Buttercup yellow hooded top with Chinese style butterflies

Hooded top for a 2 year old embroidered with Chinese style butterflies (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Very happy to record that we’ve got through January with no snow and not a lot of rain either. We’ve also felt the benefit of an increase in the hours of daylight which means I can spend about 3 minutes longer every day before giving up my position in natural light by my bedroom window – much the best place to do embroidery. No doubt we will get snow at some point. It’s only a few years ago that we had snow in the middle of March during the big Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival. Our Californian friends had come to see us by cab, straight off the plane from Heathrow. One day we were doing a sunny passegiata through Tivoli and Montpellier into town and explaining to our friends why we were surrounded by men in three piece tweed suits, women in country smart to semi wedding attire with hats everywhere Then, just a couple of days later we woke to a heavy frost, a deep white mist and, as we waved our guests goodbye in a car heading up and out of Cheltenham over the Costwolds, the snow came and kept coming.

Detail : Hooded top for a 2 year old embroidered with Chinese style butterflies (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Before houses had central heating winter cold was a miserable affair. As a child my bedroom window had frequently iced up by morning and although the patterns of frost on the glass were very pretty, their beauty wasn’t something you wanted to dwell too long upon. Dress quickly and hurry downstairs to the (tiny) living room where the coal fire, banked up overnight, was being nurtured into more active life by my father. At the time our telephone sat attached in the hall. In winter, only the deeply in love (my brother, 7 years my senior) found its shrill tones at all welcome.

Detail :Hooded top for a 2 year old embroidered with Chinese style butterflies (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

But even with central heating life for those living in historic (and listed) houses is often similarly harsh when the snow comes. Being listed as historically important is not straightforwardly advantageous. It’s true there can be grants available to help restoration and repair but there are also important areas where no alteration is permissible. Perhaps the biggest problem for owners of such houses in today’s world concerns windows which must be maintained as they were when the house was built. This means no modern double glazing and often not even secondary glazing (which is anyway less effective and almost always very unattractive), and this even when cleverly designed  modern solutions are available (though they are admittedly very expensive). Whether you are Hardwick Hall (“more glass than wall”), a friend’s Arts and Crafts house with Crittal (steel framed) windows, or my daughter’s 1840 Islington house (wooden sash windows) at the moment you are stuck with suffering staggering amounts of heat loss. I’m sure this will have to change as energy becomes more expensive and attention focuses on the sheer morality of using large amounts of fuel for heating when much of it literally goes straight out the window. When I first met my husband we were living in Monmouth but would often house sit for friends who had an Arts and Crafts house on the ridge to the south west of the town. Grade II* listed it faced west across the Brecon Beacons, had largish Crittal windows and was freezing in bad weather. We used to run from the kitchen with its 4 oven Aga to the other end of the house, either to spend a bit of time watching the television in front of an electric fire or cut out entertainment altogether and make a dash for bed armed with hot water bottles and additional blankets. Once, in early January, we left Monmouth after I’d finished work to make the usually comparatively short journey up the windy road out of Monmouth to our friends’ house and our dog sitting duties. Snow had been steady all day and as we headed out of town, the road looked more like a mountain pass in Switzerland with each  new zig or zag of the scarcely visible route revealing abandoned cars and alarming skid marks. We turned back while we could. All night and the next day we worried about poor old Monty’s bladder (the dog we were supposed to be dog sitting). Eventually, after work the next day, we made it to the house. Monty greeted us with the joy of Persephone welcoming spring and leapt outside to do what he had to. But nowhere did we find any puddle in the kitchen. The stalwart dog had held it in for a day and a half!!

Detail : Hooded top for a 2 year old embroidered with Chinese style butterflies (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

But I mustn’t get too optimistic, we’re only February. In the mid 1960s we even had snow in April. It was particularly memorable as a couple of classes from my secondary school had gone to Dorset on a week’s geography field trip. Athelhampton House (a Tudor mansion from 1485) and Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight (where Charles I was imprisoned in the months before his trial) were all very well in the snow but I remember the nights being a real problem. Feet cold from tramping round doing geographical type things never warmed up even when back at the hotel in the evenings. Surprisingly I’d packed a hot water bottle and I remember trying to fill it with hottish water from the basin in our bedroom. I don’t know why I never asked for my hot water bottle to be filled in the hotel’s kitchen nor why, failing that I hadn’t kept one pair of socks purely to sleep but I do remember a week of almost totally sleepless nights with feet that never defrosted. Other than that it was a fun trip!

And let’s not even think “Little House on the Prairie” when in one of the later books of the series the children wake to find snow feet deep on top of them, obliterating any sight of patchwork quilts and blankets – and almost children. Ugh. I often think of this image when I’m really cold and feel infinitely grateful for our own cosy house which has just one tiny draught of unfathomable origin.

