The Palmer Family

Extract from “Memories of St. Johns” By Philip Adams

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-  Grace Palmer  -


I was born in the house at the nursery. It was offices originally and belonged to Richard Smith, who established the first nursery there in 1804, I believe. One of my earliest memories is of a Mr. Carrington-Smith. He worked in some capacity for the Smiths and lived at the far end of the nursery. There was a long main drive right through the grounds with double gates separating one part of the nursery from the other, and he used to ride his horse down this drive each morning, jump the gates and come up to our house to collect his post.


Father bought the lower part of the nursery in 1910. My brother Claude, who was the last person to own the nursery, was born in Rose Villa in Boughton Street where the family lived before moving to the nursery house. My parents came originally from Hadley in Suffolk where they also ran a nursery. Father was going to buy that but it all fell through, so they came to Worcester.


Claude was born in 1910 and myself in 1911. We were very close. We had another 2 brothers and 2 sisters but they were six and eight years older than us. Claude and I were sort of afterthoughts if you like. My oldest brother was what I called a wanderer. He never quite saw eye to eye with father and left to do what he wanted to do. He bought a hotel at one point, and then later on he set up Palmer's nursery in Droitwich Road. When he died his daughter took over.


I suppose my earliest memory is of the beech tree. It was our playground and we more or less lived in it really. We strung up hammocks in it and used to take books up there. It was a weeping beech and some of the boughs that came over were very springy so we would find a piece to sit on, tie some string round it and we then had 'dobby' horses.


We were brought up very strictly. When mother said something we knew that she meant it, and if she said that she had to speak to us twice then we knew were heading for trouble. She didn't have time for us to be naughty. In those days I played in white pinafores and petticoats. My brother's collars were starched, as were all our clothes. We were like Little Lord Fauntleroys.

We had a nanny who used to take us out in a pram. Her sister lived with us as well and she was the house parlourmaid. They both came from Wadborough and left when the war started to go into the munitions factory. After that we had a lady, a nurse who lived at No.4 Boughton Street, and she married Mr. Chambers, the gentleman who looked after the 'stove' greenhouses where they grew all the tropical plants and ferns in Smith's days. He stayed on and worked with father. She left after the marriage and they lived in Happyland North.


I can't remember how many workers my father had. There used to be what they called the pay office - which was carried over from Smith's time - where the men had to enter their number in a book as they arrived for work, and then they would come there on a Saturday lunchtime for their wages.  Father owned all the nursery area which has now been built upon. Originally he owned the other area as well but things became difficult during the great Depression, and when the General Strike occurred, no orders and parcels could be sent out and people had to be reimbursed. This was all quite a blow to my parents. Father was also ill at this time and the doctor advised him not to do any hard work for the time being. So, the decision was made to sell up and move to Malvern. This is when land was sold to the Hickman's and Fulcher's. Unfortunately my parents couldn't sell the house so they had to stay and of course the land they had sold couldn't be reclaimed. This was another blow because overall they lost quite a bit of money I believe.


Before all this, the land went as far as Hanbury Park Road, and father also rented ten acres from a Mr. Isaacs at Boughton Park. At that time Mr. Bowkett lived in the old Lodge House which was by the top entrance to the nursery. It was at that end I first saw the golden berry holly, very common now but not so in those days. It had smooth leaves, not prickly ones. Also at that end of the nursery were some big sheds - the holly bushes were near them.


We finished school at about 3.30 and Nurse would come and collect us, then we would pick up a picnic basket from home and walk all the way up the drive and dad would stop whatever he was doing and join us for tea, sandwiches and a piece of cake.


When it was time for ploughing, dad would borrow a horse, which knew the work obviously and went up and down the furrows with little guidance. But I was allowed to hold the horse and thought that it was me doing the guiding! That was a real treat for me after school.


