The Bucks That Is Now A Memory (12 December 1975)
A book to be treasured has been compiled by members of the Bucks Federation of Women’s Institutes. It is entitled ‘’A Pattern of Hundreds’’ and is published by Richard Salder Ltd, of Chalfont St Giles.
In it, people like 97-year-old Mrs Eliza Gladwin, of Old Bletchley, recall the days of their childhood and youth, and in so doing, artlessly throw open a window on a way of village life throughout the county the like of which will not be seen again.
John Betjeman hits it off in a foreword to the book when he says: ‘‘What is local is what is best. Old people’s memories often tell you more even than old photographs. That is why I welcome this record in prose, some as lyrical as a poem, of the Bucks that is now only a memory.’’
Altogether there are contributions from 52 village areas, arranged in the old Saxon hundreds (hence that title), with more than one contribution from some of them. In fact, Old Bletchley has 12 selected pieces. Bradwell is also well represented. Other contributions from this neighbourhood are Emberton, Hanslope, North Crawley, Stony Stratford, Wolverton, Little Horwood and Whaddon.
Not all the institutes are represented. For instance, the old one at Water Eaton is not. I don’t know whether this is due to selective editing’s or to the lack of a leading spirit in those places. I suspect Mrs Ivy Fisher of having been the leading spirit at Old Bletchley.
Coming from women, with just one or two men writing on behalf of their wives, the stuff is lively, gossipy, amusing and above all, of the earth earthy. Every item has its interesting points or points and there are some themes that run throughout the book’s 140 pages just because it was so throughout the length of the county.
They tell of being children of large families and all that entailed in hard work and fun.
Of attending the village school to learn the three R’s and good manners and helping their fathers as they toiled in the fields.
Of having to fetch all their water from springs, wells and pumps, or from a standpipe in the street which often had to be thawed out with boiling water in winter, and of catching rainwater in tubs.
Of the two-holer privy at the bottom of the garden, one for adults and a small one for children, and how all doors and windows were shut and the village streets deserted on the day in the week that the sanitary cart came round to empty the buckets.
Of each family keeping two pigs so that the profit from the sale of one paid for the one kept for the house.
Of village bakers who opened on Sundays not to bake bread but to cook the villagers’ Sunday joints.
Of walking miles to the nearest town to fetch the doctor, who, like as not, then came on horseback (a Whaddon woman mentions losing two sisters in one week from diphtheria).
Of women and girls making not only lace and straw plait, but also weaving cane chairs and beading. And how there could be no fire in the house in winter while this work was going on because of the need to keep it clean. (They sat round a pot of hot wood ash called a Chaddy Pot and sometimes popped it under their skirts to warm their legs!)
Of never spending a night away from home, but of enjoying Sunday School wagonette trips and the like.
Of warming beds with ember-filled warming pans, and of oil-lamp lighting.
Of lanes bounded by hedges and ditches full of wild flowers, birds, small animals and insects of all kinds.
Of their joy when May Day came around and they could wear their prettiest dresses, have headbands and bracelets made from daisy chains and carry garlands round the village while they sang their May Day songs.
Of going to the woods to listen to the nightingales and of gathering primroses on Good Friday to decorate church, chapel and home for Easter.
Of village customs, of old sayings in dialect, and of merry tales. Like that about the deaf churchwarden at Dagnall who kept on pulling after the clapper and bell had parted company. And that about the old woman who, being teased about a young man who came to see her, replied ‘‘That’s my son – he was the last rubbings of the dough!’’
The Old Bletchley contributors are Mrs Gladwin, Mrs Knill, Mrs Houldridge, Mrs Shouler, Mrs Morris, Mrs Collins, Mrs Savage and Mrs Fisher.
Sometimes jointly, sometimes severally, they talk with relish about ‘‘Sammy’’ Leon and events at his Bletchley Park, about Lord Dalmeny (later Lord Roseberry) at The Grange, about experiences at the village school, about Bletchley Feast, about the Old Swan and the old Shoulder of Mutton, about Deacon’s stables at the railway station, about the candlemaker in Duck Lane (Newton Road) whose trade stank to high heaven and who Sundays preached in the little chapel next door; and about many other things.
What really impresses me is that there is hardly a hint anywhere in the book that any of the contributors regrets having been young in those days instead of these.
The book is illustrated by very good black and white drawings in the margins (even one of a privy – with door shut) and is priced at £1.80 net. Many would welcome it as a Christmas present.