Memories of Old Stratford

This page presents personal memories of some of the well remembered characters of Old Stratford.


The hoggin pit at Furtho Farm, Old Stratford, that has been worked since the Romans occupied the area, is about to end. With today's high tech standards this type of material - hoggin - cannot be used in construction work, only such work as under farm roads. Hoggin is a mixture of sand, lime, gravel and clay; almost impossible to separate. I've almost finished digging and am reinstating the area back to grass. From Roman times up to the 1950's sand which could be found in small pockets down to a depth of 15 feet, was dug and hand sifted for building in the area (Old Stratford/Cosgrove and Furtho). Old walls can still be found to contain sand and mortar from the pit. Also concrete building blocks made in the 1930's to 1950's, but thus are becoming rare as they are prone to frost damage. Some of the small gauge rail track is still under my workshop. It should have been named Old Stratford Pit but as it was in Furtho Farm it got called Furtho Pit. Anyone know how Furtho House and Farm got in Old Stratford?

John Marchant 1990

The Buckingham Arm in the 1950's
Keith Baud

Having a passing interest in canals (holidays on the Shroppie, Ashby and Caldon canals over the past few years) I was aware of the existence of the Buckingham Canal Society and their efforts to get at least part of the Buckingham Arm back into commission.

As I was born in Old Stratford in 1947, and lived in the South Northants/Milton Keynes area until I moved to Devon in 1986, I knew the Stratford Arm particularly well from boyhood rambles along its overgrown banks. Whilst too young to actually remember the canal in its working days, I can certainty remember working boats on it, or perhaps more correctly, IN it. But more of that later...

Although I can remember other bits of the Arm, and parts of the Grand Union when it carried working boats, my main story concerns the stretch of canal between what is called Bridge No 2 on the Stratford Arm (785418) and Bridge 5 on the Buckingham Arm (774401). The reason for this is that this encompasses the approximate area that a 10 year old's legs were likely to carry him from his home!

Bridge 2 was a lovely stone structure with a wooden farm gate and stile at its northern side. It certainly had water underneath it in the '50's, as did all this stretch. The parapets were in good condition, the stone wall on the south eastern side was a bit ruined where people climbed over It to gain access to the towpath and the towpath went underneath the bridge on the southern side. Certainly the towpath lay along this side of the canal for its whole length at least as far as Deanshanger.

The bridge serviced a stony track that ran from a gate on the Cosgrove road opposite what is still known as the "Quarries", and is still I think used by the Scouts for camping. This whole area both sides of the Cosgrove Road had obviously been used for quarrying as the fields were full of humps and bumps. The track to the bridge ran south along the edge of a field (with a dry stone wall on its eastern edge) to Bridge 2. This field was lower than the track, canal and Cosgrove road. In fact the Cosgrove road ran along the top of a small 15/20foot cliff face which was obviously the face of the quarry (limestone). The canal ran along a low embankment that gradually increased in height as it crossed Dogsmouth Brook. As a child this embankment seemed HUGE, I am sure it looks very small today!

The field also held a rubbish dump close to the Cosgrove road which we were always warned to stay clear of. It contained a lot of ashes, still hot underneath, and one of the Slaymaker brothers was badly burnt when he fell through the crust that covered it.

The canal executed a long curve on this embankment and was in water. I am glad you have identified the paddle gear and culvert at 783417. My memory recalls that this was a brick lined semi-circular culvert that ran down the southern slope of the hill through an area of rough land and into the brook. One of our favourite pastimes was damming this culvert with puddled clay from the brook which implies that there must have been water coming down it at times - meaning water in the canal.

The culvert which took Dog's Mouth Brook under the embankment was obviously a source of great interest to the local lads, it is reputed that some of the more daring waded through it to the far end. It is called Dog's Mouth Brook by the way because of a spring that used to issue from a Dog's Mouth in the bank near the road bridge over the brook on the old Northampton Road at its junction with the Cosgrove road.

The section of the canal between the Dog' sMouth culvert and what is now the ASD was never easily accessible, as the towpath was heavily overgrown. We did get along it in 1963 however when the canal froze over for months.

There was certainly a short arm at 782414 and I seem to recall a building made out of corrugated steel sheet and painted black near it, although whether it was a wharf or not I would not like to guess. This arm lay in the far (eastern) corner of a rectangular field bounded on two sides by the canal and was well overgrown in the 50's. In later years David Adams of Bridge Farm (opposite Riverside Garage) established ACE Plant Hire in this field.

