Aldbourne Heritage Centre

CL: I am not a Dabchick. My parents were both born in houses on The Green but when they got married they went to live on my grandfather’s farm, Mere Farm, which is just outside the parish boundary at Minal, and we lived there for a couple of years until my mother was expecting another baby and she said she was coming back to civilisation to have her baby born, and we moved back to Aldbourne then. We left again in 1929. My earliest memory is being rushed to Savernake Hospital in the middle of the night bleeding copiously, and we were taken to the hospital by Arthur Ford who was the local Liberal Agent and a friend of the family. After that we moved away on medical advice. We had to go somewhere where there were pine trees and I don’t think there are many in Aldbourne. We returned in 1938 taking over the Post Office when Gran retired. We lived with Gran and Gramp while the bungalow was being built. The old Post Office on The Green was a large house with two lots of stairs, front and back and a cellar. There was no mains electricity or water. We cooked on a triplex and had an oil stove. When Gran and Gramps’ bungalow was completed they had the full works, bathroom with a flush loo, but a cesspit at the end of the garden, and in the kitchen there was a pump because the water had to be pumped up from the borehole, so you had to have a good session with the pump before you had a bath or anything like that.
Q: This is the bungalow behind the tennis court?
CL: Yes, with a very large garden, a small bungalow with a very large garden, very difficult to sell when we moved out because people who came to look at it loved the garden but the bungalow was too small, or they loved the bungalow but the garden was too big.
In the Post Office we had a back kitchen and there was a copper and a sink with a tap of cold rain water and a trestle table on which went all the buckets of water that had to be drawn for the day. My job first thing in the morning was to draw all the buckets of water, bring them over and put them on the table. We had one well between Verandah Cottage next door and us, and I was always instructed by my Grandmother, “remember to leave two buckets of water for the Misses James” who lived in Verandah Cottage, and I thought, “two buckets of water for everything for the day, cooking, cleaning and washing”, it’s not a lot, is it? We, of course, had a bath in the tin tub which again you had to light the copper for to boil the water. We had a screen around it, it was a long tin tub, but in those days we never bathed more than once a week, it was such an effort most days it was just a strip down wash upstairs in the bedroom.
Oil lamps had to be dealt with, and we had a lot of candles everywhere. I wasn’t very good at trimming the oil wicks, I seem to remember, but it was one of my jobs. On washday, that was a marathon, every Monday, Ginny used to come to do the washing, boiling, rinsing, starching, blueing, and then through a huge mangle before putting it out to dry, of course ironing was with a flat iron heated on the kitchen stove.
On Thursdays, somebody whose proper name escapes me, but we always called her Fairy, used to come and clean right through. No carpets then, we had lino everywhere, with rugs in the bedroom. Scrubbing brushes and cedar mops were the order of the day, and the rugs from the bedroom used to be taken out and hung on the line and beaten within an inch of their lives with a carpet beater, which I rather enjoyed. It was very good if you were feeling a bit fed up! A very good stress reliever, I recommend it!
Gran was a great wine maker, she used to make parsnip, ginger, dandelion, rhubarb and cowslip wine, and fifteen gallons of all of it, each! It used to sit out in huge earthenware pans in the back kitchen with slices of toast and yeast on the top to ferment, and then gradually it was put in a barrel and then finally bottled. We had quite a big cellar there. It was standard practice with Gran that if anybody called at 11 o clock or thereabouts in the morning, it was never, “would you like a cup of coffee”, but “will you take a glass of wine” and everybody thoroughly enjoyed her quite potent wine. She put one bottle of cowslip wine in the cupboard under the front stairs for my twenty first birthday, by gum, that was potent!
Q: Was this all for your own consumption or did she sell it?
CL: Oh she didn’t sell it. I think she gave quite a lot away. Rhubarb wine we used to have if we had a cold. She would put a measure in the bottom of a tumbler with some sugar and boiling water. It was supposed to be very good for you if you had a cold. We didn’t mind having a cold then as we rather enjoyed the rhubarb wine!
