Ceremony for the Unveiling of the Plaque to Commemorate G S Fraser

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Last Thursday we had the ceremony for the unveiling of the plaque to commemorate the poet G S Fraser, who lived here from 1958-1980. The plaque was installed in February but we had postponed the official unveiling for several reasons. First, we wanted to coordinate it with the Literary Leicester festival, where there was a special event for G S Fraser held at the University earlier in the day.

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This included the launch of the new volume of his Selected Poems.

The unveiling was held on the 12th of November, and the 8th had been the centenary of Fraser’s birth. Waiting until November also gave us time to get the house in a complete enough state to hold the event!

IMG_8028I spent the day preparing. Ruby assisted. Not a single glass was broken during her leap into the (at that point empty) champagne bath. She’s extremely dextrous.

IMG_5831The scene was set.

IMG_5825It was a symbolic unveiling of a facsimile of the plaque – we couldn’t be sure of the November weather and also it gets dark by 4:30pm. The logistics of an outdoor event would have been too difficult.

IMG_5838We managed to squeeze about forty people into the dining room! There were three generations of the Fraser family present, along with friends, neighbours and colleagues. G S Fraser’s son, standing on the right, spoke.

IMG_5841Mark (centre) was MC. The Orator of the University (right), who had known G S Fraser, also spoke.

 

IMG_5845The plaque was then unveiled by the Lord Mayor of Leicester.

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He was very pleased as he had never unveiled such a plaque before. See how the Mayor’s ceremonial chain contains the heraldic cinquefoil, a five petaled flower that is the symbol of the City of Leicester, which also features on the plaque.

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The Mayor with G S Fraser’s daughter.

IMG_5853Me with the Mayor.

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The actual plaque outside.

Guests then stayed on for the reception. It was a great afternoon!

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House History

I have been gathering together all of the historical information about the house in order to include a summary of it in the time capsule. This is what I have so far:

Brief history of ‘Mostyn’, an Edwardian house in Leicester

History of the land

The land on which this house sits was formerly part of the farmland owned by the Powys Kecks of the nearby country house Stoughton Grange. The village of Stoughton was originally an Anglo-Saxon settlement overlooking the Roman road called Via Devana (now Gartree Road). Roman, Iron Age and medieval pottery fragments have all been found in the village.

Harry Leycester Powys Keck, the High Sheriff of Leicestershire, was the last in the family line to live at Stoughton Grange, which dates back to the time of Edward the Confessor. Stoughton Grange passed through the hands of the Earls of Leicester and was then given to Leicester Abbey in 1157. In 1538 the estate was seized by King Henry VIII and passed to John Harington, a treasurer for the king. It was then purchased by Thomas Farnham, Queen Elizabeth I’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. Stoughton Grange was inherited by Farnham’s descendants the Beaumonts, the Powyses and the Kecks.

The creation of the D’Oyley Estate

This land was part of a residential subdivision created to meet the demand for middle class housing in the late 19th century. Harry Leycester Powys Keck gradually sold off his land and Stoughton Grange was abandoned in 1913 and demolished in 1936.

On 29th September 1897 there was an indenture made between Jane D’Oyley, James Ingram, Cecil Henry Thomas, H J Thomas, Mary Elizabeth Thomas and Sir Israel Hart (four times Mayor of Leicester) forming a syndicate to purchase the land for subdivision. On the 8th July 1898 there was a conveyance of land between Harry Leycester Powys Keck (vendor) and the Hon Montagu Curzon, Thomas Henry Burroughes and Sir Israel Hart (purchasers) which contained restrictive covenants: within six months of land sale kerbs, sewers and channels must be constructed, fences erected, and so on. There were restrictions on the type of house to be constructed and there was to be no digging or brickmaking on the land.

This plot of land became Lot 82 of the Plan of the Grange and D’Oyley Building Estates.

