Aldbourne Heritage Centre

AB: We moved here from London in 1937 and this was due to my father’s illness. But ,surprisingly enough, at the age of eight, I wasn’t aware that my mother was an Aldbourne woman; she was a Brind, a family of 14, and she had gone to London to work from the drapers named Harrison at Ramsbury. So she’d gone to London when she was 18 and, obviously, married my father and we were all born in London; but my sisters and brother used to come down here for their holidays to see Grandma and Granddad, but they had died when I was born.  I was the youngest of the family and consequently we used to come and stay, but we used to stay with my cousin in Baydon and later, when my sister married an Aldbourne person, we used to come and stay with her. So although we stayed in Aldbourne, and I was very aware of Aldbourne, I had no idea that my mother was an Aldbourne woman, so consequently it was quite a surprise. We weren’t consulted ever when we were children as to what was going to happen, we were told and so it was no surprise to me that we actually came to Aldbourne and my mother, or my parents, bought Stone Cottage in Lottage Road, which had just been converted from an old farm house, for £200, which was quite surprising.  We moved on June 22nd and I suppose I must have started school quite soon after, I don’t remember there being a gap, and just two weeks later my father died. So, because of that, we were sort of thrown instantly into the village because my mother, well, the neighbours responded to my mother having lost her husband and so she was, kind of, related once again to all the people she had been at school with; so I think that made the transition for me very much easier.

Q: I should imagine for her it was a bit like coming home?

AB: Oh exactly; and she had not ever ‘not come home’. So that was my initiation into Aldbourne and it really was magic.  When my father died nobody made a great fuss and I was sent to neighbours; in fact Mrs Slade,  had been at school with my mother so I actually went and stayed with her daughter, who lived just a few doors away and shared the bed with the youngest child, who was about six, I was eight.  Didn’t know anyone, but that’s the way it happened, you just were sort of thrown into this really, but I have always been very grateful that I was left out.   My sisters and brother came home, and the funeral took place, and after it was all over I went back home again; so to a small child it was the right thing to do I think.

Q: And how old were you?

AB: Eight. Anyway Aldbourne was magic to me because there was the freedom of the countryside; it was all free and easy.   All the doors were open to everybody.   It was just very friendly, you didn’t stand on ceremony or anything; it was always there.   One of the problems, of course, was there was an el-san lavatory, which never smelt very nice; it was mostly very strong disinfectant and something I wasn’t particularly used too.   Also we had the water pump outside, so all the water had to be pumped and taken indoors.   I think the biggest shock was to go to school and I can’t quite remember exactly what happened, whether I was taken or if I just walked there and went; but it was a shock because I had previously been to a very modern new school, and so to go to this old building which had dark green curtains dividing the schoolroom; it was one big room so it was divided into two and the infants was one side, and the next step up was Mrs Moulding, who was a very nice person.  Very nice teacher and I was lucky to go in there first, I think.  Miss Hawksworth was infant teacher, very strict, smacked everybody and doled out to me emulsion,  cod liver oil emulsion which was absolutely appalling stuff; but I suppose I was a ‘pale townie’ and it was all diabolical, but she did give us fruit sweets afterwards.   There were several of us who went; I think we must have been given that by the school doctor or something, but I can’t really remember.   It was one of the shocks of the school, being given stuff you didn’t like.

Q: And this school is what we now know as the Old School Room, next to the new school. Between the school and the Church?

AB: That was where I was, but we also had the other school you see; then we went into the other school that was pulled down. We just had one cylindrical stove in the middle of the room and that heated, or was supposed to heat and quite often smoked, so you’d get a smoky atmosphere as well.  Anyway that wasn’t too difficult, but it was surprising that we knitted vests for orphans in Miss Hawksworth’s class, you know, went in for needlework, knitting whatever it was called for a lesson, and we knitted these vests which made your hands all greasy because it was full of lanolin and it was untreated wool; and I always felt very sorry for these poor orphans who had to wear the vests.   I mean, we knitted them and I mean, although we were only eight, or seven, eight, nine, we actually finished these things, and I do remember, too, that we sewed a dress which I actually wore.   These dresses were cut out, they were sleeveless and sort of wrap over, with binding all round the edge; so they were cut out in one piece, and the binding went all round from one hem over the neckline and down the side to the other hem. And this was with bias binding which we actually sewed on, so that was quite a feat for a child of that age and of course we knitted.  Children had quite good ability. As I say that was quite a real shock and the lavatories at school were even a bigger shock than the elsan.  The vicar came daily, because it was a Church of England school; we had about an hour’s scripture every morning, which included the Creed, and it took an hour every morning and the lesson after it immediately was arithmetic and, although I hated it, I have never been any good at it.   But I was shocked with the punishment, because I had never in my family ever had any punishment, physical punishment and certainly never at school.   Because if there was ever any punishment that was done, it was always done in the Headmaster or Headmistress’ office, so we actually didn’t ever see anybody punished and at home we never had either.   If there was any punishment it was done in a different way.   I think my mother said the biggest punishment she could give me was to sit me on a chair and make me sit still.  So I had never seen physical punishment.  But to see people have the cane, which happened often, was very frightening.

