so please keep looking back
THE WIDDINGTON CHRONICLES: THE SECOND MILLENNIUM AND THE 20TH CENTURY AS
RECORDED IN THE WIDDINGTON PARISH MAGAZINE
Over the past forty years Widdington’s Parish Magazine has faithfully
recorded the activities of the village – its church services, the
meetings of its parish council, the activities of its clubs and
institutions, and the births, marriages and deaths of its inhabitants.
It has also included many articles on the village’s history and on
the memories of older villagers.
To mark the end of the second millennium and the end of the 20th century
the Parish Magazine Committee has decided to publish a collection of
some of these articles. There are so many that it has been impossible
to include them all, and several of those that have been included
have been shortened and edited.
Alan Calver’s nine-part history of the village is complemented by
personal reminiscences, portraits of some of the village’s most
striking residents, accounts of some village institutions and
customs, memories of Widdington in wartime, and descriptions of some
of the most prominent houses in the village. Several of the articles
overlap each other. As in a good story, there are many characters
you will meet more than once – like Jimmy Court, the rector who sang
along with his brass band and who asked his congregation for the answers
to crossword clues as he made his way up the central aisle, and Will
Rickett the roadman, with his wooden leg, a good leg for high days and
holidays and an ordinary one for everyday use. And there are
many features of country life that made an impression on more than
one villager as he or she looked back – like the primitive sanitary
arrangements (especially at the village school) and the absence of
running water in the home.
This is our last publication before the year 2000.
We hope you will enjoy it and keep it as a record and a reminder
of earlier times, and that you will join us in looking forward to the
new millennium, and the new century, with a stronger consciousness of
where we have come from and a better hope of where we are going.
Widdington Brass Band
LIST OF CONTENTS
PART I: ALAN CALVER’S HISTORY OF WIDDINGTON………………………………………… . .4
Part II: REMINISCENCES
Widdington – before yesterday! – Florence Kate Francis, June 1980…………………………………... 9
1946-1982. A review, not an obituary! – Anne Morris, September 1982……………………………… 9
Reminiscences – Doug Foster, December 1989………………………………………………………… 10
Christmas when we were kids – Florence Kate Francis, December 1989……………………………… 10
‘The house where I grew up’ – Isobel Lindsell, September 1991………………………………………. 10
Reminiscences of Widdington – Douglas Pelly, December 1992………………………………………. 11
Memories of Widdington, 40 years ago – John Woodforth, September 1994…………………………... 11
Marie and John Hoy remember – Anita Sanders, September 1998……………………………………... 12
Memories of Widdington – Sandra Poulton (nee Turner), December 1998………………………….…. 13
Life as a Rural G.P. in North West Essex – John Glennie, September 1999………………………….… 13
Jeremy Dillon-Robinson: Memories of Widdington – Anita Sanders, December 1999………………… 14
Part III: PORTRAITS
C. Henry Warren – Ernest T. Wilson, March 1983……………………………………………………… 18
Sir George Clausen – Jenny Brooke-Smith, June 1998…………………………………………………..18
‘The Rev. James Court’: Spring 1957: extract from an article by C. Henry Warren – D.G Pelly,
Will Rickett – Anonymous, December 1985……………………………………………………………..20
Henry Dellar – Daphne Bridgeman, December 1985…………………………………………………….21
Part IV: VILLAGE INSTITUTIONS AND CUSTOMS
Widdington Men’s Club – Alan Calver, September 1979………………………………………..…. 26
Widdington Brass Band – Ernest T. Wilson, June 1973……………………………………………. 26
Memories of Widdington School: 1935-1942 – Daphne Bridgeman,
March & September 1990, 1991…...............................................................................................27
Pamela Johnstone and Mole Hall – M.S.R. December 1993………………………………………...29
The Old Post Office – Peter Sanders, March 1994……………………………………………………..30
Widdington Post Office – Daphne Bridgeman, March 1984………………………………………..30
May Day Customs – John Gray, June 1988………………………………………………………………31
The May Singers – Daphne Bridgeman, March 1989………………………………………………….31
May Song – Daphne Bridgeman, June 1989……………………………………………………………...32
A village craftsman’s day book – E.T.W, June 1987……………………………………………………..32
Memories of a timberyard in Widdington – Joyce Chipperfield, December 1990……………. 33
A fragment of Church history – Peter Sanders, September 1995………………………………….. 33
News from Widdington 100 years ago: a lively time at the Fleur de Lys –
Peter Sanders, March 1999..........................................................................................................…33
Part V: WIDDINGTON IN WARTIME
From the Parish Records – Anonymous, June 1984………………………………………………………34
The Boer War: a letter home – Peter Sanders, December 1999……………………………………..34
Memories of 1914-1918 – Fr. Francis, June 1990………………………………………………………...34
Outbreak of War, September 1939 – Daphne Bridgeman, September 1989……………………………...35
Wartime in Widdinton W.I – Monica Pelly, March 1995………………………………………………...35
An Evacuee’s View of Widdington in 1940 – John Mitchell, June 1998……………………………36
Recollections of V.E Day in Widdington: 8th May 1945 –
D.G.P, June 1995………………………..........................................................................................…….37
Part VI: THE ROADS AND BUILDINGS OF WIDDINGTON
The New Road – Ernest T. Wilson, December 1982……………………………………………………..38
Broad Leys – one of the oldest houses in Widdington – Katie Thear, December 1983……………............................................................................................................................…….38
William the Conqueror – Anonymous, December 1984………………………………………………….38
Priors Hall – Jeremy Dillon-Robinson, March 1987, December 1988 and March 1989………………..............................................................................................................................…39
‘The steeple is crackt’ – J.T.Stevens, June 1962………………………………………………………….40
Pond Mead – Margaret Hudson, December 1991…………………………………………………………41
Widdington Windmill – Alan Calver, March 1992……………………………………………………… 41
Widdington Hall – Alan Bonner, June 1992………………………………………………………………41
The Old Rectory – Colonel P. Gold, September 1994………………………………………………….42
PART I: ALAN CALVER’S HISTORY OF WIDDINGTON
History of Widdington: (1)
Widdington, or if you prefer it, Wid-ing-tun (Wide Meadow Town), Wod-ing-Tun (situate among the woods);
Wipegn-Tun (Willow Farm, 1042), Widituna and Widintuna (the names given in the Domesday Book), Ulditone (1174), Widiton (1204), Wyditon (1303), Wytington (1327), Wodeton (1368), Wedyndon (1412), Wedington (1494), Wedynton (1529), Weedington (16th century New College, Oxford), Widditon (1594) and Widington (1768).
When did Widdington begin? The first known reference is during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). But what before that? Material evidence shows that the Romans had a fortress at Great Chesterford and farms and villas at Ashdon and Wendens Ambo. A road from Great Chesterford led to Radwinter and then to Great Dunmow.
In 1827 a hoard of Roman silver denarii coins, was discovered in Widdington and in 1978 a single bronze Roman coin. But while it seems that Romans might have walked about the parish of Widdington, there is no evidence that they actually lived here.
Alan Calver, June 1978.
History of Widdington: (2)
After the Roman period, ending in 410 A.D., we are faced with a gap in time of some 600 years before the first references to Widdington in 1042.
At that time there were two manors on the sites of houses we now know as Priors Hall and Widdington Hall. Research is still going on to see if we can establish an exact date for these early manors.
Visitors to the Saffron Walden Museum would at various times have been a showcase of Iron Age pottery. The Iron Age is put by historians as between 550 BC and 40 AD depending on the area. The pottery in the showcase was discovered at Amberden Hall when excavations were made in a barn floor.
Although we now think of Amberden Hall as Widdington it is officially in Debden.
Alan Calver, September 1978.
History of Widdington: (3)
After Saxon Widdington, we progress to Norman Times – 1066 and after. The most noticeable change was that the two manors, Widdington Hall and Priors Hall, had new owners. Widdington Hall was held by Robert Gernon, Priors Hall by the Prior of St. Valery in Picardy. It was quite common for manors to be held by officials of monasteries in France. There were in fact monks at Priors Hall and no doubt they would have taken over the farming of the land, probably with some help from the villagers.
Many villagers would have been self-employed. For instance, we read of wood cutters, stone masons, swineherds, cowherds and charcoal burners.
The monks of Priors Hall had a chapel and the owner of Widdinigton Hall also had a private chapel. However in the early 12th century they combined to build a church dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin.
There is a small window in the North wall of the chancel which is from this original church, and the plan remains the same.
The landscape was formed by the open fields around the manors, as in Saxon times. The area was much more wooded then in the present day with a huge wood belonging to the manors between Amberdana and Widintuna, spreading from near Debden (Deppedana) to near Henham (Henhan) and almost to Newport. Some of the small woods around Widdington are survivors of this huge wood.
If you wanted to travel then Green Croft Lane would take you from Widdington to Newport, Thaxted, Bardfield and Shalford. One surviving Norman hedgerow which marked a manor boundary runs between the parishes of Debden and Henham and between Amberden Hall and Henham Hall.
Alan Calver, March 1979.
History of Widdington: (4)
A look at the map of medieval Widdington shows that a lot of changes had taken place since Domesday Widdington. Mole Hall now appears. The first reference to it was in 1286 as a secondary manor, a sub-division of Amberden Hall. And by the 15th century the area was not so densely wooded. The woods were cleared and small farms, all moated like the manors, were started on the cleared land. Land that was not productive arable or pasture was enclosed for hunting. Manorial hunting parks were a feature of this period. The woods left then are still with us today, namely Priors Wood and Littley Wood. The hedged lanes and streams and many of the boundaries are still intact.
This period gives the first reference to farming as a separate industry. Whereas before the manors and priories seemed to be land owners and tithe collectors, now we see references to farms and they are shown on the maps separately from the manors. Unbelievable as it may seem, if a Widdington parishioner from the middle ages could visit us in 1979 the landscape around the village would be recognisable. Much of the pasture has gone and the hunting parks removed, making the landscape more open. But basically it is much the same.
Widdington Hall was owned around this time by John Greene, who died in 1473, and the estate was sold to Sir William Finderne of Amberden Hall. John Greene’s coat of arms was found on an old font discovered under the ruins of the church tower in 1872. This part of the church is thought to date from the 15th century.
Alan Calver, June 1979.
History of Widdington: (5)
In the 16th century.. the village was beginning to acquire landmarks such as buildings and farms, and field and road names, which we know and recognise today. We have references to Waldegraves in 1510 and Ringers in 1530, both farms today. Smallpieces was a farm from 1414 but is no longer a farm today. There was a windmill in the parish in 1558 situated one mile north-west of the church.
The road or land names mentioned in the records are Stoney Lane (1500), Slowch Lane (1527) and Hollow Lane (1538). The last name is thought to be the Holly Road, Hollow Road of the present time. Field names were spelt very differently but are still basically the same. For example, Burgatefelde in 1539 is Burgate Common in 1979.
