Newman’s Farm, Kyrenia
Memories of Evelyn Newman – Part 2
We are pleased to continue the intriguing story of the Newman family in Cyprus and hope you enjoy Part 2 which is as follows. As in Part 1, notations by members of the later Newman family are highlighted in blue. I have taken the liberty of inserting the present day Turkish names of some of the villages mentioned and have highlighted these in blue and initialled them MS. If you missed Part 1, click here to read.
EVELYN’S MEMOIRS – Part 2
Written by Evelyn Newman in 1962
We had already heard that money lending was rife on the island and that we should almost certainly be able to buy a bit of land from one of the peasants who had run badly into debt and who would (otherwise) be sold up. The moneylenders took advantage of illiterate or innumerate peasants to charge and enforce extortionate rates of interest. This is exactly what happened. The Haji Stephani family owned a good piece of land to the west of Kyrenia along the road to Karavas (now known as Alsancak – MS). Lefteri Haji Stephani had been lucky; a year or two before a valuable find of antiquities had been made in his fields. But his brother, Costa, had not been so fortunate. He had borrowed money to plough and sow his land and was in a bad way financially. With the help of Mr and Mrs Houston who lived nearby, and Mr Christos Severis, a lawyer, we were soon able to acquire Costa’s land, Costa was able to pay his debts, and there was something left over to enable him to start afresh in some small business.
The land we bought was on a small promontory called ‘Glykiothusa’ which in Greek means ‘Sweetness’ and never a name suited a locality better. Lying on the coastal side of the road, the nine donums we bought ran down nearly to the seashore where there were two or three charming little bays. Two were sandy and we called them Little Bay and Step Bay. Into the latter ran a tiny stream of fresh water, and on either side of it were groves of canes, a species of bulrush, from which the mats of the native homes were made. Nearby were the ruins of what we always took to be a small Roman villa. Barely above ground level, the outlines of the walls of the rooms were clearly seen. I have often wondered why we did not make some excavations there. (Actually Evelyn and Philip were always too busy to do this but we boys, Charlie and John (Chris) excavated the hollow floor expecting to find treasure: in fact we found the under floor heating flue and the Jacuzzi type bath cut into solid sandstone. We kept this exploration to ourselves, as father would have considered it vandalism, which it surely was! Leading down from the villa was a flight of steps hewn in solid rock giving the only easy access to the beach. Forty years later this secluded bay was used to smuggle guns to the Turkish resistance fighters in the Kyrenia Mountains, and in 1974 it was the place where the advance force of Turkish troops first came ashore to commence the upheaval and division of the island which still exists today – CJN)
Away across the forty miles of sea, one could see the mountains of Anatolia clearly in the winter, but hidden by the haze of heat in the summer. Across the road to the south were fields where stood olive and carob trees leading to the Turkish village of Templos (now known as Zeytinlik – MS). The little houses of Templos had been built in the years of long ago from the stones of the Commanderie of the Knights Templar, which had stood nearby.
It was late summer when we bought our land; the olives were being gathered, the oranges were beginning to ripen, grapes and figs were in profusion. But there was not a house, or even a cottage. This did not matter, as we wanted to design it ourselves.
We set to work, and soon a little cottage, built in the Turkish style, was ready, and we moved in just before Christmas. These Turkish houses are very well suited to a country where in hot weather any breeze is needed. They are built with a central hall running the whole length of the house, usually from north to south with two rooms on either side, each with windows, giving the maximum amount of fresh air on every side. The ceilings have beams every 10 to 12 inches, often made of cedar wood, supporting rush matting on which piles of seaweed are placed, topped by a thick layer of karmi earth, or cement. This should be rainproof, but often little cracks, caused by the hot summer sun, have to be filled in before the next season’s rains.
I remember one evening we came home from a party given by the Commissioner to meet the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, during which there had been a heavy thunderstorm. We rode home on our bicycles to find water pouring down the porch steps, and inside the house rainwater was cascading from the ceilings. The beds were soaked: the only thing to do was to light a fire in the hall and sit for the rest of the night under the only umbrella we possessed.