At the south-east corner of this field the canal made a 90 degree turn west, with a short arm going straight into what we called “The Wharf". Although we never went into "The wharf" (it was private property), a little niggle at the back of my mind says there must have been a way of crossing this arm to gain access to the towpath which continued on the southern side of the main cut. I note that you have found evidence of a swing bridge at 782413 and this must have been it. By the late 60's the Wharf Arm had dried up and we used to walk across it through the reeds.

This junction seemed quite big as a child, it was certainly quite an expanse of water and a popular fishing spot. There was also an old punt here, covered in black tar that we used to use to make the odd foray onto the waters of the canal. As I said, I think I can only ever remember going into Hayes Wharf once and this was from Wharf Lane. I can remember a great barn of a place like a Dutch barn, with old walls overgrown with ivy. From the junction with the Wharf arm to Bridge 1BA/4 at 781413, the canal ran along the north side of another rectangular field that served as the village recreation ground (known as the Rec.). I think there are houses there now. The boundary between the "Rec" and the canal was a high unkempt hedge with plenty of gaps to access the towpath. The eastern boundary of the "Rec" was the old stone wall of Hayes Wharf. The western boundary was Cosgrove Road - the old A422 to Northampton. As the major junction of the A5 and A422 from Northampton to Oxford, Old Stratford was very busy place before the opening of the M1.

The enigmatic Bridge 1.4/4....

I can remember this bridge when it was a conventional narrow "hump backed" bridge so I would guess that is in the ‘50’s. However, as I said, the A422 was a busy road and after an Army tank transporter (Diamond T or Mighty Antar - I cannot remember which) grounded out on it one day the local council decided to lower the bridge.

They constructed a new flatter concrete bridge that I guess is still there, and this had a towpath underneath on the south side. You could walk under it OK with just your head bent (about 5' 6" headroom I would guess) so from water level there should be enough room for a boat. There was always plenty of water in this stretch of canal and definitely NO dam! The towpath was accessed by an inclined path which led from the south side of road near the entrance to the "Rec" and along between the wall and the road.

After this bridge the canal turned south west along the back of 6 wooden bungalows between it and the Cosgrove road and towards the bridge under the "old" A5. On the right was a field, but closer to the A5 bridge there was a Wharf. This was known as Slaymaker's yard after the farmers who owned it. There was a tall brick building on the right, then an open yard area edging the water where boats presumably unloaded, then a long stone barn whose south eastern wall fell straight into the water. This whole complex was accessed through some fine wooden gates just to the north of the row of small brick built terrace cottages fronting the A5 to the north of the canal.

To the south of the towpath at this point, on the corner of the A5 and Cosgrove road, was Chapman's Yard where the Chapman brothers had a coach-building business building wooden cattle lorry bodies and carts. There was also a forge here where they used to make their own ironmongery and fittings and sweat steel bands onto wooden cartwheels. Two of the brothers lived in two of the aforementioned wooden bungalows that I think they built. The towpath at this point climbed up a ramp to join the A5 on top of the bridge.

I was rather intrigued to see this bridge no 2/5 (779412) referred to as the Old Stratford Tunnel. This is the first time I have heard this expression and whilst I do not remember a towpath underneath it, I think I am right in saying that I do not think it was always this long...

In 1970 the stone arch bridges over the Old Stratford Arm had been bulldozed.

Dredging back in my memory I seem to recall that the A5 and its verges were widened at some point in the '50s. I might be wrong about this but whilst the parapet on the north-eastern side of the bridge is original, I am sure that the one on the south west side is of newer construction. I also seem to remember that the bridge portal on this side is of newer flat construction as opposed to the original arch on the north-east side which indicates that the bridge changes shape halfway through. I could be totally wrong about this, I haven't been down to the canal side by this bridge for about 25 years, but it might be worth investigating.

The towpath rejoined down a ramp on the south-eastern side behind the village shop and the canal continued in a shallow cutting past the rear of the Memorial Hall, a row of houses, an allotment and then two brick built bungalows all sandwiched on the narrow stip of land between the canal and the Deanshanger Road. In the first bungalow lived the Knight family, "Mowey", Agnes and their only son Peter. "Mowey" was the local "bookie" and Peter, being born about a year after me, is my oldest friend. He was always constructing oddball things, like rafts constructed from shed doors and oil drums, and launching them into the canal which bordered their back garden. They invariably sank!