Q: So it actually upset you, rather than feel indignant?

AB: Oh yes very much so, you used to be in fear and trembling that you might get as well, and you didn’t quite know; I mean they used to get canes for talking or whatever. The boys especially, and Mr. Jackson was the Headmaster and when we went up to the junior school, the big school, the curtain was in between so you couldn’t not hear anything of it, because the curtains didn’t shut out anything; and it was not nice, so that part of it was not good.  But the rest of it, the children to play with, and playing in the playground, was a revelation really, because, there again, it was free and easy, and I do think the children in the country were tougher and so the games were a bit…  I mean we used to play out in the road every evening during the summer, and all the children from Lottage Road, which was where Stone Cottage was, played together.   Everybody sort of congregated and we played ierpi  and skipping of course; we all skipped, with one long rope across the road and individually.  Ball games up somebody’s roof.  But I mean, it was accepted, everybody came out of their doors and sat outside on a nice evening, I mean people were very much more relaxed.   So all that was good.  So that was I think the initiation to the village.

As far as entertainment was concerned, I suppose it’s odd to think the Chapel was entertaining, but my mother was a Methodist, as her father had been, and we went to the Chapel in West Street which is no more.   And we went to Sunday School in the morning and in the afternoon, and then we went to Chapel in the morning after Sunday School and we went to Chapel at night, so that was entertainment for me really.   And then we took part in the Sunday School Anniversary, which was Whit Sunday, or the week before Whit Sunday.   I think the other Chapel in Lottage Road was actually on Whit Sunday, their Anniversary.  We practised all the music that was bought specially for the occasion and Mr. Tommy Barnes conducted us.   It was quite a serious thing.

Q: It sounds as though it was a big deal?

AB: On yes, yes. And the children all learnt a piece of verse poetry or whatever, and it was called a pleasant Sunday afternoon when all the children got up and took their turn in reciting, and people came from miles to come back to the Sunday School Anniversary.  So that was quite a thing.

Q: How many children would be taking part?

AB: 30. Oh yes at both Chapels.   But the Church was quite separate and they didn’t have anything as entertaining as that.  Because you belonged to the Chapel you also took part in the Band of Hope, something I had not heard of before.  But there again, we just went there and sang hymns and we were spoken to, I suppose, and we also signed The Pledge, which I have always thought was not quite right to do for children of that age, because they didn’t know what drinking was about.  The Salvation Army came every once in a while and that always took my fancy, because part of our entertainment at home was to sing round the piano, and everyone took their turn there; so it was no problem to me to join in with The Salvation Army.  And I think I was the only child that did because people thought that was not the done thing.

Camp meeting was something that took place once a year and it was an open air service, I don’t ever remember the weather being bad.   Everyone congregated in a field which was the field up above the Memorial Hall at the time; so everyone sort of sat out and relaxed, it was a kind of a relaxed service.   And then Feast, the meeting preceded Feast.  The Feast is held in Aldbourne, as you probably know, on the first Monday after the 22nd July and was originally the Feast of Mary Magdalene, so it had gone on for many years; but, I mean, Feast was quite a thing everyone really enjoyed; and there again people came for miles to come back to Aldbourne for Feast, you know, family gatherings.

Q: I’ve heard tell that people would paint their houses? That was the time of the year for everything to be made spick and span.

AB: Well possibly, I don’t remember that actually happening. I only know that all the children congregated about 6 o’clock outside Miss Fosters, which was where the car park is now at Ivy House, and she would give us all a free ride; so the children made sure they were there at 6 o’clock for their free ride.   I mean the pennies used to last us all the evening, it was just good fun and as there was nothing else in the village, it was looked forward too.   Then there was Carnival and that first year I was here I was invited by Stella Barnes, who must have been about 16 years older, and she asked me if I would like to go on the Carnival lorry. This was something I had never heard of before, and the lorry was in aid of the Nursing Association, which was quite a prevalent thing around about and is still in existence actually.   We were part of a circus and I had this lovely mauve tutu and was a ballerina on a rocking horse; doesn’t sound very exciting now, but it was then.