The sale of the plot and building of the house

On the 29th September 1898, there was an indenture made between Sir Israel Hart and William Elliot, a butcher. Elliot sold the land on quite quickly. In 1900 there was a conveyance between William Elliot and William Henry Simpson, architect and surveyor (later to become the first District Valuer for Leicestershire). The document is dated the 6th of January 1900. The property is described as a ‘piece of land’ measuring 666 square yards and was sold for £333. The measurements of the land indicate that this plot was still unified with the land of the adjacent house, on which the matching semi-detached residence would be built. It is likely that William Henry Simpson designed and built the houses but there is no further documentary evidence. The 1902 Ordnance Survey Map for the area does not show the house, which means it was built between 1903 and 1905.

Subsequent owners and residents

The property was sold on 21st July 1905 to Robert Lawton (Managing Director of Albion Clay Company, a large brickworks).

In the 1911 Census John William Pendleton lived in this house. As he is not mentioned in any sale deeds, it implies that he rented the property from Robert Lawton. Aged 51, Pendleton was a Boot Manufacturer born in Leicester. In the Census he states that he has been married for 30 years, though his wife and children live at a different address, which suggests the marriage has broken down. Pendleton had two servants: a housekeeper Ethel May Deverell, aged 25, and the 20 year old Sarah Elizabeth Hudson, a Cook/General Servant.

On the 25th March 1919 Robert Lawton sold the house to Thomas Cawdell, a draper residing at London House, High Street, Leicester. The conveyance was for “a piece of land and two houses” indicating that the Mostyn and the neighbouring house were still owned jointly.

Thomas Cawdell only owned the house for six months. On the 26th September 1919 he sold this house to John Harrison Jr, a seed merchant (Harrison and Sons, Royal Midland Seed Warehouse, Welford Road, Leicester) and he took out a mortgage of £1000 (the house being purchased for a total sum of £1440). The 1916 Kelly’s Directory for Leicestershire and Rutland shows John Harrison Jr. living in this house three years before he purchased it, so he must have been renting the property from Lawton and then Cawdell. When Harrison bought the house in 1919 he was 41, his wife Elsie was 42 and their children were Margaret, 12, Rosemary, 10, and Kenneth, 7.

The Harrisons lived in the house throughout the 1920s. On the 16th March 1931 Harrison sold the house to yarn merchant heir Ronald Beresford Weston-Webb Esq. (of Holly Lodge Queniborough,). The house sold for £1450 with a mortgage of £1000. At the time, Weston-Webb was married to Pamela Antonia Hart and they had a two year-old son, Anthony Patrick Weston-Webb. Ronald and Pamela’s marriage came to an end when he petitioned for divorce in 1935.

On the 18th May 1935 the house was bought by Martha Baxter, widow, of “Glen Mona” Swithland Lane, Rothley, for £1000. Her late husband was a Licentiate Dental Surgeon called Campbell Hossack Baxter, who died in 1932, (leaving effects of £13,800).

On the 30th of December 1945 Martha Baxter sold the house to her daughter-in-law Mary Elizabeth Baxter, wife of her son Campbell John Baxter, of the same address for £1500. Mary Elizabeth took out a £1200 mortgage.

By the early 1950s Mary Elizabeth Baxter was widowed. Her husband Campbell John, whose occupation was a hosiery buyer, died of lung cancer in the house at the age of 48. He left effects of £4185.

On the 11th December 1952 the house was purchased by Mark Rutherford, a school master, of Aldborough Grange, Boroughbridge, Yorkshire. The house sold for £2500, with a mortgage of £2000. Mark Rutherford was married to Annie Gwendoline Lyversage and they had two children, Andrew and Richenda, who were 12 and 6 respectively at the time the house was bought.

On the 28th August 1958 the house was purchased by George Sutherland Fraser, a poet and university lecturer and his wife Eileen Lucy (‘Paddy’) Fraser for £2500. They had three children under ten years old: Helen, Katie, and George. This house became an unofficial centre for Leicester’s literary life during the nineteen-sixties and seventies. The famous sociologist Richard Hoggart described this house in his autobiography, A Measured Life, as “the nearest thing in the area to a literary salon”. After G S Fraser’s death in 1980, Paddy continued to live here until her death in 2013.

Following Paddy Fraser’s death, the house was purchased by Scott and Mark, who undertook a full renovation of the house over 2014 and 2015.

