Unlocking Stourport's Past

LIVING IN A TONTINE HOUSE 1940 to 1960 by Rita Phillips

Number 9 Tontine Buildings was occupied by my family, namely Arthur Phillips, wife Vera, daughters Dawn and Rita, and Vera's mother Mrs. Phoebe Cook. Both Phoebe and Vera were born at number 6 Tontine Buildings.

The accommodation comprised one large front sitting room a kitchen and two large double bedrooms. There were two large landings on the first and second floors one large cellar and a smaller cellar area which were originally linked to the main cellars of the Tontine Hotel. A separate toilet and bathroom were added in the late 1940's by converting part of the large kitchen area and a third bedroom was made by partitioning off the upper large landing.

The front sitting room overlooked the top wide beam lock known to us as the top balance pole lock, which gave access to the Clock Basin. Engine Lane, Stourport River Bridge and extensive views towards Betty Dawes Hill, Areley Kings Church and Stagborough Hill could be seen from the window.

The ceiling of the front sitting room was very high with a picture rail round the top and a dado below, which was originally an anaglypta type covering varnished dark brown. The room was originally lit by a glass gas lamp which hung from three heavy brass chains in the centre of the ceiling this was replaced by electric lighting in the early 1940's. The tiled "modern" fireplace of the 1950's replaced the old lead grate with side ovens. The bars on the front of the old grate were used to heat up the flat irons. These were in constant use as Phoebe Cook used to do all the St.Michael's Church washing, surplices, altar cloths etc., which Phoebe's daughter Vera had to deliver in large wicker baskets to the vicarage in Church Avenue.
figure1 On either side of the fireplace were cupboards, two smaller ones at the base and two very large tall ones at the top, separated by a set of drawers. These were left from when the building was used as offices and storage for the canal and river trade. The cupboards at the bottom were ideal playing and hiding places for us as small children and Granny Cook told us they once housed a small cradle bed for a baby. The only window had huge wooden shutters which folded back on hinged sections into housings on each side of the window frame, also ideal hiding places for young children.
Outside and immediately under the front window was the cellar grating, having a solid wooden lid which, when lifted, revealed an iron barred section. This section was also hinged and lifted up to allow the coal, logs etc. to be tipped into the cellar. The coal dropped on to a deep shelf from where it was shovelled into the main cellar. Nearest the wall adjoining Number 8, Mr. Tipper's house, there was a drain covered by an iron grid which eventually exited, by means of a culvert hole, on the Tontine side of the bottom basin, above the river lock on to the River Severn. Toads frequently came up the culvert hole to hibernate in the cellar. figure 2
figure 3 Coal was graded into various heaps according to size and finally the coal dust ,called slack, was shovelled into a large heap. The slack was then mixed with water and used to "bank" up the night fires in order to keep them alight until the following morning, when they would be re-activated. The cellar floor was brick laid but was in poor condition due to the constant dropping of coal. The steps from the cellar to the ground floor were also brick built. A large elm chopping block was used for splitting kindling wood, which was stacked ready for use in the alcove in the cellar, immediately below the fire grate in the front room above. The main staircase was very wide with deep lipped stairs and was constructed from solid oak and kept highly polished. On the left hand side at the bottom of the first flight, high up on the wall, was a large cupboard which was used to store tinned food and bottled goods, supplies for during the war. There were over thirty steps on the two small and two large flights of stairs. The only daylight on the staircase was provided by two windows on the two smaller landings.
The bedrooms on the first and second floors had small open fireplaces which were lit during winter time, but the rooms still remained very cold. There were cupboards on the left hand side of the fireplaces, the same as in the front sitting room and these were converted into wardrobe space. The right hand side cupboards had been removed at some stage to make an oblong alcove. The bedroom windows afforded the same panoramic vista as from the front sitting room but from a higher viewpoint. figure 4
. .The kitchen at number 9 was very old-fashioned up until the 1940's washing was done in a furnace which was always lit on a Monday and washing went on most of the day. The final water was used to scrub down the yard and front steps. In the kitchen, fixed at the end of the scrubbed white table, was the mangle, a device which squeezed out surplus water from the washing. This had two large wooden rollers and the washing was "mangled" on to the table top. The baskets of wet washing were then taken to the drying ground. This was across the lock and into Engine Lane, down the steps into the field at the side of Engine Lane Basin. Many wild flowers grew in profusion such as Meadowsweet, Buttercups, Meadow Cranesbill, Lady's Smock and Rosebay Willowherb. The edges of the basin in the drying ground were favourite places for picking blackberries and wild raspberries.

In the late 1940's the old furnace was replaced by a gas boiler. At the same time the addition of a bathroom was considered very modern and was a vast improvement on the large high-backed tin bath, in which all members of the family had baths in succession on Friday nights. This was one of the first bathrooms in the Tontine Buildings, and often children who had fallen into the basin would be brought in to have a cleansing "mustard bath".

figure 5 There was also a separate small toilet at the end of the kitchen which was much more convenient than the arrangements for numbers 10, 8, 7, 6 and 4. These houses had toilet facilities in a separate building between the Lock House and the Dust Hole. The night soil was carried daily from these houses to the toilets which had a continuous row of wooden seats and a communal flushing system. The Dust Hole was where the refuse bins were kept, an awesome place where rats were known to live, and where children dared each other to enter into the complete darkness.
The families who resided in the Tontine Buildings formed a small, closely knit community, similar to that of a village. The older folk met on the balance pole in the evenings for a pipe and a gossip whilst the children played together, along with others from Angel Bank, the Quay and Mart Lane. The games they played included ball games ( played against the big garage doors) , skipping (the long thick rope tied to the lamp post so it could be played in the dark ) , London , tick and tag hopscotch , hide and seek, plus many other invented games. It was a wonderful place to grow up as a child and we were all very happy.

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This page last updated 15 December 2005
©copyright 2005 Rita Phillips