Our house was smaller than we meant it to be, because of the difficulties the olive trees presented. In those days, trees did not necessarily pass to the purchaser when land was bought. Every tree had an owner, or number of owners. Due to the inheritance customs, the consent of all concerned had to be obtained for a transfer of ownership. No less than twelve people owned one particular tree I remember. One of the twelve, an old woman who lived in Famagusta, had never been to Kyrenia in her life. This particular tree was very old and decrepit, and no longer bore olives. We wanted to cut it down to make more room for building, but no one could persuade the old woman to sell her share, as she would not believe it was really worthless. So it was left, and as the years went by it gradually crumbled away, until it was finally cut down for firewood by one of its owners. This old law of trees not being sold with land is no longer in operation but several of the olives still standing on Newman’s Farm had owners other than ourselves, and the fruit was gathered by the villagers all the time we were there.
But in these early days, we were not known as ‘Newman’s Farm’. All we had was a little cottage standing among the trees, one and a half miles along the west coast road from Kyrenia. We spent many a long day planning our garden and orchard. It was the following February (1923) that we planted what became our famous and majestic bougainvillea – just a little twig brought back from the botanical gardens in Nicosia on one of our shopping expeditions. It grew apace, and we erected a pergola to support its long branches. This first pergola was made with wood, but as the tree grew ever bigger and heavier we supported it with stone pillars, against which we planted masses of plumbago. In the beds we grew big red and orange canna lilies, and bushes of geraniums.
Behind the house and facing the sea to the north, Philip laid out a lovely water garden, the central motif being a lily pond made of rough-hewn stone, and leading away from it were paths edged with lavender and rosemary. There were daphnes and poinsettias, and beyond we planted a grove of bananas, watered by the waste water from the kitchen sink.
The big water tank was already there when we bought the land. These tanks are a feature everywhere in Cyprus where water is so precious and must be stored for irrigation through the long summer months. In the first years this tank was filled from the well by an aligarli (?) or water wheel turned by a donkey or mule. We were busy folk and couldn’t spare the time to continuously prod the animal into action, so we replaced the system by a ‘Toronto’ windmill. This windmill remained in use until it was replaced in the late 1940’s by a Petter diesel, which also generated the first electricity on the farm. Both the tank and the lily pond had a colony of goldfish to control the mosquitoes, as in those days malaria was rife. (Charlie and I used the tank to cool down, when we did not have time to go to the sea, a quarter mile away – CJN)
We soon discovered another custom still in use. The crops already sown by the outgoing owner, and the fruit already formed on the trees, remained his property and were collected by him as long as they lasted. So we soon became used to having Costa arrive at the crack of dawn to load his donkey’s panniers with magnificent heads of cauliflower, with oranges, lemons, mandarins and pomegranates. But with the well-known generosity of the Cypriot, a little pile of fruits was always left on our doorstep. The cauliflowers were growing near a very large old carob tree, so large and so old that it had become a meeting place for the men and women who worked in the fields around us. On this tree they hung their goatskin bags decorated with cowrie shells and bright glass beads threaded on leather thongs. In these bags they carried their food – thick slices of unleavened barley bread, morsels of halloumi (goat’s milk cheese) and of course handfuls of locally grown and cured black olives. Often we would join them and eat with them.
Sometimes the women put their babies in slings and hung them in the same tree, knowing they would be safe from wild dogs, ‘skilos’ and the snakes, especially the large black ‘Kufi’ (?) whose bite can be lethal.