During the First World War we used to collect eggs from Boughton House. I was allowed to go up with a basket because it was fairly safe and there was not the traffic around that there is now. The Marriage family were there then and their two children used to ride round in a pony and trap with their nanny or whoever was taking them out. The golf course was all farmland then. It was all wired up but you had right of way down to the bridge across the brook.


All the men were called up but one of them was sent back after a time. His name was Bunny Price and he was one of 13 children. The family lived in one of the three-storey houses backing onto the Bransford Road next to “The Portobello”, or 'The Puss and Pepper Pot Box' as we knew it, I don't know why. Anyway Bunny went off to war but was told to come back because he was too tiny, he couldn't see over the trenches. He carried on working for us until he died.


Mr. Spragg was another man that worked for us. He did all the glasswork and glazing on the greenhouses, and painted them as well. I used to talk to him for hours. He lived with his family in the top house of Avenue Road.


I went to St John's Ladies College until I was 11. Miss Session and Miss Wilde were the teachers. There used to be three classes for us youngsters in an upstairs room at the back, then as you grew older you came downstairs to the other classes, of which there were four as far as I can recall. I knew Elsie Godsall who went there and Maxine Penny, whose family lived in what I called the 'tram house' next to the tram depot. Its been pulled down now I think. I used to go a lot there for tea and I've been out on the roof of that house and the one next door many a time. The Smith children went to the college as well. Their family had the mill along the Martley Road. Boys and girls went to the college when they were young. Claude started there as well but mother thought he wasn't doing very well so he transferred to St John's School for a little while and then went to the Kings School when he was nine.


I used to walk down the Bransford Road to school. The cattle came down there as well and frightened me because I was small. I knew most of the people along the road. There used to be an old lady who I knew as Granny Lloyd. She may not have been old, but she seemed so to me when I was little and every time I went by she would nod her head to me. I was fascinated by this so I thought that next time I would stop and speak to her. One day she wasn't there, and she always was when I came out of school. The gate wasn't shut properly and the door was ajar, so I peeped in and she was sat by the fire. She told me to come - because I used to natter to her nineteen to the dozen - and I sat next to her while we chatted away. When I got home though I got a good hiding because I was late. "Where do you think you've been?" asked mother; "chatting to Granny Lloyd" I said. Granny was a very gracious and dignified lady, tall and upright. She lived in one of the cottages that used to be almost opposite the bottom of Avenue Road.


I used to visit Mrs. Smith and her husband at No.7. He was called 'Horsey' but I didn't know why. I didn't see him very much though. I seemed to have a passion for old people. There were another three old ducks I visited, spinsters who lived near “The Herefordshire House” pub. One was a milliner, one was a dressmaker and I believe the other one kept house for them. Then there was the Wheels family who lived at No.109 - a tall, white building which belonged to my mother. They had children about the same age as me. Mr. Wheels was a travelling rep I believe, and Mrs. Wheels was the first woman I ever saw with a cigarette.


The district nurse lived on the corner of School Road, Nurse Patteson. She helped deliver me so I always talked to her and she to me. I always had lots to say, I don't know why - especially as I was told that children should be seen and not heard!


We used to have parties at the nursery. Mother came from a large family and we had the largest house. The bed we used to sleep in could hold three children but when it was party time mother would turn the bed round and along the back of it against the bedroom wall she would put these special empty bulb boxes which father used to get from Holland. Bolsters and pillows were put on these and six of us would then be able to sleep in the bed. We didn't have electric lights then, only gas mantles so the last one undressed and into bed had to turn the light out and then try to find a place to sleep because the rest of us would keep shifting about. And if one wanted to turn all of us had to because we were packed in like sardines.


Years ago father grew more in the vegetable line as well as plants and seeds. They were all for sale and he advertised in the paper. He also did a big postal trade then. The larger packages went by rail and a man from the railway used to come and collect the smaller packages and take them down the post office. His name was Tom and he was with the railway for a long time. I used to go down to the post office sometimes and the lady there would grumble "he's been in and tipped them all on the floor here, how are people supposed to get in?" I think Tom may have done it on purpose just to aggravate her.