The next bungalow was lived in by the Millward family. I cannot remember their names. They had an interest in the coal yard next door

The final building on the ever narrowing strip of land between the canal and the Deanshanger Road was Millward Bros. Coal Yard. This comprised of an old timber and corrugated iron shed and a small coal yard. The canal ran right along the back and I can only assume that coal was unloaded here for transhipment in the past. This was at 77854105. Nick Millward, the son of one of the owners, inherited the land from his father and subsequently had two or three houses built on it in the mid 80's. One may be on the line of the canal. I have a photo taken in about 1953 showing the whole of the Old Stratford May Queen entourage (including myself and my sister Celia) sitting on Millward's coal Forty outside the yard. Unfortunately it does not show anything of the canal.

Now we come to the exciting bit....

After Millwards Coal yard the canal got ever close to the road until it was separated by just the towpath and a thick, unkempt hedge. On the north west side of the canal at this point, after the council houses of Mount Hill Avenue, was a small rectangular field, which the village team used as a cricket field for a couple of seasons after they were thrown out of the Black Horse field at the top of the village. It was never much good as a cricket field as it was really too small, wet and bumpy.

The canal edge had a number of willows along it at this point, but in it were two abandoned narrowboats - a tug and butty. I can still clearly remember them and although our parents used to warn us off playing on them for fear of us getting trapped and drowning - we still did. I am pretty sure they were of wooden construction, but they were sunk and listing, the holds full of water, timbers green with lichen, their small cabins dank and mouldering. I can still remember the great rusting hulk of an engine in one. They faced towards Buckingham and I reckon they must have been there a few years, but after the last boat to Leckhampstead in 1932 or it could not have passed!

They eventually extended Mounthill Avenue and built what is now Willow Grove on this field in the early ‘70's?, filling in the line of the canal and cutting a new road through it from Deanshanger Road. The line of the canal can still be discerned between Deanshanger Road and Willow Grove as a slightly raised hump and beneath this the remains of two old narrowboats still might lie. What a project for the "Time Team!". As far as I can remember they will be buried between what was Millwards Yard and the entrance to Willow Grove (77854100).

Moving south you have correctly identified the location of Bridge 3. This bridge led into the aforementioned rectangular field and into a marshy area at the foot of another field. The track that lead over this bridge was opposite Holtons Garage and I think the Holton family built a bungalow in the "marshy" bit and used the bridge as access to it. It was certainly originally a timber bridge with a planked deck and wooden handrails but I think it was later replaced. I think the grid reference for this bridge should be 778408.

After this bridge the canal followed the line of the Deanshanger Road on its western side, again slightly below the level of the road. It was separated from the road by a high hedge but had plenty of water in it. Where the Deanshanger road bent right as it left the village a length of iron railings separated the canal from the road to allow vision on what was a dangerous corner, this also allowed a view of the canal as it swept around the bottom of a field.

This field was accessed by another timber bridge - your Bridge 4 - which has probably now been buried under the junction of the new Old Stratford bypass. There was water in the canal at this point although the section after the bridge towards Deanshanger was heavily overgrown, at this point the canal began diverging from the road again, its line defined by a row of trees and a hedge on the towpath side.

Bridge 5 (Puxley Road) at 774401 was about the limit of my youthful wanderings. Again I can remember this as a timber bridge, I think it was replaced with the existing structure in the early '60's. The pipe went in about the same time I think.

The odd thing about these timber bridges is that I can remember no evidence of how they worked. I do not remember any uprights or balance beams that would indicate they were lift bridges, but the ends of the bridges were square, not radiused as you would expect with a swing bridge. On balance I think they were probably lift bridges but with the lifting gear long removed.

I can also remember odd stretches of the canal as it went through Deanshanger, our School Bus to Towcester used to go that way. Bridge 8 and 9 in Deanshanger were both narrow "hump backed" bridges but bridge 7 was a timber decked one as you so rightly deduce. After Bridge 9 the canal curved east behind what is now a small housing estate, a pub (Kings Head?) and school to rejoin the line of the A422. I think there were a couple of bridges on this section serving fields, bit for their exact location you would be better speaking to someone from Deanshanger.

Obviously, the new Deanshanger bypass has destroyed much of the next section of canal but when travelling along this road on a bus in the direction of Buckingham you used to be able to see the line of the canal quite clearly across the fields to the north.

Finally, I can remember the lattice girder bridge on the Thornton road (750365) .

