'The last days of my childhood were also the last days of the village. I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years' life…
Myself, my family, my generation, were born in a world of silence: a world of hard work and necessary patience… of villages like ships in the empty landscapes and the long walking distances between them; of white, narrow roads,.. innocent of oil or petrol,.. the horse was the fastest thing moving.'
FROM 'CIDER WITH ROSIE' BY LAURIE LEE
SOME MIDDLETON CHENEY MEMORIES
The first two extracts illustrate that history can be complared ot a huge jigsaw - it can take years to finally arrive at "the full picture".
Extract from 'Grist for the Mill' by William J. Wheeler born 1909 (book written & privately published after a series of interviews with Nancy Long MC Village Archivist)
Below this house was a Rick-yard, (near the present day shop in Church Lane) and every morning at 7 o'clock a farm worker filled the trough with water for the cattle. I used to watch the steaming beasts on a cold winters morning as they lumbered across for a drink. The beef from these animals was particularly good, my parents always made sure we had meat from Mr Jones's cattle when they were slaughtered.
On the opposite side of the road there was a shop run by Mrs Lines where, one bonfire night some boys, intent on mischief, bought some sparklers. They left the shop and I still remember seeing them light a sparkler and throw it into the Rick-yard, setting all the corn Ricks afire. The blaze was so great that the firemen had to throw a sheet over the thatch of the cottage opposite the yard and dowse it with water to prevent it from going up in smoke.
THE ABOVE ACCOUNT WAS WRITTEN IN 1992 – TWENTY YEARS LATER THE FOLLOWING ACCOUNT WAS SENT TO ME FROM AUSTRALIA – WE HAD FOUND THE CULPRITS!
Extract from – A POMMIE IMMIGRANT by Kenneth W.Plevey 1903 - ? (an account sent to the village from Australia by his descendants. Kenneth had emigrated in 1924),
An incident one 5th November night gives me very mixed feelings today, but it was an accomplishment to my youthful mind at the time. There was a little shop near the church selling fire crackers and sparklers for Guy Fawkes night, and opposite to it was a yard with high stone walls, owned by a farmer who had machinery and hayricks enclosed in it. My elder brother bought 2 sparklers, and when he lit the second one he promised to hand it to me when it was half burnt, he did so and just before it died out I threw it into the air, and it sailed over the wall. Everyone said, "OOH!" and held their breath, but not for long – a tongue of flame climbed up the nearest rick, and no-one could get near it because of the locked gates. There were no telephones in the town in those days so the word went out, "Go and tell the fire captain!" – and 2 or 3 of us started to run. The captain lived in what was termed Lower Middleton Cheney, over a mile away, and I proved a better stayer than the others so got there first. The fire pump was primitive, being a water tank mounted on a handcart, which was filled and replenished per bucket brigade at the scene of the fire. The stream was energised by 3 or 4 men each side, doing up and down motions on bars connected to the pump and it must have been hard work as there were periodic changes as the action slowed. The hayricks were a write-off, but I got paid 2/6 for giving the alarm, which I proudly presented to my Mum.
Well!!! I said I had mixed feelings didn't I?
Extract from the BIDWELL FAMILY History (interview still in progress)
Our Dad (born 1882) had been apprenticed to a Portmanteau Frame-Maker but he was also a Locksmith. Our Mum often had to struggle to make ends meet and this wasn't helped by the fact that Dad was rather too fond of a drink. Mum always said he didn't touch alcohol until he went away to serve in the First World War. She said that a number of men joined up from Middleton at the same time and all left together. The village band led them up the road to Banbury and all their families followed behind as far as Turnpike to wave them off. When Dad returned he was a changed man, nowadays they call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome but in those days there was no help at all for the men who had witnessed such terrible sights. "Our Dad had nightmares for at least ten years after he came home." "One night (in his confused state) helined the whole family up against the wall and threatened to shoot them!"
