Ditchingham House was the home of the author Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925), famous for writing the adventure novels King Solomon’s Mines and She among others. Lilias Rider Haggard (1892-1968) was the youngest of his four daughters. Lilias was also a writer. She lived in Bath House, overlooking Outney Common (i.e. Bungay Common). Ditchingham House was occupied by one of her elder sisters; and for a year or two in the 1950s she opened her house for the sale of afternoon teas.
. I remember this because once or twice I was taken there by my parents on the way home from school in Bungay. Ditchingham House is off the main road to Norwich, but only a lawned area separates it from the road. I passed it every day on the bus to school and back. Our afternoon tea would have been on Thursday, because that was Norwich’s early closing day and so my father would have been available to drive me home. The rest of the week I went home on the bus. It is rather quaint talking of early closing – I wonder when the tradition died out? It wasn’t quite as laid-back as it sounds, because the corollary of having Thursday afternoon off was working all afternoon on Saturday. My father was an optician, so his hours of work followed the retailers’. Factory workers’ hours of work were rather different; for them there was no half day during the week, but Saturday afternoons were free. Another difference in shop hours in those days was the complete absence of late night or Sunday trading. Everything shut at 5.30, and nothing opened at all on Sunday. Only a very few establishments had longer hours, mostly small newsagents and sweetshops like Yallop’s on St Catherine’s Plain in Norwich. Even so it hours wouldn’t have extended much beyond six in the evening and lunchtime on Sunday.
. After that digression into opening hours I will return to Ditchingham House. Going into the room where they served tea and cakes, one might expect to be approached by a butler (it was that sort of house), but this was post-war Britain and domestic servants were a vanishing breed. I think we were waited on by Miss Rider Haggard herself. The tea was mainly memorable to me for not including ice cream! I dare say it did include cucumber sandwiches and fruit scones, and tea served in a pot.
. Just up the road is a cul-de-sac called Free Lane. A schoolgirl from Bungay used to take our bus as far as Ditchingham. I don’t even remember if she was at St Mary’s school or not. Her fare for the journey was 3d – threepence. What a fact to recall of well over half a century ago! I remember that because the bus conductor used to joke about the similarity in the sounds of “free” lane and “three” pence. Bus conductors are another vanished species like butlers, but whereas domestic servants have made something of a comeback among the super rich, bus conductors have gone for good.
. Also in Ditchingham, just the Bungay side of Ditchingham House and on the opposite side of the road was a busy blacksmith’s. The bus stopped just outside. Most of his work involved welding broken farm machinery and such like. I believe, however, that there was a small amount of farriery work to be done, although the horse was no longer used for farming, and was only employed by the rich for pleasure, as it still is.