We lived in the kitchen which had the Triplex stove, and some comfortable seats as well as a huge kitchen table and dresser and Mum always kept a kettle in the top oven so that we always had hot water if we wanted to wash up, or when we wanted to wash, apart from bath night. That was common practice, I think.
The bedrooms were absolutely icy, of course no heating whatsoever. We had feather beds which used to make an awful lot of mess, dust, when you patted them, down. Every bedroom had a washstand with matching jug and basin, rather pretty, with a matching chamber pot under the bed. We had an outside privy, ours was an Elsan which was supposed to be rather modern in those days, a bit better than the ones with a board and a hole in the middle. We had an ash pit at the end of the garden, and periodically somebody used to come with a horse and cart, we called it the Honey Wagon, and empty the ash pit. I was never around when that happened, thank goodness!
We had two chapels, a Primitive and Methodist, and the Church, and we went to Church, and Dad rang the bells and Gramp was in the choir. My mother joined the choir once ladies were allowed, but when I was a child it was all men and boys. I don’t know when ladies started to go in, but I suppose it was when the boys didn’t migrate automatically come from school to choir!
Facilities, we had lots, five pubs, four bakers, four grocers in The Square, and then Palmers round in Oxford Street. We had a cobbler at the bottom of Castle Street, we had a blacksmith forge where the Library now is. We had a small library in the school. We had a butcher in The Square and when the springs rose his shop quite often got flooded and we used to have to go in to be served on duck boards which was rather fun! We had a paper shop which also sold sweets and stationery. We had our own fire brigade and fire station. The fire engines were kept up in what is now the garage of the Ludlows just at the top of The Green. We had a corn merchant and wool shop on the road going up to The Green and I rather think he sold hardware as well with buckets outside. We also had Allsops which was opposite the present Post Office where the old Aldbourne Engineering Works were and he sold hardware, you could go in there and buy as much as one nail if you wanted to, nothing like bulk buying! We had two petrol pumps, and then at some time we’ve had a fish and chip shop round in West Street, and a wet fish shop and vegetable shop next door run by the same man which was very useful. We had three builders, Charlie and Dick Stacey and Jerram Brothers, who were also undertakers.
Most people worked on the farms, it was mainly agricultural then, or thatching. We had stable lads in the racing stables pre war. I used to love seeing the horses go out from my bedroom window. At eight o clock every morning they’d go out, and on Monday morning they were particularly frisky because they had not been exercised on Sunday. For girls it was mainly domestic work and shop assistants. I can’t think what else. At one time I think there was a small egg packing station at the back of the Mason’s yard before the big one was built in Marlborough Road.
Q: Did anybody commute into Swindon or was that unusual?
CL: I think it was rather unusual, I can’t remember people commuting. We had a lot of small farms as well as the three bigger ones. There were two Glebe Farms, one where Glebe Close is now, which was my great uncle Bert’s. He used to bring his cows out in the morning and they used to splash around in the pond making an awful mess before they headed up the Green and up to Haden where they pastured during the day, and then came back at teatime for milking. The other Glebe Farm was in West Street and the room we’re in now was once the place where the cowshed was!
Leisure, well at home we mainly played cards, we played shove ha’penny and bagatelle, listened to the radio and gramophone, a wind up gramophone, and almost everybody learnt to play the piano, and we used to do a lot of singing round the piano, particularly on Sunday evenings. There were the Guides and in the Hall we had dances, concerts, plays, we had a lot of talent in the village, several very good comics and singers, the Jerram brothers and particularly Fred Jerram. Heather has inherited a lot of his talent, so did Vin, Fred’s son, he only had to stand on the stage and people laughed! We had the Band of course. The Band at that time had their own Band Room round West Street, by the pump, where Mrs Deuchar lives now, that’s where they practiced at that time. We also had socials and whist drives and outside we had two tennis courts, one behind Oliver Hawkins’ house, which was a bit rough and ready, full of bennets, but we had a lot of fun there, and then the other one was up in Castle Street, in front of Gran’s bungalow, still a grass court, but it was a bit more sedate there! When I got a bit better at playing tennis my father enrolled me up there, he was a keen tennis player so I got yanked in to make a four. There was a young mens’ club at the back of the village hall, I don’t know much about that, that was foreign territory to me. We went swimming at Coate Water having cycled there, and then quite illegally, we sometimes went swimming in the river between Knighton and Chilton, there was a nice stretch of river there, but we were often chased off by the water bailiff because we disturbed the fish, so we had to leave it for a while before we went back again! Then you could swim beautifully; it was marvelous. And then there was the Carnival, that was great fun with various people putting exhibits in and lots of activity going on making things, I can remember.
