Godmanchester: Where the 1940s are always swinging

A GODMANCHESTER man has created a home that is simply a living history - the features and fittings are all from the 1930s and 1940s.

A NIGHTINGALE Sang in Berkeley Square performed by Anne Shelton plays as you go into the sitting room where one of the first things you see are the flying ducks on the wall.

The three-piece suite is art deco, the fire place is 1930s.

The front page of The Daily Sketch is running a report on the evacuation from Dunkirk.

This is Ben Sansum’s home in Godmanchester which is a shrine to the 1940s – with a lot of 1930s furniture and effects too, because they would not have thrown away things merely because they were 10 years old. Don’t you know there’s a war on!

The mirrors, the china, the enamel cooking pots, the pulley in the kitchen, the mangle in the washhouse outside – even cabbage growing in the Dig for Victory garden - is all there.

Ben, 31, who grew up in Godmanchester, works as cabin crew for British Airways and his house is his hobby.

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But it is also a home.

“Everything here is something I use,” he says, making a cup of tea in a period kettle served in a 1940s teacup and saucer. Ok, some of the collection is just for show, such as the kitchen cupboard which contains a display of tins and packets of wartime food.

However, Ben does use his pulley (for drying clothes) and his Ewbank – a device used well into the 1950s to scoop up crumbs after tea (they do not use electricity and were silent, brilliant if you had a sleeping baby).

His fascination with all things 40s began when his Great Uncle Stan gave him a 1940s radio when he was 12. He has been collecting things ever since.

Among his other favourite possessions is a rag rug made by his grandmother, Ada, specially for him with a classic 1930s sun design.

Ada, with her nine brothers and sisters, grew up in Wistow as part of a farming family. His other grandmother, Josephine, was evacuated with her children to Huntingdon during the Blitz in London and liked it so much that they stayed here.

During our interview the telephone rang. Of course it is a genuine 1940s phone. Even the wiring in the house has the brown woven flex with old-style round light switches.

“I like this period, I like the community spirit,” Ben told The Hunts Post. “I don’t want to glorify the war, I like all the things that took people’s minds away from the war, the music and the fashions and the cars. My first car was a 1939 Morris 12, I have a modern car now because I have to drive to work but I would love an Austin Seven.”

His home is a hymn to his family’s history. Among the papers and ornaments in the small sitting room is an album of family photographs taken in the 1870s and a copy of a letter, dated August 24, 1940.

His great grandfather survived the trenches of the First World War but died in the great flu epidemic of 1919. His name was Joseph Jarrem Harvey and Ben still has the flute that he made in his dug-out.

Ben uses some modern conveniences. Behind the mangle and the washboard in his outhouse is a washing machine and the genuine period radio – again with a sun design – has an iPod playing through it.

Among Ben’s favourite songs are Glen Miller’s In The Mood and Vera Lynn singing When they Sound the Last All Clear.