The Lost Garden of Fred Dann

A gentle, circular stroll around the village takes a wanderer down to the end of Towns Lane to the wooden stile next to quaint Inglebrook Cottage, and thence onto the public footpath that meanders along the edge of the pretty meadow at the back of The Manor. The overgrown hedgerow that borders the footpath is a thriving habitat for wildlife; blackbirds, blue tits and chaffinches throng the branches, and kestrels hover above hoping to spot a careless field mouse or common shrew. At night barn owls and tawny owls hunt their prey, and as dawn breaks a casual observer may spot muntjac deer going about their business or a lone fox heading home after a night’s hunting.  Today, little evidence remains of the once beautiful vegetable garden lovingly tended by Fred Dann.

​Frederick Gordon Warneford Dann was born near the Suffolk town of Lowestoft in 1915. The son of a trawlerman and the seventh of 13 children, Fred grew up with his seven sisters and five brothers in the small coastal village of Gisleham. A passionate gardener, Fred chose not to follow in his father’s footsteps, and instead, as soon as he was old enough, he went to work on the land.

​An agricultural accident in 1940 resulted in a badly broken arm which never mended properly and meant Fred was deemed unfit for military service. Instead, as an experienced agricultural worker, Fred was drafted by the War Agricultural Executive Committee. In December 1941 he was posted to the Melton Mowbray area and was billeted in the village of Stathern, where he helped to supervise inexperienced, volunteer agricultural workers and conscientious objectors, who were drafted in to replace labour lost to the armed forces.

​Fred met his wife, Helen Massarella, whilst he was working in Stathern. Helen was the daughter of Italian immigrant, Michael Massarella, who had come to the UK after the First World War. Michael set up a successful road haulage business in the city of Leicester, but when war broke out, as an unnaturalised resident, he was considered an ‘Alien Civilian’ and suffered the indignity of having his telephone and radio removed, and his lorries confiscated, before he was finally interned on the Isle of Man for the duration of the war.

​Helen Massarella joined the Women’s Land Army at Leicester and was posted to Stathern, where she later became forewoman supervising a large group of land girls billeted at the beautiful Georgian Rectory on Water Lane.

​The successful Desert War Campaign and the surrender of the Axis forces in May 1943 resulted in thousands of prisoners of war being shipped to the UK. This influx of POWs presented one way of alleviating labour shortages, particularly in agriculture. The prisoners were housed in hundreds of camps and small hostels around the country, where many of them remained until well after the war had ended. Having already supervised POWs in Stathern, sometime towards the end of the war, it is likely that Fred was moved by the War Agricultural Committee to help manage the prisoners at The Manor in Goadby Marwood, and following his marriage to Helen in October 1946, he applied to Melton and Belvoir District Council for the lease on a small requisitioned cottage close to The Manor. The key to Field Cottage was handed to the couple in February 1947, and the little cottage was to be their life-long home together.

​Fred and Helen’s happiness was tainted by the death of Fred’s father, Michael, in a shocking shipping accident just a few months after their marriage. On May 21st, 1947, the Lowesoft trawler, Bucentaur, on which Michael Dann was working, was hit by the American steamer, Wilson Victory, in dense fog. The trawler was lost and all ten of her crew presumed dead. A small amount of compensation was eventually offered to Michael’s family several years later.

Following her marriage, Helen, now forewoman at a hostel in Syston, resigned from her position with The Women’s Land Army but Fred continued to work for the War Agricultural Committee. Sometime around 1948, following the closure of the hostel at The Manor in Goadby, Fred moved to work at Rearsby where he was appointed Head Foreman. He maintained this role until 1951 when the position was made redundant. Soon after, Fred took a position with Henley’s Cables, installing power lines across the country. It was a job that took Fred away from home for long periods at a time, and he eventually gave it up so that he could spend more time with his growing family. He became storekeeper and driver for Hopewells, a builders’ merchant in Melton. Latterly he worked as a storeman for a local electrical company.

Fred had always had a keen interest in gardening and almost as soon as he received the key to Field Cottage he set about planting a few vegetables, but driven by his passion, and also by the need to earn a little extra money and feed his family well, he began tending an area of the garden at nearby Norman Cottages occupied by Harold Croxall, chauffeur for Miss Sheriffe at Goadby Hall. 

Charlie Spence, who lived at Field Cottage next door to Fred, worked for local farmer John Holmes, and he tended a small vegetable plot on the edge of the land belonging to Manor Farm. By 1956, Charlie had become too infirm to manage the small garden that would eventually be part of Fred’s garden, so Fred took it over, and worked the whole plot, turning it from mostly wilderness into a fertile, well-tended market garden. Some of the bountiful produce was given to John Holmes in payment for the use of the land, the rest that wasn’t consumed by the family, Fred sold either at the weekly market, or to Goodburns, the greengrocer in Melton. Fred lovingly tended his beautiful garden for over 25 years.

Coming from a family with a history of heart problems, Fred had his first heart attack when he was in his 40s and a stroke when he was 59. Fred died at his home, Field Cottage, in 1979 when he was just 63 years old. With the children all having by now left home, Helen felt it was time to move somewhere with more facilities and she left Goadby in the summer of 1979.