This was a time of mixed fortunes for the village. The church was in a state of decay, but on the other hand Edward Elrighton, having inherited Widdington Park and Widdington Hall from his father, lengthened the house to the west, and the chimney stack and west elevation still contain 16th century bricks. Widdington Hall had a barn at Priors Hall is 500 years old and is still standing today….
Men’s clothing of the late 15th and early 16th century was as follows: long fur-lined tunic open at the bottom, belted at the waist with very baggy sleeves narrowing at the wrists, with fur cuffs and collars. Hair was worn short, brushed upwards and backwards. All this was reflected in the brass effigy of a civilian found in the church in 1872 during restoration.
Alan Calver, December 1979.
History of Widdington: (6)
The parish register dates from 1666, earlier records being either lost or destroyed. Parish registers are a very revealing source of information about village life. For instance, the record of 1680 gives us an insight into the Burial in Wool Act, under which all burial shrouds were to be made of wool to safeguard English wool sales against imported linen, silk etc. The Act was complied with to the letter by the law-abiding inhabitants of Widdington.
Widdington Hall, at this time owned by John Turner, had a low two-storey addition built at the west end of the main block. The rectory appendant to Widdington Hall was built in the late 16th//early 17th century. Swaynes Hall was built in 1689. Thistley Hall in 1666. Newlands Farm House was built early in the 17th century. The central chimney stack is original; other parts were added later.
History of Widdington: (9)
The men of the village had a reading room in the front room of Brick Cottage in 1900. Then in 1905 Sir George Clausen R.A. gave his studio to the men of the village as a reading room and Men’s Club. In 1920 a billiards table was installed and shares sold in the table to members. There was also a club held in the rectory barn where woodwork was taught.
Also about the same time, there was a dance band and silver band in the village. Horses and carts went from Widdington to London with hay.
Men went to fight in both first and second world wars. Widdington was the site for two searchlight stations in World War II. One site was in Hamel Meadow and one in Shiptons Farm field.
Widdington had a slaughter house, two shops, dairy, shoemaker, bakery and builder. The windmill was demolished in 1914 and some of its timbers were used in Springhill House.
Leylands Farm was demolished in 1900. The farms in existence before that were Wyses, Martins, Waldegraves. Ringers, Newlands, Punts, Wrays, Shipton Bridge, Priors Hall, Widdington Hall, Pond Mead, Mole Hall, Amberden Hall, Thistley Hall and Leylands – 15 farms employing nearly 100 persons. Now there are only Priors Hall, Mole Hall, Shiptons and Martins, employing fewer than 20 men.
There was a blacksmith’s forge on the site of an earlier farm, Smallpieces. Now most of the farm cottages are private houses and many of the farmyards and orchards and allotments have been built on.
The greatest changes have taken place in the last 25 years.
Alan Calver, March 1981.
Line drawing by Derek Brett.
Part II: REMINISCENCES
Widdington – before yesterday!
I know I am not the oldest original Widdington village, but I do have some memories of years gone by which may be of special interest to some of those who have only recently joined what I have always considered to be a delightful community.
In 1909 I was born in Widdington in the house where I now reside. It is called “The Cottage” and always has been, perhaps for want of a more original name. I was destined to spend some 26 years of my early life in the village. Subsequently I left only to return in later years and eventually to settle here, I expect for the rest of my life – what could be better?
Naturally my earliest recollections of village life are of the village school. Indeed we had a village school situated then not far from the site of the new village hall. The school is no longer there, but I joined the school in 1914 and the memories associated with it are still crystal clear, as it was the focal point of my life at the time. Some of you reading this will remember our headmistress, Miss Perks, who lived at Bishops Cottage. We also had a teacher by the name of Miss Binks who I recall resided for some time at Bridgetts. The school featured significantly in all our lives in those days, and I had some of my enjoyable years there until I left in 1924 when I was 15. The teachers were strict but kind, and it was a style of life we all came to enjoy and looked forward to day to day. We had no school meals or school milk but we do not seem to have suffered as a result.
Younger people will wonder what on earth we did with our spare time in the absence of radio, television, cinemas, cars, motor cycles and aeroplanes. The answer is quite simple – the village green was the centre of children’s activities. It is gratifying to see that it is often so today. It was our meeting point. We erected swings, had bonfires, and some of our parents even had washing lines strung between the trees. I recall a wooden wash tub being communally used on the green by the children for amusement. Of course then as today we took advantage of the lovely walks available to us in the locality.
Perhaps once a year we might have a school charabanc trip to Clacton – a highlight indeed. Also after our parents had accumulated sufficient earnings from gleaning corn we would have the annual trek to Saffron Walden via feet and railway to replenish shoes and clothes for the forthcoming year. Another wonderful annual outing.
My young life was centred to the chapel which embraced the Band of Hope, Magic Lantern displays, Sunday School, and of course the main chapel services which were and still are my particular following. In those days we had two village shops, one which is still the Post Office and Groceries and another further towards the green which specialised in haberdashery in addition to food. Also, of course, many tradesman called in the village selling a variety of wares to a captive market. Horses were than a customary sight tethered and gazing on the green.
Although I have never been particularly interested in them we had two pubs at the time. Mr. Rule, I recall, ran the Fleur and Mr Smith the Conqueror. These places were important sources of communication for the male villagers among other things.
My life after school until I was 25 was mostly spent in service in the village with a prominent local family. This association was very much in tradition with the times and afforded me many happy memories.
You may ask how I now see Widdington. It still has its charms although I much prefer the old times when personal entertainment was the order of the day. If we couldn’t entertain ourselves there were always such characters as Stumpy Rickett who swept the roads to keep us amused with his stories (also with his wooden leg).
For one who has spent much of her life in Widdington I would not willingly change my present circumstances.
Florence Kate Francis, June 1980.
1946-1982 A review, not an obituary!
A village is the best place to live, if you can make it your extended family. We all knew everyone when I first arrived (in March 1946, when I married Geoff Morris) and were more dependent on each other. The Hoys baked daily fresh bread at the time (and you could put your joint or turkey in their oven at Christmas time). Mr. Holgate at Wyses Farm delivered the milk – and when cream was rationed it was entered in the milk book sometimes as “1 lb. carrots”. I can remember a haunch of venison brought to the back door after dark by Jack Dennison and shall never forget the sides of bacon hanging in my kitchen and the horror of making brawn and rendering lard when I was pregnant. Brad Leys (my home) was painted one year for half a pig and the Fire Brigade from Newport came on an annual “exercise” to empty the cess pit and amuse themselves with hunting rats in the banks of the pond.
….Not many of you can remember the coffins carried on a handcart from the Chipperfield’s workshop by members of the Holy and Chipperfield families and Mr. Bert Chesham, the publican. We had a red robed choir in church and various members sang songs at Evensong.
Extracts from farewell by Anne Morris, September 1982.
I remember my grandfather telling me when I was a boy of the time when he walked past a field with a bull in it. As he approached the gate he saw the bull pushing a piece of rag backwards and forwards. He looked more closely and saw that the “rag” was a man lying on the grass. He ran back home and fetched his gun and some shot and raced back to the field. He peppered the bull in the rear so that it moved away from the gate and he then rescued the man. The man lived. The bull had to be destroyed. The farmer who owned the bull complained bitterly about the loss of his bull.
My grandfather was head gamekeeper over Wimbish way. He earned 12/6 which was more than a farm worker’s wage of 10/-. He brought me a pair of boots each year. They were polished on a Sunday before church and then had to do for the week. My father was killed in the First World War so without my grandfather’s help my mother could not have shod us. You should have seen our clothes at school; shorts patched and patched again and jackets that were hand-me-downs from adults.
I’ve always had dogs. Grandfather kept his in a row of kennels attached to his home. Chained they were. Each dog had a bowl of water a day and a big, hard biscuit. I’ve never known healthier dogs. The biscuit contained dried horsemeat. There was a slaughterhouse at |Debden that dealt with worn-out horses.
Doug Foster talking to M/H., December 1989.
Christmas when we were kids
The afternoon we broke up for Xmas holiday Mrs Baillee Weaver, who then lived at Weft House, came to the school and as we filed past I gave each of us a packet of sweets. Mrs. Moore Dillon from Pond Mead also came in and gave us an orange. To say thank you the girls had to curtsey and the boys salute.
In those days money was scarce and as we only went into the town once a year, at harvest time, presents were bought at bazaars held in the village and the two shops which were well stocked with Xmas fare.
On Xmas Eve the village band under the direction of the Rev. James Court played carols in the Square and sometimes at the large houses as well. Carol singers were round nearly every night knocking on doors for donations. To have a chicken dinner on Xmas day was a real treat. These more often than not were reared in the back garden for that purpose.
After Xmas were the parties. In the evening at the school party the Rev. Court came to give prizes to children who had done good work during the year. These were usually books, if you came top in exams the teacher gave you a penny which in those days was worth something.
Our headmistress who ran the Girls Friendly Society gave us a party at her home at Bishops Barn Cottage which was then two cottages. As more girls joined us we were transferred to the Hut. Our school friends each in turn gave a party at their homes. Always a whist drive and dance on New Year’s Eve.
Florence Kate Francis, December 1989.
‘The house where I grew up’
The house where I grew up was just a cottage with three bedrooms and two downstairs rooms. The bedrooms, one at the front, one at the back, and a small bedroom at the side. There were seven children – six boys and one girl (me) and mother and father. The boys had the front bedroom and side room. When I was very small I slept in my parents room and afterwards had the little room at the side.
Downstairs was a front room with an open fire with a small carpet over a boarded floor. In the kitchen was a brick floor, not very even, which we covered with coconut matting. It had to be taken up when mother did the washing. She had a big tub on the kitchen table and baths for rinsing. The sheets were boiled in the old copper in the barn; it had a wood fire underneath to heat the water. The washing water was out of the pump in the garden. The drinking water was fetched in a pail from a standpipe at the end of the village. We had a big earthenware pot in the larder. The children had to take it in turns to fetch water. The privy was up the garden in a shed with two seats, one small and one large, with lids. The cesspit was emptied into a deep trench in the vegetable garden.
For cooking we had a small kitchen which was kept polished with black lead. Later we had a Valor Perfection Stove which was filled at the side with paraffin, had two burners which gave a nice blue flame and a small oven We had candles to go to bed and oil lamps in the kitchen and front room.
We always kept a pig in the pigsty next to the lavatory. An old fellow, Mr Hopwood, we called him Hoppy, from up the road used to come and kill the pig He just cut the pig’s throat with a knife and the blood went into the drain. The pig was then hung in the kitchen on the iron hook in the ceiling to drain. My Mother cured the bacon in a leaded through with salt and saltpetre. The hams were hung in the pantry and we could cut a piece off when we wanted. Mother also cleaned the insides of the pig’s belly and made chittlings which were braided and fired.
They tasted delicious.
When it was very cold we had a brick out of the oven and covered it with flannel to warm the bed.
Isobel Lindsell, September 1991.
Reminiscences of Widdington
When my wife and I first came to Swaynes Hall in 1935 there was no main electricity (we put in a Lister engine and batteries). Main water had only just been installed, and a Petter engine, which worked the pump for the well, had a pipe which ran up to a tank in the roof, and was still in place.
