My mother was evacuated out of London at the beginning of the Second World War, and quickly moved into Gammons Farm with her first husband and her father and mother.
Part of the tenancy was the Cottage, which was part of the lease and had sitting tenants called the Saunders, who were main stays of St Marks Church in Leggatts Way. I believe Mrs Saunders held a post there during her life, assisting the Vicar in some way, and I think she held court over the Sunday School.
The Cottage was at the base of the land, and the entrance was up the original service road — the one now called Gammons Farm Close, where they later situated the mobile homes. Some 50 yards up this drive there was a gate on the right hand side that led to the Cottage and this took all the Gammons Lane frontage up to 30 feet from the Orchard Infant School, which was at that time the annex for Alexander School. The 30 feet was the entrance that the County Council cut into for the Farm when they sub-leased the Watford Council yard that backed onto Comyne Road up to the allotments and included the Dutch Barn.
The Cottage paid a peppercorn rent of 10 shillings per week for the whole term of the tenancy, and this could not be raised. Along with this, the 20 or so poplar trees that fronted the Gammons Lane boundary had to be managed and cut to ensure the pavement in Gammons Lane was not obstructed. There was an annual cutting event, which the neighbourhood enjoyed, as the Heavey family cut these trees on behalf of the Saunders family.
The Dutch Barn caught alight during one summer — I think it was late August 1960. Ignition was caused by glass being leant against the wood and the sun shining through the glass all day. By about 2pm there were several fire tenders there, but they could not save the Barn, which was a listed building, and it burnt to the ground.
The Granary was the nearest structure to the Gammons Lane frontage. This was a large storage facility raised on four pillars. As children we spent many hours underneath this as a play area, but originally it was for the storage and drying of wheat. At the back of the Granary there was an entrance through to the original Farm House, which had a lead roof with four separate quarters, so there was a piece in the middle which was flat and you could view the whole of the area from this point.
The original Farm House had just two downstairs rooms and three upstairs. Added to this was an Extension (larger than the original Farm House), which had four bedrooms, and a loft room above a stable used for tack and carriages, and alongside were the three stables which must have housed the Farm's horses. Downstairs in the Extension was a dining room and, next to this, a larder, which was used for storing all the pots, pans, etc. for the kitchen, which was the same size as the dining room, and in fact spanned the whole width of the house. Below the larder was a cellar, which had an outside chute to allow access for the coal and meat for cooler storage. The room that backed onto the larder, again sandwiched between the dining room and kitchen, was a second entrance to the dining room and access to the stairs leading to the bedrooms. The majority of the bedrooms had walk-in wardrobes and the rooms were about 250 square feet. So, including the original Farm House, in all there were 7 bedrooms and a room above the garage, and 5 downstairs rooms, along with a large cellar.
It was 1959 before we came off gas for the lighting and switched to electric. The Builders Yard and my father paid for overhead cables to be installed. In this world of mobile phones, it is strange to think that the Farm House in the 1950s was the only one with a landline, and we used to have people knock on the door asking if they could use the telephone.
As children we had 3.5 acres to play in, and kept a goat in the back orchard and a donkey in the small stables situated on the boundary of the yard and the farm. The dividing building was an original shed and I would suggest that this was for livestock, as it had a well at one end and there was another on the Farm's grounds, which was 20 feet from the Granary. I recently visited the place, when Orchard School had an Open Day, and it was noticeable that the areas where the wells were are still fenced off. They were natural wells and extremely deep. We were told as kids to stay away, but we did throw the occasional pebble in, and it took a long time before the splash was heard.
The tenancy was transferred to my mother from her first husband [Mr Allibone] when he died, but when my mother died, the family could not take it over. The Cottage had been vacated a little while prior, as the Saunders passed away, so the sub-tenancy expired, and the County Council wanted to get vacant possession ASAP to knock the buildings down before anyone could get a Preservation Order on them. There are photos showing the start of the demolition, which is really quite sad, as the ground has never been developed and the old House should have marked the history of the area, as it had many features inside. Both the fireplaces were something to see, being 8 to 10 feet wide with solid oak surrounds, and the wood coverings in the dining room were the original decoration.
Author: Michael Heavey
Photographs: with kind permission of Geoff Mallord.
[Added by Glen: 9:55pm 22 Feb 2010]