Family Life in Seaton, Cornwall & Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire (1963-1965).

In the front garden of the house at Seaton. Bride, Gerald, Rona & Aidan.

Seaton is on the south coast of Cornwall. It is cut off from Devon (and Plymouth) by a stretch of water, the river Tamar estuary. There are two crossings - the Torpoint Ferry and the Tamar Bridge. Gilbert had to cross by one or other of these twice every day. He had not made work easy for himself by insisting on buying the Seaton house.

The house itself, I thought, was a good buy. It had been newly modernised with a large bathroom and a modern kitchen. The bathroom had been converted from one of the bedrooms and the old bathroom made a perfect study for Gilbert. Unfortunately, he was required to work from the office in Plymouth. He had worked from home in North Tawton. He liked working from home.

Hillcrest, Seaton (centre). It overlooked the beach.

To the left is what we came to call the "ghost house". A murder had happened there, according to local legend. It involved a mistress and her servant. I cannot remember who killed who, but the body was hidden up the chimney. Ever since, there had been footsteps on the stairs, which terrified the tenants. The woman of the house kept rushing over to our house, for refuge, when her husband was away. She had a little boy and was expecting triplets. The trauma of living in that house couldn't have been good for her, but she was safely delivered of three baby girls, in the end.

As the weeks went by we settled into our new house. The boys were enrolled at Downderry Primary School. They accepted Gerald even though he was only four. I was relieved about this, as he was given to escaping and getting into mischief. I thought he would be safer at school.

There was a lovely sandy beach where the children could play and build sandcastles when they were not at school. Gerald was fascinated by the sea life. I heard him telling a neighbour that when he grew up he wanted to become a crab!

Seaton Beach.

The old fishing port of Looe was only a few miles away. At weekends we often went there in the car, with Gilbert erratically driving it. I loved Looe


The beautiful seaside village of Downderry lay about a mile in the opposite direction. The boys went to school there. It was possible to walk along the beach from Seaton to Downderry at low tide. The children were not allowed to use it though, because you can be cut off at high tide.

The path from Seaton to Downderry.

It was an idyllic seaside life, but then the bubble burst. We all became ill.

The culprit was the streptococcus bacteria. I don't know what would have happened to us before the age of antibiotics. I suspect some of would have been dead.

It began harmlessly with sore throats. Both the boys had high fevers and they either stayed in bed, or sat opposite each other in the living room, looking miserable. The local GP lived at Torpoint. He was an excellent doctor - very conscientious. In view of what was to come, we were extremely lucky. He fitted us into his regular house rounds and prescribed antibiotics. He said it looked as if the boys had strep throats.

Inspite of the medication, both boys kept on relapsing and running low fevers. Aidan went into the local hospital to have his tonsils out. The doctor thought we should leave Gerald and see how it went. His tonsils were not as swollen as Aidan's. Eventually both boys returned to school.

Meanwhile, I too had a sore throat. It rapidly turned into quinsy, and I developed absesses on both tonsils. I couldn't swallow anything, even water or saliva. Quinsy is on the top of my list of infections I never want to develop again! I recovered with the help of plenty of antibiotics, but it was not the end.

A short time afterwards I developed a pain in my chest. The doctor diagnosed an inflamation of the lining of my lung (pleurisy). He thought it had spread from my throat. I went back on antibiotics and the doctor began to mutter his doubts about the long term efficacy of antibiotics. Again I recovered, at least temporarily.

A week or two after my recovery from the pleurisy, one of my legs became red and swollen. The infection rapidly spread and my temperature went up. The doctor said it was an absess and I went on more antibiotics. The streptocossus bacteria had struck again. I began to feel that my whole body was under seige. This time I completely recovered, except that I was left very fatigued and stressed about Gilbert's job. I wondered about what the future held for any of us.

The Seaton children came back from Downderry school in a long straggling group. I was watching through the window of our house and I saw Gerald getting further and further behind. This was very unusual for him. He appeared to be limping badly. I rushed down to meet him and he said his knee hurt. It seemed very red and swollen and he also looked hot. I took his temperature as soon as we arrived home and it was about 103 degrees. I rang the doctor and when I described the symptoms, he came out immediately. I think he knew what it was before he arrived, and on an examination of Gerald he diagnosed rheumatic fever. He said it was an allergic reaction to the streptococcus bacteria. Gerald was put straight to bed and started on antibiotics and regular doses of aspirin.