The boundary of the east side of the house of about 8 yards was fenced off so that Mr. Carmichael’s bullocks could roam around and into the barns of his, which we later brought. He lived at Widdington Hall.
Mole Hall was next to us, and Mr and Mrs Nicky Bone and two daughters lived there – Thornton and Audrey who played the violin in an upstairs bedroom… There was, I remember, an enormous walnut tree, whose limbs of huge proportions spread out horizontally from a huge trunk. Nicky Bone said woodmen had wanted it for its wood, but he would never sell it. One winter a fierce storm devastated it and the old tree collapsed.
The Rev. court was our vicar, a most remarkable man, and a book could be written about him. He was very old then, and sometimes the same hymns were given out twice, as he swayed in the pulpit. You may recollect the stained glass in the Church of a sundial (very unusual) it was taken out in the last World War and kept in the Old Rectory in case of damage and put under a cushion. One day, forgetting it was there, Court sat in the chair and cracked it, and so you see it like that now, but back in its former place!
Some Characters of the Village.
Pa Salmon as he was known. I remember him skinning rats when the threshing machine operated at the barn close to the road at Mole Hall (now no longer exists) which had a brick wall base, so as the sheaves of corn were lifted off, the rats moved down, so did the mice, and so once down, could not easily escape. He sold the pelts for fur coats, so he said. Perhaps the furriers called them Young Mink!
Maury Holgate who lived at Wyses was another great character, who had a milk round and some nice Jersey cattle. During the War cream was not supposed to be sold, but occasionally one did buy some and it was down in the milkman’s book as RABBIT.
Mr and Mrs. Meadley lived at Widdington House and I recall being asked to a tennis party, and she had that morning taken the honey from her hives. This had infuriated the bees and we were attacked on the tennis court and driven indoors, and the bees flew like lead shot thrown at a window in their endeavour to get at us – end of party!...
Sammy the Widdington road sweeper had a peg leg. He lived in the thatched cottage next to the Rectory garden, and it was known thus as Sammy’s.
Herbie Maxwell-Scott lived with his wife at Pond Mead, and was our air-raid warden. When the red alert came on, via the telephone, he used to ride on his bicycle through the village with his tin hat on blowing his whistle.
Such a nice man.
There used to be tow pubs in the village – the Fleur de Lys and William the Conqueror. A village school, a Post Office and two shops. I have happy memories of the Village Bakery, where the Hoy family baked delicious crusty bread.
May Children organised by Marjorie Camp used to come round the village every first of May with their garlands of wild flowers, singing their May Day songs.
Douglas Pelly, December 1992
Memories of Widdington – 40 years ago
Looking back down the years, this charming little village was just a peaceful, out-of-the-way place. In those days the villagers didn’t like it to be known that Hollow Road was a through road…
A dear old pair I remember well were Bill and Ada Dellow. They lived at Vine Cottage in the High Street, Bill kept the garden in good trim, and there was never a speck of dust in Ada’s cottage. I have a vivid recollection of the winter of 1954-55. It was very severe and the wind blew the snow from Newport over the railway bridge, making the road up to Widdington impassable. We were cut off for three days. All the men and boys were out digging until the snow plough was able to get through. The schoolchildren had a marvellous time tobogganing down Spring Hill…
One could walk safely up the High Street in those days, for very few cars came along apart from the co-op van, the baker and fried-fish van. The bus service in those days was only on Tuesdays and Saturdays to Saffron Walden and Thursdays and Saturdays to Bishops Stortford.
Joan Woodforth (nee Brooke), September 1994.
Marie and John Hoy remember.
Then there was Mrs Corby who wore clothes to the ground and men’s shoes. She lived in Corner Cottage. She was so poor everyone gave her things, leftovers to keep her going. She worked at the Rectory and she’d take home used tea leaves and make her tea with them and vegetable peelings, presents unopened. All the things she’d got after she married untouched. They had a furniture sale in her cottage and we bought a clock and a tea service she had. Her son, Ernie, came down from Yorkshire to see to things and one day our Dad was there helping to go through things and he said, “Ernie, these corsets are rather heavy?”
They opene3d up the corsets and what do you think they found? She had sewn sovereigns all down her corsets.
We are sitting in the living room of George Hoy’s bungalow in Cornell’s Lane, Widdington. There is a bright wood fire going and the wool rugs that John has made are on the floor and George’s Finely stitched tapestries are on the wall. You don’t get such characters and more, says Marie. We miss them; They remember Billy Rickett, the road man, who would sweep the High Street every Saturday morning. He had a wooden leg and as he worked he would keep that one in the gutter because he didn’t mind getting it wet. And there was Nelly Canning who used to take a brick up to bed with her to warm the bed and in the middle of the night it would drop on the floor and wake up the neighbours. Another neighbour never changed his watch for summer time. He’d go by the starts.
They agree that they are talking about characters they knew when they were children and impressionable, but they feel that in the past the village was more inter-related, more connected, more of a community than it is now. They say there were marked class distinctions then but they didn’t mind. The old gentry gave us work. The big houses –Swaynes Hall, Red House, Pond Mead, The Rectory and other – all had butlers, gardeners, and chauffeurs, parlour maids and cooks. This way of life came to an end after the Second World War and gradually over the years new people moved in. In the 70s, they say, people came from outside and began to buy properties in the village and the /’professinals’ moved in and the character of the village changed.
But the biggest changes in their lifetime (they are both in their seventies) go back to an earlier period sewerage, water, electricity, the telephone. Until the 70s, when the main sewer was laid, the little cottages by the Green had no inside toilets. There were sheds at the end of the back gardens where four toilets were shared among seven families. They were emptied into what was called a ‘bumby hole’ and covered with ashes. Water came to the village in the early 30s. Annie, the Hoy’s mother, was a water diviner. People would call her in to find water in their gardens and they would dig a well in the spot and have pumps installed.
At about the same time electricity was installed in the village. The hoys had their own generator along with a few other houses – Red House, The Rectory, Pond Mead – but Marie and John remember early in their childhood coming home from school and trimming the paraffin lamps. The Post Office had the only telephone in the village and John remembers as children delivering telegrams for the Post Office as far as Waldegrave’s Farm. The Hoys were one of the first families to have a telephone and people would come to their house to make calls.
The Hoys are an old family in the area. Parish records in Elmdon show an entry in 1621 for the christening of Thomas, son of James and Mary Hoy… Two of Marie’s and John’s uncles emigrated to Australia where there are now 200 Hoys. The Widdington branch seem to have been a very enterprising family. Edgar Hoy, Marie’s and John’s father, did an engineering course and then went into the First World War. Returning to Widdington he was the third person in the village, after Sir Claude Hollis and the Reverend Court, to own a car. With this car he ran a taxi service for the village from Rose Cottage, Widdington, where the family lived at the time.
The Hoys ran a bakery from the cottage, baking bread in wood oven. They set up a mangle room at the back of the cottage. Here the villagers would come and do their mangling for a penny and hang their washing on the village green. They had the black 78 records playing on a gramophone in the mangle room for atmosphere and the place went on functioning until the late 40s.
After the family moved to Martin’s Farm, Annie became a renowned pig-breeder. The best in England perhaps the world. The pigs were British Saddlebacks and were shown at all the big annual shows, winning prizes, and after the war were exported as far as Russia and Japan. Annie, who was born in London, had been a court dressmaker before she married. When she came to Widdington she bought her first pig and never looked back.
Martin’s Farm was therefore a working farm, with pigs and hens, and provided a number of essential services for the village, including at a later stage petrol from the petrol pumps installed outside the farm. The taxi service was particularly valuable in a village, which had no doctor or dentist (the nearest were at Newport), There were no shops, apart from the Post Office. The shops ‘would come round’ – The international stores, The Co-op, Mumfords – and people grew their vegetables in their own allotments. The bread was delivered to nearby villages by the Hoys by pony and trap. Since there was no public transport the taxi service was used to take people to church and chapel in neighbouring villages and the wealthy to destinations as far away as Wales. It also ferried people to romantic assignations. Husbands would be taken to see their ‘lady loves’ girls to meet their American soldier friends based at Debden. ‘You see when you do taxi work, they pay their money and what they do has nothing to do with you/ ‘Discretion seems to have been the service motto of Hoys Taxis.
Remembering their own courting days, Marie and John say they met young people who were working in the big houses at the regular dances in the village ‘Hut’. John says his mother didn’t like the girls he courted. ‘I don’t like that one’, she’s ay. And so he’d drop them. ‘I was in the sitting room one night with a girl and I was just going to make sure some coffee when my mother came down in her night-dress, took me into the yard and said ‘I’m not having that girl in my house.’ So I took the girl home. ‘He married a girl from Thaxted and his sister, Joan, married a farmer from Pelham. George never married ‘though he had lots of girl friends’. Marie married and went to live in London but she kept the closest ties with Widdington and when she was left a widow at a young age came back to Widdington to live until just two years ago.
Anita Sanders, September 1998
Memories of Widdington
Widdington was my home around 1948 to 1950. Aged only six I recall many happy times spent there. My father worked as a tractor driver at Amberden Hall and we lived in a tied cottage down the lane. The housekeeper at the Hall lived in. She kept five white nanny goats and every day she would take them down the lane past our cottage to graze the verges. I had to make sure I had picked all the choice dandelions first, as my father kept rabbits for food and it was my job to look after them. There was a bullpen beside the entrance gate which is still there. The grumpy occupier used to scare me to bits. Every time I went by he would bellow and snort at me…
Sandra Poulton (nee Turner), December 1998.
Life as a Rural G.P. in North West Essex
The advantages of being a rural G.P to my mind, as opposed to one’s urban counterpart are many, but are mainly due to the settled population one has to care for. Town dwellers tend to move, country folk tend not to. . Therefore, families stick together, communities develop and look after each other, and above all, we as G.P.s have the chance and the time to get to know them.
In 1968, when I joined the Newport practice, the area we covered was still rural, extending in a circle around Newport from Great Chesterford, Radwinter, Stansted, Manuden, Berden, the Pelhams and Chrishall. The population of nearly 8000 on our list was about 50% farming, 40% local industry and services and 10% commuters to Harlow, Cambridge and London.
Because of the distance involved from our main surgery in Newport, and the lack of transport (both public and private) in those days, branch surgeries were held 1-3 times a week in Clavering, Rickling and Langley. Although not ideal for practising high powered medicine (the wooden examination couch in Rickling was a dangerous place to be on, due to extensive woodworm) these surgeries were much welcomed by the villages – fairly unique in the country, I believe, in that the ‘surgery’ was the saloon end of the bar and the ‘waiting room’ was the public end (separated by a flimsy wooden and not soundproof partition). I even had my photograph taken there by the Sun newspaper. (It didn’t appear on page three though).
Sadly these branch surgeries were closed down by the health authorities, in their wisdom, due to their lack of adequate amenities.
The daily routine in these days started with a morning surgery of 2-3 hours (20-30 patients each), followed by home visits and/or branch surgery in the afternoon, and an evening surgery of 1-2 hours There was a 1 in3 rota for night and weekend duties.
