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William White was a prolific writer and here is another extract.
This is SEAX reference number D\DU 1324\1 at the Essex Record Office in Clemsford. It is an abridged version of the autobiography of William White (born Henham 1903).
Chapter 8 Old Mead
Today one hears so much about helping the old. Living in the two cottages next to ours on Star Green were two old men. Next door a Mr. Bunting who lived to be over 90. Before retirement he had been a baker, and in days I knew him, he was fast losing his sight. He would at times go to the Bell for a pint. Seeing him and there on such an occasion I realised that he could not see his change. Whilst looking straight in front of him, he was fumbling around with his hands for his change.
On the wall on the left as one entered his front door hung a painting which he told me it was a Gainsborough. I suggested as he lived in poverty he should sell it. He replied he could not do so as to the painting was a family heirloom.
Next door to him lived a Mr. Sage, Old Flint we called him. He was over 80. He had a most peculiar cat that opened the kitchen door by jumping up and hanging on the latch when wanting to come in. The very first time I had cause to visit him I was standing by the kitchen table facing the old man who was sitting by the fire, when the door burst open. Glancing around I was amazed to see the cat hanging on the hatch and swinging into the room. Old Flint said “don’t worry, it’s only the cat”.
I took an instant dislike to that cat from that moment. There was something uncanny about it. You see, it wasn’t necessary to come in that way because there was a large hole in the wall of the kitchen through which my younger brother Percy visited the old men daily, entered and left the room.
Old Flint’s greatest enemy was rats. Every night he would take a large walking stick to bed with him with which to rights of way the floor boards to frighten away, but as strange as it may seem to one, he could not keep out his bedroom. During the night they would gnaw and gnaw. Old Flint would bang the boards with his stick and shouts so that even we could hear him two doors away. But nothing Old flint could keep the rats out of his bedroom. I often wondered why his wise old cat did not do something about this problem. Old Flint who during the warm sunny days sat at his gate facing the Star Green. In his front garden were rose trees that grew lovely roses of various colours. He also each year grew a row of sweet peas using long pea sticks, 8 feet tall, so that the blooms could be seen from the Green, well above the rose trees. People stopping to admire the display if they wished the west would be rewarded with a bunch of selected blooms.
On one such sunny day at his gate, he told me that when a child he had an uncle living at the Star Inn who had emmigrated to Australia. At the time his uncle left for that distant land Old Flint was only two years of age. He told me that when his uncle came to bid his family farewell, Flint as a baby of two, was sitting in his pram near the front gate. He said he could clearly remember the occasion. The horse and carriage that was to take them away drew up at the gate, and he was lifted from his pram so that he could stroke for horse’s nose. He told me that the last thing his uncle did before getting into the carriage was to pick a rose from the garden and put it in the buttonhole of his coat. He did not mention any other MEMBER of the departing family and I being interested in his story at the time did not question him further.
I cannot of course vouch for the authority of this story of Old Flint’s but I do know that during World War 1 an Australian soldier did come to visit Old Flint at his cottage on the Star Green. Old Flint told us that he was a relative who had come to the village especially to see the star inn where his ancestors had lived before emigrating to Australia. Of course the Star was at that time no longer an inn. I wonder what impression of the village that soldier carried back to Australia if he was lucky enough to go back after World War 1. Old Bunting and Old Flint who lived alone in the adjoining cottages on the Star Green, and on every day until they died my mother sent to each of them a jug of hot tea. Two of my younger brothers who each day were given this chore of delivering this tea protested to my mother that she should not give it away as she could not afford to do so. However, my mother insisted that these old men must have something hot at least once a day, and although my mother and family had little, this little had to be shared by others less fortunate.
I ask you, where today could such a comparison of sacrifice be found? Another mother of interest was old Emma who lived four doors from the Bell Inn. She was one of the lucky mums who was able to keep a few hens in coops on Star Green, and as was to be expected would kill one of her precious fowls as a treat for dinner occasionally. It seemed that Emma was an expert at making chicken pudding. Without fail on the day of the chicken feast, Emma would strut out from her cottage door to the centre of the street, firmly plant her feet apart, put her hands on her hips, take a deep breath, throw back her head and yell at the top of her voice “S-n-n-y, S-o-n-n-y, come and have a bit of C-H-I-C-K-E-N P-U-D-D-E-N”. She would chant this command several times and it could be heard at least a mile away. As can be expected any children who happened to be within receiving distance would join in and chant “S-n-n-y, S-o-n-n-y, come and have a bit of C-H-I-C-K-E-N P-U-D-D-E-N”. I have no idea why it’s always had to be Sonny she called for, as there was also Jarvis and Lily around somewhere. However, everyone in the village knew when Emma had made her favourite pudding for dinner.
Next door to Emma lived another mum, Mrs. Neville who brought the village babies into the world, and laid out those people who from the world had departed. She was a kindly and cheerful person; however she loved to gossip and would spend a large part of the day leaning on the doorpost of her street door, and of course Emma would be leaning on her doorpost next door. The greater part of their lives was spent leaning on those doorposts.
Living two doors away, at times I overheard their conversation, for in fact they spoke very loudly tossing words back and forth between the two doorposts.
The following is a sample of titbits of their conversation I overheard. The previous day there had been a wedding between the members of two families upon Woodend Green. The next day the two newly-marrieds had cause to pass the doorpost-leaners on their way back to Woodend Green. As they passed all was quite as Emma and Co scrutinised the two newly-marrieds. Then clearly and distinctly a remark from Mrs. Neville rang out “He looks pretty poorly this morning! I bet he whitewashed her well last night!” Emma laughed. On my part I wondered why he should have to whitewash her, it seemed such an unusual thing to do to a person. However, the penny dropped later in life. Mrs. Neville must have been an expert midwife as I cannot remember her ever losing a baby at birth.
Mrs. Hood the wife of the village schoolmaster taught standard three in the big room at the school. She took an interest in the children of the village and would suggest a name for each new arrival. She also sponsored a scheme for the adoption of the family name by the children at school who had been born out of wedlock.
I do not know the facts of the scheme whether it was taking advantage of the new law introduced by parliament, or whether it was by straightforward adoption of the bastard child by their parents. However, I can clearly remember that there was to be no compulsion of acceptance imposed on the child by the parents. The child had the right to decide either way. The result being that I was the only child that positively refused to have my name change from White to Snow. I being born at Old Mead, had always considered myself to be a member of the White family. My decision distressed my mother 4 hours for as from then on I was the only child in the village whose name bore the stigma of illegitimacy.
At this time there were several such children attending the Henham school. But today even I can only recall one of those supposed unfortunates who at this time adopted their family name. Good luck to them. Do I regret my choice? No, today I would not dream of changing it.
During the Thirties it became the fashion of members of the services to change their name by deed poll. At one time I was tempted by the name of “Castleton” but decided against it.
Mrs. Hood was also responsible for the organizing and fostering out of Dr. Barnardo children in the village. I do not know on whose authority it was, but these children were not allowed to mix and play with the children of the village, I am positive that these children were not happy.
A brother and sister were fostered by a woman lived on the opposite side of the street to Old Emma. These two children after school hours were never allowed outside their garden gate. During the summer holidays they would stand hour after hour at that gat watching the village children at play. Frequently we would go to these children at the gate and try to induce them to come out and play. However, they were under constant observation, for no sooner had we approached them, the cottage door or window would fly open and the children would be ordered away from the gate. The village children were sorry for these Dr Barnado children who were in some cases prisoners, poor souls.
I was to learn later that these two children were taken away from this person who herself was charged with cruelty. It made me cringe to think that not only this brother and sister I have mentioned but many other unfortunate children had been handed over to this person to be ill-treated. The Fairleys at the manse were very nice family, and they did all they could to entertain the children of the village. During the winter months before the 1914 War, they invited all the children who were interested to the chapel school room for one night of each week, when games were organized and those who wished were invited to take part in training and rehearsals of a play that was presented at the end of the winter period. To produce such a play must have tested the patience of Job. The highlight of the evening was a cup of tea and a bun for free.
The members of the Fairleys family stand out in my memory as being nice and kind and definitely patient. However, it is possible that Mrs. Wood and other teachers of the village school were involved in this activity as there were many things going on at the same time.
Mr. Wood the village schoolmaster was a dedicated man. He ruled by the rod. He must have taken his cue from Dickens. His method of instruction was based on the principle that those pupils who paid attention and learnt the lessons were encouraged to try harder by a system of reward by punishment by results.