Hello again!

15 - 4 - 2015-03-17 at 12-01-40Hello again! After a long winter we are back in the blogosphere. Ruby has spotted the first daffodils amongst the crazy paving and Spring is in the air!

Not a great deal has been happening over the last few months, hence the lack of updates. We are making preparations for Stage Two of the renovation so I hope to share some more news with you over the next few months.

IMG_0275 - 2015-02-18 at 10-35-13One very significant thing has occurred though and that was the installation of the blue heritage plaque to GS Fraser, which went up last month.

IMG_0282 - 2015-02-18 at 10-57-40Ned Heywood, the maker of London’s blue plaques – and the most recent blue plaque in Leicester, for Ernest Gimson – produced and installed this plaque commemorating the poet who lived in this house for twenty-two years. I have been working with the City of Leicester and the Fraser family to make this all happen and I am really happy to see this endeavour realised. GS Fraser was an important mid-20th century poet and critic who also taught at the University of Leicester. I have blogged about him and the Fraser family here. Not only did GS Fraser live here but this house was an unofficial centre for Leicester’s literary life during the sixties and seventies. The famous sociologist Richard Hoggart desribed this house in his autobiography, A Measured Life, as “the nearest thing in the area to a literary salon”. Of GS Fraser he wrote:

His central quality is best summed up in a favourite word he took from Yeats’s use of it: ‘companionable’. An enduring snapshot is of him at one of the parties in their Guilford Road house, glass in hand, in a group, he talking cheerfully all the time…He died in January 1980 and was buried outside the city, at Oadby. Afterwards we all went back to Guilford Road for drinks and snacks, and moved through the rooms and hall, and sat on the stairs; all very much like it had been at parties in the old days. George would have approved.

IMG_0285 - 2015-02-18 at 10-59-37Here you can see Ned applying the mortar.

IMG_0286 - 2015-02-18 at 11-00-21Affixing the plaque.

IMG_0296 - 2015-02-18 at 11-12-32And giving it a polish.

IMG_5299 - 2015-02-18 at 11-44-10Close up.

IMG_5301 - 2015-02-18 at 11-44-42And how it looks from the street. Now to do something about the garden and that wonky side fence! We hope to have an official unveiling of the plaque later in the year to coincide with the publication of  a new collection of GS Fraser’s poetry.

15 - 3 - 2015-03-17 at 12-01-40I know that some of you come for the cats so here are a few snaps of them. Miss Rose.

15 - 1 - 2015-03-17 at 12-01-40Fascinated by Joan Collins on the shopping channel. She watched non-stop for forty-five minutes. It’s the first thing she’s ever shown interest in on the television. Typical. Oliver enjoys watching the ‘funniest home video’ shows like You’ve Been Framed and Ruby likes documentaries of wildlife, so it was only natural that Rose would discover beauty and make-up – she was a beauty queen and Premier Champion on the cat show circuit after all.

15 - 5 - 2015-03-17 at 12-01-40Oliver hanging out on the top of the cat tree.

15 - 6 - 2015-03-17 at 12-01-40Stretching out on the new jute rug in the kitchen.

15 - 7 - 2015-03-17 at 12-01-40Ruby caught with her paw in the cream jug. Naughty!

15 - 2 - 2015-03-17 at 12-01-40More to follow!

 

House History #7 – The Harrisons

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 11.56.30The 1916 Kelly’s Directory for Leicestershire and Rutland shows John Harrison Jnr. living in this house, Mostyn, 3 years before he purchased it, so he must have been renting the property from Thomas Cawdell at the time.

7125947869_75b2ba9059_zJohn Harrison was one of the “Sons” of Harrison and Sons, seed merchants and owners of the Royal Midlands Seed Warehouse. The building still exists today and is featured here on the website Derelict Places.

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On 26th September 1919 this house was sold by Thomas Cawdell, a draper,  to John Harrison.

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The house sold for £1440 with Harrison taking out a mortgage of £1000.

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Harrison owned the house throughout the 1920s and sold it on 16th March 1931, having lived here for at least 15 years.