Home visits were a very integral part of the work then, partly due to the transport problems already mentioned. I always found them very informative and useful in assessing the lifestyle of the patients seeing how they coped at home. Mothers with small children for example, and the elderly with their increasing disabilities. The idyllic rural setting that we lived in didn’t always include electricity, running water and inside loos. ‘Sheds’ at the bottom of the garden were still in use until the early 80s.
Night visits latterly became a bone of contention with the medical profession, but because of our settled population I never felt these were abused unduly, and the vast majority of calls were for very genuine reasons. That is apart from one occasion. I was rang at 2am by an agitated father (always the worst) who stated that his 15 year old daughter had appendicitis. Believing that it was my duty to make the diagnosis, on further questioning, it transpired that she had only had the pain for 5 minutes! Therefore after suitable advice and reassurance, he was asked to ring back if she did not settle down in the next few hours. At 5.30 am the same morning, I happened to be passing his house on returning from another call and thought it would be prudent to examine the young lady (Appendicitis is very difficult to diagnose in under 3 hours) Father and daughter were rather miffed to be woken up!
Knowing one’s patients served me well on another occasion when I was woken at 3 am by a call saying “Doc, can you come – Rosie’s been taken bad” – end of message! Luckily I recognised the voice and indeed Rosie had been taken bad.
With nearly 8000 patients on our list, from all walks of life, the varieties of characters, personalities and symptoms complained of were endless.
One particular highlight was a 35 year old university lecturer – male – who announce d to the full and very bemused waiting room that he was pregnant and coming for an antenatal. The differential diagnosis in this case was between an excess of hallucinogenic drugs, or hypomania – and the latter proved to be the correct one.
Another concerned a charming but very elderly lady doctor who was attending the surgery for a medical examination for fitness to renew her driving licence. Luckily my partner, whose room overlooked the car park had seen her demolishing a large part of the hedge which surrounded the car park whilst attempting to park her car. He managed to persuade her to vie up driving.
My overall impression of these years, though, is an admiration and respect for the resilience, patience (when kept waiting), friendliness, generosity, humour and especially the fortitude of the patients when faced with the hardships and illnesses that unfortunately do occur. I feel it is a privilege to have known them.
By 1900 the area was changing and developing fast (now being classified as semi-rural), with many more commuters and less farming. A new GP charter was introduced then, with the accent more on preventive medicine and lifestyle improvement. This unfortunately led to a major increase in paperwork, the dubious introduction of the computer, vast numbers of routine screening medical examinations. It is not my remit to discuss the pros and cons of these ideas: but it has meant less time for, and I believe, and erosion of, the traditional form of family doctoring.
One of the new ideas was to conduct annual medical on all 75 year olds and over – to assess their social as well as medical needs (a very worthwhile idea). One splendid elderly lady, who lived alone in a very derelict house down a remote county lane was asked whether her toilet facilities were adequate. She replied; “I’ve been bucketing it and chucking it for years – and I’m not changing now!”
Another well known character had a “lifestyle assessment”. He reported to me later that, quite rightly, he had been reprimanded severely about his cigarette and beer consumption – but added that luckily he hadn’t been asked about his whisky consumption.
On my retirement last year, my wife and I gave a small drinks party for a few friends (and patients) to mark the event. One local wag on arriving and seeing the assembled group of 20 odd people, announced in a loud voice. “John, when I joined your list in 1971, you said you had over 2000 patients. Is this all that is left?”
Perhaps a suitable epitaph for my years as a rural GP in North West Essex.
John Glennie, September 1999.
Jeremy Dillon – Robinson: Memories of Widdington
In the weeks before he died Jeremy Dillon-Robinson, though seriously ill, had several conversations with Peter and myself. He was sitting up in bed at his home in Priors Hall. He talked about his life as a farmer in Widdington since the 1950s, about general developments in farming nationally, and about this memories of Widdington as a child. He reflected on the village as it is today.
This is an account in Jeremy’s own words and speaking voice of his memories of Widdington.
I was born on the 16th April 1932 at Pond Mead. From here I can see the window of the room in which I was born! It was on a Monday. I know that, because Snowflake Laundry used to deliver on Mondays, in those large wicker baskets, and I am told I gave out my first bawl as the basket was being carried through the house. Also it was raining. Our gardener, Victor Ketteridge, was a great pigeon shooter, and he said “if it hadn’t been raining I’d have taken young master out pigeon shooting today”
I would describe our home as rural middle-class. Widdington was different from the other villages around in that it did not have a big house. Unlike Quendon, where you had Quendon Hall. Sir William Foot-Mitchell, the MP, lived there. He ran his own cricket side. If you wanted a job as a gardener at Quendon Hall you took up your cricket bat first. And unlike Newport, where the Montagues lived at Shortgrove, or Debden. So Widdington did not have a big house. Widdington House, where the Collecotts live now, was called Red House then. It was not called Widdington House until Sir William and Lady Rowley went to live there. Before that it was called Red House. Before being called Red House it was called Aberystwyth House. I have seen that on old Ordance Survey maps. I do not know why it was called Aberystwyth House. In the same way Fruit Hill, up Cornells Lane, was called The Mount before that, and before that Drumtochty, because the people who lived there came from Drumtochty.
In Widdington you had Spring \Hill, Pond Mead, The Rectory, Weft House and Red House, as well as the farms. The farms would not have employed much domestic labour. We were privileged in being able to have domestic staff. I say it was a privilege. I was also a responsibility.
I was the third child in the family. My eldest sister was born in 1926, and the next sister was born in 1929. My younger sister, the fourth in the family, was born in 1939, by which time we had moved to Spring Hill. Before my father there had been five generations in the Church, and so my father was not particularly well off. He had been invalided out of the Navy, which was a tragedy for him. Then he went in with an elderly uncle and became a hop merchant. My mother had a small private income.
We had a Nanny who looked after the children. Her name was Florence Mills, and she came from Newcastle. She stayed with us all through. She was in her young 30s when I was born, I suppose. When we brought Priors Hall she had her sister came to work here and they looked after my grandmother. They lived in a Rectory cottage nearby. Afterwards they went to Cambridge and finally went back to Newcastle. We always kept in touch. Nannies are something special. She had no children, and so when she died she left a small amount of money to me. I brought that picture behind you with that money.
Then there was a nursery maid, May Sell, who helped Nanny to look after us. She married Joe Chipperfield, the gardener/chauffeur. Then we had a cook, a scullery maid and a housemaid. I do not remember who they were. I was only six or seven when we left Pond Mead for Spring Hall. We went there in 1938 or 1939.
Outside, we had Victor Ketteridge, the gardener, and Joe Chipperfield, the gardener/chauffeur. They lived in the village.
Perhaps two or three of the servants lived in at Pond Mead, in the staff wing, though Nanny would have had her own room. But the rest lived in the village. We could probably sleep about 12 to 14 people at Pond Mead. I saw more of Nanny and the nursery maid and the cook then I did of my own parents. I would probably see my parents for half an hour after tea each day and have lunch with them on Sundays.
In those days I would go off for tea with Nanny, perhaps to one of the cottages, perhaps to Joe Chipperfield’s mother. She used to make wonderful crab-apple jelly. I felt just as much at home with them as with my own family.. There was a very strong bond with Nanny, very close. Obviously as I grew up the bond with my parents became more important. One lived with Nanny in the nursery. That was for the first five or six years of my life.
I always felt utterly at home going out into the garden with Victor Ketteridge. I would go out and have my mid-morning break with him and Joe Chipperfiled, and they would share their cheese sandwiches and tomatoes with me.
Then came the move to Spring Hill and the war. My father was drawn back into the Navy, working at the Admiralty in London. For some extraordinary reason my parents decided it would be better if we went to London. We went in September 1941, at the very time when the blitz was on. We took a double flat, tow flats joined together, in Dolphin Square. I remember my father taking me out after a bombing raid as soon as the all-clear had gone: I still remember the frightening sight of London bombed. We only stayed three days, and then we children were all evacuated out to Wiltshire. My three sisters and I all went with Nanny, while our parents stayed on in London. But then they came back to Spring Hill later.
During the war we rented Pond Mead to the Maxwells Scotts, a delightful family, related to the Norfolks. They took it for the duration of the war. Just before the War, in 1938, the Tugendhats came to live at Weft House. They were refugees from Austria. It was through the Tugendhats that we came in touch with two Austrian woman who came with us to Spring Hill. One was Stella Kelvin. She was a marvellous piano player, and I think she was married to a professor. She came to cook for us. And there was another woman who might have been a member of Stella’s staff when she lived in Austria.
The Tugendhats were always grateful for the way in which Widdington accepted them. When Christopher Tugendhat became a peer he called himself Lord Tugendhat of Widdington. About three or four years ago his mother died and her ashes were placed in the churchyard here. The whole family came, and Veronica, the youngest daughter, told me that she still looked upon Widdington as her home.
Before the was the village Post Office was run by the Holgates. I still remember the lovely jars of Trebor sweets. The Village Hall, ‘The Hut’ was the centre of our social activity, especially after the war when the village was building itself up again. The Waishes were at the Post Office after the war. The Post Office had the most incredible array of goods. Mr Walsh used to go up to London regularly in a white van, and he brought back all sorts of things, like nylon stockings. The Post Office sold sweets, groceries, bacon, and so on. Not bread, because the Hoys baked bread. If you wanted anything Mr/ Walsh would get it for you. The Walshes were very much involved on the social side. Village organisations were very strong. Like the Women’s Institute and the Mother’s Union. We had whist drives and dances. The Walshes did not stay very long, however.
Many people stayed n the village all their lives in those days. It was great excitement for us to see a removal van. Mrs Moore-Dillon bought Pond Mead exactly 100 years ago. There are very few families that have that sort of continuity nowadays. There is such rapid change.
In 1941 I went to Prep School in Herefordshire, just the other side of the Malverns. It was a Quaker foundation. Not a religious foundation as such. The Cadburys were closely connected with it. I was there from 1941 to 1945. I used to come back to Spring Hill for the holidays. I did not see much of my father at that time. At Spring Hill there was my mother, my three sisters, Nanny, Mrs Kelvin. I was the only man in the house. We still had the farm at Pond Mead.
In 1945 I was sent to Radley school, just outside Oxford. I did not enjoy public school. I do not think many people did. Conditions were absolutely appalling. At seven every morning we had total immersion in a cold bath. 1947 was that very cold winter, and we did not have total immersion then only because the water was frozen in the pipes. It was all very austere. I left Radley in 1950.
After the war my parents went back to Pond Mead. They brought Priors Hall in 1950. While I was at school I would come back only for the holidays – 3 weeks at Easter, 4 weeks at Christmas, and 6-8 weeks in the summer. But this was home. Every time I came back I would get into my old clothes and rush over to the farm at Pond Mead and see Jack Lindsell and everybody at the farm.
I did my National Service for two years and then I was at Cambridge from 1952 to 1955. In 1955 I became engaged to Gilly was 21 and I was 25.