Food, we all grew out own vegetables, the council houses down in Lottage Road and South Street had enormous gardens front and back and they could grow all their own veg, but the cottages mainly had small back gardens and had allotments up over Grasshills. My grandfather had an allotment up there and he used to spend a lot of time up there. Quite a few people kept hens so they had eggs, and rabbits were abundant. My father used to take me up over the common with a couple of ferrets catching rabbits, and I must have been a very calm child because I didn’t turn a hair when the rabbits came out and he broke their necks. I think a child these days would be very squeamish but I can’t remember that it ever upset me or that I thought it was anything out of the ordinary, but then I’d seen him ring a chicken’s neck. In those days you had different points of view, you just had to get on with it.
Q: When I was talking to Audrey, she said she used to go up to what she called ‘the rabbit man’ out on The Warren, she didn’t know whether anybody else would have spoken about it. She used to go and spend a day up there, which, in itself, nowadays people would frown at, but she used to see all the rabbits and all the pelts, drying. I asked her if it bothered her, and she said she didn’t think anything of it, it was part of life.
CL: I can remember the butcher used to kill his own pigs at the back of the butcher’s shop, and our garden sort of almost met it at the back, and if you were in the garden I always knew when a pig was being killed, you could hear it squealing, but again, you accepted it, it was part and parcel of life.
Q: To me that is a horrible thing to be exposed to.
CL: We were a tough lot of cookies in those days, I think.
Q: Well my Mum’s a country girl and she always tells me that country people have a much more down to earth view of things.
CL: For treats we used to go to Marg Barrett’s mother’s shop in The Square, and she made the most delicious home made ice cream, we had lovely thick wafers full of this delicious ice cream, and that was a great treat, and Ernie Barrett, he was a baker and pastry cook and he had a shop where Horbrook House is now, and he used to make lovely cream horns, and that was a great treat, and I believe his ovens used to be used by quite a few villagers to cook their Sunday joint. We never used him because we had our Triplex oven, but I think some people did. Then Aunt Lou Stacey who lived in the shop, it’s now an office opposite where the hairdresser used to be, that was a general grocers, she used to make the most delicious faggots, and we used to go down with a large pudding basin and a tea towel over the top to collect these faggots for dinner, and they were out of this world. Faggots you buy today are no comparison, nothing like it. Good stuff!
Q: Home made always tastes better.
CL: Yes, always home made. And then Feast lollies, when the Feast came they used to have a stall which used to make Feast lollies. My father used to call it ‘spit rock’ because he swore that the chap who made it used to spit on his hands before he formed the toffee apple, he probably did, I don’t know whether he was having me on. That didn’t stop me buying them and enjoying them. The Feast was the highlight of our life as children and youngsters, coming into the village. The caravans weren’t allowed to come in until after evensong finished Sunday night, so at about 7 o clock or just after they used to start rolling in and then they were all put up overnight. On Feast Monday we used to get a lot of families coming together probably for the only time in the year, people who had moved away from the village and lived as far afield as Thatcham and places like that, very far away; they’d come back for Feast, and it was a great gathering of friends and families down there.
Q: I’ve heard other people talking about how they would paint the house , we had to have it just right for Feast.
CL: Yes, Feast was really something. The rides were much gentler than they are today. They had chair-o-planes which were outside, where the library is now, and Miss Foster, who lived in Ivy Cottage, always used to treat the children to a ride on the chair-o-planes, so when the fair opened the children were queuing up to get on and have a ride. My favourite was the Noah’s Ark, and the galloping horses I liked.
