Our grateful thanks to the Balaam family descendants and the present owners of Bell House for bringing this material to our attention and their permission to reproduce the images and text below. Unfortunately, we have been given two varying interpretations lists of the persons in John and Ellen Balaam’s Golden Wedding September 1957. We have included both interpretations hoping that one will prove to be unquestioned.
|Colin Marsh friend of Dudley
|Valerie Lipman, cousin
|Cyril Watling, lodger
|Sid , friend
|Carol Balaam, cousin
|Sandra Neilson, cousin
|Ida Lipman nee Balaam
|Geoffrey Balaam brother
The old mail coach (these were slowly phased out during the 1840s and 1850s)
24th Jan 2019,
A lovely image, thanks for sharing
It is difficult to say categorically that this is the shell of a mail coach. If the chassis were present, it may have helped. The leather or painted sides are badly worn, not surprisingly, so there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of ‘Royal Mail, destination/route indicators or the principal stars of the orders of the knighthood on the sides. There would also have been a number on the side. Some suggest that this indicated the route, this is incorrect and would have been more a ‘fleet’ number in practice.
There is nothing about the apparent built of the wooden coachwork to indicate it wasn’t a mail coach, it looks ‘right’. However, that is subjective. Certainly, it carried passengers, probably four-six on the inside by the looks of it.
Mail Coaches, in their day, were black on the upper half, bottom half and doors maroon, wheels red. No brakes!
The last London bound Mail Coach ran in 1842. The coming of the railways sounded their death knell. The passengers simply moved onto the trains! It was the fares from the passengers, of course, that allowed the contractors to run the coaches profitably. As passengers abandoned them, the contractors begged the Post Office to be released from their contracts. The mail ultimately followed the passengers onto the trains. The first carriage of mail by train being 1830, the first Travelling Post Office in 1838.
Many of the coaches were left to rot afterwards, contemporary accounts record their rotting hulks along the roads. Some were later resurrected by Victorians who loved the romantic era. Apparently, men of wealth would drive their visitors around their extensive grounds in their ‘restored’ mail coaches, the landowner taking the reins himself.
My apologies that we could not be firmer in identifying the coach in your image
Senior Curator, Royal Mail Archive, The Postal Museum, 15-20, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DA
The grandchildren of Mr and Mrs Balaam:
Jack married Madge and had two children: Pamela and Peter
Ida married Dudley and had two children: Valerie and Colin
Douglas married Phyllis and had three children: Ronald, Geoffrey and Keith
Roland married Marie and had two children Carol and Jeremy
Eileen married Tom and had three children Sandra, Diane and Heather
Some of them are in the photograph
We are very grateful to Ronald Balaam for the following story. Ron is the grandson of John Balaam once the landlord of The Bell pub in Henham.
My grandparents on my mother’s side of the family ran a village pub in the heart of Essex. Henham lies about eight miles from the market town of Bishops Stortford and the Bell Inn featured strongly in our childhood lives. It lay in the middles of the village, set back some thirty yards from the road, a patch of grass in front, a pond off to the left, a small black wooden garage that housed my grandfather’s beloved and rather a ramshackle Morris 8 to the right and extensive vegetable gardens flanking the whole plot. The pub was owned by Benskins the brewers and the only competition came from The Cock at the far end of the village down by the church.
One of my earliest memories and I think probably the earliest, is of standing in the narrow passage outside the living room earnestly supervising the construction of a wooden box with a rope attached. Photographs of the box, with me in it, being towed up and down the frozen pond by my father looking quite dashing on his ice skates confirm that I was two and a half at the time. The winter of 1939/40 was a very cold one and funnily all my memories of Henham are of climatic extremes – freezing winters and Christmases and uninterrupted tropical summers when we lived in khaki shorts, knee-length and baggy, for weeks on end.
Ronald Balaam aged 2 Feb 1940 with his dad Douglas.
The view is looking westwards down the high street with the roofs of Beech Cottage followed by Clematis Cottage in the distance directly in line with little Ronald Balaam. We are uncertain at the moment as to the identity of the thatched-roof cottage on the right-hand side. The pond was to the left of the Bell Inn (sadly now filled in).
I had further reason to remember the pond after an incident several years later. On a hot summer’s afternoon wearing only a swimming costume and plimsoles I slipped from the path which led to the greenhouse, where my grandfather was tending his spectacular tomatoes and tumbled into the huge bed of nettles that lined the bank. I had never experienced such excruciating pain before and haven’t since. I remember running screaming into the house where I was laid gingerly in bed and smothered in dock leaves. Whether they did any good I have no idea but eventually, I slept and later in the afternoon members of the family came to pay homage to this strange creature swathed in green – the younger ones quietly impressed by the victim’s fortitude.
The whole family would congregate at The Bell on high days and holidays. Dad had two brothers, Jack and Roland, and two sisters, Ida and Eileen, and altogether there were twelve of us cousins.
(Ida would marry Dudley Lipman, live at The White House and give a temporary home to evacuees John Evans and his younger brother in 1939. John Evans would soon be moved to a new home at The Bell).
We had the most wonderful games of cricket on the triangle of grass at the front of the pub. The batting wicket was at the house end, the bowler’s run-up was across the road – not many cars about in those days – and beyond the road lay a further expanse of green where the best fielders lurked waiting to take impressive catches on the run when the big hitters were in. A wonderful photograph exists showing me in the act of bowling at Geoff with cousin Peter as wicketkeeper.
