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Transcribed by Janine Musson and Greville Watson
From original transcriptions made in 2001/02 by Rowan J. Flack,
Former Clinical Nursing Officer, Rushden Hospital, 1966-1990.
Edited and presented by Greville Watson, February 2010

William Edward (Ted) Woollard

Interviewed by Rowan J. Flack in 1976

Death of Edward Campbell Browning, 1914

Mr Edward Campbell Browning

It was a late December afternoon – December the twenty first – cold, and my father, head gardener for Edward Campbell Browning, was finishing work, and was coming along to the cottage where we lived, down the main drive. Just as he approached the cottage gate, he met Mr Browning, taking his usual short stroll as he used to do, from the main entrance of the house – the big house – down the new drive – up the main drive – just through the stable yard, and back – take him about fifteen or twenty minutes.

The Stable Yard

Father was just going in, so Mr Browning saw him and stopped with him.  He said, good evening Woollard, he said, are you about finished now?  So Dad said, Yes, just about finished.  He said, well, you’ve had a busy day – getting all that green stuff cut for the decorations for the house, and vegetables there, for our Christmas, he said.  Some of the guests have arrived and the others will be arriving almost any time now.  So they talked for about five minutes, and Mr Browning said, well, well, Woollard, I think I’ll get back now, it’s cold, chilly now.  So Dad said, Yes, and he said, well, I’ll say goodnight Woollard – see you in the morning.  So with that, father came in, and mother had got a nice tea ready – nice fire, so we sat down and had our tea.

And, it would be getting on for about five then, and a tap came at the back door.  Mother went to look, and she said, I wonder who that is?  She opened the door and one of the maids from the House stood there.  So she said, come along in.  So she came in, and came through the kitchen to the middle room, and we saw she was crying.  She was crying quite well, and Dad said, whatever on earth’s the matter?  And she said, Oh, Mr Woollard, she said, The Master’s Dead.

Chandler, the butler
Well, it absolutely shook solid – it took it really solid in the house.  And Dad said, dead?  The Master, he said, he can’t be, I was talking to him half an hour before.  She said, well that’s right, she said.  He must have left you and finished his little walk up the drive and through the stable yard and back into the house and into his study. 

And Chandler went to take him his usual afternoon cup of tea, after his little walk round and, he could get no response from him.  So, of course, naturally, he called help straight away and after that doctors arrived, but he was found to be dead, Mr Browning was.  And that was about five when they came – it would have been about twenty past four when he left father, and I understand that death occurred about four thirty, so it would be just about right, from leaving father – just round to his study where he died, would take the ten minutes.

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The Browning Family

Mrs Alice Louisa Browning
I didn’t see a great deal of Mr and Mrs Browning, although I was allowed to go round the grounds and play round there just when I wanted.  But, Mrs Browning was a very nice person.  She was a little gruff in her speech, it would appear to some people, but that could have been owing to her deafness.  She was deaf, and used an ear trumpet, but she was a very nice person, if she spoke a bit gruff to you.

Mr Browning was a more quiet type.  He’d speak more quietly, you know.  They were very nice people.  I didn’t know a lot about the young ladies, the three daughters either, apart from there was Miss Rosa, Miss Con and Mary, of course.

 Miss Rosa was my godmother and she took great interest in me and was always popping round to the cottage to have a look at me, and she’d see me in the grounds. She bought me many presents, and as a christening gift she gave me a beautiful silver spoon and fork in a plush case which I treasure.  It was my name, initials, W.E.W. on the handle and I’ve still got it today, and I really treasure that because it’s really a nice thing.

Then she used to bring me footballs, she bought me, and she gave me one of her tennis rackets – they used to play tennis, the young ladies, in front of the house on the tennis court.  She gave me one of her rackets later on and I’ve still got that today.  So, actually, I played tennis myself with it as I’ve done a lot of tennis in my time, in my younger days, and it’s really these things I treasure and keep – all the things really she gave me. And also she used to write to me when they got away, later.  I’ve got the letters from her then and she was a very nice person, but they all were really, all the three of them.

I never knew the first daughter, Alice, who married Francis Joseph Simpson.

L-R: Con, (Amy) Rosa and Mary Browning

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The Grandchildren

Well there was Jim Simpson, he used to come over, and Nancy, she used to come over too, and we used to play in the gardens and go up round the gardens and about – we used to have some rare old times – they used to love it.  It was really a playground to us, the gardens were, and round the lawn, and I was always welcome when they came – as Mrs Browning said before, let him play in the gardens with our children.

One afternoon, Jim came over and Nancy, and of course I went up to play with them up the kitchen garden as usual, but Jim was out first, and Nancy, she was still in the house, didn’t come out till after.  And there was a big crop of asparagus and it was going to seed, and as it seeds it makes a huge fern and it was as high as we were really.  So Dad happened to come along at the time, and they grew peaches and nectarines and that, all along the walls and they were just about ripe then.  And he said to Jim, would you like an apricot Jim, and Jim said, Yes, Mr Woollard, I should, please.  So he gave Jim one, and he gave me a smaller one, so we were just about to start on them, when a voice called – Jim! Jim!, and Jim said, there’s Nancy, come along, there won’t be one for her, let’s nip in here, and we popped into this asparagus.  Course it covered us and we sat in, about two yards in.  Nancy came along with father, still shouting, Jim, Jim, where are you?  And we sat there eating these apricots, and at last, she got fed up.  She went off, and of course Jim popped up, and he said, Ha!, that did her one.

