Aldbourne Heritage Centre

Q: Meg, how long have you lived in the village?
MD: I was born at The Crown Hotel, Aldbourne in 1940 and my grandmother was the licensee, having taken over from my great grandfather, her father-in-law. My father was travelling head lad at Powell’s Racing Stables and we lived in Aldbourne until 1954 when we moved out. One of my earliest memories is seeing American soldiers in one of the rooms downstairs at The Crown. They were billeted there. I remember aeroplanes going over and we went through to the passage in the centre of the pub and sheltered under the coat rack. I went to Miss Aldridge’s Pre-School at the age of 4 – the house at the top of Back Lane. She had what we called a two-holer toilet at the bottom of the garden. One day I just walked out and went home. My mum said I could go back on my scooter. I had a scooter which you scooted along with one foot and so she took me back anyway on this scooter. No fuss, no recriminations, just back to school. My mother used to cook in a cupboard in an upstairs room at The Crown during the War. I can remember seeing her cooking there when the soldiers were in the downstairs area, the American soldiers. Another day I remember walking with Dad up Peaks. I would only be about 4 then. We would go beyond Grasshills, over Peaks and then we walked up the side of Captain Powell’s gallops, as far as Baydon Road which is now adjacent to the M4 and walked back again from there. So, I was only young but it was a long way. I remember my fifth birthday quite well because it was towards the end of the War and my mum said I could invite some friends. There was some concern when children just kept arriving and I’d invited nearly all the children in the village. We had jelly and blancmange and somehow it just kept coming and everyone had some. My first bike was a red bike with fixed wheel. You don’t have them now, but only if you stopped pedalling would it stop and I practised riding this bike leaning against the passage wall in The Crown. One day I was riding in The Square and I’d got my dungarees. I had some black dungarees which were made from black-out material and they got caught in the chain and I collapsed in The Square and Ted Westall had to free me before I could get off. In the late 40s my dad took over the licence of The Crown and he trained racehorses in The Crown yard at the side and pulled pints at the front. As a child I can remember walking along behind the bar looking for mixer bottles that hadn’t been emptied, lemonade and ginger ale, etc and we were allowed to finish what hadn’t been poured. The Crown had a walled garden opposite at the bottom of the road leading towards the Green and the church. They used to take the horse manure from the stables and created a muck heap behind the wall facing the Square and they used to grow marrows and we used to take very big marrows which would grow in this muck heap and take them up to Church for Harvest festival. Dad bought two piglets, they were black and white and they used to climb up on top of the muck heap and look over the wall at the old men who used to sit on the seat against the wall. I can remember VE celebrations and preparing for them in the field up above the Memorial Hall and I watched from an upstairs window of The Crown. My sister and I went away to school when I was 6 and she was 4 but we stayed less than a year because we weren’t very well while we were there and I don’t think the environment, it was in London in a convent, I don’t think the environment and perhaps the food were very good, they just didn’t suit us very well. I remember my Mum gave us some lemons when she left us and I think citrus fruit was in very poor supply then and she thought that would be very good for us to have. Just after we came back we had the bad winter of 1947 and I can remember walking through deep snow to get to school after which the snow melted and we had floods. There was deep water in The Square from the pond right up to the Crown and I remember the room, that was level with the road, which we called the scullery, was flooded and we had to evacuate furniture and equipment that we kept into the kitchen which was at the back and higher up. Leisure activities – I can remember as a child we had dance, tap and ballet classes in what we called the band room, the old band room which was at the bottom of Marlborough Road and I had piano lessons with Mrs Gilligan who is Terry Gilligan’s grandmother and I used to practice singing with her when we had a concert in the village hall.
Q: Is that where Audrey now lives?
MD: Yes. I think Audrey lived next door to Mrs Gilligan so below her because they were there at that time.
Q: Because there are big black doors, aren’t there, next door to her, the other side of her
MD: Yes, I think probably, anyway they lived next door to each other and also we had Brownies. We had Miss Williams and the Misses Margaret and Betty Gentry as Brownie Leaders. We learned knots and did tracking. I was a Sprite I remember and we had Brownies at the Church outings as well. We went to Burnham on Sea, Cheddar Gorge and other outings. I think sometimes we used to go on a coach and have a day out on the sands, lovely. Then I can remember we used to play ball by bouncing the ball against the garage doors of Barretts/Tanners because Mrs. Tanner lived there with her father. The garage doors were in the Square behind the shop. The shop was on the corner between this Square, the Crown Square, and then there was a square on the other side and there was the garage doors and we used to bounce the ball there for hours and hours and they would have petrol pumps there then. I also remember collecting frogs spawn in the pond and putting it in a glass jar to hatch out into tadpoles. We used to go along the brook with our Wellingtons, of course you could, from the Pond way along under the road and right along down the Turnpike as it was, South Street it is now, isn’t it?
