I am writing this in memory of my grandfather, Cyril Edgar Sladden. In the latter part of his life he lived at Seward House, Badsey. He resided there with his sister, Juliet Elizabeth, known to us as Auntie Betty and with his sister in law, Marjorie, known as Auntie Peg. She was the widow of his brother George.
Seward House was reminiscent of another age with its Cotswold stone and large imposing rooms and antique furniture. Many happy holidays and short breaks were spent by relatives of the Sladden family in its gracious surroundings. All three ‘senior’ Sladdens were very hospitable and sociable and played a central role in village life. They shopped in local shops. Auntie Betty sang in a choir. She swam regularly in a neighbour’s swimming pool and we would accompany her. They attended Badsey Church. They were helped out in the house and garden by people from Badsey who were like extended family. It was a very good way of life for three elderly people who could otherwise have been quite lonely.
My grandfather was a tall spare slightly stooping figure in his older years, quite short sighted and hard of hearing. I never heard him complain and he blended in very happily with his surroundings. He would wander outside in the morning to check the barometer and weather conditions and he would read the Times newspaper with a magnifying glass. Like many of the Sladdens he was a very orderly person and he would make sure that everything was in its correct place. He seemed oblivious to any minor affectionate disagreements between his sister and sister in law. His eyesight improved after an operation in his late seventies. The radio and newspapers played a much greater role at Seward House than television. We would have meals in the breakfast room and they were always pleasant occasions.
There was a sense of timelessness and tranquillity when visiting the house. Often we parked outside on the street and entered through the imposing front door. Auntie Betty would usually be the first to greet us and everyone seemed pleased to see us. Our time was spent among other things playing bagatelle on the large table in the dining room and croquet on the lawn. The croquet set was kept in a wooden box in the old summer-house. We would sometimes read books from their very varied collection.
I remember the lovely garden with the shade of the old tree and the borders tended by the gardener. The descriptions of the garden by Mela in her letters bring back floods of memories and I imagine that when we visited it had changed very little since her time. It was a productive garden and I can remember shelling peas on the kitchen verandah. As we got older we sometimes helped with the cooking and other household tasks. A cat would wander through the kitchen and laundry area. It was treated like part of the family and would eat all the little treats cooked for it.
When I was in my early teens and staying there with one of my brothers and a sister, I recall my grandfather in an unusually talkative mood. He was talking of his experiences of the First World War. I wish we had paid more attention to what he said. I had never seen him more animated and it was as though he wanted to share his experience with the younger generation. It is good that his diary and letters are a permanent record of this time of his life. I recall him saying on a separate occasion when I was a student that family is very important and, in his view, more important than friends. He had a simple direct way of talking. He was quite independent in his views and he said what he thought.
The last time I saw him was when I was en route to Bristol University where I was studying. My mother and I had stopped off there for a cup of tea. He was really relaxed and jolly and we both commented afterwards on what good form he was in. I was shocked when my father rang up some weeks later to say that my grandfather had fallen asleep in a chair and not woken up. I was very upset but it now seems a very peaceful and fitting end to someone who had always adapted so well to the vagaries of life and who had lost so many of his contemporaries in the First World War and who had lost his wife in her early sixties. I only wish that I could have met her too. It has been a pleasure to read her letters as I feel I have really got to know her well too.
Ruth (née Sladden), July 2016