Q: What was the Noah’s Ark
CL: Well, it had cars going round in a much gentler way, and animals, as in Noah’s Ark.
Q: It was a bit like a Merry Go Round then?
CL: That’s right, yes; it was quite gentle, but the galloping horses that used to go up and down, they were lovely with the old organ thing. Altogether it was a very great time.
The pond in those days was railed in completely, all the way round, and there was a stream running from Pond House across and in a gully under the road to go into the brook outside Ivy Cottage there, and one of our favourite things as children was trying to jump the stream, more often landing in it rather than over it.
Q: And then go home and explain yourself.
CL: Yes, trying to clean your tennis shoes up with bits of chalk you could find lying around. Of course children used to play on the Green a lot, play football on the Green, and ierki, that was a great favourite, and on the cross like they do now, it was a great central point, always.
Wartime really was the time, in the time, when I was here for the longest spell and I can remember the day war was declared, and the troops arriving. I think the Worcesters were the first regiment we had here, and they were billeted in stables in Hightown, and they had Nissan huts down in Farm Lane, and there was an ak ak battery up in Westfield Chase, and I think a few were billeted in private houses, but I can’t quite remember about that. The Army Post Office was in The Crown and I was up and down to the Army Post Office quite often with telegrams and post.
Q: You ought to explain about the Post Office and telegrams and messaging.
CL: Well, the Post Office was on the Green and I was helping my mother who took over the Post Office when Gran retired and I helped her. It was a very long day because the mail used to arrive early in the morning and it was sorted and set up ready for delivery in the Post Office. The Post Office itself opened to the public at 8 o clock and closed at 6 with no break for lunch. We had half day Thursday. We even opened for a few hours for telegrams on Sunday morning. That might have been just because it was wartime. I don’t know. The troops used to parade in the Square at 8 o clock every morning and go on Church Parade up to the Church on Sunday. One or two of them who were singers joined the Church choir and Gramp invariably brought a couple home for tea on Sunday, whether my Grandmother had any cake in the tin or not.
Q: I’m getting the impression from talking to people that this was a national hobby, to find a pet soldier and take him home for tea on Sunday.
CL: Yes, I think it was pretty general. Apart from helping Mum in the office I was very busy delivering telegrams because, as far as I know, nobody in the village was on the ‘phone, apart from the Manor, I never remember delivering a telegram there, even Upham House didn’t have a telephone, and the big houses around didn’t then. There was a telephone box outside the Post Office, but of course with the war on there were lots of telegrams sent, and we were kept pretty busy. I used to go down to Preston very regularly, that was a good run. I wasn’t paid for working in the Post Office, I was too young to be gainfully employed, but I got paid the telegraph money by my mother, and it was sixpence to bike down to Preston, and Upham House was ninepence. We used to go up there a lot and to the Warren a lot, but I used to enjoy Upham House because Lady Currie’s butler always opened the door, took me into the butler’s pantry while I waited to see if there was a reply, and always gave me a glass of cider before I came home; so I used to whiz down Upham Hill often with my feet on the handlebars, fortunately West Street, that end of Warren didn’t have much traffic in those days, probably just as well.
We also delivered to Baydon and Ramsbury when they had an early closing day, and Baydon wasn’t a telegraph money order office either, and very often if the troops were hard up they used to telegraph Mum, ‘please send me some money’, and Mum used to send them a telegraph money order. I can remember one snowy afternoon cycling down to Russley Park three times in one afternoon with telegraph money orders. I was not amused after the third time! We used to have a special leather satchel thing that the telegrams were delivered in, they were yellow, and we always had to wait for a reply. When people had wedding telegrams, they used to come in gold envelopes, rather posh! Quite interesting it was, really. I often went to Ramsbury Manor, when you think of all the security there now, I used to whiz off on my bike to the front door, I can’t remember who lived there. We also had sad news by telegram, I can remember when Des Wootton was lost on the Hood, he was only a boy sailor, and we had to take the telegram to say he had been lost.