So the weeks and months of 1923 slipped by. We were supremely happy in our new life. Early in September HMS Benbow anchored off Kyrenia, and on Sunday 9 September Philip paid a call on the Captain, and then went on to the service at the Anglican Church of St Andrew. I walked up to the ridge (later christened Sankey’s Hill) to look at the warship lying at anchor. That night I did not feel well, and Philip made me tea and read me some of Browning’s poetry. The next morning he went off on his morning rounds and quite forgot to look in and tell Miss Atthill, (the happy Irish matron of the little mission hospital in Kyrenia) that I wanted to see her. He came back very late and only just in time to get a taxi (there were no telephones) to take me to Iona Cottage, Miss Atthill’s house, where at 12.15pm Charles Philip was born. I had always thought new born babies were rather red, wrinkled little bundles, so I was very pleased to find him just pink with gold hair and big blue-grey eyes. We stayed at Iona for a fortnight and then went to a cottage where Sir John and Lady Fisher, the Chief Justice and his wife, used to spend the hot weather. It was just opposite the hospital and is now the medical inspector’s office.
One of our neighbours kept sheep and another, goats, so we arranged a supply of milk from each to see which one pleased us best. As in the Balkans and Turkey, sheep milk is in great demand and always fetches a good price. There are herds of goats everywhere but they are confined to reserved areas most necessarily as there has been a policy of reforestation for many years, and a herd of goats can undo years of work in a very short time. (The locals greatly resented these restrictions on grazing their goats as they could not appreciate the long term benefits of forests to improve fertility and control soil erosion. Perhaps they had a point as the British government had felled large tracts of forests during the Dardanelles campaign in the 1914-18 war – CJN).
The goat is the poor man’s cow. The milk was brought to us in a broken crock and was sometimes decorated with little pellets of animal droppings. We disliked this and so we looked around for the possibility of buying cow’s milk. But in the 1920’s cows were rare in Cyprus. There was a government stock farm at Athalassi, but their produce was just for government officials in Nicosia.
Then one day we heard of a cow being milked at Kazaphani, (now known as Ozanköy – MS) a village about 4 miles away, east of Kyrenia. Of course there were quite a number of native cows, oxen, on the island, but these were kept for ploughing along with the bullocks, and the small amount of milk they yielded was only sufficient for their calves. The native animal is pale fawn in colour with a little darker colour here and there and a lighter colour by their hind legs. In later years, the idea was formulated that the native Cypriot cow was the ancestor of the Jersey cow, some of them having been taken home by the Crusaders.
We went to Kazaphani to see the cow. ‘Yes’, said Moustafa, ‘we do have some milk left over. You may have it if you like.’ So we followed him to his little back room and he drew from under his bed an open pail of milk. ‘I keep it under here as it is safer from the dogs and cats, and even the hens can’t find it.’ We did not fancy this supply. On our way back from the village we called on Miss Atthill. We knew she had two cows of a large Russian breed. ‘Could we have some milk, just a little?’ we asked. Alas, Bulga was dry and Corney giving only a few pints. But a heifer calf of Corney’s had been sold about two years before to a Turk called Mehmet in Templos. Perhaps we could buy her? So we went to Templos, the village that lay across the fields from our cottage. We found Mehmet. Yes, we could buy his cow. She was a very good cow, but he needed money. He was in debt. Could we pay £20 for her and the calf she was carrying? He would be free of his debt and we would have our milk, so all would be happy. We sat in his little café and drank nips of Commanderia, the thick sweet wine still made as in the old days at the Templos Commanderie of the Knights Templar
Another visit to Miss Atthill: would she please teach us how to milk a cow? So it was arranged that I would go up to the hospital every morning to be instructed. A week later Mehmet brought over our cow and we called her Everydika after the Greek maid at the hospital who had taught me how to milk.
So the foundations of Newmans Farm were laid. We now had Everydika and two hens ‘Bird in the Hand’ and ‘Bird in the Bush’ and a small owl living in a box hung from the great old carob tree along with the rucksacks and the babies in their slings.
