My Fenny Stratford Childhood - Dawn Cousins (nee Hart)

Girls Life Brigade visit to Royal Albert Hall
Girls Life Brigade visit to Royal Albert Hall 1949
Miss Thompson’s Class Bletchley Road School 1947
Miss Thompson’s Class Bletchley Road School 1947
GLB Party held at Spurgeon Memorial Baptist Church 1949
GLB Party held at Spurgeon Memorial Baptist Church 1949

Dawn Cousins (nee Hart)
Having recently by chance spoken with someone who knew Fenny Stratford I was prompted
to start looking on the internet and came across this site and for what it’s worth decided to
record my memories.
I was born in Aylesbury in 1936 where my father George Hart worked for the well-known
printers Hazel Watson and Viney. When war broke out in 1939 my father joined the R.A.F.
and my mother and I moved in with her sister Marjorie (nee Chew) and husband Bill
Underwood who were licensees of the White Hart Inn in Simpson Road, Fenny Stratford and
my cousin Max who was 15 months younger than me.
My uncle ran the local taxi service and used to pick up children from Bow Brickhill and other
outlying areas to take them to Bletchley Road school. The garden was at the side of the pub
and overlooked the canal where there was a constant stream of barges (longboats). These
barges had very colourful signs along the sides and I remember that a lot of them had the
Ovaltine which I assume was their cargo. Across the other side of the canal were fields and
when the grown-ups were busy in the pub Max and I used to cross the bridge to the field
occupied by the American Army camp standing outside the cookhouse patiently waiting to be
treated to an American doughnut.
Further up the road at 56 Simpson Road (although I think they were re-numbered and it used
to be 104) lived my Mother’s sister Eva with her husband Bill Kenny and my cousin Erica.
This was a row of 6 cottages occupied by families Foster/Tomlins/Tofield/Tarbox and
another Kenny. Each property had their own outside loo and two plots where the vegetables
were grown. When I smell candle wax it takes me back to those days when candles were lit
in the loos in winter to stop them from freezing up. At the front of the properties was a
wrought iron fence but soon after the war started these were removed as all this material was
needed to make our aircraft.
The garden area at the rear covered the whole of the width of the terrace and lead down to the
bottom fence which bordered the canal. Walking through the gate was the towpath which
after a few yards came to the Fenny Lock and the Red Lion Pub. On the opposite side of the
canal stood the lock keepers cottage occupied by Mr and Mrs Johnson and their son Roy who
was a little older than me.
At the end of the terrace was a larger detached house occupied by the Ward family. I spent
some time living with my Aunt Eva and when the air raid siren sounded in the middle of the
night we used to hurry down to the Ward’s house as they had an underground shelter. As
kids not realising the significance of it all we used to be quite excited at playing in the shelter
with the neighbouring children.
Simpson Road was dominated by Rowlands sawmills and several woodyards. Us kids used
to play amongst these huge tree trunks in the woodyard playing hide and seek and making
dens in the deep. When I think of it today it makes me shudder at what could have happened
had the logs shifted – no health and safety rules then!
Fenny Stratford had it’s own railway station on the Bedford line and this was an easy way to
get to Bletchley Station which was and still is main line junction. When we waited at the
level crossing for the trains to come through they were often full of American soldiers. We
used to shout “Got any gum chum”. The soldiers used to oblige and when the crossing gates
were opened us kids used to scrabble on the train lines to pick up the fruity-flavoured gum
which was new to us. The prize if you were lucky was a lovely chocolate bar with an orange
centre – I can see and taste it as I write!
Our other crossing to negotiate was the Watling Street (A5) which even then was a busy road
as roads went at that time which we had to cross when we went to school in Bletchley.
There were no buses in those days so we had to walk everywhere and when we got older then
we used our bikes. Our walk to Bletchley Road school was I guess about a good 2 miles.
During the war we had to carry our gas marks with us everywhere. They were in a metal
tubular container with a string handle and they used to hook on the back of our chairs in
