Wednesday 15 August 2018

The Story of Oliver James Stannett in his own word - Part One

I was born on 25th April 1903 at Chertsey in Surrey. Dad worked on the Thames Conservancy repairing the Chertsey lock gates. 

According to my mother, when I was about three years old I was missing for about three hours. Nobody could find me.

There was a large gravel pit at the bottom of the garden. Dad came home and looked around the gravel pit and he said that he found me hanging on to a bush with my feet touching the water. How long I had been there I don't know.

I knew nothing about this until I was sixteen years old. When I asked Mum and Dad why I was so frightened of water they told me what happened at Chertsey.

You see I was a pupil at Eton Porney School, Eton and the class went bathing at Athens which was the Eton College boys' baths. I absolutely refused to go into the water with the boys so the master told some of the boys to throw me in. Some of them managed to do it but I must have kicked up such a fuss that they had to fetch me out. I told Mum about it when I got home and she wrote a note to the master explaining the reason for my behaviour. Anyway, after that I used to sit on the bank and watch them.

I think that (the gravel pit) was the reason why Mum and Dad left Chertsey and moved to Arthur Road in Windsor close to the Gasworks where Dad got a job on the retorts.

I think that I must have been about four years old because they tried to get me into the school at the other end of Arthur Road. St. Michael's it was called but they would not have me at that age.

I was playing in the road one day and a man in plus fours asked me why I was not at school. He was the School Board man. Mum told him. I don't know how he managed it, he only had one arm and rode a bike, but he picked me up put me on his saddle and took me to school. After that Mum took me to school as they agreed to let me go there.

The School Board man used to go to the school and find out who was not there. Then he would go round to their homes and take them to school. Nobody liked him. He was still around during the 1914 - 18 war when I saw him last. Dods I think his name was.

All that I did at school was to play with sand on a tray, trying to make sand castles etc. I got fed-up with this so I decided not to go to school. Across the road from us where two roads met there was a sweet shop that had three steps going up to the shop door which I hid behind until the School Board man had been and gone.

Anyway I left my hiding-place and went home. Mum 'created' at me for not going and offered me a farthing to get a liquorice long stick which was a foot long and half an inch wide. These, 1/2d Caliboncas and Port Wine toffee were all the sweets we ever got. I must have gone to school because I remember sitting in the classroom with paper and pencil. I think it was then that Mum and Dad moved to the other end of the road close to the school.

It was a square of houses built together and the only way that you could get into the square was through an archway in the middle of each side.

It was supposed to be a playground for kiddies but it was all gravel. The Church Army Band played there on Sundays. Dad grew flowers there. It was not big enough for veg. and he had several rabbit hutches there. The rabbits were white with pink eyes and the flowers were all colours.

I became interested in the sticks stuck in each plant with a flowerpot with straw put in it. Of course, I had to go and look. While I was doing that I had left the rabbit hutch door open and they were out into the garden! One good point was that they could not get out of the garden and Dad managed to catch them. I had a good talking to so I never touched them again.

Dad was always good to us. He never hit one of us. Not that I know of anyway.

Dad used to chew tobacco. One day I fell over and cut the palm of my hand. Of course it hurt and I yelled. Dad came out. "Let's have a look," he said. He looked at my hand, spat on it and then rubbed it in. “There you are," he said. I do not remember what happened after that.

Then something happened which I have never forgotten when I had toothache in both sides of my face which were swollen like balloons. Mum got a piece of flannel, mixed some vinegar and mustard together into a paste and spread it on my face. The pain went away and it kept me from school but I still had the swelling.

I must have been six years old when I was let out of school early. There was nobody in and I saw a bottle of beer on the kitchen table. I thought I would try it. So I took the bottle into the scullery, took the screw stopper out and had a good swig. Then I realized that it was paraffin! I choked and spluttered gasping for breath. As it happened the next door neighbour heard me and came to help. Mum came in and said, "Wait till your father gets home," but Mum and Dad just laughed their heads off. Dad said, "I think he has learned his lesson. I think he has been punished enough. "I have often thought on the big old fashioned clothes mangle with big rollers that I clung to when trying so hard to breathe. Soon after that we moved to Eton Wick. 

This is an extract from the autobiography written by Oliver James Stannett (1903 - 1988) and republished here with the kind permission of his relatives who still live in Eton Wick.


  1. My name is Debbie High (nee White)I was so pleased to see this story about Oliver Stannett. He is my great Uncle. I grew up in Eton wick and now live in Australia. I have so many good memories of Eton Wick. My mum was Rosemary Stannett and my dad Sidney White of Vaughan Gardens. I would love to see the rest of Oliver's autobiography. I know he was a train driver and lived in Reading. I am currently working on our family tree for my Uncle, Donald Stannett. He remembers Oliver very well and said he was very smart.

    1. Hi Debbie - I knew your Mum Rosemary! We went as children with Oliver and his wife Mabel my Grandma and Granddad to visit in Hastings great memories- is your Mum Rosemary still alive?

  2. Oliver Stannett was my great uncle. My grandfather was his brother George Stannett. I am currently looking into the family tree for my uncle, Donald Stannett. he wanted to know about his cousins, aunts and uncles. I know Oliver was a train driver and Uncle Don said he was very smart. I would love to have the opportunity to read Oliver's autobiography. Thanks for sharing part one.

  3. Hello Deborah, Thank you for commenting on this first article from your great uncle Oliver Stannett's autobiography. We will be covering the part of his life when he lived in Eton Wick on the website over the next few months. I have sent you a message on Google+ about your request for a copy of the autobiography.

  4. Wow! we ( the Stannett’s) still have family in Eton Wick! How amazing! I am Oliver’s eldest Granddaughter, Helen May Cash! I was given a copy of Oliver’s story shortly after his death and made this available many years later to Eton Wick History when I was doing some ancestry research and was amazed to find out about ‘Hammer’ Stannett the Hayward there - he looks just like a thin version of my Granddad, Oliver! My Grandmother Mabel Brewer was also from Eton Wick and she and Oliver played together as friends before they married and went on to have a large family who are spread around the Country and some direct descendants (2 Aunties) even made it too Australia!

  5. Hello, I would love a copy of his autobiography, if it exists in electronic copy. I am Oliver's grandson, (son of his youngest daughter, Roasalyn).

    1. Hello, please leave another message and let me have your detail so that I can let you have a PDF of the auto biography. We have only publish Oliver’s Eton Wick years.