The Jennings and Selsdon Woods.
The Arrival

A little background to past history never goes amiss and in this instance amiss it will not go… I need to just paint the picture of how the Jennings family arrived at what was to be called and lovingly known for the next twelve years as the ‘White Cottage’… yes it was white walled and although slightly larger than the usual indicated rose covered, paved pathway as highlighted on so many picture post cards, to my mum it was still a cottage (shown above left looking towards Selsdon - the green fields beyond are where the Selsdon vale estate now lies).
It had been a toss up (so I learnt many years later) between the Black Country or the South East. Dad had been offered positions in both regions but after experiencing the grim, sooted area (his words not mine) in the heart of the Midlands he decided or actually I think it was more mum (as mums so often do) who decided for him. She had fallen in love with this village town just south of Croydon and in particular Selsdon Vale, so packed up we were and moved from Hayes in Middlesex to what was going to be the family home for the next 12 years or so. The Jennings had arrived - all five children with parents in tow. Five was to become six in years to come but for now the house was just large enough to hold the newcomers.
Selsdon Vale was a private and for the most tree and hedge lined road, just over a half a mile in length. Entering the vale from Old Farleigh Road you were in for a rough ride, pot holed for the entire length the dog kennels being your final destination; although Yew Tree Way was accessible a barrier stopped any continuation for motorised vehicles.
Sandpiper Road and parts of Albatross Gardens still set the line of the old vale (see the orange line on the map below); in fact where Albatross goes south into the cul-de-sac, is almost dead centre of our old garden, some of which still remains.

The White Cottage was set to one side of a two and half acre plot, two acres of grass and the top half acre was a Pine and Hazel spinney (shown above right), which backed onto the bird sanctuary. This large area made up of five fields and endless pathways was to become our playground, ideal for exploring and on the odd occasion letting the youngest (who was still a few years away) to wonder off  causing search parties to be sent to find him.

I remember for the first couple of years the entrance to the sanctuary being gated; this was easy access not just for us but also for the game keepers to wonder down and pass very freshly shot rabbits and pigeons to mum. As a two year old, I never quite understood why they just stayed hanging upside down for a few days when they could just have wondered off quickly, I checked daily for signs that they had gone and eventually they always had. No one ever did let on as we tucked into supper with a freshly cooked game pie.

Feeding the Badgers

At this point I had better introduce the offspring, Elizabeth was the oldest at 8, I for one couldn’t pronounce and called her Bela or something similar sounding, anyway Bela it has remained ever since, next came Anne who was 6 followed by Jane 4 then myself Christopher and Sally who was just 1.

Bela was the first to introduce us to the woods and was the first to find our first badger sett which was situated in the spinney, our side of the fence. An intriguing sight of what amounted to a mound with bare earth all around with a fairly large hole in the middle, I had no idea what this was or who had made it and could see nothing down this large chasm before me, Bela holding us back from exploring the hole further started to explain, not that I was any the wiser, however she was going to show us a picture later so that was all right wasn’t it… but what do they eat… worms came back jointly from Bela and Anne… but can we feed them... Bela said she had an idea and off we traipsed back to the house.

We all stood around the kitchen table, some of us barely able to see over the top, hands grasping for grip, Bela got the bread and butter out and then the Marmite appeared, why Marmite, no idea I didn’t ask, after making a few rounds of sandwiches we followed her back up to the badger sett where she placed the feast very carefully around the hole. We all stood there wondering looking at each other with smiles on our faces, come on she said we can’t stand around they come out at night… puzzled as to why they did that we were led away.

Mum seemed bemused as to why so much bread had vanished, little laughs must have given the game away but she said nothing and accepted it for what it was.

The next day a re-visit proved a point, yes that badgers did like Marmite sandwiches, in fact Bela used to go on feeding them from time to time at night from her bedroom window, for the rest of us we had learnt a valuable lesson, yes we could leave them sandwiches but maybe it was better to taste first and think about food gifts tomorrow or the day after.

The Famous Hole

It was one of those hot summers day when all hell was let loose, the unthinkable had happened, we were shouting at mum… the gate… she looked puzzled… the gate has gone… they have fenced us off from the woods… she walked up to take a look with five bewildered children and yes where our personal gate had been had vanished and in its place was this obstacle stopping us from entering our… yes our private land.

Oh dear (mum was always oh dearing) never mind you will just have to walk and enter from either end of the vale ... oh dear in deed, that was not in our minds, no way, nothing could be further from our thoughts… nothing.

Part of the reason in moving to the vale was so we could become independent, this was mums philosophy, this was being instilled in each of us every day and now the time was right to put it to good use.

We rummaged through the garage until each had a tool of mass earth destruction, well more like Bela and Anne had the spades, Jane the fork, Sally and me were given the small hand held implements.

The dig started at around eleven and by early evening we had succeeded in creating a master piece of civil engineering, (not that I knew what that meant) we had created a hole under the fence large enough to all members of the family, albeit one at a time, we stood there admiring this when the bell sounded.

The bell was are calling for dinner, supper any reason that mum wanted her kids together, you could have heard it a mile off which is exactly what she wanted and you needed to respond to it.

We sat down for supper full of the latest news (still eating game pie and still non the wiser) mum just looked and listened to each of us as we recalled the days events. She could see the enthusiasm that was abundant around the table, dad who had been at work queried the action but mum as I have mentioned earlier was able to calm any nagging doubts, the boss.

The hole didn’t go down to well with all the keepers, the two who were already friendly with us didn’t mind as they knew we loved the woods and everything in it, only one was not amused, we took great delight in months and years to come in playing him up using the hole as the escape route, poor man got quite agitated at times and I think even complained to mum… oh dear he never came round again.