The Grounds     |     Georgians     |     Occupiers     |     History by Peter Bushell     |     Memories by Jennifer Selfridge

 The House
 The Gardens
 Later Visits
 Photo Gallery (still photos)
 Photo Gallery (animated)

December 2005
The House
Entering the large, heavy, classically beautiful front door (bordered by narrow rectangular windows on each side, and a crescent window above), one came into a large square high-ceilinged hall. It had a coat closet opening off the right rear wall, and was furnished with an oriental rug, a cabinet with a mirror above it, and several chairs set against the walls. As in most of the rooms of the house, the plaster walls were light cream in color; Jennifer believes they were wallpapered rather than painted; some had moldings or patterned borders at the ceiling.  

To the left was the drawing room, reserved mainly for adult use. There were two large high windows, deep-set in the thick walls and with interior shutters like the others in the house, facing the front garden.

They had heavy fabric curtains, and light beige net “privacy” curtains. After dark, as with the other rooms in the house, the main source of light was an electric fixture in the middle of the room’s ceiling, supplemented by standing lamps where needed for reading. The room was furnished with art and antiques, and soft couches and chairs covered in flowered chintz. There was a heavy round table, deeply carved to represent the Knights of the Round Table, which the children found of particular interest. A fireplace, with a large impasto oil painting of a landscape above its mantelpiece, was on the wall between Friars Lawn and its mirror-image twin, The Grange.

Not long after the family arrived, one of the very early television sets - a large mahogany console with a very small screen - was an addition to the drawing room; the console also included a radio. The televised programming was very limited, but, needless to say, the children were fascinated by it. Jennifer also recalls spending quiet hours in this room, escaping her noisy and boisterous brothers and reading and re-reading the leather-bound annual volumes of the American magazine, LIFE, full of wonderful photographs, that her father brought home from his frequent business trips to the United States.

The back of the entrance hall was a high wide archway, leading to the stairway hall, with a handsome staircase going upstairs straight ahead, with a gracefully curved wooden railing that the children loved to slide down.

To the left, behind the drawing room, was the dining room, with a very wide and high window looking out over the back garden. A large rectangular dining table, surrounded by dining chairs with rush seats, dominated the middle of the room. It was used for all the family’s meals, which were brought in from the kitchen on trays; the china had the familiar “blue willow” pattern. There was also a small desk used for correspondence and the house accounts, and two easy chairs, one with a radio (used mainly for listening to the news), flanking the fireplace. At Christmas time, the back right-hand corner of the dining room held the Christmas tree, and the room, like the other main rooms and halls in the house, was festooned with ceiling streamers and other Christmas decorations.

Note: While there were fireplaces in most of the main rooms of the house, Jennifer does not recall any of them being actively used to heat the house. Unlike most houses in England at the time, Friars Lawn had “central” heating with a furnace, fueled by coke, in the basement. While that made for somewhat more comfort than most families then enjoyed, the furnace had to be stoked frequently, by hand. All the main rooms in the house had a single radiator, located far from the large drafty windows and near the doors to the large stair halls in the center of the house. Jennifer remembers often feeling cold in wintertime, in spite of small electric heaters that were used as supplements when needed. The “central” in Friars Lawn’s central heating, Jennifer would later say once she had become accustomed to the more consistent warmth of American houses, really referred to the fact that only the center of the house received heat!

The kitchen was located above the garage, in what was undoubtedly an addition to the original house. (Friars Lawn’s attached twin house, The Grange, had a somewhat different, and taller, addition, in a similar position.) The kitchen was entered from the back hall, off the main stair hall. There were a couple of steps down into an area with a large wall-to-wall built-in cupboard on the right, where the family’s one telephone was located (accessible also from the front hall, thanks to an opening having been made in the coat closet for that purpose). Then there were several more steps, up into the large main kitchen area, with a walk-in pantry to the left, to which was added an electric refrigerator—a newly-available and much appreciated appliance. (Dairy products, eggs, meat and fish were purchased or delivered daily.) The sink and stove were, Jennifer recalls, at opposite ends of the room, with one or two worktables in between. There was a large window facing the front of the house, over the garage. (It seemed likely that the earlier kitchen had been in the basement.)

Note: The garage, below the kitchen, was sized for one car. Behind the garage, there was a coal chute and a low basement window into the house, which the children would sometimes climb through. The family later added room for a second car by extending the garage back, thus enclosing the coal chute and the basement window. The children remember a horse-drawn cart delivering coke in large burlap bags; a man would then carry each bag with a strap around his forehead, and dump the coke into the chute. The family had multiple shelves added to the inside of two walls of the garage extension, to hold cages for the tame pedigreed pet mice they bred as a hobby; a number of them were awarded prizes at pet shows.