Wonderful little memories!

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Horses and cars

Of course, in the olden days there were no such things as mechanized things.  They’d got a large motor mower – well, it was a large mower, not motor drawn, it was drawn by a horse in those days.  It was a very wide one because they’d got large lawns, and ever so long.  Mr Needham, one of the under gardeners, he used to be in charge of cutting the lawns, and he’d saddle the horse up and bring it down the ‘drive’ and up the new drive and put it in the shafts of the mower, and his task was to cut all the lawns by horse, and I used to go over.

He’d say, come along, Teddy, you can sit down and watch me.  Well I used to watch him do this, and then at the finish he’d draw it into one side, to leave it, the mower; take the horse out of the shafts, and then it was my turn.

He’d pick me up, put me on the horse’s back, there.  He’d say, now, hold tight.  We used to go down the ‘new drive’ and up to the stables, and I remember it quite well.  The horse, it used to wear leather shoes over the top, so as its plates shouldn’t dig into these fine lawns, and I always used to have this ride round, mostly to the stables, and then he’d take me off and put me down again, and put the old horse in the stable, and it used to be a nice little ride.  I used to look forward to that.

Course they kept other horses – they kept the Landaus and things for the horses, but a different type you see.

Mr Lynn was the chauffeur, he used to, as well as driving the car, he used to be the one to take the Landau’s out there.

I think I remember two carriages – two were ordinary horse drawn – but one car, a very large car it was, and on the offside, was a long brass thing on the steps.  It was like a long tube, and they called it, The Gabriel Horn, and when they’d been out, and were coming back, then they’d come along High Street, then up Wymington Road, and as Master Lynn used to be coming up, he used to put his foot on something and it used to sound a horrible noise, like a horn, and of course, the butler, Mr Chandler, the butler for them, his wife was the lodge keeper; they lived down the bottom of the drive, and her job was to open and close the gates for the Brownings.

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Mr George Henry Lane

After Mr Edward Campbell Browning’s death in 1914, Mrs Browning and children – they decided, the rest of the family, to sell, and eventually it was sold and they moved to Hove, Sussex.

The new owner was Mr H. Lane from Kettering; partner in a leather firm at Rushden, in cooperation with Mr Hewlett, so the firm was then carried on as Lane and Hewlett, leather merchants, Rushden. He approached father, as father had been Head Gardener for Mr Browning, to carry on as he had been head gardener before and asked if he would carry on with him, and so father agreed, and he said he would, and he said: Well. It’s going to be a very big job, I’ll tell you.

Mr Lane said, For the first place, I’ll tell you, I’m not coming to live here under any circumstances, and I’m not going to employ anyone else in the garden, except yourself, so you’ll be caretaker as well.

You’ll keep the keys of the big house, and you’ll have to do the gardens and that, as well as you can on your own. He said, But let all the lawns and the front go wild, but please keep the two kitchen gardens, the two orchards and the greenhouses, and the vinery going.

Father agreed to this, and he [Mr Lane] said, Then Woollard if you can, will you sell the produce down the town.  You know, to the greengrocers. Dad knew quite a lot of them, so they agreed on that.

He said; I’ll give you some receipts for them, so you can give those when you collect the money, and I’ll come at intervals and we’ll have a settling up, about once a month, or two months, it was I think.

The cottages on Rushden House drive

He said, You continue to live in the cottage, which is at the top of the main drive, and the other one which is beside you will remain empty for the time being.

There were many bush roses and fruit trees in both kitchen gardens, and all the walls around the gardens, there were trained fruit trees, including, peach, apricot, nectarines, and even a fig tree.

There were large crops at the interval of season, when they were ready, and father, he knew most of the greengrocers in Rushden, and they were really glad to have the stuff.

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Selling the Produce

It was fresh gathered so father used to sell to the shops; take the money and give them the receipt to Mr Lane ready for the settling up.

There were large crops, and I had to deliver as a boy. I helped father out.  He made me a large truck with a tray on the top and I used to deliver by hand, in the week, at night, when I’d finished school, and at the weekend, I was delivering, sometimes, on Friday night up to 8 or 8.30 p.m. when it was light, in summer.

Once, he’d got so many cauliflowers about, he said; Well let’s try your hand at being the boss for a change, so he loaded this truck up with fresh cut cauliflowers. He said, pop down and try your hand, at the shopkeepers; pop up one of the streets and advertise them at the price I told you, and see if any will buy.

Well, I went down the hill; I felt rather sheepish; I’d never been on that game before, so I decided to go up the hill and up Crabb Street. Well, I’d got a ticket on there, the price on there.  Women began to look out and come out – Is that the price?  I said yes, and they said, What! From ‘Rushden House?’ – I said, Yes.

Well, I couldn’t get half up the street before I were sold right out and I had to go back and fetch several loads more.  And that continued and they would always buy straightaway, because it was good cauliflowers, and a good price, and a reasonable price and they went like hot cakes, so they got rid of a lot of stuff at that time.

And then, father left the part as been told to go rough round the front, and the grass began to grow on the lawns; the trees overgrown – the laurel walk.

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Wild Life

The wild life in the grounds at those times, it, well, it was really astounding: the birds and different animals and things; they all took a liking to this sort of haven.

