Extracts from "Haversham Estate And the Parish I Grew Up In" by David C. Brightman April 2000
The piece of land between No.100 and the proposed Phipps Hotel site was rented by my father from Mr. Randall, on a plan I have it was marked Allotments (Field 121a) in 1918, and brought in rental fees of £8 6s 8d. Why did these get abandoned? Was it because of W.W.I, and who used these Allotments, or did the word Allotment mean something else, and not as we today understand it, and maybe at one time belonged to the Church, and these plots are also a long way from Haversham village, or were they even for the use of the village residents. Dad had this field as a smallholding in 1941 or earlier, until the Council houses were built about 1950-51. We called it the Hen Field. In the top right hand corner there used to be a brick built Pill Box in which dad kept a few pigs, and by it, minus its wheels, an old Rudge motorbike, on which we went miles on our imaginary travels!
A Pill Box by the way, was a wartime observation and machinegun post in case of invasion, although these were already built by 1939, in later years they were used to repel rival kids gangs and as a general storage area for kids weapons, and our spoils of war!
In this field dad kept 50 60 chickens, 7 - 8 geese and a few pigs, I don’t know if Haversham had a Pig Club during the war, but these were run by a few householders clubbing together to buy a sow, usually expecting, and pooling the household waste to go with the pig mash, this was a Government Ministry supplied pig food ration, it looked like dried porridge oats, and to obtain this ration permit you had to give up the right to bacon coupons, whether this happened in dad’s case I don’t know. We also boiled up pig potatoes, these were about 1” across and classed unfit for human consumption, though I had my share without any ill effects, these spuds when mashed down with any available green stuff and the pig mash, looked revolting and smelt rather peculiar, but the pigs loved it, and grew very big, very quickly, but not very co-operative!
The surplus pigs, if there were any, were collected by the B.B.C. the British Bacon Co. The baby chicks came from Turney’s farm at Quinton Green near Northampton, or dad hatched his own under broody hens. We used to go gleaning over Jock's field for wheat ears and left over straw. Remember, no combine harvesters in those days, well not in Haversham anyway.
One day, when dad was at work in Wolverton, a few of us decided to have a rodeo, so we must have been to the Empire or the Palace or even as far as the Scala at Stony Stratford cinema that week, probably to see Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers. Not having any horses we decided that the pigs would just as good for riding on, little did we know about pigs and their attitude to people sitting on them!
Amid lots of shouting from us, and squealing from the pigs, we eventually managed to get a rope around a pig’s neck, and myself on the pig’s back. This he or she, didn’t like, and shot off across the field, went through the hedge losing me in the process, and being followed by the other squealing pigs, they all went trotting off down the Wolverton Road chased by us kids, naturally this caused great merriment to a number of interested but unhelpful onlookers.
We gave chase to them and managed to corner them in the old allotments behind Mr. Thomas’s house, but not before they had their fun in some gardens and then started digging up the allotments! In the meantime some nosy parker had phoned the Works with a message for dad saying his pigs had got out and were digging up the War Time Allotments, so dad quickly gets a special Pass Out issued, and clocks out of the Works, he isn't in a very good mood by this time, because he’s losing wages during his time of freedom from the Railway Works.
He rushes down to Haversham, where we had everything under control, well, more or less, the pigs were quiet and grazing contentedly on a few old carrots and potatoes and generally rooting around somebody’s plot, and then thanks us kids for rounding up the un-cooperative wayward Piggys!
The now well fed pigs are, after a none too straight trail drive up the Wolverton Road, and holding up the traffic, and to cheers and laughter of the onlookers, reunited with their friend the chickens and geese. Later on and probably the same nosy parker who phoned the Works, tells dad the truth and I get sentenced to a lot of gardening on Saturdays, meaning I missed Saturday afternoon cinema, and also a lay in bed to at least 9am, my lay in depending how the darts team got on and how the celebration went after the match at The Galleon or The Morning Star.
One winter, again during a coal shortage, Albert Oakes and myself decided to dig for coal on dad’s smallholding field. We dug a hole 5ft by 5ft, but were not successful! So we decided to have an underground camp, this was furnished with a carpet and 2 orange crates and a small stove of the type used in railway guards vans, for cooking pig spuds. This had a small chimney coming out through a soil covered corrugated iron roof, this too was not very successful, so after Jack Neal fell through it, when covered in snow, dad gave very strong orders to fill it back in, this we did burying the stove in the process, dad accused everyone of stealing it! It’s probably still there it would be about where No. 106 Wolverton Road front porch is situated.
There was a site at the corner where the two flats are, next to 112 Wolverton Road. On this small corner plot grew lots of horseradish plants, which make the hot sauce you have with beef, I used to dig this root up which is like a long thin parsnip, and then on a cheese grater, grate it up, this was mixed with cream and vinegar, and made a really hot sauce that made your eyes run while making it, and while eating it. Try it if you don’t believe me, there’s still plenty of plants up the Hanslope Road, its far superior to the supermarket product. There used to be a small gate by the turn into this roughly triangular polt but I have never found out why, as there was never any real fences erected to stop anybody wandering through, so why bother with a gate, or was this the original entrance to the Pre-Estate abandoned allotment?
In early autumn there was blackberry picking around Field Farm, most of the decent bushes were down by the brook, but have now been cut down, but you could always get 3 or 4lb without any trouble, enough to make a few pots of jam, if you could get the sugar. We also collected sloes but I don’t know what they were for. Then of course, in September/October there was mushroom picking. This was usually an early morning chore, and you had to try and beat the other kids on the same expedition, though it was mainly myself and Dennis Andrews on this quest. We used to get a few, but to us it was not worth getting out of bed for. Mum used to boil them up and make a sauce, similar to Worcester Sauce, but the mushrooms were far better then the tasteless ones from today’s supermarkets.
