Today we took another trip back into the past – back in time to 1910 in fact.
We went to visit Mrs Cummings’s
cottage in Petworth High Street. She wasn’t at home when we called – but the coal fired range in the sitting room was lit, the table was set for tea and the kettle was boiling. It was just as if our hostess had stepped outside to run an errand
and would be back at any minute.
Mrs Cummings’s cottage, also known as the Petworth Cottage Museum, has been described by Simon Jenkins as one of “England’s
Thousand Best Houses” in his book by the same name. Now there would be a challenge, don’t you think, to visit as many of the other 999 as we could manage while we still have enough energy to track them down. I shall break it to Mr B gently...
Tracking down Mrs Cummings’s abode should have been easy-peasy. We have a choice of two routes and, as always, choose the wrong one – the route complicated by
road works, tricky mini-roundabouts and daft drivers. Plus, Petworth has a one way system of narrow,winding roads, all the better to flummox the visitor.
way? Which way?” Mr B (at the wheel) hollers at me. “This way!” I say, pointing at the map on my lap, which of course he can’t see because he’s too busy driving and trying to avoid us being hit up the back by the impatient driver
behind us. Mr B tells me that not only am I the Very Worst Navigator in the World but that I am fortunate indeed that we didn’t have a serious accident. Which would, of course, have been All My Fault.
He is calming down a little by the time we set off along the High Street, stopping to call in at a delightful Tea Shop called Tiffins for coffee and a toasted tea cake. I do like Tiffins. It has lovely wooden tables
and chairs painted pink and blue and lime green. The waitress takes our order and, seeing my little clutch of leaflets, comes back with a map showing an illustrated walk round the town which she thinks we might enjoy. Mr B says don’t even think
about it. Perhaps another day, I venture? He mutters something which could possibly be agreement. Or, even more possibly, not.
Once fed and watered, we wander
along the High Street looking for Number 346. We pass several antique shops and gaze in at the window displays wondering aloud to each other why anyone would pay that much for a blow torch, or a rusty plane, or a not-particularly-animated portrait of a self-satisfied-looking
Now here we are at the cottage: we walk through the little back garden, with its mangle and tin baths nestling against the wall, and knock on the back
door. A smiling volunteer opens the door and welcomes us in. She isn't Mrs Cummings but she is the Next Best Thing.
“At 346 it will be 1910 precisely”
says my leaflet. This is one of the reasons I wanted to visit Mrs Cummings’s cottage so much. In 1910 both my grandmothers – Clara and Rose – would have been young housewives and mothers. Perhaps their homes would not have been
exactly like the one Mrs Cummings made for herself, but surely many of the features would have been the same. I walk round the sitting room imagining my two grandmothers living in a house like this, with its stone sink and copper. Did they painstakingly make
rag rugs for their floors, like Mary Cummings did? Did they, like her, cut out pictures from magazines to hide the bareness of their walls? Were their sitting rooms lit by oil lamps – and did they use candles to light their way to bed?
Mr B is much taken with a large solitaire game, complete with multi-coloured marbles, set out on a table in the sitting room. He boasts to the smiley volunteer that he is
pretty sure he can still remember how to solve this puzzle. He sits himself down and proceeds to prove it. The smiley volunteer is suitably impressed, bless her. I ask her a few questions about Mrs Cummings’s family which throws her completely
because (it turns out) it is her very first day as a volunteer. Although, she promises me, she has read the guide book from start to finish, all the information has suddenly flown from her head. I feel guilty, knowing that this is exactly what would have happened
to me yesterday, had any visitors actually turned up and asked me questions while I was Watching the Church (see yesterday’s blog.)
We leave the past and
head back into the present. We take a different route on the way home. Equally beautiful but with no road works.
A shame we couldn't stop and see Mrs Cummings when she arrived back from her errand.
We probably only just missed her...