Grandmas Gleanings from Newton's Woolsthorpe
Recollections from a Lincolnshire Hamlet By Margaret Anne Winn Published in 1994 Copyright M. A. Winn 1994
This is a collection of stories and facts, recording the childhood of the Robinson children and their way of life growing up in Woolsthorpe in the early 1900's.
Chapter 5 Top Cottage
Top Cottage where the family finally settled was a small two-storey house built of Lincolnshire limestone with a pantile roof. It had a lean-to single storey pantry on the west side. The house is still there today but much altered and added to, although the original part is still visible to those who remember it as it was it is now called Redland Cottage. Downstairs the house consisted of the pantry, the living room and the back kitchen. All water needed had to be carried from the Woolsthorpe pond and two buckets of water always stood in the pantry, which was cool and shaded. The main door opened straight into the living room, so Fred constructed a small porch over the door to give added shelter, as the snow would drive into the house under the old wooden door. The porch had a roof and sides but was not enclosed. The stairs originally lead out of the living room up to two small bedrooms, but Fred turned them round to lead off the kitchen, giving more room in the living room.
The only source of heating was a large black leaded grate in the living room. This was also used for cooking and heating water. The grate was in the centre, with an oven to one side and a water boiler to the other. On cold nights bricks were put into the oven at teatime to get heated through. Then at bedtime they were wrapped in cloth and put in the beds to warm them. Sometimes the oven shelves were used in the same way. A cupboard beside the fireplace was used for storing sugar and tea, etc., as it was warm and dry. A large scrubbed wooden table stood in the centre of the room, a horse-hair sofa which tickled the back of your legs a dresser and a chair either side the fireplace for Mother and Dad and some dining chairs under the table were the main items of furniture. The kitchen was used for washing clothes, pots and people so it held several large tin baths and bowls. It was here that all the work was done at pig killing time, cutting up the pig, salting the meat, making the sausages, etc.. Coats were also hung up in the kitchen and family bicycles were kept here too. It was here where the pig meal and chicken food was stored in metal bins to keep it safe from hungry mice and rats. Under the stairs was a large cupboard for cleaning things. Clothes would be dried in the kitchen on wet washdays, hanging on wooden clothes horses. The stairs led straight up into Mother and Dad's bedroom and a door to the right at the top of the stairs went into the children's room. It held two large double beds one for the girls and one for the boys.
The upstairs windows were from knee to floor level. Two texts on the wall in the first bedroom which I remember well were, THOU GOD SEEST ME and I AM ALPHA AND OMEGA. As a child I found these very puzzling. Lighting was with oil lamps, not very effective, especially for sewing or reading. A great fuss was made if the glass chimney of the oil lamp got broken, which easily happened when a sudden draught chilled the chimney too quickly. My Mother said that was why everyone regularly did Spring cleaning one reason being all the soot and dust created by the oil lamps and coal fires and the other reason being that during the winter it was often too dark all day and not a good enough light in the evenings to see all the dirt collecting in the corners hence a good clean when spring brought brighter days! The coal house, copper and toilet were in a separate red brick building across the yard. The toilet was an earth closet with two holes which fed into a walled midden behind the building. A small window high up certainly added a degree of air conditioning, especially when the wind and snow were blowing in earning it the justifiable name of The Ice Box! The holes were set in wooden seats of differing heights. The wood was scrubbed regularly and was white. The holes had round wooden lids, with set in handles. The smaller hole, in the lower seat, was for the children and the larger hole, in the higher seat, was for the adults. The inside of the building was white washed regularly, but even so it had quite a few resident spiders. Behind the toilet building was the midden and pigsty. Opposite the toilet and coal house was a wire gate which led into the hen run.
The Robinsons always kept a pig and hens to help supplement their meagre diet. Fred belonged to the Colsterworth Pig Club and was its secretary for some time. The apple tree in the yard provided fruit for the autumn and winter. It was a cooking apple so Fred planted eating apple trees in the small garden on the north side of the house, next to Woolsthorpe Road. One tree was always known as Len's tree so no doubt the little boy helped his Dad to plant it. The apples were stored wrapped in newspaper and in boxes underneath the beds and often the smell of mellowing fruit was too much for the children to resist a hand went down and fumbled amongst the paper and apples were munched in the darkness! A number of gooseberry bushes were planted in the garden, providing soft fruit for bottling or for making jam. Fred had an allotment across Woolsthorpe road, on the land now occupied by Ingle Court. Most of the local men rented allotments to grow vegetables for their family. Potatoes, peas, root vegetables and greens were grown. Traditionally new potatoes and peas were supposed to be ready to eat on Feast Sunday. That is the feast of Saint John the Baptist Colsterworth Church's Patronal Festival celebrated the nearest Sunday to 24th June. There was great rivalry on the allotments as to whose potatoes and peas would produce the best crops at the right time. Fred dug out a damp course on the north side of the house, moving the earth back to leave an open ditch to keep the house drier. He also put another window into the north wall in the living room to give more light to the fireplace. Down the yard opposite the pigsty was a hen coop on legs.
The bottom of the coop was made of slats of wood. Broody hens were put in the coop to cool off. Some hens were broody most of the time and others were clumsy sitters, breaking the eggs getting on and off the nest, so if a hen went broody and you didn't want her to sit she was put in this coop. She couldn't make a nest or sit comfortably and the air coming up through the slatted floor would eventually dissuade her of the urge to sit. I remember there was a great clucking and carrying on whenever the coop was occupied! Fred had a hut at the bottom of the garden where all his tools were kept. It was always neat and tidy and his tools were well oiled and cleaned after use. His paint brushes were cleaned thoroughly and were always re-usable. A good habit borne out of not having much, but certainly looking after what you had got, because you could not afford to replace things. All his nails and screws were neatly arranged in jars and tins on the hut shelves. Fred was quite a handy-man and could make or mend and turn his hand to most things skills learned out of necessity, and a good example of the saying, Necessity is the Mother of Invention.