MEMORIES OF THE VICARAGE
By July 1940, just one year into the Second World War, the Vicarage at East Brent was becoming increasingly difficult to manage for Reverend Palmer with his wife and young family. It was one of the largest vicarages in the county and it was therefore inevitable that soldiers would be billeted there. Families of evacuees were also given a home at the Vicarage and staff numbers were depleted…all in all, it was not an easy task.
Meanwhile at Rossholme School, an Independent School for Girls, on Beach Road, Weston super Mare, the highly talented young musician, Freda Ham was trying to do her Matriculation examinations. It was during the scripture exam that the air raid warning had sounded; the girls had to down their pens, move to the basement and remain in total silence until the all clear.
Her Grandmother lived in Rooksbridge and, whilst entertaining the Vicar to tea, they were both bemoaning the difficulties of wartime living…. together they hatched the plan: to move Rossholme into the Vicarage.
And so it was that Rossholme School moved into The Vicarage at East Brent, on a temporary basis, in the summer of 1940 ready to start the new term in September. The Vicar and his family moved into Norbert House on Church Street, the Army requisitioned the White House school buildings in Weston super Mare and, one assumes that the evacuated families were found alternative accommodation. History relates that, just two weeks later, the White House was flattened by German bombs. By the time the war ended in 1945, life –and society - had changed so dramatically that one doubts whether there was even discussion about the vicar returning to the huge vicarage. In fact one suspects that the Diocese were quite relieved to have suitable sitting tenants in place.
In July this year (2012), Joe Palmer, son of the Rev Thomas Palmer, and for whom The Vicarage – in three different locations - and East Brent had been his home from 1936 until 1954, decided on a trip down memory lane. In the year of his 80th birthday, he brought all members of his immediate family: sister, nephew, wife, children and grandchildren, totalling 18 in all, to recall his “happy childhood memories”. Everyone was quite riveted by his vivid recollections of pre-war life in a large Victorian Vicarage and the changes brought about by the influx of soldiers and evacuees into their ordered lifestyle. As an 8 year old boy, Joe had frequently observed the training of young soldiers which took place in and around the grounds. A particularly macabre story was his detailed recollection of a sergeant describing the correct and effective use of a bayonet on the enemy!
“My sister and I had the run of a wonderful garden and orchard and I would like to show some of my own children and grandchildren where we used to play”. There were areas of the house which he and Ann knew to be haunted and sheer terror would make them hold hands and dash quickly along certain corridors!
After a full day of exploration of the house, grounds and local area, Joe was delighted to have made the pilgrimage and he had thoroughly enjoyed showing his family. “I greatly enjoyed the visit personally and it stimulated many threads of memory” he wrote, “but I think the younger members of the group found it equally fascinating, though for different reasons”.
We thoroughly enjoyed the whole day as well. The thought occurs to me that we are unlikely ever to meet anyone else who has lived in this wonderful house. Although I was away in the Army for 19 years, this has been my home for 56 years; even Archdeacon Denison only managed 51 years! There are of course a few parishioners who still remember it as The Vicarage in pre-war days and any stories they can relate which will add to its history will be very welcome.