Widdington had not changed very much during that time. There were two public houses – the Fleur-de-Lys and William The Conqueror. There was the Men’s Club, which had originally been George Clausen’s Studio: that is where the new part of the Village Hall is now. There was still the Post Office/village shop, and another shop owned by Mrs Taylor, where the Jones used to live, at the top of the village green. But that was already running down. There was the Chapel as well as the Church.
The atmosphere in the Village Hall was marvellous. There used to be shows put on, dances, whist drives every week or fortnight. People who had not been before were amazed by the singing. I remember Mrs Robertson, Mrs Briner and Mrs Bass singing Shenandoah and Oh My Darling, Clementine: they had tremendous voices and the high notes used to bounce off the tin roof.
I went to the pub quite a lot – before I got married, of course. And I supported the whist drives and shows and the dances. We were all very much part of the community.
As I say, we were rural middles class. It was not as much of an upstairs/downstairs world as in that television series. Every year we held a Harvest Supper, with 15-20 of us all being present. Our workers would come and their families. We would sit down to an enormous meal – hams and turkey, vegetables, puddings, mince pies and so on. We uses to hold it in the largest room at Pond Mead. A lot of beer was drink. Then after the meal the tables were cleared away and we played games. The one I remember most is “Are you there, brother John?|” You would be blindfolded, and you would hold on to a person with one hand and you would have a rolled newspaper in the other. You would ask “Are you there, brother John?”, and the other person would say yes, and then you would try to hit them with the newspaper. It was really vicious! But you can imagine my mother being hit by the kitchen maid with a newspaper!
On Boxing Day we always went out ferreting for rabbits. We used to keep the ferrets in a box. We would put the down a rabbit hole and have nets on the other holes or else shoot the rabbits as they came out. It was a great sport on a cold morning.
There were some wonderful characters in the village. There was old Pa Salmon. He had a wife and quite a contingent of children. He lived in Rose Cottage, where the Harrises live now. If you needed a pheasant he could always get one for you. He was a poacher. Not like the poachers nowadays, who clear out a whole wood. Just a bit on the side. His customers used to collect his pheasants from the pub. William The Conqueror, but they village policeman never saw any pheasants going in or coming out! I once did him a service and he wanted to do me a favour in return. “Do you like asparagus?” ‘Yes, I love asparagus’. And a few days later I had a bunch of asparagus. About ten days later, when I was walking by one of his neighbours gardens I realised where this asparagus had come from! He did his poaching in the surrounding woods. All the woods around here used to be keepered – Shortgrove, for example, and the Debden Hall. Debden had an enormous shoot that went right out to Henham.
Next door to Pa Salmon lived old Polly, who used to take in washing. They said she smoked a clay pipe but I never saw it. She used to hang her washing out on the village green. Mrs Medley, at Red House – she was married to a solicitor – used to graze her goats on the village green in order to keep the grass short. One goat caught old Polly’s washing on its horns.
Old Rickety Wooden Leg lodged with her. I used to call him that because his name was Ricketts. When it was raining he used to stand with his wooden leg in the gutter, and then he would take it off at night and hang it up to dry in front of the fire.
The Church Fete was held every year on August Bank Holiday at the Rectory. That was tremendous fun. Everyone got together not just to raise money but to have a good day. The WI had a stall, everyone had their own stall. Jimmy Court used to be hoarse by the end of the day. They used to have bowling for the pig, and the prizes really was a pig, a newly weaned 8 week old pig. Plenty of people in the village used to keep a pig at the back of the garden to feed it on scraps. There were all sorts of side shows, cakes and teas.
Before the war there was always a marquee in the garden, and the village band would play during the Fete. ON the evening before the Fete there would be a church service in the marquee, and the Band would play the hymns. My father told me that at one service in the 1920 someone looked out of the marquee and saw the Rectory on fire. They all rushed out and tried to put it out with buckets of water and someone sent for the Newport Fire Brigade. They only had hoses, and so by the time the fire engine arrived the fire was virtually out. And then the fire engine got stuck in the gate. People started to go home and Jimmy Court got in a panic because they had not paid their collection. So he gave my father one collecting box and he took the other. He stood at the back gate and my father stood at the front gate, and nobody got out without paying!
The Fete was a great day out for all the village. It was a good time to have it, before everyone got caught up with the harvest. The Fete went on throughout the 50s and into the 60s. But gradually it lots its appeal. Fewer and fewer people were interested in running it. Inevitably it all fell to just a few of us. After the Rectory was sold as a private house we used to hold it in different gardens, and of course we had to clear up afterwards, and sometimes there would be just four of us to clear up. So people just got fed up with it. then we did not have an annual fete any more, just now and then when we need to raise funds.
Village society has really changed. In the past we used to know everybody. One was interested in people. It was not a question of nosiness. We all shared a common life. It will never come back again. There is not the same understanding of the countryside nowadays. Then Widdington was a rural farming village, and many people might have a few chickens in the back garden. After the harvest the gleaners went in to the fields and they would pick up some straw with some ears of wheat left on and they would use that to feed their chickens throughout the winter. There was a lot of casual work too – potato picking, harvest work and so on.
The first combine in the village was on this farm. Before that all the wheat, barley and oats would have to be stacked. First of all you would go round the edge of the field with a scythe, and you would make sheaves out of the cut straw. The binder would go round the field about four times, and the sheaves would be stoked up to dry in lines. When they were dry they were taken to the stacks, and the stacks would be thatched and left to settle alongside each other in pairs. We would keep a stack of loose straw from the previous harvest to thatch the harvest in the following year.
Local contractors would come round with the steam-driven engines. We children would have fetched coal from Newport Station the previous week. You would hear these wonderful machines coming, trundling down the road and we children rode down on our bikes to meet them. There was this marvellous smell of steam and oil. The engine would have a drum and bailer behind. The engines had wonderful names, like Pride of Essex and Dancing Dolly. They were used right up to the 1950s. Jim Sell himself was a marvellous character, very hardworking. While his men rested for lunch he would move the engines from one stack to another. I went to his funeral: it was a rainy day and one farmer said to me: ‘One thing about Jim Sell: he never did waste a goody day!’
Drage and Kent from Chrishall had slightly more powerful steam engines which had a drum of wire under the belly of the engine. You would have one engine on either side of the field and wire went across the field and cut the crop.
I really feel I want you to know how much together we were in the village. A lot of what we did would be regarded as patronising nowadays, but it was not. You might hear that children in a certain family were ill, and some rice puddings and lumps of coal would find their way up there. It was not patronising at all.
PART III: PORTRAITS
C. Henry Warren
After serving in the First World War and before he took up writing as a full-time career. C Henry Warren lived alone in a cottage at Wood End, Widdington, and taught English at Newport Grammar School. He disliked his first name and never used it and was annoyed when the boys at the school found out what it was. Goodness knows what he would have thought had he lived to know his books were entered on the Essex County Library index cards under WARREN, CLARENCE H.!
He played the Church organ for services occasionally and gave us voluntaries we had not heard before, and would have taught any promising youngster who could find, firstly, the time to practise, and secondly someone to work the handle to blow it. His love of music and singing led him to start the Madrigal Society. At the weekly evening meetings in the school he played the piano and led the singer of old English songs and ballads and musical settings of English poems. This was a novelty as far as the ladies of the village were concerned, because the Church choir was composed of men and boys and the Brass Band was similarly restricted in its membership. It always seemed that the Rev .JW Court was little interested in providing recreation and entertainment for girls. The Madrigal Society did not entirely meet with his approval, maybe because it was a rival to both his choir and his band. However it came to an end when Mr Warren left the village to live in a cottage near Finchingield. His impressions of Widdington and the Rev JW Court are charmingly conveyed in an article he wrote for “The Countryman” (Spring 1957) – “Two County Parsons” – the second being the Rev. Conrad Noel, vicar of Thaxted. He contrasts the idyllic quality of Jimmy Court’s backwater parish, apparently unaffected by the economic situation and political unrest, with the sense of involvement evident in Thaxted Church, as evidenced by banners, Red Flag and Sinn Fein Tricolour, and on festive occasions enlivened by flowers and music under the guidance of Gustav Holst.
His first book, “ A Boy in Kent”, describes his early life as a baker’s son, riding on the delivery rounds with a horse and cart, and later, his journeys by cycle seven miles to and from Maidstone Grammar School. All his books… show his love of the county and his keen powers of observation of country people and customs. Many will remember his readings of prose and verse about the countryside broadcast by the BBC. His last work, “Content with what I have”, was published in 1967 shortly after his death….
Ernest T Wilson, March 1983.
Sir George Clausen
Sir George Clausen was born in London on 18th April 1852. His father was George Johnsen Clausen, a Danish decorative artist, and his mother a Scott. He was educated at St Mark’s College in Chelsea until the age of 14, when he joined the drawing office of a firm of decorators in Kensington. He attended evening classes at the National Art Training School in Kensington, which became the Royal College of Art, and won a national scholarship there in 1873.
Three years later he travelled to Holland and Belgium, and one of his pictures from that visit was his first work accepted by the Royal Academcy for their annual exhibition. He was working both in oils and watercolours, and beginning to achieve recognition in both. He made regular visits to the continent from then onwards, gaining in confidence and being influenced by many contemporary artists, particular Bastien-Lepage in Paris. He was especially drawn to working out of doors, depicting rural scenes and people, characterised by their strong light effects.
George Clausen married in 1881, and after moves to Childwick Green in Essex, Cookham Dean, he came to Widdington in 1891 as a tenant of the Smith Family at Bishops. He was drawn to the farming landscapes and people, and to the dramatic effects of light particularly achieved in the great barns of district. He had five children to support, three sons and two daughters. During his time in Widdington, between 1891 and 1905, his sons attended Newport Grammar School, where William Waterhouse was then headmaster, of whom Clausen painted the portrait which still hangs in the school library.
Clausen’s years spent in Widdington were very important in his development as a painter. He travelled widely on the continent and began exhibiting again at the Royal Academy, after some years of disenchantment with its current policy. He taught at the RA Life School, and by 1904 was Professor painting at the RA. His lectures were enormously popular and overcrowded, because he gave such down-to-earth practical advice to his pupils.
He was described as ‘quite, modest, kindly and of courtly manners’.
At Martins Farm in Widdington there is a room with a large north-facing window, and it is believed Clausen used that room as a studio. He also had a wooden studio in the garden opposite Bishops which in 1905, the year Clausen moved from Widdington, he donated to the village as a Reading Room. There had been a Men’s Club in the front room of Brick Cottage, owned in those days by the Canning family, but at a ceremony on 15th November 1905 the new Reading Room was opened on a new site where the Village Hall now stands. The green wooden Men’s Club as it became is still remembered by residents in the village.
The Reverend James Court was the Rector of Widdington then, whose portrait was also painted by Clausen and remains in the village in private hands. Clausen used his family and other local figures as models for his portraits and rural scenes: Miss June Francis, who lives in Widdington, knows that her great grandmother was one of his subjects, and it seems certain that Priors Hall Barn was an inspiration for his many pictures of Essex barns.
