Helen Aylott

Memories of Stony Stratford

I arrived in Stony at the age of nine, having just returned to England from Warsaw in Poland where my parents had been posted since 1947, just after the War. My father worked for DWS (Hanslope Park) in communications and we had lived there for three years.

We moved into 26 Kingston Avenue in the winter and I found Stony a somewhat hostile place. We were, after all, “outsiders” and I had not been to school until then, as there were no schools in Warsaw (I had a cursory education in “the 3 Rs” from the Ambassador’s childrens’ nanny) and I felt very much excluded when I went to Russell Street School in Stony. And to make matters worse they had boys there! I had not mixed with boys before and felt as though they were creatures from an alien planet. I also remember that Mrs. Hamilton was quite handy with a ruler if you happened to annoy her! But on the whole, I began to understand that there was more to education that just “the 3 Rs”.

Pastimes in Stony

I soon settled in though and became friendly with the children in Kingston Avenue. Apart from school, Stony was a busy historical town with many places of interest to explore at that age, both in and around the outskirts. Kingston Avenue was an ideal street to live in as it was on quite a steep hill, with a circle at the top (a dead end) and a sharp right hand bend at the bottom, which made it an absolute heaven for roller-skating in the summer, providing you were skilful enough to negotiate the sharp bend at the bottom at high speed and hope that there were no cars coming round the bend to meet you. Otherwise, there was a resounding crash into Clarence Road back garden tins! As skates were metal clip-on ones they made a considerable noise when there were about seven or eight children speeding down the hill one after the other, which caused many irate adults to come out and shake their fists at us. We couldn’t hear what they were saying as we streaked past, anyway! About a dozen children of all ages lived in Kingston Avenue and we became the “Kingston Avenue Mob”, as opposed to the adjacent avenue, “the Frankston Avenue Mob”.

We had many crazes that we pursued after school and during the holidays, including stilt-football, marbles (played along the gutters of the Wolverton Road on the way home from school, there being very few cars to worry about then), through the “black and white posts, to Kingston Avenue. We were always out until about 9.00pm and when it got dark we sometimes “cherry-knocked” on the front doors of neighbours whom we felt bore a grudge against children! Apart from erecting tents in our gardens and having picnics, we also began to venture further a field.

We built the best “den-tree” in a huge tree in a field on the right-hand side of the road as you went towards Wolverton, with planks and ropes and we supplied it with cushions and all sorts of accessories, which came in useful when we had “wars” with the Frankston Avenue mob who had decided to outdo us and build their own den tree nearby! We even had “wars” between the two streets at the bottom of Kingston Avenue, all of us wielding sticks and dustbin lids.

There were so many ways for children to find their own amusement in Stony Stratford at that time. There was no horrified squawking from parents if you announced you were all going swimming in the river for the afternoon, down by Maycocks’ Mill, sharing the sandy bathing place with the occasional cows. There was also the Council pool in the river along the Calverton Road, complete with tin bathing huts (slightly in disrepair by that era) but they preserved modesty. There were also the remains of the other Council bathing pool just past “the Cats’ Mill”, where the river passes close to what used to be The Barley Mow pub at the bottom of the High Street but that was too weedy. The best part of the river was under “the Iron Bridge” (Aqueduct) where the canal crosses and just as popular by this time, down by the weir at the back of Ousebank Way, which today has been modernised and is quite dangerous, although I do understand there are some intrepid boys who still jump in. They wouldn’t if they knew there are a considerable number of sizeable crayfish in there!

We always looked forward to Wolverton Carnival day. It was a big procession, the floats were spectacular and it ran from Bradwell, through Wolverton and on to Stony, or the other way around! We always went to Wolverton and followed it, whichever way it was going. I recall walking along beside one float and being so preoccupied that I really smacked into a lamppost! That amused the occupants of the float!

Scrumping!

It was always possible to find an orchard tucked away somewhere in Stony to go scrumping. Some orchards were well protected and some were becoming overgrown and derelict. The best one was at the back of the St. Giles vicarage, near the back of the St. Giles and St. Mary’s Secondary School playing field. I remember the vicar appearing suddenly from the direction of the house, black cassock flying, red in the face, shouting and gesticulating at us! We departed rapidly, pockets full and I don’t think the language he was using was really representative of a man of the cloth!

The Humpty-Dumpty Hills

Another favourite playing spot was the remains of the sand pits on the corner of the Beachampton and Calverton Roads, a short distance out of Stony. They were especially favoured in winter when the sledging season was upon us.