The best field for mushrooms were the river meadow by the bridge (Nash Meadow) and along the bridleway by Thrupp Dip and towards Linford Woods. I don’t think you will find any there these days though. Around Mr. Goode’s muck heap grew very large horse mushrooms and 6” across but we were told these were not for eating, why, I don’t know!
Another thing we used to do was pick watercress from down the brook behind the Fox Covert Spinney, now on John Marshall’s farm, this was either hawked door to door, or we tried to sell it to Barley’s fruit and veg stall in the Friday market, old Mr. Barley usually bought it from us, for about 3 pence a bunch and sold it for 6 pence, not much, but it got us into the cinema!
There was also collecting rabbit food and cleaning them out, collecting firewood, digging the garden, raking up leaves, helping creosote fences, that was a real messy job, running errands for mum and the neighbours, there always seemed hundreds of small jobs wanting doing. I don’t think children have that pleasure today. But there was usually a small reward for these services.
When we were eleven years old we moved up to Wolverton Big School, which was a quite traumatic experience for us youngsters. We had, after a while, to discard our short trousers for ones with long legs, and be kitted out from Chown’s shop in Church Street, next to the old Empire Cinema now Lake’s ironmongers, with a school jacket with Bucks County Council crest of the swan sewn to the top pocket, and horror of horrors, a grey school cap, again with the crest on it, this was usually lost at the first opportunity! This cap wearing was quite a novelty which doesn’t happen these days. This semi-uniform wearing died away after a couple of years, mainly because of cost and most kids didn’t bother, the only ones that wore a uniform all the time were the Fegans Home pupils, but they never really had a choice, and we felt quite sorry for them.
For our sports gear, mainly in my case, football boots, with the big leather studs, and a pair of black plimsolls we used Swain’s shop, (Mr. Swain died in 1948) his shop was next to the Anglia Building Society in Church Street, other shops we used were Tattam’s (he died 1959) and Lawson’s (he died Feb. 1976) now Brown’s (he retired 1997) for sweets. King's and the Brighton Bakery for the occasional doughnut, though if they were yesterday’s we got them for a penny instead of tuppence. The shop nearest to the school was Bremeyer’s in Aylesbury Street and was also well used by us kids. I must not forget Bew’s shop along the Stratford Road opposite the present day motorbike shop, which used to be Sammy Lott’s then Page’s Garage, this shop so I was told, supplied the elder youths with Pasha and Woodbine cigarettes which they craftily smoked behind the school toilet block.
A couple of time, from Wolverton School in October, some of us went potato picking on Mr Randall’s farm, this was our first taste of real work, Neville Long, used to have the enviable job of driving the tractor because he helped on the farm after school. These potatoes were built up into long heaps, called clamps and then covered in straw and followed by a thick layer of earth, this preserved them from snow and frost.
Another farm we went to was Mr Humphries at Tathall End, this was in the field on the right hand side behind Hanslope Park, in this hamlet was a pub also called The Greyhound, which closed in 1958, and at one time was owned by Lord Hesketh, its moment of fame came when it was used to hold the inquest on Squire Watts and his gamekeeper in 1912. But I am told another highlight was the Open All Hours policy of one of the landlords in later days. We used to walk there to get a flagon of Bulmers Cider, this was shared and cost 2/6 or 12 new pence and 6 pence back on the bottle. One bottle was buried with all us pickers names inside it under a hawthorn bush in the middle of the field, the bush was still there a few years ago, I wonder if the bottle is still waiting to be discovered.
Another job myself and others had was to go around the local fields collecting firewood. Our house at 94, and most of the others, had a large black, combined fire, back boiler and oven in the back living room. Coal, during the war years and after, was in short supply so we had to scour the fields for firewood to help out, and sometimes ventured onto the railway embankment to try and find coal, but this for some reason didn’t burn very well on a house fire. Not enough draught dad said, he called steam coal lots of smoke but not much flame, but it was better then nutty slack or coal dust bricks, these were made in a steel mould, after mixing the coal dust with a little water and paraffin if we had any, then turned out to dry, a lovely messy job, a bit like making black sandcastles. This fire must have had some sort of tank at the back of it, which heated water in a tank upstairs, this was pretty well uncontrollable and used to make unusual bubbling type noises! And there was talk of closing down the damper, whatever that was, but it did its job until coal gas was laid on in about 1948-49.
First thing mum did when our turn for coal gas came in 1949 was to go out and by a gas cooker, and later have the old cooking range removed when the middle wall was knocked down and gas fire installed. This old black fire range finished up in dad’s shed standing on two paving slabs, it certainly warmed the large shed up, or at least it did until some nosey Council Official came around and said ‘You can’t have that here, it a fire hazard’ or similar words, dad was not too happy about that, but the fire went for scrap via Reggie Partridge to Goodman’s yard at Bradwell.
In 1968 natural gas from the North Sea, ‘Cheap fuel for all’ the newspapers said, What a laugh! In 1969 a new yellow hard plastic pipe was inserted inside the old and rusty steel pipe, and new supplies run to all the houses which used gas.
FUN & GAMES
At the bottom of The Crescent there used live a man who made false teeth, in those days a cast of your mouth was made in a white chalky substance, when finished with this was sometimes thrown over the fence at the bottom of his garden, complete with teeth impressions, so naturally us kids made good use of this for our tracking game. This consisted of making arrow marks on any suitable surface, the fox would set off and us shortly after, trying to track him down following the arrows. This was o.k. until most of The Estate was covered in white arrows, much to the despair of parents, and to our confusion! Eventually the man was told to dispose of his trade rubbish in the proper manner, so our source of chalk dried up, and with it this popular game, through if you look hard enough in the fields you could find a piece of soft limestone that was nearly as good.
On November 5th a large bonfire was constructed The Green by the local lads, and quite a few parents! At least it tidied up the local hedges and kept us busy for a few evenings. We sometimes had to mount guard on this heap of rubbish to thwart ant attempts of raids by the ‘Braddell’ gangs coming up and having an early fire.