Down at the bottom, (it’s filled in now as I understand), was a large pond and they called it the duck pond in Edward Campbell Browning’s time, and many an hour I spent down there. I used to go round and catch the small minnows out of the ponds and I put them in here and they bred and bred and it was really alive with them.  And I used to go down with a little bit of cotton and a worm and put on, and I could fetch them out as fast as I could count.  You could see them – beautiful colours some of them too.

The birds took to it too. There was a moorhen came every year.  She used to rear in the undergrowth, the overgrown stuff, and when the little ones hatched out and they could swim, she’d bring them out.  Didn’t take any notice of us – she’d bring them out and they’d float about there.

Dragonflies of several colours used to fly round and about and it was really ‘wild life’.  And in the rest of the place, there were rabbits running all over everywhere, and down the bottom orchard, in the orchard joining the cottages, mother and father and myself had even seen a partridge that used to lay her eggs there somewhere and rear the young ones – and we watched her, taking no notice of us.  When they were hatched and could get about, she used to bring the young ones out of the orchard, into the ‘main drive’, because there was grit and sand there.  And we’d been and stood quite close, and watched her.  And she’d show them, and they’d dust in this sand quite openly there.  And I say rabbits and everything, and all types of birds.

So it went on, and things got wild.  Dad managed to keep the greenhouses going and tomatoes, and they’d all ripen, and the grapes.  And as I said before, he used to sell them, and Mr Lane used to come over, and he’d take some back with him – what he required.

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The Lawns and Trees

However the lawns got so high with grass, so father suggested to Mr Lane – he said, Well Mr Lane, he said, Why not, now that it’s that height, why not let me approach someone, one of the small farmers in the town.  And he’d ask him if he would care to cut it for hay and pay a little bit for it and cart it away, and it’ll leave the lawns a little bit shorter and he’ll have a good crop of hay; in which Mr Lane thoroughly agreed, because it brought a little bit of money back again, into us there.

And he also said to him, here were five large trees – well, there were four (one blew down on a very windy night there, a huge one), the rest of them, they used to be well loaded. So he said, why not let me sell those too – not the trees, but the nuts on them, as they stood, and the owner collect – gather his own, you see, and then it’ll save us time.

So he agreed to that too.  So father did that and he brought quite a bit of money in, back to Mr Lane.  Well, it all helped, didn’t it, because he was bringing it back.  Well things went on and then, when the apples were about, we used to have a bit of trouble there.

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Apple stealing in the orchard

They used to come over from the wall, at the bottom of Bedford Road.  They used to come through those houses’ gardens, then over the wall to the bottom orchard to collect the apples at night – you know, when we weren’t about and there was only Mum and Dad about there.  So it got rather bad and we didn’t like losing them.

Eventually, there was a little old fellow that father knew quite well, and he was one of the real old poachers.  What he didn’t know about laying traps and things, they weren’t worth knowing.  So he said, Oh I think I can solve that for you.

So, he came up one night and talked it over with Dad, and eventually, he put a thin wire, right along from where they used to come over and they had to come by to get to the applies.  He put a thin wire about two feet off the ground on stakes right up the side and round, right up to our cottage, and at the end of this, the end stakes. He fixed a gun on it – with blanks in it, not live.  So he wired it to the trigger, so if anyone comes over there in the night, he says, they’ve got to catch their shins or foot on that wire, he said, and you’ll know if they’re about when that gun goes off.

Well, it went on for several weeks, and nothing happened: then suddenly one night – we’d gone to bed, it was about half past nine to ten – Oh!  there was such a bang outside.  Of course we knew in a minute what it was. So father and myself, we nipped up, mother didn’t come, but we nipped up and went down.

They’d been over and they’d come up from Bedford Road, through the gardens there and over this old stone wall and got over into there. But you see, the trip wire, they caught it, and it popped the gun off, and they’d made a rare old mess.  And I’ve heard Foster say that a woman that lived in one of the houses where they came through, up her garden to get over the wall.  She saw Dad next day, and she said, Mr Woollard, she said, did you have them after the apples last night?  He said, Yes, we did, he said, but we put them off this time.

She said, Yes, and I know too, she said, it was quite late, and a tap came at my door, and I wondered who on earth it was.  So I went to the door, and he said, please can you help me?  She said, help you?  What do you want?  And him and the others – they’d shot over the wall so quick, they’d pulled all this old stone wall down – it had fallen on them.  They were all white with lime, and this one had been unfortunate, he’d caught his backside, his trousers, on a lump of barbed wire – it was right open – he daren’t go home, and he asked her if she’d sew it up before he dare go home.  So that ended that period.  We didn’t miss any more applies after that.  They wouldn’t risk it again so that was the apples saved.

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Poacher Again – Chicken Stealing

Another rather interesting little bit of a story about him and I know it’s true, because I’ve heard it repeated several times:

The old fellow that put the trip wire down – he was a real old hand at poaching and he was caught quite a number of times. This time it was a really funny night.  He went, with his friend, and they marked it out, where they were going.  There was a large hen house somewhere round about, don’t know where it was, but it was holding quite some good fat stuff in there and it was full, so they decided to go for that one, one night.  They’d got it all marked out and everything ready you see.  So he’d got a little pony and a little cart; well, they went off in that and took some sacks, you see, to put the birds in.  So everything was quiet and dark;

They approached the hen house.  Everything was lovely, no moon.  The poacher himself was a small man, so instead of having to force the bolts and that on the main door; he only had to lift the trap door up and get in through where the hens came out into the run in the daytime.

