Memories of Woodlands

Adams familyMy parents, Violet and Robert Burkin (pictured below), began their employment with the Adam family at Woodlands during the 1920s; my parents lived in the coachman's flat over the stables, later used as a garage. When my father went to apply for the job at Woodlands he saw a gardener dressed in shabby tweeds grubbing about in the shrubbery. My father said to him that he had come for a job with his governor. It turned out that the "gardener" was the governor! Cyrus Adam (pictured right with his wife) seemed a very democratic man. He loved driving and, unusually for those days, did not have a chauffeur, driving himself to Chislehurst Station to take the train to his London office. At weekends he would take my father out for drives, to Cudham, the home of the Burkin family, to Sevenoaks and beyond. I went into the Woodlands house only once and I recall the long hall mentioned in the house particulars. My father was the sole gardener at Woodlands at that time; although the grounds were large, the cultivated part of it was relatively small, and my father had his own plot for growing vegetables. I recall Armistice Day in 1932 and standing by an open window in the stable flat beside my father, a former soldier, as he saluted for the full two minutes silence, marked by the firing of a maroon.

Of course, all the employees in Kemnal Road got to know each other. My father was pals with Mr Beal, a chauffeur to the Duder family at Westerland. Mr Beal lived with his wife and family, a girl Joan and twins (Vera and Phillip, I recall) in a cottage in the grounds, which was the Lodge. Mr Beal was friendly with another chauffeur called Mr Whitt who had a little girl, these two men and my father would go to the pub after work. The two would argue, as Mr Beal was a pacifist and Mr Whitt was not, and he challenged Mr Beal to join the Territorials, saying it was not all about fighting. Both men were still in the 'terriers' when the war started in 1939, and were called up at once. They both went through the war safely, with Mr Beal being rescued from Dunkirk.

When the Adam family moved to a smaller house in Bromley, my parents left their full-time employ and took up residence in Webster's Cottages, where my sister Sheila was born, in 1934; we lived there for about two or three years. My parents continued to work part-time for Mr Adam; my mother taking care of the children and my father gardening. The Adam's new neighbour in Bromley was the loud and outspoken actor, James Robertson Justice; he and my father, a similar kind of man, got along well over the garden hedge. At that time my father was also working on a small farm belonging to Mrs Bowen, who lived in a house called Torrence, which neighboured Woodlands; Mr Adam had at one time let out some of his land to Mrs Bowen for grazing. The Adam children and even grandchildren, kept in touch with my parents, maintaining contact with my mother after my father's death in 1977, in the time-honoured way of remembering old servants; my mother died at the age of 98, in 1993.

With reference to the lake at Kemnal Manor: I have to admit to playing a part in an environmental disaster there in about 1937. I was with a group of little friends and we decided to make a cave in the bank of a large stream that fed the lake. We had excavated a big hole when we struck something very hard that resisted our efforts. Our big brothers then arrived and mine, being the strongest, took up a pickaxe and attacked the obstruction. It was a sewer pipe that burst open and raw sewage flowed out into the stream and on to the lake, exiting via a stream that ran to Eltham; all the plants and fish in the lake were killed. The police investigated but we boys kept silent. I wonder if there is any record of this event?

My father also worked for Mr Molins of Kemnal Road as gardener, one of five gardeners and one chauffeur. My sister recalls in her book on her Chislehurst wartime childhood, Letters to Hannah:

"It was my father's nature to be concerned with 'what's right', as he used to say. This meant that he carried out his ARP duties to the letter. Having been told that no civilians should be walking about after the siren had sounded, he went as far as threatening to thump a cyclist, who would not go in the public air raid shelter, because he was anxious to get home to his wife and children during the alert. The man complained about my father to the authorities. With the outbreak of war, some ARP Wardens were compelled by the government to give up their employment, so that they could take on full-time emergency duty. My father was one of these, a move that upset his employer, Mr Molins, to whom my father was gardener. As the Phony War set in, it seemed that a permanent emergency force was not needed and, possibly because of his rigorous interpretation of the rules, my father was demobilised. When he went to Mr Molins, to ask for his job back, he told him to 'clear off'. As the air raids began, it gave my family a grim satisfaction that his house was the first in the village to be damaged by an enemy bomb; Mr Molins was away at the time."

The Molins children–two boys I believe–seemed to tire of their toys very quickly. They were thrown out in the rubbish and my father rescued them. I recall, among other things, a magic lantern and slides, a garden construction set made of painted lead, a cine-projector with films, a Pollock's toy theatre, wonderful Christmas decorations and a wind-up gramophone in an oak case.

Ron Burkin, who lived in Chislehurst until 1945
(with help from his sister, Sheila, better known now as writer Victoria Seymour).

Adams children

Children from the Adams Family with Nurse