Sunday, April 06, 2008

For Sale: 41 Marryat Road

This is the house on which much of the one in my novel A Proper Family Christmas was based, our childhood home in Wimbledon. AB and Issy lived with us there for several years too. My parents bought it in 1960 for £8000 and it was sold at the low point in the market in the mid 70s for £35,000, to a man who still lives there, 30 years later. My sister (Katie Fforde) noticed it for sale in the Telegraph. The asking price has recently been reduced from £5.5 million to a mere £4.75. I can't afford to buy it back.

I see from the agents' details there have been many changes. The wonderful old Edwardian bathroom I put in APFC has gone. The bath was vast - you could lie full length in it, with claw feet, huge taps, and a porcelain cylinder one raised or lowered acting as a plug. There was a hatch to the airing-cupboard next door, so that the maid could throw in a warm towel without disturbing the bather's modesty. The old scullery next to the kitchen has been turned into a smart garden room, with a terrace outside where we used to grow raspberries and roses. I expect the kitchen range has gone too. (I've only just thrown away the old cast iron frying pan we found on it when we moved in, because it was too heavy for me to lift.)

There is now a utility room in the cellar where my father used to make his gin, whisky and beer. This was in the days when any home-made alcohol was illegal, and Katie and I lived in terror that Daddy would be sent to prison. It made us very popular with our friends, though. (I wonder if our childish paintings are still pasted to the walls?) We realised there must also be a large space under the kitchen, and one day Daddy cut through the floorboards. Yes, there was a range of interconnecting secret rooms, the perfect den for me and Katie and our friends. In later years our old toys and childrens' books were stored down here, and to my eternal grief, they must have been left behind when we moved. Perhaps Mr. Xenakis still has them.

There are still 'eaves storage cupboards' (including the one that formed the turret at the side, where we inscribed our names in the joist, I wonder?) But the walk-in cupboard that turned a corner, almost a little set of rooms in itself, has fallen to the temptation of an en-suite bathroom. The huge first floor room we called the 'ballroom', where the whole family helped to lay a parquet floor, tile by tile, and we played table-tennis by candle-light during the power cuts of the three day week, has been divided into two. There was a secret cupboard there too. We found it had a false ceiling, and went up and up.

While my father was away teaching at a boarding school, my mother converted the two upper stories into flats. She did everything herself: designing, decorating, making curtains and bed-covers, buying furniture cheap because it was too big to fit into anybody else's rooms. (A great old side-board we called the 'white elephant' one of our tenants bought from us and shipped back to America.) She also dealt with the letting and the tenants, some lovely, some a disaster. How hard she must have worked! I'm about the same age now as she was then, and I certainly wouldn't fancy it.

In 1964 Bryan Forbes knocked at the door and asked if he could use the exterior for a film, Seance on a Wet Afternoon. Imagine the excitement of having a film crew around for us children! The dog enjoyed it too, and tried to get into all the shots. The film starred Richard Attenborough, and an American actress called Kim Stanley, who by a strange co-incidence Mummy already knew from when we were neighbours in London. They were delighted to see each other again, and Kim became a good friend. We visited Pinewood Studios to watch 'our film' being made. I was struck by how some extraordinarily skilled scene painter had replicated the view of the garden from our front door. We stayed in the house Kim and her family were renting, beside the Thames at Bray. It was built in the grounds of an old Victorian mansion, lived in by one old man, and it was this (now the Oakley Court hotel) that really formed the basis for Haseley House and William in A Proper Family Christmas.


  1. Oh, I remember it all so well. I remember the downstairs bathroom with particular fondness. It must have been 1970, the day of the World Cup Final and your father and I were getting ready to watch it on the television (he probably had bought his trademark crate of brown ale). I decided to have a celebratary bath before the match but the mechanism on the bathroom door failed and I was locked in there. The situation was resolved before half time by you (or perhaps your mother) smashing the door down with an old 16th century battle axe which hung on display in the hallway. You can't buy memories like that.

  2. Yes, we were planning to feed you spaghetti through the key-hole, weren't we, to give you something to live on during your imprisonment.


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