All through my young life in England, I had had an often-recurring dream. Cows and bulls were following me: I was not afraid of them, I even liked them, and yet I walked away from them across a meadow, over a shallow softly flowing stream, up a garden path and into a house. And still the cows came on – up a staircase into an attic, and into the corner, where I found a hammer and a box of tacks. I knocked them into a row, crouching behind my palisade, which finally stopped the cows coming on. It is strange that once Everydika came to us, I never again had that dream. My life with the cows had begun.
Everydika had very little milk. Perhaps Mehmet knew she was nearly dry. But never mind, he had his £20 and his debt was paid. This little milk was wonderfully rich and I found if I put it in a bowl and stirred it vigorously with a wooden spoon, I soon had a pat of lovely yellow butter. But we still wanted to drink milk, so we were overjoyed when Miss Atthill told us she was giving up cows, and we could buy Corney who had just calved. So Corney joined our farm, and then as Everydika suddenly bore her calf, we found we needed a dairy to cope with the pails full of milk that came in twice daily. We converted a little outhouse into a dairy and bought pots and pans to handle the milk. Then people began to ask – as we now had so much milk, could we spare some?
We were delighted with the idea. In those days there were no houses between Kyrenia and us, except ‘Livadri’ a mile away, where Mr and Mrs Houston lived. Some people had no one to send for milk, so they asked if perhaps Philip could drop off a little tin of milk when he cycled into Kyrenia to do the day’s marketing? And so the milk round was born.
George Houston had settled in Kyrenia many years before us. As a young man he had travelled over much of the world. I think he had bought land in many parts, including the Fijian islands. He was the 5th laird of Johnstone Castle, a beautiful estate near Glasgow, but he preferred to spend his life in our beautiful spot in the Mediterranean. Later he married and Mrs Houston came to join him at ‘Livadri’. The house was simple and small. It has been enlarged since and is now owned by Mrs ‘Parky’ Bolton. There is a little cemetery down by the sea, near a little bay and shaded by a palm tree. Here are buried Mr and Mrs Houston and some soldiers of the Black Watch who died of malaria during their service in the island. (There is some doubt about the Black Watch soldiers being buried here as we know there are soldiers of the Black Watch buried in the Old British Cemetery, together with Sgt. Andrew McGaw VC also of the Black Watch – MS). There is also buried a little daughter of a former Commander of the Knights Templar, a little girl named (?) Templar. A relation of a later generation, Field Marshall Sir Gerald Templar came to visit her grave recently. Also buried there are some shepherds who had been brought over from Scotland by Mr Houston to tend some sheep he introduced to ‘Livadri’.
Sir Ronald Storrs was the Governor during those years. On Sunday May 20 1928, he and Lady Storrs came to visit us. I remember this so well because the very next day our second son, Christopher John was born. It was soon after this event that we came to realise that our bungalow was too small for our growing family. We decided we needed an upper story, so in August I accepted an invitation from Mrs Tom Waters to stay with her in their summer hut on Mt Troodos. Philip stayed down on the farm to collect men and materials for the building. The usual type of house is built from stone, covered inside and out with whitewashed plaster. This is certainly very attractive in a sunny country and very gay with brightly painted shutters and doors. Villas like this are springing up every day along the roads leading to and from the towns and villages. But our house was different. We had chosen to have our stone pointed, each stone being outlined with a finger sized line of gypsum. This was very effective, and we continued the style on the upper floor. The veranda on the south side had four pillars supporting the red tiled root. The bougainvillea soon climbed up and hangs in cascades of glorious colour to this day.
To be continued….. follow cyprusscene.com to read Part 3 of this beautiful story. Parts 4, and 5 will also be following.
To see the previous articles written about Newman’s Farm and the Chinese House, these are listed below:-
Newman’s Farm, Kyrenia, North Cyprus (August 2012) click here
Newman’s Farm, Kyrenia (September 2012) click here
North Cyprus – In Town Tonight – Lara Newman (January 2014) click here
North Cyprus – Newman’s Farm, Kyrenia (Revised Edition) (February 2014) click here