by William White (born at Henham 24th August 1903)
A lovely summer morning. The sun stands up above Green End Farm. Birds are in song, cocks are crowing, and the village is waking to the warm air and the dew on the Greens, sparkling in the slanting sun.
The men of the village leave for the farms. Jim Clayden, his coat and vitals bag slung over his left shoulder, makes for the Lodge. Arthur Snow, on his way to Old Mead, puffs from his clay pipe, a trail of blue smoke that hangs about the High Street. The Warners from Church End crunch their way along the gravel path on their way to Parsonage Farm. Thatcher Dixon, with a large bundle of thatching spindles across his shoulder, accompanied by his son George carrying a huge trimming knife tucked under his left arm, sets out to patch a Dutch barn at The Parsonage.
Alf Yarrow, leaning on the gate of Ducketts Meadow, calls his cows to come for milking “Hi Daisy, Hi Daisy, Come, come, Daisy".
Old Bill Newman, his shirtsleeves rolled up, trundles his wheelbarrow home via Rotten Row after emptying the school lavatories.
Willie White leaves The Bell to deliver milk to customers usually carrying six cans each time, which in turn are emptied into the customers jugs.
Mr. Knight, the coal merchant at The Starr, returns from Elsenham Station with over a ton of coal loaded on a wagonette drawn by his overworked pony. Postman Smith on his round of the village greets everyone he meets with a smile and a cheery word. Old Baker White and Mr. Ward kneed their dough and bake their bread in Gardiner’s bakehouse. The ringing of the anvil in the smithy warns the village that Jack Hayden is preparing to shoe his first horse of the day. Milk floats clip-clop from The Parsonage and Lodge farms on their way to Elsenham Station to catch the milk train to London. A commuter, late as usual, leaves The White Cottage carrying a briefcase and umbrella, and runs to catch the Thaxted Flyer at the Mill Halt on his way to the City.
Postman Smith’s headstone in the graveyard at Henham Church. It says -
Postman W. Smith
Loved Honoured And
The children of the parish make their way to school. The Camps and Palmers from Chickney via Spring Lane. The Coopers from Little Henham via Sparley Lane. The Palmers from Pledgdon Green via Carters Lane. The Maidmans and Whites from Old Mead via the Quick Hedge Path. The children converge on the school, and according to their mood of the day, spin tops, trundle hoops, skip, walk or run.
Miss Benfield and Len Snow perched high on their grocery delivery cart, proceed smartly down Crow Street on their way to Broxted. Two roadmen, using bass brooms (besoms?), sweep the horse dung from the streets into heaps at the side of the road. Mr. Hollingshed trots his bay cob in style down the High Street on his way to The Lodge. Mr. Williams, dressed in his usual clerical garb, leaves The Vicarage for his morning visit to the church.
Carts owned by Wrights of Stansted (the council transport contractors) pass down the High Street with gravel from the gravel pits of Ugley on their way to the council road-repair gang working in Spring Lane. Various laden wagons and carts belonging to the surrounding farms pass to and fro from the goods depot at Elsenham Station. Julia Snow and Mrs. Dennison of Churchend pay Miss Gardiner’s shop a visit to purchase some requirements and to pass the time of day. Emma Clayden and her neighbour take up positions against their door-posts to chat and bask in the sun.
Just before noon a smart coach drawn by a four-in-hand swings smartly from Churchend into the High Street, pulling up at The Bell. A party on a day trip from the East End of London disembark, the men wearing straw boaters, open jackets with flashy watchchains stretched across their waistcoats. The coach is turned round and drawn in close to The Bell signpost. The horses are taken out, unharnessed, and turned ‘out to graze in one of the two meadows behind The Bell. The company make merry with food, beer, and song accompanied by an accordion. For the children of the village, their entertainment will probably include racing for pennies on the Starr Green, their having gathered to admire the coach and to observe the antics of the foreigners from London
More entertainment centres in Thurston’s Fair in The Bell meadow for The Summer Fair, which in the evening is turned into fairyland by an umbrella of naked kerosene flares. A powerful engine drives the roundabout, and a steam organ broadcasts’ Rosy O’Grady’ and other catchy tunes across the sleepy field to Elsenham and Ugley. People on their way to the fair are joined by others, some walking, others cycling, from surrounding villages: the girls in hobble skirts and blouses, or long cotton dresses and ribbon-decked straw hats: the lads who mostly work on the surrounding farms, are sporting their Sunday-best suits. Children, light of heart with an odd copper or two in their pockets, chatter with excitement.
All look forward to a few glorious hours in which to squander their hard-earned cash as they enter the magic circle beneath the flares. The glamorous moment has arrived as they climb up into the high steam-driven roundabout and mount the fiery horses, three abreast, to ride at a gallop, round and round, faster and faster, to the strains of throbbing music. They visit the swings: the girl sits on one side of the boat, the boy stands on the opposite seat. To show off, the lad swings the boat higher and higher, until it would seem to the bystander that it must go over the top, but the attendant, using his brake board, makes sure that it doesn’t. They try their luck at the hoopla stall, laugh as coconuts fall to the ground at the coconut shy. They goggle at The Fat Lady, swing the Sledgehammer in attempts to ring the bell. Biding their time, shy young girls slip into the mysterious tent to cross with silver, the fortune-teller’s palm: they will be sent away with dreams for the future. All, from time-to-time, eat helpings of tasty shellfish from tented stalls, and refresh themselves at the bars of The Bell with real bodied bitter.
The show is ending, the powerful steam engine blasts of its excess steam, and as the roundabout comes to rest, the music dies. The swings are immobilized one by one by the attendant with his brake board. The entertainment stalls no longer ply for trade. The fortune-teller removes her yashmak and laces up her tent. With tired, dying hisses, the kerosene lamps are extinguished one by one, breaking the magic spell. The fair is closing, and tomorrow it will be gone. The country people, young and old, depart to their cottages and to their pleasant dreams. The clock in the old church strikes the last hour of the day as shadowy figures tread the quiet streets and cross the village greens.
It is the end of a summer’s day.