On being born

Birth is one of the experiences we all share, although the circumstances can vary widely. I, and – I believe – my brother were born in The Simpson Memorial Ward of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (although, surprisingly neither of us are mentioned in the Wikipedia article section on Notable Births !). Sir James Young Simpson, after whom the ward (or pavilion) was named, attended the birth of Christina Box, my Great Great Aunt, who was born in Edinburgh, a month early, when my Great Great Grandparents, William Braund Box and Rosina Box were visiting Robert Bryson.

Not very many years after I was born in hospital, the elder of my sisters was born at home, in my parents house in Balerno, and my youngest sister was born at home in their next house in Juniper Green. The change of birth location from maternity hospital to home birth could have been due to improvements in the information available to mothers, as Obstetric ultrasonography, now routine, was becoming available. These improvements in diagnostics, and medical practice in general, were part of the trend of improvements in survival rates of both infant and mother.

Historic high infant mortality rates are brought home when researching the family tree, as there are many instances of children dying in their very early years. Sometimes this makes it difficult to work out what is going on, as a subsequent child was sometimes given the same name.

The need to balance mortality rates led to large families, and as more of the children survived they generally had to go somewhere else, as I wrote about in Amazing Love, Demographics and Mass Migration.

One of the starkest cases of the impact of maternal mortality was Alexander Bryson, eldest son of Robert Bryson. Alexander’s first wife, Elizabeth Waterstone Gillespie died 10th April 1855, shortly after giving birth to William Alexander Bryson on 2nd March 1855. His second wife, Catherine McDonald Cuthbertson died around September 1859, within 7 months of giving birth to Donald Cuthbertson Bryson on 21st February 1859. Alexander married again, and his third wife, Jane Thompson, not only survived giving birth to Leonard Horner Bryson, but outlived Alexander and remarried.

I do not know the details of the circumstances of any of the other births, but I know something of my own, as my mother wrote to my fathers parents shortly afterwards, and I have a copy of the letter (she presumably wrote to her own parents too, but I do not have that letter).

2, Lovedale Grove


(not really there !)

Dearest M&D (or G &GF ?),

Of course Roger has phoned and told you that Willie has arrived at last and has turned out to be Jonathan. He really is sweet, despite being a little red and new looking. He has dark fluff on his head and his ears don’t stick out – Aunt Jennifer, at least not yet. They don’t allow the Mums to play with the new baby for the first day, but I’ve been allowed to hold him 3 times. This is apparently a treat and not usually done ! Tomorrow he comes out with all the others. I don’t know when I’m allowed up but I’m already tired of bed. I did get out to ring the bell for another bedded Mum when all the Mums who were allowed up were out on the balcony in the glorious sun – lucky things. I had not been allowed to get out while they made the bed, but performed the far more difficult feat of crawling down and sitting on the end.

I have had instructions from various people to “get plenty of rest”. It’s hopeless though! We are continually pilled, or cocaoed or babies appear or bedpans and today we had afternoon visitors – ward specially tidied & all propped up – evening visitors the same. (you should see the titivating before father arrives – alas not so for me – I left my glass behind, so can’t even produce a straight parting! Roger brought it in tonight though, so he won’t know me tomorrow !)

In between all this I try to knit – so far about 1 row, read – page 10, I think and I have looked through Good Housekeeping for June.

I good deal of time this morning was spent on preparing for the weekly visit of Professor Kellar, the big white chief of the Friday clinic & therefor of ward 51. I actually had a “consultation” with him (I was really ‘specimen A’) and several of his staff doctors on Wednesday, when they decided to bring me on and ‘start’ the baby. As I was late for that appointment I hoped he wouldn’t recognise me as he rushed round. We were all smartened up. Just like a Doctor in the House scene, really, quite mad. Made beds remade, pillow cases that were spotless changed, all patients propped and dared to breathe. Thus we waited – and waited. Then we were told he was having coffee – and we still waited. The little nurse was getting quite worried because she had various things to do – including giving me a blanket bath (this ended by me washing myself, all but my back ! not my idea of having it done & no rolling the patient about as I learnt in Guides). Anyway, there was a bed vacated by an escaping Mum & this bed had to be remade. The nurse put screens round – in case the Prof. “saw such an untidy scene” – and she’s a ‘proper card’ and had us all quite weak with a comic turn behind the screen. I don’t know what would have happened if the great man had arrived but he never did! Nor did a visitor from the regional board, for which we were smartened up.

