I WONDER how many people still living in Bromley remember The Old Summer House in Burnt Ash Lane, which winds its way down between Sundridge Park Parade and the row of shops which face St Andrew's Church and Kings Meadow recreation ground?

In 1932/3, as a child of three and four, I stayed at this lovely home with my parents as caretakers while the owners, the Francis Stafford-Clarks, took their summer holidays.

As one walked from the Plaistow junction a tall hedge border hid the property, but suddenly a simple wooden gate opening would reveal a flight of irregular stone steps leading up through the shrubbery - to wonderland!

Magical is a word which for me sums up so many experiences of my youth.

Things, I suppose, that are in themselves quite ordinary, but which to a small boy with a vivid imagination, conjure up memories of what has been, what could have been and the consequences of both.

Today the site is occupied by quite unspectacular dwellings, but at that time things were magical. And the Old Summer House was such, guarded by trees at the top of those steps.

Into the kitchen - the butler's pantry to be precise - and bang in front was the knife-cleaner. I loved having a go at that Victorian knife-cleaner. A further prime contender for my immediate attention were the heavyweight scales in the larder, with their shining brass weights.

Through next to the lounge, and so into the wonderful conservatory, where the tinkling sound of water from the fountain prevailed all day, and green planting was definitely the colour.

I would spend a long while gazing into this mystic pool.

On occasion the wind howled, the rain poured and the branches of a tree would brush against my bedroom window, combining to make the place very atmospheric. Owls hooting added to it.

Until her marriage, my mother had been Cook here, and the association between her and her former employer, Mrs Cordelia Stafford-Clark, remained one of friendship.

As a child, I too continued to enjoy association with this lovely lady, who would drive up to our home in Morgan Road, some three-quarters of a mile away, and in those days of car rarity, local children would gather to gaze at our visitor in her beautiful and gleaming green metallic livery.

She would talk of her travels and bring small gifts.

Francis Stafford-Clark was Mayor of Bromley during my formative years, and his son David was to become a prominent consultant in psychiatry, a broadcaster, and director of the York Clinic.

I recall reading his book of poetry dedicated to his younger brother, John, sadly killed on active service during the Second World War. My mother had become very attached to both brothers whilst in service with the family, and I had the honour to be named after both, each of whom left their mark in various ways at the old house.

There were things I loved about the Old Summer House, but there were also things I was a little wary of.

Chief among the latter was an inside room upstairs into which no light was permitted to enter. It frightened me to death, and the occasional peep behind the door was quite enough.

Here, I was informed, the boys kept their wonderful model racing cars when they were not being raced. I did see them once in the garden summer-house and they were wonderful.

Those were the days of Brooklands, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! had nothing on these.

The detailed models were each about 20ins long; one was red, the other blue (don't know whose was what), and boy (!) when they were wound up (clockwork motor, of course) did they let out a roar!

It was David who as a young man of 17 took me on my first very fast and unforgettable local ride (along nearby Kings Avenue) in a real motor car, accompanied by his and my mother. And on one lucky day Mrs Clark took me to a toy shop at the corner of Downham Way and Bromley Road to purchase a toy pedal car.

I know she tried her best to get me to have a more expensive and luxurious model - but I wouldn't have it, insisting upon one with only the bare necessities.

I can still hear her telling my mother about it; I can't think what came over me!

Anyway, that car lasted me for years, and I cannot recall regretting my choice. That's life, and that's people!

The garden at this house of dreams was another picture. Paths wound around it, and it was kept in an immaculate state by old (he was probably about 50) Mr May, the gardener. In those days gardeners were a profession apart, and those I came across always seemed to like the company of children (or maybe they simply put up with us!).

A picture I once saw years ago of myself with Mr May and his wheelbarrow reminds me of those sunlit days, when I used to toddle across little bridges which provided refuge for colonies of froglets.

I don't care much for frogs these days, but at that time I found them fascinating. As did the cat, I remember!

And that fence at the far side, over which I would exchange words with my infants school pal, Terry, young son of the neighbouring Scott (the Furriers) family.

That garden with its lawns was at times a little Wimbledon for my parents and their contemporaries, and aunts and uncles were (by permission, of course!) invited to join them for tennis on those balmy weekends.

Some of the visits to The Old Summer House went on past my bedtime, and I remember lying awake longing to join the older folk as they played Pit, a corn-exchange card game which held them in hysterics, and which I later came to play - and enjoy it still.

I recall the age-old excuse of "can I have a drink of water, please?" brought me to the kitchen where I would find the grown-ups at the table laden with supper meats and pickles. Ooh, lovely!

On a further happy note - so enamoured was Mrs Clark by my mother's cooking, that each Christmas she would call to collect her specially-made Christmas cake.

By David Alston