Example: assuming that after the lesson of instruction on arithmetic, he set us a task by writing up on the blackboard four sums to be answered by the class in their exercise books. Each sum answered incorrectly carried a penalty of one stroke of the cane across one’s shoulders. Therefore each pupil commenced their task with a handicap of four strokes which would be reduced in proportion to the number of sums answered correctly from nil to four. By this method he definitely obtained results and by comparative standards of those days he was probably one of the best masters in the area.
In my case I never ever went to school without being caned. This did not worry me for being caned to me was just a part of going to school. Being born on a farm, I spent my early days wandering about it alone, which resulted in my developing an individual, independent personality; therefore my will automatically set up in opposition to the will imposed on me. Hence, as one can imagine, I was in constant hot water.
Our village had an upper class for crust. There were the shopkeepers, five in all, managed by women, all but one unmarried. Miss Gardener owned a sound business, general store, post office, bakery and coal merchant. We shall read more of Miss Gardener and one of her interesting customers from outside the village later on.
A general store tucked away in the corner of Star Green on the Rotten Row was owned and run by the two Miss Benfields. They maintained an efficient delivery service outside the village. One of the Miss Benfields and Len Snow went out most days to the surrounding villages to take orders and to deliver goods. Len Snow later left the village to take up a post in London after marrying one of the Miss Fairleys.
A Miss Judd’s shop was situated at the top of Woodend Green opposite the Wear pond. She also in the early days maintained a delivery service in the Chickney area. This shop was also a general store, but on a smaller scale than the other two.
At a time I cannot specify a fish shop was opened on the same side as Woodend Green as Miss Judd’s shop, about halfway down the green. This business could not have been a success as after a short period the business closed down.
A Miss Hornsby owned a shop on the main street opposite the Bury. She traded in confectionery, odds and ends including children’s clothing. I did not like going to her shop as in a cage above the counter was a parrot. And this damned parrot would, when one entered the shop, keep repeating “don’t touch naughty boy, don’t touch” and this would be repeated by the parrot again and again until Miss Hornsby chose to come into the shop. I would stand at the counter with a red guilty face glaring at the parrot, frightfully angry at being, as I thought it, accused of dishonesty by the damned bird. If I could have got my hands on it, I’d have wrung its neck. Mrs. Willett who lived across the green from the school sold homemade sweets to the school children from her cottage. This must have been a profitable venture for at the beginning of the First World War she had a shop built in front of her cottage. We shall read more of this shop later.
Frank Wright owned a cycle hire business, and sold and repaired shoes. Also in the Wright family there was a shoe repair shop at Crows Corner. Frank Wright and his helper, a Mr. Neville, were fascinating to watch at work. They both worked at a tremendous pace as if racing one another. They sat side by side on the floor of the shop, backs to the wall, their feet holding the shoe trees. When soleing a shoe they would both pick up a handful of brads, throw them into their mouths, and then like clockwork flick them one by one out of their mouths with their tongues and in a split second the brads were hammered home into the sole. When the of the sole was complete down would go the hammer, the hand grasping a cobbler’s knife would then in seconds turn the sole; down went the knife and the next second beeswax was being robbed around the sole. Off would come the shoe from the tree, a quick glance of appreciation and another shoe would be stretched over the shoe tree.
When weather made it possible, the Turner family of carpenters worked in the open yard. To watch them at work they resembled robots, each to his own job, without the exchange of a word.
And what could be more interesting than to watch Mr. Heard the wheelwright putting an iron tyre on to wooden cart or wagon wheel on the piece of green fronting the Cock Inn.
Ernie Wright and brothers were builders who operated from the building yard near the Wear pond. The farmers who farmed the four large village farms were never seen in the village but there were three small local farms, the Yarrow’s and Newman’s opposite to one another near the Bell Inn. Also Robert Wright’s, known as Bacon’s farm, opposite the vicarage in Crow Street. Robert Wright, a religious man, employed boys to work his farm; a good idea in those days, for a boy would be expected to do the work of a man. I remember him once catching a party of us boys tossing for pennies. He immediately gave us a lecture on the evils of gambling and advised us to save up our pennies and invest it in land. He said that if we were only able to buy one square yard it would be ours for all time. Looking back today it was sound advice but unfortunately he never made anything for himself.
The majority of the village upper crust sent their children either to the Newport grammar school or the Herts and Essex at Bishops Stortford. In those days it did not matter what ability a child had, as long as their parents were able to pay the fee. I do not think that any one of them benefited very much from this advantage.
Once these children left the village school to join their selected school they ceased to mix with the children of the village.
The most popular man in the village was Jack Hayden the village blacksmith. He was everyone’s friend. He would allow children to go into the smithy as long as they did not get in his way. The smithy was then the opposite Gardener’s in Church Street. If a child went to him with a broken hoop between jobs he would push it in the forge and it would be repaired in seconds.
On a Sunday morning, the 5th of August, 1914, I met Jack Hayden coming down Church Street to the signpost. He was very excited waving his arms about by calling out that war had been declared on Germany. This was just before eight in the morning. Jack and I were the only two people out in the village. I have no idea how he had obtained this information but he made perfectly sure that I knew. One thing is certain - I have never forgotten that picture of Jack coming down Church Street on that Sunday morning.
There was a higgler by the name of Frederick Johnson who lived opposite the Bury and had a yard adjoining where his pony, cart and pens for hens etc. which he bought on his rounds were accommodated. He made regular rounds of the surrounding villages. He was a very quiet man and did not appear to converse or associate with anyone in the village. Probably because he was so aloof we would call after him “Old Fredneedle, Old Fredneedle”. Why we called him Fredneedle, I do not know. Also he was a target for other childish pranks.
I was there to learn without any doubt what the upper crust thought of me, as of no doubt all the ordinary village folk. It happened this way. Whilst working at the Bell Inn one of my jobs was to drive the cows I attended and milked along country lanes to feed off of the verges of the roads, for not only was there plenty of grass by the roadsides, but it was a way of saving the feed in the home meadows.
One of my favourite places to go was to Chickney near Lovecotes Farm for not only would the cows settle down to food contently on the wide grass verges, but very often we were able to partake in a special sport of ours, which was sliding down the roof of a hay or straw stack. As these stacks were visited daily by the farmer to collect hay and straw for feed and bedding for his cow herd, a ladder was usually left propped against the stack for convenience. The ladder would enable us to climb up to the roof of the stack; we would in turn then slide down to fall on to a prepared heap of litter on the ground. There was very little chance of hurting ourselves and it was fine fun. We had no slides prepared for us in playing fields in those days.
On this particular day there were several children in the party including the daughter and son of my employers. During the day the daughter stated that her father was going to buy a baby calf for Daisy the cow. At this time Daisy was heavy with calf, and was an enormous size. Although I would only be about 10 years of age, I had lived all my life among animals and I was well aware where calves came from, and of course as a member of a big family also knew where babies came from. So I was surprised when I realised that my employer’s daughter did not know about cows and bulls and where calves came from.
Therefore in all good faith I explained to the children who were interested where Daisy was going to get her calf from. The bit that most of them could not swallow was how the calf came out of the cows belly when it was born, and they wanted to believe that somehow the cow’s belly opened and let the calf fall out. At the end of the afternoon we returned with the cows and shortly afterwards the events of the day were forgotten.
However, the next morning I was busy in the yard at the back of the inn doing my daily chores when to my surprise I perceived my employer smashing along in my direction. I thought this unusual as she should at this hour be fully employed indoors. She was a hard worker and normally did the work of two persons.
In a few seconds I became the object of a bitter to tirade of vicious accusations and denunciations. I stood calmly looking at her ranting on so fast that she choked over her words. She told me the history of my life and my present status. She pointed out how different her children were as compared with my brothers and sisters to whom she made it clear I did not belong. At last her white face became tired, her anger faded, she finally stated that never again was I to associate with her children, to keep my place as it were.
I watched her walk away. I had stood there watching her face during the whole charade and I had not moved or even flinched. And as she walked away I actually smiled, then carried on with my job as if nothing had happened. In fact I had done nothing wrong. I had told her children the truth which for some reason she dare not.
Her attacker on me had no effect whatsoever. As children in the village, when called names, we would reply with “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me” and this is perfectly true, names have never hurt me.