For many years, until more people started to get cars, one of the favourite places to play games was on Manor Drive, right next to the present day post box, the reason for this was because the road was concrete and could be chalked upon for games of hopscotch and similar; we also played marbles there, and on the level bit by the water tank a sort of tennis, though that was mainly a girls’ game.
For many years when cutting pea sticks in the hedge alongside the drive down to Field Farm, there were coils of rusty wartime barbed wire and steel and wood posts. One was in Mr Cadman’s garden. The soil that was dug out for the footings of the last houses built in Brookfield Road was dumped at the side of the sewage works and until overgrown made a good war game site, complete with trenches!
Brookfield Road when built had a concrete surface, and still has under the tarmac, the same as The Crescent and was much used for roller skating, the skate putting on area was at the small green metal box at the start of Kepple Avenue on the right hand side. We used to share skates with our few girl companions, these were usually Susan Bignall, Ann Williams, Marie Quinn, Pauline Hawkins, Yvonne Clark, Pam Harris and probably others who I cannot remember, or they didn’t associate with us bad lot of ruffians!
The small field by the Viaducts, the one with the Car Park in, was used by the Co-op at the weekends, for grazing their horses in during and after the War, many a carrot was stolen for them or us from the Allotments.
In this field were a number of old willow trees, cut down in 1969, which I have been told that before the railway came were on the old course of the River Ouse, which was quite traceable on maps and the ground, until filled in with muck from the bottom of the river in 1990, and levelled out and sown with grass. Also in this field on the left, as you went off the road, was an old rubbish tip, this provided many hours of digging for treasure, we found old marble top bottles, broken plates with Queen Victoria’s crest on them and all sorts of, to us kids anyway, valuable rubbish, this tip, so I was told many years ago was built with ashes and broken bits and pieces from the local Co-op shops, though some of the plates had Queen Victoria Hotel on them, this tip was bulldozed and levelled in January 1954. Our collected treasure was swapped at school for other junk, probably from similar tips. I have seen people with metal detectors there, but I don’t think they had much success in finding anything worthwhile, we never did, and we spent more time digging than they ever did.
The old tip was also home for lots of rabbits, so on the way to school (we usually walked) I used to set a few rabbit snares, hopefully to catch next days dinner, sometimes with me on this venture was Pauline Hawkins, who was then my favourite girl companion, yes, companion, you used to go around together, real serious courtship was far in the future. Anyway we used to visit these snares on the way home from school, and one day we actually caught a rabbit, trouble was it was still alive, well Pauline cried and pleaded with me to let it go, and after much deliberation decided to comply with her wishes, hoping that she might be, one day, my future girlfriend, so went away bunny, and away went Pauline, straight into the arms of Peter Hinds of Wolverton, well that was that, it just goes to show, you can’t trust women! Peter even beat me in the Bonny Baby Show.
Just as you go into the car park, on the left, between the two hedges was where a gypsy family used to camp during the summer for many years, I remember one young boy called Eli, and a girl named Rose, they used to make old type wooden pegs with the metal band holding them together, and sell them round The Estate.
Dad always used to give them some eggs and apples and produce from the garden, he reckoned by doing this it stopped them from taking vegetables from the Allotments! They also collected the local scrap on a pram! Where their camp was in the bushes, used to be a very open area, and like a playground for numerous rabbits, who kept the grass nice and short, not like today all overgrown. When the third bridge was built in 1959, most of the remaining first and second bridge rubble was dumped there, covering up their old campsite and the rest of the area.
Little Eli and his parents moved on to new pastures, and were never seen again in the area, at least not by me, I don’t think they went to any school, but were friendly enough to us kids who used to go and see them and try to learn to make pegs, I never managed that either!
One of the two or three times a week social events for us kids was the comic swap, this consisted of going around each others house and swapping comics, the Beano, the Dandy, the Knockout, Film Fun, Adventure, Wizard, Champion, Hotspur etc. It took two English comics to get one American, which was all colour and pictures, the only trouble was you had finished looking at it in ten to fifteen minutes. And then the Eagle came out, and almost killed off reading only comics, I still have my Eagle Diary, but the comic soon disappeared, but I see Dandy is still going strong with most of the old characters still in it.
Some of the more religious families used to have the Sunday Observer, a paper we always thought seemed to have a bit of a religious slant to it, and probably still has, if it’s still in print.
We heathens used to keep in our heads, a note of those readers when we went carol singing for money, this was really a form of extortion I suppose, because if they didn’t give us a reasonable fee, which we assumed they would because it was nearly Christmas and religion was somehow involved, they were liable to find their hook on gates, changed with someone else’s, or to find a piece of black thread tied to their doorknocker, and pulled from our hiding position across the road or behind garden bushes.
If traffic was very light or nonexistent, some kids used to connect two doors together with one pull thread, and amid loud laughter watch two doors open at the same time. God, we were some real hard villains in those days, usually until an irate male lay in wait for us and gave chase, then we were like trainee’s for the 100 yard sprint, but all in different directions!
This thread game went on for a long time until, one evening, Mrs Poynter, coming round the corner by the old bus stop, got entangled with the black thread and broke her spectacles, amid shouting from her, and threats of court action, and worse if we got caught, and also lots of lights coming on, and parents appearing, we decided this game was suddenly quite boring and hastily disappeared into the evening gloom, to make our ways home via our secret paths, usually through someone’s back garden into the field at the rear of Wolverton Road.
This escape route nearly always worked, until one day, without notifying us kids about it, a new obstacle appeared. People started to hang gates at the sides of their houses, so we went tearing up to the side of a house, and suddenly crashed into these unseen gates, this of course resulted in many a clipped ear by a disturbed and very irate householder and a warning of telling our parents, which was worse, because if they found out, it usually meant another clout around the ear! And if Mrs Kemp found out, threats of the cane or wooden ruler applied to tender regions, usually your left hand, so you didn’t have an excuse for bad writing.