So, course, he went down on his hands and knees.  The other one got the sacks open ready you see.  So he went down and crept right in and started getting them off.  He used to nip them off the perch, and just nip their necks, pull their necks, then bend down and hand them out to the other fellow.  So they got on quite well. He kept nipping these out, and at last, he summed it up, how many they’d got.  He thought he’d got enough so he said to himself, well that’s about enough for one night, so he went down, bent down and put his head out.

So he said, that’s enough tonight mate, he said, we’ve had a jolly good haul, I’m coming out now.  So, course, he put his head out and scrambled through this little trap door place and got out and went to stand up.  He said, Ah! he said, mate, that’s a jolly good haul tonight, we’ve done well  And in the meantime his mate wasn’t there – he’d gone and he’d all the time been handing the chickens out to the Policeman outside – the policeman, he stood there, and he’d kept saying, there’s another one mate, and he handed them straight to the Police.

Of course they’d got him red handed and they said, it is a jolly good haul tonight and they got to you mate instead.  That was a very funny piece.

I don’t know where it happened.  I couldn’t tell you the place, but it’s true because he repeated it, and, of course, he’d got called in once more, but he greeted them later on – but it was a funny interval that night, wasn’t it!

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Dr John Knowler Hyde

Mr Lane used to come at intervals to collect, and bring his son and daughter over.  And while they were settling up, father and that, they used to love to play with me in the grounds.  I’d got an old swing in the stable, in the stable yard, and we used to spend a long time in there.  And they were very fond of my white rabbits too.  I’d got those in Mr and Mrs Browning’s dogs’ kennels.  I let them out in the garden, they used to love that, they were white ones, very fluffy.

Well – time went on.  Mr Lane came over one day and he said, Mr Woollard I’m letting the cottage next to you, he said, it will be nice company for you, he said.  I’m letting it to a retired doctor – Dr John Knowler Hyde, and his two daughters and a son. So with that, they arrived and they were very, very nice people, and it was very nice to have them stay with us.

The father was retired and the older daughter, Grace, she was a teacher, and she soon got a job at the Newton Road School.  So, she used to go up to there, and the other one, stayed at home to look after her father. Well!  I was going to the same school as Miss Grace Hyde was going.  She used to go on a little motor cycle – what they called, a little Levis or Leevis, at that time.  Levis I think.

Of course, it was very handy – I’d only got to pop out in the morning on the pillion, and there we were.  It was a nice ride up and down the school, so she took me up the school, and kept there, and the other one stayed at home. They were very nice people and we got on well with them, and they’d do anything for mother, and mother in return for them.

Later on, the father began taking to his bed.  He couldn’t get out, and then mother really did come in handy.  When the two girls wanted to go out at night, which was natural, he used to say, yes, you go out, he said, that’s alright, you don’t expect to stay in every night up there, on one condition that Mrs Woollard will come round, and sit with me – he wouldn’t have anyone else to sit with him – bar mother. Well, mother readily agreed, because they were such nice people.  So she used to go and sit and talk with him till they came back, and he really enjoyed it, the evening’s, you know, together, like there.

Miss Florence Hyde
Miss Grace Hyde

Well, eventually it was time they went.  They’d lost father, he died, and they both got married. One married a Dutch business man from Amsterdam and went to live there, and the other one, the younger one [Florence] – she married a farmer that lived just outside Northampton somewhere.  I can’t name the village there, but, we didn’t hear any more of the older one from Holland.  The other one used to visit mother and myself quite regularly, and bring her husband, Mr Houghton, the farmer, over.

They continued to come over, quite a lot, but they never forgot us, and when they went, quite unexpectedly, they presented mother and father with a very nice clock, with a little brass plate on the front – it said on that – "Presented to Mr and Mrs Woollard" by the daughters of the late Dr John Knowler Hyde for kindness shown to their father.  And that clock is still going today, and in very good order.

Well, Eventually after the Hydes had moved, the cottage was re-let later, to a woman and her son, she’d got no husband, Mrs Tayler and her son.  Well the son was the same age as myself, and course, we were really good playmates and pals, but we were growing up then. I know we spent many a good hour around in the rough grounds here, and things just went normal.  We used to pool our pocket money, and on Guy Fawkes Night we used to have a wonderful display in the stable yard.  This is what we did, so we had some real good times together:

And time went on, and they also went.

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News of the First World War

Things began to change rapidly then.  First to visit the town were the Welsh Fusiliers came, but they didn’t have anything to do with Rushden House.  They billeted those in the town – eventually when they were moved, the York and Lancs arrived.  They were billeted in the town too, but also they were brought up to the Rushden House and quite a number were housed up here, including some horses there.  Well, the stables and that came in handy.

We got on quite well with those, they had a rough winter when they were there. They stayed until it was time to be moved.  I think they went up to the ‘front’ then, there and then.

Mr Lane told father, he said, Mr Woollard, he said, you’re going to have some strange company now, he said.  I’ve let it to the Government, he said, Rushden House for the German Prisoner of War Camp. Well that set the cat among the chickens as the saying is.  Everybody said, Oh crikey!, Prisoners round here like there.  Well, finally then things began to move.

