by Frederick Devereaux
1. The School at Church End
I was always given to understand that the first teacher in Kempston was a Mr. Folkes of Green End, but this must have been over two hundred years ago. He was the Great-Great-Grandfather of Mrs. Rignall, who was the village postmistress for so many years. The tuition, which was five hours for one penny, was given in a small cottage at Green End, and here people were taught to write their names. Still, many of the parishioners were unable to read or write and this was a cause of amazement to their sons and daughters when applying for a passport for travel abroad. The father, unable to pronounce his name properly and unable to write, would give a shortened version and this was entered in the Register. However, the proper entry was recorded in the Church Register. Due to these discrepancies the applicant found that he/she could not travel under his/her name.
The names of many more Kempstonians were spelt incorrectly; some whose names consisted of eight letters were spelt with only six. It seems almost unbelievable in this day and age that the following instance should have occurred: a man and his wife spelt their names quite differently, the wife using six letters and the husband eight. It was not until 123 years ago that the residents of Kempston received a proper education.
In 1844, during the incumbency of the Rev. Clutterbuck, the school at Church End was built with the help of wealthy residents and the weekly two pennies collected from each child at school; the whole of the expense being borne by the church people.
I was just three years of age when my mother tied two pennies in a clean handkerchief for me to give to the schoolteacher on the Monday morning. The Headmaster was a Mr. William Johnston, a disciplinarian, but a fine schoolmaster. I can still remember the words, as well as sing the tunes, of the first two songs I learnt in the small room at Church End School.
The first song was: “Catch the sunshine though it flickers Through a dark and dismal cloud”
The second was:
“Tho’ it falls so faint and feeble On a heart with sorrow bowed. Catch it quickly as it is passing, oh so rapidly away, It has only come to tell you There is yet a brighter day.”
“Poor little fisher boy out on the sea Poor little fisher boy out on the sea;
The winds wildly roar
The rain torrents pour; Dreary and woeful then, there it must be For the poor little fisher boy out on the sea.”
Hiss Maud Carpenter, who lived at “The Moorlands”, Box End, was the music teacher for the choir boys, and I can well remember the pains she took in teaching me the Bass notes of the hymn “Glorious things of Thee are spoken” from “City of our God.” In those days concerts were given in the Parochial Hall; and on one occasion when the Hall was packed to capacity
I was placed right in front of the platform with the class behind. We had rendered several school songs, and then we sang the hymn “Glorious things of Thee are spoken.” There was a tremendous encore, and one of the gentry present spoke to the Headmaster so the hymn was once more sung.
I was about seven years of age when a lady, driven by her coachman in a dog-cart, came to the school. She had come to fetch me to sing at her Garden Party. When we reached her mansion I was taken to a large table where I faced the gentry from the surrounding countryside. Miss Carpenter accompanied me on the piano and for nearly an hour I sang school songs.
The Ill-Clad Children
The sadder side of school in those days was to see the children from the out-ends arriving at school extremely ill-clad; I have seen boys wearing shoes with
the soles almost worn away from the uppers. Some of these children left home at 8.0 a.m. and then had a four-mile walk home in the dark as there were no school conveyances. Also, as these children could not bring any food many another child’s food was taken to alleviate their own hunger. It must be remembered, though, that the fathers of these children generally did odd work on a farm and any time lost brought the whole family almost to the point of starvation.
Still, we often received a reward in the form of money or bread, which was a godsend! The Headmaster would sometimes ask a class to pronounce a certain word and the child who gave the correct pronunciation would receive sixpence, the price of three loaves of bread. He would also tell the boys to meet him at the Overshots so that he could give a demonstration on life-saving! I was fortunate enough to be chosen and I remember putting on an old suit and worn-out shoes for the demonstration. I was thrown in the water and Mr. Johnston dived in, fully clothed, to make the rescue; for this I was awarded sixpence. I was, however, sometimes ‘rewarded’ in a different way, but that was when I had committed some misdemeanour. Once the Headmaster caught me having what is commonly known as a “drag”. As I was the last boy to have a puff at the cigarette, and the smoke was seen curling around the large Elm Tree, Mr. Johnston came up to me and said: “Run to school and stand against my desk!” When the school had assembled he put his hand in his waistcoat pocket and
withdrew a penknife. Then he said: “Go over to the willow trees and select a stick 21⁄2 feet long and not less than 1⁄2″ thick at the tapered end.”
