Thamesway, 660 Bath Road Taplow, UK
When I imagine heaven, I always think of a special corner of the very first garden I ever knew. I can see it in my mind’s eye. It is the corner of the garden where the gravel path of orchard meets the tennis court with a rustic rose-covered arch and a greengage tree, the only tree that I could climb.
Sadly, like most of the buildings of my youth, this garden is long gone, now the heavenly garden is covered by concrete and six rather unattractive houses but for me these do not exist. All I see is the beautiful garden that my grandfather so lovingly tended. It is as fresh in my memory as my garden today and it is worth remembering as a reminder that progress is not always better than what has been replaced.
So now let me the tell you all about this enchanted magical place where I spent the first four years of my life with my mother, her two unmarried sisters, my grandparents, a parrot, a dog and a tortoise and occasionally my two cousins, John and Gillian and their parents. It was known then as Thamesway, Bath Road Taplow and was in a row of rather grand houses that line the Bath Road. Nearby was a cafe, Western Biscuit Factory, a pub, The Mile House, the local telephone exchange and Barr’s Tulip Fields. The rest was farmland. This was my world.
Please note NO father. I did not have a father! I did have one but because of an event known as the Second World War this more or less essential item did not feature in the first four years of my life and when the highly desired object did turn up it was a disaster for all of us. This need not concern us here.
Thamesway was the prized possession of my truly remarkable grandfather, Henry Thorpe, the chief accountant and manager of Wembley Stadium. He had managed Wembley Stadium since The 1923 Wembley International Exhibition and he and Sir Arthur Elvin the Managing Director had introduced the world to Speedway, the FA Cup, the dogs and eventually The 1948 Olympic Games. At this time 1943 Pop was still managing Wembley Stadium, travelling by train every weekday via Taplow Station and Paddington, then the tube to Wembley in the morning and back at night in the blackout.
The most remarkable thing about Henry Thorpe is that far from being educated at Eton and Oxford he was born in the slums of Manchester, Gorton to be precise, one of ten children of a Wagoner, a man who made coal carriages for the railways. To say Pop was poor was an understatement. One can still see pictures of their house by the railway lines a small two up two down Victorian terrace house by the railway into which were crammed 14 souls every night. Not a garden in sight. In fact, for many years I doubt if Pop had ever seen a garden.
By incredible hard work and industry my grandfather had educated himself through night school from a railway ticket office clerk, to be the first graduate of the London School of Economics, pass in the first 100 of the Civil service Exams to become eventually Governor of the Ceylon Railways and on retirement Manager of Wembley Stadium.
His passion was his garden in Taplow which he managed entirely by himself.
Pop bought Thamesway for his wife and four daughters, Flo, Jo, Tippy & Honey, my mother, in about 1930 when they moved from Dachet as his wife Ma was fed up with the flooding from the Thames that happened each year. The house was not remarkable being rather small for such a large family who just squeezed in but the garden even for 1930 was something else for it was a double and a half building plot which allowed for a round drive in and a huge garden. It was also large enough to allow Pop to buy the Indian Exhibit, the Indian Room at the Wembley Exhibition and have it moved and built onto the side of his house. This room has got a a blog entry of its own. The Indian Room. This alone made Thamesway magical.
To make matters even better the garden had been designed. The world is used to designer gardens today but in 1930 this was unusual to say the least although I did not realise it then design is everything.
Here is a ground plan of the garden and the house which as can be seen covers a very small area except for the attached Indian Room which was about 12 meters square. You can see the entrance, the Orchard, the long herbaceous and rose border, kitchen gardens, (not used as such) and tennis court .
You entered by car through the double gates from the Bath Road on a yellow gravel path. There was quite a ditch in those day. This road was very busy from 1944 on as all the tanks going to D Dad passed by on the ay out and those that were left back on the way in in 1945. These scared me stiff. The car could sweep around the central flower bed to the porch and front door. This flower bed was always a mass of flowers. Tulips in Spring and Asters in summer, like a park. The car which was a Ford V8, DMK 945 was driven by my Auntie Flo, the eldest sister and it was her job to fetch and carry Pop from the station when it rained otherwise Pop walked the short distance to Taplow Station.
Once delivered the car could sweep around the central circle and drive on the gravel road around to the back of the house to the large garage by the back door. All boundaries were lined with large trees, the front and garage side fir trees, the other side had deciduous trees like a great weeping willow and all the boundaries had hedges of common laurel that had to be carefully cut by hand every year. This was down by a jobbing gardener twice a year. Huge job.