IMG_4091The newspapers I found the other day from 1928 would have been his.

IMG_4083I wonder if he drank Beefex (The Best of the Beef) to ward off flu.

John was born on the 6th of August 1878 to parents John and Sarah. He was one of 12 children. He entered the family business and married Elsie Edith Bruce in 1903. Elsie was born in Malden, Surrey, in 1877.

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 12.12.37John was made a Freeman of the City of Leicester on June 2nd, 1905.

John and Elsie’s first child, Donald John Bruce Harrison was born in 1905 and died at the age of 5. Their daughter Margaret Elsie Harrison was born in 1907, followed by Rosemary Vera Harrison (born 1909) and Kenneth Bruce Harrison (born 1912). When John bought the house in 1919 he was 41, Elsie 42 and their children Margaret 12, Rosemary 10 and Kenneth 7.

John’s father died in 1929 leaving an estate worth £27,442.

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In 1931 John sold this house to Ronald Beresford Weston-Webb.

fcff9265-6e55-4dac-8552-2f978beb1795In 1932 John bought The White House in the village of Scraptoft, just outside of Leicester. The house was built in the late 1920s by Tom Crumbie from stone salvaged from Normanton Hall in Rutland. John was responsible for laying out the gardens, orchard and paddock. They must have had quite comfortable lives. In the summer of 1934 the family travelled first class to Rangoon, Burma on a steam ship called The Chindwin.

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Elsie died at the age of 69 in 1946 and John sold the White House in 1950 for £14,500 to the Northampton Brewery, who turned it into a pub.

It appears that John moved to 57 Spencefield Lane Leicester, as this is the address given for his son Kenneth’s early death in 1959 as well as the address stated on incoming ship passenger lists for John and his adult children around the same time. Margaret still lived at the family home as a ‘housekeeper’ and Rosemary had married and was a school matron in Salisbury. Margaret died in 1982 but I can’t find Rosemary’s death record.

There are several possible dates for John’s death but I can’t confirm which is his unless I were to order the death certificates. He was certainly alive in 1959 at the age of 81 when he travelled to South Africa. An unconfirmed date of 1960 is given in another family tree on Ancestry.com but the probate records from 1961 suggest this is a different John Harrison. I can only find other deaths in Leicestershire for a John Harrison born around 1878 in the years 1963 and 1974. The Will and Probate records for 1963 are for the wrong John yet again, so my educated guess is he died in 1974 at the age of 96.

Wallpaper Day #9

IMG_1941Yesterday I continued stripping the wallpaper in Mark’s future study. Underneath the paper on this section of wall were some large diagrams drawn in pencil.

IMG_1942I can’t recall much of my mathematical education but this looks like trigonometry? My guess is that the builder was working out something to do with the roof. The vertical measurement in 13′ 2″, the length 19′ 5″.

IMG_1943Quite difficult to make out but the first numbers in the equation are those two measurements. Are they trying to work out the length of the other side of the triangle? If so, the builder might be calculating roof measurements. Perhaps someone who understands maths better than me can explain.

Wallpaper Day #8 (and more Hidden House History)

IMG_1830I forgot to post this yesterday. On the top of the window pelmet was the date 2001 painted in the pale peppermint green that covered the walls, thus dating the last redecoration of this room, and perhaps much of the house, to the very start of the twenty-first century, when Paddy was 80.

IMG_1834Today I tackled the west wall of Mark’s future study (formerly George Sutherland Fraser’s study). The wallpaper either peeled off dry, sometimes taking the plaster with it, or was extraordinarily stubborn. I had to utilise my Paper Tiger, which I still haven’t shown you yet.

IMG_1836For a short while I had my assistant Ruby on hand but apparently she got bored.

IMG_1839The wall after stripping, exposing the plaster.

IMG_1837By the fireplace I got a brief glimpse of the original paper. Once again it was a textured paper like the one in the lounge so it may well date to 1935 when Martha Baxter had the house redecorated. This one is a sort of organic cross-hatched design.