Hooded top for a 2 year old embroidered with Chinese style butterflies (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

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  1. Sally Coles
    Posted February 6, 2022 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    My goodness, Mary, I remember that Dorset geography trip only too well! I also recall shivering around Corfe Castle, and having to do some sort of geographical analysis exercise in the town of Swanage. ….There was also a trip to North Wales on another occasion, where some of us temporarily lost our senses and went for an early morning swim in freezing March temperatures. We did climb Snowdon too, I seem to recall. I’m not sure it improved my geography but there was some fun to be had, despite the cold!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 7, 2022 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Goodness Sally, I don’t remember North Wales and can’t believe I wouldn’t have gone!!! I also remember other geography trips to Penrith in the Lakes and Mayfield in Devon where we sensibly stayed in youth hostels both of which were rather nice in their different ways I seem to remember. Neither place seem to have youth hostels any more when I last did a search. But somehow none of these trips are as vivid as Swanage in the snow! Oh, but then there was Interlaken, Switzerland where we stayed in a gorgeous chalet looking out over the lake and the duvets were veritable mountains of feathers. That was wonderful. In fact now I think about it such field trips were one of the few things our school did well – those and regular trips to the then new Nottingham Playhouse where we saw all sorts of people that have spent the rest of our lives popping up on the television in all sorts of roles. Then, of course there were the choirs and dear elegant and eccentric Miss Sandy. Not sure I can name anything else wonderful about the place!!!

      • Sally Coles
        Posted February 20, 2022 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Haha, maybe you missed the Llandudno trip – one of my abiding memories is the concert party night at the end of the trip. I don’t remember any of the performances except Miss Gooding singing “Land of our Fathers” at the top of her strident contralto voice….?. Interlaken was one I missed (but I did enjoy a holiday there a good few years later). The Student Playhouse scheme – as I recall 3/6 subs for the year, to see Judi Dench and John Neville and many others, was a steal – and we also were fortunate that the school took us to classical concerts at the Albert Hall – Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. And I agree: Miss Sandy was definitely one of the positives too! Amazing how these memories creep back to the front of the brain….

        • Mary Addison
          Posted February 20, 2022 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

          I must have missed that trip – no knowledge of it at all and how could I forget such an experience as Miss Gooding singing “Land of our Fathers”.
          Nottingham Playhouse was the highlight of so many weekends – clever of you to remember there was a scheme at work to lure us in. I had no idea of that. Yes, ditto concerts. Not sure if it was organised by the school but I have vivd memories of one concert in late summer 1968 when the Czech Philharmonic orchestra having performed Dvorak’s Slavonik dances received rapturous and sympathetic applause as we all knew Russian tanks had just recently rolled into the country to crush the ‘Prague Spring’. Such joyous music played with such passionate gusto was deeply moving to my 16 year old self. Thank you for nudging me to think of these things.

  2. Jane from Dorset
    Posted February 6, 2022 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    It has snowed in June. I remember it well because my friends moved house that day, poor souls!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 7, 2022 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Gosh, what year was that – do you mean snow in Dorset in June? extraordinary.

  3. Posted February 7, 2022 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Yes, insulation and listed properties is something that will need to be fixed. Unfortunately local authorities are afraid of losing their tourist spots and there’s a belief that “listed property” equals “pots of family money” which is entirely incorrect, but makes assistance for the inhabitants politically sensitive.
    I do like your butterflies, though – and very practical in current weather (says she, wearing two vests, a silk blouse, two woollies and a shawl!).

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 7, 2022 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s possible that energy loss will make owners akin to moral pariahs – even if, or especially because, the owners may be The National Trust or English Heritage. And as clever alternatives are increasingly available and should become cheaper as economies of scale kick in, I’m sure policies will change.
      Sweet of you to like the butterflies.
      Shawls certainly seem very necessary at the moment – but I like the idea of silk underneath all those woolies.

      • Posted February 14, 2022 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        I certainly hope policies change!

        The silk reduces the friction and makes me feel less like Bibendum….!

        • Mary Addison
          Posted February 17, 2022 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          Changes in regulations must come, I’m sure but probably not quickly enough.

  4. Mary
    Posted February 10, 2022 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    The colourful butterflies certainly do brighten up the sweatshirt–looking just as thought they are in flight. So pretty.

    Growing up in the UK, I also remember those bitterly cold mornings in unheated bedrooms (yes, ice on the inside of the windows), but was fortunate to be tucked under a warm fluffy eiderdown. Before waking us, my mother would gather our school clothes and put them out on a clothing rack set beside the Aga to warm up. As soon as she called us for breakfast, we would race down the stairs and dash into the kitchen for its lovely heat; that is where we dressed.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 14, 2022 at 12:11 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Mary.
      Yes, now I think of it, I would rush downstairs to get dressed in the only room that had any heat in it – though it was a coal fire and not an Aga.
      I had to wait many years until I had an Aga, and by them the house had central heating anyway!

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