The Army moved in.  They began to bring posts, barbed wire, everything, into the laundry yard as it was known in Brownings’ time, and still is today:  The posts were put, and barbed wire.  It was all barbed wire all round. The sentry box stood at the top of the drive so it was impossible for anyone to come in, or the prisoners to get out without going by the sentry box.  There was always a sentry man on there, day and night.

Well, finally they arrived and they settled in.  They slept in the stables and over the stables, in the lofts and everything seemed settled.

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German Prisoners

They used to go out in batches a day.  There’d be about a dozen in a batch, with one of the overseers with them, and they’d take them, and they’d work on the farms round about, up Newton Road and round.  They hired them for the day you see, or the week.

Photo of German Prisoners of War outside Rushden House c1917
German Prisoners of War pictured outside Rushden House c1917

Altogether I should think there would be about sixty or seventy prisoners.  On that large group, on that main photograph, I think it shows, but I don’t know whether they’re all on that, you know!

Well, they’d go off in the morning at certain times – half past seven, I think, and get there by eight and they’d work through having a slight break till dinner.

They packed them up with a bit of a ration, I think, and then eventually they’d get home about five to five thirty and then the evening meal was got here for them.

The soup kitchens, and that.  They’d be on the go in the afternoons, and outside, getting the meal ready for them at night.  And then, of course, the rest of the evening they spent on their own, them, doing what they cared to do, you know, and they used to sit out on a summer’s night in the yard.  They were beautiful singers, they sort of formed choirs and they were really interesting there.

Photo of prisoners with makeshift instruments Photo of prisoners making their own entertainment
German prisoners making their own entertainment

Out in the yard, like the open yard, the old big soup kitchen was there, steaming away.  It was mostly stew, I think, that they had and chunks of bread and that.  I don’t know really.  A biscuit, I think, up there.  So they’d come home.

Not all of them went out to work.  There were some that were skilled men and they were kept in the ‘camp’ here.  There was one, for instance, Sieben the tailor.  He could make a suit or anything.  Well he used to repair all the clothes for the prisoners of war and make fresh uniforms like there, and he was a very interesting character, he was.

They brought him a magpie home from the farms one day.  A young one, and he got it at home so tame that it wouldn’t leave him. And when he was fit he used to have a trestle table outside and sit on there, like tailors do, cross legged, and do his work there.  And the old magpie would either sit on his shoulder or his head all the time, that’s the truth, because I’ve got photographs which it prove that, it shows him with him on.

Also, they used to bring things back for me I knew it as a boy, as a child, a youngster, they brought me a great owl back once, then made a great box and a cage and we kept it in.  They used to bring mice home at night from the farms to put in, but eventually, of course, all that went.

And then they’d let them, sometimes, have a little concert on their own.  They made these things up and everything was quite in order.

The head man was Captain Summers.  He was a very nice man though, you know, Captain Summers, and he was in charge, but he lived in the House for the start and had meals there.  But eventually he came and asked mother – he said, Mrs Woollard, he said, would you care to let me have the main meal, the lunch, with you at dinner time?  Would you get it for me there? he said, I should like to have it with you in the cottage if you would.  So, of course, she readily agreed.  He was a very nice man too.

Well, he used to go down – they used to have a motorcycle and sidecar, and his ‘Dispatch Rider’, he used to take him down town, just before lunch time, and he popped down to the ‘Royal Hotel’, there at the bottom there and have a drink I suppose.  Then they’d bring him back – and he should have got back at one o’clock at our house.

Many a time he’d be late back and mother would say, I wonder where he’s gone, he’s late today.  The meal will be cold.  So, eventually there’d be a tap come – he always came the front door.  He tapped the front door, mother would go and open it and look and there was no one there.  So his little head – well large head – would come out the side.  Well, better late than never, Mrs Woollard.  Then she used to reckon him up, but he was a very nice man.

Major [Captain] Summers

So, the prisoner of war camp went on.  Some made clogs that stayed in and there was one particular man, he was a ring maker.  He could turn a coin into a ring – beautiful!  Yes, I stood and watched him do it there.  He was very clever; that was his job in civvy street.  But one particularly nice fellow – he was well-educated and he was the interpreter, Jasper.  He was very nice.  Well time went on and the end of the war came.

And it was about time then, for them to move away, for they were going to be sent back to Germany afterwards.

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The Ringmaker’s Equipment

I’ve got the ringmaker’s equipment.  He gave it to me because he used to take interest, he used to let me watch and he actually asked me one day for a halfpenny in those days, and he said, I’ll make you a ring there, and I watched him make it.

It’s like a pointed steel stand and a thing like would cut round like a little axe thing, and he used to drill a hole in the centre.  I’m not sure whether it was heated up, but he made a hole in the centre of the coin, then put it on the point of this thing and it went cone shaped, got wider – from a point wider and then down flat. Well, he put the hole on the point and then he’d tap it down and down until it got to the neck and then, when it went down straight, the coin was out straight, but then he’d hammer it down so it came like to the shape there, and then he’d file it down.

He did make some very nice rings there.  So, as I say, eventually, time went on and it was time for them to go as well.  Well, there was a lot of clearing to do, and at last the day came for them to go. I know, they lined them up on the Drive to say goodbye to us, because we knew them quite well, you know.  We’d been amongst them and round and that.