Another escapade was scrumping this was an evening activity with much planning of escape routes from peoples back gardens, and agreeing on a meeting place after the raids to share the spoils, this was nearly always in the other war time pill box by the sewer brook, if the forthcoming raid was a combined operation between gangs, you always finished up with more than you could eat, so leftovers were hidden for a rainy day, whatever that might mean. Usually the outcome of these foraging raids, was the next day severe stomach ache and diarrhoea, which was a deadly giveaway of what you had been up to, and the adults comment of ‘Serves you right’.
Mr Ferguson, once when he caught us in his orchard said, in his strong Scottish accent ‘You don’t have to pinch the apples, just help yourselves to any you can reach’. This seemed a good offer, but then looking at the height of his fruit trees, this was not such a good offer after all.
These raids finally finished for us, when dad caught another gang taking pears from one of our trees, in the garden of 94, oh well, so much for our planning. When the potatoes on the allotments were ready to dig up, we usually took a few for test purposes and went to one of our many camps around The Estate, and if anyone had a few matches, lit a fire and attempted to cook these (In about 20 minutes) buried in the smoking fire. This project again died out when one gang member, the next day, was rushed to Northampton Hospital, with suspected appendicitis, but luckily it was a false alarm!
During the long sunny months, marauding gangs from New Bradwell and sometimes Wolverton used to descend on us, this was the time that all the Haversham gangs got together to see off our foe from over the river and far away places! These raids were usually arranged at Wolverton School between us, so there was no real element of surprise or being unprepared. A very amicable arrangement, don’t you agree. Though I suppose if one gang turned up and another didn’t it was all a waste of time!
The battle line was the river bridge, and was fought tooth and nail, with balls of mud! This gooey bluish clay was dug out of the river bank on both sides, then thrown under and over the bridge and across the river. Most of it was thrown over the old bridge, or nearly over it; the state of the bridge after one of our skirmishes was unbelievable, very muddy, it was plastered everywhere, even a passing bus did not usually escape this barrage of smelly muck. Then one day, a poor unsuspecting cyclist, a Mr Bill Coombs got in the way of a lump of mud and decided to complain to the dreaded police. Remember we were only about 13 years old!
So before the battle for the bridge had been resolved, down came Sergeant Bert Gee, all the way from 95 Church Street, Wolverton, this was the old police station, and it wasn’t to join in or advise on strategy on the continuing battle. His car stopped in the middle of the bridge taunting us, by this time the Bradwell kids had vanished into thin air, leaving us to be politely spoken to and lectured to by Himler himself, he suggested, before he informed our parents to get the B….y bridge and clean it up, just to keep him happy we thought we had better do as he suggested, so with him and his deputy making a big show of holding up the sparse traffic he had us 10 or 12 kids crawling about the bridge picking up the mud!
He said to me, ‘You ought to know better with your dad in the ‘Specials’, what he meant I don’t know, anyway we cleared up most of the mess. He gave us another little lecture, turned to his deputy laughing his head off, got in his car and drove away. We never heard any more about it, but for weeks afterwards drying mud was still all over the bridge until it rained, this fun gradually died out when we left school, so ending another era of school kids fun.
The only jobs were butcher delivery boy, paperboy, up the market helping out on a Friday and all the dirty jobs on local farms, I sometimes used to go to Mr Webb at Pike’s, now Crossroads Farm. Mr Webb gave me wonderful jobs like digging out 12” thick layers of chicken muck and washing down with Jeyes Fluid, cleaning the cowshed out, down to the Fox Covert field pulling up mangolds and cutting off the usually wet leaves, and pulling turnips, then cutting down thistles and picking up stones, and attempting to rebuild stone walls. I never did get the hang of that, my attempts usually finished up wider at the top than the bottom, or like the tower of Pisa, it looks easy but you try it, if you ever get the chance.
Now and then he hired a tractor driven belt saw and then it was log splitting time, that was hard work as Mr Webb didn’t trust a young lad with an axe, so it was a sledgehammer and wedge, as you can imagine, I was glad to get a part time job at The Empire Cinema as a rewind boy.
For a while I had a job on Eddie Wright’s sweet stall at the old Friday Market Hall, which closed in July 1979. It was a very tempting job, and rewarding, if the wrapped toffee got too sticky to sell, he it gave to me, and that could be swapped for all sorts of things, and at a pinch, eaten of course!
I also worked for Mr Owen Goode at Pineham Farm. All I ever remember doing there was carting manure to the heap along the bridleway with a horse and cart, I decided to speed up this journey one day and attempted to go through the wooden gate posts too fast, and lost a wheel off the cart, Mr Goode said he could do without my help soon after this incident, mind you that muck heap certainly grew some big mushrooms on it, and one year was covered in nasturtiums with huge red and yellow flowers.
From then on I spent more time at Mr Ferguson’s Field Farm, this was the best farm in my experience to work at, because you got tea thrown in, this was usually only bread and jam or cheese, but it was good because there was plenty of it, and a homemade cake to finish with. Mrs Ferguson made the best cups of tea I have ever tasted, we always put it down to their water which came from a well near the back door. Mr Ferguson always had a supply of cool brown ale and lemonade in the cellar for harvest time use only, or so he told us thirsty young workers.
In the late 1940s to the early 1950s Jock’s wheat and barley was cut with a reaper and tied with a binder and threw the sheaves of wheat out to one side, us kids followed stooking up the sheaves of corn as they came out of the clattering machine, later they were lifted onto a couple of horse drawn trailers, which if you were lucky, you got the job of leading the horse on foot, or actually allowed to drive it from the trailer seat, if it had one, this was a much envied job and really put you on a higher footing then the peasants doing the stooking! But you had to earn the privilege, by being on time.