I’m afraid this is a very bitty letter. It isn’t easy to write when something happens mid sentence (in the middle of this one sister arrives and asks me how I feel !) The writing is not up to standard either as I’m lying back – the elbows get rather worn otherwise..

I’m looking forward to showing you your grandson. I think he’s a darling, but I’m biased – so will you be !!

I’m leaving a space* for Roger to add a word. He is being a proud father, I can see him grinning in a p.f. way at the office when he tells everyone how wonderful his baby is !!!! And he’s right

* Jane didn’t and I’m about to start a wash-up for at least 1 1/2 days at 11.PM so will write tomorrow

Very much love to everyone


Jane, Jonathan and Roger.

p.s. Added on Sunday. I have been up officially today and also managed to get out onto the balcony in the sun, which has been lovely. Alas – sitting is uncomfortable, so I was quite glad to lic in bed again. I now have Jonathan to play with at every feed and he is becoming less fragile! He make gorgeous faces when he has hiccups (how do you spell it ?) and I have discovered that the short fluff on top is hair which is quite long over the ears & down the neck. A haircut is going to be necessary !!!

I was born in the time depicted by the TV series Call the Midwife, although, rather than Edinburgh, that is located in Poplar, in the East End of London. There used to be a connection between Wesley Memorial Church and Poplar and my wife, along with others from the church ran a summer playscheme there. I have only seen snippets of Call the Midwife, but the descriptions of the preparations around the visit of professor Kellar remind me of the depiction of Sir Lancelot Spratt in Doctor in the House.

Professor Robert Kellar (1909-1980) held the chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Edinburgh from 1946 to 1974, and supervised a number of prominent people in the field, including Nancy Loudon. He worked under Francis James Browne earlier in his career.

My father was out, working on the moors the day I was born. All the other mothers had large vases of commercial roses, but my mother had a little jam jar of hand picked wild flowers from the Lammermuir hills – which were much admired !

Christmas at Rest Harrow and Little Cucknells

When we were young, Christmas was a very special time for my siblings and me. We lived in Edinburgh, but our Grandparents, and most of our relations, lived in the south of England, or even further afield. Although I have written about going to Pickwick for Christmas, my father’s parents must have moved when I was quite young, as I remember being at Rest Harrow during the Winter of 1962-63, when the elder of my sisters was a baby, and the younger not born. (Although, when she was a small child and was told she did not participate in such great adventures she would protest ‘I was there, in Mummy’s tummy!’). Rest Harrow was snowbound, as was the whole village of Medstead, and my father had to walk to Four Marks for bread and milk. It is possible that we did not then go on to my mother’s parents at Little Cucknells,

Our normal pattern was that we would travel from Edinburgh to Rest Harrow – usually by car, with the journey becoming swifter as the years passed – in the early days I believe the trip incorporated a Bed and Breakfast somewhere around Nottingham. I do also remember flying (in a Comet) and being put to bed, and then woken to be taken by taxi to the station to go down on the train – though that may be have been to Pickwick.

Pre-Christmas at Rest Harrow

On arrival at Rest Harrow there were several common events before Christmas. Grandpa would have bought a Christmas tree, which would be in a pot in the sun room, awaiting our artistic, or enthusiastic labours to decorate it. We eschewed the minimalist approach, and it was impressive how many of the glass baubles would still be there every year, despite having been put up by small children.

Sunroom, Restharrow

As my brother and I grew usefully tall we also had the honour of helping to decorate the large Christmas tree at St Andrews Church in Medstead.

