John Lambert was a teacher of history who began writing
historical fiction when he retired. This is his fourth novel to be published.
His stories provide the opportunity to show how the past
influences the present and how history illustrates the best, and the worst, of
human behaviour. While the characters in the stories are mostly fictional, their
actions are closely related to the historical context. History is about people;
fiction and history combine to make believable and interesting studies of human
John lives on the Blue Mountains and this book is written
against the background of his affection for this part of
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SIGNS OF THE PAST
KENTON HALL 1945–1951
The family moved into the old home in November 1945, just after the war.
There were three
children. At nine, Paul was the eldest; William was two years younger, and Lizzi,
two years younger again. Their father, Patrick, had returned to civilian life
after service in
Patrick had a small inheritance from his own father and, with a loan from the Bank of New South Wales, had found enough for the deposit on the house. There was a delay before the papers were signed but the family moved in anyway. Patrick was an accountant and his old firm had offered him a job immediately he was discharged from the army. His salary would cover the regular repayments on the loan and the family’s living expenses, though there would be nothing left over.
The living expenses
included the cost of his weekly train ticket into the city, for the house was in
the Blue Mountains west of
The house, which
rejoiced in the name of ‘Kenton Hall’, was already sixty years old, having been
built as the country house of a
A long driveway gave access to the front door. Behind the house to the north and west stretched acres of bush. The parts closest to the house had been cleared and featured the old stables from the days before motor cars usurped the place of the horse and carriage. The stables had been stone with a timber roof but only the stone walls and the flagstone floor remained. A relatively modern wooden garage stood at the end of the drive.
During the war the house had been empty while the last surviving member of the Rutterfyds, the family whose patriarch had built it, went off to fight, and die, for King and country. With confirmation of his death, the executor of the estate placed the house on the market, but the furniture and carpets were sold separately. The result was that when the Leonards moved in, the floorboards were bare except for the thousands of tacks that had been used to hold the carpets in place. The carpets had been pulled out but the tacks left. Paul’s earliest memories were of spending weeks removing the tacks, one at a time with a pair of pliers, from the floors of the eight upstairs bedrooms, and the downstairs study, lounge, conservatory, halls and billiard room. The kitchen, dining room, stairs and family room were polished timber; there were no tacks! There were two servants’ rooms, one upstairs reached by a suspended wooden verandah, and the other downstairs tucked away in a corner behind the stairs. These also had no tacks; servants did not warrant the luxury of carpets.
There was one bathroom, off a landing two-thirds of the way up the stairs, which served all eight bedrooms and the servants’ rooms. It contained a large, enamelled, cast iron bath with hot water supplied from a chip heater. At least there was running water, though the pipes, having been added well after the house was built, protruded from the walls. One of the improvements added by Patrick, only weeks after the family moved in, was an electric water heater, which gave instantaneous hot water to the bath and the newly installed shower above it. Nevertheless, the electric unit being costly to run, the shower, and the electric heater itself, were the preserve of the adults; the children had to be content with baths and the chip heater. The chip heater at least had the advantage that it heated the whole room making the twice-weekly bath a lengthy affair which could be enjoyed, especially in winter.
Every bedroom, and the main rooms downstairs, had large open fireplaces, though they were rarely used by the Leonards. Obtaining and cutting wood was a task beyond Patrick’s weekend time span. The house bristled with chimneys where the smoke from downstairs and upstairs fireplaces, which were linked, escaped into the freedom of the mountain air. Each chimney, in brick rather than stone, had its own distinctive pattern for its top section.
The staircase was a major design feature, leading from the foyer inside the front door to the upper rooms. It had two landings, one that gave entry to the bathroom and the servants’ rooms, and the other that gave access to a bedroom slightly smaller than the others. From the second landing, a further four steps led up to the level of the hallway from which doorways gave access to the main bedrooms. The staircase thus had three sections. At each change of direction was a very solid upright cedar post, splendidly carved but effectively obstructing any effort to slide down the banisters. The banisters themselves, also of cedar, were similarly carved. There were grave physical consequences for those tempted to slide.
The central feature of the kitchen was the huge fuel stove, with an oven large enough to take two Christmas turkeys, and mammoth saucepans sitting on its top plate. Leonie preferred to use a new kerosene three-burner stove. In one corner stood a Silent Knight refrigerator, though for the first six months, till they could afford such a luxury, an icebox had to suffice. All food preparation was undertaken on the kitchen table which took up the space of one wall. The pantry was adjacent to the kitchen door, between the kitchen and the dining room.
The billiard room was empty for most of the five years the family lived at Kenton Hall. Only in their last year there could Patrick find the money to buy a three-quarter size billiard table. Paul and William, taught by their father, even with just one year’s experience, became quite competent at billiards and snooker.
Beyond the kitchen was the laundry. Here reigned supreme the copper, containing water which was heated, again by a wood fire, in order to cleanse, once a week, when mixed with washing powder, the pile of family clothes. Next to it stood the hand wringer and the tubs. Paul was regularly awarded the dubious honour of turning the handle of the wringer, thereby removing the water against the pressure of the rollers.
The only other rooms that should be mentioned were the toilets. There were four, in different strategic positions, their location being largely determined by the need to allow the nightsoil man to gain access from an outside hatch. One was at the end of the verandah beyond the laundry, another was off an airlock near the front door, the third was outside the downstairs servant’s room, and the fourth was a freestanding backyard outhouse.
Also freestanding in the backyard was a very large well. All the roof water was channelled into it. The above-ground surrounds of the well were hexagonal, about three feet high, and of stone. Its depth was unknown, at least to the Leonards, because town water was available and the well was not used. There were two very heavy blocks of cut stone that formed a covering. The only time they were moved during the Leonard’s occupation of Kenton Hall was one Saturday afternoon when Patrick, feeling especially curious, used a crowbar to lever them apart and dropped a rope down to test the depth. He ran out of rope and lost interest.
The exterior of the
house was most imposing. The sandstone courses, interspersed with large wooden
windows, and the brick chimneys rising above the roofline, gave an impression of
grandeur. The roof itself added to this for it was slate imported from northern
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