The wheat was taken down to the rickyard for building into stacks, then in late summer, along came the threshing machine and steam traction engine, this was usually an enjoyable time for us kids, what with the smoke and steam and rats and dogs and a chance to earn some pocket money for essentials like airgun pellets and catapult elastic, and perhaps a comic or two. When this steam driven engine arrived at the drive down to Field Farm, and usually followed by us to watch the setting up, the local kids came out in force to help with the harvest and corn threshing, and rabbit chasing and generally having a good time chasing the girls. In the rickyard Mr Ferguson gave us our jobs, one or two of us had to make sure that no sparks from the coal fired engine set fire to the straw, fire equipment was 2 or 3 buckets of water and wet sacks, a couple or more had to try and kill rats, who had made their home in the ricks. This was usually utter confusion with us, and the various dogs we collected to help in this task, the dogs usually got a few, but we never did, just as well I suppose with the diseases that they carried, usually when the day’s work was finished we finished up in the river to cool off and to rid ourselves of the chaff and soot and other dirt we had, like magnets drawn to ourselves, the girls usually went home to a proper bath!
The remaining kids were used to pass up stray sheaves and help with bagging up the wheat, and removing the chaff, chaff was what was left over from the ears of wheat, what was left of the wheat stalks was made into another stack alongside, this was then used in the winter for animal bedding, and for us to slide down and burrow in, until caught by Mr Ferguson, then we were banned from playing on the farm for a few days. We usually went to the old sewage works and tried to ride round on the water sprinkler bars, and make our new camps in the bushes. In later years this straw was left in the field after combining and later baled by Joe Courtman of Hanslope.
Bales were usually stacked inside the big barns, which, in the winter months made good playgrounds for the few older kids who had helped with the harvest for a few bottles of lemonade and sweets. The bagged up wheat was later collected by feed and flour merchants, F. Coales and Son of Newport Pagnell, whose depot near the Newport Pagnell fire station closed in 1973.
Alas, the farm and barns are no more, but when I go by the ruins, I think of the happy times lots of us kids spent there. Today it is frowned upon to let youngsters roam around the farm equipment, but we could hardly ever swing a tractor starting handle, and that was about the only engined thing on the farm, though I was always very wary of the binder cutting blade. We got much more satisfaction grooming and talking to the horses and attempting to put them into their harness, or chasing the chickens and the rats, which were no more co-operative than the pigs! We were sometimes allowed to watch the milk cooling machines, but were never allowed into the milking shed during the milking, we were told and believed, that it stopped them giving milk, but we were allowed to feed and muck them out afterwards, when they got used to you, you could make quite a fuss of them, we used to bring them windfall apples and pears which they seemed to appreciate, their milk was always tasty anyway, and Free!
Mr Ferguson also had two shire horses, even one of these was called Jock, these were lovely animals, and knew more about farming than I ever did. For a while he had an agricultural student named John Brixie working for him; he lodged with us at 94. He had a .22 Webley air pistol and very good catapult, which I borrowed and promptly lost. I wonder what became of him, and the catapult!
One other job which lots of kids helped on, if that is the right word, about 1948/50 was assisting Reggie Partridge deliver the Sunday papers around The Estate, this was a shared job with kids splitting The Estate up between themselves. One perk of this job was a free look at the naughty bits in the News of the World which cost 2 pence, this to us, was a banned newspaper because of the nature of its articles and pictures! Much the same as today I suppose.
The river under the Viaducts used to be the official Wolverton Bathing Place, I cannot remember the changing huts, but have seen photos of them, including a photo (1933) of two large corrugated iron huts right by the edge of the river, I suppose one for males and one for females, the wooden changing huts used to be by the high wooden fence on the left, but were long gone by the start of the second World War. In 1939 the water was classed as polluted by the local Health Authorities and classed unfit for bathing in. Just below the water level there were steps, and above them steel horizontal hand rails, these used to run from the start of the wall to the end, most of these have now gone, but there are a couple of the supporting eyes, there were also steps each end into the water with handrails. The brick floor to this spot used to be clear and free of clutter, but look at it now, a filthy mess, and not a safe, or fit place to paddle anymore, most of the rubbish appeared when the safety cut-outs in the Viaduct wall were cut out a couple of years ago, though it was building up about 1965, when the line was electrified.
Our swimming hole, behind the Viaducts in Jock’s field, this was where most of us, boys and girls learnt to swim, before the Polio scare. A marvellous place, one shallow pool for the learners and a deeper one, with a homemade diving board you could use, nailed to an overhanging willow tree stump, this was once you had graduated by being thrown in three times and swimming out John Canvin and John Williams taught me and many other to swim there. Max, John Canvin’s dog, used to join in the fun with us and had a wonderful time trying to push us under.
In the early 1950s there was the Polio scare, and swimming in the river by us kids practically died out overnight.
Our doctor was Dr. A.H. Habgood, his surgery was at 37 Stratford Road, Wolverton which closed in March 1979, I don’t remember seeing him much, but frequently later on, when my sister Pat was born in the front room of 94 in 1942, and dad had his annual bout of bronchitis, and also when all us kids got German measles just after the war, and later when I knelt on a broken bottle crawling under a barbed wire fence at the bottom of The Crescent during a chase game, that was very dramatic, limping up the Wolverton Road with blood oozing out beneath a none too clean handkerchief, with lots of advice but no sympathy from the local residents on what to do. That wound took 15 stitches to sew it up, and a couple of weeks off school and then excused games so it wasn’t too bad! I still bear the scars on my knee of that wound.
The next time I saw the doctor, by then I believe Dr. Michael Douglas who retired in May 1976, was when I had my tonsils removed about 1950, that was good for a new Raleigh bike which lasted me until 1956 when it got run over by a military vehicle during my army service.
When we were a bit older i.e. had left Haversham Village School we used to sometimes venture through the village up to Little Linford and go down the gated road now called Linford Lane. There actually used to be gates you had to open or climb over, to go into this distant territory. There always used to be pheasants wandering about this lane and quite tame, we later found they were reared for shooting parties, there was an old water pump in a tin shed surrounded by iron railings by the roadside, this was used for pumping well water to the now demolished Linford Hall.