Eventually, they lined them all up, and the N.C.O. and everything were ready to go, and Captain Summers, he was ready to go with them, and there were handshakes all round in the Drive. I know my Aunt was up here at the time, and mother and father.  And it was all handshakes round, and then it was time for them to move off.

But mother and father never forgot – I wasn’t very big at that time – but we never forget one instance.  We always think I might have had a bearing. One of them, he shook hands with mother and father, and we stood and looked, and all that, and then, just as he was about to go, he said, Ah, Mr and Mrs Woollard, he said, you won this war, he said, but you take my word, we shall win the next one. Then he turned and patted me on the back, and looked at me as much as to say, well first of all, you’ll be just about right for the Second World War; and eventually, well, he wouldn’t have touched wood because he was wrong and they lost the second one, but he was right, I was just the right age on the Second World War, and I was called up. I served in England, Belgium and Germany, in the Second World War, so part of his forecast came right there.

So eventually all moved out and everything was quiet again.

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Surplus Materials

Father got in touch with the War Office or some firm and he bought all the surplus material, even barbed wire and the stakes and everything, and equipment that was left, and finally they agreed on a point and father took it over then and paid the bill. He took all the stuff down and hoarded it up, but he built some nice hen houses down in the orchard, in the bottom orchard there, and they made quite good timber. Of course, we’d got good timber, as much as we wanted for a long, long time, and that was the end of that.

Later, Mr Lane came over one day.  He said, Well, he said, Mr Woollard, they’ve all gone now, he said, and we’re all settled up. Now, I’m going to sell the house again, he said, so you’ll be right back where you started again now, he said.  He later told father that the house had been sold.  I think I was right in saying it was sold to Northamptonshire County Council, wasn’t it?  And he said, I don’t know what they’re going to do with it, but, eventually, that’s how it was.

Well, he said, Woollard, I don’t know how you’ll go on there.  But he thanked father for all he’d done – caretaking the house and settling up with him and everything.  So that ended another period in the life of ‘Rushden House’.

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Sale of Rushden House for use as a Sanatorium

Mr George Henry Lane, leather merchant from Kettering, sold Rushden House to the Northamptonshire County Council.  They were interested in purchasing it as they wanted to turn it into a sanatorium. Of course there was opposition straight away – too close to the town, people said – and Wymington Road, and it was openly said that Knuston Hall would have been a much more suitable place; well away from towns and well away from villages – but, however, at the final decision the Northamptonshire County Council decided to purchase it and turn it into a sanatorium.

Father, who had been head gardener for the Curries, the Brownings and Mr Lane, was approached and remained head gardener, but this time he was to have had two men to help.  Mr Fred Warren and Mr Charles Brown (known to people as ‘Matey’).  They helped to get the grounds round a bit and then work began on the sanatorium.

First, a man named Mr Harris was in charge of the erection of the huts.  He came here with his wife and two sons, and it was not long before other workmen arrived and sectional parts of the wooden huts arrived. When they were first brought, most of them were stacked onto what was the tennis court in the Brownings’ time.  It was covered with wooden parts, but the workmen arrived and they began to start and assemble them.

The first one that was put up was at the top of the ‘new drive’ – just at the top.  It was a square type one, and they put that one up first.  The second one, after that, they took a piece of the kitchen garden to put the second one on.  That was also a square type, and from then they built farther up the kitchen garden with a long type – right across the ground and on to the lawns.

About the same time the electricians were there and they began wiring the big house which, of course, was gas in the recent times, and that took quite a long time.

It began to take shape after a while and the staking out for more huts were where they were going to be put – but however they’d got a start, and to get a start, and the arrival of the ‘matron’.  The first one to take over was Miss Allsop

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Doctor Crane, first Medical Superintendent

Later there was the arrival of nursing staff, and soon after the appointed doctor arrived – Doctor J. H. Crane – but I must add, before that, that during Mr Harris’s stay he supervised all the huts and he lived in ‘the house’ with his wife and two sons.  I knew the sons quite well and we used to play together in the garden.  He was here all through until the sanatorium was completed.

Matron Alsopp with Dr Crane
Miss Alsopp (left), first Matron when Rushden House first became Rushden House
Sanatorium, and (right) Dr J.H. Crane, first Doctor at Rushden House Sanatorium.
Pictured in front of Rushden Hall with Miss Sartoris and Mrs Crane.

Eventually, as I’ve just said, the nursing staff began to arrive – and the appointed doctor, Dr J. H. Crane. There were strict rules when they first came.  That was before the sanatorium finally opened. On the walls (in the Brownings’ and the Lanes’ time) the walls on the outhouses and on the big house were thickly covered with ivy, but the orders were that all ivy was to be taken from the walls; and down the drive (on the stable side) opposite our cottages there was all thick ivy, and everywhere ivy was up the walls.  But orders were that all had to be cut down.  I don’t know why but it was said that it was because it’s a sanatorium and it would harbour dust and dirt, and germs. Also, they were very particular on no wallpaper on walls.  All were to be distempered.

It began, and it took a long, long time to get these in order; but eventually it took shape – the patients began to arrive and were installed in the ‘house’.

The first hut that was erected, at the top of the ‘new drive’, was used as a recreational hut and, later on, when things got into full swing the concerts were held in there at night.  People from the town brought concert parties up and Dr Crane used to invite mother and father and myself over – which we went quite often. But after that they moved those concerts and things into the other hut built on the kitchen garden, and they transferred any activities into that.

