I have lived in Aldbourne all my life, born in 1928 in a little cottage in Baydon Hill now known as Oxford Street. Having fallen in the pond several times and being born in Aldbourne entitles me to be a true Dabchick, of which I am very proud. The story goes that there was a rare bird being spotted on the pond, and the eldest inhabitant being wheeled round in a barrow, until at last he decided that it was a dabchick, hence every child born in the village became known as a Dabchick. Life in Aldbourne was always very peaceful and quiet, but a great treat for me was going to the allotment at potato digging time, when Dad would take the trolley to bring the potatoes home and he would light a fire on which Mum would cook some of the potatoes and we’d have a tin of corned beef. Oh what a glorious picnic! Dad would put an old bucket in the toolshed to act as a privy and woe betide us if we dared to peep through a little hole! How I remember that sour stick of rhubarb! No sugar to spare in those days.
I’ve never left the village except for an odd week’s holiday, and always glad to be home again. I have never had any desire to live anywhere else. My first home when I married was at Snap Farm for three months. Oh the joy when we came back down to the village. We were brought up to respect Sundays. Everything possible had to be done on a Saturday to save having to do it on the Sunday, and woe betide us if we got our one pair of shoes wet, because then they wouldn’t shine. We attended the Weslyan Chapel then, having to learn and say a recitation for Anniversay Day. We weren’t allowed to play with a ball or knit on Sundays, but we could read the “Young Soldier” paper brought to the door by the Salvation Army man. As I’ve said, my home was a tiny thatched cottage, and how mum ever managed to keep us clean, fit and healthy is beyond me, with no mod cons, and a large family to bring up. We were a family of twelve children and only two bedrooms. Water had to be brought up out of the well. Can you imagine bath nights and wash days? Maybe my poem will enlighten you on the bath nights:
Oh how I remember Saturday nights when we were all kiddies at home
With the bathing and shampooing, cutting of nails and our hair done with a small toothed comb.
I remember the brimstone and treacle, never very popular,
“But you have to have it” Mother said, its to keep you regular.
I remember too a big tin bath, down by a blazing fire.
The first two in were the luckiest, ‘cos then the towels were drier.
Yes, Mum sat one of us at one end and one of us down the other,
And then we were given a flannel each, our little bits to cover!
Well, you daren’t take a peek in those days, that was a forbidden spot,
And whilst one of us was in the bath, another was sat on the pot.
“Get your clothes off ready”, Mother would say to her sons or daughter
Then she ‘d look in the bath and say “Hang on, I’d better change the water!”
So Mother and Father then took the bath, and emptied it down the drain,
Then they’d fill it from the copper and start all over again.
How can I forget that oil stove which helped to keep us warm,
Till one of me brothers burnt his ding a ling a ling and did himself some harm!
Then one of the older ones took hot bricks to place on the bottom sheet
Well that was all we had those days to warm our freezing feet.
But when the scrubbing was over and the towels were drying on the line
Our favourite treat was about to come, just a drop of mother’s wine.
And so she took us up to bed, all clean as shiny new pins,
And as she kissed us each ‘goodnight’ she forgave us all our sins.
Oh yes, I remember the hard days, but they were happy days too
And if there had been no hard days, then I couldn’t say this poem for you.
I well remember the black beetles and cockroaches that came out from the cupboard under the stairs, and having to go across the yard to go to the lavvy. I was scared to death when the candles flickered sending all kinds of shapes and shadows around our outside loo. Then there was the old mangle I had to turn for Mum making sure the buttons were folded inside to save breaking them, and how I cried when I had to wash the dinner things before I went back to school. But it was a happy time and Mum was always there for us.