Because of his increasing commitments in London, and his daughters schooling, Clausen moved to St Johns Wood in 1905. By then he was exhibiting one-man shows in London, Chicago, Brussels, Vienna and Munich (he was elected RA in 1908) He nevertheless continued his visits to our district right up until the war… A fine picture of a Clavering landscape hangs in the National Museum of Wales, in Cardiff.
In 1917, when Clausen was pushing his bicycle up Duton Hill near Dunmow he noticed a house for sale, then called Hillside. Having recently sold some pictures profitable he brought the house, and spent as much time as possible there in the following years and became much more involved in watercolour painting….
In 1918 the Ministry of Information commissioned him to do a large commemorative was painting at the Woolwich Arsenal. His ‘In the Gun Factory’ was an outstanding result, depicting once more the dark cavernous interiors he had learnt from his 20 years developing his techniques in ‘gloomy barns’ as they have been described. He was then 66. After this success he received other commissions on the grand scale. In 1927 he was invited by the House of Commons to paint a mural for a section of wall in St. Stephen’s Hall. His meticulously researched subject was ‘The English People Reading Wycliffe’s Bible’which was regarded as Clausen’s most successful achievement, he was knighted shortly after it’s unveiling in 1927.
Clausen continued to draw and paint into his old age, exhibiting watercolours at the RA in 1942 and 1943. He died at the age of 92 in November 1944, eight months after the death of his wife. A self-portrait, painted in 1918, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and several other of his works cans be seen at the Tate Gallery in London, including ‘The Girl at the Gate’ which is today perhaps the best known of his rural landscapes.
Jenny Brooke-Smith, June 1998.
The Rev. James Court’ Spring 1957: Extract from an article by C Henry Warren.
‘Widdington in Essex, where I lived in early twenties was a place where change came slowly. It was a village with an entrance, but no exit: it led nowhere. It was two miles from the nearest main road. Its 400 inhabitants moved always a pace or two behind their neighbours and obviously liked it better that way.
…. The force around which the village was held was the Rev. James Court almost as much because of him common humanity as his position as rector. I had known him at Newport Grammar School nearby, where he taught Latin to the senior boys and scripture to the juniors. Nobody, least of all himself, would have claimed that he was a scholar; nor was he a disciplinarian. We all knew from the laughter and shouting that came through the open windows when Jimmy was in class. But the laughter was good-tempered and the shouting mere animal spirits; both master and boys were enjoying themselves.
If Jimmy lacked discipline when he wore his gown in the classroom, he lacked it no less when he wore his surplice in church, but the same qualities that triumphed over his disadvantage in the one served no less in the other. He was of the type, saint as jester. Coming up the aisle from the vestry at morning service, he would back a little off course to say to one of the congregation. “Nine across, six letters, what is it? For the crossword was coming into fashion and Jimmy was an addict. His sermons lacked any sort of shape; they rambled, their sense, like their sentences, got tired up in knots; but they were comfortable short and they spoke from the heart to the heart. The village school was his, no less that the church. It was one of the last church schools to remain so in more than name. Over the door, carved in a slab of stone, were the words, ‘Behold, I will teach you the fear of the Lord’ (Now placed in the wall of the Churchyard, after the Church School was pulled down). Every morning Jimmy would run across from the Rectory to give a token scripture lesson before hurrying back to finish his breakfast and than race his rackety open car down to Newport, late as usual for the first Latin period
I think he put more work into the village brass band than into any other of his activities. It was his pride and joy. In winter the weekly band practices were held in the school and in summer on the green, but summer or winter, indoors or out, the noise was equally penetrating. Even Newport heard it if the wind was in the right quarter, and Widdington itself compulsorily stopped paying attention to anything else. Louder than the brass was Jimmy’s own voice as he bawled his injunctions to the performers. He knew little about music, as he cheerfully admitted, but somehow he managed to get fair results; at any rate, it was not only because there was no other brass band in the vicinity that Widdington’s was in considerable demand for summer fetes and flower shows, where in handed-down uniforms and with mugs of beer at their feet the men blew their loudest and best … His tiny backwater parish was his sufficient world and he ruled it like a father his family… Widdington may have been backward as far as social responsibilities were concerned: I only know that it radiated contentment”.
So ends this article by C Henry Warren. There are still dome of you in the village who remember him, even longer than my wife and myself.
We have his portrait painted, as a young man, by the artist G. Clausen, 1894. Jimmy Court had a simple oak cross in the churchyard which had deteriorated, with inscriptions on it, including that of his wife. I have asked Jack Chipperfield to restore this as best as he can, and this is being done. So well loved and interesting a person should not be forgotten, and I fell that his picture should remain in this area for all time.
D.G. Pelly, June 1987.
Some of the older inhabitants will remember Will Rickett, the man with the wooden leg. To those of us who spent our childhood in the village he had always been a familiar figure, and if we wondered how he came to lose his own leg below the knee, we never asked anyone. He lived with other members of the Rickett family on the top side of the Green, in the house with wooden cladding.
For most of the year he worked as a roadman, trimming banks and verges and generally keeping the roads and paths tidy. In the days before roads were tarred, they were laid the original Macadam way, with granite pieces, about the size of hen’s eggs, and gravel. With water added, the whole was rolled with a steam roller until a firm level surface was obtained. In winter, sand worked its way to the surface and mixed with soil from the wheels or farm carts making the roads very muddy. It was Will’s job to scrape the worst of the mud to one side of the road with a long-handled scraper like an outsize hoe. When spring came and the mud had solidified somewhat he shovelled it up on to the banks and hedge bottoms. In the winter, when snow had fallen in the night, he was out early with the same scraper to clear snow away from the most used footpaths in the centre of the village.
At harvest time he worked at Priors Hall Farm ‘driving away’ the wagon loads of sheaves from the fields to barn or stackyard. Hot dry summers caused cracks to appear in the ground and in some fields the cracks were so wide and deep that he was afraid he might catch his wooden leg and be thrown headlong and be in danger of the wagon wheels passing over him.
He had two wooden legs, one for workdays and one for Sundays and holidays. The former had an extension on the outside for the thigh up to the waist where it passed behind his leather belt. This one was shod with an iron ring. For church on Sundays he wore lighter type concealed inside this trouser leg, except for the lowest few inches where it was polished black like his Sunday boot.
It was said that sometimes he would come home last at night and take off his wooden leg in his bedroom and lean it against the wall. Occasionally it would slip on the polished floorboards and slide to the floor with a mighty crash which could be heard by the people next door.
Anonymous, December 1985.
My Uncle Henry Dellar was a man
Of thirty-five, of good old-fashioned stock
With sturdy frame, blue eyes, a skin like tan
And rugged features as though hewn from rock.
Like others of his kind he could not write
Or read, Indeed he could but dimly think.
He went to bed at dusk, had little light.
And rose at dawn; had little taste for drink.
What thoughts he had were good, his speech was slow,
He clung to what he got into his head,
Not quick to wrath, would never give a blow,
Was not unlike the cattle that he fed.
He’d iron muscles and a stalwart arm.
In Winter he would have rheumatic pains,
He worked as labourer at Bishop’s Farm;
All told twelve shillings were his weekly gains.
The harvest money came to six pounds more:
On boots and clothes and coal this quickly went
Or to the grocer, clearing off a score.
He looked towards the pig to pay the rent.
Daphne Bridgeman, December 1985.
PART IV: VILLAGE INSTITUTIONS AND CUSTOMS
Widdington Men’s Club
The Club started in the late 1880s when the men of the village had a reading room in Brick Cottage, owned in those days by the Canning Family. There was also a billiards table in a room in the outbuildings of the Old Rectory, where woodworks classes were also given. The following is an account of how the present day Widdington Men’s Club started.
‘November 15th 1905. Opening of the Parish Hall.
Through the generosity of Mr. G Clausen ARA and the interest in the matter by the Rector, the Rev. JW Court, a Parish Hall and reading room has been provided for the Parish of Widdington. The formal opening of the hall was observed by a supper on Saturday evening, when about 60 sat down to an excellent repast. The company included the Rector, who presided, Mr Clausen, Mr Mackinnon, Mr Muir, Mr F Holgate and Mr T Hunt (Newport). The Rector, explained that Mr Clausen, on leaving the village, offered him his studio as a reading room for the village club. As Chairman of the Parish Council he accepted the offer, and the room had been removed and re-erected upon a site kindly granted by Messrs, Watney Combe & Co, at a nominal rent, but without cost to the ratepayers, as he (the Rector) had a fund in hand out of which the expense of removal and re-erection had been paid. He proposed the health of Mr Clausen and a hearty vote of thanks to him for his gift. This was seconded by Mr Holgate and passed with musical honours. Mr Clausen in reply acknowledged the kind reception he had received and said he was glad to think his old studio had been put to such a useful purpose. A feature of the evening was the singing of four hunting songs by Mr James Wright, a parishioner who is in his 93rd year’…..
In the 1920s a full size billiards table was installed in the club room under the auspices of Mrs Moore-Dillon, Mrs Court and the Rev JW Court. Shares in the table were sold, but if dividends were ever paid is uncertain at the minute book for 1905-1948 is missing.
The Club remained the same from the 1920s to the present day. Many entertainments were held by the committee e.g. Bingo, Whist Drives etc, and visiting teams were invited to play snooker and billiards matches. The members also visited other clubs. The Club was re-roofed in the 1950s by Mr Joe Chipperfield and Mr Jack Chipperfield……..
In the 1950s the Clausen Shield was introduced to be played for at billiards and snooker, and in the past two years league snooker was introduced for members. This was worked on a point and average system.
By the time you read this magazine the old studio will be gone. The end of another chapter in village life – 74 years November 15th 1905 to August 17th 1979 . ..The Men’s Club will continue to meet, as a club, at locations to be decided by the committee.
Ann Calver, September 1979
Widdington Brass Band
A few years before the First World War, the Rev, JW Court formed a brass band, because it was said he liked the music the touring German bands played and wanted to have a village band for Widdington. Memories of that pre-war band are scanty and its members are no longer with us, but enough returned after the War or remained in the village to form a nucleus and restart a band. Mr Court conducted practice in the school on Monday and Friday evenings and another session for beginners on Tuesdays. One thing he didn’t have to teach us was to read music. We had been taught this at school.
The youngsters were indeed keen and turned out for the Tuesday practice in all weathers, including one cold, snowy night, when the first two to arrive had been rewarded with sixpence by Mr Court who was surprised and pleased that anyone would turn out that night. As others arrived he looked amused and exchanged knowing glances with the rest as he had to find more sixpences to hand out. Sometimes the sounds produced were not very pleasing..and he couldn’t think of a word to describe them, but if reminded him of the limerick:-
There was a young man named Zorobabel
Who played with a big indiarobabel
The robabel bust
And the language he used was indescrobabel.