Past the kitchen entrance, a narrow hall led to the back door which opened to stone steps going down, straight out from the house (unlike their later configurations) into the back garden. Near to the back door on the right, there was a powder room. Jennifer recalls that room as a cherished quiet retreat for her, with a small bamboo table and chair and a lovely window view of the back garden.

In that same hall, on the left, was the entrance to a narrow dark staircase going down into the basement. The stairs were sometimes used by the children for the “audience” to sit on while watching their playlets and puppet shows that they put on in the hall at the bottom of those stairs. The furnace room was on the garage side of the basement hall. The room toward the front of the house (under the drawing room) was used by the eldest boy, Oliver (named for his paternal great-grandfather, Robert Oliver Selfridge, who served as a major in the Union Army in the American Civil War) as his playroom, for his electric trains, building toys, toy soldiers, tropical fish, and so forth. It had daylight from the front windows, which were partly recessed in a “well” at the front of the house.

The room toward the back of the house, called the “garden room,” was used by the second son, Ralph (always pronounced “Rafe”), for his electric trains and so forth. Later, when Oliver and Ralph were at boarding school, the younger children, Jennifer and Martin, used the garden room for riotous roller-skating “hockey” games on rainy days; the two “goals” were the alcoves on either side of the fireplace. There was a linoleum floor (unlike the wood floors with oriental rugs or carpeting in most of the other rooms in the house).

The garden room had French doors that opened into a large whitewashed “well” that had steps up to the back garden. At the top of the steps, to the left near the garden wall, was a large stone trough that had presumably originally been used for watering horses.

Moving back up to the ground floor of the house:
The staircase leading to the upper floors had a short landing in the middle, next to a two-story window with a fine view of the back garden. The stairs then turned back toward the center of the house. At the head of those stairs was a large central hall. Opening off it, to the right and overlooking the back garden, was the nursery (above the dining room), which served as a playroom used particularly by the two younger children, Jennifer and Martin.

It had a large table in the middle, book-cases full of children’s books, a hand-wound gramophone (record player), large built-in toy cupboards, and Jennifer’s elaborate dolls house. Later, the room also held an upright piano (to the left of the big window); the children’s mother played, and helped Oliver learn to play.

The large nicely furnished master bedroom, with pale wall-to-wall carpeting, was above the drawing room, overlooking the front garden. To the left of the windows was a door into the enormous bathroom above the front hall. It was the only full bathroom in the house at the time, with its main door opening to the central hall. Facing the front windows from the latter door, the bathtub (separately supplied with hot water from a small gas-fired hot water heater, turned on only when needed), and then the toilet, were on the left. On the right was a large built-in cupboard, a washbasin, and then, near the front window, the door to the master bedroom. The floor was linoleum, providing a nice smooth surface for Jennifer and Martin to play on with marbles and toy cars.

The top floor had three large bedrooms. The back bedroom (above the nursery) was shared by Oliver and Ralph. At first, the nanny used the bedroom over the front hall, and the two younger children shared the other one (over the master bedroom). Soon, however, Jennifer was given the room over the front hall, and the live-in nanny shared the other one with Martin except when the older boys were at boarding school, when she may have slept in their room. Jennifer recalls her pale pink wall-papered room as large, bright and pretty, with her collection of dolls in a toy crib to the left as one entered, next to a large wardrobe; a bed with its head against the left wall; and a vanity table and chest of drawers, both painted pale blue with delicate flower decorations, against the wall to the right. She recalls the lovely view of Norwood Green, particularly the great elm trees in moonlight.

There was an attic above the top floor, but while the two older boys would to go up into the dark attic to explore with flashlights, Jennifer never did.

When World War II broke out, blackout curtains had to be made and installed on all the Friars Lawn windows. Both children and adults were required to carry gas masks whenever they were away from the house. Car headlights were covered except for narrow slits. A large community air raid shelter was dug into the ground on Norwood Green, toward the left-hand corner as one looks out from the house. (Houses in the area were not yet required to build their own shelters.)

Air-raid sirens wailed a few times. When it was during the day, the children were called in from the garden. When it was at night, they were instructed to stay in their beds, presumably because air raids to that area of Britain had not yet started. Jennifer recalls being awakened by the siren, and then waiting anxiously for the steady tone of the all-clear, that, fortunately, always came quite soon. (Later, after the family left, the sweets shop the children loved, Lordings, around the corner to the left of the house, was destroyed by a bomb and the proprietress killed.)

In the spring of 1940, the family left Friars Lawn, completing their move to the United States in late August, just after the London blitz had begun. Their furniture and almost all their other belongings were, for safe-keeping, stored in a warehouse in the west of England; it was burned to the ground in an unexpected bombing raid. Only the precious family snapshots were saved; they had been left in the care of one of the children’s English uncles, who mailed the photos back to the family years later, after the war ended.

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