In those days, there was no need to lock the doors as there weren’t the crimes which we experience today. Mum would leave the money for the callers on the table, who just walked in and took their money. The worst crime I remember as a child was taking a few sweets from Palmer’s shop when waiting for someone to come and serve us. When I left school funnily enough, it was to work in Palmer’s shop from 8 in the morning until 7 or 7.30 in the evening, with just a half day off on a Thursday. My wage was 12/6d a week. I’d had to give Mum 10/- and thought I was so rich because I had a whole half crown all to myself! How I hated working on Saturdays when I could see all my friends outside and wanted to be with them. Bonfire night was a great occasion when we built our bonfire in the chalk pit which was in Baydon Hill long before houses were there. How we struggled up that hill with our rubbish in a soap box trolley, or an old pram. Dad would make a Guy and we all met on the blacksmith’s green where we dipped sack torches in a pot of tar which was then lit and we all marched behind Dad and the Guy with our torches blazing and lit the bonfire. It was a village event and what fun we had! In the morning we would trail all up the hill again and cook jacket potatoes in the embers. No harm seemed to come to any of us.
Aldbourne was always known for putting on a good Variety Concert. There is a lot of talent here in the village. Later came the annual Pantomime which was a great event and loved by all, audience and cast alike. We usually ended with a party after the last performance. Then there was the W.I. of course. I remember Mum making the coffee which she made on our kitchen range in Farm Lane and one of us children had to help her carry this scalding coffee in an urn up to the Village Hall. She worried all the afternoon making sure that coffee was just right. There was a W.I. Choir of which Mum was a member. This is still going today. The only holiday I can remember having was going to stay with my married sister in Hungerford. I had to go on the back of a motorcycle and sidecar and I cried every day until they brought me back home. Houses, they were very cheap in those days. Mum and Dad sold our little cottage for £100. We had to move to a council house because we were overcrowded. My brother and sister had scarlet fever. Can you imagine the turmoil this created? The bedroom had to be fumigated and the door sealed round with sealing tape. Mum often treated our ailments herself because of course doctors cost money. What a good dose of castor oil could do. Also the Saturday night’s Brimstone and Sugar.
I remember the embarrassment of having to stand out in the front at school to have my hair checked by the nit nurse and did I tremble when the dentist came. I didn’t mind going to the optician as I had a day off school and a ride into Swindon on the bus. School was a happy time of my life. I simply loved the nature walks, and always got praised for my reading and being able to learn and recite the poems. Not so for history and sums; many times I had my wrists slapped. There was a green curtain dividing our classroom , and we could hear all that was going on. We had a free bottle of milk at break time and cod liver oil and malt for the poorly children. I remember having free shoes which we got from Palmer’s shop. I dearly wanted some black patent ones, but of course had to have sensible lace up ones. What a sad day when our big school was knocked down; all those lovely flint stone walls and our school bell gone forever.
Special events were the Village Fete and the Flower Show, the Feast, when we would be sure of seeing our friends and relatives as everyone flocked here from miles around. Then there was our beloved Carnival. This was something special and I’ve always put an entry in. The weather was usually kind to us and we always had a good turn out. Talking of weather, we seemed to have much more snow in those days, and when working for Mr. Palmer I had to take bread and groceries up to Dudmore Lodge and Eastleaze on a toboggan.
The war time of course was a mixture of fun and sadness. We all pulled together and helped one another. We endured blackouts, rationing, evacuees and troops. Mum seemed to be always doing laundry for the Americans. My brother was reported missing, it was a great worry, but he was taken prisoner and eventually arrived home quite safely. One incident uppermost in my mind was delivering bread at Membury. We had to go through the Aerodrome and the guard would stop us and search our Van. On this particular day Mr. Palmer said “Ha we won’t take any notice of him” and we kept going, just to have a pistol shot at our tyres. He soon stopped then! Oh God, was I scared. Then there was the night when the bombs dropped. I was out delivering the Evening Advertiser with my sister. We were very lucky in Aldbourne to get off so lightly.
Well I must just give a mention to our Village Band. Aldbourne wouldn’t be the same without it. Christmas morning wouldn’t be Christmas without being woken by the Band playing a Carol very early to wish us all a Merry Christmas. Here’s a little ditty to finish with which you may find amusing:
“In the good old Aldbourne Village where no engines puff and blow
Where the fields are white with daisies and the dells where the bluebells grow
O’er the fields I love to wander, listen to that sweet refrain
Of the good old Aldbourne Village play it o’er and o’er again.”