We had evacuees, Miss Bickham, the billeting officer, lived in Wall Cottage on the Green and I can remember seeing them all arrive, poor little Londoners coming down; and there was Miss Bickham, sorting them out, which cottage they would go to, where they were going to stay. She also used to give out orange juice and national dried milk. She was a very bossy lady but quite an efficient one, rather terrifying to children, I might say. We had our own evacuee. My mother’s younger sister lived in Kent and when the Battle of Britain was on she came and lived with us for quite a while with her new baby and toddler daughter, which was fun, and then later when the bombing got too bad in the East End of London, Gran had two cousins, elderly ladies who lived in East Ham, they were bombed out and they came to live with us. We had quite a full house. More buckets of water to be drawn.
Dad was a Sergeant in the Home Guard so he was out and about a bit, quite a lot at night actually. We had soldiers, and we always had the dance Saturday nights, and it was great, there were so many men, you never sat down, you never sat out; there were no wallflowers then, it was super. The only snag was if you were dancing with somebody you quite fancied, they had a lot of ‘excuse me’ dances because the men were so prominent. That was a bit annoying when you’ve got somebody tapping you on your shoulder, you couldn’t put them off.
Q: Did you go to dances in other villages or were they always here?
CL: They were always here. I only once went out to one and that was after I’d left home and I happened to be home on holiday, and they had Americans stationed up at Membury by that time. I can’t remember Americans in the village here. I’d left home before the Americans came into the war. Miss Foster, bless her heart, was asked if she could get a collection of girls to go up to a dance, and they would send a lorry to fetch us and she would chaperone us, about a dozen of us went up to this hall. Once we got there Miss Foster disappeared into the Officers’ Mess and we never saw her again, we just did our own thing, and lived to tell the tale!
The Church had a Church Room opposite where Audrey Gilligan lives and small whist drives used to be held there; and during the war it was open for the troops in the evening to play a game of cards, have a cup of tea, and several of us used to go and play cards with them and make cups of tea, that sort of thing, it was good fun.
Transport, we had Bristol buses that went from Swindon to Hungerford, not as often as they do now, but they were there. Tommy Barnes the carrier, who also was the coal merchant, and he used to go on his carrier to Hungerford every morning to catch what would be the commuter train these days I suppose and then he’d come back again, and then he’d go again at lunchtime, leaving here at 1 o clock and go back and on the way he used to pick up packages sometimes, take films in for developing, pick up medicines from the chemist. People along the way used to leave a CP notice in their window and Tommy Barnes would nip off his van, go up the garden path and get the message and go off and deal with it. You never knew who was going to travel with you on that thing; it could be anything, could be a crate of hens, with you but it was good fun, we used to quite enjoy that.
Q: How long did it take to get from here to Hungerford.
CL: Quite a while allowing for all the stops, I can’t remember. I only ever went with him once and that was when I was leaving home in 1941. I went with Eileen Turpie who was going that day to join the ATS, and I was going off to train as a nurse, and we both went in on Tommy Barnes’ carrier. That’s the only time I remember using it until after I’d left home when sometimes, if I was coming on holiday, I might arrive at Hungerford at lunchtime and catch the carrier back, and then George Dew, who was the landlord at the Queen Vic, ran a sort of hire car service. He had a sort of limousine car which I found almost impossible to ride in. I was used to my father’s old Austin Ford rattling about, but George Dew’s car was so smooth I was sick before I’d gone very far.
Q: Remind me, where was the Queen Vic?
CL: The Queen Vic was in West Street, next to where the hairdressers used to be, between West St Motors and where the hairdressers were.
Medical, we had Dr Mills, who, when I was in the Post Office, used to come over and hold surgery in Mrs Jerram’s front room. We often had a telephone message to catch him before he left as no-one else was on the phone. Later he moved down to Neals and at Neals there was a dentist who came about once a month, Mr Leahy, but I never knew him do a filling. You had an injection, and sat in the hall waiting for it to work, and then went in and had your tooth yanked out, I suppose he couldn’t really bring dental equipment because the drills were pretty cumbersome.