But the encounter with this woman had left me in no doubt as to what she thought of the ordinary people of the village. After this incident she changed towards me, my attitude of indifference may have had something to do with this. However, each morning she gave me an egg to take home for my breakfast, impressing upon me that I was to eat it myself and she never failed to ask me whether I had eaten it. The action on her part may have been carried out to convince me that to her I was definitely inferior. However, the tradesmen, both men and women, did not have any easy time of it, in fact they had to work very hard for every penny they earned, but they were the regular patrons of the local inns where they assembled in the private bars. They took a long break at midday when they would play dominoes and cribbage, no doubt for who paid. This would be repeated for about 2 hours in the evening before going home to supper.
Chapter 9 The Village Store
The post office and main store of the village was known as Miss Gardener’s. The business was left to Miss Gardiner on the death of her father. In the running of the business she was assisted by her cousin, Mr. Broughall, who managed the grocery department, the post office being managed by Miss Margery Mathews.
In addition to managing the drapery department, Miss Gardener travelled to London by train to buy direct from the wholesalers in the West End. This method of obtaining her goods enabled her to give very good value for money. Hence customers from far afield chose to walk to the shop, in some cases walking many miles.
You shall learn later of one of these customers who was born as long ago as 1864, but chose to walk from Broxted to do business with Miss Gardener.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Henham, before the era of the motor car, was an important shopping centre, the village being linked to the surrounding villages by paths which were in fact important byways. Claysteps connected Broxted and perhaps did them Pledgdon Green with the village; Chickney, Cherry Green and Debden by Spring Lane; Little Henham and Widdington via Sparley Lane; Old Mead by the Quick Hedge; Ugley and Elsenham by the Mill Path.
In my day this store did not have a delivery service for groceries outside the village, but bread was delivered by cot and cart, and later by a van.
To give one an idea of the extent of trade this store had at the beginning of World War 1, the Christmas of 1914 was the last Christmas that Miss Gardner sent a message to my mother to inform me that I was to be at the shop at closing time on Xmas eve as on the following Christmas I had left school, the idea being that I was to be given toys unsold at the end of the Christmas trading for distribution to members of my family.
I had previously seen the shop stocked up with Christmas goods including toys of all kinds. The most popular buy were stockings filled up with sweets, miniature toys that included, harmonicas, tin whistles and trumpets. The stockings were of various sizes according to price. These stockings are still I believe popular to this day. However, I presented myself at the shop at about eight oak, and stood outside for some time trying to see into the misty windows. People were coming and going making their last minute purchases. As I had no idea when the shop would close, I quietly pushed open the door and slipped inside. The shop was full of customers and there were extra helpers behind the counters. I hadn’t been inside more than a minute or so when Miss Gardener noticed me and she immediately requested me to wait outside. So outside I went with a strong inclination to slip away. I was there against my will anyway. However, I decided that if I did not stay I would have some explaining to do when I arrived home. So I remained shuffling around outside that shop until ten past ten.
Mr. Broughall a holding open the door was wishing the last customer the compliments of the season. As the customer left the shop I, like a cat, slipped past Mr. Broughall and entered the shop before he could close that door. Once again Miss Gardener saw me and just as I thought that she was about to ask me my business, she must have remembered that I was there at her command.
So she asked Mr. Broughall if he had anything left over. He replied that he hadn’t. I remember standing in that shop looking at the shelves in disbelief. They were in fact bare, not only of toys, but of just everything on Mr. Broughall’s side. It was obvious to me that Miss Gardener and Mr. Broughall were both embarrassed. I had waited outside that shop for over 2 hours in the cold for nothing. They looked under counters, in fact everywhere knowing full well that there was nothing to be found, guilty at having to send me away empty-handed.
Miss Gardener, in her long skirt, climbed up on a chair to look at the back of the top shelf. Mr. Broughall did not offer to climb up in her place; neither did he suggest that she should not. However, against the wall on the top shelf Miss Gardener and found a long fruitcake, it must have been at least 18 inches long; it was long and square so as to be sliced off to be sold in slabs.
Mr. Broughall did not know how long the cake had been there, but it was wrapped and given to me to take home. With the cake underneath my left arm I ran all the way.
On my arrival home the family were curious to know what I had brought. I produced the cake and it looked very tempting so it was decided that we should all have a slice of the cake before bed. The number of slices were cut and handed round, each eagerly taking a bite of their respective slice, and during a long silence, with crestfallen faces, each chewing slowly. No one took a second bite as the cake was stale and sour and could not possibly be eaten. Without further consideration the slices of cake each with a piece bitten out and the rest of the cake was thrown out of the back door onto the garden. Just one hour before Christmas Day.
Miss Gardener’s first trading Christmas of the war had been most rewarding. But what she did not know was that her intended kindness for one of the poorer families of the village had had disastrous results. The kindest thing about this unfortunate affair was that she never knew. Miss Gardener was a staunch chapel-goer and attended each service including a P.S.A., Pleasant Sunday Afternoon. She allowed her devotion for worship to interfere with the running of her business. People who were allowed credit were allocated a book held in the shop in which each credit sale was recorded. However, it was her custom not to transfer the debit totals from the completed book to the new credit book. Consequently, customers became aware of this failing. So on each weekend they would only pay of a part of each weekly account knowing full well that when the book became full it would be torn up and a clean start would be made with a new book.
This Christian ethic in business is foolish, even stupid. Certain tradesmen never ever paid her an account, owing her twenty to thirty pounds. The only way she could retrieve her losses was to request them to do her some service and on completion of the service call the account quits.
She never married simply because, as she said, her cousin, Mr Broughall never asked her. Unfortunately he had no more feeling towards her than any other woman. He certainly wasn’t a lady’s man. However, they maintained quite a friendly relationship. In the summer evenings and at weekends they would sit for hours in the summer house in the centre of the garden behind the premises. On early closing days they would in the early days hire a pony and trap and later in life a taxi, and go for long drives into the country. This was a recreation they both loved. Mr. Broughall’s other interest was that of amateur photographer.
Miss Gardener had at least one peculiar habit we know of, and that was to take a cup of tea with her when she went to the loo. She was quite a Victorian and her skirts were always ground length. An unfortunate incident occurred for her in the shop one summer’s day round about August. A wasp, not respecting the privacy of her person beneath the skirt, decided to investigate those private regions and finding itself trapped, decided on using it sting to survive. Miss Gardener feeling an agonising pain inflicted on her person beneath her skirts urgently wanted to investigate the cause but could not lift up her skirt in the presence of her cousin, Mr. Broughall. So she had no alternative but to leave the shop for the seclusion of her sitting room where, with female assistance, a search was made for the offending wasp However, unfortunately, before the wasp was located it had stung her three times on its journey up her leg.
Now let us look down the years into the lives of one of her customers from outside the village.
Old Lizzie Carr was born at Littlebury on the 17th day of March 1864. She was the daughter of the local blacksmith by the name of Perry. Whilst Lizzie was still a child, the Perry family moved from Littlebury to Molehill Green, Takeley, where her father had bought the smithy business. Lizzie attended the local school and her father being a tradesman was required to pay a fee of two pence on each Monday morning towards the cost of her education.
At the age of nineteen Lizzie married the son of the local wheelwright by the name of Heard. So Lizzie became Mrs. Heard and during the next ten years brought five children into the world. Unfortunately her husband died of cancer, leaving Lizzie with five children unprovided for. In those days there was no social security, therefore for the following three winters Lizzie Heard and her five children had no alternative but to go in the workhouse at Dunmow.
Mrs. Heard, being an expert in the use of a needle and thread, was to become matron of this establishment a welcome guest. So for three long years she and her children spent the cold, dark winter months in the workhouse, but during the summer months was resident in a thatched bungalow type of cottage that still stands today at Chapel End, Broxted. She supported her family by working long hours at the Elsenham Jam factory, dressmaking and taking any chance of earning a few pennies that came her way.
After three years’ hard to struggle to once again became pregnant unmarried at the Fabre, of Paul real old gentleman of the soil, known to everyone as Uncle Fred, by whom she had a father of five children. We are still in the late 1890s.
After her children became old enough to go to school, Lizzie Carr, detesting housework, once again went out to work. Among many other jobs, she had the unique experience of working for both the Countess of Warwick at Easton Lodge and Sir Walter Gilbey at Elsenham. In both these establishments, she became, because of her expertise with a needle, a valuable employee, and in the course of her duties came into contact with the ladies of these establishments. Lizzie Carr lived to be 81 and towards the end of her interesting life would sit by her hearth wrapped in a shawl relating her experiences when she worked at these establishments speaking of these ladies as if they were her personal friends. This was partly true.