When the result was fair he likened it to a curate’s egg
The August Bank Holiday fete held on the rectory lawns, with coconut shies, bowling for the pig, hoop-la and other money-making side-shows, was a regular home engagement for the Band. Marches were the main items in the music book, with selections from the classic symphonies and airs from operas such as Roberto Devereaux, popular at the time but not heard now, and arrangements of popular melodies of the day – the famous waltz ‘Destiny’. The Valeta, Baby Tank and Felix kept on walking. These supplied music for dancing on the lawn in the evening. As darkness fell the fairy lanterns were lit up, and the way night-lights in coloured glass jars were suspended in the trees and shrubs.
The Band provided similar entertainment at garden fetes in various neighbouring villages. Naturally some younger bandsmen liked to dance with girls they knew, and they were given temporary leave of absence, provided sufficient players were left to maintain melody and rhythm. When music for a two-step was called for, Mr Court said ‘Play them a march; it is in the same 2/4 time, they won’t know’, but it was all right until the end of the march and the music stopped in the middle of a figure and left the dancers stranded in mid-air.
Another band not far away was the Much Hadham band and a contest was arranged between the two. The test pieces were a march of the band’s own choice and Gounod’s overtune to ‘Mirella’. After commenting on the good and not so good points of each band’s performance and keeping everyone in suspense, the judge finally announced Widdington had won on the set piece, Hadham on the march.
One of the treats looked forward to was the annual visit on the last Saturday or September to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham for the National Band Festival. For some this meant their first visit to London and the walk across London Bridge to the station on the other side of the Thames was their first sight of the capital city. Bands of various grades competed, the championship class where the best and most famous bands competed, Grand Shield, Junior Cup and Junior Shield… Generally the Grand Shield would be playing the Championship test piece of the previous year, suites by Gustav Hoist, John Ireland, Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Arthur Bliss come to mind. Some of the younger bandsmen were more interested in the sideshows and found the Hall of Distorting Mirrors a greater attraction than the music.
Only with the addition of players from neighbouring villages was it possible to make up the full complement of 24. With this number assembled the Band was able to compete in the Junior Shield section at the National Festival in 1932 playing ‘Inspiration of Youth’ as the test piece. But there were troubles, the solo comet was unable to make the journey and a player from another band had to be borrowed to take his place. He misread the instructions regarding the repetition of a passage and became confused.
There was great excitement when it was announced that Widdington had been placed first and the result was published in The News of the World the next day. But a later announcement regretted a mistake had been made. The winning bands should have been given in order of playing, which had been decided by a draw in the morning. Unfortunately some official had given out the number of the band in the programme, which of course was quite different. In the issues for the weeks following the Festival ‘The British Bandsman’ published the adjudicators’ notes and remarks on the bands performances and the points considered when placing them in order of merit. These made interesting reading. Amongst the remarks on Widdington’s playing was one to the effect that ‘This is a piece for Brass Band; there is no need for the conductor to sing the solo cornet part’, a reference to Mr Court’s long-established habit of singing or humming the melody. The outing was an unfortunate one, because when the instruments were gathered up to go home it was discovered that some covetous rogue had taken away the best E-flat bass, a modern type with compensating pistons, and left in its place a battered thing of unknown make.
In a few years players had moved away and World War II saw the end of the Band, Mr Court was approached with offers to buy the instruments, but he could not bring himself to part with them, they had been so much part of his life.
Ernest T Wilson, June 1983.
Memories of Widdington School: 1935-1942 (1)
I attended Widdington Junior School in 1935-1942 and will try to remember some of the highlights during those years. I started school when I was four I should have been five, but I was keen to go Miss King let me begin early. Widdington School was a red brick building consisting of one large room with a small cloakroom attached…At the top of the wall facing the Church was a stone plaque which read: ‘Come Ye Children and Hearken Unto Me: I Will Teach You the Fear of the Lord’. This is taken from Psalm 34 verse 11, and the plaque is now embedded in the churchyard wall.
The large room was divided by a huge cupboard making it into two smaller rooms, one for infants and one for juniors. It was heated by a solid fuel tortoise stove. Sometimes we fetched a jug of hot water from the Rectory when they were doing the washing and had the copper going. We needed this to wash the milk mugs in an enamel bowl. Outside were two toilets for boys and girls.. They were old wooden seat and bucket variety which I avoided if at all possible especially in high summer!. The playground was in front of the building, and there was a small piece at the back where the boys weren’t allowed to go, and the coke heap was also kept there.
The Headmistress was Miss King who came up from Newport every day by taxi, and when she retired the school closed. She taught the juniors and covered a wide range of subjects. When I started the infants teacher was Miss Pansy Frost who lived at the William the Conqueror public house. When she left, Miss Winnie Barnet from Rook End came. There were probably about 20 children attending school, but this greatly increased when the war started and evacuees joined us. I have a school photo dated 1937 and there are 14 children on this, but I know of a least 5 who are missing.
At break time in morning we had one third of a pint of milk, which was free, or it may have cost1/2d. We could also buy Cod Liver Oil and Malt at a reduced rate and a block of Gibbs Toothpaste for 1/2d. We were encouraged to clean our teeth every day and I had cards to mark if we did. We received a badge marked Ivory Castle League and a red, white and blue ribbon was added. As cards were completed we received a star which was stuck in the ribbon…
Christmas was an exciting time and we made our own paper chains using the coloured strips of paper which are glued at each end and one is linked to another. These were hung over the beams with a long handled mop. When I was small we had a huge Xmas tree which was beautifully decorated..
Amongst my memories are the lovely nature walks we had…
Daphne Bridgeman, March 1990.
Memories of WIddington School: 1935-1942 (2)
Miss King taught us to appreciate the countryside and everything that grew and existed in it….Sometimes we walked to the wood which is halfway between the Church and Debden Park.. We collected as many different wild flowers as we could find and then had to learn their names. Wild flowers were in abundance everywhere and the excitement of finding a white bluebell, a bee orchid or a butterfly orchid is never forgotten. Another route was ‘up the lane’ (Cornells Lane) to Hoy’s Wood… We also walked down ‘Holly Road’ (Hollow Road) and I remember a boy falling in the ditch opposite Wyses Farm and the ditch was full of black sludge. One Autumn we had to see how many different leaves we could collect…
Miss King was a tall lady with dark hair who always wore a patterned smock to protect her clothes, and we were fortunate in having such a good teacher. We started the day by doing our charts which consisted mainly of deciding what day it was and the weather… This was followed by Scripture which we had every day because it was a C of E School. We learned the Catechism by heart and also about six Psalms – numbers 8. 23, 121 and 150 come to mind. We were taught all the Bible stories and drew pictures of these and made models in plasticine or paper. We also had a repertoire of a few hymns which included ‘There is a green hill’ and ‘Blessed are the pure in heart’. Our religious knowledge was tested by a Diocesan Inspector called Mr Stares. I have a certificate, dated 6 July 1939, to say I had passed ‘a especially satisfactory Examination in Religious Knowledge’.
The Juniors, or the Big Side as we were called, consisted of Standards 1 to 5. We did reading, writing and arithmetic, nature, history and geography. I remember we followed the route taken by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they visited Canada in 1938. We had a large map of the world on the wall and marked such places as Toronot and Quebec. We learned to count by having spent matchsticks in bundles of 10 to form HTU (hundreds, tens, units). We also learned to knit and, as it was war time, knitted for the soldiers. We started by making a scarf on large needles with Khaki wool and progressed to socks or mittens. We learned to sew and do embroidery and I remember making a white handkerchief which had to be pinned, tacked and then hemmed… We did PT in the school playground and had little oval straw mats to sit on and do various exercises. Games like rounders were played in the meadow next to the school.
…we did a concert which was held in the Hut and our Mums came to watch. There was a large box in the school which held all sorts of dressing up clothes and we also made some costumes out of crepe paper. One year we dressed up as animals and I was a duck… Another time, we did The Pied Piper and learned the whole poem off by heart. With all the rats and children – there was a part for everyone.
Daphne Bridgeman, September 1990.
Memories of Widdington School: 1935-1942 (3)
In this last instalment of my memories of Widdington School I thought I would try to recall some events which occurred during those years.
One of these is the School outing to Clacton in the summer of 1938. We went on a hired coach, and Miss King, the infant’s teacher, Mr Court (the rector) and some mothers came to look after us. We played on the beach in the morning and had a picnic lunch… in the afternoon we went to a variety show on the pier and the chorus girls sang ‘The Umbrella Man’ and twirled their umbrellas… I can also remember going on the Ghost Train with Mr Court. We went to a restaurant on the sea front for tea and we could have shrimps or pineapple which were in glass dishes…
Another exciting event was the Christmas party on the last day of the Autumn term. In the afternoon we played games and had sandwiches, cakes and lemonade. Each child had a present and I don’t know who paid for all this but suspect it was Miss King. We didn’t go to many parties as children so an event like this was very much appreciated.
It was in the summer of 1940 when soldiers were often on manoeuvres, that a group of them, with lorries etc., cramped near the Green for a day or two and the water tap, which was on a grass island in the middle of the road leading to the church, was in great demand for their ablutions. Miss King let us put on an entertainment for them and we enacted the story of Cinderella and decorated the hedge at the bottom of the playground with coloured streamers. The soldiers appeared to appreciate our efforts.
Miss King was wonderful story teller and at the end of each day she always read to us… I shall never forget the Dr. Dolittle stories. The Push-Me-Pull-You (the animal with a head at both ends) sparked off my imagination together with the floating island which was pushed along by porpoises. Another story was Emile and the Detectives which I think was set in Germany and sounded different to me.
From a medical point of view, we were looked after quite well. From time to time the School Nurse came and we weighed and measured and had our hair inspected. I liked the Nurse but was a bit nervous of the Doctor, who examined our chests. As a child I was very thin for my age… He suggested I had egg and milk but as my mother looked after me very well anyway and was a good cook, it didn’t make much difference… We had all the usual children’s illnesses, e.g. Measles, Chicken Pox, Mumps and Whooping Cough. I think it was during 1936 when a lot of us had whooping cough and were ill for weeks. I was immunised against diphtheria during the war and this was the start of the prevention of all these illnesses. The School Dentist came once a year with a mobile surgery in a caravan and we had our teeth filled with the old treadle drill and gas was used for extractions…
Sadly, as the end of the school year in which we were eleven we had to leave Widdington School. Pupils then went on to Newport School until they were 14 and were taken each day by car. There was, however, an opportunity to sit for a scholarship and, if successful, the boys went to Newport Grammar School and the girls to the Herts and Essex High School, Bishop’s Stortford.
After I left Widdington school there were many changes in my life. My eldest sister, Eileen, left home to become a children’s nanny. I had a new baby brother, and our two evacuees had gone home. I started a new school, which was like another world.
I last saw Miss King in 1959, when I was staying with my mother and took my new baby to show her. I think she retired a year or two after that and the school closed. It was the end of an era.
Daphne Bridgeman, March 1991.
Pamela Johnstone and Mole Hall
Mole Hall was not opened to the public as a wildlife park until 1968, but long before that Pamela had animals. Even in London where she grew up, a couple of guinea pigs which was loved dearly lived in her bedroom.
