The History of a Pilchard Palace - Bide-A-While Hotel evacuee children
When war came, Mrs Ashton filled Bide-A-While with evacuee children. Wartime conditions meant few would be holidaying in Cornwall, so this may have been a practical option to keep the hotel and its staff employed. All the evacuees billeted throughout Port Isaac came from Lionel Road School in Brentford. This was less than a mile from Elers Road in Ealing where Mrs Ashton lived in 1911. Was it just coincidence that children from her old haunt were evacuated here, or did she suggest it to someone in Brentford? She may have been at Lionel Road School, possibly even taught some of the parents of those evacuees. She would certainly have been familiar with their home locality. Mrs Ashton never had children of her own, but seemed happy to act as surrogate mother to so many. By all accounts, she was firm but fair with the children, at what must have been a traumatic time for them. As a former schoolteacher, she knew kids will be kids, and indiscretions from youthful high spirits were quickly forgotten. It must have been quite a culture shock coming from the city to this rural retreat with open fields and beach with outdoor bathing right on the doorstep. She kept up with her evacuees after the war, looking after one called Reginald Brooks and treating him as a son. Perhaps his parents had been killed. She gave him and one other evacuee, Peter Gomm, a silver propelling pencil as a memento 11.
In 1990 a very elderly lady turned up at Gullrock to look around. She introduced herself as Mrs Ashton’s niece Cyrienne, and said she had stayed with her aunt for almost 2 years towards the end of the war recovering from peritonitis, then a most serious condition. She subsequently emigrated to Australia and was making a pilgrimage back to the UK. She remembered the evacuees and helping her aunt with the work around the hotel. Mrs Ashton taught the children dancing in the hotel lounge, now the cottage ‘Suncove’9. A series of pictures from 1940 of the evacuees at Bide-A-While shows them dancing in the courtyard, so Mrs Ashton must have been teaching the children right from the start. Mrs Ashton’s musical abilities were well appreciated by St Peter’s Church, as she became choir mistress in August 1940, with many of the evacuee children bolstering choir numbers. In December 1941 she added the duties of church organist, replacing Miss Ruth May. With lots of children in close proximity, sickness could spread rapidly. In October 1941 the Reverend Stenson-Stenson’s monthly report stated ‘I am sure we are all terribly sorry that sickness has broken out again amongst the choir and give our sympathy with Mrs Ashton and her children in their enforced absence from church.’ 12 The children’s views on the absence went unrecorded.