Fred and Helen had three children together, all were born in Melton Hospital and raised at cosy Field Cottage in Goadby Marwood. Fred never liked the term ‘daddy’ so his three children were encouraged to just call him Fred – and that is exactly what they have always done.

​Anna, Kate and Michael Dann have very fond memories of growing up in the village. Despite a lack of modern-day conveniences and limited money for luxuries, all three of them feel that they had an idyllic childhood. In May 2020, they kindly shared their recollections of mid-20th Century village life with members of the Goadby Marwood History Group.

Recollections of Anna, Kate and Michael Dann in conversation with members of The Goadby Marwood History Group

  • ​The Coronation celebration in the Old School was great fun – everyone in fancy dress. [Photos of the occasion can be seen in the Village Gallery]. 

  • Later the Old School was used as a Youth Club – Michael remembers renovating it with his friends, Peter Fitton, John and Geoff Pizer, and Colin and Ian Needham.  It was used for the village youngsters to get together to play card games. There was also a Christmas party there, and Miss Sheriffe donated a large box of chocolates – having first removed her favourites!

  • The arrival of electricity in the early 50s.  We used oil lamps before that.  The power was never well installed though - we used to plug the hoover into a light bulb socket!

  • The only heating we had was supplied by the stoves in the two rooms downstairs.  There was a fireplace upstairs but we hardly ever used it.  One year, Fred drilled a hole in the ceiling so he could run a cable upstairs from the plug in the kitchen to run a fan heater in our bedroom, because it had no socket.

  • We kept coal in the coal house, which was as black as its contents.

  • We relied on the village pump for water.  The washing was done in the wash house, which had a large built-in copper, with a fire under it.  The room would get very warm and steamy.  There was a washing board for scrubbing, a dolly, to move the clothes around, and little bags of Reckitt’s blue.

  • In winter the washing would come in off the line frosted solid, and we’d have it strung across the living room to dry.  The ceiling was low, so you had to push the washing aside to move about.

  • Mains water came in 1959, but we still went to the village pump for water – it tasted so much better.  We used a yoke to carry two enamel buckets down the lane and along the road to the pump.  In fact, all the village water was lovely – including from Mr. Croxall’s well [Norman Cottages] and Mr. & Mrs. Hubbard’s well [The Hollies].

  • There was no mains sewage in Field Cottage when we left in 1979.  The Council wrote to us in 1967, telling us there were grants to convert the pail closets to water closets, but the landlord was not keen to progress for financial reasons. We had an outside privy with a large pail in it and the ‘pail man’ used to come from Melton once a week to empty it. When we visited a few years back we were amazed at how close to the house the old privy outbuilding was – when we were children it seemed a very long way to walk – especially at night with just a torch to light the path.

  • We didn’t use the village phone box often – (who would we phone?), but when we did, it was Button A and Button B. 

  • People we remember particularly are:

Cannon Collyer – a lovely man who visited everyone in the village, irrespective of their beliefs.

George Allen, the baker from Scalford, who would walk up our lane with the bread in a huge basket. It was still warm!

Mrs. Rattley from Scalford who delivered the papers on her bicycle.

Mrs. Nell Pizer at the Post Office with her innumerable cats.

Miss Mitchell who lived at Ingelbrook Cottage until she died.

Mr. and Mrs. Atkinson and later Mr. and Mrs. Parnell at Ingelbrook Cottage for whom Kate used to babysit.

 

  • With Mr. Needham’s [Stan Needham, gamekeeper at Goadby Hall] permission, we could go fishing in the fish ponds and also in The Slip [the pond between Manor Farm and Eastwell Road], which was an old ironstone quarry. Michael once caught a 2 lb roach at The Slip, and the pike in The Hall fish ponds were huge – the largest ever caught was 20 lb.

  • There were five years between each of us so we took stints helping Fred in the garden (did he plan it that way?!), bunching spring onions and boxing up the lettuces. Sprinkling fertiliser on the seedlings was particularly fiddly as you had to make sure you didn’t get any on the tiny leaves. When we had earned enough ‘virtual farthings’ Fred would give us a shiny sixpence.

  • In 1979, Michael took Fred’s old hook one last time to cut back the hedge on the vegetable garden and open the gate to allow the cows back in, as Fred had wished. Nature was thus able to reclaim what had once been hers.

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The footpath through The Manor paddock, looking towards Inglebrook Cottage. On the right is the overgrown area that was once Fred Dann's garden.

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Fred and Helen on their Wedding Day in 1946.

A lot of forward planning was required to ensure they saved enough clothes ration coupons to buy Fred's suit and

Helen's beautiful dress.

Fred standing proudly in front of his prolific runner beans.

Helen Dann in the garden at Field Cottag

Helen Dann in the front garden of Field Cottage amongst the gorgeous wallflowers she and Fred grew.

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Michael Dann helping Fred pack lettuces into crates ready

to take into Melton.

A view over The Manor paddock from Fred's garden.

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A plan of Fred's garden drawn by daughter, Kate.

Click to enlarge.

Fred's garden in 2020, now reclaimed by nature.

Letter to Fred from the War Agricultural Committee re transfer to Melton in 1941

Letter appointing Helen as Forewomen at Stathern hostel in 1945

Letters from Melton Council 1947 re Field Cottage

Letter from the War Agricultural Committee 1951

Rent book for Field Cottage 1947 - 1958