I never did quite understand what the canal did in the vicinity of Cattleford Bridge (742364) but wonder of the road eventually adopted the line of the canal. Back in the 70’s I needed some old bricks for an extension I was building on a cottage at Wicken and knew of a small derelict barn in the field by the side of the road at this point. I bought the “barn” from the owners and transported the bricks to Wicken on a tractor and trailer. I have absolutely no idea whether the barn originally fulfilled a canal function, or whether it was a farmer’s barn. Whatever, as this part of the world is predominately stone I would guess those old bricks originally came in by canal!

The owners of the barn were the Merchant Venturers, who used to own a lot of land in the Wicken/Lechampstead area. Their land agents were based in Oxford I think. It might be worth contacting them to see what ownership records they have for those stretches of canal.

Living where I did I also have memories of the Grand Union when it was still carrying working traffic. We used to go fishing on the canal between Yardley Wharf and Grafton Regis. You could tell when a working pair were coming long before they got to you as the water level would rise with the amount they were pushing along and fall then as they passed, the water virtually up to their cloths.

A popular Sunday walk would be to Cosgrove to have a drink at the Barley Mow, or in the other pub long closed, that was on the other side of the canal through the dark wet tunnel under it. We also used to walk to the locks to watch boats working through, and then right along the embankment and over the Iron Trunk to the Galleon.

I remember when the Sand and Gravel pits were working at Cosgrove (Cosgrove Caravan Park now). A little diesel engine used to pull trains of tipping trucks up from the grading plant at the quarry to the wharf edge before the locks, you can still see the rails today I believe. As kids we used to hitch a ride on the short bumpy journey.

I can remember the short stretch of canal known as the “Black Boards” after the high wooden fence that skirted Wolverton Carriage and Wagon Works between the station and the rail skew bridge over the canal. As a train-spotter we used to go regularly to Wolverton station where you had the double joy of steam on the railway and the working boats on the canal. A flight og wooden steps led down from the road near the station to the canal alongside the carriage works, the towpath affording an excellent view of the main line.

Like many of my contemporaries, when Milton Keynes started being built, I took up tools in the building trade and worked for many years as a carpenter on various sites and projects in the area. Once in the early 70’s, when between contract, I worked for a few months at Faulkner’s Yard in the Old Brewery at Cosgrove fitting out narrowboats. I recall they were steel hulls with a plywood superstructure that we built in a barn at 90degrees to the cut so they were launched end-on, not sideways.

I hope these reminiscences are of some use to your efforts in restoring the Buckingham Arm and wish you all every success with the project. I am a little too far away to offer any practical assistance but I am sure that with a bit of prompting the old memory banks might come up with a few more nuggets of useless information!

Memories of Eric Worth

I was born in Old Stratford in the mid 1930s, and lived at No. 10 Cosgrove Road until my early 20s when I married and moved to Stony Stratford.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother taking me to school at Stony Stratford on the back of her “sit-up-and-beg” bicycle and of buying a farthing's worth of sweets from an old lady in her front porch opposite the infant school.

One of my most vivid memories of these early years is of Mr. Oldell from the ironmongers shop in Stony Stratford coming round our village with all his ironmongery hanging on his Bentley car, and me being nearly run over by him. He reported me to my mother. I had a good “seeing to”. Needless to say I never did it again. His was the only car I can remember on the road at Old Stratford in those days.

In the war we dug a shelter in the back garden. But when there was an air raid we would hide under the stairs, under the table or even in the cupboards until the “all clear” sounded. We never got into the shelter in the garden. It was always waterlogged!

Life was hard. We had no running water, no electricity. Heating was an open range fire in just one room. Light was by gas (if we had a gas mantle). If not by paraffin lamp.

Mother did her washing in a copper boiler which was heated with a wood or coal fire underneath. The washing was afterwards put through a wooden mangle outside to remove the excess water.

To heat ourselves in bed, we would put a brick in the oven to heat. Then wrap it in newspaper to take to bed.

Water came from one of two pumps up the road, and we would take a bucket to collect it. This was used for everything – drinking, cooking, washing. If the pumps were frozen we would walk to the “Dogs Mouth”. I hope its still there.

The toilet was a shed in the back garden. Toilet paper was newspaper torn into small squares. If you were lucky you had the tissue paper from around the oranges once a week.

The night cart used to come to the village once a week, I think on a Friday, to empty the toilet buckets. This was a horse drawn bin on two wheels. The men who collected the buckets used to have what was called a yoke on their shoulders, with two buckets attached to chains. They would come around the back of the houses, leave the empty buckets, and carry the full ones back to the bin. If the toilet buckets got filled before the “night cart” was due we had to dig a hole in the garden and bury the contents. Needless to say our garden grew some of the best vegetables in the village, including self-set tomatoes!

