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Alan Crook is fourth of eight children born to Frank and Annie May Crook who lived in the courtyard when Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst arrived at Dartington Hall in 1925.
Mentioned as ‘the Crook kids’ by Leonard Elmhirst in Dartington Film Unit reel ‘Dartington Farms and Industry’, Alan, 88, now lives in Kingsbridge with his wife Patricia.
Dorothy’s first cup of English tea
Alan: ‘When the Elmhirsts came in 1925, it was my mother Annie May who was supposed to have given Dorothy the first cup of tea (that’s a family joke).
‘I was born in the hall in January 1929 where we lived. My father, Frank Underhay, rented the farm in the courtyard from Mrs Champernowne. Our door was the second entrance on the right as you go under the arch. There were eight of us altogether including two late additions, with five children under five when I was born!
Alan: ‘When the Elmhirsts started developing the hall, I was four or five, and I used to run down and run round the scaffolding with shorts on, I mean they wouldn’t allow that these days. You know that was easy then. They were putting the big roof rafters up.
‘The Elmhirsts then lived at the back of the big banqueting hall, well it’s still there now and they had servants of course and there was a chap called Mills, can’t think of his Christian name, must be in the records. I knew Bill (who was a few years younger than me) and the daughter, Ruth. She married a chap called Ash and they set up the vineyard outside Totnes, Sharpham. I used to play football with Bill, when the green was there and the centre part was all grass (they had several gardeners to look after the grounds). The tiltyard was made as a theatre, that was LK’s little project. He had it built, but it was his idea. I mean she had the money, but he had the ideas. Well you’ve got that history in the books.
‘We used to go in the cellar, used to go up the [clock] tower steps and into the cellar. We used to see Dorothy at the Christmas parties and that sort of thing. At Christmas you had a very big ball; the fires were all lit, it was beautiful, the fires were lit. We always had a present presented, to all the children from the estate. A little wrapped up parcel I think it was. LK wasn’t overpowering or anything like that as I remember, I didn’t take much notice.
‘On Foundation Day they shut the drive to keep the estate private just for one day and people would come up from Dartington village. They did sports, running up and down, tug o war.
‘I nearly drowned in the Dart once, caught at Folly Island, half a mile up past the pumping station (below Park Road). I was about five and I was in the water but there was a bit of an island, you could get in up to your knees or so and I stepped out further out and went underneath on a shelf. My sisters were there, they hauled me out. So I stayed clear of water after that.
‘I was at Dartington Hall School from five to 11. I mean they didn’t make us work, we used to walk around the estate if we wanted to. They never shouted at us to come back or anything that I can remember. We used to down and walk along the river and round the back. Well it was too easy going, never made you work, they didn’t set you to learn your 12 x table or how to spell c a t and one thing and another but I enjoyed it as a child.
‘I remember on 2 September 1939, two other boys and I went down towards the river, through the wood, and we said yeah, it [the Second World War] be over by Christmas. Wishful thinking. 10 wasn’t I? Just over 10. We were quite safe, where we lived at the farmhouse, to walk up behind the field behind of an evening and look over Plymouth: you could see where they were bombing Plymouth. Bright red. The bombers came in from the sea up the estuary. We had a radio but no telly though, oh yeah, father used to talk about it.
‘Father paid for me to go to school, I was the only one – I was the favourite, because I was dim to start with! That was after he retired that was. Later he said to me ‘Do you want to go into farming’? He said: ‘Well if I were you I wouldn’t, cos it’ll be seven days a week working’. So I said well, I’d like to go down to Reeves timber importers in Totnes and start there.’
Patricia and Alan Crook
Cricket for Dartington, rugby for Totnes and a hockey ‘one off’ where something started
Patricia: ‘On the Sunday we were playing hockey (on a Sunday, forbidden really) and Alan was captain and I thought, ooh he looks very nice. I was on the ladies side, I played for Totnes ladies and he was playing for the Hall weren’t you? On the way home I was on my pushbike and I was leaving to go back into Totnes and there was a little lady at Puddavine, just there I was coming down on the pushbike, and the lady was in front and she stopped the car dead. I fell off my pushbike and he came behind and he picked me up, he was behind me, he picked me up. He shouldn’t have really because I had cracked ribs and things, and from then on, you know, he came to see me and that’s how we got married in the end.
Alan: ‘I mended the bike, bought a new wheel that’s all.’
Patricia: ‘I taught him to swim, and he didn’t dance either did you [Alan laughs] and I said well you’re going to learn because I like dancing! We’ve been married 65 years.
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