Because, I know during the Second World War, Dr Crane used to give first aid classes to people out of the factories, so many, a squad of each out of each factory – in case anything should happen, in like bombing the town, or anything like that, and we used to come up every Wednesday night and he’d give us lectures until we, pretty well, knew what to do.

As things got on, father had to keep the garden full.  Almost all vegetables, fruit and eggs were produced on the premises; and the farm milk, that was obtained from Mr Knight, just over the wall. I was working for Mr Knight at the time and I had to deliver each day to the sanatorium.  I used to have to come right round by road at one time, but the farmer thought of a better way – put a ladder up over his side of the high wall and down on the sanatorium side.  And I brought the buckets up – two buckets up and over.  Took them up the kitchen garden and round into the kitchen.  And that went on for quite a while, and then I left Mr Knight and I don’t know who took it over after that.

"New Grange" as seen from Rushden House

Dr Crane wasn’t married at the time, but later on, when he was married, he moved into the cottage next to us.  There were two cottages and he took one of them and he lived on his own there.  But mother used to get his midday meal for him and as the two cottages were open at the back he had a small veranda put up so that mother could take the food straight away without getting wet or anything.  Later on they built the large house for him – New Grange – up in the grounds of the sanatorium.  Later on, when Dr Crane left after he was married, he came to live in New Grange, and he suggested to us that we should move from our cottage (which I was born in) into his cottage – the one he was leaving next door – because it had been modernised quite a lot – bathroom etc – so we did.

Time passed then and I occasionally went across to look round, but, as I was working and getting older, I was out more.  But I noticed many changes.

I must add too, that when they said that all the ivy had got to come off the walls and everything, they also said that no animals were to be allowed – cats or dogs, and I know there was one old stray cat that had been with us when we were all on our own – when it was unoccupied – and we made quite a fuss of it.  We even had to destroy that.  Yes, we had to destroy it and so the walls were cleaned.  But later on, it was a funny thing, Dr Crane had two cats and two dogs!

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Death of George Edward Church Woollard

Later on, in 1933, something dramatic happened which turned the whole course of my life.  It was October the 25th 1933.  I went to work as usual.  Father got up as usual, about six, and came down and had his cup of tea before mother and I were up.  He was just getting ready to leave when I came down to have my breakfast.  He went earlier than me.  When I went to work he was feeding the fowls and the hens in the orchard.  I looked down, but he was too far away or he’d usually call ‘Good Morning’, like when I was going, but that day he was further down, feeding them.  So with that I went to work.

Photo of George E C Woollard
The late George E C Woollard,
Head Gardener at Rushden Sanatorium

About nine o’clock time, at the firm where I was working, the head of the firm, Mr Horace Wright, came and tapped me on the shoulder.  And he said, Teddy, he said, I’ve just had a phone call from Dr Crane from the sanatorium and he wants me to let you go home at once.  He said, leave your things and go straight up.  Well; I stood dumbstruck.  I couldn’t think what had happened.

I made my way down.  It had been a misty night and the water was dripping off, miserably off the trees.  I came up the Wymington Road.  I think people spoke to me as I went by, but my head was too much on what was wrong and I don’t think I ever answered them.

I turned and came up the drive.  No one was about, but as I turned into our front gate to go along the path to the cottage, the Curate of St. Mary’s Church, Rushden, in which I was Christened and I’d been in the choir there since I was seven, stood there at the door with mother.  And mother looked very, very distressed.  I walked towards them and the first words she said, “Oh, Ted,” she said, “Father’s dead!”

Well, I don’t know how I felt.  So the Curate said, you’d better go across to the potting shed – that’s where he died, he said.  That was the place joined onto the end of the conservatories.  Dad used to do his office work in there.  So I retraced by steps and went across to the potting shed, but as I approached, the sergeant of the police stood outside.  And as he stood outside, and I approached him, he said, Good morning, he says, who are you?  I said, I’m the son of Mr Woollard who they say is dead.  He said, Yes son, he’s dead, but you can’t go in there.  And I said, I can’t?  And he said, No, that door is locked and it’s got to stay locked, and no one is to go in.

So with that I didn’t know what had happened.  When I got back mother said that there’d been a gun accident.

At that time of the year birds were very, very bad, and especially in the orchard down below, when Mr Lane had it, dad used to sell the trees, as they stood, and let those that bought them come and gather them.  And the crows were all the time at them – at that time of the year.  He always used to take the gun and try to keep it down so as the people who had bought them had a fair deal.  And that’s what seemed to be going to happen that morning, but, eventually, he didn’t return home, anymore.

And strangely enough, on that day, we were going to have a fowl for dinner and as dad left in the morning, as he was going to work, mother said, you won’t forget my parsley will you?  She wanted some parsley to make some stuffing, and he said, No, he said, No, I’ll bring it over at breakfast time when I come for my breakfast.

It all happened that he’d had an accident in loading the gun, and no one knew how it happened or anything.  And of course there had got to be an investigation into it.  They looked round, and it was a terrible sight in there.  But the bunch of parsley that he was going to bring over lay freshly gathered on the bench.

But after that and I’d learnt what had happened, I then had to go to fetch my grandmother and grandfather to come up and stay with us.  Mother couldn’t do much like that.