Next to the Indian Room there was a bed devoted entirely to old fashioned roses. This was backed by a rustic trellis covered with climbing roses. In early summer the smell from these flowers was overwhelming. A rustic arch led through to the orchard and the herbaceous border.
The orchard which had 45 mature fruiting trees was the main garden and used all summer for picnics on the finely mowed lawn. This lawn was like the finest Aubuson carpet and would put Wimbledon tennis court to shame. Not a weed in sight, beautiful swathe and carefully cut with straight lines like the Wembley Cup Final. Every adult except Ma had to mow the lawn. Pop did it with a motor mower but the daughters had to mow it by hand on occasions. It was always perfect.
There were three cherry trees, one was the variety white heart and these were a treat every summer. The then was a range of plums, Doris, greengage, damson, lots of damson jam and Victoria plums for eating and a great selection of eating apples of which my favourite was Coxes Orange Pippins. On summer afternoons all during the Second Work WarWar
When she was not working at the home office Auntie Jo made and prepared afternoon tea in the orchard. This was a massive production as if the lawn was not cut she had to do this first by hand with the hand mower. Then she would put all all the deck chairs, There would always be six at home but usually many more. Hammock and cushions with a blanket “sur l”herb pour mois!” This also included small tables for Granny and Pop, who was only around at the weekend. She would take the Polly the parrot out in his cage for an airing ns bring the wind up gramophone and 78s with the latest record for background music.
Then she would make the tea. During the Second World War there was really nothing of interest to eat so the main item was Bread and jam with no butter followed if one was lucky by some sort of cake. However the bread was thinly cut, at that time sliced bread had not been invented. Auntie Jo’s thinly sliced bread was delicious. There was plenty of tea but no sugar. The best Royal Albert tea cups and service were used along with napkins and appropriate cutlery and this alone made these out door meals special. At 3.0 pm the gong would sound and everyone would drop what they were doing descend for tea under the apple trees. It was an unforgettable occasion. This would last 20 minutes at most with Granny serving each cup. Tea in first!
Then as soon as it had started and we had all eaten as much bread and jam as we could manage it was over and Auntie Jo was left to put the whole production paraphernalia away and wash up too. No dishwasher in those days while Granny did what she did best and cooked the dinner.
On Saturday mornings in summer there was a tennis party for the entire neighbourhood as Thamesway was the only house with a tennis court. Occasionally there were serious local competitions but these were always won by the proprietor of the local transport cafe, The Vincents who were top class players. Mrs Vincent made Wimbledon one year but was prevented from going as she was pregnant with her first daughter Pamela who was to become my best friend and sort of sister. Being an only child I was lucky to have a sort of sister for the rest of my life. The tennis court had an 8 ft run back and a bank for spectators and was where James the Tortoise lived in a special garden frame. This bank was about a meter high and James was forever falling off and escaping. James hunts were held at least once a week.
The garden was my grandfather’s passion. He adored it and worked in it in his free time. In Spring we had a show of tulips to match any that Holland could muster as Barr’s Tulip farm was just 100 yards away. All the beds were massed with tulips and for get me knots. Mr Barr was a regular visitor and great friend and was the only person my grandfather took to the FA Cup. No females allowed to their game of football as it would be a waste t waste a ticket on a girl. John my male cousin got to go. I found out many years later that Mr Barr was the fourth richest man in England. Maybe that had something to do with why Mr Barr got the tickets!
Pop grew all the flowers himself. Pop was not interested in vegetables, he could have ploughed up the tennis court to help the war effort but refused to do so. He grew the forget knots and pansies for the spring and asters, thousands of them for the summer. The beds were crammed with flowers. And I still love these plantings. I especially loved the pampers grass and the grey lamb’s ear/Stachys the bordered all the edges of the beds. Pop also loved roses. The fruit was useful and after the autumn harvest, the apples were stored in the attic in rows and lasted all through the winter. This fruit was useful for all sorts of pies.
Pop had a small dark garden shed where he stored his poisons and worked on wet days. To discourage me from entering he told me terrifying tales of the huge child-eating spiders that lived there and how I would become entrapped in their webs. I have not recovered yet!
Thamesway made me appreciate a beautifully designed and well cared for garden. I had to leave this heaven in 1947 for the patch of Middlesex clay of the semi-detached in Stanmore where I lived for the next 18 years. Actually, it was quite well designed too but my father ruined by removing the flower beds and turning it into a muddy weed filled lawn but that is another story. I longed to return to Thamsway.
Now this beautiful garden is no more but to me, it still lives in my memory and now thanks to the miracle of the Cloud it can once more live on.