I’m sitting in our bedroom in Whiteshoots Cottage in Bourton-on-the-Water which I thought until this morning was my great-grandmother’s house from the mid-1920s until her death in 1946. But when I showed Verian, our lovely proprietor, the photographs of my great-grandmother’s house, she said, “oh, that’s just up the hill. I’ll ring the owners and see if you can go have a look.” She then produced an ancient photograph of the entire hill and pointed to the large house at the very top. That’s Whiteshoots House, she said.
The owners were very welcoming and we had fun comparing the house now to what it looked like then.
We stood in what I’m sure was my mother’s bedroom and looked down the valley towards the town of Bourton.
The house in the bottom left hand corner of the scrapbook page looks like this:
Mummy loved coming to visit her Granny Hankey in the Cotswolds, first as a child and then later, when she was enrolled in the Carr-Saunders Secretarial School in nearby Stanway House. Here’s how she described Whiteshoots to me:
Ivy all over it, enormous garden, earwigs in the bathtub, perennial beds, a cutting garden surrounded by a hedge so nobody could see when you cut things. Big vegetable garden behind, tennis court, apple orchard. She named it Whiteshoots. In those days, everybody named their houses. Granny Hankey had the most enormous pile of not very good jewelry which she kept in leather cases in the top drawers of the big bureau in her bedroom next to some painted Chinese figures. She always let me open the leather cases and paw through the jewelry. Her bedroom, which overlooked the perennial border, had uneven floors and when you walked in the room, the heads of all the Chinese figures bobbed and waggled around. I felt as if they were guarding the jewelry.
The orchards have been replanted, the gardens are lush and well-tended, and the house is full of three generations once again. But there were sad moments for my family here. In September of 1942, soon after my grandparents learned that their only son had been killed by a Stuka in the battle of Alam el Halfa in the Western Desert, they traveled down from London to Whiteshoots to tell Granny Hankey. My mother again:
I went over from Carr Saunders to meet them. It was ghastly. My mother’s hair had gone completely white since I’d seen her last, only a few weeks before.
Granny Hankey died in 1946 at the age of 85 and Whiteshoots was sold not long afterwards.
Tomorrow we shall visit Stanway to see where my mother lived from September of 1942 until March of 1943 when at the age of 17, she started work as a decoding agent in the Naval Division of MI5. And then off we go to Yorkshire to see Allerton Castle so I can stand in the room where my mother and father first laid eyes on one another.
The journey continues.