I recall several businesses in the village – Chapman's the wheelwrights, Tee's Garage, who later sold out to Ron Faulkner, and Tommy Underwood, landlord of the Swan public house. On Saturday mornings we use to take the shire horses from Will Slaymakers at Wharf Farm to be shod by Rupert Roberts the blacksmith whose smithy was opposite St. Giles Church at Stony Stratford. These horses were used for general farm work as well as for the local Council.

Milk from the farm was bottled and taken around the village in a hand-drawn 4-wheel  cart. It was bottled in half-pints, pints and quarts.

The canal was near the Cosgrove Road and I can remember skating on it when it was frozen over in the winter. My mother used to tell me I had a ride on one of the last barges going through the canal at Old Stratford. It was a branch of the Grand Union Canal. One of the local coal merchants, Jimmy Canvin used to have his coal yard alongside the canal with horse-drawn barges.

My mother, whose maiden name was Dorothy Stevens, won a beauty competition and the prize was an aeroplane flight from Davenports Field at Old Stratford. This was quite an occasion.

There was a local farmer, who we called “Farmer Amos”. He would go to Buckingham market in his pony and trap. On the way home he would stop at the “Swan” public house, tie his pony up and go in and get completely drunk. The locals would put him in the back of the cart, unite the pony, slap it on the back and head it in the direction of Cosgrove Quarries. It would go straight to its stable about two miles away. [incorrect distance]

These are just a few of my many memories of life in Old Stratford in the 1940s.

Memories of Arnold Croxall

Druse Ltd moved to Old Stratford in 1952 it was branch of Varilectric lad switchgear Manufactures based in Peckham London. In the early years it was mainly manufacturing the sheet metal boxes and framework for the switchgear these were painted and assembled at Old Stratford and then taken by road to Peckham where the electrical components were fitted and wired.

 I started working for Druses after leaving school in April 1958.0ver the years Druses provided employment for many Old Stratford men and women. When I started in 1958 Sid Tee was storeman Reg Giles was a paint sprayer Freddy Langley was a welder and my father Alf Croxall was a sheet metal worker. Like myself and Freddy Langley other village boys who started work at Druses after leaving school were Peter Russell, Malcolm Whitehead, Peter Stevens and Roy Worth. Frank Stone used to make the tea and kept the factory tidy and after taking orders from the men on the factory floor would go over to Church’s shop and buy cakes, pies, biscuits and cigarettes etc. for the men's tea break. Rita Goodger worked in the office. Other villagers who found employment at Druses over the years were Vince Mallows, Lil Smith, Pam Clegg, Nelly Moore, Joyce & Sid Dew, Johnny Goodger .

At Druses we had a very good sports and social club, still when meeting old colleagues we often recall the great times we had on outing such as trips to Southend and the Christmas parties where many a few pints were drunk. In the late 1950s Druses also ran a football team that played in Div 3 of the North Bucks and District football league. Home games being played in the Black Horse field.

In 1960 an extension was built at the rear of premises with access from the Deanshanger Road which provided much needed floor space.

 In the mid 1970s the factory at Peckham closed down and total production of the switchgear was moved to Old Stratford our works contracts were changed and we all became employees of Varilectric Ltd.

Switchgear produced and manufactured at Old Stratford found its way all over Britain and abroad. I well remember one large order being shipped to Kuwait.

The National Theatre London. Thames Barrier. Met Office Bracknell. Ordinance Sooty Headquarters Southampton. Harland & Wolff Shipyard Belfast. to name but a few were all supplied with switchgear made at Old Stratford. Druce Ltd/ Varilectric Ltd were also suppliers of Switchgear to the Air Ministry, Admiralty, Dept of the Environment. Greater London Council, Ministry Public Buildings & Works, British Rail. I left Old Stratford after getting married in 1965 but I was still working at Druses so I visited the village everyday to work. Dinner hour was spent at mum’s house (54 Towcester Rd) where a nice hot meal would always await me. In September 1979 we were all put on a three day working week due to lack of orders, being a family man with two young boys I had to seek other employment and it was with great sadness I left Druses in September 1979 after 21 years service and started in the Railway Works, Wolverton on the October 1979. In my 21years working at Druses I made a lot of good friends (sadly some of them are no longer with us)and when I talk about the good old days believe me because they were. Druses ceased production and closed down in 1981 after almost 30 years in the village.

 Visiting the village nowadays is tinged with sadness because Druses where I worked, 54, Towcester Rd where I lived, The Road where I played as a kid all gone.