Employment; I mean it was mostly an agricultural area so people were employed locally.  Basically women took in lodgers and my mother was one, having been widowed, which was quite a shock and I know the widows pension was 15s, actually is was 10s and 5s for a child so that was my mother’s total income. So she took in a lodger for some years and, like a lot of women in the village, she took in the stable lads; and they couldn’t have made very much out of it, but it sort of supplemented the family income and lots of stable lads were included in the home and the family and several of them married the local girls.

Q: This is stables that were in Aldbourne?

AB: Yes, up at High Town.

Q: Was there just the one stable or were there others? Because I’ve heard people talk about them, but never really understood where they were?

AB: No, the stables were run by the Major Powell’sand they were the only stables in the village; but they were well known stables and I suppose they also had some connections with Lambourn.   Not run in the same way, I mean, Lambourn is the place you expect horses to be, but it was part of village life.

Q: Well, it was so right in the centre, in the area opposite where the Coop is.

AB: Yes, well no; it wasn’t actually in there, there was an entrance from The Green and an entrance from Lottage Road so where The Paddocks is now was all part of the stables.

Q: So it was a big enterprise?

AB: Well it probably was then, but I wouldn’t have thought it was regarded as very big. Farming of course was the area, my eldest sister had married and lived at Preston, and they worked for the Watts on the farm there, that was a lovely area to live.   My sister lived next door to her mother in law, and they kept pigs and bee hives and Nanny Mildenhall actually looked after all the eggs and the baby chicks, and she reared guinea fowl and pheasants and partridge, they were little balls of fluff, and she used to take me round looking for the eggs and we used to go into the barn and all round the hedge rows.   She knew where all the nests were and its something that children don’t do today, they miss so much.  That was were I really liked to go, and at eight years old you see it was safe enough for me to ride a fairy cycle down there on my own, didn’t need to be taken.   I mean we could amble and be all round the village, you didn’t have to tell anyone where you were going.  It was freedom, so there again I used to amble up to Hales farm at Baydon Hill  and Mrs Hale, she used to milk as well, the whole family did, they used to milk in the afternoons and she weaned the calves and I would help her do that, in a fashion, I suppose.   You put your finders in a bucket of milk and the calves would suck your fingers, and consequently that was the way they were weaned, but the calves were so sweet it was something different from what I had ever done before.   And then Mrs Hale had a contraption which was the bottom of a pram, so there was this thing on wheels, and a churn of milk was put on and tied on to the contraption and to her and she wheeled from the top of Baydon Hill, where the farm was, all the way down Baydon to the middle of Baydon Hill where her house was, and the dairy was, where she did the separating.   The milk was put into a big churning thing which separated the milk from the cream.  So you would have these lovely cartons of thick, thick cream; cream that you don’t see today and the separated milk was put into bottles, and I always used to take one of those home and actually that was 1p a quart, an old penny a quart.  So there again, lots of people had that to make puddings and things and I suppose, because it was cheap, they probably drank a lot too.   The milk was just wonderful.  So I enjoyed doing that; but how Mrs Hale, who was about 5’1” or 2”, a very slight woman, hard working, how she held this churn of milk back to take down the hill I can’t imagine.   She was just an amazing woman, perhaps someone will add a little bit more about her. A very special woman.

Transport of course, I mean we had very little transport; I think there were two buses to Swindon a day.   One a 10.00 o’clock and one at 3.00 o’clock in the afternoon I think.

Q: Did people go to Swindon often?

AB: No, but, I mean, I suppose they went more often than they do by bus. I mean you wouldn’t have so many going by bus now, but of course people went in once a week, although we had enough shops here.

Q: You would only have to go there for something special, most of your requirements were met here in the village?

AB: Oh yes, because there were five good grocer shops. During the summer holiday we would have one day out – a special day to go shopping.   We went on the 10.00 o’clock bus and we didn’t come back until, I think it was 7.00 o’clock, so you went shopping first and then you went to the cinema.  There were, I think, about five cinemas in Swindon.   But that was something special, didn’t have holiday, but you didn’t need them, did you, we had everything we wanted here.   Just incredible to think, it was all simple and of course when the weather was nice, we went for picnics and walks, took bottles of lemonade.  Children were free to go wherever they wanted, so we would wander over the common; and in fact a girl and I took Neilson Pearse, when he was about four, over the common for a walk and saw a snake, because there were adders over there as it was very wooded, and because we’d seen this snake, which slithered very harmlessly away from us, we ran all the way home. And when poor Neil took his boots off, his mother was very cross with us because his feet were covered in blisters where his socks had gone to sleep in his wellies. We ran because we were afraid of the snakes; I am still afraid of snakes.  We used to take picnics up to Four Barrows and play up there and play ‘Green Man Arise and I irky on the third barrow because it had a hole in it and you could hide quite well in there.  We would take our dinner and our tea.   We ate our dinner before time and so were back at tea time cause we’d run out of food.  You always knew the time to be home because your tummy told you.   Of course it never rained, we only remembered to good days.

