John King Memories

William and Robert King

We are very grateful to John King of Henham Road for sharing some of his childhood memories in Henham. John is a sprightly 91 years and has a sharp and clear memory of that distant childhood. He was the third son of Walter. He served in Egypt for two years after World War II. His two elder brothers William and Robert (photograph) both served in the airforce, both returned safely, however, one via a Prisoner of War camp, after his aircraft was shot down over Germany. John also had an older sister May.

John’s birth in 1927 was still witnessing the national swing from an agricultural to an industrial society. Some other significant social changes were also happening. This period was also experiencing the auctions of many large estates, much of the nation’s inherited wealth frittered away and newly created wealth decline. Inevitable bankruptcy forced the wasteful owners to confront their or previous generations stupidity. Many domestic staff and agricultural workers and gardeners lost their jobs. The mansions were either sold to the nouveau riche or allowed to decay. Women would have to wait yet another year until they ALL were able to vote. More details of John’s grandparents

The KING Family Homes

The King family variously lived at Snow Cottage (John’s two brothers were born here), then Elsmere (Walter had building work by A. H. Wright of Henham in 1925) and then Mill Cottage, which Walter purchased a parcel of land, which was part of Mill Farm in July 1927 for £45. John lived at Elsmere and Hill Top (which was burned down, opposite to the Mill where the Newlands family lived). While the King family were in The Bungalow, Walter requested planning permission for drinking water in 1920 and later electricity was connected in 1942.

Travel in Henham as a Child – as an annual treat, there was a Sunday School outing to Saffron Walden once a year in a little bus.

Village Transport – John variously recalls a pony and trap, a horse-drawn cart, a bus or a walk and a pony ride to Thaxted and back.

Travel to other Villages – John doesn’t recall villagers travelling much beyond the village. Because his family were close to Henham Halt railway station in Mill Road, he and his mother could easily get the ‘Gin and Toffee’ train to Elsenham where they could change trains for Bishops Stortford for shopping. Travelling to local villages and mixing socially beyond Henham appears to have been a rare occurrence.

Radio – St Marys Church didn’t get mains electricity until 1946. John recalls Vic Dixon of Elsenham would visit weekly to charge radio accumulator (now known as a capacitor that stores electrical energy, then typically used in rechargeable batteries) for 6 pence (21/2 p in today’s money). You needed an earthing rod for safety so you would have the earthing rod outside the house where it would be plunged into the ground. Earthing electrodes are specifically designed and installed to improve a systems earthing. These earth electrodes must ideally penetrate into the moisture level below the ground level to reduce resistance. If the reception was poor, John’s father would pour water into the ground down the hole of the rod.

Toys – John recalls buying a bike from Gamages, the famous London store.

Clothes – These were a mix of new, second-hand, or made by the family.

Visiting Tradesmen to the Village – There weren’t any. Not even the seasonal blade sharpener, John’s father did his own as John does today.

Farm/Harvest Jobs – John recalls having to collect chicken eggs as a child in Henham. [In Warwickshire in 1968-69, an average 10-year old was spending one hour per day during the week and three and a half hours on a Saturday doing farm work].

School leaving age changes

1893 raised to 11 yrs old
1899 raised to 12 yrs old
1917 at least 8 hours a week children must attend continuation classes up to the age of 18.
1921 raised to 14 yrs old
1947 raised to 15 yrs old

John recalls receiving free milk at school, [introduced in the 1930s], the milk monitor issuing the free milk in cartons, the monitors needed to open the milk, especially for the young children, he wonders how many of the monitors put their fingers in before delivering them to the class.

Evidence of WWII shortage of men after the war that in 1947 temporary provision for children to miss school to help with harvesting the potato crop.

Village Social Events – not much evidence of Christmas communal events. Most families appear to have stayed indoors, save for going to church.

Health – Most families could not afford medical care until 1895. In 1892, Bartle John Laurie Frere a local landowner and the owner of Twyford House (see Thorley) – became aware of a particular case, whereby a person who was ill was unable to be cared for by necessary equipment in the town and had to travel to Cambridge for medical care, he died before arriving. This incident inspired Frere to want to build a hospital for the people of Bishop’s Stortford, but he died the following year before anything could be started. His son, Laurie, and daughter, Margaret, then took up the cause and after a public meeting in the Great Hall at South Street, a resolution was passed to build a hospital for the town, funded by voluntary donations. This was built at the junction of Rye Street and Lindsey Street.

Sir Walter Gilbey had given land and the cost of construction was met by Mrs Frere and her family. The resulting two-storey building, with 9 beds and an operating room furnished was opened on 26 January 1895 by the Bishop of St Albans, and named the Frere Memorial Hospital or Bishops Stortford Cottage Hospital. Nine days later the first patient was admitted, followed by a further 31 patients that same year. On the hill dominating the corner of Rye Street and Lindsey Road stands a large apartments complex called Cedar Court, a conversion of the original building that was Rye Street Hospital.

John does remember a doctor arriving in Henham in a horse and trap. This was superseded by Doctor Platt coming to Henham on a Friday in his car to the village hall.

Wartime Memories WWII – John remembers some unexploded bombs dropping in Great Hide Common on the western side of Mill Lane and also on the Gin and Toffee railway line close to his home at Hill Top, Mill Road. One bomb caused a clod of earth to penetrate the house roof thru the home roof and land on a table. He remembers being in the chicken shed when one of the bomb raids happened, the raid left two unexploded bombs which were dug up by hand and moved to a hole, where they were both detonated.

Friends and Classmates– In Henham school John sat next to Michael Turner (Jill Turner’s brother). Classmates were Georgie Neville, Gordon Collett, Hazel Thorne, Tony Thorne, Daphne Thorne, Eileen Thorne and Iris Thorne. He remembers being told one day that a steam train would be shunting at Elsenham, his friend and he sat on the bridge waiting for the train, they then cycled to the station after it passed and remembers a man in a bowler hat being on the footplate, later he identified this was an inspector. He and his friend were allowed to stand on the footplate.

Employment – There was no career guidance from school. After leaving school John’s first job at 14 years of age was at Pledgdon Farm. He soon moved on to work at Sainsburys in Stortford and cycled there, up Chapel Hill, and back to Henham every day. After that, aged 18 years, he was enlisted into the army where he served in Egypt and Palestine. He joined his father on the railway becoming a fireman and then a driver. His last day of service in 1990 was on train 34027.