We used to collect all the seeds from the flowers and they would be for sale. And we had what we called the 'hawkers' come up; they were the flower sellers from Worcester. They would buy the flowers cheaply, bundle them up and take them back into the city to sell. Mary-Ann was one of them and I still remember her today because she would say to me "now don't be awkward", because I used to say "we've got nothing for you today Mary". "Now don't be awkward, you can find something"; "well, the frost's had all those"; "never mind", and she would gather up these flowers, pick all the little brown petals off, give them a good shake and then bundle them up for sale. It made me laugh, but it was new to me entirely this life she led. She would arrive wearing a big apron and carrying buckets, buy five bob's worth of flowers and come back the next day for the same.


There were a lot of greenhouses on the nursery as well as the packing sheds at the far end of the drive: and there was a garage as well with the clock on the top of it. One of the greenhouses ran from there to the top gate, and that was about 100 yards. When I was a child, dad used to get very cross because the windows in this greenhouse - which backed onto a hedge with Little Boughton Street on the other side of it - kept being broken and the tomatoes inside pinched.


As well as tomatoes, dad grew cucumbers, chrysanthemums and carnations under glass. He really took a fancy to carnations at one point and grew a lot of them. All the greenhouses had water tanks in them because there were no water taps all over the place then. Nurse would take us up to the River Teme for picnics. We paddled in the lower part of the salmon runs and if we caught any minnows we'd bring hem back and put them in the tanks.


Claude and I learnt to ride a bicycle along the nursery walks and drive. I would be riding along, and say to him "I can't get off!”; "well, fall off then."; "no, I'll hurt my knees."; "You silly thing, stick your foot out and keep it straight."; But I hadn't got enough sense to think that out for myself. I was little and a bit of a weakling. I didn't have a bike of my own but I didn't miss out. If the family went on picnics, one of my brothers would sit me on a cushion on the handle-bars with a stern warning not to put my foot down on the mudguard or I'd put the brake on. Bransford Woods were a favourite place for picnics.


On other occasions nurse would take me to the Daisy Meadow to play. We walked along Watery Lane and it was a little lane then with trees overhanging on either side. Dad's friend used to visit and I was allowed to hold his horse for 6d. I thought I was ever so clever but I don't suppose poor Dobbin would have moved an inch anyway. When they'd finish talking dad said that I could ride back up on the dray to Bromyard Road. So I sat up on a box which was covered with sacks as we trundled up Watery Lane, then I got off and ran back home.


There were no factories in Bromyard Road then and on this one occasion when our house was being altered we went to stay at The Stalls, a large house belonging to Colonel Buck and his family. They had stables there and in a house on the opposite side of the road, lived a man named Mr. Smith. it was his job to break in the horses. Our house at the nursery needed extra bedrooms as the back part of it was only single storey. The Stalls had about 21 rooms and we stayed there for nearly six months. My eldest brother later bought the house from the colonel and then later on sold it to the Mecco.


I can remember us having a car when Claude and I were little. It came from the Miss Binyons. if mum and dad wanted to go out one of the men who looked after the greenhouses would don a chauffeur's cap and coat and off they'd go. It was a 'sit up and beg' model. When we all went out, mother would tie her hat on with a veil and Claude and I would sit on little stools because it was quite spacious inside. I can't remember what happened to the car but it probably went when the war was on.


Claude was always in the garden since he was a little boy. We used to have a little plot to play in and he used to call me a sissy because I wanted flowers and pretty things in my patch and he didn't.  He had a proper little allotment and a shed with a seat in it with all his tools hung up: and he had a frying pan for cooking as well, because that’s what the men had up on the top allotments. That was the ten acres of ground dad rented but it was taken off him because all the staff had been called up and the authorities said that he couldn't possibly cope with all that land. But dad kept a bit of it and Claude used to go up there and see these people and he wanted his patch to be the same. He grew potatoes, then he'd dig some up and say that we could have some chips if he could get some lard from mum and start the fire.