Conversations in the Dining Room
Emma Knytleigh: In an attempt to record the current history of Stoney Grove a number of interviews and conversations will be recorded with some of the people who have connections with the estate. Accordingly the Dining Room has been supplied with hidden microphones and recording equipment to allow the process to take place in as natural a setting as possible. Participants are, of course, aware that conversations are being recorded.
Transcript: Interview Notes with Shirley and Martin Johnson, 25/6/99, EK
I asked Shirley and Martin Johnson if they would consent to an interview about their lives and experiences at Stoney Grove, and they agreed. Below is a transcript of the interview, held in the dining room of Stoney Grove on the morning of June 25th.
Emma: First, thanks very much for agreeing to talk to me today about your time at Stoney Grove.
Shirley: Sorry. I wont be a minute, I need to finish pouring the tea. Fancy a cuppa?
Martin: Never mind, just get on with it. Ive got plenty waiting to be done today.
Emma: Ta (to Shirley, for the tea). Lets start with your earliest memories of the place. Mr. Johnson, you started working here in 1939?
Martin: That's right.
Emma: And Miss Hall hired you?
Emma: You were hired as an under-gardener?
Emma: And you started working here during the war, Mrs. Johnson?
Shirley: In 1942. I came out from London to Lower Puckering to stay with my aunt during the Blitz; it was just before Christmas in 1940. I worked in a shop in the village for a few months, and then at The Bell. After the bombing ended in the summer of 41 I was all for going back up to London, but my aunt needed me, so I stayed on. Both her sons was in the army, you see, and she didnt want to be alone. They both was killed in the war; Reggie in North Africa and Jonathan in Italy. But that happened later, after Id come to work for the Halls. Miss Ellen needed a girl to take the place of a maid whod got married, so I started cleaning house. Before Martin and I was married, I just worked here days, but after the wedding, we got some rooms here and I lived in, like he did.
Emma: What did you do here at that time, Mr. Johnson?
Martin: Worked in the garden. Grew vegetables, like I always done.
Emma: Oh, I see. Mrs. Johnson, can you tell me about life here during the war?
Shirley: Well, now, theres not a lot to tell. Things was fairly quiet.
Emma: Were either of the Hall men active in the military? Or political?
Shirley: Goodness, no! Mr. Basil was in his 40s at that time and Mr. Montgomery never had a war-like bone in his body. No. I expect they did their part raising money for the troops and such, but they never fought.
Emma: And politics?
Shirley: They'd never talked to me about that sort of thing, would they? I suppose all that really happened out of the ordinary was that they all moved downstairs.
Emma: Because of the war?
Shirley: They was rationing everything, and the place was expensive to heat, so Miss Ellen, Mr. Basil and Mr. Montgomery moved their bedrooms and such downstairs. Did a bit of remodelling, that sort of thing.
Emma: Where did they move to?
Shirley: Well, Miss Ellen took the Sea Room, the one with the shells and fish around the ceiling. Said it reminded her of her school days outside of Brighton. Mr. Basil was next door, and Mr. Montgomery took part of the west wing for his bedroom, and part for his sitting room and such. Even after the war was over, they never went back upstairs. They said it was easier to stay put, but I think SHE has something to do with it.
Shirley: Well, um, never mind. I suppose you'll meet her soon enough, so it's best not to say any more...
Emma: Tell me more about the house, how it has changed in the last 50 years.
Shirley: Well, its all a bit of a mess now, really. After Miss Ellen died, Mr. Montgomery wasnt interested in good housekeeping, not like she was. He moved into the Granny suite, and let most of the rest of the house fall to ruin around him. Miss Simmons and Mr. Tinsley bit off quite a bit when they bought the place. Still, Ive always kept it very clean.
Emma: Im sure you have. What do you mean, the Granny suite?
Shirley: As I was told, Mrs. Halls old mum came to stay during the 20s and they put in a loo and rearranged some rooms to make her comfortable. She couldnt manage the stairs, you see. She died here after a few years.
Emma: Which rooms were these?
Shirley: The two on the left as you come in the Entrance Hall from the land side. Miss Ellen told me that they used to be a business room or study and the library. When her gran came to stay, they moved the library to the other end of the house, where it is now, and made that a parlour, and the study a bedroom.
Emma: And nobody used them after her death?
Shirley: Not till Mr. Monty was alone. He liked to stay on that side of the house.
Emma: What about the big bay windows in the dining room?
Shirley: That was Miss Ellen. She was always writing about birds and things and wanted to be able to see the garden wherever she was.
Martin: There's nothing wrong with that, is there?
Shirley: Well nobody is saying there was. She was a real lady, was Miss Ellen. I remember how she used to have a proper dinner, where people would dress, every night. She used to entertain quite often at one point, and liked to have nice things around her. She stopped though after Mr. Basil started drinking and bringing coloured people into the house. Met 'em up in London and thought nothing of bringing them home for the weekend. Had to spend all my time cooking for them--by then I was the head of the kitchen. They were nice enough people, I reckon, but Miss Ellen didn't want them around the house all the time, and I can't say I blamed her.
Emma: Who were these people? Guests of Mr. Hall's?
Shirley: Yes. He got a bit queer after the war. He'd bought some flats in the East End and started going up to London more and more. From time to time, he'd have some of his lodgers come to stay. One in particular. A lady-friend I always thought.
Martin: Go on, Shirley, mind your tongue!
Emma: Did they come often?
Martin: I'm wondering what this has to do with the house, Miss?
Emma: Right then. The house. When did Mr. Churchill come to stay?
Shirley: He showed up in Lower Puckering...oh, 10 or 11 years ago. No one knew him, but he met Mr. Montgomery at the pub and the next thing we knew, he was living here out in that place where he is now. Never said much to me or Martin, but he and Mr. Montgomery used to sit together of an evening and talk. They were good friends. I was glad to have him here near the end. A bit queer, I think, but he's done some good.
Martin: I always got on with him fine. He never interferes, just keeps to himself, minds his own business, if you take my meaning.
Emma: Yes, yes, quite. Well, thanks very much for your time. Can I call on you again if I have more questions?
Shirley: Oh yes. Pop round for a visit any time you like.
Martin: Is that all? Don't you want to know what was happening in the garden?
Emma: Well, yes, actually, I do. Can we talk another day?
Martin: 'Spect so.
Emma: I look forward to it. Ta.