‘I think I’ll have a look.’ The old parish councillor pulled out a cake of tobacco and, with his pocket knife, carefully pared away enough to fill his pipe and then set off, lighting up as he stepped out of his scullery door. He lived in a terraced cottage, for which he paid 10 shillings a week rent. The near-black loam of his garden patch was heaped and rich, ready for the summer vegetables. He never went out or in by his front door, which opened on to a pristine parlour. Nor did anyone else. It was ready only for the most formal – and sad – of occasions I suspect.
I had learned very quickly, as a young district reporter for a local weekly newspaper, that front doors were never used, except by the gentry when visiting each other. I called at a local manor once to ask about egg production and I knocked at the front door of the Georgian mansion. I was told very firmly to go round to the back – another lesson learned, but that was about class not custom.
My old friend, the parish councillor, served also as village correspondent for the paper where I was a district reporter, so I maintained regular contact with him and his always welcoming wife, whom he had married before the 1914-18 war, in which he served. He sent in his reports of council meetings and other events in neat copper-plate, at two (old) pence a line. We always went to a village pub where we drank mild ale and ate the bread and cheese which he had brought with him. He peeled a large onion at the table to go with the repast. Thus I picked up any news of life in HIS manor, before going on to call on vicars and pub landlords and other contacts around the county. And talked about the county cricket teams of many years gone by.
This village was an industrial village in the midlands.The main employer was a quarry, where my friend worked for most of his life. His kitchen, the living room in fact, with its cooking range, was warmed by coal – there were mines a few miles north. Its glow and gentle fragrance was unchanged from Edwardian times at least. And the little street of terraced houses had similar, friendly hearths.
‘I’ll just take a look’, my friend said. And out we went, on a new quest or enquiry. He always walked down the middle of the road. He was not aggressive but he would not have expected anything or anyone to impede his progress. It really was his village, you understand. When my elder daughter was born he pressed a half crown into her baby hand – silver for luck.
I trust that if the squire ever called he would have gone to the back door.