It was a marvellous place of fun, freedom and adventure. We dressed like the locals and did our best to talk like them. My brother Geoff, five years my junior, was particularly friendly with two of the local boys ‘Pee-er Yarrer’ and ‘Barrey Forster’ no doubt christened Peter Yarrow and Barry Foster by their parents. We accompanied these two on daring expeditions into the unknown crawling through the undergrowth and wading through muddy ditches – their local knowledge knew no bounds and we believed every word of it. They told us where to find rare birds’ eggs, how to catch rabbits and showed us enormous trees they said they had climbed – it was only with the passage of time that we reflected on how little we had actually seen or caught. We became very proficient in the making and using of bows and arrows and catapults – the chickens were the usual targets. There was no real harm intended in this particular pursuit, it was just that the chickens were suitably sized and mobile and provided challenging target practice. Most of the time they were much too quick for us but the occasional hit was a reason for celebration – it was rumoured that egg production dropped off a bit during our visits. Only once when a new and aggressive cockerel had come on the scene where we put to flight in truly ignominious fashion taking refuge in the woodshed until the danger had passed.
To the rear of the house lay a jumble of chicken houses, the old mail coach used as a feed store, pigsty and dog kennel where Dusty lived the permanently outdoor life. Dusty was a sort of sheepdog but to the best of my knowledge had never actually encountered sheep. On one occasion however when Geoff, Dusty and I had gone to watch the cutting of a wheat field Dusty caught a young leveret which we carried home in triumph like big game hunters.
Closer to the house was the woodshed, a veritable treasure trove of old farming and gardening implements including saws and axes and the chopping block where periodically a plump member of the flock met its doom prior to Sunday lunch. We had all heard the stories of headless chickens running around the yard but privately hoped never to see it happen. Collecting the eggs was one of our daily jobs – not a problem when the boxes were accessible from the outside but requiring special breathing techniques when you had to go inside. The smell was overpowering and if one or more of the inhabitants took flight in a panic the ensuing dust and feathers added a further ghastly dimension to the proceedings. I look back with amazement that I haven’t died after breathing in all that toxic dust.
Alongside the garage lay the pump where we would regularly be required to fill buckets and watering cans to be used indoors and in the vegetable gardens. I cannot remember for sure but I believe there may have been a cold tap in the kitchen for drinking water.
One small detached wooden shed contained the outdoor privy.
The fields behind the house were the setting for several memorable occasions. Keith (brother ten years younger) reminded me of the time when I became totally bogged down in my wellingtons in a particularly muddy patch and he and Geoff rushed back to the house to summon assistance Keith being quite convinced that they would return to find only the top of my head still visible above the surface.
Bedtime at The Bell provided its own peculiar mixture of excitement and sheer terror. If you were in luck the bed would have been warmed with a warming-pan – a round metal receptacle, containing hot embers from the fireplace, on the end of a long wooden handle. There was no electricity upstairs so candles and candlesticks were the order of the day. What enormous shadows they cast on the ceiling and on the walls! It was scary stuff until you chose to escape by pulling the bedclothes over your head. The saving grace was the knowledge that in an emergency you could probably summon help from all the jovial and friendly people in the public bar downstairs. The smell of beer and cigarette smoke and the sound of happy conversation and occasional outbursts of laughter were immensely comforting.
The bedroom down the narrow passage past the bathroom was occupied for many years by a lodger called Cyril Watling. We never understood what he was doing there and we didn’t like him very much. He was rather shabby, overweight and never had anything to do.
At the end of the top passage and next door to my grandparent’s room was a room which to the best of my knowledge I never entered, there lay a spooky store cupboard. Once you had plucked up the courage to open the door, only in company and on the brightest of days, there lay a treasure trove of family memorabilia, top hats, military hats, old tennis rackets and ice skates, there was also leather cases but we never had the courage to investigate them, in case something slimy or horrible leapt out.
The bar was a wonderful attraction. Outside opening hours we played darts – just once I scored a 180 – cribbage and dominoes for hours on end and pored over the scantily clad figure of Jane in the Daily Mirror strip cartoon. We followed the racing results in the paper and tried to calculate how much we would have won if we had put 5 shillings each way on all the favourites.
New wooden barrels of mild and bitter were rolled gently through from the ‘cellar’ and we watched as they were tapped, wondering what sort of calamity would ensue if someone miscued with the mallet but they never did. Bottled beer came in brown glass bottles with attractive shiny metal tops – different colours for different types. We collected the tops and mixed the dregs in the empties to produce a filthy brew for sampling usually accompanied by a furtively smoked Woodbine in the woodshed. Sometimes in the summer our grandparents would be persuaded to take a holiday and then we would have the chance to serve behind the bar. We became very adept at pullng pints, being careful with the mild and bitter to make sure that more than half was mild – it being less expensive component.
Not far away there was a large farm with a full-sized snooker table in what seemed to be a specially-constructed and comfortable outbuilding. My father, and grandfather and sometimes various uncles would invite themselves to play there. Where I and my brothers were occasionally invited to go and watch and to have the opportunity to browse through those amazing revealing girly magazines.
We are often asked about our surname and where it might have come from. I have never researched our family tree to any extent but the double ‘a’ leads one to suspect a Dutch connection and the possible arrival in East Anglia of Flemish weavers. Most Balaams of our acquaintance lived on the Hertfordshire/Essex border.
<p class=”main”>Granny Balaam had in her youth been in service to the Douglas-Home family. Possibly this influenced her choice of the name Douglas for our father. This piece of history was carried down to me and my two brothers who also have Douglas as their middle names and my two children are also christened with Douglas as their middle name including my daughter who may not totally approve.