Lilac Cottage in 1957; it was painted pale green, with a dark green door.

Lilac Cottage in 1957; it was painted pale green, with a dark green door.

This picture is of Lilac Cottage. Rosebud was a more attractive little shed.  These two sheds were my sisters’ and they had already grown out of them when I appeared on the scene. Well, my elder sister Christine had grown out of Rosebud anyway. Margaret’s Lilac Cottage was still in use by her as a home for a collection of vivariums where she kept all sorts of field mice, short-tailed voles and shrews. This really took off when she was at college studying Natural History, but as she disappeared off to Twickenham (where she was studying) for months at a time the task of looking after all these rodents fell to my mother.

The shrews were not successful residents of Lilac Cottage, because if there was more than one in a vivarium they fought until one of them was dead. This is not surprising as shrewish means bad-tempered, and our shrews certainly were. The voles got on alright together until one day we forgot to feed them. I had not expected voles to be carnivorous and certainly not cannibals, but peaceful vegetarians. This description fitted them for the most part, but on this occasion we opened the vivarium to find just one very fat vole and no sign of the others!

As you can see, Margaret was a keen naturalist by her teenage years and I tagged along behind her trapping these small mammals in live traps. This was then a perfectly legal thing to do. We did this on Dunston Common and marked the base of the animals’ tails with dyes before letting them go again. We then went back regularly to set the traps. In this way we could tell how far a single vole would roam across the common.

Rosebud was quite different. It was less of a shed and much more of a child’s house. It had a low door which an adult had to bend double to enter and was furnished with a miniature desk and chair. It had low windows either side of the door, and at the other end which looked out over the field towards the Stoke Radar pylons, a little bay window. There was a small cast iron stove which we lit on one occasion, getting far too hot in the confined space and making ourselves quite ill. When I say “we” this was Margaret and I; she was the “owner” of Lilac Cottage, She was the younger of my two sisters and was quite happy to join in my childish entertainments although ten years older than me. Christine, my other sister who was two years older than Margaret, was too busy with her academic studies to do such foolish things. I do not remember her entering Rosebud at all.

My sister Margaret & me. Rosebud is behind us; notice the Pylons.

Margaret & me. Rosebud is behind; note the wartime Radar pylons.

I had taken it over by then; though it was her cottage originally it had been left behind by her for the adult world. What I used Rosebud Cottage for was mostly to read the comic annuals that I kept in the miniature desk. These were Tiger Tim and other similar illustrated books, just slightly out of date and beginning to lose their spines. The Eagle was my ‘official’ comic and it came out weekly. It, and the Eagle Annual were things that my Dad heartily approved of, and they were kept in the bungalow. They had stories like the life of Winston Churchill and a central cut away drawing of some advanced aircraft or similar technical subject. Somewhere in the loft I still have many copies of the Eagle. My Rosebud comics were less informative and so vaguely disapproved of by my father, but they were more fun.

Rosebud was unpainted wood with a red door.

Rosebud was unpainted wood with a red door.

Rosebud and Lilac Cottage came to a violent end. I too grew up and left behind the quiet enjoyment of these little houses. Rosebud was torn down  and burnt by Margaret and me. I miss it now, not so much for its physical presence, for it would have long gone by now in any event, but for a lack of pictorial record. I was going to regret how no photographic memory of Rosebud cottage remains, but I have found this view of the southern aspect of the magical little house.

This is seen from the field, in which the farmer has left a pile of straw. You can see the bay window I mentioned, and the chimney of the cast iron stove, and from the tall plant in the foreground it looks as if it ought to have been called Hollyhock cottage.The tree to the left is in a contrary way is a Lilac, Lilac Cottage, as being a slightly more practical shed lasted a little longer before it too went the same way. By then Christine was living in Canada and Margaret on Guernsey and the space was needed by me for vegetable growing, but I still recall Rosebud and Lilac with affection.




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