DOLLY DEAN of DENTON GREEN
Rose Cottage was a long, low, weather-boarded typical Sussex cottage with a thatched roof, oak beams and whitewashed walls covered in ivy, in the hamlet of Denton Green near the banks of the River Ouse, where Dolly's parents and grandparents had lived all their lives.
Dad had been a shepherd in his younger days, roaming the Downs with a herd of Southdown sheep in his care, but nowadays he was a gardener and the church sexton. He walked everywhere as he had never learned to ride a bicycle and could not afford a pony and trap with so many mouths to feed. After a day's work he spent long summer evenings in his own garden producing and providing vegetables and fruit, while in the winter he worked in his woodshed making trugs to sell at Lewes market, and storing wood for the family fire.
Mum spent her days cooking, cleaning, and doing the laundry. She made stocks of bottled fruit and jam for the pantry and kept the house and children neat and tidy. The washing tub and mangle were stored in the backyard. Mum usually sat on the front doorstep in the evenings after she had put the little ones to bed. When darkness fell, Dolly's parents went back indoors, but didn't light the oil lamp, instead they went straight to bed lighting the way up the rickety stairs with a candle. They were up from dawn till dusk and in bed while it was dark, year round, as were all the villagers.
Mum and Dad had no curtains in their front bedroom overlooking the fields, preferring to look out at the moon and stars. Dad could tell the time by the moon rising and falling. Their view stretched across the River Ouse to Mount Caburn in the distance, with the ruins of Lewes castle high on the hill on one side, and Newhaven's busy harbour port on the other side.
Mum's kitchen was a small scullery where she kept her copper pans hung on the walls, her store-cupboard filled, and where she presided. The window looked out over the long back garden which was surrounded by flint stone walls. Ivy clung everywhere but it held the old walls together. They had some fruit trees and soft fruit bushes in the far corner, with chickens pecking and scratching for worms below. Good fertiliser, Dad always said. The rooster crowed at dawn as a wake-up call so before he went off to work Dad put it in his low cage so he couldn't crow all day. The white hens were kept for the pot with their eggs used in baking, but the brown hens were kept for their brown eggs, for the children to eat boiled from an egg-cup, with the surplus sold to the village shop.
Their cottage was on the end of a row that used to be the old Workhouse, later converted into four cottages for the poor of the parish. Around the back, up some steps and along a cinder path, was the earth closet outhouse which consisted of an old wooden chair minus it's seat standing over a metal bucket. More fertiliser for the garden, but they left that job to father. On the right-hand side was the water well, and a swing hanging on an apple tree branch. Down this end of the village, near the water meadows, the well was deep and the water was easy to collect with a bucket on a rope, raised and lowered by turning the handle on the roller, so it was the children's job to collect the water for the house. There was plenty more for tending the garden as there was also a rain water tub under the down-pipe attached to the house, with any surplus fruit and vegetables sold to the village shop, or given to their elderly neighbours.
Indoors was clean but sparse with everything in it's place and a place for everything. The front door led straight into the living room, it's open fireplace was in the centre with built-in cupboards either side, above which were open shelves where Mum kept her books and ornaments. The mantelpiece held two brass candlesticks each side of the oak-cased chiming clock, and tapers and matches to light the fire and dad's pipe. Against the wall opposite the fire was a long table with bench seats, and hanging on the wall above it were a row of pictures. Mum's small sewing table was under the window, which she kept her aspidistra plant and a white embroidered cloth on when not using it, storing her knitting and sewing underneath.
There was under-stairs storage for coats, boots and the dirty washing, opposite the scullery which led to the back door. This was a stable door so the top half could be opened for a window with the bottom half kept bolted to keep the children inside.
Upstairs were three bedrooms, Mum and Dad's was at the front, the boy's room behind that with the girl's room over the scullery. Mum and Dad's room had curtains across the chimney breast alcoves for clothes, and Mum's pride and joy were her marble topped washstand and dressing table with mirror over, which were her mother's and grandmother's before her. Each child had a wooden box with their name painted on Dad had made to keep under their beds for their belongings. The girls all slept in one bed, ad did the boys because the cottage was small and crowded.
Mum ran a tight ship but Dad oversaw everything as he was in charge. "Ask your Dad when he gets home," Mum would say when questioned by one of the children. Or, "I'll tell your Dad when he comes home," when they misbehaved, and carried on with her chores. The only time Mum sat down was at the dinner table, working with her sewing or knitting, and when she read the children a bedtime story after tucking them up in bed. Dad sat down as soon as he came home, but only until dinner was ready, after which he retired to his shed where he kept a wooden stool to perch on while he was woodworking.