In the late 1920s the Countess of Warwick opened a flower show at Easton Lodge. Whilst she was on the platform, she saw Lizzie in the crowd and on leaving the platform made a beeline to Lizzie and greeted her like a long lost friend, conversing with her for some minutes.
One could write a book on Lizzie’s experiences that she would repeat again and again, but we will have to be satisfied here with one she told of each establishment.
An ageing woman, an ex employee of Easton lodge, was very ill and living in poor circumstances. The Countess of Warwick got to hear of her condition and paid her a visit.
She was distressed to find that her ex-servant was very ill and living in a cottage with only a few sticks of furniture and little to keep her warm, and gave immediate instructions to her steward that furniture was to be taken to the cottage and that this poor soul’s bedroom was to be properly furnished; also that arrangements were to be made to ensure that she was properly taken care of. This kind action of the countess, and many others, made Lizzie her champion for life. One of Lizzie’s favourite tales of Elsenham Hall was of a dinner party that was held during the First World War towards the end of 1914. Lizzie and others employed at the hall were required to assist the kitchen staff to prepare for this party.
The officers of a regiment that was stationed locally were invited to dine at the hall, so it was quite a party. Chicken was on the menu, and as ordered, twelve fowls were delivered by the home farm. As the reader will know, titled gentleman who owned large estates retained one home farm for the sole purpose of supplying the requirements of the big house. In this case the home farm was quite large, nearly 800 acres. The fowls were prepared and roasted, taken from the ovens and the breasts were carved from the fowls. Then to Lizzie’s surprise she was ordered to throw out what remained of the twelve fowls. She thought that she had not heard the cock correctly, but there was no mistake “get them out of my kitchen” was the order. Lizzie did not throw these fowls away but with the help of the other assistants that did not live in, organized a scheme to smuggle this precious food out of the hall and grounds, and according to Lizzie the three assistants were happy to take home the remains of four fowls each. When one reads of instances such as this, one wonders to what standard those below stairs lived at that time; when they themselves were only interested in the breast of a fowl.
Lizzie told many stories of how the gamekeepers employed on these estates in her young days protected the property of their masters. There were many ways for a woman willing to work hard to earn a few pence such as collecting acorns, blackberry, mushrooming, or gathering sear word for the fire.
Acorns could be sold to a keeper of pigs are fixed local price per peck. At the time Lizzie was the sole breadwinner of the family and in the autumn she was able to make a few pence each evening by gleaning acorns in the wood known as the Springs. On this particular evening Lizzie and her friend had gathered as many acorns as they could carry. On their way back to the village they were confronted by a gamekeeper who demanded to know what they had in their sacks. They told the gamekeeper that they had been gleaning acorns. The keeper replied that the acorns were the property of the estate and demanded that they be emptied onto the ground. Both women begged the gamekeeper to be allowed to keep the acorns that they had worked hard to glean as they required the money to buy food for their children. The gamekeeper replied that if they did not empty the acorns onto the ground they would be prosecuted. So Lizzie and her friend had no alternative but to comply with the order and so go home empty-handed.
The gamekeepers assumed that if a person took material things from the estate, they would, if the opportunity presented itself, are also take game. So they were in fact protecting the game by preventing the public taking such things as wood, blackberries and mushrooms.
Between the wars, Lizzie, a remarkable woman, lived in a feather-boarded thatched cottage down a lane known locally as the Back Road. She is the only woman I ever met anywhere in the world who would with her hands catch and kill a mouse by squashing its head between her thumb and forefinger; she dispatched wasps by the same method. She was also an expert in ground telegraphy. She would pass through her garden gate, kneel down the road, bend over, put her ear to the road, and then not only tell if anyone was approaching on the road, but whether it was a local or a stranger. She could identify locals leaving the local pub half a mile away at closing time. What chance had a Bow Street Runner against such people as these?
In the days before our roads were choked with traffic one could identify the approach by road of members of one’s family, by putting one’s ear to the floor inside the cottage. My aunt as a little girl would listen for her father’s boots crunch, crunch, crunching on the gravelled road, and would hear him coming a long time before he could be seen. I well remember the occasion when the Thaxted light railway was opened. Tom Hayden and I, by putting our ears to the rails on the line warned the people waiting at Henham Halt that the train was on its way.
Lizzie would shop around to obtain the cloth she required to do her dozen and one jobs. With her daughter she would walk from Broxted to Stansted and back via Gaunts End and the Stansted Bottoms. However, she would say that she could always get exactly what she wanted at fair price from Miss Gardener’s at Henham.
Lucy with her children not attending school would leave Chapel End, Broxted by a path round to the right of the wood known locally as the Springs (but not named on the 1 inch Ordnance map) following the path it branched right to cross the fields and from the wood would meet the Broxted-Pledgdon Green road at Wood Farm. She would then follow the road to cross Pledgdon Green and continue until meeting the Elsenham-Thaxted road, turning left would after a short distance climb Claysteps and follow the path across the fields to Woodend Green via Green End Farm. On arriving at Woodend Green she would take a path branching left at the bottom of the Green, cross the fields to enter the village at the Star Inn. And so on to Church End to enter the store to be greeted by Miss Gardener. The bolts of cloth will be taken from the shelves and placed on the counter.
Lizzie and Miss Gardener would spend some minutes discussing the merits of the different cloths until finally the required lengths would be measured, cut and wrapped. Then Lizzie, well pleased with her purchase, would make the return journey. Of course in those days journeys of this nature were normal. Between the two wars I covered the round journey on several occasions. On a summer’s evening with the sun dropping low, it’s a lovely walk.
One must not assume that Lizzie was the only person to walk this long distance to shop. Of course she wasn’t, many others must have found this journey necessary. But we do know that Lizzie did this journey frequently. She would sit by her hearth wrapped in her shawl proudly reflecting her accomplishments.
I must tell of an almost unbelievable accomplishment of Lizzie’s. It happened as follows: a friend of Lizzie’s living next door to her down the Back Road had on this day relatives to visit her from London.
Chapter 10 The Dads on the Farm
Before the First World War broke out on the 4th of August, 1914, there were 11 men and a foreman employed at Old Mead. Three horse keepers, one stockman, a houseman and six general hands.
The housekeeper in the lower stable near the road was Alfred White, my grandfather, who lived in the tied cottage in which I was born. Before living at Old Mead he had lived on Woodend Green in the village. He had quite a large family, Bert, Annie, Hester, Ern, Percy, Walter and Lily. In his early days Alfred was a militia man and loved to tell tales of his experiences. He was especially proud of marching across Westminster Bridge on his way to Portsmouth, where according to him he embarked to go abroad, as he considered the Isle of Wight to be. He honestly thought that the Isle of Wight was “distant parts” as he described it to me when I was a boy. That Alfred was a militia man is interesting for it can be assumed that he would not be the only member of the militia in the village.
So it can be assumed that in those days when the corn in our village was still being reaped by hand that there were men leaving the village for a period each year to do their annual training. And as many of the girls left the village to enter domestic service in London, our community was not entirely ignorant of the outside world.
The fact that my grandfather had been a militia man may explain why he was the only man at Old Mead, other than his sons, who could sing in the “Farmer’s Boy”. For the popular songs of that day were the South African war songs, such as “Dolly Grey”.
Travelling along the way back down Memory Lane to when I was young and small, a tumbril cart was standing on the road just clear of the stockyard gate on the Elsenham road. My grandfather, assisted by one of my uncles, put two scythes, two forks and a rake into the cart. Grandfather came to the rear of the cart picked one up and placed one over the tail board into the rear of the cart. Telling me to remain sitting there and not to touch the scythes, my uncle climbed into the cart over the wheel and sat on the nearside over the wheel. Grandfather climbed up in front holding the reins in his hands. Taking a final look round he flicks the reins on the back of the horse and rumbling away we go click clopping along the road. Then together in loud, clear voices they broke into song. I sat there and listened and in my subconscious mind recorded “The Farmer’s Boy” so well that whenever in my travels around the world I chanced to hear that song sung, I was back in that cart with the same horse clip clopping along the Elsenham road, and the ghosts of my grandfather and uncle were singing that song.
They continued to sing all the way to Seven Acres at the bottom of Hall Road. They sang as they swung their sides to mow the lucerne (RG – lucerne is also known as alfalfa and used for forage), when loading it into the cart, also on the way back to the farm.
