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MEMORIES FROM VARIOUS FAMILY MEMBERS - SOME WISH TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED
All messages have been displayed to illustrate our thoughts on our grandfather and enrich the site for our children and grandchildren
Harry Bird's own children saw very little of him whilst growing up, he went to work at the crack of dawn and no one ever saw him. After the second world war he used to spend three weeks at the Hotel with Dorothy during the winter closed period. They moved into one room as it was too cold and damp to stay at Little Meadow. In later life this was the only time they ever saw
I get the impression Edwin was slightly more astute with money than Harry - on more than one occasion Edwin had to 'bail out' his brother financially, Mum says. Also she seemed to think Harry might have drunk away some of the profits from the family pub business.
Maggie - Edwin's granddaughter
I heard there were fights between my grandfather and Harry.... A Goldsmith grandson
In earlier days when the family moved to Torquay Harry told everyone that Gertrude was his sister in law, the wife of his older brother who was killed in the war.
Harry was a conscientious objector in the war, but he was called up like everyone else. When he had his medical it was discovered he only had one lung, the reason he told his family why he didn't go to war was because he was 'weak'.
One of Harry's daughters said her childhood 'was a touchy subject with some members of the family'. She had been told that Dorothy and 'her husband' worked for Harry in London and this is how they met. Another older daughter can remember 'this woman with a baby appearing on the doorstep' and this is when they first found out that Harry Bird had another woman.
A memory from an older daughter is that when they were moving around the country during the first world war they lived for a time in a railway carriage.
At least four of Harry's daughters in later life complained of 'being scivvies' having to help bring up the younger ones and working hard in the Hotels and guesthouses. (See Homes and Businesses section)
When John Rothermel Watson was courting Pansy Bird he was warned by people in Torquay "not to have anything to do with the people in the big house" - it was unsavoury as there was one family living there pretending to be two and not to have anything to do with them.
Pop was a herbalist, Theosophist and vegetarian. He was a strong Socialist and the family belonged to the Co-op and various other groups, he played music in the Co-op Hall most Saturdays. There was a great call for bands whether you could play well or not - it was the only form of music for dancing - there were lots of bands around at the time - weddings, tea dances etc
There are many photos of Harry with his grandchildren on the Dorothy side, but none on the Childs side. When Thora and Lillian married the two Childs brothers, Maurice and Dudley found out how he had mis-treated his wife Gertrude over the years and dis-owned him . They told him she would be looked after and cared for by them.
I did know Harry was my grandfather but never questioned why we rarely saw him or did not know him....as children we did not follow thro these loose ends ...But I perhaps was more questioning than most Thalia
THE CHILDS CHILDREN SAW VERY LITTLE OF THEIR GRANDFATHER
We rarely visited Little Meadow when Pop Bird was there but did visit once Norman took over. But I left home in 1956 so the others probably saw more of the place. We were allowed to stay there on our own once Sue and I and [ Julia? ] with Malvina a friend of mine from school. I used to cycle out there on My green Lenton Raleigh bike after O' levels with Sketch book.
Warren recollects meeting Pop Bird only once! He was taken to Widecombe by his parents and Pop Bird stayed in the greenhouse the whole visit!
He can remember being taken to Adyar for the celebrations of VE day. Joy and Iris were feeding a large number of guests, Joy took him up to the attic where she and Iris slept in a ghastly little room under the eaves. His parents Thora and Dudley denied all knowledge about the existence of Esdaile.
WE NEVER EVER saw him - well twice actually. I met him twice on the porch at 81 Teignmouth Road within a few years. Possibly he called because of Gertrude's illness. I gathered that he was not too interested in us all, shaking my hand with his icy hand and he was looking at Lillian then Maurice - both times. Funny as a young child you can pick up on such things. He was then off to the lounge to talk earnestly to the grown ups. They were my only contacts and it did not impress me IN THE LEAST.
What struck me was how much he was like Norman at the time.
I had not relialised until now that others in the family were more favoured, if that is the word, and that another life was proceeding in Widecombe with all the family involved except Thora's and Lillian's.. Sad really, but not sad for me . It is clear to me now that although we spent most of our waking hours on the moors, we never went to Little Meadow - until it was owned by Norman. His welcome would probably have been as icy as his hands had we met up at Widecombe.
I remember there being little reaction in the five of us when he died - we never knew him - he never took trouble to know us - he only saw us for perfunctory and pragmatic reasons.