Q: It used to be called the Turnpike, did it?
MD: Yes – down that way. We also used to play a game called ‘I Spy’ where we looked in the newsagents sweet shop window, which was right opposite the Crown and somebody would say ‘I spy’ and then we’d run from the shop to the Crown and back to announce our guess of what it was and one day I ran back and hit the plate glass window with such force that I broke it and cut my wrist. My gran took me up to Dr Varvill’s house which was in Castle Street and he stitched it.
Q: I see you’ve got the stitch now.
MD: The scar, yes.
I . In Castle Street, I thought Varvill’s was actually in South Street.
MD: He had a medical practice there but his house was actually up Castle Street so it wouldn’t have been the time for him to be in the surgery so my gran, with blood pouring out …. I can remember going cycling with my friend Maura and we used, after school, to ride out to Foxhill, round to Liddington then back up West Street so that was quite a long way but nobody bothered about where we were when we were doing this, nobody worried about us. In those days, I can’t remember any sorts of crime. I used to have riding lessons up at Lambourn Woodlands which I cycled or walked up the hills after school which was quite a long way and then afterwards, Noel the instructor would wait for Ted Westall to cycle by after he’d finished work and he’d ride back with me; that was all down hill coming back. I used to go riding for days with a pony I had later on with Andrea Barrett and Phillipa Shea – they both had ponies and we used to go riding and go out for the day and take sandwiches and not come back ‘til dusk. I remember standing outside the bandroom at the bottom of Marlborough Road listening to the Band practising and I’ve never lost my love of brass band music. It’s really close to me, that is. I’ll talk about school days now. After going to the pre-school, I went to primary school at the age of 5 and we went up the steps at the side of the main school to the big room at the back. And when I left, we’ve still got that school room there now, there was a large donkey stove in the middle of the room and kept alight during the winter and then at 7 or 8 we went into the main schoolroom which was down on road level, the juniors. It was a big room, divided in the middle with a curtain for two classes, a class at the front and a class at the back
Q: I expect you had to be very quiet, very well behaved?
MD: I think in those days we didn’t dare to be anything else. We learned to knit there and to sew. My friend Maura and I hated milk and we’d have to sit with 1/3 pint of milk throughout the break time and we couldn’t go out to play until we’d finished this milk. The playground had all trees round the far end and a grassy bank at the side where we did hand stands and we had sports day up there as well. I think the vicarage is now built on there, probably. Yes, behind there probably.
Q: Because the playground is behind isn’t it and yes, then there’s the vicarage and the field is beyond that, Brown’s field.
MD: On Sundays, we went to Sunday school and I’ve never forgotten the hymns and the stories that I learned at Sunday school.
Q: Can you remember who took Sunday school?
MD: Mmn, I can’t remember but the vicar at the time was Reverend Gilding. I remember after Sunday School once, Maura and I, we’d been having this talk about who and when we were going to get married in years to come and we went and asked him, “Reverend Gilding, will you marry us?” , he laughed; and what we meant was would he take the service. In 1951 I went to Marlborough Grammar School. We went on Barnes bus on a Monday morning and I returned Friday afternoon, because we boarded during the week in those days. The first boarding was at a private house and then the second year I went into Wye House which, well about half the people in there were Aldbourne people and people from the surrounding villages. They couldn’t go backwards and forwards.
Q: No, no, and where was it, where was the school?
MD: Marlborough Grammar School which is now St Peters, down the bottom, it’s now the junior school and Wye House was almost opposite there. During the time when I lived in Aldbourne we lived in 5 houses. We were at The Crown until 1951 and at one time we lived in a house in the Square next to where Bill Humphries’ first butcher’s shop was. It’s now been knocked down to widen the road.
Q: Was Bill Humphries Chris Humphries’ father?
MD: No, his step-father
Q: Well, that’s wonderful. Gosh, what a marvellous memory you have.
MD: Well I missed some things. Some of the things you said.
Q: No, no. You were talking about every day domestic life and cooking
MD: That was when my mother cooked in a cupboard.
Q: How extraordinary. – in a cupboard with all those people as well. Was she cooking for the Americans.