school. These were ugly and frightening looking and smelt strongly of rubber and as
children we were allocated a Mickey Mouse design. Luckily there was no occasion when we
had to wear them.
The end of the war came and my Dad came home from India. Mum and I hadn’t seen him
for three years. Dad Mum and I moved in with my Grandmother Emily Chew at No. 21
Aylesbury Street. This was a row of terraced cottages between Denmark Street and Manor
Road. My Father was offered a post with Bletchley Printers and used to work on the
Bletchley Gazette. Previously immediately after being demobbed he worked for the Harris
Wardman Printing Coporation which was a converted Nissen Hut in Oliver Road, Bletchley
and owned by local Solicitor Mr E.T.Ray who lived in Water Eaton Road.
My grandmother had 4 boys and 4 girls and my Mother Ivy was the youngest girl. The
youngest boy was my Uncle Geoff. He worked for the Sketchley Drycleaners in Bletchley
Road and used to ride a Sketchley bike with a huge brown container on the front of his bike
to put the deliveries in. Sadly he was taken prisoner by the Japanese at Singapore. He has no
known grave but his name is on the Singapore Memorial – which I visited a few years ago.
I attended the Spurgeon Memorial Baptist Chapel which was opposite my Grandmother’s house. I
joined the Junior Choir and the Girls Life Brigade. Sometimes I attended Chapel in the morning and
again in the afternoon. There was no way to sneak off somewhere with Granny watching my
progress out of her bay window! Next door to No. 21 lived Mr and Mrs Whitlock and their
daughter Joan. Joan was a G L B Officer at the chapel. Next to the Chapel was Mr Golding’s sweet
shop. He made his own ice cream – which was something special. When sweets first came off
ration we used to queue outside the shops that had had a delivery. We had no idea what was on
offer as there was limited choice in the early days. If I queued at Mr Golding’s he would save some
for my Granny.
On the corner of Aylesbury Street and Denmark Street was Cowlishaw’s the drapers. It reminds me
now of the TV programme “Are you being Served”. To make a payment this was put into a container
and sent along rails which ran above the counter and after a few minutes your change would come
whizzing back.
All of Bletchley schools sat on the same site and I attended the nursery, infants and senior
schools. These were known as Bletchley Road Schools. In 1949 I passed exams to go to
Wolverton Science & Art Institute for which I used the train with others from villages around
the area. I had a couple of holiday jobs in Aylesbury Street – with Vigor’s the Chemist and
Fairey’s Grocery Shop. One day on going to the shed to get my bike I found it wasn’t there
then I remembered that I had been down to Faireys the day before to collect something for
my Gran so off I go to find my bike propped up against the window just where I had left it –
no locks needed on bikes in those days!
My first job upon leaving school was with Ernest Marchant and Son, Solicitors in Bletchley
Road. This was opposite what was then the main post office. I was the junior and “general
dogsbody”. My main job was dealing with the telephone and the post. In those days there
were no photocopiers and if a copy document was required it was my job to type in out. The
senior partner was Mr Ernest Marchant who lived in the Woburn area. On some Monday
mornings I was given a “parcel” to take over to the Post Office. This comprised a small sack
with a luggage label attached to the addressee. I dreaded holding these “parcels” as they
were obviously the result of a shoot which had taken place over the weekend. I used to
hastily push these wobbly items over the counter to be reluctantly received by the girls the
other side.
Whilst I was working there the Queen visited and passed by the office so I am assuming that
is why Bletchley Road was changed to Queensway.
In 1949 my Father was offered a post with Home Counties Newspapers in Luton. The
Underwoods gave up their licence at the White Hart and moved in to No. 21 with Granny and
we left the area.
I have lived in Norfolk for the past 50 years. I have visited Bletchley on several occasions
but not for many years now. To me Milton Keynes was a little village with a thatched pub
called the Swan.
Girls Life Brigade visit to Royal Albert Hall
Miss Thompson’s Class Bletchley Road School 1947
GLB Party held at Spurgeon Memorial Baptist Church 1949
Dawn Cousins (nee Hart
December 2023

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