Walter Gropius designed the Wood House

Frankie and Jack had commissioned a house from Walter Gropius when they married. It was finished in 1937 and in 1939 the war broke out. It was their dream home, but when Frankie decided to farm she had to move elsewhere. It was requisitioned by the army, being near the south coast, but fortunately never used. They tried desperately to keep it after the war but finally had to sell it to help pay for a new and larger farm in Gloucestershire. It is now a Grade II listed building but at the time was regarded with distaste by most of their friends and general opinion. The house was a bit like their politics – wonderful but out of tune with the majority.

The Wood House, Shipbourne, by Walter Gropius
The Wood House, by Walter Gropius, today

1/12/42   I told you I have to pay £126 in back tax on the Wood House rent and that Burgis said this could be saved if we mortgaged it instead of the farm. I therefore wrote to Ball (the bank manager) asking him to get it valued. I got a very cheeky letter back saying he understood the house was modern and would not be easy to dispose of and he didn’t think the bank would like the present position disturbed. I wrote and said would he please say whether the bank was prepared to lend money on it or not as, if not, I would arrange a loan either with another bank or a building society. He came off it at the run and said there must have been a misunderstanding and of course they would and did I want it valued at once? I love sucksing bank managers, but I am disappointed in Mr Ball. He should know me well enough by now not to try such baby stuff.

I had a lovely letter this morning telling how grand the Russians are in restaurants. I do think that’s good. I rather envy you your society. Up till now I have been the one who saw reasonably amazing people while you were with appalling Anglo-Indians and dreary Englishmen. Now I never see anyone at all while you are surrounded with vodka and caviare and Christopher Sykes and Russians and high Embassy society. I hope you aren’t going to come home with expensive tastes because by the time I have bought about six cows we shall only be able to afford water.

Jack wrote:

Jack Donaldson in World War II22/11/42     Reggie has gone bear-shooting with the Russians. He’s off somewhere in the mountains. He’ll love it and it’ll do him good. I’m also very pleased for the glory of it, as there’s no other British officer in any walk of life on that sort of terms.

9/11/42     I asked Doronin, our no 2 Russian after the General, to come and see the Great Dictator. He and Vorobei and Parachonski the interpreter came. We got a kilo of caviare for a pound (it’s obtainable again now) and two bottles of whisky, which we gave them before the film. Afterwards Doronin insisted on a restaurant. As we’d eaten basically nothing but caviare this seemed a good idea. A lot more vodka, beer, food as required — I must say they have great presence with the lower orders — the old regime must have been superb if the new one is as good as this. He paid the bill without looking at it, with a thousand Real note, all splendidly in the old manner. Then the band stopped by about 11, as there’s a curfew at midnight. Doronin called them all back and made them play Russian songs for ½ an hour, and then never tipped them. An amusing evening, but what impressed me was the way everyone treated them like old Russian princes.

Frankie continued:

Frances Donaldson in World War TwoYou are very pleased about the news. So am I. But I take it differently with immense wood-touching and no letting up of the cloud of pessimism. My university students who were here in the summer said that no person or animal ever arrived on the farm without having to melt the cloud of pessimism with which they were immediately surrounded. “I’ve bought a new cow —- I paid an awful lot but I don’t suppose she’ll be any good”. “I’ve got three university students to help with the harvest but I expect they’ll be an awful nuisance” etc. Was I always like that or is it the effect of the war?

This house is really so lovely. When I look up from my letter the room is really gracious. I do hope you will like it. Of course lamplight is awfully pretty.

5/12/42   The cows are doing well under Metcalfe and we are averaging 2 ½ gallons a head which is a thing we’ve never done before.

The children are interesting at this moment. They are not good-looking, and they are rough and unmannerly and make lamentable jokes and then roll with laughter and are rather unmanageable and tiresome. They use a lot of slang. Thomas says “Blow me” about everything. They both use Warwickshire dialect as an endearment. If they are talking to the cats or dogs (we have a new terrier pup called Bubbles and a drove of kittens from three different cats) they always talk in strong Warwickshire. They are learning to ride and Rose (just 5) will soon be good. She and Sheila (the student) and I rode all round the farm this morning with Rose on the leading rein. She can’t rise to the trot yet but she manages the pony well and has no fear at all.

The news is not so good. I wonder if we are going to make a balls of it in Tunisia?

9/12/42   Two very busy days. We went (Pat and me) to a sale near Bicester in the morning (of bullocks). We only managed to buy 7 but ran into a dealer who said he had 10 so we went to see them and bought them. Then there is a sale of pedigree Ayrshires in the next village, but Pat can’t go so I’ve got to bid for myself (if at all as prices will probably go above my limit while I’m trying to catch the auctioneer’s eye). So we tore on from the dealers so that Pat could see the cows and mark which I was to bid for.

milk churn in World war 2
A milk churn in WW II

Then to-day I first of all received Mr Slater who we sell our milk to. It was a wonderful bit of luck his choosing to-day because we have constant trouble about churns. When he arrived I said “Come here — I want to show you something.” And I took him into the dairy and showed him gallons of milk standing in pails. He said “What’s the matter with it?” I said “Only one thing. We haven’t got a churn to put it in”. That took the wind out of his sails, particularly as he had come over to get me to sign the new contract. I refused to sign it. I said I’d sign in a week’s time if there was some real improvement in the meantime. By lunch time ten brand new churns arrived. In two years I’ve never seen a new churn before and I had no idea what they looked like.

10/12/42   I went up to 100 guineas for a pedigree cow and up to 85 for a non-pedigree and I bid for a lot of others but I bought nothing. Rather disheartening. Whenever you see a cow you would like to own you know she will fetch £300 at least.  Hannah was there. She bought two cows, but she has now got to the stage where she thinks £150 is cheap. But it will pay her because, being Mrs Hudson, everyone will rush to buy when she starts selling and she is collecting a very very good herd. But if I ever succeed in getting a reasonably good herd I shall have done something. But the question is, will I? I hope all this cow talk doesn’t bore you. It is the burning question with me at the moment and I haven’t any other news to relieve it with.

Here is a specimen of your children’s conversation. T. “Mummy, can I have honey on my cake?” M “No”. (I then apparently lapsed into a dream.) R. “Why don’t you have honey on your cake, Thomas?” T. “Mummy said I couldn’t”. R. “Well, why don’t you just take it?” T.  “Cos Mummy said I couldn’t.” R. “Well, what can she do to you? She can’t kill you, can she?”

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A Woman's War