This country scene that I have recorded tells us quite clearly of the change that took place after the First World War. Country scenes such as this for many reasons can never again be witnessed. Having been in military camps in various parts of the world I am aware of the practice of men separated from their loved ones to express themselves by singing nostalgic songs. By a camp fire I’ve heard many times the singing of “The Farmer’s Boy”. I have no doubt that Alfred way back in the eighteen seventies sang it around the campfire at his annual camp in the Isle of Wight, and many years later his sons sang it somewhere in Flanders.
Old Alfred walked with a long firm stride in the manner he had adopted to walk in the fields. Men working with horses on the land adopted their own style of clod hopping. He also had a stoop, and the result of carrying thousands of heavy sacks of corn during his working life. In common with all the men of Old Mead of those days, I never knew him to be angry or to be unkind to man or beast. Strange as it may seem there was little swearing. A mannerism when expressing themselves was to always smile or grin which wrinkled the face.
The greatest change that took place with the change of the horse for the tractor was a change in men like Alfred. In the days of the horse which was a living animal men would naturally break forth into song. With the coming of the tractor, the number of men employed on farms fell in numbers to ones and twos. Men became isolated and condemned to work with a thing to which they could not talk, so naturally they became introverts, the direct opposite of their forefathers.
It was common before the First World War to see seven and sometimes more men working together in the same field, especially during the hay and harvest times. So the men were friendly, jovial, in fact just one happy family.
Today instead of ten men in a harvest field we have one man sitting high up on a monster combine, and instead of four ploughs being drawn up and down a field by twelve horses, four teams of three, driven by four men, we have a tractor sometimes racing along in a cloud of dust with a man shut up in a little glass or plastic box. I doubt whether such a man ever feels like singing.
After the Second World War I bought a milk round which committed me to drive around country roads and lanes for a distance of thirty three miles each day. Assisting me was Dorothy an evacuee girl from London who wasn’t a bit impressed by the country. I told her of the country as it was before the First World War - the singing in the fields, the whistling in the wind and of the total acceptance of conditions as they were. I offered to pay Dorothy five shillings on every occasion that she could point out to me a worker in the fields who was singing or smiling. Dorothy wasn’t a bad looker but no men we saw working in the fields was ever in the frame of mind to express his appreciations of the wench.
Alfred’s eldest son, Ernest, was the cowman and stockman at Old Mead, he was unmarried and lived in the tied cottage with the rest of his family. He was a very quiet man which is common with people who work most of their lives with animals. Animals are naturally nervous of man had to be spoken to by men in a low firm voice puts them at ease. After years of communicating with animals man makes a bad conversationalist. A person who understands animals only raises his voice when it is necessary to discipline an animal. Ernest left the farm to fight for his country in 1915. He survived the War, but on demob did not return to work at Old Mead. I do not know whether it was his own decision, or that he was not required there. However he later married a widow with a ready-made home at Ugley and was employed at the nursery in Elsenham. Percy, a brother of Ernest, was a horseman at Old Mead, which meant that although he was not a horse keeper he was always employed with horses and was capable of doing all jobs with horses including ploughing. Strictly speaking he would be an apprentice horse keeper, and would step into a vacancy when it occurred. He was a natural good fellow well met, and always wore a smile, when greeting one his face would light up like a lamp. He answered Kitchener’s call in 1914, and survived the war, when he returned to work at Old Mead for a few years. He afterwards took a vacancy as a horse keeper on a farm in Braughing. He married, and accepted the tenancy of a tied cottage. A horse keeper he remained until his retirement.
Walter was the youngest son of the White family and in common with the other members of his family was born in the village then moved with the family to the tied cottage at Old Mead.
At the farm he had a number of general duties. First and foremost as groom he had in his charge the cob and a pony and was responsible for cleaning their harnesses. As and when required he would drive out members of the Percy household to market or town in either the shay or pony trap.
As gardener he was responsible for the large kitchen garden by the moat and the large lawn in front of the house. He was also expected to care for all poultry on the farm. On his leaving the farm this duty was not delegated to any other worker.
His main hobby was the trapping of moles, the preserving and the sale of their skins.
He left of the farm to join Kitchener’s Army in 1914 and was drafted with his unit to Flanders from whence he never returned. A telegram was received by his father reporting him ‘missing believed killed’, and that was all, so no one is positive what really happened to him. As one knows now, complete regiments were wiped out in that bloody war.
It is interesting to record that the last time he was seen near Cambrai, like the true countryman and lover of horses he was he was heaving on the wheels of a horse-drawn gun carriage that was hopelessly bogged down in the mud. Herbert Snow who married Annie, the eldest daughter of Alfred White, was one of the general hands add Old Mead. He became the head of one of the largest families in the village with eleven children. When they first married they set up home in the small cottage tucked away south of the vicarage. A point of interest - the cottage garden ran down to a field behind the cottage which was glebe land. Over the hedge at the bottom of this garden was a tithe barn where, when the corn was harvested in this field, a 10th of the crop was stored, which then became the property of the vicar. The living of the vicar at Henham in those days was 400 pounds, then quite an acceptable son.
When I was a boy this barn went with the land and the farmer used it to rear turkeys in. The system of paying tithes by handing over a 10th of the crop had long since been terminated, and instead for convenience the farmer was required to pay a fixed sum each year in cash.
Mr. Newman, the farmer were employed me at the outbreak of the First World War to take care of his turkeys told me of glebe land, tithes and taught me much about country life.
Herbert later moved into a cottage next door to the Bell Inn. By the roadside opposite to this cottage stood a row of trees that fronted four cottages, and their occupants were responsible for lopping the trees opposite their frontage once every seven years. The lopped wood they retained by right as firewood. The rent of these cottages was one shilling and sixpence per week. Later in 1913 the family moved into a cottage next door to the Star. The rent of this cottage was one shilling a week but it was in poor repair. I can remember Jack Brooks, a relative, who was a Porter at Elsenham station was passing on his way to work from Cherry Green, put his head through a hole in the wall of the kitchen facing the Green and called out “Hi there, anyone at home?!”
Herbert joined Kitchener’s army in 1914, was wounded during the battle of the Somme. He saw active service in Ireland, and for some reason I have never been told, was transferred to the Highland Light Infantry and was required to wear a kilt. He was demobbed at the end of 1919, did not go back to Old Mead but instead took a job at the Elsenham nursery.
He did not settle down there and later set himself up as a thatcher.
There was already a thatcher family in the village by the name of Dixon, who would definitely craftsmen. However, without any doubt Herbert also became a master of his craft.
It is interesting to put on record the difference between these two thatchers in obtaining the best reward for their services.
Herbert had a queer fixed idea of getting the best reward for his services. He held an opinion that if one earned too much in any one week one would not be paid, even though the job had been contracted for an agreed sum. So after agreeing on a price for a job, he would set a time to complete the job by allowing himself to earn only two pounds ten shillings per week. This system earned him a reputation for being lazy as to earn his set two pounds ten, he had to work only half a day out of each day, so he ran into trouble as customers told him that he hadn’t earned his money and didn’t want to pay him. There is no shadow of doubt that in those difficult times customers in the country, whether or not they were farmers, were notoriously bad payers. So, I being interested to learn the method adopted by the Dixons to get their money put the question to Sid Dixon. Sid said that to survive he worked on the principle that he had to be tougher than the customer, drive a hard bargain, always give value for money, but when the job was done make sure he got the money.
On agreeing on a price for a job he would wring as much money out of the customer before he even commenced the job, and whilst working on the job would continually pester the customer for advances of cash. He always assumed that he would obtain from the customer over half the agreed sum before he completed the job.
The job being completed he would give the customer a definite date on which to settle the account. If the customer did not settle on that date Sid would arrive with his latter and tools to remove his straw, spindles and cord from the building he had thatched. Sid stated that this threat which he would certainly have carried out never failed.
Old Dixon, Sid’s father was a great craftsman, but unfortunately he was also a great drinker. He would take on the job and worked long hours to complete it. But once he got his hands on the money there would be no more until the money had been squandered on drink. When on one of these binges he never went home. He would get drunk, crawl away somewhere to sleep it off, and then back again in the pub. I have actually seen asleep in the gutter by the roadside of the School Green whilst the schoolchildren were playing on the Green. Once broke he would take another job on work like a slave.