The old Linford Hall, built by Knapps, was still standing then, built about 1680 with (in 1911, with 60 acres of grounds) Georgian extensions I read somewhere. Squire Knapp was there in those days. I remember three sets of gates, one in Linford, and one where there is only one stone support still standing, there two used to have P.O.W. initials carved upon them, and the last gate was at the river bridge near the M1 motorway. This lane was a lot narrower then it is today, and only fenced along one side, and used to have about six or seven horse chestnut trees along the right hand side, which used to hang right over the lane and were always a good source of conkers.
We usually cut across the fields via the old Carr’s Mill, Carr’s originally came from Swanbourne and Mursley, and were still there in April 1891. At the Mill with their parents Harold and Margaret Bennett, lived daughter Margaret and brother John.
We used to visit St Peter’s, Stanton Low Church and the one remaining cottage where Joe Fowler lived. We usually found a tin can or bottle and entered the church and put wild flowers on the altar. The church in those days was already showing signs of decay and vandalism and a leaky roof, and before many ears passed was a complete ruin. The cottage disappeared when the M1 was built, and the sandpits bought and later much enlarged by A.R.C. during the early days of Milton Keynes.
Another regular walk we did on Sunday mornings was to Linford Wood. This started at the top of the hill, and across to the then new water reservoir at the top of Souster’s Lane, (now called the Swan Way), then onto the abandoned and lonely Wood Farm.
Exploring those old buildings was good for an hour or so, we found one roof truss with the date 1871 on it. Near the ruined farmhouse was a large cistern or water storage tank, (it’s still there) next to that was pump house, complete with a big, I believe diesel pumping machine, we spent many hours trying to get it to go, but without success, we always presumed this was above a well, but we never managed to get down to it, as it was buried under old railway sleepers. There was also talk of a well under the remains of the house on the right hand side, we never found that either, but we certainly tried hard enough. These old farm buildings have gradually deteriorated and fell down and now look set to go to the same fate as Field Farm on The Estate. In spring from Linford Woods, we used to pick primroses and bluebells, and hang a dozen or so bunches on long sticks, walk home with them, and try and sell them door to door for tuppence a bunch, I don’t think you would be allowed to do that today! This again raised enough cash to get into The Palace or The Empire Cinema, usually two of us paid to go in and then three of four would discretely go to the toilet at the back of the hall, and let a couple in via the Fire Exit, hopefully unseen by the usherette. Us kids were not allowed into the toilets in the foyer, these were for the rich people in the 2/1 seats on the balcony. More discrimination against us kids!
Anyway, back to the woods, there used to be, on the left just before Wood Farm, a most strange hut beside some of the wooden Hanslope Park radio aerial masts, these masts have now been removed from the fields East of the brook, they were Douglas fir from Canada according to markings on them. This hut was 6 or 8 sided, with a sloping roof, and a 1” wooden outer skin, then 4” of gravel then more wood, and there were a couple of windows made of glass about 2” thick. Inside this hut was a very deep well, criss-crossed with wooden beams, and way down, black murky water, we never went down this hole, only dropped stones down it. Year later it was filled in and demolished, but I never found out its real purpose! These also used to be a small brick building about 200 yards to its left, its concrete base is still there, but it was complete with roof and door and steel framed windows in the mid Fifties. We eventually got to the woods and the now rotten centre tree, then gradually made our way down to the brook for a well earned drink, via the old barn and cattle yard before the brook, if there were bales of straw in the small barn it usually meant rearranging them to our satisfaction and not the farmer’s idea of stacking them!
Linford Wood in those days was much more dense and overgrown then it is now, with hardly any paths, and quite a few swampy areas which were like a magnet to us kids, especially after watching films like Northwest Passage. You would rarely see anybody else in the woods, at the brook there used to be a submerged fording place made of brick, to the left of the small bridge. Why it was there I don’t know, but it is shown on old maps, and is probably an old pathway or drovers trail from Hanslope to Newport or Wolverton cattle pens at the Railway Station.
We then followed the brook along to the first white footpath bridge, then onto the rabbit warren in Mr Goode’s field, where we tried to smoke out the rabbits, never caught any, but it was interesting to see where the smoke came out and the confusion of the rabbits.
When we reached the road we crossed over to Mr Mayes, Lodge Farm side of the brook, and carried on to our main source of watercress, via the long narrow spinney and the bed of the brook, hopefully unseen by the owners and onto friendly territory of Field Farm, (there was also a spring opposite the watercress bed), then onto the white bridge and up the footpath, back onto the Wolverton Road, or as far as the railway line, then across to the end of Brookfield Road and the old sewage works, which we usually checked to see its operation and to make sure if the rotating sprinkler need any assistance, it usually did, we often wondered how this managed to rotate without any motor to drive it, later it dawned on us it only went round when the water was turned by an employee of the council, so the pressure of water must have rotated the sprinkler, no wonder we could never get a free ride.
Another walk John Williams and myself, and a few other did, was under the Viaducts, to Cosgrove Sandpits, on the way there in the river was a punt, owned by Mr Whiting of Manor Farm, Old Wolverton, this was good for a bit of fun, at least until Mr Whiting made his way from the farm to advise us to go somewhere else. So we carried on to the sandpits, which on a Sunday was usually deserted, on the left side of the pits was a miniature railway, used to carry the sand up to a washing plant at the far end, the small wagons, if they had been foolishly left unlocked, gave us many hours of pleasure riding up and down. Eventually someone would turn up and politely ask us to leave. I vaguely remember someone in a disabled driver vehicle appearing and giving chase to us but after the first ditch giving up, nobody ever welcomed us, can’t think why though, we never did any damage, though we did find out the steel wagons unlike a ship, did not float!