Olney Convent

After about six months my parents decided that my education needed a bit of a kick-start and sent me to St. Josephs Convent School in Olney. This meant being picked up by a coach and being transported to Olney and back every day, which really cut into my playing time after school. The worst thing was that we had to wear a uniform and whilst the gymslips were not too bad we had to wear panama hats in the summer and Velour hats in the winter! This gave the local children a good opportunity to poke fun at us whilst we were waiting for the coach to pick us up. Also, there was considerable homework to be done. I enjoyed being at a girls’ school and loved the nuns. They were strict and yet also a lot of fun, which made for respect and hard work.

Cycling

However, I kept my local friends and still had a lot of freedom. We used to pack a bottle of Tizer in our bicycle baskets, with an apple and some sandwiches and wave goodbye to mother and disappear for the day. My best friends were Helen Durney, Janet Scott and Julia Fairley who also lived in Kingston Avenue. We cycled all round the villages in a wide radius of Stony, visiting Churches and inspecting graveyards, exploring deserted cottages or woods and picnicking in barns if it rained. Parents were trained not to worry about us and never locked the front door if they went out in case we returned unexpectedly.

The Bushy Hills, Old Stratford

As we explored further a field we used to like going to where the Scouts used to camp in the woods or spinney at Old Stratford, on the Cosgrove Road (and the Scouts still do – my grandson Lazarus goes to the camp). It had once been a quarry, not sure whether it was sand, gravel or stone in past times and it was quite overgrown, hilly and spooky. It was also rumoured to have an entrance to one of the tunnels that criss-crossed this part of the country from stately houses to Churches and reputedly, as far as Northampton. These were built during the time of the Reformation I was told. Indeed, a group of us did find an entrance on the edge of the quarry and I believe it was Frank Eglesfield who decided it would be worth exploring. But having jumped down into the entrance I seem to remember he was persuaded that it would be too dangerous.

1952 – Delhi

After about a year, perhaps 1952, we were again shipped off to Delhi, India, where we adjusted to the way of life there, with the heat, flies, vultures and all the smells and lack of sanitation of a bustling city. For about six months we lived in a hostel where I had the bed with the bedbugs and got eaten alive. Father was then transferred to Lahore in Pakistan for the remainder of his tour, about eighteen months.

Transfer to Lahore, Pakistan

We were welcomed on the first night in Lahore, whilst staying in a hotel, with a sizeable earthquake. I decided that I would like it in Lahore and we again got used to the heat, flies and vultures, etc. My sister, Kathleen, aged about six, and I were sent to convent schools in both Delhi and Lahore to continue our education.

Home to Stony Stratford. In 1954 we returned home to Kingston Avenue and I went back to Olney Convent. I was by this time charged with being responsible for helping my mother and had to do washing up and various other jobs in my free time. I remember on Saturdays I always had to do the shopping for my mother, or if need be, mow the lawn or cut the privet hedge or weed the flowerbeds, or all three some days. I was never allowed to go off with my mates until these jobs were done and as I have always believed in doing a job well, this took up a considerable amount of time. Stony Stratford High Street. I did love Stony High Street though and enjoyed visiting the shops there.

You could buy absolutely anything in Stony, from a goldfish bowl to a bowler hat. I can still remember most of the original shops in Stony during the 1950s and 60s from the top to the bottom (and the names of all the pubs)! I am sure many local people still spend many happy hours recalling the names of the shops and what you could buy and where – and how much for in those days! My favourite shopping was going to the bakers on the Market Square. Cowleys bakers had been there for centuries and it was a shop in what must have once been a little front room with the bakery at the back. I remember Mr. Cowley had a little horse-drawn cart and was seen delivering bread all round Stony and out to the villages. The smell of that bread and the little bread rolls while waiting to be served will remain with me forever.

When I got married I even bought my heavy flour and yeast from him for some time to make my own bread. It was never quite as nice. Unfortunately, a number of years ago he retired and the premises became a hairdressing salon. I also remember that during the 1950s there still remained two smithies in Stony, one on the corner, opposite the Church in the High Street and the other in London Road, on the corner of The Green. After school, I would wander round to one or the other and watch whilst horses were shod.

That was another smell to remember – this time not so nice! Talking of smells, there was another smell – that of fish and chips, which brings back memories – the Fish and Chip van which used to come round Stony in the evenings on a Friday. That was a magical. I am told that it still trades but it doesn’t come round here, sadly! Another memory is of hawkers coming round the streets in the 1950s. There was the rag and bone man and the knife grinder.

