I mentioned that Patty bought an old cottage in West Malling High Street in one of my previous blogs. The house, which she found for sale in either Exchange & Mart or maybe Daltons Weekly, was described as a Victorian brick-built cottage with a forecourt. It was called Market Cross Cottage because there was (still is) the top of a stone cross seemingly holding up one corner. On the cross, on one face, is carved Jesus, another has an angel and the other two are a mystery as they are hidden by various walls. We moved in to Market Cross Cottage at the beginning of the school summer holidays in 1972.
In the photo above you will see a door on the left, a large window and another door. The left-hand door was our front door, the window was our window, but the right-hand door belonged to the restaurant next door. The windows on the first and second floors were ours as was the little bit of wall above the right hand door. You can’t see it but in front of the big window, in the pavement, is a wooden door into the cellar which belonged to the restaurant. We had a ‘flying freehold’!
Inside the front door was a flimsy wall on your right and a door into what had been a chiropodist’s office (we found toenail clippings under the lino in that room! Ugh!!] Behind the office and corridor, and separated by another flimsy wall, was a kitchen – and also, under a worktop, the bath tub! There was a stable-type door leading into the walled garden, at the bottom of which was a shed containing the only toilet and no light! On the right-hand wall of the kitchen there was a door leading up a very narrow enclosed staircase to the first floor where there were two bedrooms and another staircase to the second floor where there was one very large room, in the middle of which was a crown-post from which radiated upwards several curved beams leading to all the roof trusses and beams and the underside of the roof.
On our first night there Patty slept in the bedroom at the front – the only room with a door; Judy, ‘Veronica’ and I slept in the top room. We were all exhausted, having got up really early, packed a van with furniture and belongings and driven the forty or so miles from Ravenscourt Park, down the South Circular, then the A20 to West Malling. (There was no M20 yet). ‘Veronica’ reminded me just last night that we had fried eggs for supper that first night and, she said, they were the best food she had ever eaten! Anyway, we were all in bed, probably by ten that evening, and ‘Veronica’ and I were sound asleep but Judy and Patty were awake enough, around midnight, to hear footsteps on the stairs followed by the slamming of Patty’s bedroom door.
The next morning we all discussed the mystery of the footsteps and slammed door and came to the conclusion that it must be the ghost! We had been told there was a ghost by the very old aunt of the quite old lady who sold the house to Patty, but she hadn’t gone into details. Patty decided, that first morning, to have the door removed from her room, thereby lessening the chance of its being slammed again.
Time passed. We spent some of that first summer exploring the house. All the downstairs and first floor walls were covered by ‘match-boarding’ and we decided to start removing it in the back room on the first floor. We removed first one, then a second and third slat of match-boarding. Behind it we found the remnants of wooden panels about 12″x18″ of a dark brown colour which covered the walls to about chest height but whatever had been above that panelling was missing and there was just a gap and then the stone wall against which the cottage had been built. Because there was a gap we could see that behind the panels there was a lot of dust. Being amateur archaeologists(!) we spent a good few hours removing piles of the dust and sifting through it. We found many little bones (chicken, most likely), walnut shells and the remains of a leather shoe. All of those thrilling items went into the rubbish – even the shoe which was not so much a shoe as a sole with bits stuck to it. Judy had to stop taking part as she became very wheezy and the fun of it soon vanished for the rest of us.
Soon, it was time for Judy, ‘Veronica’ and I to move bedding, clothes, books and a few toys to our ‘digs’ in London. Judy and I had found it impossible to find accommodation for two adults and a seven year old so, being sneaky, we stopped mentioning the seven year old and found a self-contained, furnished flat in the basement of a house in Comeragh Road, West Kensington. Another time I’ll write about sneaking a child in and out of the flat, the broad beans and the slugs etc. but this time I’ll pass that thrilling story to carry on Market Cross Cottage.
While we three were living in London, Patty had arranged for builders to start making Market Cross Cottage more up-to-date. One of the builders noticed, on looking out of the first floor window, that there was a bulge in the wall above the door and, of course, that had to be investigated. (Remember, please, that my mother was an architect so she was the site-manager in many ways.) The ‘bulge’, it turned out, wasn’t a bulge at all! The ‘bricks’ between the ground and first floor were not bricks – they were mathematical tiles (tiles which fit together in order to look like bricks) Behind the mathematical tiles next to the window was another window, unglazed, with the original bars in place and loads of curved and straight oak posts/beams which made everyone realise the cottage was not Victorian at all, but had been built several hundred years earlier! In the picture below you can see the ‘new’ window and all the oak. Also, our first Tiggy sitting in the ground floor window!
