough we were allowed to care for one each. I looked after
Pandy, a grey and white Tom cat who had lost an eye to the cat flu. My
sister was given caring responsibilities for “Cilla” (named after Cilla
Black), Cilla was an unusual pinkie coloured tabby. There were several
other cats and auntie Beat would often take in strays, even a pregnant cat
once that gave birth in the outhouse. I remember kittens that were allowed
to sleep in the bottom draw of the kitchen cupboard, the boiling and de
boning of “Coley” fish and the occasional de fleaing of each cat, on the
draining board! This involved a fine flea comb, warm water, Detol and very
disgruntled cats! Whilst all of this was going on auntie Beat would be
listening to Engleburt Humpledink on the radio “he sends me”, she used to
say; we wondered where he sent her, but never asked in case we spoiled the
Beat’s husband, Uncle Ern, originally from Yorkshire, worked at St.Albans
Museum and whilst at home tended to a menagerie of wild animals and birds,
these comprised of: injured starlings, slow worms, miniature turtles, a
Minor Bird, a balding African Grey Parrot who would mimic the beeps every
hour from the radio to name but a few. The most humorous thing of all was
“The Frog House”, as we would call it. Uncle Ern used to breed transparent
pink frogs! and even appeared on “Animal Magic” to talk about this
passion. When asked to comment on the television he said something like
“He did not know what he would do without them!” I remember my Auntie
saying…(Daisy from Downton Abbey) ”What about me”…very funny at the time.
uncles…Uncle Bob a lovely man who would always treat us to bags of fruit
and other tasty snacks. Uncle Don who would talk to us for hours about Italy and the Grand Prix…he loved Italy, fine
wine, cheeses and biscuits, which he would later introduce to us when we
were old enough to appreciate. Uncle David who worked on the local farm
who would drink Guinness whilst listening to “The Archers”, on the radio,
Uncle Martin ever chatty and always keen to hear all that we were learning
at school. Uncle Martin, the only remaining uncle, still lives at number
15. My sister and I would visit our Auntie and Uncles most days and
together we would chat and drink tea. There was always lots of tea. Today
when not working we are often popping into one another’s houses to do
similarly. Grandma Penny was very generous with what little she had and
would often treat us to drawing books, cakes and other goodies; on a
couple of occasions I remember her buying all of our friends in the
street, ice creams when the Italian ice cream van came round.
other Grandma, Violet Davies used to live at 44 Marford Road. Grandma Davies (Violet)
used to read the “Telegraph” and a book every day; she really enjoyed a
chat about the news. Grandma Davies used to be a psychiatric nurse and was
brought up by her aunt in
Westminster. My sister and I used to love visiting
and running errands for her to Marford Stores, which then was more or less
opposite Grandmas house. After the visit we were rewarded with tea and
more chats about her life. Grandma Davies would often sit on the front
porch of her house watching everyone walk by. The front garden was lovely
and I will always remember the heart shaped flower bed in the centre,
roses and a profusion of lilac.
very young dressing up was in order and Grandma Davies even had a
crinoline, silk dresses and a blue ostrich feather fan, that I think
belonged to Aunt Kathy. We adored dressing up and still do! Grandma Davies
house had many old and interesting ornaments, paintings, books, 78 records
and she was a very interesting lady to talk to. At Christmas time we would
often gather at her house, she had an old organ and we had several members
of the family who could play, so there was often singing around this, just
like the olden days one might say. Grandma Davies husband Reginald used to
be a solicitor and had an office in the village next to the newsagent.
Reginald’s relatives were from Wells in
and my mother who now lives in Wells is enjoying visiting her ancestor’s
homes and my father continues to research the family tree, finding more
and more interesting facts. Violet and Reginald Davies are buried at
The last day of term in
the summer could often be a real treat. I can remember that our whole
class would be invited to the Swedish family’s home for the day. The
Watt’s family had a swimming pool and we would all take a picnic. We loved
these days, their lovely bungalow was situated alongside the river Lea at
the very end of a narrow man made road, Clare Milton and here sister lived
at the other end. I think that Grahame Watts was in my year and he had a
brother called Mark, they were all very blonde and very attractive.
would occasionally walk up to “The Dumps” from Sheepcote Farm, with
Grandma Penny, Auntie Rene and Auntie Beat. We would take flasks of tea
and cakes, walk along the railway line or dig for old bottles.
the summer uncle Bob would go to Wimbledon
and would come back with boxes of tennis balls. We would then all play
tennis on Caesars road. There were very little cars about then.
weekends we would often walk to Ayot St.Lawrence with Grandma Penny and
either Auntie Beat or Irene, who lived in Old Welwyn (Irene, the only
remaining auntie still lives in Old Welwyn.) Grandma had lived at Norfolk
Cottages in Ayot St.Lawrence and had brought up all nine children in a two
up two down cottage! At Christmas time she and all of the children would
be treated to a visit to George Bernard’s Shaw house. I can remember going
on a school trip once to the silk worm farm in Ayot St.Lawrence and I am
still fascinated by how those little creatures do what they do and their
desire to munch on mulberries.
our childhood we had nothing but cornfields and trees behind our house. At
harvest time we would build large mountains of hay and jump onto them and
for the rest of the year we would build camps beyond the corn field and go
for walks with friends or relatives.
the summer holidays my sister and all of our friends would often play in
Devils Dyke. The large ditches half way along on the sides of the slopes
were dug, we think by my cousin Jim Ibbotson and his friends, and we
adopted these as our play houses. The tree opposite was named “The Salmon”
due to the large fish shaped hole in the centre of it. We used to have
lots of fun climbing up the roots to the other side. I can also remember
Colin Puddy who some how had managed to get hold of a large tractor wheel,
climbed inside it and rolled himself down the steepest bank in the dyke.