Once as a small boy, at seven o’clock in the morning, as part of my daily chores I was gathering the spittoons in the public bar of the Bell Inn the for cleaning, in walks Thatcher Dixon who seated himself back to the window at the table on the left toward the door he had entered. Putting his left hand into his left jacket pocket he drew out a little bag closed and tied by paper attached to its mouth. Placing it on the table he undid the tape, turned the bag upside down, shook it, and on to the table spilled some coins. He looked at me and the publican who had taken his place beside me on the opposite side of the table. He said “twenty golden sovereigns” and “I’m going to spend every penny of it on beer before doing another stroke of work” Sid Dixon, when about 14, took his cue from his father, stopped associating with the other lads of the village and became, in Miss Gardener’s words, a model son, and an example to all. Later, when Sid’s father died, he carried on as a thatcher and became as good a craftsman as his father. To my surprise he became just as heavy a drinker, but he kept at work, and did not sleep out.
Herbert Snow remained a thatcher the rest of his working life. He had learned his trade before the war at Old Mead were one of his jobs had been the thatching of the corn stacks and when necessary the patching of roofs of the farm buildings.
The proof of his craftsmanship can still be seen where he had re- thatched barns in the area, especially at Chickney Hall where he re-roofed most of the farm buildings.
The best example of his work could be seen at Gaunts End, Elsenham. After a syndicate had bought the Elsenham estate a new building was constructed there in traditional Essex style. Herbert was offered the contract there to roof this country house. It was a difficult job, but no one could have made a better job of it. For this job his contract retained him for 16 weeks at £5.00 per week. £80.00. Today at the same job would be nearer £800 pounds. Also at Old Mead worked Arthur Snow as horse keeper. In addition he was a specialist, for he had charge of the portable engine and all the thrashing tackle. I have no idea how he became qualified for this job, or what extra pay he received for it. He had complete control over this machinery. When moving from place to place, the drum, chaff cutter and elevator, had to be moved by teams of horses varying in number according to the condition of the ground. From 4 to 6 forces were needed in the case of the engine and drum. When actually threshing out corn, Arthur would watch the machinery with a critical eye, and would always be ready with his oils can to ease a bearing, and with a shovel stoke up the boiler furnace. I never knew Arthur to have a mechanical failure when his tackle was on a job. His team of horses was in the top stable farthest from the road. His method of clod hopping was similar to Alfred White’s, a firm long stride. He lived in the village of Henham in the cottage last of a block on the right of the road adjoining Frank Wright’s cycle shop. The cottage had an unusual back door, a top and a bottom half, and must have at one time been a stable. I am not certain of the size of his family but I know of three sons and a daughter. Reg, the youngest, was my age. I must tell the story against Reg.
One Sunday morning Reg turned up for Sunday school in a brand new suit. Us lads were so surprised has he no longer looked like one of us. After Sunday school as usual we went down Lamberts where for some reason that did not concern us, the gaps in the hedgerows have been wired-up with barbed wire. However, barbed wire was no obstacle to lads such as us, so through the barbed wire we went. In the excitement of the occasion poor Reg forgot that he was dressed in a nice new suit and barbed wire does not respect new suits. After poor Reg had disentangled himself from the wire he stood before us a sorry figure. His jacket was ripped from the left shoulder down the left side past the pocket. His trousers ripped behind down to the Bending the knee. Only reach knew what reception he received on his arrival home on that fateful day.
Arthur was one of those people who were endowed with the characteristics common to the older farm worker of that day - the picture of happiness and contentment mirrored in the face.
When I returned from India after an absence of eight years Arthur was one of the people I had known as a child that I hadn’t forgotten. So I paid him a visit. He was then retired after working life time on the land he loved. I can see him now sitting on the left of the kitchen fire by the hob, smoking his pipe, his spills of paper neatly rolled placed by his side on the hob. As he turned his head towards me, the smile I had seen so many times in the past returned to his wrinkled face to greet me. I cannot remember Arthur ever paying a visit to one of the village pubs. Perhaps it was a luxury he could not afford
The third horse keeper George Smith was many years younger than Alfred and Arthur. His team was stabled at the road end of the top stable. He was then at Old Mead and due to his method of clod clopping, walked like a sailor. As I have already stated the other two horse keepers walked with a long firm stride. This was probably due to the fact that when ploughing they used double furrowed ploughs, which drawn by three horses turned deep furrows and ran smoothly. The ploughman holding the plough handle with the left hand and holding the reins in the right hand was actually pulled along. The plough drawn by three horses moved fairly fast hence the long firm strides. When not ploughing on self-binders, heavy rolls and drills they rode.
The second method of clod-hopping which was practiced by George Smith and Jimmy Blackwell was a good way of walking over rough land. One took a short step forward with the left foot, followed by a long stride forward with the right foot bringing the foot firmly down by throwing the body forward over the right foot each time the strike was taken. After years of this method of walking over rough fields, following the furrows, and light rolls, drills, cultivators and the single-furrowed ploughs; people like George and Jimmy walked permanently with short left and right along step and appeared to the people observing them that they were lame.
I have never heard of or heard of any one referring to farm workers having methods of clod-hopping, this I deduced by observation. The ordinary farmhand walked normally because he was rarely required to walk about rough fields as he did not work the land with horses.
George lived in the village in a thatched cottage opposite the Star Green. The grounds of the cottage backed on to Lamberts and adjoined the Bell Inn.
He was the eldest of a family of four, and was the son of the well-known and popular postman, Smith, of that day. His main characteristics were his walk, and the grin he always wore when talking to one. He always appeared to be telling a joke.
He owned a cycle which he rode via the Hall Road to and from work. This was a pity in a way, as he never took part in the walk to-and-from work in Indian file via the Quick Hedge. Therefore, I didn’t get to know much about him by his conversing with others. You must understand that I never took part in these conversations; I just listened to the jovial ragging for that at times took place. George as one now knows, at work, and was with his forces. So even in that day, the ordinary cycle was isolating the individual from the crowd. George’s long legs gave him the advantage over the rabbit which in the open field he could easily catch.
He lived next door to the Bell Inn but I never knew him to use that pub, he preferred the Cock and must have been one of its oldest regulars.
Old Arthur Bentley, I would call him ‘old’ as he retired aged 65 early in the First World War. He made history as being the first man at Old Mead to draw the old-age pension on retirement. He lived about halfway down the left-hand-side of Woodend Green where a short lane gave access to a path leading to the Star Inn. Arthur had a peculiar walk. His stride caused the side of his body to move with the leg. He was a nice old men of the type that liked to talk of the past thereby passing down local lore. His conversation was mainly of his recollections of past events and experiences.
I was fascinated to watch his preparing to go hedging on a wet day. He used binder twine, not straps, to hold up his trouser legs below the knee. To begin, he wrapped a small bag around each leg secured about the boot and below the knee. A large sack was wrapped around the waist and secured by his wide leather belt. A second large sack was wrapped around his shoulders secured by binder twine passed to the corners of the sack and secured under his chin. A small bag made into a hood by pushing one corner into the other and when placed on the head, protected the neck and shoulders. To protect his hands and arms against the prickly bushy hedge he wore long leather gloves. Thus attired he would boast that he could work all day in the rain and remain perfectly dry.
Arthur knew of the lane that existed between the common and Pimletts’ land before the enclosure. I learned of it its existence through him. It appears that his father had told him of the lane. So as Arthur was born about the time the common was enclosed, we can assume that as Arthur had not seen the lane when the boy, it must have been ploughed up and added to the two farms when the enclosure took place.
It was Arthur Bentley who passed on to me the story of the ghost of Hall Road.
It would be during the late harvest; corn was being cleared from the Top Cotmer and was being stacked in the Bottom Cotmer at the bottom of the Hall Road. I was driving away and had my midday break with the men at the stack. During the dinner hour Old Arthur told the story of the ghost of the Boundary gate. The ghost he said was a tall man who appeared dressed in a coat of many colours, divided into squares, each square being of a different colour.
The ghost when seen leaned on the gate facing the road and remained as still as a graven image. He went on to say that when the ghost was seen by a person that person dare not pass the gate being terrified of walking into the vision of the ghost. Therefore, no person who had seen this ghost dare pass it but turned back the way they had come. There were possible explanations for the ghost. It may have been a shadow cast by the trees that stood in the hedgerow by the gate, or it may have been a ghost invented to protect the gate from damage on the closing of the Boundary lane. In any case I do not think that I should have given it another thought if it had not been for an incident that I experienced that very night.