Before the war, Dad had been very good at his job, employed by Walls and Son of Banbury. They used to send him to work at Chubbs, the most famous Locksmiths in London as he was so good at his trade. But after the war he took any job he could get as so many people were out of work during the Depression years of the 1920s. This was not the, "Land Fit for Heroes" that so many returning soldiers had believed in. At one time he used to walk five miles across the fields to Astrop Park where he was employed breaking stones. One of the jobs Dad took was on Winfield's Farm in Middleton, feeding logs into a steam-driven wood cutter. The blade caught Dad's right arm and ripped it from his elbow to his hand, he lost his index finger and cut all the tendons. I remember the long scar and as a result he only had limited movement in the thumb of his right hand so he was no longer able to carry out the intricate work he had been trained for. Nowadays we are older (and some would say, wiser), so we can understand the traumatic experiences and circumstances that caused Dad to find consolation in the bottom of a glass.
Extract from an interview with 'Doll' (Hilda Ellen) Gascoigne 1991 - ?
Doll's eldest brother, Fred joined the army and after World War 1 became a policeman as, "He always wanted to better himself."
When Fred got married his mother was none too pleased as he hadn't told her. The first she knew was when her husband came in from work and announced, "Our Fred's getting married." "Oh yes, when?" asked his wife. "Tomorrow" came the reply. Mary Ellen was furious as she hadn't been asked to – "sign the paper." (Fred must have been under twenty-one). His father said that he must have asked a J.P. to sign instead of his parents. The nearest J.P. was Mr Jones at Middleton Lodge Farm, along the Astrop Road. Off set Mary Ellen to stop Mr Jones from putting pen to paper. However, on the way there she met Fred who was on his way back with the necessary signature – she was too late. The next day – Fred's Wedding Day – Mary Ellen waited on the green near the Forge, with a bag of flour to throw at the happy couple! However someone informed the newly weds and they left the Church via an alternative route. Onlookers told Mary Ellen to go home and to not be such a misery, to which she replied, "He can choose another sweetheart. He'll never have another Mother!"
Fred and his wife, Charlotte Ann, lived in the police house at Great Bourton. One night Fred was found dead on the road from Cropredy to Great Bourton. It was believed locally that he had been murdered. An inquest was held but the result was an open verdict. Fred was 39 years old.
Extract from an interview with Len Jerrams (1910 – 1995)
As I said earlier, there were seven boys in one bedroom and none of us knew what pyjamas or nightshirts were. We slept in the shirts we'd worn all day. We had our coats on our bed for a long time. There were three twos (i.e. beds) and Wilf slept in a little cot at the back. This was just after the war, then the family started going away which eased things considerably.
We were no worse off than other families. We were never starved but what we had was very basic, no doubt about it. I mean, Mum used to cut an egg in half and we used to shout, "E's got a bigger 'alf than me, our Mum, 'e's got a bigger 'alf - 'taint fair, 'taint fair!" - screaming our heads off…
An egg was a special treat and at Easter time, when you got a full egg you daren't eat it 'cos it was so precious - you had to make it last.
For breakfast we had lard-toast mostly. After the first world war, when Dad came back we started keeping pigs and that made lovely lard, they used to put rosemary in it too. That was a great occasion you see, to have a pig killed.
Mum used to cook on an open fire with iron saucepans and a boiler. There were two bars over the top of the fire and she used to put the two big saucepans on there. The main meal was at midday and when we used to run in from school Mum used to have a stack of toast for us. Wilf used to say, "It went down like a bloody concertina!" We mostly had vegetables - we lived tight, it was hard and very basic, but all we had was very wholesome. We would go up the Astrop Road and Mr Jones, up at Lodge Farm, was very lenient with we children. We used to pull a swede or a turnip and smear it with blackberries, but it was all natural, wholesome food wasn't it? I think that's an important thing - in the village, years ago, although it was hard and food was very sparse it was all wholesome food and I think that is a great thing.