Gerald seemed to enjoy being in bed. It was brought down to the living room so that he would heve plenty of company. He appointed Bride as his slave. Her duties were to bring him anything that he felt he needed and to look under his bed, at intervals, to make sure that there were no ghosts/burglars under there. Bride, as a two year old, took all these duties very seriously. She liked pleasing Gerald.

Gerald never returned to Downderry school. Months went by and he was still in bed, because the doctor had discovered a heart murmur. When he got up he had to take life very easy and I was worried about the rough and tumble of school.

There was another problem. During his time in bed, I had discovered that Gerald was dyslexic. He couldn't recognize words. We had bought him lots of books, including ones which were supposed to teach children to read. He made no progress. I thought he would need additional support with his reading, writing and spelling. He finally began to read when he was eight in Australia. He never made a lot of progress with his spelling, even as an adult. He spelt words the way they sounded. Luckily, by then, there were computers, with spellers! Gerald became brilliant with computers. He took two degrees in computer science, and made computing his career.

The doctor warned me that once you had rheumatic fever you were liable to further attacks. Gerald would need to take daily antibiotics until he was at least eighteen.

Gilbert did loose his job and our next port of call was Hemel Hempstead. His new job was actually at Berkhamsted, but Hemel Hempstead is not far away - about 15 minutes in a car. Hertfordshire Council offered us a house to rent. It was a town house with 5 bedrooms. I looked on the web for a picture and found it up for sale. - 321,000. It must be in private ownership now. The children loved it. It had plenty of space for them to play games and they could have separate bedrooms.

27 Barleycroft today. The house with the white door was ours, fifty years ago.


Both boys were enrolled at an excellent Church of England school in Pancake Lane, Leverstock Green. They liked it and I hoped we could stay in Hemel Hempstead. Aidan says I chose it quite irrationally. There were two nearly primary schools, and it was a toss-up about where we should send them. The other school wore purple uniform and I thought Gerald would look terrible in purple, with his red hair. Whatever it was that swayed me, in the end, it turned out well.

This hope of staying in Hemel Hempstead was dashed when Gilbert discovered that the Berkhamsted job was not to his liking. I was very worried. However all was not lost. He had put in a number of applications when we were still living in Seaton. One of the was still active.

It was a WEA job advertised as being in conjuction with the University of Sydney. Gilbert had excellent references from Trinity College, Dublin and very good ones from his former colleagues at the University of Hull. He got the job. We discovered that we would be living at Wagga Wagga.

Aidan didn't want to leave. He had settled into his school. Gerald began to dig a deep hole in the garden. His explanation was that he was hoping to find a quick route to Australia!

I took the children to visit my mother at Cumwhitton at the end of the summer, before they went back to school. She did not see them again for six years.

I tried to get all the children together for this photograph. Aidan was lost somewhere on the farm and Rona refused to be in it. (Gerald, Susan Robley & Bride).

My mother said she was lonely, since Daddy died. She always called my father Daddy. She had her routines which helped her to pass the time. The highlight of her week was going to Carlisle on the local bus. She probably recognised most of the people on it, even if she was not speaking to them. She bought the odd titbit when she was in Carlisle, like a quarter of ham, which she had with bread and butter when she returned home.

On Sundays she counted the number of people going to morning service at the Church. She had an excellent view from her bedroom window. Only a handful went in those days. She would come down stairs triumphantly, if there were only three or four!

My mother hated her name, which was Hannah and she said she had asked her nephews and nieces to call her Aunt Jane.

She had a long list of people she didn't like including her brother William, her sister Norah and Grandma (her mother). She also disliked the local vicar, whichever one was currently in residence. High on her list of dislikes was Gilbert.

My mother did like birds. She insisted that a bird came in through the passage door and sat with her. I thought that must be fantasy.

We were to travel on the Iberia, on the 27th of January 1966, from London, Tilbury.

Gilbert insisted on taking our cat, which was a large black Tom, getting on in years, called Monkey. He would need to go into quarantine in Australia. I thought, maybe, we should try and find him a good home over here. Gilbert said the truth was that I didn't like cats, which was untrue. He never did understand the difference between a discussion and an accusatory argument. Monkey went on the long voyage to Australia, survived the quarantine and lived with us for a little while before he died.

Aidan was anxious about his new Raleigh bike, which he had received for his birthday on June 20th. It was packed up though, with our furniture and other possessions, and duly arrived in Australia.

Marian Foster. October 2016.