MD: No, she wouldn’t be cooking for the Americans, I wouldn’t think. I mean, they were billeted there but they would bring perhaps …..
Q: Their own mess tins, perhaps?
MD: You, see, it was a hotel, so they had the facilities for cooking downstairs so whether or not the Americans did their own cooking or brought in a cook, I don’t know. My grandmother, of course, would have been downstairs at the time so she might have done a lot more.
Q: May be she had staff working for her?
MD: I know that my mother, I can remember my mother having staff working at the Crown. After when I was old enough to understand. Nelly Alder, she used to work for my mum.
Q: The other thing was, we were talking about lost buildings. Did you know where Butterfield Hall was?
MD: No. I didn’t.
Q: And the windmills? Of course, the windmill at Windmill Close wasn’t there at that time?
MD: No. The lost buildings that I would remember would be the stables because my father, when I was a child, the stables were three yards.
Q: Oh, yes, the other side of the Green?
MD: Yes. So they went back from where the Blue Boar. At the side of the Blue Boar there were stables and they’ve even taken the last one away now haven’t they, to America.
Q: Oh, that one, yes they have. But Sarsen House still has a stable in the yard, because in fact, they’ve sort of restored all the stuff on the face.
MD: All the grain store was there when I went to look at the time when the 101st Airborne Division were living there and I went to look and they had at that time a row of five stables and then some more stables at the side and also the feed house, they used to call it, which was still there which was like stores for feeding horses.
Q: So was this the house that’s there now?
MD: The big house on the right was there. That was Captain and Mrs Powell’s Hightown
Q: And the stables were part of Hightown?
MD: Yes. The stables went in front of those to where they built the new houses and then at the back the second yard and the yard behind and to get to those houses you now go across in front of what was Palmers Stores, the SPAR shop or whatever it is now. So all those houses are all new but those were stable yards, you see.
Q: Golly, oh well, fascinating. I do think, well is there anything else you want to mention. Have you got anything else in your notes?
MD: Not really. I think I’ve covered everything. Oh, oh, I haven’t actually. When we had the Coronation celebrations, it would be 1953, the children all had a decorated glass given to us but being glass, they probably all got broken quite quickly and I can remember Johnny Morris jumped in the Pond to make himself a Dabchick because you either had to be born in the village or you fell in the Pond, so he jumped in to make himself a Dabchick.
Q: Oh, what a lovely story.
MD: Well, that’s it.
Q: So, you remember him quite well, do you.
MD: I remember Johnny Morris quite well because he lived in Pond House opposite the Crown and he used to come into the Crown before he was on radio and before he made his name, he used to come into the Crown and try out a little bit on my mother. He used to say “What do you think about this then?” My grandmother’s family were in the theatre, you see, they had a thing in London, so my mother and grandmother came down at the end of the 1920s beginning of the 1930s to live with her father-in-law who was the licensee of the Crown at that time so they had a background in entertainment, I suppose, and he wanted just to try out things. Oh, another thing I do remember about Johnny Morris because, as children, we used to play with the his children, Nicky and Stuart and one day we went round to a house they had in West Street and their budgerigar had died (or canary; It was one of those) and we had this burial service for this bird and I can vividly remember Johnny putting it in the box and putting it in the ground.
Q: How lovely. Well, I think that’s wonderful. So, if this concludes the interview?
MD: Yes, I can’t think of anything. Just let me have a look through to make sure.
Q: Yes, do have a look through. You’ve told some very valuable stories.
MD: Yes, that’s it.
Q: Right.
MD: When you go into the Crown now, in the old days on the right there was a door and you went straight into the bar area, where the bar was. Then you went through a glass door in front of that after you had gone into the bar you went along a passage way and the bar from which they served the beer from was on the right and there was a lounge on the left. The present bar is built on the side of what was the passage. In those days we would walk through beyond the bar on the right and the lounge on the left and then there were some stairs to the left of you which went to the upstairs rooms. And then there was a little door which went down to the cellar. The you’d go into the passage and in the corner there was a door to the right into a room which we called the telephone room. On beyond was another room which we called the Games room where we had a table tennis table and a Dart board, those sorts of things. But if you carried on round to the left, in the passage, there would be a room on the right which is where I saw the American soldiers one time and then you would carry on down that passage; there was a door to the right which led out to the yard at the back which was where my father trained his race horses; there were stables there, lots of them. And straight on was the kitchen, our kitchen from which, down two steps, was the place we called the scullery which is the room now on the level with the road.