A couple of times, David Ferguson’s
aunt, Mrs Singleton
, gave us money to actually buy seats in the front row of the balcony in the New Empire
. This was a big step up in the world for us paupers, you could look down on the peasants in the stalls, and throw peanuts or peas at them, once we dropped pepper down, this caused a bit of a rumpus and general melee down below, and a visit to us by the manager Mr Bev Hearn
who said he didn’t expect that sort of behaviour from his circle customers, what a cheek, and we had paid 2/1 each for our seats, and we were even entitled to use the foyer toilets, these were painted black and cream and actually had a shade on the light, the stalls toilets were all black and no shade, and usually no light! The circle balcony was very posh indeed, and the seats didn’t collapse during the film, unlike the stall seats, which in a few years time I had to try and repair!
FISH & CHIP SHOPS
Lloyd Billingham’s chip shop in Creed Street was the last of the Little Streets to be demolished in 1968. I think Maskell’s had it before them, the chip fryers were coal fired, and the chips were made in the back room as they were needed. If we were really hard up, and we usually were we used to go around a few Estate houses taking orders for fish and chips, then bike to Wolverton or Bradwell for them. They were always closed on Mondays to go to the markets to get the fresh fish.
Sometimes Wolverton (Creed Street) was closed, then you had to bike all the way up to the Peel Road chip shop (Brown's) opposite the Top Club, or take a chance and go the Bradwell (Read's, Newport Rd) and hope they were open. Anyway when you got back you had hopefully earned enough money to go to the cinema or Stratford Fair (now a housing estate) in the summer. Mind you, sometimes the orders got a bit mixed up, but I don’t think anybody really worried, it saved them the effort of biking back to Wolverton, which they had probably done twice already, and also after a long day in the Works or the Print.
I suppose we were the really early Meal on Wheels service!
Listening to the radio was a family gathering. Most play areas were deserted when you had Dick Barton Special Agent and Riders of the Range and later Journey into Space tuned in. This was 6.45 until 7.00pm most evenings, and then you had plays and series like Paul Temple, I.T.M.A. and Arthur Askey, Life with the Lyons and The Huggetts were the comedy shows that I remember. If dad was on police duty late at night, mum used to let me get out of bed and listen to The Man in Black by Valentine Dyall, which was on at 11pm. I think it was only because it was a spooky programme though, that she let me come down from bed.
The first T.V. I remember seeing about 1948/49 was at Mr and Mrs Oakes house with son George. The next T.V. I saw was at Mr and Mrs Willet’s who lived at 8 Wolverton Road; the programme was the Boat Race, and one crew sunk. These were on 9” and black and white screens, usually with a magnifying lens in front, I was not impressed. The actual first television in the district was at Lampitts’ Radio Shop in Wolverton, on 12th August 1938 it was demonstrated there in the evening, free of charge!
About 1949/52, a Mr Brandon and his wife used to visit us, they pitched a large tent in the field opposite 8 Wolverton Road, and began to preach the Gospel, with free sweets as an inducement for us Pagans to attend. These Sermons and Songs were of quite an upbeat tempo, with lots of clapping and joyful Hallelujahs, it didn’t go down well with some of the Holy Joes on The Estate, but he came for three or four years, then disappeared out of our lives, though someone did say they saw him many years later at a seaside town, and still Preaching the Gospel, or his version of it.
We children used to collect newspaper salvage for the War effort, and deliver it to a barn at the rear of the Vicarage. We used to look forward to this, as you sometimes found comics and Picture Post you had not seen, these were usually borrowed and hid under your jacket for safekeeping!
We also used to collect scrap iron and aluminium pots and pans. I cannot remember ever seeing this salvage collected, perhaps it’s still there rotting away.
||The little summerhouse on The Crescent was used during the war as H.Q. for the A.R.P., Frank Woolley, the Home Guard and the Special Constabulary, my father Joe Brightman and Bert Pooley and Mr (Sgt.) Tattam, who had a sweet shop in Wolverton opposite the Works main entrance, were Specials during and after the War. Their pay in 1940 was 5/- a week plus 3/- War Duty allowance. And of course a free uniform, which had to be handed back in at end of Police Service. One of dad’s last jobs was directing traffic at Silverstone car races.
My father finished with a Police Long Service Medal in 1961. This was soon after I was fined 30/- for speeding at 40m.p.h through the village on my A.J.S. motorbike. There was the shame of having ones name reported in the local paper, and dad being a Special. I think that was the last straw for him and he resigned soon afterwards! But he received a nice letter from the Chief Constable thanking him for his services over the last 22 years!
A hobby we kids had was car number plate collecting, (God knows why), but we used to sit for hours outside 31 Wolverton Road, where Mr Frank Woolley lived, (he was an A.R.P. warden during the war), there were not many cars about then and if you collected a stranger, down he went into the book. Ian Allan used to publish a book on car registrations and where they came from, like there used to be in the back of the old type A.A. book.
The number plate collecting hobby went hand in hand with train engine number spotting on the Viaducts, where we used to put a penny on the rails and wait for it to be squashed into half as big again by a speeding express, if you could find it again! If we were rich, and could afford a few penny platform tickets, we went onto the station or hung about by the cattle pens to collect numbers, but it eventually dawned on us, that the same engines went over the Viaducts, so we went back there, into the half buried arches to explore and light fires in to keep warm. I remember once John Williams went down into one of the deep pits under the arches to retrieve a dead swan, this was so as we could pull out the large wing feathers to make into fishing floats. I never had enough courage to go down there, I used to think, what if someone removed the borrowed railway ladder. I don’t think many of us had serious hobbies, we all had our Meccano sets, some better than others, a few tried to make Crystal set radios and fretwork, some kept goldfish and other small pets. I can’t ever remember seeing any hamsters or guinea pigs or those other silly things like stick insects, mainly our pursuits lay in the great outdoors, birds eggs, fishing and rabbiting and the most serious pursuit of conker collecting and swapping comics, one other thing we always seemed to be doing was having campfires, if someone could purloin a few matches, we even sometimes used to talk to girls!