It is a matter of common knowledge that Harry not only denied his daughters (Thora and Lillian) but also Norman and all the nine Childs grandchildren until his death. Dorothy was much loved by us and Gertrude's role as "other mum" although unconventional appears to have been accepted by all the children. Dorothy was probably a teenage mum and although her arrival was tragic from Gertrude's point of view it seems no one could see any option and it suited Harry who's conduct was questionable then and later.
Thora swam out to Thatcher Rock and back as a teenager
Harry at Mansands Coastguard Cottages
Gertrude was a Voluntary Coastguard and used this telescope when she was staying in the cottages with the children
Outside Privvy Mansands
The dreaded thunder box!
Harry's store today
The younger children saw their father Harry about once a month when they were growing up. He was the treasurer of the local paper and once a month on a Friday had to travel around all the newsagents in Brixham to pick up the money. He would take the bus to Brixham, walk to Mansands to fetch his youngest daughter, they would then walk back to Brixham where he would take her round the shops to collect the money. He would sit her on the counter and the shop keepers would feed her chocolate and make a fuss of her. They would then walk back to Mansands and she was always sick when she got back which made Gertrude cross. Harry would then stay the night and travel back on the Saturday morning. These are her happiest memories as she felt she had her father to herself and was rather spoilt. They never saw Dorothy during this period of their lives and were brought up to believe that Gertrude was their mother.
The lane to Mansands where Pop and Janice wandered
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES FROM JANICE - GRANDAUGHTER
In my younger days I spent every summer holiday down in Devon with Adrian Elliott and Simon, half the time at Little Meadow and the other half at Mansands. Joy used to look after the lot of us, we all used to have constipation at Mansands for fear of using the outside thunder box. Funny how things 'stick' in your mind! Pop Bird used to come along and boil up these awful concoctions for us to drink as laxatives. I remember wandering down the lanes with him as he picked leaves, wild herbs and nettles in the hedgerows. If we had a temperature or headache he would make up poultices in flannels to put on our foreheads. I didn't really know who he was except I supposed Dorothy my grandmother's husband, my mother had always told me he wasn't her real father.
We children slept in the same bedroom in a row of four army type iron beds at Mansands, once we all got the mumps there together and another year chicken pox at Little Meadow. I remember Pop blaming the spots on a black cat we had, "must have been fleas" he said he used to ring Irving Slome to come down from London to do the diagnosis, I remember us all in bed when he came in a darkened room petrified of him examining us when we had the mumps. Joy used to take us to Mansands in her old army jeep and I remember the lanes being very narrow. I was always frightened going back to Little Meadow if it was dark as there were bats in the lanes.
Perhaps once during the holidays we were taken to Maidencombe House and 'presented ' to Ron & Ross. Ron was always busy in the kitchen with his chef's hat on and Ross was always running around in reception dealing with guests. I saw very little of Betty and hardly anything of their two children Vicky and Lindsay, in fact I don't know them at all.
At Little Meadow we used to play in the garden. Pop Bird put a tent up for us and we spent a lot of time playing games. Joy used to take us up onto the moors and we used to pick berries, rose hips, loganberries etc. to take back to the house to make into pies. We didn't see much of Iris, I remember being told she couldn't cope on her own with Simon as John was away in the Navy and never took to him when he came home on leave. She used to come over and help Joy do the cooking for us all and I remember sitting in the garden helping her to shell peas. Later with Teresa when she was born, I can't remember much of Claire, she's 10 years younger than me. Adrian and I played the pianola and there were several wonderful clocks on the mantelpieces one was gold with two sphinxes. Sometimes our other cousins the Childs would come and visit us and we would take photos in the garden where there were two stone toadstools. Dorothy was often in bed not well lying in a darkened room. In later years she went to stay at Champneys to 'recuperate' and eat grapes so I never saw much of her. Although we used to write regular letters to each other, well into her later life. I wish I had kept some of them. I presume we were all vegetarian at that time even though I ate meat and fish at home, my mother's diet was always very strange, not like ours. She wouldn't handle meat until very much later in life.
My father told me that during the war Thalia (his daughter) was posted up to Lincolnshire so Irving Slome used to come up and stay at our house for the weekend. Somehow he used to be able to get oranges from South Africa and because my father had a sugar allocation being a pharmacist, to make the syrups for medicines, mother used to make marmalade, we were the only people in Grantham it seemed who had such a luxury!
When we lived in Grantham most summers in July or August Pop and Dorothy used to drive up to Lincolnshire and spend holidays with us at Butlins. I was told later that Pop was born in that area. We were waiting for them in August 1950 when an announcement came over the Tannoy system to go to the office immediately, we were told that Pop had died at Little Meadow, I remember mother being very upset.
