Peter Ventures Forth

Author William White (born at Henham 24th August 1903)

One fine sunny morning in July, just before the harvest of 1914, Peter Brand was sitting in his morning seat, but there was something unusual in the air, several men were standing around talking. Listening to the conversation, I learned that Peter had never, in the whole of his eighty-one years, been to Cherry Green, and that on this particular day a treat had been arranged by the men at the farm for Peter to sally forth to this hamlet on the foreign side of Henham. (Editors nb approx 3 miles away).

The outing was to be by a brewer’s dray driven by Jack Byton who lived at Old Mead. I do not know whether there was a licensed house at Cherry Green at that time but no doubt Jack Byton was making a delivery of the beer for harvest to one of the farms on the Green. But there was no doubt of Peter’s destination; it was to visit Cherry Green for the first time. Eventually, the dray arrived drawn by a large bay horse. The polished brasses clinking as the horse threw its head up and down to ward off the flies. The dray drew into the farmyard and halted opposite Old Peter’s seat. Jack Byton climbed down with whip in hand, wearing a cap and strapped around his waist a leather apron. He could have been mistaken for a smithy.

After the usual greetings, the men gathered around to assist Peter into the dray. There were several barrels on the dray loaded longwise, the ends of the barrels facing the line of the road. It was decided that Peter should sit on a barrel with his back resting on the barrel on top wedged between two, one on which he was to sit. Sacks were arranged as a seat so that when Peter had taken up his position he would be facing the right side of the road.

Jack Byton supervised the positioning of his passenger which was a major operation; he held Peter’s stick and after much pushing, shoving and suggested advice Peter was safely aboard and seated in his normal position with hands on top of his stick. On the journey, the dray was to pass two pubs, at one which no doubt Peter would take refreshment as part of his treat. But whether Peter was able to get down from his seat is a question I can’t answer.

At last amid jests from his friends, the dray with Peter aboard began its historical journey. Peter at eighty-one was to make his one and only visit to Cherry Green only about four miles away. One can imagine Old Peter on the journey taking in everything of interest with a casual word here and there to Jack, as the dray slowly rumbled along the dusty country road.

The first part of the journey to the moat at the top of Hall Road was through a grove of elms and hedge-bordered roads. The first thing to catch his eye was a white board nailed to a tree at the bottom of Pimblett’s field about fifty yards before turning the corner at the bottom of the hill. It warned passers-by that the shooting of guns was prohibited. That sign had been nailed to that tree so long that I doubt if anyone knew how it came to be there. However, this board lost its support when the tree on which it was nailed was later cut down.

On passing Sheepcoates Lane on the left, his nose met the aroma of the large dunghill built on the greenswarth on the left of the wide entrance to the lane. On the right the moat brought back memories of moonlit nights during hard winters now long gone when he and lads of the village had skated and cut out long slides on the ice.

Just beyond the moat they pass Pimblett’s large Dutch barn, mainly used for the storage of grain after threshing. Rounding the bend at the top of Sparley Lane and passing Birds Farm on the left, Church End comes into view, the road inclines and bends left to pass on the left a green with a pump, flower-arched gateways of cottages and a wheelwright’s shop bustling with activity. The Cock Inn, with horses in the shafts of carts, feeding from nosebags, their masters refreshing themselves at the inn.

On the right a green spreading to its widest at the top of the slope, bordered by cottages with thatched roofs caged in large gardens. Standing back in a walled churchyard stands the church on the hill.

Peter raising his eyes to view the tower. Memories of the past come flooding back, his boyhood days, his daughter’s marriage and the placing there to rest of his partner who had shared the happiest days of his life. I recall the local belief in the challenge of the village bells. On Sunday mornings at about ten to eleven, the three bells of Widdington Church rang out a challenge from over the woods – ‘˜who beat us three, who beat us three’. Back across the fields of Henham rings out a defiant reply ‘˜we two, we two, we two’. His eyes, leaving the church, fall on the laurel screen of the Parsonage farm, its gate tucked away in a corner. Hidden in the screen he knows is the Wuckass Well. The village post office and stores on the left, stands in the shade of chestnut trees. Beneath them Old Baker White is throwing new-baked loaves, two at a time, to Mr. Ward who catches them and packs them into the delivery cart. On the right he is aware of the clanging of the smithy anvil reverberating as Jack Hayden shapes an iron shoe. Peter’s eyes open wide as he sees the grapevine hanging with bunches of black grapes clinging to the canopy over Julia Snow’s door. Passing The Manse, Chapel End Hall, Crow Street bordered by greens adorned with plantations that stretches away to Crow’s Corner. On the left, the School House with its trimmed-hedged garden. The school, with laurel screened playgrounds and the encroaching laurel – screened vicarage garden catches his eye. Passing down the main street, the dray passes fenced ponds backed by willows, overlooked by thatched lath and plaster cottages. Glancing up a short street on the right, he sees Bonfields where the street connects with Rotten Row.

