Tony Inwood recollects life at Lacton House.
Tony must have been one of a few people who's life at Caldecott had four different phases. Starting at the main building of Mersham-le-Hatch, then moving on to life at The Paddocks, followed by two years at Lacton Hall, before returning to the Colt House Annex in the Brewery Yard attached to the West Wing of 'Hatch'. A much travelled boy!
Here he offers some of his memories of Lacton House life.
The Caldecott Community at Willesborough, Ashford, Kent.
Life at Lacton Hall 1965 -1967.
(A personal reflection by Tony Inwood.)
Having had such a nice life at the Paddocks, it was a little unsettling to think we had to move to new premises. However, that soon evaporated as we made sorties there to help with the preparation of the house before we moved in. This basically involved earning extra pocket money by ronsealing the wooden floor boards in some of the rooms. This also meant that we could thoroughly familiarise ourselves with the house and grounds before we actually moved in.
So we soon found that, as with the Paddocks, life at Lacton Hall was good. Upon our arrival we were met by a 3 legged Siamese cat, called “Tripod”! This was an intriguing animal who had belonged to the previous owner and for some reason had stayed on at the house. Tripod was a nice addition to having the lovely Tosca, James and Tessa’s dog, who had been at the Paddocks too. Later another new arrival was that of Bella, a big brown mastiff with an overshot jaw. She was very cuddly and friendly, especially as a young puppy, and was a delight to have around. All this was then crowned wonderfully when Tosca mated with another dog in the area by mistake and produced a large litter of puppies of mixed colours. These were a delight to everyone and were housed in the garage next to James and Tessa’s VW Camper Van, which was known as “Luther”!
One thing that we missed at Lacton Hall was the little “Duck Pond” which had proved so successful at the Paddocks. So James decided to build another one in the garden and there were gangs of us who would help to dig up the earth and then wheelbarrow it round to the meadow at the back and then dump it in any little hollows to make the area more level. By the time the pool was finished, it proved to be even better than the old duck pond and was a great source of fun in the summer months. The next step was to make a cricket pitch in the meadow, which now had far less bumps in it, thanks to all the swimming pool earth that been dumped there. The pitch was a rather rough and ready affair, but it did the job and was used a lot for practising our cricket skills.
A few of us then thought about replicating the idea of a tree house, like we had before, but then instead had the idea of digging out an underground camp on the edge of the field. This camp was, in fact, only half underground as we used the earth that we dug out to build up a little wall all around the top and then put on a roof of branches, corrugated iron and earth. Still it was fun to build and fun to use.
We were allowed to watch more TV at Lacton Hall than over at Hatch, the main House. This was still in the days of black and white TV, of course! I remember watching programmes such as Blue Peter, The Man from Uncle, various cartoons and Top of the Pops. On Saturday evenings we always watched Bonanza (a cowboy series) and each had a packet of crisps to munch on, whilst doing so.
Other nice summer activities were having barbecues at weekends in the courtyard, with Tessa cooking sausages by the score. Then we had a “Pick Your Own” Farm over the road from Lacton Hall and sometimes we would go and pick strawberries to earn some extra money and sometimes we would go over in the evenings when it was closed and help ourselves to the strawberries and then take them back and gorge ourselves on them.
After we had been at Lacton Hall for some time, James did a social work course at Oxford for a while. This meant that he would go up on a Sunday evening and stay there all week and return on a Friday evening. We all missed him a great deal during the week, but as Friday approached there would be mounting excitement about his return. As soon as he was spotted, children would race out to greet him and he was jumped on by a jubilant crowd of them. His wife and family had to wait their turn before welcoming back husband and father! In retrospect it occurs to me that the sharing of their own family life with the wider Lacton Hall (and Paddocks) family must at times have caused some degree of stress for them. However, the personal cost to them was never communicated to us and they simply absorbed it.
I think the reason that James was so popular with us children was partly that he was very easy going and partly because he was a kind of father figure and treated us with a great deal of warmth and kindness. He was also almost endlessly patient when tantrums were thrown by any of us and he managed to soak up a good deal in the way of aggression. He was always good humoured simply great fun. I still recall many little anecdotes he would tell us about life and people and things that he had done in the past, which was very entertaining.
For our breakfasts in the mornings we would have coffee, cereals and lovely rolls freshly baked and delivered by Arnold’s bakery in Sellindge. I used to then go off to school at Brockhill County Secondary in Saltwood by bus. As it happened one of my friends there was Tim Arnold, the baker’s son. This connection came in handy later on. This was because my foster parents decided that they were no longer in a position to keep having me in the holidays, so I had nowhere permanent to go. As a result I went to stay with a variety of people for holidays in my final 3 years at Caldecott, including Tim and his parents!
On Sunday mornings, like at the Paddocks, we went to Chapel at Hatch. This meant piling into “Luther” for the 10 minute trip. At that time I didn’t really like going to this Chapel service (although I am a Christian now) and protested that it was boring! However, in retrospect I did actually enjoy certain parts of it, like some of the hymns and the girls’ choir singing under the guidance of Betty Rayment. Also, some of the talks did resonate with me to some extent, although I would never have admitted that at the time.
Then on Sunday evenings, once again, we had “Reading”. This was alternated with group singing with James on Guitar and he and Tessa leading us all in some folk songs before going off to bed. Another cosy way to round off the weekend.
So the happy family atmosphere continued at Lacton Hall, as it had done so well at the Paddocks. However, at this stage of my life it became increasingly marred by problems in other areas of my life, to do with parents and foster parents and I started to nose dive and became increasingly isolated and subject to depression. This, sadly, was compounded when I moved to the Colt House, but despite it all I could still appreciate to some extent the good things and have spells of peace and happiness.