This passage is taken from the chapter that deals with George Johns, the only one of the family to make any money. A dispute over his will almost ruined them all, but this passage concerns the height of his status and prosperity when he played the country gentleman in a mansion called Clayponds in what was then rural Ealing. The John Myhill Johns referred to is my great grandfather, whose memoir is one of the chief sources for this and several other parts of the story.
Extract The walls were hung with leftovers from George’s picture dealings and lined with books, a passion like that of his nephew James perhaps or intended to impress, a library being expected of a gentleman. And the upkeep of all those rooms and stairs fell to a live-in housekeeper, 70 year old Sarah, her surname illegible in the census. I can hear grumbling as she goes about her work, the place too big for an old woman to look after, dust from the building works the bane of her life.
My father, who was prone to exaggeration, referred to George as lord of the manor, and although this overstated the case there was land attached to the house and a vaguely feudal position to uphold. The sales particulars extol the walled kitchen garden stocked with fruit trees, the three acres of ponds, the decorative lawns and shrubberies and the ten acres of grassland yielding a good crop of hay. This spread needed someone to work it, and the census gives him a name. Thomas Jones, agricultural labourer aged 18 in 1851, was paid 14 shillings a week and lived in the house, someone for old Sarah to scold for the mud on his boots but mother as well, the son she missed or never had. In addition, there were several cottages whose tenants paid George £6 a year in rent. These stood at Deadman’s Graves, where victims of the plague were said to lie: a place to be avoided at night or braved with a drink inside you and loud singing.
A final way to measure the status of Clayponds and its occupant is the taxes that were paid, again recorded in the winding up of the estate. They read like a history of revenue-raising: rectoral tithes, vicarial tithes, poor rate, highway rate, property tax and income tax, not to speak of succession duty. No doubt George grumbled about them, another hallmark of a gentleman.