Passing Lamberts gate on the left, on the right Star Green reaches down to Newmans to meet two ponds on which a score or so of ducks dive for food. At the top of the Green, opposite The Star, stands a lopped tree which provides shade from the hot summer sun. Ponies grazing on the Green are tethered by a hind leg. Standing around are coops used mainly for hens wanting to sit, and scratching around are fowls of varying ages. The road verges are neatly trimmed, two men being employed for this purpose in the village by the local council.

The dray enters the Bell yard and is parked conveniently. A bucket is taken from its position under the rear of the dray and is filled with water from a pump which is one of six in the village to supply the inhabitants. This one being sited in the Bell yard so that it can also be used for horses calling at the inn. This, as Peter had noticed, made it possible to fence’in the old horse pond on the left of the yard.

Bell Pub
Bell Pub in mid 1940s

The horse, being watered and its nosebag being put on, Jack and Peter entered the tap room of the Bell, the door being entered from a porch. On entering they noticed that there were three long trestle tables on three sides of the room with fixed wooden seats around the walls. Opposite to each table was one long form. On the table on the right was placed a shove-halfpenny board with five polished brass discs, a cribbage board, a pack pf cards, two boxes of dominoes with peg boards. The floor being covered with sawdust. Under each trestle table were two spittoons. Over the fireplace was fixed a dart board. On the mantelpiece were two jugs, one filled with clay pipes and the other with spills, in between were two or three sets of darts. High up in the wall opposite the front door is a small square window about six inches square to enable anyone working in the kitchen to see if anyone in the tap room required attention. Jack would call for a quart of mild and bitter and two glasses, two portions of bread and cheese, the lot costing only about tenpence. Having refreshed themselves, the nosebag is taken off the horse and placed on its hook beside the water bucket under the rear of the dray. Jack and Peter continue their journey passing the scrutiny of old Emma and her neighbour leaning against their doorposts.

The dray passes Frank Wright’s shop and on the right a row of cottages standing well back on the left, to arrive at Woodend Green where a flock of geese are foraging for food. There are also several ponies grazing there, the property of Billy Hayden the horse dealer. For some reason his ponies are not tethered.

Passing Judd’s shop, the Wear Pond, and the building yard, the dray proceeds along Spring Lane, passing the village allotments on the right, crossing the railway and so down to the Wash which was once a ford. Passing bushes of dog rose spreading across the greenswarth on the right and the stump, lopped oak trees on the left. Before turning the sharp left into Spring Gate Farm Peter, looking up, is surprised to see a large branch of an elm supporting high above the road a second tree growing from a forked branch. The roots of the suspended tree spreading out beneath the elm branch as if it had been plucked from the earth and placed there to survive off the fresh air and obviously making a good job of it. I doubt whether Peter had ever seen anything like it during his lifetime.

Passing Spring Gate Farm and passing along thickly wooded and tree-ed hedgerows on either side, rounding a bend in the road, turns sharply where Deviots Lane links the road with Chickney Church. Crossing the railway a second time the road turns right and the dray rumbles on to Lovecoates Farm where it turns right to cross the railway a third time. The dray passing down Chickney Lane in the direction of Broxted passing a farm on the left to arrive at a point where the lane crosses a valley descending steeply into the valley and then faced by having to negotiate the most difficult long steep hill for miles around.

When safely over the brow of the hill, the dray turns sharply left in to a lane leading to Cherry Green a quarter of a mile further on. Peter arriving at Cherry Green for his first time is surprised to find that, excepting the lane on which the dray had entered the Green, the Green is enclosed. He finds that there are three farms on the Green, one at each end and a third reached by a track leading from the Green on the left. Most of the cottages he sees there border the right of the Green. So Peter has arrived at journey’s end. His only visit in his eighty’one years. Was it worth it? Peter’s impression of Cherry Green we’ll never know.

Peter’s most nostalgic view on the round trip would be on the return journey when arriving at the top of the hill on Hall Road overlooking the Cam Valley. There before him he would see in late July that wide expanse of ripe waving corn sweeping across his front like an ocean of gold, dancing up the slope of Brayshott to leap over the brow of the hill. That view alone would have made his journey worthwhile.