IMG_1838I also discovered how this fireplace works. The hood above the fire was painted shut but cleverly it opens the flue when you pull it out and closes it again when you push it in. When I pulled it open for the first time in years there was lots (lots) of dust, many broken bricks and a dead bird, the second in my fireplace reveals. I also worked out that the fender at the bottom lifts out (with the help of my trusty mallet). I swept out many cigarette butts and other rubbish that had clearly been there some decades. I then also found a crumpled piece of paper.

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It was a torn up letter dated February 14, 1963.

 

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It was signed by George Fraser and was written to another George, whose surname is not mentioned. It discusses poetry and the work of a young poet called Jeannette Osborne, whose poetry George Fraser had sent the other George for critique. In it there is a line which reads “I would admit that I am perhaps less stringently critical than I ought to be about poems by young women, especially when I find them attractive; and I have my own sentimental streak…”  Torn up and thrown into the fireplace, it was never sent.

 

 

 

House Tour: The Servant’s Bedroom

IMG_1604It may be their bedroom but the servants weren’t allowed to rest – just outside the door is a bell to summon them at any time of day or night.

IMG_4640At least they could lock their door – if they were given a key…

IMG_1562The servant’s bedroom is located at the back of the house on the first floor right above the old scullery. We are currently using it as a utility/laundry room. It’s quite a small room but it does have a fireplace – the first one I revealed last year. The window overlooks the side of the house rather than the garden – there was to be no gazing upon the family for the servant. Unusually for this house the room has a sash window – only the family’s part of the house has the more fashionable Edwardian casement windows.

IMG_1588Miss Rose having a sniff about. We tend to keep the cats out of this part of the house at the moment.

IMG_1567You may remember from earlier posts that the servant’s room has a small landing outside for access to the servant’s stairs. Below lay the kitchen, scullery, pantry, coal store and the outside servant’s toilet. There was to be no using of the family’s staircase for the servants in Edwardian times and the strict division between the family areas and service areas of the house was maintained at all times. Note that the glazing on the window on the stairs is obscured to prevent the servant seeing the family in the garden below.

While I know a lot about the people who owned this house over the years, I know far less about the servants who lived and worked here. There is only one Census I can consult – that of 1911. From that I know two servants lived in this house at the time. Ethel May Deverell was the housekeeper. She was 25 years old and was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Sarah Elizabeth Hudson, 20, from Burton-on-Trent, was the cook and general domestic servant. Luckily for them, even though this is a big house, it was lived in by only one gentleman, who was renting the house at the time: John William Pendleton, 59, the owner of a boot manufactory. But Mr Pendleton’s is another story.

Wallpaper Day #2 (and some hidden House History!)

IMG_1554I have made good progress on day two of stripping wallpaper. Mark and I agree that the room now has a distinctly Tuscan air.

IMG_1555The heavily painted wallpaper has come off well on this wall but I am still left with the original orange paper stuck to the plaster. It has only come off in very small pieces for me and it’s clear that the last person to wallpaper this room tried to remove it and was also unsuccessful.

IMG_1552Now for the hidden house history. When I was stripping this corner of the room I noticed that there were some markings under the paper. I realised that I was looking at the number 35.  As I continued I saw that there was more writing. I was very careful as I scraped the rest of the wet paper away.

IMG_1550In pencil it says “Papered by L Johnson June 11th 1935”. The textured wallpaper I thought was Edwardian was actually from the 1930s. L Johnson (I’ll assume Mr Johnson!) had tried to remove the orange paper almost 80 years ago and decided to paper over it, writing this message before covering it over. I checked my house archives and this date is a month after Martha Baxter purchased the house, so I guess Mr Johnson was a decorator employed by Mrs Baxter. I doubt that Mr Johnson thought his work would last eighty years but it is now clear that not one person since 1935 has bothered to strip the wallpaper in this room and Johnson’s message has remained hidden all these years.

It’s one of my favourite discoveries so far. I wonder what other secret messages from the past this house might contain.