At other times we would play French Cricket or rounders on the small piece
of grass at the end of Caesars road just opposite the entrance to Devils
Dyke. I think that this might now be a car park.
other favourite past time in the summer holidays was walks along the river
Lea to Lord Brockets Estate. We would walk down Dyke Lane, cross over Marford Road past The Lord Nelson Public
House and down to the farm, where would occasionally buy fresh eggs. On
route to the estate we would bask in the sun on the sloping meadow land.
We would often swim in the river, picnic and run around freely barefoot.
As children we
would spend our summer holidays and other times roaming around the
countryside, playing in the cornfields behind our house (now an estate),
building camps in Devil’s Dyke, swimming in the river Lea and having
picnics with friends on the Brocket estate. We would fantasise about
Brocket Manor and wish that one day it would be ours.
In the summers that
lead up to our late teens, with our first boyfriends we would continue to
picnic on the estate and on one occasion even took a wind up gramophone.
Our favourite 78, which was played over and over was “Can I canoe you up
There we would all
sit, on our picnic rugs, wondering and dreaming of the lives that lay
ahead of us.
went firstly to St. Helens school a tiny,
beautiful little building with a spire and with a very small playground
adjacent to the church. I can remember the old classrooms and being made
to drink warm milk from small glass bottles that were placed on top of
some large old boiler. The nit nurse would come regularly, we all had
little lockers with stickers on them and there was a very large red wooden
sliding door that divided the main hall in two.
I then went to the
school over the road and then on to Butterfield Road
School. Some of the
teachers that I can remember were Mrs Mc Nally, Mr Price (who taught my
mother also) Mr Parks, Mr Sharp the music teacher, Miss Finnegan and Mr.
Oxley the PE Teachers, Mrs Elliot head mistress and cookery teacher, Mr
Grierson the Geography teacher who once, when on a field trip to
Snowdonia, was found sleep walking in the grounds of the youth hostel in
his pyjama’s with a ruck sack and walking boots on…Mr. Seddon the art
teacher whom I just adored, was it a crush? probably. Class mates….Amanda
Harding, Sally Pomfrett, Susan Strange, Michelle Hawkes, Tanya Kayne,
Jackie Mersh (now sadly passed away) Alison Bunn (Bunnie), Cindy Stratton
(who I have recently met up with again who is a singer and music teacher
in Bath), Kevin Potter, Lesley Dimmock, James Marshall, Annette Modley,
Ian Wibberly, to name but a few.
antiques, Stuarts the men’s outfitters and a fish and chip shop next door.
A green grocer and “Fine Fare” supermarket and I do remember a very small
long narrow green grocer/store which was just next to the Fine Fare
building. I can remember Mrs Blackmores hardware store which was full of
so many lovely items from tea strainers to scourers, saucepans and tea
pots, this may be where I developed my love for hard ware stores! The
chemist a lovely building at Christmas time we would by gift sets for our
relatives and they offered a free wrapping service.
Going out – the public houses
“The Bull” a
watercolour painting that I did around 1980
can remember sitting in The Bull when it flooded, as I sat with a
boyfriend drinking as the water was rushing around our feet, getting
deeper and deeper. The Bull was the most popular pub for young people at
the time and also a few characterful locals. I can remember meeting a
wonderful lady called Molly Bishop. Molly would often wear her hair swept
up on top with a beautiful hair clip, her camel coat would rest just off
her shoulders, style, elegance, humour and a whole lot more I sure that I
was not privy to. Molly was a very well spoken lady and I have only ever
met one other lady who could match her for wit and sheer nerve. Molly
would place herself at the bar, attach her handbag holder to the wooden
counter, demand a “Moosey and brandy” at which point she would produce a
small swizzle stick from her hand bag and within minutes she would have an
audience. On one occasion a whole rugby team gathered round, she enjoyed
the attentions of fit young men and would lure them away in her Daimler,
if she could.
Abbot John, The Swan and the Lord Nelson were all places that I would
visit in my younger years. Later on The John Bunyan was lovely place to
walk to and the Wicked Lady at the end of
sister and I had a wonderful childhood in Wheathampstead, surrounded by
lots of loving and caring relatives who gave us, above all else, time. We
had very little money and very little in the way of possessions but we
never actually wanted for anything except to enjoy all that was ahead of
us. My sister has recently retired from nursing; I still work in adult
education and as a private therapist and artist. Both of our parents are
still alive and we are all just a few miles away from each other.