Being late in the harvest the nights were drawing in and the loading of wagon and cart continued as long as one could see. The last to be loaded, were left loaded at the stack to be unloaded the following morning. The horses were taken back to the farm for feeding and stabling for the night. It was the practice to take all empty carts and wagons back to the farm at night, and it so happened on this day I was in charge of the last laddered cart to be unloaded that evening.
I was a bit worried because the night was closing in I would have to go alone to the village via the Hall road. I climbed up onto the front ladder of the cart and away I went out of the field up the incline of the road towards the farm. At the first bend in the road was the Boundary gate, marked by a bushy tree beside its new post. I looked at that distant gate wondering what I should do if the ghost appeared, as I would not be able to pass the gate. The closer I got to the gate the more worried I became until to my surprise when about 50 yards from the gate my horse, looking at the gate, snorted and tossed its head. The nearer we got to the gate the more the horse played up. The horse became very nervous, frightened, whinnied, pranced and reared. I knew that if I couldn’t calm the horse it would be out of control and that would be serious. So I kept talking to the horse as I was sitting right over him on the front cart ladder in a low, firm, calm way, and although the horse broke into a fast trot, I instilled confidence in to him and was able to keep control. When about 50 yards past the gate, the horse calmed down. As a boy, I understood horses and knew that the fear I had a passing that gate was communicated to the horse and if I had shown panic the horse would have done likewise. At that time I was more concerned that the horse should not panic than being confronted by a dozen ghosts. I did not mention this incident to the men the next day as I was certain that they would not have believed me, and ever after I should have had my leg pulled about meeting the ghost.
There was a time when, with regret, I knocked poor old Arthur down. It happened like this. It would be about 1917. I had become the proud owner of an old boneshaker of a cycle and I had bought it for thirty bob. It was my first cycle and the best that could be said for it, it had two wheels and a frame. It had no bell or brakes but I could steady it when not going too fast by putting the sole of my boot on rim of the front wheel. As one can imagine I raced about on this thing as fast as it was possible for it to go.
It was usual to meet up with these machines at the Lamberts gate, and from there we would race to and from different points in the village. On this particular day, on a Whit Monday morning, being my turn to demonstrate my ability on my boneshaker by doing a world record to a gate on the right of Chickney Lane about a 100 yards past the Weary Pond and back to Lamberts.
I set off peddling as quickly as I could and in no time at all I was passing the Weary pond and turning round opposite the five-barred gate on the right of the lane. So off I go like to the wind on the return journey. The road sloped down from Woodend Green to the Bell Inn. Passing Judd’s shop at the top of Woodend Green, I saw a party of people just leaving the Green all dressed in their Sunday best off to the Bell for their holiday pint. To my dismay they left the path and spread across the road, all five of them, leaving me no room to pass. As I had no bell I couldn’t warn them. I recognised the back of a short, stumpy man in the centre as being Arthur Bentley, and my not knowing any of the other four, it just had to be him. Coming from behind at full speed I aimed my front wheel between poor Old Arthur’s legs. Whether I thought that by a miracle l could dive between them I do not know, but in a second it was all over. I caught poor Old Arthur slap between the legs, his bottom instantly shot back on top of my front wheel, his back hitting my handlebars. The cycle with both of us aboard skidded several yards forward, his weight causing the rear wheel to swing to the right throwing me off on my back on the right to the road. Old Arthur pitched off the front of the cycle on the left side of the road falling plump on to his backside.
I sat up looking over the cycle at Arthur struggling to sit up, he glaring at me, his face as red as a bull’s, with an expression mixed with anger and amazement.
The other four men, two standing on either side of us, at first could, could not comprehend what had happened. One moment they had been strolling down to the pub with their kindly old relative and the next moment he had been virtually picked up from the ground with incredible speed and dumped on the road some yards ahead on his backside. As soon as they were able to size up the situation they hurried to him, helped him up and all four of them brushed down Arthur’s best Sunday suit.
Whilst this was going on I picked up my boneshaker that had previously and far worse treatment, and moved discreetly a few yards away on to the Green.
After Arthur had been made presentable for the best room of the Bell, all five turned to look at me - the village lad who had, to their way of thinking, deliberately charged into them.
Standing there I felt terribly ashamed and foolish, for as far as a young lad can be fond of old people, I was fond of Arthur. In normal circumstances I would not have done anything to offend or hurt him, but how could I explain my action? I couldn't! So I kept silent and did not utter a word.
Old Arthur standing there, glaring at me furiously, telling all within earshot what he thought of me which was not very complimentary.
The following I must put on record as it gives one an idea of the character of those old gentleman of the land. Although Arthur lost control of his temper and was furiously angry, not one swear word passed his lips. The strongest word he used against me was that I was a young ’varmit’, but he had a way of expressing it, that made that word pretty heavy. As I rode away without even opening my mouth I was upset that I had not been able to defend my action. I was hurt that they had formed an opinion that my action had been deliberate. In a way of course it was - I should have not been riding without brakes and a bell.
However, the incident was soon forgotten, in fact the other lads thought it was a huge joke. As for me, I had made an enemy of an old friend. I wonder whether he ever forgave me! That I’ll never know for since I rode away that day I cannot remember ever seeing him again.
However, I like to think that Old Arthur Bentley in the bar of the Bell Inn with his relatives on that Whit Monday had a good laugh when relating the incident.
If Jimmy Blackwell had been a soldier he would have been a natural barrack - room lawyer. He was an all-round farm worker including working with horses. Jimmy was the best example of a ‘short left, long right’ stride clodhopper, even when walking out, his body swung forward over his right leg.
He was single, looked smart when dressed in his Sunday best and even cleaned and polished the insteps of his shoes. He was set up for me as an example to copy when cleaning shoes. He lived with his mother and sister in the second cottage from the Bell Inn. He attended P.S.A. on each Sunday afternoon and Chapel on Sunday evenings. He would leave his door at five minutes past twelve each Sunday morning to go to the Bell Inn from whence he would return at five minutes to one precisely.
Jimmy had a habit of contradicting himself when conversing by calling himself a liar. He would say “I met George last Friday. No, that's a lie, it was on Thursday”. He would continually converse in this manner no matter how long a conversation lasted, which meant that by chance or choice he found it necessary to contradict himself on every occasion he made a statement.
Jimmy was, when making the contract for the gathering in of the harvest, the go-between between master and men, a kind of shop steward.
I sitting on a box in the old brewery listening as was my usual practice. Reaching right across the floor from the wall to wall were barrels of beer, I can see them now, marked with chalked crosses to show the strength of each barrel. The more the crosses, the stronger the beer. The men were standing around waiting for Jimmy to return from the meeting with Mr. Percy. On his return he gave out the news the men had been waiting for. On this particular year the grand sum was ten pounds. In fact Jimmy gave it out as follows:”The sum for the gathering in of the harvest this year will be ten pounds and as there are eleven of us it will be ten pounds each man”. This news was accepted without any questions being asked. Now as I understand it, the men agreed to gather in the harvest at Old Mead whatever the weather conditions and however long it took for ten pounds per man.
I’m of an opinion that Jimmy did not bargain but just accepted what was offered by Mr. Percy. This sum was agreed previously by the local farmers in the district, as they all paid the same amount. I think this was a pity for Mr. Percy was a reasonable man and I think that with pressure from the men, better terms could have been obtained.
The men having received the news of the sum they were to be paid for the bringing in of the harvest, in celebrated by sampling the beer from the barrels. Jimmy had previously cleaned a large slate fixed to the wall on which was entered everyone's name. On this slate a tally was kept to be settled on settling day at the end of the harvest, were once again they would meet to celebrate.
Chapter 12 The Problem of Recreation in our Village
For strong hardworking lads having left school there was a problem of the way to spend long winter evenings, there being nowhere for them to go in the village.
If one was a member of a large family, to stay at home was the worst choice of two evils. One reads of large poor families being underfed, listless, pot bellied with long drawn sad faces sitting around like zombies. This is an entirely false picture. The members of a large family, as I remember them, with children more like caged animals, fighting, laughing, playing, snatching things from one or other, all happening at one and the same time. How the oil lamp on the kitchen table escaped destruction is a mystery. The fire was always attraction and was played with whenever the opportunity presented itself.