Extract from Harry Bonham's memories 1872 – 1962 (Sent from Canada where he had emigrated in 1911)
Around 1890 I left the farmer I was working for. My Father had already left his work in Banbury and was occupied in building, repairs and draining. About this time in England the working class were awakening to their rights and there was a slogan for the workers, "Three Acres And A Cow!" In our village (Middleton Cheney) there was agitation along these lines. Father became a kind of spokesman and they all approached the Vicar with respect to some of the Glebe Land near the village. I believe the Vicar received the rents from this farm and another as his salary. A public meeting was called in the Boy's Schoolroom with the Rector and others on the platform. There was a good attendance and the vicar in his speech said something like this, "Suppose we allow the men to have the land, how do we know you will make a success of it?" Father immediately replied, "Our worthy Vicar reminds me of the Mother who said that she hoped her son wouldn't get into the water until he could swim!"
Extract from an interview with Annie Jarvis (nee Seeney) 1900-1991
I was born on the 3rd February 1900 and I believe I was the first baby to be born in Middleton Cheney this century (1900s) …..
…In those days we used to play in the fields all day, my friend used to take one of the babies (a younger brother or sister), in the pram and I'd take another. We'd take a basket with bread and butter and perhaps a bottle of lemonade and go to a field along the Astrop Road. We'd pick buttercups and make daisy chains and stay all day. We didn't have much in the way of material possessions but we had such a happy childhood.
To supplement the family income I remember that my mother had a sewing machine and would sew for other families. They would bring in an old pair of trousers and ask her to make a smaller pair for one of their boys. Mum would unpick the old pair and use the best parts of the material to sew a new pair. For this time-consuming job she charged 3d.
We always wore thick, black stockings and long-sleeved dresses so our arms were covered to the wrist, none of they summer dresses like nowadays. We were always bundled up in clothes. We always wore a pinny, if you went to school without your pinny they sent you home again. We used to wear boots, not shoes. The higher your boots came up your legs the more fashionable you were – but I never got to that degree. Occasionally we went to Banbury to buy a new coat but otherwise Mum made all our clothes, mostly out of cut down dresses, we didn't have new material.
Extract from 'Somewhere to 'ang Me Ladders' by Kenneth Faulconberg Charles 1914-2003 (book written & printed for his family after a series of interviews with Nancy Long MC Village Archivist)
The firm (J.P. Charles) was based in a two storey building in the corner of my Uncle Raymond's rick-yard, near to the Methodist Church. Next door was a large stone property which is still known as Wisteria House. Here lived Mr Hubert Treadwell, a talented electrician and mechanical engineer. Mr Treadwell had a workshop in a converted cottage next to his house. He had been my Father's school friend and according to him he didn't shine at academic subjects but was absolutely brilliant with electrical systems. As a boy, I remember coming out of the Church after evening service and walking along the lane to listen to Hubert's wireless relaying the famous words from the B.B.C., "Daventry calling, Daventry calling." Mr and Mrs Treadwell used to sit in deckchairs on the lawn with a wireless on the table. He had a very tall metal tower to hold the aerial. This was long before the television was invented and we marvelled at Hubert's wireless. We lesser mortals only had what was known as a, 'Cat's Whisker' set.
Long before the Grid System was developed to provide electricity for the masses Hubert generated his own with a stationary engine and a battery system. This was connected to the Methodist Church nearby (where the congregation could truly claim that they had, 'Seen the Light!'), the Co-op shop, his own house and that of his immediate neighbours. As a result they had 100 volt electric lights but no other power. He used to charge us one shilling per unit.
On one occasion Edgar (Edgar Holton, the firm's lorry driver) asked me to accompany him to Shirley, near Birmingham to collect a five horse-power Hornsby stationary engine and batteries for Mr Treadwell. Our lorry was a flat bed Ford 'T.' On the journey home we were making good progress until we reached Warmington Hill. We drove as far up as the church when the lorry spluttered and died. Edgar was certain that we were short of petrol so out we climbed as our seats straddled the petrol tank. We dipped the stick to discover that we only had 1 ½ inches. There were no petrol pumps on the roads in those days but Edgar hit on a solution. We coasted to the bottom of the hill, turned around and backed up to the top. The petrol was gravity fed to the engine, once we arrived at the top of the hill we turned the lorry around and travelled safely home!