Then they had to have an inquest.  That was held in the sanatorium.  There were several members of the jury – prominent men in the town.  One of them was the town’s blacksmith, Mr Ginns, who was in the choir with me, and another one was the proprietor of the Compass Inn, I think.  I don’t know who the others were.

But the inquest was held; and Mr Jim Simpson – he was a member of the Browning family – he conducted the part for the Northamptonshire County Council.  And it was a very long hearing.  Lots of ways were put forward of how and why it happened, and his own doctor, Dr Greenfield, had to give evidence.  Everything seemed in order.  The only conclusion was that he was going to shoot at the birds that morning.

So when it was announced at the finish, they agreed that the gun was terribly unsafe and the sergeant of the police demonstrated that it should never have been used, for, as it was a blunderbuss type and as you were loading it, if you just touched the butt on the ground the trigger shot off automatically, which it shouldn’t have done.  It was a terribly unsafe gun; and after the post mortem it was ordered to be destroyed completely.  Well, that ended that, and afterwards it was a case passed as ‘Accidental Death’.

We didn’t know really what to do because we knew very well then that our tenancy would be finished at the cottage, so we didn’t know what to do.  You couldn’t get houses at that time, but the Northamptonshire County Council were quite good to us.  They gave us time to get round and get out.  But we couldn’t find anywhere else, that that’s where Dr Crane came in very, very handy.  He was very good to us and we moved from there, in 1933, from the cottage, and went to live with my grandmother and grandfather.  Well, we stayed there quite a while, until Dr Crane came to see us one day, and he said that they were building some very nice little houses up the Wymington Road, and he thought one would be just right for mother and myself.

And he went a long way – to the builders and that, who were building them, and the head of the building people who were putting them up, and got to know all the details, and eventually we decided the best thing to do would be to purchase one.  He did a lot of help in arranging things for us, and we were very, very grateful to him.  He was a very nice man.

So, eventually, it was just at Easter 1934 it was completed.  The builder completed this one for us, in front of some of the others because we were the first ones up in that row, so as we could get in.  We were there the week just before Easter.  So we were in there by Easter Sunday.  And we lived there ever since.  Time went on, and my mother died suddenly one night.  She was practically blind and diabetic, but it happened very suddenly – another sudden happening.  She died just before midnight on the night I least expected. I’ve lost my mother – nineteen years ago now – but I still live there today.  So that altered the whole course of my life.

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Ted Woollard’s Army Days

Eventually, then, I had to go into the army during the ‘War’, and I was away in Belgium, Germany and England.  And as I returned, I used to think as I came by, I wonder what’s there – on up there, and how things are really.  I never thought I should ever have the chance again.  I could see alterations had been made, but, eventually I was demobbed and my job was ready for me back at the factory where I used to work before.  So I went straight back to work, but each day I had to come up Wymington Road, by the old place, and it seemed really terrible, in a way, to look up there.  I used to almost turn up to come up the Drive as I came by, and I never thought that I should ever know anything else about it. I used to look up [the drive] as I came by, and I noticed the cottages where we lived had been pulled down.  It looked all vacant up there.  You could see the skyline, and I wondered what was there.  I didn’t expect to ever know anything else about it, or who worked there, or anything.

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Rowan Flack and the History of Rushden House

Photo of Ted Woollard in 1976
Ted Woollard pictured in the grounds
of Rushden Hospital, 1976
Photo of Rowan James Flack
Rowan James Flack
at Rushden House

But eventually, Mr Flack, the head of what is now called the Rushden Hospital – it was turned into a hospital later – approached me because he was trying to write a history of Rushden House, right from the start; from the first occupant; right down to the present day, up to the sanatorium.

People had given him information, but he still wanted a lot more, and people didn’t seem to have photographs and everything, but someone told him to get in touch with me.  He came up one night and I invited him in.  I knew I’d got everything that he really wanted.

I was born there and raised there.  Mr and Mrs Browning – that was the gentleman and lady that owned the house then – had three daughters.  One of the daughters, Miss Rosa Browning was my Godmother eventually.  They all took an interest in me – the father and mother, and the daughter. I was brought up in the garden with children – their nephews and nieces, and I played in the garden.  I wasn’t allowed to go out and play down the town, so I had really a wonderful start in life there.  They were very good to me, and as I said, Mr Flack was trying to get information, right from when the first person that owned it, right through to the time when we left.  So I fetched all the photographs out, and they were all at his disposal.  But, apart from the photographs and letters and things I’d got from my Godmother and other places, I had got the knowledge.  I was born there in 1907 and we didn’t leave till 1933, so I actually grew up in the place – right through the Brownings, and then the Lanes, and the greater part of the sanatorium.  We worked together and I’ve let him have the photographs and all the information I could help with.

Finally, there is one thing I must mention.  It is now 1976 and I go up and visit Mr and Mrs Flack and go round the old place, quite a lot, and I can’t let this finish without thanking Mr and Mrs Flack and family for the very happy times I’ve had.  They’ve been very good to me, and Mr Flack especially for letting me trace my steps in the place that I was born, and find out the alterations that have been made.  And he showed me the new place, and together we’ve pieced a lot together.  Now I am very, very grateful to them for everything.  When I go down and have a look round the old place where I used to toddle round as a toddler right up to a young man – to me, visiting them, it’s just like going home again.  Thank you.

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