Stories about Memories

Childhood in Bois Moor road

Christopher Mulkern

Christopher Mulkern, 1907-2001.
Christopher Mulkern, 1907-2001.

I was born in 1907 in Waterside and in the early months of 1914 we moved from there to a three-bedroomed house in Bois Moor Road. There was no running water at all in the road. All drinking water had to be carried from wells situated at various points along the roadside, where steps led down to an enclosure and a pit that was continually fed by a spring. Some houses had a water tank which caught rainwater from the roof and this would be used for washing. The toilet facilities were very primitive, consisting of a large wooden box with a pail underneath and a door set into the side for access at emptying time. Doors and windows would be rapidly closed when it was detected that a neighbour was carrying out this operation, usually in the evening under the cover of darkness.

There was no main drainage, but for household water disposal there were catchpits, usually situated very close to the road for the convenience of the cesspool emptier, who came at intervals. In the longer rows of houses, where the pit was communal, it was familiar to see effluent over the footpath and the stinking, slimy liquid had to be dodged by passers-by. Such conditions continued well into the 1920s, until the Chesham urban boundary was extended to included Bois Moor Road and main drainage was laid on and connected to Latimer Road sewage works.

One of the first chores I had to carry out before going to school was to go through Bois Wood to Woodland Court, a large mansion owned by Crossfields the soap people. They kept cows and two or three of us small boys would carry milk cans to the house and into the dairy, where large bowls or pans were set out on slate slabs. These contained milk from the previous evening, left to stand to allow the cream to form. The cook would skim off the thick cream into smaller bowls and we would be served the skimmed milk for a penny.

Another chore was to collect kindling wood on our way home from school. This was broken up and put into the oven of our open grate to dry out in readiness for boiling the kettle in the morning to make the first pot of tea. Burning wood was quicker than waiting for coal to ignite. Sometimes there would be a sweet smell of burning beechwood – the oven had overheated and the wood was smouldering.

Christie was one of eight children born to Eldred Stephen Leonard Mulkern and Maud Matilda Eustace. His Mulkern ancestry can be traced back to 18th century Galway when Martin Mulkern enlisted in the British Army at the age of 17. He spent his career serving in India and retired a Major at the age of 51. He had married into the wealthy Toone family. His father-in-law, William Toone also had a long career in the British Army in India. He was created a KCB by the Prince Regent, William IV, in 1819 and died in 1822, Major-General Sir William. Mulkern is the anglicised form of the Gaelic O Maoilchiarán, meaning a descendant of a devotee of St Ciarán.