Gertrude and Norman often came to London in the summer, they used to come and stay with us, on their return they used to take me down to Devon on the train from Paddington. Sometimes I went alone and Norman would come alone to pick me up but I can't remember how I got home. I remember Gertie sitting in our front room by the radiogram with a lovely cream silk blouse , lots of amber beads and a monocle around her neck. My mother was always tied up with Alastair what with his epileptic fits and in and out of nursing homes. Other times I was put on the train with a label like Paddington Bear and Joy used to pick me up at the station.
I never did know who Gertie was or what relationship she had with the family only that she was called 'other mum', although we called her aunty. Everyone was very fond of her, I was told she was Thora Lilian and Norman's mother and they were my mother's cousins. Norman also came to stay with us on his own in our various houses, my mother always told me he was her favourite,
She was very agitated when Norman left her some money in his Will and I remember her saying to me that she was now a rich woman in her own right.
At Christmas time we sometimes came down by car & stayed at Maidencombe House. This went on until about the age of 12 or 13. Mother said she never felt welcomed because of Alastair.
I didn't see much of the Childs side I remember calling on them all from time to time in a big house (seemed to me anyway) and there was one room devoted entirely to paintings and art. The children were nearly always sparsely dressed in the summer time, running around the house and garden in bare feet and mostly naked on the beach, we all had swimming costumes on 'our' side. They also ate strange food. I can only remember meeting Spencer once when he was helping to deliver bread at the bakery. Once or twice we went to Plymouth to visit Thora and Dudley, it was all very prim and proper. We were made to sit quietly in the front room looking at photograph albums whilst the grown ups chatted out the back somewhere. I can't remember meeting any of the 'boys'.
I can't remember Pop Bird although I must have spent some time with him when I was very small as I have seen the family photographs. He died when I was five. All I know is Granma talked about him all the time in later years 'Pop this and Pop that' . Janice and I were always told he was Granma's second husband. Alastair.
Mansands bay today from S W Coastal Path
Another way those secrets imposed on my life. from a young age I was always asking our parents if we could all go to Mansands. mum never really responded to this request Dad was adamant we would never go, his response was that he wanted to remember it as it was when he was young. this never quite washed with me and now we can see so clearly why he and I were at odds about this. There was this other life going on there with Harry etc.
I must admit I thought mum was a bit timid not standing up to dad and insisting we went to this place she spoke of with such happy memories, why was it a no go place?
I did go a few times as a young child with my aunts and uncle in the jeep, all very exciting
as soon I got my bike in 1953 .... I often went to Mansands. I stayed there
with Breon O' Casey and my art tutor Mr Fulton at Matlock training college and his family rented it from my aunt one summer
Some Lilian snippets about Mansands..............
She remembered going in the sea swimmng before breakfast naked and having to stay there whilst the postman called only coming out of the sea when the post man was well out of sight
Also remembered taking the saucepans on the beach to scour them clean with sand as well as collecting gulls eggs from the cliffs to eat and make scones with, she said they tasted fishy.
They also collected small cowrie shells from the beach.
The family were all sun worshippers, all brought up to lead a healthy outdoor life. Plus the funny diet, herbs etc which Pop was very keen on. They spent all their time on the beach, Meadfoot was their favourite, in fact it hasn't changed much to this day. The older ones were put in charge and took the youngsters down on the beach and stayed down there all day, possibly to give Gertie a bit of peace. Then of course they were right on the beach at Mansands.
Recollections from John Healey
Harry Bird rented all three cottages from Lord Churston. John and Iris took over the rent from Dorothy and had the cottages for about 20 years in their own name. They have always regretted giving up the lease. They paid £15 per month for all three and had to go in person to pay the money to 'Waterson' the agent on 'Lady Day' (?) They actually lived in the Coast Guard Cottage but Gertie lived in the Watch Cottage and used to do Teas in the summer months to make a 'bit of pin money'. She lived there for years and brought up Thalia, Iris and Joy who had to walk to school everyday to Brixham over the hill.
John used to keep lobster pots in the boat house, he used to catch quite a few and sell them to Brixham. He used to drive up and down every day to get to work.
They decided to give it up after the roof was damaged badly one winter by an escaped convict from Princetown who had set up home there and virtually wrecked the place. He gained access through the roof. Iris couldn't bear to go back there and they left most of the fixtures and fittings in situ.
Harry's beloved Widecombe
Grandchildren at Little Meadow
Childs Healeys Slomes and Watson
Old Widecombe map showing Little Meadow(s)
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