I took the scholarship exam and passed that and started at the Grammar school in 1939.   The war was declared on a Sunday, 3rd September and I don’t know why my family would be home, but my sister was at home with her children and my brother in law belonged to the War Reserve, or something like that. Every year he went away with, it wasn’t the Territorial Army, but with the army reserves; so consequently, because he was in the army reserve, he was in France on the 1st September before war broke out.   So that was quite surprising really, so I know that was why Margaret was home and her three children.   But it seems that everybody else was there as well.  My brother was in the regular Air Force so he wasn’t there.  I can remember actually hearing the war declared and everybody cried, but as a small child you don’t realise how serious it is.

Q: I wonder if that’s why they were there because the grown-ups knew something was brewing?

TB: Yes that’s right, but I couldn’t understand why everybody was so upset. And then we started at the Grammar School and we went to Marlborough and we boarded there for the week.  We were taken in by Barnes’ carrier on a Monday morning and they fetched us again on Friday afternoon, so we were home for the weekend, but we were away all week in Marlborough.  Along London Road there was a large house called Mayfield and we lodged there and we were very well looked after and it gave us a very independent spirit.

Q: Were there many of you from Aldbourne there?

TB: Yes, there were about 12 of us and there were a few from other areas like Bedwyn, about 16 of us altogether. We were very close, all of us that went there, and we still are. That was something different.   In the meantime everything sort of happened, the troops came to Aldbourne.   First of all the Worcesters; I don’t quite know where they were stationed apart from Lottage Road.   The Harrison’s had a poultry farm, just below the Foundry and they were actually stationed in those chicken huts, which people would probably never believe.    They were round the village but, because I was only 11, you don’t take much notice; but I know these men paraded every morning with broomsticks because there were no rifles, and so they paraded and marched up and down the road.   Our house was commandeered by the Army as a headquarters, I don’t know why, so we moved to another house, but later my brother was to come out of the Army on special duties and was in London.   My sister went to stay with him and my mother looked after the children, so we moved up to what is now called Pettywell, next to Palmers the Grocers and Bakers.  So we spent all the war years there.

Q: How many children?

AB: Myself, my niece, who was only six months younger than me. So there were two nieces and a nephew and then my sister in law came, with her little boy.  Then we had an evacuee and then, at weekends, we all went into one room,  I’m not quite sure how it happened, but a soldier’s wife would come and  stay for the weekend so that she could see her husband.   I don’t quite know how that evolved.

Q: Quite a houseful then?

AB: Oh very much.

Q: And is the stable lad still there?

AB: No, no, I mean the lodger was still with us. The lodger was actually Mr. Alsop who owned Aldbourne Engineering.   He was with us all through the war.   But my mother had to get 13 buckets of water from the well outside to start the washing on a Monday morning, having got the copper ready the day before with all the paper and wood that was required; and then she would wash all day Monday in the outhouse.   I mean she worked so hard and we had lots of fun.

Q: An endless round of cooking.

AB: Oh absolutely, on a black lead grate, I mean she produced the most wonderful pastry and used to make a sort of comfort fund which they used to raise money for and she would make sausage rolls. Well sausage meat was I think off the ration, but it wasn’t plentiful, so that was augmented with herbs and breadcrumbs and she used to make the most wonderful ruff puff pastry, and so they were made into sausage rolls to be sold.  She used to turn out the most wonderful meals and pastry.   You had to get the oven hot first of all, so that meant getting the wood and the coal in all ready before you actually started cooking, so that the oven was really hot for the pastry and the things that needed cooking with that.   And then as the oven got cooler, you made cakes and whatever and finished up always putting a rice pudding in to make the last of the heat.  It was just amazing the things.   I can’t recall all the things that happened, but if there were troops going by, as they often did, they’d probably march by or were on manoeuvres or something and they finished up outside the house; then my mother would find a great big jug and we made a jug of tea, poured it out  and put it through the window for the troops outside.  They would have been from away, rather than the troops in the village.

My sisters played the piano and we would have regular sing songs with the troops that came in, and the dances were in the Memorial Hall which was just above us and my sisters would meet them.   And everybody came home, my mother always insisted  that we took people home; very wise because she know exactly who we were talking to and, I mean, they were always extremely well behaved and pleasant people.

