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Time to go off on some tangents. Les got interested at one time in the derivation of our surname. One possibility was that it came from the French lavendre. In other words long ago our ancestors were dhobi wallahs (Indian for washermen or washerwomen.) A more romantic piece of family word of mouth was that a young French smuggler had been captured by Customs officers. His life had been spared on condition he remained in a certain parish for the rest of his life.

Faintly supporting that is that the earliest entry Les could trace in parish registers around 1650 was of an Edward Lander who was buried but there was no record of his birth or any parents. If he was a French smuggler he might have said his name was Edouard and they called him Edward the Lander. Not very likely but a lovely story. Edward’s descendants lived in a small peninsular sticking out from the Dorset coast and called the Isle of Purbeck. They were mostly quarrymen and stonemasons and our ancestors. Around 1938 Les and I spent a holiday down there. We stayed with a man who had his own small mine outside his cottage. I don’t know how deep it was or how far it extended. He would quarry a block of stone. A donkey at the top walked round working a winch which raised it to the surface. There he chiselled it into shape before selling it. I think the stone was mostly used for kerbs and gravestones. We were walking down the village street one day when we stopped to talk to a young local. When we told him our name he said (in a Dorset drawl) “Oh, Laander! They forriners. They Froggies.” We already knew from research that the family had been in the district for nearly 300 years but they weren’t quite accepted yet!

A bit more about domestic details. Coal fires were the main form of heating. We worry about air quality now but in those days there were thousands of chimneys belching out smoke. You’ll have read about London’s peasouper fogs. Other towns were just as bad. One night during the war Mum and I were going to the theatre in the town centre. All buses and other traffic had stopped running and everything was uncannily silent. We set off to walk. After a time I recognised that we were going back the way we had come. Whilst crossing a widish road at the bottom of a hill we had made a 360 degree turn. Driving was a nightmare. You couldn’t see where you were going but you daren’t stop in case something ran into you. One car I drove had a windscreen that would wind partly open. By winding this up and looking through the gap I could see a bit better. This was before there were heaters in cars and it was freezing. With later cars I found I could drive and also lean across with my head looking out of the open passenger side window. That way I could see the kerb but, again, it was horribly chilly. Some time in the 1950s Manchester brought in a regulation that banned coal fires in the middle of the city. That one square mile area became known as a window on the fog. I drove in once and the difference was very noticeable.

Because of the good result from Manchester a Clean Air Act was introduced nationally. When I was producing a TV current affairs in Australia around 1966 I remembered that and thought I might do something on the program about clean air. I rang around all our usual contacts and found there was only one academic who knew anything about it. He was from the University of Tasmania and was overseas on a sabbatical. There was an official from the notorious Painters and Dockers Union but I decided to let the idea drop. Now you’d be beating them off with sticks.

One of the snags about open fires was that the side towards the fire got too hot and your other side froze from the draughts caused by the hot air going up the chimney. Soot built up inside chimneys and you had to have them swept by a chimney sweep. He had a stiff brush on a rod. He screwed other rods to it to keep extending it as it went up the chimney. Kids liked to watch outside in order to see the brush eventually come out of the top. He collected the soot in a sack and took it away. Chimneys that were overdue to be swept frequently caught fire and they were a common source of house fires. More about the chore of cleaning out grates and lighting fires each day if I get as far as 1940/41. next