My mother described the situation aptly when, frustrated by the din going on around her, she would scream above the din “For God’s sake shut up. It’s like bedlam” at the same time striking out and clouting in the nearest child to her, which to the child meant absolutely nothing as they clouted each other much harder at play. So whatever the elements held in store, I would leave the cottage on dark wet nights after being exposed the whole day to the same conditions, and whatever the conditions may be, the human animal seeks the companionship of others of his kind. So the dead of winter however uninviting it was, they will always be a furious letter gathered together as children from the wing. I can well remember having nothing better to do than stand under the thatch of the cottages opposite the railed ponds, huddled together, shivering with cold, finding something to talk about and something to laugh at.
To me at least, in these hours spent in the bitter winter and rain on those dark nights was not wasted. I was later in life as a soldier to experience similar conditions to which I paid little heed. I was in my element when on my horse galloping into the wind and rain. I would throw back my head and with the rain stinging my face would rejoice that my horse and I were flying defiantly into the face of the elements and that we were both something more than mere mortals.
It was on one summer’s evening that a heavy rainstorm caused us to take shelter under the thatched eaves of these very same cottages. Watching the violent flashes of light and and listening in awe to the heavy cracks of thunder, we were to get a grandstand view of a product of the elements.
We were standing in a row leaning against the wall when to our surprise we saw a ball of fire, or a ball of lightning as it obviously was, appear over the trees at the rear of the Bell Inn, crossing the top of Lamberts, to cross our front by passing up the line of ponds to disappear with a crash over the chapel to our left. We had all observed it for some seconds and all agreed that it was a thunderbolt, whatever that may be. Even to this very day I have not the slightest doubt that it was a ball of fire and I definitely observed it to revolve away from the direction of travel. Strange as it may be, in that day, reports of thunderbolts being seen were very common.
My mother told me of an experienced she had when in service at Chickney Hall, and one must believe her. While she was actually in the in the kitchen with the door standing open, a ball of fire came down the chimney, blew out the fireplace completely from out of the hearth, and still has a ball of fire, pass out of the kitchen door. No-one could possibly question this story, for how does one possibly explain the disintegration for no apparent reason. Well, as it came to pass, an event in the village was to change things there for us lads who had left school and were not old enough to visit the local pubs. Therefore I am able to put on record the origin of the very first youth club in the village. It was in the form of a shop known locally as Mackey’s. It came about in this way. The Willets who occupied a smallholding across the green from the school and decided that there was reason to expand their business of selling confectionery etc. from their cottage, so decided on building a shop as an extension to the front of their cottage. Mr. Willet, ‘Mackey’ as we knew him, was a carrier of goods and passengers between the village and Elsenham railway station. He also did some services for the Post Office.
In addition to the property across the school green he had a second property with stables and sheds, its entrance being between the first and second homes opposite to the school house.
At the beginning of the First World War this property was requisitioned by the army and a team or so of horses were stabled there. As a point of interest, one of these soldiers told us lads of a rat he had cornered in those stables that had sprung at his throat. We believed that it had bitten him as his neck was bandaged when he told the story. Whether Mr. Willet was well rewarded by rent paid because the premises were requisitioned I do not know, but later in the war he did buy the freehold on the Mill Road in front of where the council houses now stands, and he certainly did have his shop built as an extension to his cottage from which he sold tobacco, cigarettes, confectionery, biscuits, paraffin etc.
During that the first World War children were leaving school at twelve years of age (I left at eleven years and nine months) to work on local farms, and as wage earners they now, for the first time, found themselves with a few pennies in their pockets at the end of each week. Mackey’s shop naturally attracted into its till most of these hard-earned pennies as it became the habit of the village lads to make frequent visits to the shop for sweets and chocolate, and later, when pocket money increased, cigarettes.
During the dark cold winter nights it became the practice of hanging around the lighted shop window which appeared friendly and warm, and we made every possible excuse to enter the shop which was heated. We were never told to leave so we could linger there, in fact both Mr. And Mrs. Willets were kind and friendly towards us. I remember her as being quiet and pleasant. Above all she actually won our respect and that was no easy task.
Well! Who was responsible for the next move, Mr. or Mrs. Willet? I do not know but along the wall of the shop was placed a long form, obviously specially constructed for the purpose. It seated ten to twelve. So even if there were 20 boys in the shop, there was still plenty of room for any customer who chanced to call, as they frequently did. From now on anyone with a penny or so in one’s pocket was able to gain admission to a warm and friendly room. However, from the Willets' point of view, one just could not have twenty young lads sitting around an hour-after-hour doing nothing. So card games were introduced. The main games being whist and rummy. Both Mr. and Mrs. Willets joined in these games. Later, to make the games interesting, it became the accepted habit to play for penny stakes.
These harmless games went on in the shop for years after I had left the village. In fact, to my knowledge, the late twenties. But the stakes were never allowed after all those years to exceed one penny. Any person who ended up winning a few pennies usually spent them on a bar of chocolate or packet of cigarettes.
I must put on record that the Willets had two children of their own who did not associate with the children of the village. Even today I cannot understand why in their case this should be, but at that time we never gave it a second thought.
Readers will no doubt form their own opinion of this youth club at the shop, and are entitled to do so. But I myself, now a man of 72 and a man of the world, take upon myself the liberty of speaking for the lads of our village. I admit that we were not conforming strictly to the law. Cards for pennies is gambling. But then public opinion today has changed as regards gambling - nearly everyone dabbles in a game of chance, even if it is just bingo. As I see it, the Willets were, without the slightest doubt, self-appointed wardens of a youth club. The facilities they provided themselves. And there, in their own premises, they entertained and controlled quite a tough gang of boys who, while they’re under their supervision, conducted themselves in such a manner that there was not at any time any incident in the shop or in the village. It is never too late to express appreciation for such services given by this Mum and Dad, and it is just possible that members of the Willet family may hear of these two people’s action, and if they do, I am sure they will be proud to belong to a family of such wonderful people from the past.
One may say that surely there was something going on in the village. There was once a week the odd Bible class but that was of no interest to boys such as us. There was even the Tuesday night ‘Band of Hope’ which when very young I attended. What good was it to me? None. I was at to tender age induced to sign the pledge, but to me at that time it couldn’t possibly mean anything. Lectures on the evil of drink with illustrations of what happens to a drinker’s blood means absolutely nothing when one has evidence all round one of fine old men who had been soaking it all their lives.
There were other interests commented teenage children. One which was popular was the collection of cigarette cards. It was one’s ambition to obtain complete sets. And that there were various ways of obtaining this end. A cigarette packet thrown away by a smoker had and ninety per cent chance of containing the cigarette card.
The next obvious plan was to swap card for card with other collectors. A most interesting way was by playing a game of chance. Two or more boys with their precious cards in their pockets would gather round a post or wall and form a selected point thereon, would in turn place a card flat on the selected point then remove the hand to let the card to fall to the ground. The first player and card fell on or touched one of the cards lying on the ground would collect all the cards that were at that time lying on the ground. This game is not so easy as it appears, for the cards, when released and playing all kinds of tricks and fluttered or skimmed some feet from where released before coming to rest on the ground.
Then of course there was the well-known game of ‘Pitch and toss’. A stick was pushed into the ground and then at a position of about ten yards from the stricken a line was drawn from whence to pitch. Each player in turn would pitch a penny to the stick hoping then it would fall closer to it than anyone else’s. When each player had been pitched a penny, the participants were judge the relative positions of the coins, and would take their turn to toss the coins according to the distance one’s coin was from the stick. So the player whose coin was closest to the stick would be first and would toss all the coins calling as he did so ‘heads’ or ‘tails’, he winning all coins that fell to the ground showing ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ as called. The second player next closest to stick would then toss all coins not won by the first player and so on until all coins had been won.
This game was very popular at Henham when I was a boy. And must not be confused with the great national game of the banker tossing two coins from a baton of wood. When playing this game the banker calls that he will toss either heads or tails. The backers, who can be any number, can bet any sum that he wants. When playing this game hundreds of pounds are sometimes won or lost on one toss of the coins.
However, we must not forget that Jimmy Blackwell in the brewery at Old Mead set himself up as a banker using two coins and he always seemed to do well out of his colleagues.
Lads of the village, returning on demob from the services after the First World War, brought with them games such as nap, brag and misers that they played during the war, and back in their village continued to play them. I actually witnessed a game of nap being played at the bottom of Twelve Acres in the late twenties by lads of the village. It was kitty nap and there were several pounds in the kitty to be won.