House History #6: Ronald Beresford Weston-Webb

 

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Ronald Beresford Weston-Webb was 32 years old when he bought this house for £1450 on March 16, 1931, taking out a mortgage of £1000 from the Leicester Permanent Building Society. On the conveyance he gives his previous address as Holly Lodge, Queniborough, Leicestershire. He lived in this house for four years, selling it on May 18, 1935 for just £1000 (it was the Depression). In the 1935 sale documents he gives his occupation as Farm Agent but I have also seen references to him being a Yarn Merchant and a Farmer.

When Ronald bought the house he had been married to Pamela Antonia Hart for around seven years. They had a two year-old son, Anthony Patrick Weston-Webb. Ronald and Pamela’s marriage came to an end when he petitioned for divorce in 1935, thus I imagine their time in this house, spanning the last few years of their marriage, may not have been a happy one. The divorce documents are in the National Archives and I’d be very interested to read them. I know that he petitioned for the divorce and that a gentleman named Cecil Holroyd Russell (the owner of a ‘fancy hosiery manufactory’) was named as the co-respondent, with “Dollie Ash intervening”. Sounds intriguing.

Ronald was born on November 9, 1899 in Gedling, Nottinghamshire, the son of a wealthy hosiery merchant called Weston Fulford Marrriot Weston-Webb and the third of his four wives, Agnes Josephine Littlewood (she was twenty five years his junior – he 49, Agnes 24). In 1901 they were living at The Lodge, Gedling, and had five servants. Ronald was Weston’s eldest son and he had five brothers and one sister. Weston-Webb senior published an autobiography in 1929 entitled Autobiography of a British Yarn Merchant: A Rise from Rags to Riches.

In the 1911 Census, Ronald is at boarding school – Bilton Grange Preparatory School near Rugby in Warwickshire. According to Edward Walford’s The County Families of the United Kingdom or Royal Manual of the Titled and Untitled Aristocracy of Great Britain he attended Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. Arthur Charles Fox Davies’ Armorial Families: A Directory of Gentlemen of Coat Armour says that Ronald was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Queen Mary’s Own Regiment (the Royal Hussars, 18th Regiment).

Ronald’s mother dies in 1922, his father re-marrying in 1923 (Mabel Hodges, Hanover Square, London). The next historical reference to Ronald is in 1923 in the London Gazette, which announces his promotion to a Lieutenant in the 18th Regiment Cavalry. There are no war records for him.

Ronald marries Pamela Antonia Hart in Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1924. Their son Anthony Patrick is born in 1929 (he died in 2005). Their years at this house span 1931-1935. Ronald divorces Pamela in 1935 and I know she dies in 1962.

In March 1937 Ronald marries Susan Porter in Kensington, London. Also that year Ronald’s father Weston dies, leaving a vast fortune to his fourth wife Mabel. She has residences in Belgravia and the Cote d’Azur, dying in Switzerland in 1938.

Ronald and his new wife Susan have two children – Joseph, born in 1938 (died 2012), and Peter, born in 1941, possibly still living in Australia.

In 1949, Ronald is living at The Grove, Cossington, Leicestershire, and gains his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate at the Rearsby Flying School. There are various mentions of him in the magazine Flight in the early 1950s.

Ronald has a number of addresses in this region over the next couple of decades. He dies in Australia at the age of 83 on August 18, 1983 in Kiama Downs, New South Wales.

House History #5 Graffiti

IMG_4782When I was doing some garden clearing last weekend I noticed that the back and side wall of the coal store had some writing etched into the brickwork. The letters AFR are repeated several times. When I later checked my house history files I realised that there was only on person this could be: Andrew F Rutherford. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Rutherford family lived here between 1952 and 1958. Andrew was the son of Mark and Annie and was born in 1940, making him 12 when the family moved in. Some time in his teenage years he stood at the back of the house, in a spot not easily observed from the inside, and carved his initials into the wall.

IMG_4783There’s more below but I can’t make it out.

IMG_4784Then, at the back of the house, is the date 1961. Below it is written K Fraser. Kate Fraser was the youngest child of George and Paddy Fraser. Born in 1952, she was nine when she wrote this and was actually the last child to grow up in this house.

IMG_4785Just to the left is a drawing of a face. I can’t quite work out whether that is meant to be a moustache.