In the mid – late 1970s, when I was still at school, every Saturday morning I used to visit an elderly lady called Mrs Patience. She lived in a cottage in the countryside a couple of miles away from my Upminster home (Essex). There was no mains sewage and the only water supply came from a standpipe by the front gate.
I used to tidy the garden, get her water and help her make her bed. Payment was a pound, plus a bar of Galaxy chocolate. Sometimes I’d go on a Sunday too and take her lunch. She loved vegetables and Mum would put as many as we could manage into little Tupperware pots. She wasn’t so bothered about meat.
Her side of the cottage had just two rooms, plus a sort of lean-to where she kept the Elsan toilet. There was a small range in the living room and a bedroom with just room for her bed. It was dark and even in the 1970s seemed to be from a bygone age.
Sometimes I used to be sent to another cottage down the road to see a lady called Daisy who kept bantams. She would give me eggs for Mrs Patience and occasionally a couple for me, which I had to take home on my bike.
Today, on one of my local Coronavirus exercise walks, I went past the cottage in Tomkyns Lane. There was a chap in the garden and we had a long chat.
His name was Eric and he told me that the cottage was built in the early 1800s for local farm workers. He used to work in a farm up the road, knew Mrs Patience and bought the house after she died in 1978. With the help of a builder he brought it up to modern standards.
There was much debate with the council over making the lean-to into a proper third room – he told me some of the walls were made of fish boxes. He won in the end because he could show it was already in place in 1947, so didn’t need permission to make it permanent.
It was nostalgic looking at the cottage and I think the story makes a little piece of social history that is well worth recording.