Dad in 1937 used to play cricket for Haversham, this was on a pitch in the village, at the bottom of the hill on the left, behind Mr North and Mr Massey’s old farm buildings. I believe at one time there was another pitch behind the Rectory. Dad used a bat signed by Don Bradman, then it was passed on to me. We used it on the Crescent Green kid’s pitch, until it fell to bits about 1950. Mike Cruwys once hit a cricket ball through the shop window, I don’t know who paid for that, but it more or less put paid to cricket on The Green.
There was, about the mid 1920s motor bike races held in Cliff Norman’s dad’s field by the river, called Nash Meadow, this was at the time part of Stacy Hill farm at Wolverton. Dad and my uncle Ron Page and other used to race there, sadly Cliff was killed in a road accident at Banbury in 1929 and the races finished.
ELECTRICITY & GAS LIGHTING
From November 1939 a Blackout was enforced until 17th September 1944. But electric street lighting was not installed on The Estate until about 1949, but this used to go off at 11pm and was not on at all in the summer months, but at the Christmas period was left on all night! Wow. Before that there was lighting up to the Wolverton side of the river bridge, and later gas lamps either side of the bridge, these had a clockwork mechanism to turn them on and off, which was wound once a week by a member of the East Midland Gas Board depot opposite the Park entrance, he walked there carrying a short ladder, and a spare supply of gas mantles, as these got shot up regularly by local marksmen. I was fined £1 for this misdemeanour in 1951. This gas lighting system on the bridge continued until electric light fittings were installed on the wooden poles past the bridge, which in those days carried power to Haversham on the left hand side of the road. This is probably why the new (1993) lamp columns were erected this side, and not in the logical place, over the footpath. Haversham village had to wait a few more years before they had electric of any description. The Estate power now comes under the Viaducts to the transformer by the Allotment, then goes underground.
During the winters when we always seemed to have lots of snow, we used to gather on The Crescent Green and roll up 2 or 3ft snowballs, the size was only limited by what we could lift or roll, these were stacked up, usually in a semi-circle, two wide at the bottom and a row on top, then little niches were cut inside for storage of hand sized snowballs, these to be used in the forthcoming battle between The Crescent kids and the Wolverton Road mob, we were evenly divided, sometimes even parents joined in, you had snowball makers and snowball throwers, these battles usually ended up with a mad charge against each others camp, trying to demolish their barricade of snow, which was usually rebuilt the next day, these heaps of snow were usually the last to thaw and were still there long after it had gone everywhere else.
There were no Council gritting lorries in those days and any snow moving was done by hand, including us kids, the residents of houses were expected to keep their own paths clear, and they did, the few remaining Ex-P.O.W. were usually there as well, and made some wonderful big snowmen and other snow sculptures, this was usually between lulls in snowball battles with us kids. When we got bored with snowball battles, the snowdrift up the Hanslope Road beckoned us they were usually deep enough to dig tunnels through and make unseen camps! The wind always seemed to come from the north, and the Nissen huts made a natural place for the snow to start to drift across the whole road, and build up behind the stone wall which used to be there on the left hand side, there are still traces of this wall, but it used to be about 4ft high on the field side. During the severe winter of 1946-47 the remaining P.O.W. dug out the road halfway to Hanslope and were met by troops coming the other way.
In Jock’s field at the end of Brookfield Road was the only decent slope to use our sleds on, but this has since been smoothed out due to ploughing, or you could make your way across to the railway embankment, some of us did this, but the only problem was the hedge and the fence at the bottom, and also frozen ant hills, which, if you hit one threw you off your sled, injuring your dignity if nothing else, and giving us a few more bruises. Some of us used corrugated iron sheets, these went very fast but they had sharp edges and were dangerous when flying around among the other ids.
The record for long distance sled run with push start, was won would you believe it, by a girl, Cynthia Holloway, I should imagine this record will never be broken, as we don’t get the snow anymore and the kids have different priorities these days, or they dare not go out in the cold!
I remember during the severe winter of 1947 there were still some P.O.Ws on the camp, and my father made a big snow sled for collecting large bits of wood on for the house fire because coal was till on ration, or unavailable, we took the sled to Jock Ferguson’s field, by the orchard at the end of Brookfield Road, this was the only field with a bit of a slope on it, and 5 Germans got on board, started off and the runners snapped off! Dad was not very pleased with me, or the Germans, and said they should go home or words to that effect!
MAX THE DOG
Mr and Mrs Jack Canvin
Mrs Cavin & Max
, the butcher shop owner, used to live at 25 Brookfield Road, they had a huge golden Labrador dog called Max
, he was the terror of The Estate
dogs, but I made friends with him eventually, so was permitted to take him out for walks around the fields, this really put me one up on the rest of the kids, as they and their dogs, and a few owners were scared of Max
main diet was a sheep head and rice pudding, he loved those. Max
and I, and John Williams
spent many a happy hour attempting to dig rabbits out of the line bank, we never caught any but, I think we might have frighten a few to death, or they swiftly moved away.
About 1950 Mr and Mrs Canvin, moved to Tustain’s bungalow, this was called “Brookside”. Where the new houses are now was their garden and small orchard, which I tended until I went into the army, I used to look after and mow the large lawns, and potter about, for washing and cleaning out Mr Canvin’s Austin A70 car I was paid 10/-, or 50 pence. I planted the hedge in front of the bungalow in late 1953.
In April 1954, Her Majesty the Queen wrote requesting me to join her Armed Forces at Portsmouth, and later at Deepcut near Aldershot, this I did, and spent three wonderful years as a mobile cinema projectionist, showing training films all over Southern England and abroad, well, the Isle of Wight actually! On my discharge papers it said Fond of all Sport, there was about as much truth in that as Mr Chamberlain’s 1938 Peace in our time, bit of paper!