I can’t remember which one used to give away goldfish in jam-jars. Going to the Cinema. By this time I was allowed to go to the cinema in the evenings. There was The Scala in Stony and that had double seats in the back row, unheard of in those days! There was the Palace and the Empire in Wolverton. I can remember “The Greatest Show on Earth” was hailed as an exceptional film and advertised weeks in advance of its showing at The Scala. Some of the “epic” films of that era were seen and talked about by local people for ages. Going to the cinema was a big thing for many in those days. Other entertainments. Many outings with my mates involved exploring around Stony. One of the favourite places before the Latimer estate was built was the sand pit at the top of London Road, just past the rubbish dump and before arriving at the Giant’s Grave (local reservoir). It was quite a large deep pit with several discarded items at the bottom, old bicycles and fridges, etc.. We used to slide down and make burrows into the sides (heaven forbid nowadays). It was some distance from local habitation and I recall taking picnics and a tray to slide down on. No one ever came and told us off. One summer, Helen Durney and I discovered two deserted, semi-detached cottages just round the corner of Horn Lane, near to where the remains of the Pest House used to be (by then accommodating a small pigsty).

After creeping inside one of the cottages from the back yard we found that it was still furnished downstairs, the upstairs being empty and the floor in danger of collapse had we walked on it. The house consisted of a front room with a pokey little kitchen at the back and the tiny yard containing an outside loo. It appeared that it had been deserted for some time, as there was a pile of post on the floor in the front room from which we deduced that an elderly gentleman had lived there but had eventually either died or been taken to live with a family member. So, we decided to make the cottage our secret home and with surreptitiously “borrowed” cleaning equipment from our homes, dustpans, brooms, cloths, disinfectant and soaps, we set to removing all the cobwebs, dirt and dust in the kitchen and front room and cleaning the old black leather chaise-long.

We washed cupboards out and even washed the remaining curtains in the front. When we had it presentable, we planned to take some food and “squat” there. The next-door cottage was inaccessible and in a worse state of repair than this one. My abiding memory was of finding the most enormous spider in the lounge whilst cleaning. This was an amazing specimen and it challenged us for disturbing its lair! Helen decided that as it was so big, we should capture it in an old, lid-less, cocoa tin and take it back to show her father (the headmaster). The arrest having been made, we found a piece of glass big enough to cover the top of the tin and I was “persuaded” to ride my bicycle one-handed, precariously holding aloft the cocoa tin and its captive. I remember arriving home but do not remember what happened to the spider! Probably dissected by Helen as an experiment.

A few days later, an elderly neighbour from another terrace of old cottages nearby, (I believe it was a lady from the Cook family), crept round the back of the cottage whilst we were in residence and scared us to death when we heard her coming. Thinking that we were going to be severely reprimanded for breaking in, we hid. But she told us that she was only being nosey and wondered what the old cottage was like. She confirmed that the old gentleman had been removed by his daughter and taken to her home quite some time previously. After that summer, the cottages were left to deteriorate more and were eventually pulled down.

It was a nice summer retreat for Helen and I, though. Fairs and circuses. Amongst other interests, there were always the Fairs. They came to Stony a couple of times a year and a circus, which caused great excitement. They camped on the “Fair Field, along the Wolverton Road. Funnily enough, I now live on the estate which was built around 1968 on the Fair Field and from my estimation my house now sits right were the big roundabout was always erected. The bumper cars were about where the middle of the estate now stands. There was another fair that had some ancient right to come to the Market Square in Stony every year without paying, provided it didn’t miss a year. It no longer comes. At about this time, I began going to Church every Sunday. Helen Durney and I went to the Congregational Church, (still sited where the tram terminal used to be at the turn of the last century). I was not very keen but being a good friend I decided I would give it a try. As a pupil at a convent school I felt as though I spent enough time in prayers, learning my scriptures and catechism and saying the Angelus at 12.00 noon every day.

When the Congregational Church asked me to being taking Sunday School lessons for the “little ones” I decided that was enough! Sunday afternoons were mostly spent going for long walks around Stony and area with friends. St Mary’s and The White Horse Youth Clubs. During this period there were two main Youth Clubs in Stony Stratford which where very competitive. You either belonged to one or the other. As I had by this time started to attend St. Mary’s Church on Sundays, it was natural that I should attend their Youth Club and we participated in table tennis, records and dancing and other competitive games. I recall a group of us walking to Haversham on a Friday night to play table tennis against Haversham Youth Club and then walking back late in the dark – unheard of nowadays. St. Mary’s Church Beetle Drives. This was another outlet for evenings. My boyfriend’s parents helped to run Beetle Drives and also monthly Church Socials, where there were many local people who put on acts – singing, reciting, playing instruments, magic shows and sometimes acrobatics from some younger members.