Later, after the war she and Stuart came to Essex to live and farm at Little Henham Lodge. Stuart was then a very sick man, so it fell to Pamela to take on the farming.. They moved to Mole Hall in 1946 and after a time Stuart became stronger and needed occupation, so he took over the farm leaving Pamela at rather a loose end. It was at this stage that she decided to do something that she had always had at the back of her mind, and that was to form a collection of wild creatures. At Mole Hall she had the time and the space to develop her private wildlife park. Her first purchase was a pair of marmosets bought on impulse, but on the whole she selected animals suitable to the climate and the countryside. She called them her ‘people’. In 1968 she and Stuart decided it would it would be fun to open the park to the public. By this time she had a good selection of animals, not all of them indigenous to England. One of the exceptions was ‘Tubman’ the chimp who came to the park as a baby and is still there – a great favourite with the visitors. As a little fellow he had the run of the house and was, and is, a great friend.
The animals came from all sorts of sources. Some were bought from pet shops or came from dealers who sent her lists of animals for sale – some were gifts, some came as a result of swapping with other wildlife parks and reserves.
It went off well from the start. She and Stuart were a great team. Stuart was always very supportive of her work, managing the financial side of the venture, while Pamela concentrated on the livestock. Together they travelled all over the world, looking at animals in the wild and attending conferences on wildlife and animal conservation. Pamela became especially interested in otters, their breeding and way of life, and is an authority on American otters. She is the only person in England who has successfully bred them here. She has appeared with them on television as well, although by all accounts it was a fairly hectic experience, for the otters as well as for Pamela!
The butterfly house is the most recent addition to the park.. during term time busloads of children arrive almost daily at the park on educational trips. They are always particularly attracted to the butterfly house and an entomologist who is always on hand is kept busy answering their questions. Pamela herself is very knowledgeable and will lecture if asked (not only on butterflies, but all animal concerns)..
It is a full and busy life. Apart from keeping in touch with the visitors.. and seeing to the welfare of a large number of her ‘people’ (with the help of John Doe her head warden and the rest of the staff) there are innumerable matters demanding her attention, trips to the vet, long telephone conversations with people ringing up for advice about their pets or animals found injured. There is a children’s playground which has to be kept safe and in order …. A deep freeze in the store room is stocked with day-old chicks for the owls and little monkeys and frozen fish for the otters….
As a background for the animals Pamela put a lot of thought into landscaping the park itself which is not just a collection of cages and enclosures, but with mown lawns and flowers and shrubs is a pleasant place to linger in, to watch the flamingos dabbling in the moat and the black and white swans sailing up and down. Peacocks stroll above freely, ignoring the visitors….
Pamela’s day starts at 7.30 in the morning and doesn’t end until sundown, all the year round (except Christmas Day). You wouldn’t think that anyone who is so slight and looks so frail would stand up to such a taxing regime, but that is her life and she loves it.
M.S.R December 1993.
The Old Post Office
The Post Office and shop used to be one of the social centres of the Village, and everyone regrets its passing. But the building is still a centre of interest, as I discovered when I went on the village New Year walk.
In renovating the house we have kept the old Victorian floor bricks in the shop, the old shop window and the fixtures outside on which the shop sign was help. In the course of renovating the wall above the shop door our builders uncovered a glass sign bearing the name of Holgate. And the Holgats, we discovered, ran the shop from the 1850s until the end of the Second World War.
It seems that Joseph Holgate was the first person to run the place as a shop, and it was probably he who had the shop window installed. He was a shoemaker, grocer and ‘receiver of the post’ (later sub-postmaster) until his death in 1902 at the age of 72. The shop was then taken over by his daughter, Miss Amy Holgate, and then, around 1930 Mrs Florence Holgate, who was the widow of his grandson, Frank Holgate. At about the end of the Second World War she sold it to Thomas Walsh, and it then went through a succession of owners, finally the Smiths, who were unable to keep the shop going and who sold it in 1986 as a private house to Roy and Christine Bloss. They in turn sold it to my wife and myself last year.
Peter Sanders, March 1994.
Widdington Post Office.
The article in the latest Widdington Magazine brought back so many memories of my childhood as the Post Office was truly a focal point. I remember Amy Holgate and Florence Holgate who ran the shop when I was a child… When I was a little girl Amy Holgate gave me a marvellous scrapbook full of Victorian pictures, probably cut from magazines, which were surrounded by pressed dried leaves and coloured transfers. I imagine she made this scrap book when she was a young girl. Also in the book is a small painting of a cat signed by Joseph Frank Holgate, February 20th 1888.
When I was small, my sister used to take me to the shop to buy sweets on a Saturday. The three stone steps to the shop door seemed to be quite high and wide to me with the Post Box to the left of the shop window… The shop sold most things and before the village and a phone box, you could telephone from the Post Office.
When the war came and rationing started, things were never quite the same. Windows displays were usually made of cardboard and contained posters saying Dig for Victory and suchlike. Only registered customer s were allocated anything special which the shop might have had wasn’t rationed. This included sweets before they went on ration… When Amy and Florrie Holgate retired there was a presentation in The Hut of two fireside chairs and I remember them sitting on them to try them out.
… After the Holgates, a Mr & Mrs Hudgel took over the shop. I remember Mr & Mrs Walsh.. Also Mr & Mrs Instance (I don’t know how you spell it). I remember Mrs Philips as she had the shop when I used to visit my mother when my children were small.
Daphne Bridgeman, June 1994
May Day Customs
There is no record of Widdington having a May Pole, but there is an equally lovely custom the children used to take part in as last at 1960 when school closed. They would decorate two hoops with flowers and leaves, held together in the middle with a small dressed doll. No one now remembers what the doll represented. Some authorities state that they doll may have represented Flora, the Goddess of Spring. Two children would carry they garland through the village, followed by schoolmated carrying bunches of flowers. They would call at large houses in the village and sing this song.
Oh garland gay I have brought you here
And at your door I stand
The buds of May are well budded out
By the work of our Lord’s hand.
The hedges of the fields so green
As green as any leaf
Our heavenly Father watered them
Returning them to you so sweet.
Now my song is nearly done
I can no longer stay
God bless you all both great and small
I wish you a joyful May.
Joan Gray, June 1988.
The May Singers
I was born in Widdington in 1931 and lived there until I married in 1955 but came back regularly to visit my mother until she died in 1979. I still come to the Churchyard to see the graves of my father and mother – James Alfred Stalley and Queenie May Stalley.
…. I was one of the May Singers during the war, and shall never forget the excitement of getting up early to start the singing before we went to school, then again in the dinner break and we finished our visits to every house in the village when we came out of school. Of course there were not so many houses then. I don’t know what the doll in the hoop represented. My Aunt Doris, most years, did the hoops and we made our own crossed. These were two pieces of wood nailed together, back of which was covered with greenery. We picked bluebells, paigles (oxlips), cowslips and cuckoos (purple orchids) and made these into small bunches which were tired to the front of the cross. Later my brother and sister went May Singing… The song was sang went like this:
I’ve been a rambling all this night
And sometimes of this day
And now returning back again
I’ve brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May, my dear I say,
Before your door I stand
Tis but a sprout, but its well budded out
By the works of our Lords hand
The hedges and the fields so green
As green as any leaf
Our heavenly Father watered them
With his heavenly dew so sweet.
And now my song is almost done
I can no longer stay
God bless you all both great and small
I wish you a joyful May.
This is a bit different to that printed in the magazine but it’s imprinted on my mind lie the ABC and my sister remembers my version. We also remember the tune!
I used to live n the house next to Florus House by the Green and I think Mrs Brookman lives there now.
Daphne Bridgeman (nee Stalley) March 1989
Three flats. Four time. All notes one crotchet except where otherwise indicated.
First bar: Bb
Second bar: G,G,G,Bb
Third bar: Ab,G,Ab,F
Fourth bar: Eb,F,G,Ab
Fifth bar: Bb,(dotted minim), Bb
Sixth bar: Eb(high) F,G,F
Seventh bar: Eb,C,Bb,G
Eight bar: Ab;F;Eb,D
Ninth bar: Eb
Daphne Bridgeman, June 1989
A Village craftsman’s day book
Joseph Thurgood was the village carpenter and undertaker near the end of the last century. He was the second son of Lawrence Thurgood. It would be fanciful to think that he was descended from the Lawrence, carpenter, who in his will dated 1787 mentions his copyhold estates of the Manor of Priors Hall. However there have been other Thurgoods who were carpenters, as well as yeomen and farmers in this area – Robert, at Thistley Hall in 1830, another Robert at Ringers Farm, millers at Debden and schoolmasters at Widdington. Lawrence was evidently a family name: the last Widdington Thurgood of that name died in the 1950s an old man and unmarried.
Joseph lived in part of the White Cottage, the Corbys lived in the other part. His workshop was on the opposite side of Cornell’s Lane. He also used Wray’s yard for storing materials such a sbricks, slates, tiles and sand.
His Day Book from August 1891 to February 1894 was preserved by John Chipperfiled who carried on the business and is now in the care of Mr Jack Chipperfield, who kindly lent me it. It is beautifully written in near copperplate style and gives a day-by-day account of work done by himself and his workmen and their pay. A typical week’s wages was 14s, about 70p.
His son William, then nearly 50, did most of the heavy work, but from time to time he employed other carpenters and wheelwrights and bricklayers and tillers. William was mainly employed in making and repairing farm carts and wagons, including the wheels. Other equipment and tools for farm work included ploughs, ladders, wheelbarrows, fences, gateposts and gates, wippletrees and wetrees – bars with hooks for attaching horse traces to the plough. A plough slide is mentioned. This was a sledge with iron runners on which a plough was dragged along the road from one field to another. Domestic articles such as dog kennels, perambulators, sash cords for windows and of course, coffins are listed as well as helping to kill a pig. More homely jobs were making a pastry board for Miss Hawkins the school mistress and doll’s house for Mr George Clausen, the artist.
Widdington Mill was then in use, requiring new sails in December 1892. William made and fitted the seat for the church organ, which was dedicated on 24 May 1892. He cleaned the inside of the church and carted chairs from Newport for the expected large congregation the day before and took them back the next day. He was also one of the bellringers.
For 2 weeks in September 1892 all hands were busy erecting Mr Clausen’s studio, which later became the Reading Room. After that they helped in the corn harvest.
Under “My Own Time” Joseph records his own work, on the whole less strenuous, like sharpening saws and making helves (handles) for tools. Some days and a few whole weeks are blank, but he was the boss and not paid by the hour, and he was over 70. He was honest when he confesses to one day ‘muddling about’ and another ‘not much doing’. Entries are more like a diary with weddings and funerals, unusual events like ‘tenor bell thrown over’, ‘snow the day before Easter April 17 1892’ and a visit to the Naval Exhibition in September 1891. Lotting Rangers in Lilley Wood probably gave him a chance to buy trees for timber. When Mr William Peacock, the solicitor and agent, came to collect the cottage rents, Joseph went with him, presumably to see what repairs were needed.
We can only surmise that Kate, whom he took to the station, was his daughter. Later in January 1892 she was very ill and he visited her in Hampstead and fetched her home in March 1892. She was married in November
More to come, please look back later
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