St Andrews Church

The while family would also be involved, to varying degrees according to skills, in the preparation of Christmas dinner. My Grandparents approached gardening on a serious scale, so harvesting and preparation of winter vegetables was a communal activity, preparing sprouts, peeling carrots, parsnips and potatoes, as well has mixing (and tasting) cake ingredients. Aunty Jennifer always made her famous cheese straws, in a variety of shapes.

Christmas Day at Rest Harrow

We would wake on Christmas morning to find that, no matter how resolved we might have been to catch him in the act, Father Christmas had been in the night and managed to fill out stockings (we used Heriots school socks) with presents. It is possible that Mother Christmas might have taken some tips from her relative, George Braund, and switched the stockings for ones which had been filled earlier.

The stockings managed to achieve an impressive balance, considering our range of ages, between fairness and personalised interest. Several of our toys only really made sense as communal toys, even though we knew which specific parts were ours – examples of this were the Floral Garden, the Zoo (with Britain’s Zoo animals) and the Farm (again Britains Farm animals, though with out of scale farm machinery. The stockings were filled in roughly the same order, and so opening them together we might have clues about what type of thing might be inside the individually wrapped parcels (in venerable wrapping paper). Recurring themes were

  • Some kind of small torch
  • A cub/scout/brownie/guide diary
  • A pencil
  • Notebooks
  • little sets of colour pencils
  • Chocolate coins (I suspect one bag was divided into four, and the balance became a delivery fee)
  • The aforementioned animals, parts of gardens and so on
  • A paperback book
  • Always a satsuma in the toe of the sock.

Opening the stockings often occurred on my parents bed, where they would be suitably impressed by the wisdom and good taste of Father Christmas.

Stockings on Christmas morning, Jane with Jennifer and Elizabeth

We would also show our new presents to Aunty Jennifer, who lived at Rest Harrow, and to Uncle Tim, who came from Geneva for the Christmas period. As a bachelor uncle – who had the opportunity to give us slightly less suitable toys (I remember a battery powered walking, noisy robot) Tim was relegated to the sofa bed on the lounge, where he may not have been having as restful a night. Despite this we felt it was our duty to bounce on him in the morning to wake him up. Some years later Tim married and had two daughters, and my brother and I relinquished the bedroom we had used, to sleep in the lounge. I remember being awoken on Christmas morning by the enthusiastic bouncing of two small girls, egged on from the doorway by their father, Uncle Tim.

During the morning my Uncle Michael and Aunt Fanny would arrive from London, and my Uncle Jeremy, with Aunt Claire, and her mother, Oma (Flemish name for Grandmother), and cousins Peter, Ian and Robert from Southampton or later Gosport. If the weather was fine we would go out into the garden.

Christmas Morning 1966, on the new seat in the sun
Jennifer with JF and CD on the swing.

My Grandmother would make a quiche for Michael and Fanny, who were vegetarians, but the rest of us would be keen to try it, as well as the traditional turkey. Fitting about twenty people round the table was a challenge, but we managed (sometimes by having a children’s table). The Christmas pudding had silver threepences cooked into it which were then exchanged for real money. Afterwards everybody helped clear up and wash up. We listened to the Queen’s Speech on the radio, and there would be the traditional family photo, in the sunroom if the weather was bad, of outside if we could. In the early years this was my grandfathers prerogative, using a self timer on his camera, with varied results. There are a number of pictures of a Grandpa shaped space in the family group, and I am sure there should be some of the sky or the grass due to tripping over the tripod trying to reach that space. We then chatted, or played games until the prolonged departures of the day visitors, normally after even more food.

Entertainment at Rest Harrow

There was no television at Rest Harrow for several years, when they were common elsewhere, but there were plenty of books, including a full set of the Swallows and Amazons series, and The Far Distant Oxus. We also played games, my grandparents had a Deluxe Edtion Scrabble board, on a turntable. Aunty Jennifer was a whiz at Pounce, and we also played Pickwick Rummy. She also always had some kind of craft activity available, from candle making to painting. She was also headteacher of Herriard school, and would bring musical instruments back from school. She also had a guitar, which we would attempt to play – she would teach us some chords, but we would generally forget them by next Christmas and have to start again. My cousin Peter, an accomplished musician, sometimes played his violin.

