After last week in East Sussex grave-hunting, this Wednesday I took my mother out for a ride house-hunting. As a teenager my mother lived in Little Heath, near Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, which is where she met my father. I’d been threatening to take her to see her old childhood haunts for some time and it was a sunny day so off we set. I was also armed with what I thought was an address for my paternal great grandfather’s house from the 1891 and 1901 census records: 6 Heath Road. A quick pre-departure check on Google Earth showed me where Heath Road was and I fixed that in my mind as a destination.
A jam-free spin round a couple of junctions of the M25 soon saw us clambering off at Potters Bar. After a swift right turn up the Great North Road, mother started recognizing places from back in the 1930s. “It’s all changed a lot”, she remarked. “I’m not surprised; they’ve had 80 years to change it, after all”. She soon had me turning right into her old street but seemed to be having trouble remembering her old house. An old sweet shop opposite no longer existed (as a shop) so some visual clues were missing. Round the corner, though, she immediately spotted the cottage in which my father had been born and raised. A bit more family history and a second trip down mother’s road jogged the 91-year-old memory cells and she found her old house. A happy customer.
Time to go and look for great granddaddy’s pad. I crossed the Great North Road, found Heath Road and started driving down it. “Ah, there were some cottages beside that pub”, remembered mother as we passed a hostelry. “But I just passed house number 76; we’re at the wrong end of the road”. Actually, the entire road seemed wrong; the houses were far too large to have been lived in by great granddaddy who was, apparently, a nursery gardener. We found a number 6 but it was relative mansion and far too modern. We decided that his old cottage had probably been flattened to build more lucrative executive-style housing. Poor mother thought her memory must have been failing her.
As I started heading homewards, we passed another hostelry where mother had apparently “drunk many a Guinness” in her youth. “Do you fancy another one for old times’ sake?”, I asked. Of course she did. It took the barman about 10 minutes finally to pull an acceptable half-pint (nearly empty barrel and dead Guinness in the pipes) but that gave me time to tell him that my mother used to drink here 70 years ago. He was a bit taken aback but not enough to offer her the drink on the house.
After our refreshment I wanted one last look up Heath Road for g. grandfather’s cottage. This time we drove the opposite way along the road. As we neared the hostelry again, beside it I spotted a narrow turning labelled “Heath Cottages”. The 1901 census sheet suddenly made sense: it was headed “Heath Road” and the first entry said “7” but, in parentheses was scribbled “Heath Cotts” which I had neither paid much attention to nor understood. Now it made sense. Sure enough, down this tiny side alley we found a row of delightful old cottages and number 6. I snapped a picture.
A lady approached from another of the cottages and said that she’d seen me with a camera and wondered if my family used to live here. She was apparently writing a history of the cottages and had a copy of the 1901 census form with my great grandfather’s entry. She knew little about him. Unfortunately, neither did we. My mother didn’t even know he was called Spencer Curd until I started rummaging through the family skeletons. Our new friend, Mabel, seemed keen to introduce us to the current inhabitants of number 6 who, she thought, were in. We were soon having a guided tour around a much-modified great grandfather’s cottage.
It seems there’s not a lot wrong with the 91-year-old memory cells after all.