Q: Listening to you, my mother always said her recollection of the village she came from, apart from the awfulness of the war, it was actually the most exciting thing that ever happened. There was all this stimulus and activity and the Americans that came and the Poles they were always impeccably polite and wonderfully respectful; and it made for a very nice atmosphere, which somehow needs to be divorced from the horribleness that was causing it.

AB: Absolutely and you see, because we lived in the country, food was available; so that wasn’t difficult and to we girls, who were growing up, it kind of evolved; and it wasn’t until the Americans came that we were actually old enough to go to the dances, you see, so although we had Canadian soldiers here and my sister worked down at the canteen, so there again we met them through there, and they were all so friendly and everybody talked to everyone; so consequently you know a lot by sight and to chat to and we had the British Airborne as well.  So to the young people, and the boys it was exciting, and the war didn’t touch us except on one evening, when June and I were going through The Square, and we must have been about 12, and it was dark; but we had to be in by 7.30 so there again, although it was the black out, it wasn’t a problem;  you just got used to these things and as we were going through The Square, three bombs dropped and we thought the war had come to Aldbourne; we ran into the butchers house in The Square, who we didn’t really know very well, but nobody asked us why we were there. We didn’t know where the bombs had dropped, except they were quite loud; and they had in fact dropped on the Ogbourne Road at Westleaze, where Hugh Dalton, lived, but that was quite by chance it was his house.  I mean, although he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer later on, the pilot was just jettisoning the bombs.  So we ran into the butcher’s house and sat on the settee and listened to what everybody  was saying, then eventually we got tired and we went home then.   To us it was an event.    There was a searchlight battery here and the men were in huts at the top of the road. This was always maintained by the British soldiers, so there were always British soldiers here.     It was really an event when the Americans came and they were sort of hand picked men; they were so young, we would have been 14 or 15 and, to us, it was really like a youth club because they were all very young.   They were very well trained men; they were extremely respectful.   Never ever took any food, but of course they brought some very often when they visited.   They would come into our house and write letters and chat  and laugh and go to dances, because we were allowed to go to the dances then.   Then there were troops at Membury who used to come down to the dances as well.   To growing girls it was such fun.   You can’t imagine now, there was one of them who was only 16 and he had obviously given false information, but he was kind of like a mascot.   So lots of them were 18, 20 hardly any more than that.   Never been away from home before and they loved my mother and made a great deal of fuss of her because it was like their mum really.

My sister was married during the war, she was home on leave; she was actually engaged to someone, a Scotsman, but when she came home she met Reg, who was also home on leave; but she had known him in Aldbourne before and, in that week, they decided they would get married; so they had to get a special licence, my mother found ham and salad and my sister decided she would have three bridesmaids.   I wore a completely unsuitable dress that I’d been given money to go into Swindon to get this dress in a rush and been told to get something I could wear another time.   The sweet peas were around, it was July 17th that she was married, and my mother produced food, and quite a party in the Memorial Hall.   I don’t think there was any cake, but I don’t think anybody minded.   The whole thing was like Fred Carno’s army really, because only having seven day to prepare a wedding and to think everything was rationed, so I mean that was quite an event as well.   And my sister, on the day that her husband went back, had mumps which was considered comical; he went back and that was the end of that wedding.

The war went on and then I went back to London to work, so that was ’44; but I used to visit my sisters here.  Can you imagine that the fare on the railway was 11s 10d, from Hungerford to Paddington.

Q: How would you get from Hungerford to here, did you walk?

AB: No you’d go on the bus or the carrier. So there again I met up with Cyril again, he’d just been demobbed from the Army in 1948, and we got married in 1951.

Q: Was he local?

AB: On yes, yes, local; and we were lucky enough to be allocated a new house, a three bed-roomed house and I think he was earning about £4.50 then, locally at Barnes’ and I think our rent was £1.69 a week. Because we married in March and the new tax year started in April, we had a tax rebate and that was enough to buy our curtains.  We paid £26 for a new bedroom suite.   I can’t remember how much the dining room suite was.

Q: And this would be utility stuff?

AB: Oh yes, very much utility.

Q: Was there not a list that you were allowed to buy?

AB: No I don’t think so. It didn’t seem to be a problem.   We would only have lino and rugs and we bought the lino.   All the other things were given to us.   It was just everybody else’s cast-off’s and that was the way you started.  It wasn’t all laid out like it is today.   And that’s how we started married life.  Our eldest daughter was born in 1953.