When your childhood home gets pulled down

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In the garden on my childhood home. The white house to the right has been pulled down and the trees immediately to the left of it have been felled.

On Monday I discovered that my old childhood home has been pulled down. I haven’t lived there for well over 30 years and haven’t visited for about three, but I found this news upsetting nonetheless. I’m going to miss that beautiful old house.

I have such happy memories of the place. I moved there following my parent’s separation when I was a toddler and lived in an extended-family set-up until my mother remarried six years later.

Those were innocent, simple years. Apart from a few night-time memories (more about these in a moment) I only recall the place in the sunshine. I think that says a lot.

In the garden were gooseberry bushes, apple trees and a huge vegetable patch. My uncle was very good at growing vegetables and our diet featured all manner of home grown foodstuffs. Not that it actually worked, but the garden also featured a hand-pump for drawing water, a remnant of a bygone age.

The pump may have been obsolete, but we lived an incredibly old-fashioned way of life. My grandmother and some of her children had been farmers. They rented the house, which must have been 200 years old, having had to vacate their nearby farm in the nineteen sixties.

A magnificent Ulsterwoman, my grandmother was matriarch of the family. She sorted out breakfast, lunch and dinner for the entire family and wore a blue and white pinny all day, every day.

The intention had only ever been to live there for a short while. About four decades later, my equally magnificent aunt, vacated the property. She was the final one to leave following my mother’s remarriage and the passing away of my grandmother and uncle.

As they’d always been tenants, nothing major was ever done with the house. A washing machine stood in glorious isolation in the hallway but it was never plumbed in, presumably because the intention was always to move on. Much of the washing was done by hand and the only source of hot water was from a Rayburn that dominated the kitchen. There was a coal fire in the living room but no central heating.

The house, an old rectory, was in a tiny hamlet with a permanent population of nine, rising to 13 (ish) at weekends if the banking family from London visited their retreat. There was one single track road leading into the hamlet that petered into a dirt track leading to a cornfield just outside our house.

There was no street lighting, shops, pubs, nothing. At night-time it could be very imposing, especially if it was windy and the massive trees in our garden, that had been left to grow without being managed at all, were swaying in the darkness. I have memories of the branches swinging wildly in winter rain and wind, the noise they made incredible.

Eagle-eyed readers may have noted the property was an old rectory. That means two things; the house was right next to a small Norman-era church and graveyard. I thought nothing of this as a child but adults would occasionally comment on the position of the property.

There were no other children for me to play with. Even so I don’t recall being lonely. I think it was quite idyllic.

As my aunt continued to live there, I was a visitor for many years after my mother and I left. That connection to my childhood is now gone and it upsets me.

Even so, I have to be pragmatic about the situation. The house was not in a good state. Every time I visited I saw new cracks in the walls or other evidence the property was stressed.

I remember a large gap forming behind a disused fireplace in the dining room. A distant family member visited the house one day and my aunt remarked that the fireplace was slowly moving away from the wall.

This chap had some experience as a building surveyor. He took one look at the wall and said; “No, I think the wall is moving away from the fireplace.”

Sure enough, it turns out the gable ends of the house were indeed bowing outwards. There was also some evidence to suggest the house had no foundations. I could go on, but even the layman could see the property was on borrowed time. The fact that a large chunk of it was built of brick while the rest was built of the local flint stone suggests part of it had already collapsed and been rebuilt before my family moved in!

Once my aunt moved out, the house stayed vacant for a while and basically fell into disrepair. At this point the property’s story takes a bizarre and rather unfortunate turn.

A production company wanted to film the house. I haven’t got all the details but I believe it was for a horror film and the idea was to make the property look like it had been badly burned.

I’ve seen photographs of what they did. False windows were installed and the house painted brown, green and black. This didn’t upset me, but the pristine lawn was churned up and two of the most wonderful trees, which must have been hundreds of years old, were felled to complete the film set. It looked like some kind of post-apocalyptic scene, which was probably the aim.

Having gone to such great lengths, the film crew never recorded any footage on the site. I’m told the garden is still a mess.

Although it’s upsetting, the story has a happy ending. My old family home has been pulled down, but on the same footprint a new house is being built to modern specifications.

The trees cannot be replaced, but the lawn and garden will be repaired. It won’t be the same, but it’s good to know another family will make good use of this beautiful and very special piece of land. It’s remained in the ownership of the same family and they know who I am. Under the unwritten rules that govern rural life, I know I’ll always be welcome to turn up and have a look around and I have every intention of doing so when the opportunity arises.

Isn’t it strange, ‘though, how a house I haven’t lived in for such a long time can have such a strong hold on me? It’s like your parents; they’ve always been around and they root you to your past. When one of those roots goes, it makes you feel unstable for a while.

26 thoughts on “When your childhood home gets pulled down”

  1. Carrie-Time to be an Adult

    What a shame the film company did so much damage, but at least there will be some elements of the garden incorporated into the new house. My childhood family home has also been completely changed, but I only need to look at a grainy Polaroid photo and I can remember every little detail of it!

    1. I looked through many grainy Polaroids while writing this post! They brought back such happy memories but I just can’t abide the thought of that amazing garden being so badly damaged. Anyway, here’s hoping the new occupants enjoy living there.

  2. What a heartfelt post and one I can emphasise with as my grandmother’s house, my father’s home and one that was my second home is being sold next wk. Been in the family for over 60 yrs. Strange how bricks and mortar can make you feel!
    I’m curious to know which Hamlet is it?

    1. Oh wow. Here’s hoping you may still get the chance to visit your old home. How rare for a property to stay in the one family for so long.