There were also visiting performers on some nights. His parents also helped to organise regular Church Dances, with my boyfriend’s father owning a huge collection of both old time and ballroom dance records. Many local people and visitors attended these dances. John “Jimmy” Aylott was my boyfriend and I was welcomed into his family as a 14 year-old. We spent much time together after school, studying, fishing, building model aeroplanes and amateur photography. Again, there seemed so much to do without spending money. Bury Lawn School. At about this time, 1955, Olney Convent closed down and became a rest home for retired nuns. Pupils were dispersed to other schools. I was sent to Bury Lawn School in Newport Pagnell, which turned out to be a magical school – run by two sisters, Miss Aylward and Miss Michelle. It was like something out of an Enid Blyton book and reminded me of “Mallory Towers”. It was housed in a rather dilapidated, creepy, large, private house that had seen better days and it stood in its own grounds. It had once been very grand, with the usual “upstairs/downstairs” facilities, the servants’ stairs and a huge kitchen with a servants’ room, which still had all the bells on the wall to summon them to the “upstairs”.

When the school expanded to absorb the convent girls it had a grand total of pupils of around 150, all girls, with a few boys up to the age of about eight or nine. Classes became like families, as they only had a dozen to fifteen girls in each class. The whole school was one big happy family and they catered for about six boarders. I remember that many times we asked to stop on after school and also to go and stay at weekends occasionally. We never minded the strategically placed buckets in the rooms and corridors, or the much-abused grand staircase and the big hall where we had lunch. As older girls, we voluntarily assisted Miss Michelle, “Shell”, with the final preparation of the dinners after morning lessons. We all had great fun there at times and also worked hard and had a lot of respect for the teachers and both Miss Aylward and Miss Michelle. Eventually, it was taken over and became a far bigger school and still exists today, in different premises, of course. 1957 – Singapore.

Having taken a few O-levels at a slightly earlier age than usual I was then whisked away to Singapore with my family for about eighteen months. I was by this time around sixteen and revelled in the excitement of being in Singapore with the army, navy and air force there. It was, in comparison with the Singapore of today, almost “colonial” at that time. Life was brimming with sunshine, heat and eastern romance, and I found myself being taken out in the evenings to cinemas, nightclubs and bars and dances. I attended Mr. Joshua’s Commercial College and prepared myself for the rigours of work when I returned to England. 1958 – Back to Stony Stratford. So, once we came home I found it difficult to adjust from the vibrant city that I had become used to, in comparison with the staid routine of English life. But as usual, we all settled in again. Stony Stratford was still the same busy little town and very little had changed, except that several new estates were springing up and many of my friends were engaged or married. This was, of course, still before the advent of Milton Keynes when Stony became “absorbed” into the “new City” and the shops and facilities in this historic market town began to decline. I got engaged to “Jimmy” Aylott and prepared for marriage. By this time, he had become an avid cricketer and so we both became very involved with the running of Stony Stratford Cricket Club, which as cricketers will know, can take over your lives in the summer months and for years. We were married in 1962 and had two girls, Susan and Julie and eventually bought the house in Kingston Avenue from my parents.

And so began the second phase of my life in which I did my best to pass on to my children the joys and experiences of childhood whilst living in Stony Stratford. At the age of seventy-one now, I think I can call myself “a local”. I have three grandchildren, Kendra, Lazarus and Tegan and I have introduced them over the years to all the favourite places that I enjoyed so much but times have, unfortunately, changed and inhibited their freedom and changed their outlooks.

They will remember the “Ghost Walks” I used to take them on, though, through Church yards and spooky places in Stony, on frosty evenings in the dark and we still have “Candle-lit Suppers” at my house some evenings and play cards and board games. At least I can relive my childhood through my grandchildren. You can always still go sledging again and exploring with grandchildren. I do go for walks in the summer and try to find some of those wonderful places I remember before they all disappear forever under the New City development (like the sand pits). I wonder if I would be any good at roller-skating still? The Bathing place near the Iron Trunk, Wolverton canal.

Comments about this page

  • I too went to Bury Lawn school as a boarder and do not have many happy memories.

    By Louise (14/09/2017)
  • I lived in King George Cres. I went swimming in the river at Maycocks and had a crush on Julia Fairley. Some of us boys used to search for guinea fowl eggs in Maycocks wood pile, between the mill building and the river. Patricia Cook was my cousin. I remember the names of your other friends also your husband. Reading your archive brought back many memories, well done.

    By Albert Richardson (30/01/2017)
  • Wonderful, Helen… and how it brought back my own childhood and teen years in Haversham. It seemed we all did the same sort of thing – and yes it didn’t cost a bean. But hey… I was in Singapore with you and we didn’t even know but we were to meet up at the convent! So looking forward to seeing you sometime in September. x

    By Christine Hornsby (03/05/2016)

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