The Christmas present from Aunty Jennifer to my brother and me was a trip to London, on the train, visiting famous sites, such as Madame Tussauds and the Post Office Tower – back in the days when you could eat at the top. We traveled on the Underground, very exciting for boys from Edinburgh, and ended the trip with a visit to Hamleys, where Great Aunt Peggy was managing director (though we were more impressed by the railway running round the big central staircase, the teddy bears the size of a grown up and other amazing toys)

Christmas at Little Cucknells

When we were young we did not really celebrate New Year, but had a second, quieter, Christmas with my mother’s parents at Little Cucknels, in Shamley Green. Our interactions with Grandfather Box were limited – I only really remember him lying in bed in a downstairs room with the curtains closed, and greeting him awkwardly on arrival, and saying farewell when we left. Grannie Bee (My mother said it was because she was busy as a bee – though I assume the name really came from her being Box) cooked a second Christmas Dinner for us. She too cooked a Christmas pudding, but every piece came with a sixpence, courtesy of sleight of hand in the serving process.

Meals were cooked on the Aga, which also kept the kitchen and adjoining small dining/sitting room warm. I remember both at Little Cucknells and Rest Harrow (and at home in Edinburgh) that hot water bottles were part of the bedtime routine.

If the weather was good we could play in the huge, overgrown garden, or Little Cucknells wood, and if the weather was bad we had our new toys or books to read. Although the house was full of interesting antiques, such as the Bell of the Kishon, the longcase clock made by my Great, Great Grandfather – William Braund Box, and a chess table made by some ancestor – a model of this table made by the same person is in the Queen’s Dolls house in Windsor Castle – they were not very interesting to children, though the copies of National Geographic, with their maps and pictures of exotic places gave plenty to read and look at.

We would also go and visit my mother’s sister Aunt Sue, with her four boys, and her husband (until they were divorced) who I mainly remember for the smell of brandy and cigars, at their home in South Stoke, with Wolfie, the Wolfhound.

Somewheres and Anywheres

Receiving scans of Christmas past from my father’s slides sent by my sister coincided with me reading ‘The Road to Somewhere’ by David Goodhart. (I am still in the early stages). The book relates the differences in attitudes to society, and life opportunities between the majority (about three in five), of Britons who still live within 25 miles of where they were born – the Somewheres, and the possibly less grounded, but more influential Anywheres, who lack the deep connection to a single community, although they may well be members of several less tangible communities. My father, for example, spent most of his life far from his London roots, but was a member of a small international community of Research Foresters.

A description of the book can be found at ‘Anywheres and Somewheres‘ and another viewpoint at ‘The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart – a liberal’s rightwing turn on immigration‘ Despite the reference to immigration in the title of Guardian review most of the Anywheres referred to in the book leave a home in Britain to go to university, and then move to wherever their life takes them. My Grandparents, on both sides, uncles, aunts, brother, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces fit the profile of Anywheres, as do many of the people mentioned in this blog, from the tragically orphaned Williams sisters to the Famous Freemans and Renowned Rebbecks.

Roger Lines and Jane Box Wedding

My parents got married on 2nd April 1956 at Shamley Green Parish Church. I have some 2″ slides from their wedding, which came from my Aunt Fanny – who may have taken some of them.

Jeremy (best man, my uncle), Roger (groom, my father) and George (groom’s father)
George (my Grandpa), friend, Joan (my Grannie), Fanny, Michael
Jennifer (bridesmaid, my aunt)
Jane (bride, my mother) and Jennifer
Roger and Jane (groom and bride)
Family Group

The bride ready to go away

I probably need to re-take this one,

An engaging couple – Roger Lines proposal to Jane Box

My father proposed to my mother on Westminster Bridge so that he was in a convenient place to throw himself off if she said “no”. Fortunately  she said “yes”.  I think the actual proposal might have been on Christmas eve 1955, as my father was in Scotland and my mother in England for most of the run up, however they were clearly keeping in touch, not only with each other, but with the wider family and some of the letters have been preserved.

