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Family Of Four: 8 - Nursery Days

...It was a house of warmth and happiness, of laughter and sudden tears, of childish squabbles and hidden fears; a busy, bustling house, overflowing with its family life.

Mrs Vivien Hirst recalls her childhood days in a Yorkshire mill town in the early days of last century.

Mrs Hirst's nephew, Raymond Prior, arranged for the publication of her memoirs under the title Family Of Four. For earlier chapters of her story please click on that title in the menu on this page.

It was a house of warmth and happiness, of laughter and sudden tears, of childish squabbles and hidden fears; a busy, bustling house, overflowing with its family life. It was home for us, Doreen, Rex, Vivien and Bobby, with Mummy and Daddy, Nurse, Cook, and a housemaid-nurserymaid.

Our nursery was a large, sunny room in the front of the house, on the first floor, where on most days burned a cheery fire surrounded by a high guard, bounded by shining brass. There was a built-in cupboard in one corner with two drawers underneath which stuck, and had to be pulled open with such energy that the opener was bowled over. Then, to go back into place they required the most determined pushing, first to one side, then to the other, accompanied by many grunts. These were our toy drawers and we never could be sure how they would disgorge their many exciting contents .

In the opposite corner was a hand-basin used for the nursery washing-up. Nearby stood our rocking-horse, Dobbin, our dear old shabby Dobbin, whose tummy, filled with odds and ends dropped into the holes in his side, rattled as we rode him across the room in steady, jumping bursts. Wildly we rode until Mummy would leave the room below, open the door and call out "Children, children, steady, you will bring the lights down!"

A large chest of drawers stood against the wall, a table in the middle of the room covered by a red and black patterned cloth. A table which, when turned upside down and draped with this cloth, made a wonderful tent or a ship at sea, and many were the adventures we had. The playpen, folded up, stood erect in one corner. There were chairs about the room for us to use to sit at the table for nursery meals; for painting sessions; for pressing transfers into books; for fixing stamps and post-cards into their separate albums; for the playing of "Snap", "Old Maid", "Donkey", "Ludo", and "Halma", and Draughts, oh! and many other uses.

The strangest must surely have been when one evening, every few weeks,
the table was covered, first with a blanket, and then with a large Turkish towel. Next, each child was laid upon it in turn to be given an enema. Daddy was a great believer in an inner clear-out and so we had to submit to this unpleasant business. It would have caused surprise to anyone to have seen this table placed in the middle of the room, under the light, the nurse and Mummy skilfully officiating, while on the floor rested the four little potties, upon which four little children would be popped, to move around the room as children will on these occasions.

Near the fire was a large rocking chair where nurse sewed, and read to us, comforted us when we were ill, consoled us after squabbles, loved us when we felt we needed loving.

The window was high and a movable shelf had been placed below so that we could pull ourselves up to look out. It must have been amusing to passers-by to see the four little faces pressed against the glass, but not so amusing when, unseen, they rapped sharply on the shut window and then bobbed out of sight, so puzzling those below who looked round in surprise.

The walls were covered with a fascinating paper, highly varnished, repeatedly depicting "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe"; and there was the shoe, the woman with her stick, and children of all sizes tumbling about her. Of course, we each claimed one for our favourite and named that one after ourselves.

We had all our infectious diseases in this nursery. The cots, or beds, as required, would be moved in from the nightnursery, and to isolate, a large sheet was hung at the door withits end in a bath of carbolic. It was exasperating to have toshout through this protective covering to the patient.


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