To break the long drive from Stirling to London, my mum and I dropped in on my great aunt in Sheffield. She lives in an incredible house that goes by the name Crabtree Ivies and was originally built in 1676!
We lovingly call my great aunt ‘Aunty Champagne’ after her fondness for the drink. She is the most fancy woman I know and I can say with 100% truth that I hope to age like her. We dropped in for a simple overnight and regardless she was wearing pearls and had her golden hair up in a smart bun. She had also cooked for a small army – wonderful for me who had been sorely missing home-cooked meals for just about four months!
Naturally, we cracked open a bottle of champagne.
I’ve had a love affair with this big, old house for as long as I can remember. One of my favourite things about it is the fact that there are just so many interesting things! Take the hall for instance. Here’s a vase of enormous lilies! There’s an ancient bible tome that’s about the size of a laptop! Just through here, my Great Uncle’s model car collection! Along to the end of the hall – two pantries! What’s in one of the pantries, you ask? Why, wine glasses shaped like tulips!
Without a doubt, this is my favourite object in the entire house.
It’s always captivated me. I remember being quite young and just spending an age by this beautiful wooden globe spinning it. Imagine my surprise when I realised it opened! Obviously, its contents are far more exciting now I’m a student…
The house holds a lot of history as well. This happy couple – Paullina Gaunt and her husband, John Swan – are my ancestors. Apparently this line of Gaunts could be traced back to John of Gaunt, whose father was Edward III, which makes me a descendant of the original English monarchy and that probably means I should be taking back the throne…
A little closer to the present day – I found this photograph of my great grandparents, the Stephensons. I learnt about the feud that divided the family. Of the three brothers, my great grandfather, Norman, was the youngest. There was also George, the eldest, and William. My family owned a hay and straw merchants but when the depression came they had to sell it to a carpetbagger to get by during that period. When times were better, they wanted to buy the business back.
It’s at this point where things get a bit blurry. William, who had served in the Great War, had put his money into the business earlier so he had no money. Similarly, my great grandfather had no money. One version of the story says George went to a man called Sid Gibson who had a large farm and borrowed money for him. Another version says Norman got the loan. Either way, George raised some money and took ownership. What outraged my great grandfather, and what caused the rift, was that he and William would have to line up with the rest of the workers to be paid.
This, however, is my great aunt and her husband, Alan Usher. He was a forensic pathologist, worked for the Home Office and worked on many high profile investigations including the Moors Murders and Yorkshire Ripper cases. He ended up with an OBE! I know he also taught at Sheffield University, with the nickname ‘Doctor Death’ and while he died when I was young, I have a fond memory of him offering me another flapjack after I’d scoffed one down in around ten seconds.
I could have happily spent a week exploring that house but we set off the next day to get back to London. Luckily the weather was stunning and I had control over the stereo for the entire drive. It feels rather strange to be back – sort of as if I’m only visiting – but it’s great to annoy my brother again and I’m really looking forward to this summer!