My father wrote this postcard in Tarbert Waiting Room (B.R.) on Thursday 10th November 1955, to send to my mothers parents.

Dear Mr and Mrs Box,
By now Jane will have let you know our intentions. As I want to ask Jane to marry me to her face it is rather premature to ask for your reactions, as we shan’t  see one another till Christmas Eve. That I love Jane more than anything else in the world will, I hope, be apparent to you. You probably also realise that I cannot offer her riches, though I think I can promise that she will not starve. Fortunately she and I think alike on the essentials, and our love hasn’t blinded us to the demerits of the other. Its just that one half of my life now lives 400 miles away in the South. I hope you will forgive this scrawl and the muddled midnight thoughts.
With Love to you both


The plantations on the st. are Nevis Forest (F.C.)

 My father’s family must have known what was going on as my Grandfather, George Lines, wrote him this letter.


Wednesday Nov. 9th

My dear Roger/

This is certainly a Red letter day ! I am delighted at your news (however much under a hat at the moment).

Frankly I have always had a tender regard for Jane & admire your taste. Having known her a

    lot longer

than you have – I’m sure you’ll both the very happy. While I think you’re a very fortunate chap, I can’t help feeling that Jane will have a very sweet lad, Mummie and I feel very happy about it all.

We are all very thrilled at the idea of the house hunting – I can let you have the money back any moment you like.

Won’t stop for more now as its rather late  but

with much love

Yours ever Daddy.

My aunt Jennifer, his sister, also sent her congratulations.

Dear Roger,
We are feeling so delighted with The News. I really couldn’t be more pleased, I’ve always liked Jane so much. I’m afraid I can’t help spreading your engagement-to-be about, so if you really want it kept a bit dark at the moment you’d better let me have a list of those not to be told, or the “real thing” will be a bit stale!
If you could send me a note again of what you spent on Nora and Marjorie I would be pleased to settle up with you before I begin thinking of  your wedding present!
We have been much amused at all your financial arrangements, and Daddy is still puzzling over your Income Tax.
The Fiat should be very smart for you at Christmas, (or are you bringing the S.8. ?) and I’m looking forward to having it back. It should be ready before the weekend. I have been going in Miss Large’s S.8. every day and I’m afraid I shall miss the heater.
Don’t write specially, but if you could tell me about the money when you send your washing or something I will get a warrant for you.

Heaps of love,


Nora and Marjorie were college friends of Jennifer’s at Froebel, also housed in The Row, whereas my mother was in Templeton. Nora was from Edinburgh and she and Marjorie were in year below Jennifer and my mother.

The Fiat

Jennifer had the old model Fiat 500 Topolino,

Fiat Topolino – however Jennifer’s was originally pale blue, still with the red wheels, and was repainted green.

The reason Jennifer would miss the heater in Miss Large’s Standard Eight, is that her Fiat did not have one. At some point her brother,  Jeremy, put a funnel behind the radiator with a 2″ hose to the inside. In the summer Jennifer would put a duster into the pipe to turn it off. The main modification Jeremy made was to put an alloy pudding basin over the distributor, as previously, when it rained the car stopped. It worked very well.
The car had a starting handle, and was nominally a two seater, but had a “kind of shelf” where two further passengers could perch, although all passengers might need to disembark if a steep hill was encountered.
Miss Large was head of Juniors as Ashford, the second school Jennifer taught at, and was giving Jennifer a lift to school at this point.

Standard Eight

My father had a Standard Eight, which he probably needed as he travelled the cournty a lot , looking at forests, though earlier he had used a motorbike, and in those days he could also reach places by train.

Standard Eight

Jeremy cleaned my father’s Standard Eight at Pickwick on the morning of my parents wedding.