Extract from the letters of Alf Gibbard sent from the trenches in World War One (born 1896)
Nothants Regiment, B.E.F. France, 28.10.1915
Dear Daisy (his sister)
…when I do come (on leave), I shall bring all my kit and my best friend – that is my rifle. Frank (his younger brother) will be able to have a go then, with it - and my bayonet. I have only had the point of a German's through my jacket, but it was left in the trenches, I was not in it. That is what you have to look out for now – and the bombs. It is all bomb fighting now, so if they have not got any bombs, they will all be sent to hell in the same cart if it will hold them. Our bombs only go 1 pound but theirs go 4 pounds – but we can throw ours about fifty yards and they can only put theirs about ten or twenty. So ours are the best you see. We had a go the last day we was in there (ie the trenches), and all the Germans was up the pole that day. We are getting the best of them, we can see it so plain…
…We had a German come over to us with his hands up and he said he could smell something good. We had just got our dinner and he said he had been standing at his post for 10 hours and he had not had anything to eat all night. He said they are all getting ready to go back to the next hill. When we go after them he said that the men had been told not to fire at anything because they had not got much ammunition.
…It won't last 'til Xmas. The General over here said he could not see how it can, if all the news he has is true. They are thinking of moving us but they won't tell us where we are going. We are at Albert now.
…Don't forget to send me a pair of good strong gloves, a body belt and some camphor so that it will keep all the (picture of a bug), away from my tummy, ha!
Well that is all
Send the gloves as soon as you can
(ALF WAS KILLED 10 DAYS AFTER HE SENT THIS LETTER HOME, HE WAS 19 YEARS OLD. His grave is in Corbie Communal Cemetery, France. Corbie is a small town at the junction of the Somme and Ancre Rivers)
Extract from 'One Mote' a family history written in memory of George White 1884 – 1940 by his daughter Irene Kirkham (born 1925)
… Thomas had important business to discuss with Rector and he had made himself as decent as possible for the occasion as he made his way through the village on warm August day in 1558.
Oswald Stannaker had been the Rector of All Saints Church, Middleton Cheney since June 1544. He was a kindly, educated man, deeply aware of his important role in the lives of his parishioners. He knew that Thomas White farmed three strips of land on the outskirts of the village and also that he owned a small number of live-stock which he grazed on the common land. More importantly, the Rector was aware that Thomas paid his tithes to the Church, his dues to Thomas Parrys the Lord of the Manor, and his taxes to the State without, at least visible dissent!
The smiling Rector approved of Thomas's choice of a bride and saw no reason why the ceremony should not take place early in September.
The Rector explained that the marriage would take place in the church porch. Not until the ring was safely on the right hand of the bride, would the couple enter the Church for the rest of the service. He wondered whether the bridegroom possessed a ring but was assured that Thomas's sister Agnes had agreed that he should use the ring that had belonged to their mother.
Thomas was to gather a supply of fresh hay from Ash Meadow, to be spread on the floor of the Church. This was an ancient custom in Middleton Cheney and during the summer months, hay from the meadow – which was part of the common pastures – was kept for use in the Church…
…On the eighth of September 1558 Thomas and Jone (ie. Jone Gilbert), were married. After the ceremony Oswald Stannaker took them aside and the young couple watched as he wrote in a ledger. The Rector then explained that although many, many couples had been married in the Church over the past two hundred years, no records existed. Their wedding was now to be the first to be recorded in a new register. He showed them the entry and because neither of then could read, he allowed them – after the ink was dried - to touch their names in the book.
(This history follows the family's fortunes through the village of Middleton Cheney from 1558 until 1930 when '…at last, they left the beautiful village of Middleton Cheney… and settled (near their son and daughter in law) in the Radford District of Coventry. … and gentle George the Shepherd, at the age of forty-six became a plate layer for the Railway (L.N.W.R) company.
INTERVIEWS AND STORIES ASSEMBLED BY NANCY LONG – VOLUNTARY VILLAGE ARCHIVIST FOR MIDDLETON CHENEY PARISH COUNCIL 1989 –
The full transcript of most of the extracts in this paper are available from the Parish Archivist. There will be a small charge to cover photocopying costs.