TWO UPPER HOUSES CHARACTERS
Effie and Jack Hillier who married late in life and were, I would think in their late sixties when I first remembered them as a child in the mid-forties.
Effie played the harmonium in chapel on Sundays. Having had no children, she perhaps satisfied her maternal instincts by keeping a small menagerie of cats, rabbits, chickens and often a pig. At that time of day if a farmer had a weakling in a litter of pigs, he would give the sickly animal to anyone who cared to take it on. Effie delighted in having these “runts” and devoted a great deal of time “pulling them round”. So proud was she of her little beasts, she would wrap them in a shawl and carry them on her arm – just like a baby. T can hear her now “Would you like to see my baby”, pulling the shawl to one side to reveal a little snout. To me she was just like the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland, maybe she was her role model?
Jack was a bit of a mystery man, he had a slightly educated voice and on one of his hands he always wore a sort of 3-fingered mitten. We kids used to wonder what secrets the mitten concealed. (Dracula claws?).
Jack’s nickname was stallion Jack. Now before misconceptions as to how he gained this name I had better explain. Apparently the only job he had ever had was leading a stallion round from farm to farm to cover the farm mares and ensure another generation of working horses( the equivalent today of a tractor salesman, although a slightly more protracted affair).
Jack’s only vice was drink. By all accounts he didn’t have that much, but what he did drink he couldn’t hold, sometimes coming home fighting drunk. On one occasion he chased poor Effie upstairs with a carving knife. My father, Tom, had to rescue her from a bedroom window with a ladder. “What do you think you are doing Tom Rowe philandering with my wife?”. On another occasion he came home a dug a large hole and proceeded to re-plant a dead plum tree that had been blown over a year before. I don’t remember his coming in that sort of state more than 2 or 3 times, usually he was a kind and placid towards us. On one occasion we certainly put this to the test. My cousin Alan and I were throwing stones. A tin can perched on an oak branch being the target. Jack walked up the lane, as usual smoking his old briar pipe, “You boys can’t throw for toffees”, he taunted, “I’ll show him”.....Alan aimed a stone to just miss him as he walked away from us. At that precise moment Jack turned his head and........ to our amazement and horror, the stone neatly removed the bowl clean off his pipe leaving the pipe stem between his lips. We looked at each other and prepared to run, but Jack’s only reaction was to laugh, “I wont say that again will I?” we breathed again.
How different life was then. Their only water supply was from a little pond (fed by a spring) opposite the houses. We actually had a well complete with a pump. Such luxuries! At times both pond and well would run dry and in such summers our only other water supply came from a land-drain, fed again by a spring, in the meadow a good 200 yards from the cottages. Effie and Jacks little pond did get us into hot water at times because, you see, in it bred the finest tadpoles and newts. Our “fishing” expeditions usually resulted in a the normally crystal clear water looking more like pea soup – not the best liquid for brewing their afternoon tea. Effie’s wrath was usually placated by presenting her with a big bunch of cow mumble (hog weed) for her beloved rabbits. Sometimes if we were lucky she would reward us with a big bag of walnuts from her trees. They lived their lives out at Upper Houses and died towards the end of the fifties. Their house was what is now the right-hand end of “Greensted” (home of Mr & Mrs Dallimore).