Aside from this amazing find there were also artefacts which weren’t worth much but help to tell the story of Market Cross Cottage. There was, in a hole near the ceiling, the skeleton of a rat next to what was left of a prayer book which was probably dated from the 17th or 18th century. It’s in English, much of it was gnawed by the rat. Below are three photos, one of the leather cover and two of pages inside.
I mentioned earlier the Crown Post in the room at the top of the house. I suppose it holds up the roof or holds it in place or something. Anyway, ‘Veronica’ (who was seven and a half) was playing around the post and found a little gap somewhere, reached in and pulled out a lot of very old flower petals and an old bone whistle – see a photo below.
After the first year in digs, Judy and I decided we would move back to West Malling and commute to London when we had to be at college. ‘Veronica’ and I shared the top room which still had no ceiling but just the expanse of posts and beams from the floor to the peak of the inside of the roof. Sometimes, if it was very windy, we would watch spiders’ webs which were far too high to remove, sway with each gust. We had a window at the front and a Velux window in the roof so that we could have, in the summer, a bit of a through-draught but, in the winter it was pretty cold and we had a paraffin heater which took the edge off the freezing air.
There was also, thank goodness, a bathroom on the first floor with a toilet which meant we didn’t have to go out to ‘the loo’ any longer. (The one Christmas we spent there before the bathroom was built, was very uncomfortable! We mostly resorted to using a ‘potty’ if we needed to ‘go’ in the middle of the night!)
There were two bedrooms on the first floor. along with the bathroom. All three rooms had doors which, luckily, were never slammed, at least not by a ghost. The next time the ghost made himself known was not long after Patty opened her antique shop in the front room downstairs which also, occasionally, acted as our living room. Patty and a friend, Jean, were sitting in the shop gossiping about something when, all of a sudden, water came pouring out of the ceiling into a very large copper bowl which was directly underneath. When Patty and Jean went to look, the copper was full of water, the ceiling above it was totally dry and, upstairs, there was no sign of any water leak. In the photo below you will see a poor, freehand drawing of the layout of the ground floor and the walled garden. You will see a ‘copper’ in the garden. Coppers were used to boil water for washing clothes and our cottage had one in the garden. It was built into a brick-built stand under which one could light a fire. This copper is similar to the one which was in the shop just on the other side of the rectangle which represents a plasterboard half-wall dividing the shop from the kitchen.
By this time someone had mentioned that the ghost was, in fact, that of a monk. West Malling has an abbey which was built somewhere between 1090 and 1108 and which is still a religious community. (Look it up on Google for photos and info). Of course, where there is a religious community, there are monks and visitors to the community. The cottage was built up against the original three feet thick outer stone wall of the abbey and I am convinced that the cottage, together with the restaurant next door (one big building which was divided into two sometime in the 19th century) was the stopping place and inn for visitors to the abbey.
I still hadn’t seen or heard any sign of a ghost and I was quite sceptical about it. One evening I was standing in the bathroom, washing out some socks in the basin, when for no reason that I could fathom, a heavy plastic box which sat on the tank of the toilet suddenly propelled itself across the room! I started believing, then. Some time later I was actually sitting on the loo when suddenly a bottle of shampoo flew over my shoulder and landed on the floor in front of me. There couldn’t have been anyone else there – it was a very small bathroom with a bath along one wall, a window on the opposite wall, the basin and toilet on one of the short walls and the wall with the door. No one else could have thrown those items!
Those two ‘sitings’ were the final ones of our ghost. I think he must have got fed up with sharing a house with four females and, instead of scaring us with his antics, he was making us more curious. I used to tell my class this story around Hallowe’en and lots of the kids didn’t believe it. I’m pretty sure you won’t either – but I do – I was there – it happened just as I say and if you don’t believe it, it doesn’t matter. I know what I know!
We moved out of Market Cross Cottage in 1982 after I met Julian, Judy went back to the US and Patty bought another cottage to renovate. All that’s for another post! The cottage was bought by the man who owned the restaurant next door. He changed the two dwellings into one, again, and as far as I know, it is still owned by the same family and is still run as a restaurant.
For my American readers:
Lino = linoleum; South Circular = a group of roads which can take you to the south of London; M20 = one of the many motorways in the UK where you can drive (in a car) at 70 mph; loo = toilet/john/bathroom; basin = bathroom sink; a copper = a large container made of copper which was used to wash clothes in before washing machines; paraffin heater = a method of heating a single room, a type of individual stove heated by paraffin oil;
Match boarding, flying freehold and crown post – Google them for explanations and photos
Got = gotten (Here in UK we don’t used ‘gotten’. As far as I know, it just isn’t used! I’ve learned not to use it 😜