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The Hungerford Arcade building c1900

The Hungerford Arcade has been a special place for me since my childhood. In the mid 1950’s my father, Elbert Hull, a reserve officer in the United States Air Force, was recalled to active duty as a result of the Korean conflict and assigned to Greenham Common Air Base located near Newbury, Berkshire. 

Within months of the news my mother Linda, brother Dennis, baby sister Jan and I were on our way to England. Leaving our loved ones and home in Savannah, Georgia – a placed considered old by U.S standards, we soon found ourselves settled in a lovely country home called “Foley Lodge”, close by the small village of Stockcross.

Our family had no trouble adapting to our new life in the English countryside, particularly my mother, whose love of history and literature made our stay a dream come true – to visit the home of Shakespeare, to see the castles of historic kings and queens, and to walk the streets of Dickens’s London gave a fairytale quality to her life. Weekends found us exploring the quaint old villages as our Ford navigated narrow roads and with picture postcard views, glimpsed between gaps in the amazing hedgerows along the way. Foley Lodge, with its wonderful lawns and fragrant gardens, the bell pulls that had once summoned servants and a real summerhouse nestled near a huge “conker” tree, was like stepping into an Agatha Christie novel minus the ubiquitous murder.

For my younger brother and I it was an experience of a lifetime. We played at the ruins of Donnington Castle, read Enid Blyton books, rode double deckers (always on top) to Newbury on Saturday mornings where we watched serial films at the cinema, wandered about the town and Victoria Park, then made our way back to the wharf to catch the bus back home. Other days, we’d walk to Stockcross to buy sundries and stamps for Mama at the post office cum store, though our personal goal was to replenish our supply of favourite candy; lemon drops with thin shells jealously guarding their centre of tart sweet sour powder; each time we sucked through the sweet middle our taste buds were surprised as its “ secret ingredients” seeped through the delicate yellow casing.

Mission accomplished, Denny and I walked home, holding our breaths as we passed the dreaded Quick Eyes pond, its murky green water rumoured to hold a runaway carriage and its hapless occupants. The restless spirit of those whose lives were lost in the tragedy threatening to manifest themselves each time you hurried by.

Donnington Castle

For me a curious ten year old, the most fascinating part of our life in a country I came to view as a second home, was the many shopping trips my mother and I took in search for antiques. Early on, Mama had been introduced to Hungerford by one of the many British friends we had met; the town, its shops and friendly inhabitants drew her to it again and again. We entered the doors to rows of stalls filled with treasures, which beckoned us with their beauty and history. Sellers would explain the purpose of things we could not identify, often giving details of the items past lives. Should there be no romantic or exotic story in the offing, Mother and I combined our imaginations to spin a tale of our own.

Vintage Indian Carved Screen

I remember one remarkable find we stumbled upon in the corner recess of a rather dimly lit area; a heavy, four sectioned, folding screen. Its dark wood had been painstakingly carved into an intricate filigree nearly two inches thick. Dust covered each serpentine curve, but beneath the dirt of decades, mother saw its beauty and yearned for it in a way only antique lovers can. 

“How much is this piece?” she asked, her sparkling blue eyes betraying her attempt to feign casual interest. “Ah, a lovely thing, isn’t it, though? From India, that is, brought over by a gentleman in the British Army. Don’t see many with such craftsmanship these days.” Mother nodded. It was obvious that she was falling deeper under its spell. It was equally apparent that she was considering Dad’s well-known frugality and gauging what his reaction might be to her purchase. At last the seller paused for breath and began searching for the price. “Ah, here’s the tag. Seven pounds, miss, though I could do it for six. It’s a big piece and I need the room for new items.” At that time, six pounds was about twenty U.S dollars – no small amount. I watched as mother did mental calculations, finally signing and murmuring in her soft, southern way, “I’ll take it, please.” 

As we walked to the counter to pay, she whispered to me, “Look at the hinges, Trisha. We can divide it onto sections – one for you, one for Reitta – and it will only cost us three pounds!” Reitta was a friend and neighbour also afflicted with “antiquities”. Mother’s scheme was a success, but to this day I cannot recall how the weighty screen that stood at least five feet was transported to Foley Lodge. Those details never seemed to deter Mama from the hunt and, after many rubbings with linseed oil, the screen shone with a lovely patina. It remains in our family today, presently with my sister - perhaps a proper place since she was not born until our return to the States and missed the adventure that was England.

Much has changed since those idyllic years. Foley Lodge has metamorphosed into a splendid hotel, spa and conference centre (The Vineyard) with our old home being a small part of the whole. 

The Vineyard, Stockcross

Thankfully, much remains the same. Dear friends of the 1950’s continue as dear friends now. My husband Ramon and I frequently visit Joe and Beryl Emery and return with them to Hungerford Arcade where we tread the hallowed ground of my childhood. The smell of beeswax and lemon oil awaken my senses upon entering, while those shelves of timeless treasures continue to beckon and mother’s spirit seems to direct me toward a special bit of jewellery or china for further attention.

In a world which often appears chaotic, confused and in too much of a hurry, it is a marvel to visit Hungerford and the memories of the past, and indulge in the pleasures of the present, and the hopes of the future with the single utterance “I’ll take this, please”.

After our last visit in 2009, I returned to the Emery’s home in Standlake, as the new owner of a fine enamel bracelet, with racing horses galloping around it. I wear it daily and speculate as to its origin. Whatever its history and that of its former owner, it begins life anew on the arm of a happy antique addict who looks forward to her  next visit to Hungerford.

 

 

Reproduced courtesy of Trisha (Hull) Arredondo 

 

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