    2. My mom passed away a year ago after making it to almost 100 years old. After 55 years of being around her home it sold. It just got torn down. Horrible to see. An ending…but I have all the memories of my mom and family in that house. Without my mom in that house…it is NOT a home any longer. She died in the house and when I would walk into that empty house, I saw right where she died…Maybe it is better it is not longer there. Such emotions I have. I can never go home again. Makes me very sad.

      1. Oh dear, that is sad. Some times it is better to not go back isn’t it? As it happens, I visited the newly built house the other day. It’s completely different, but they are making a very good job of it. It won’t be the same though.

  3. It’s great you’ve been able to head back and see it as and when. Must be strange knowing it won’t be there as it was. But nice to know someone else will still enjoy the land.

    Even when the house itself is still standing, when they’ve been a part of family life for so long it’s hard to see things change. My brother’s looking to buy a house in a village. So far the only 2 places that have actually fitted his brief have come up for sale in our childhood village (my mum’s house was only sold this year after a year of being on the market). He doesn’t want to be back in that village because he feels it would just be too weird living there. Others don’t understand that, but I can. It just feels a bit wrong to live there when the key person that brought us there in the first place is gone.

    1. You know I could never move back to exactly where I grrew up. I could make to the wider region, but to the exact villages…no. I’m with your brother! You are right though, I take solace in knowing that someone is going to enjoy the land and make good use of it. I can’t pretend otherwise, that house was in need of some attention.

  4. Tracey Abrahams

    I remember visiting the town I grew up in a few years back and finding my old school had been knocked down and replaced with a housing estate. I felt a similar sense of sadness as you describe.

    1. As it happens, the school I atteneded during this era suffered exactly the same fate! You have to move on though. I see the old friends of mine who never left their home towns and I couldn’t live their way. I’m much happier having carved my own way in life, even though it means looking over my shoulder and missing what was once there.

  5. It sounds like a great house to have grown up in! I know how you feel, there is something special about the places we grew up and having them altered feels wrong and disorientating. But like you say, someone else will have a new lovely home to make memories in 🙂 #MMWBH

    1. Yes indeed, I hope the new occupants enjos to replace those that were felled ‘though. They were truly stunning.

  6. So sorry to hear about the house being torn down, but you’re right in looking at the bright side. Another house will be built on its footprint, ready to make new memories like you and your family did. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt post, John!

    1. Yeah, got to be realistic. The old place has gone and in its latter years it was clear the place wasn’t going to stand much longer. Even so it was a happy place. I hope the new occupants enjoy living there.

  7. What an emotional post. Its so sad to see change when there are so many memories and feelings attached. My own home was taken over by someone and completely turned upside down and re-done. I can’t go back now as it is so different and makes me sad! #mmwbh

    1. My mother’s childhood home (which was just a few miles away from this palce as it happens) still exists, but like yours it has been altered beyond recognition. She was quite surprised to discover this. You can’t stop progress or time I guess.

  8. What a lovely post, one I can really relate too. At least you have all the happy memories from the time spent there #MMWBH

    1. Oh yes, many happy memories of that house. It’s odd because I don’t feel anything like as attached to the property we moved to after that. I guess it’s because I lived at this place at such a formative age.

  9. I think I’d be gutted if anything happened to my childhood home (I say childhood, my parents have lived there since my teens). It’s an ancient black and white cottage, dropping in character, with wooden beams, slate stone floors and a beautiful English country garden. I love it. I genuinely panic when they even suggest the possibility of selling. If it was torn down, I would be devastated! xxx #MMWBH

    1. The house you describe sounds amazing. I think you’d have every right to feel gutted if it was pulled down.

  10. Really interesting hearing about your childhood John – and what an amazing story! I confess I kept thinking the house was going to be haunted so the horror film that never was came as a neat twist.
    I can’t imagine my childhood home with anyone else in it let alone pulled down. Yep, my parents have never moved. I must be one of the few people in the country whose parents bought their first home, had a baby, and just..stayed there. They are in their 70s now and I don’t get back up north much, but we’ve just booked a trip for the end of Sept. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it!

    1. Beleive it or not, my wife can say the same as your parents (kind of). She’s the youngest of her siblings and while the family had moved around a little before her birth, once she came along that was it, they’ve never moved since! Glad you liked the story of the house. There’s more that I could have written!

  11. Lisa from Lisa's Life

    This would make me unhappy too.

    My childhood home is still where it always was but the current occupants don’t have half the care my Dad did and it all looks a bit of a mess. My happiest memories are before my family renovated when we still had fruit trees and an outside loo. We had an inside bathroom but the outside one was especially handy during fruit picking or making mud pies. It was a simpler time and I miss it still.

    1. An outside bathroom would have been so handy! It must have been tough to see the house in the hands of people who weren’t really taking care of it.

  12. It sounds like an idyllic childhood, John, and I can understand your sorrow at the house being demolished. As you say, so many memories caught up in the house. It’s a shame the trees were torn up for the film – it seems unnecessary. It’s good a new house is being built on the footprint of the old house – a chance for a new family to make memories. xx #ThePrompt

  13. I feel this way about my grandparents house, which was sold after my grandfather died when I was about eight. I have such strong memories of the house, and I was so sad that we wouldn’t be able to go there anymore. I believe it is now a Buddhist retreat 🙂 I think it’s wonderful that a new house is going to be built to replace your childhood house, and that it will remain a home, with another family enjoying the garden and location. Thank you so much for sharing with #ThePrompt, lovely to have you back 🙂

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