Just A Pennyworth - But A Revealing Read (3 October 1974)
A week or two back I gave some advertising items from the Fenny Stratford Weekly Times of August 28, 1879, which I trust were not without interest. Now I turn to the paper’s local editorial content. It comprises only four-and-a-half columns on the back page of the four-page paper, but I personally find it a most intriguing and revealing snapshot of the Fenny of 95 years ago.
First the leading article. This is headed “A Town Hall for Fenny Stratford.” In it the writer advocates the building of a “good, commodious hall” by share subscriptions, in order to attract good lecturers and others willing to give first-class winter entertainments. He says that good lecturers and entertainers will not come to a small town with only a small room, because “It don’t pay.”
He opines that, because of its excellent communications, the town is almost certain at some time to become a large and important place. He says that in the past half century the population has grown from 900 to over 2,000, and in the past 20 years the town has “taken its start” alongside the most important in the county.
“We have now several excellent friendly societies, first-class schools, building society, reading room, horticultural society and other institutions, all of which are in a most prosperous and flourishing condition. During the last two or three years a cattle market has been held here attended with great success and still continues to increase.” But what the town does not have is a very essential public hall, he says.
Well, as we know, a town hall was built a very few years later. It is the building next to the Swan Hotel in High Street. Many can remember local amateur musical and dramatic societies’ shows being held there. But it did not last. Eventually it was admitted that “It don’t pay,” and the building passed into private hands.
A similar fate has befallen almost all the institutions mentioned. The horticultural society has disappeared during my own time here. The building society disappeared I know not when. This is the only reference to it that I can call to mind. But the town has grown to a degree the writer could not possibly have conceived in his wildest dreams.
Here is a report of the annual dinner of the horticultural society. This was held at the Bull, and seems to have been an all-male affair. Everybody who is anybody is there. There are numerous Mr. Holdoms, plus Messrs. A. Symonds, J. Smith, Tidmarsh, A. Green, H. Green, Makeham, Brown, Benford, Staniford, Loe, Symington, Kirby, Hands and Baisley. All are delighted at the success of the last show. There are toasts to everybody concerned and special thanks to Mr. F. Hockley, for erecting the stand and refereeing the sports. Some of those mentioned sing and recite “with capital effect” and a very pleasant evening comes to a close with the National Anthem. Good old days!
Mention of the cattle market reminds me that its removal to the Park Hotel Field in 1922 brought to an end over 40 years’ use of that enclosure as a cricket ground. Some time in the 1870s a cricket pitch was made there by the Fenny Stratford Cricket Club, and here is a report of a 15-a-side match played there between two teams of Prudential agents from Leighton Buzzard.
That field seems to have been the first regular cricket ground in the town in comparatively modern times. Mr. (later Sir) Herbert S. Leon did not come to Bletchley Park until 1883 and proceed(ed) to make a superb cricket ground there.
Here also is a report of a parish lighting meeting. Among the items is a complaint that during the last winter some person or persons have been in the habit of damaging and lighting the gaslamps after they have been extinguished. Suggested that the inspectors make an example of anyone found committing this offence. (Yobs will be yobs down to this day!)
Bletchley Railway Station is a mixed blessing. On the one hand a number of persons availed themselves of the opportunity of a one-day excursion to Brighton. The train left Bletchley shortly after six o’clock and arrived at Brighton at about eleven. The visitors then had “fully nine hours” by the seaside and “enjoyed themselves amazingly.” They got back to Bletchley at about one o’clock in the morning.
On the other hand, the paper asks if the railway company cannot arrange for their waggons of grain and manure to stand in a siding further from the public road. At times they stand close to the road for several days together and the stench arising therefrom is exceedingly annoying.
A person signing himself “Proboscis” also writes to the editor that “Those of your readers who, like myself, indulge in an evening stroll along the Bletchley Road – the most popular of our walks – must frequently have had their olfactory organs most disagreeably saluted by a filthy and offensive exhalation from the sewage poured down that roadside from the railway station.”
In the villages there is a stirring of agricultural labourers. At Milton Keynes a Labourers’ Union meeting is very largely attended and there is “rather a stormy discussion.” Next day the annual union holiday is held at Woughton, presided over by Mr. F. Eden, of Simpson, supported by Mr. C. Dickens of Newton Longville. A special speaker from Northampton objects to the life that is lived merely to eat and consume what others have produced. A brass band leads a procession of unionists round neighbouring villages and the holiday ends with dancing on the green.
At Woburn Sands the new Wesleyan Chapel is rapidly nearing completion – “a very beautiful and commodious edifice and a decided improvement to the locality . . .”
At Stony Stratford the Archdeacon of Buckingham is to attend a meeting to establish a branch of the Church of England Temperance Society in the town.
Two suicides and two whole pages of syndicated national news, help to make a good pennyworth.
By a strange chance I also have for that same year a copy of a kind of newspaper stated to be for the Woburn, Wavendon, Fenny Stratford area and “Compiled by W. Crofts, Wavendon. Called simply “Echoes,” it has the following item:
“Dear little Warren, of Fenny Stratford, has become a ‘We.’ He has suddenly grown into high importance . . .
“Man’s a vapour, full of woes:
Starts a paper, busts and goes . . .’”
Dear Little Warren’s paper lasted over 90 years. I know nothing more of Croft’s compilation, but it is clear that it was his “Echoes” that went.