Q: When you think about it that’s only one stage up from the man at the traveling fair with a pair of pliers!
CL: It is, you’re quite right, because I’m sure I lost quite a number of teeth that would never have been taken out now, they would have been filled. It was more expedient to get rid of it then than to wait for it to go rotten and cause you more trouble.
It was a sign of the times! We had the District Nurse who lived in the village. She had her own cottage and she delivered all the babies and we had Annie Jackson who used to come round whenever there was a death in the family, to come down to lay out the dead.
The schools here were St Michael’s Infants and Primary School, and the children that passed the scholarship used to go on to Marlborough Grammar School and they were boarders. They used to go by Tommy Barnes’ carrier on Mondays and were brought home Fridays. The girls used to lodge with a Miss Hugal in London Road. I wonder if Audrey Barrett said this, she was there when my sister was there.
Q: Yes, she has spoken about going off and being a weekly boarder and staying in a house on London Road. She can remember them parading up and down the High Street in their gas masks, and going to a particular art class on a very stuffy summer’s day and having to wear their gas masks. It seems a bit bizarre in the middle of Marlborough.
CL: The Headmaster had a house behind the school in those days.
About the weather, I can remember one year during the war we had a terrible freeze up. It was a dreadful winter. Fortunately none of us had pipes or we would have all been frozen solid, the plumber would have been busy, but when the thaw came it came very suddenly and we had terrific floods, and you’ve probably seen the pictures of floods in Lottage Road and that was at that time. I know Gran and Gramp were up in their bungalow by then and Dad said that we’d better go up and see if Gran’s alright, so we put our wellies on and waded through the Square and up Castle Street, and of course there were no houses built up that end then, it came straight off the Downs from Hillwood, and it came through the tennis courts and rushed down that little entrance to the tennis courts in a torrent and out into Castle Street. I think half of Castle Street had water coming in the front door and out the back. In 1947 I was coming home on holiday in January, and I waited to get my State Finals results on the Saturday morning before traveling. By the time I got to Hungerford it was snowing, and we were snowed up for my entire fortnight’s holiday and the army had to come and dig us out, which was quite jolly.
Q: And if you had been late back for work, would they have made allowances, living in London?
CL: I don’t think so; living in London, they wouldn’t have believed it – snow drifts 15 feet high!
Q: I had the same sort of problem. I lived in Bedfordshire outside London, and when it snowed, I would get into work about 11 o’clock and I’d have my fur coat and wellies on. I’d be really pleased with myself because I had walked two miles to the Bedford to Bletchley railway and got the train into London. They’d all look at me and say “What’s the matter?”. I’d say that we had two feet of snow at home.
CL: After that particular episode, it was always Liddington Hill that was the crucial point; and they’ve built some barricades to stop the snow blowing onto the road. Drift protectors. Liddington’s still bad now, it’s always bad.
Crime, I don’t really recall any. I think probably we all worked so hard physically, by the time we finished at the end of the day we hadn’t got any energy for anything else, and were only too thankful to put our feet up. Also, the discipline in the house was such that everybody knew everybody else and Mr Jackson, who was the Headmaster was pretty handy with the cane. If boys misbehaved they were kept very much in order, and apart from a bit of poaching I can’t remember crime being a problem. We never dreamt of locking our doors, never! We had at that time.
Whereas now the youngsters gather on the seat in front of the pond, in my day that was the village elders who sat there, we referred to them as the ‘shadow cabinet’.
My recollections are mainly, of course, 1938 to 1941 when I was coming home for the longest, but I loved working in London and enjoying everything London had to offer, but I would never have retired there, I am a real country woman at heart and I always intended coming back, and here I am! It’s changed, there are a lot more houses, a very different mix of people from my day when people who were born here tended to stay here. Now you have people coming and going, new faces, and I don’t know half the people. If I go to anything on in the village I look round the Hall and think. ‘Where did you spring from, I haven’t a clue who you are’. At one time I would have known absolutely everybody, but still, the heart of the village is still the same. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. ██