It was then we realised William Johnston was Master.
One thing that left its mark upon all his scholars was the Friday afternoon talk which lasted for twenty minutes. He would say: “Tomorrow and Sunday you will be away from school, but if I receive any complaints of unseemly conduct I shall want an explanation on the Monday.”
A Fine Schoolmaster
Now, in my rather advanced years, I have frequently been pushed aside when out walking, by boys and girls alike, and I have often wondered what Mr. Johnston would have thought as he was constantly reminding his scholars to help the elderly with shopping and to be respectful on all occasions.
As I have said before, Mr. Johnston was a fine schoolmaster, but he was also the Author of many books. The books I can recall are “Tom Graham, V. C.” und “Vagabond sketches”, these being the most prominent in my mind, but of course there were many others. He also contributed many articles to the Boys’ Own Paper and his signature was seen on every page. There was no doubt whatsoever that his excellent teaching methods remained with his scholars all through their lives.
It was not surprising; therefore, that pupils under Mr. Johnston of Church End School, and twenty years later pupils under Mr. Owen of Up End School, reached such good positions in life. One outstanding success was at the time when the War Office decided to see how long it would take to turn out a well-trained soldier. 250 men were selected and one of these was a lad named Crowsley, whose parents lived in Tempsford Street. He was eventually given a Commission in Her Majesty’s Forces reaching the rank of Captain. Of course, there were many more successes and Mr. Owen told me that ·over fifty of his boys obtained good positions after leaving his school.
As regards playthings, these were few and far between; shuttlecock for the girls, and spinning top for the boys.
2. The Church was always full
When I was seven years of age I was taken into the Parish Church Choir, the choirmaster being Lawyer Mitchell who resided at Box End House. He had excellent choristers and it was sometimes said that the crowded congregation came to listen to the beautiful singing as much as to take part in Holy Worship. The morning service lasted until nearly one o’clock, as the Litany was read through in its entirety, and the Vicar often took 45 minutes to preach his sermon. There was one occasion when the clergyman had to utter a sharp rebuke; two of his choirmen left before his sermon came to an end, but it must be remembered that they had a long walk home to Wootton for their Sunday dinner.
The Church was always full, the gentry and servants also being present. Captain and Mrs. Newland had their pew next to the vestry, whilst all the servants occupied the other side of the chancel. Mr. and Mrs. Campbell with their three sons and two daughters occupied the first pew, and immediately behind sat Colonel and Mrs. Green with their family (it was nine years later that I drove the Colonel and his family to Sunday morning service). A family from the Clock House sat in the next pew, and behind them the family Newman.
On the right-hand side was a high pew where about six boys sat, firmly shut in by a small door, and order was kept by a man with his long cane who stood just outside the pew. Not only did he keep the boys in order, but he also watched for any member of the congregation to nod or fall asleep; if this happened he would give a gentle prod with his cane.
I was told by a gentleman’s son of a happening in the Parish Church one Sunday morning when no collection bags could be found. The two sidesmen, Mr. Newman of Vicarage Farm in his grey topper and Mr. Pedley of Tythe Farm in his high black silk hat, decided to take up the collections in their respective hats, and these were presented at the altar on this particular occasion.
A few years later the Vicar exchanged livings with the Vicar of Bury St. Edmunds, the Rev. James Rosser. Mr. Rosser told me that there was some unpleasantness over the exchange; I am not sure whether the values were much different, but the stipend of Kempston Parish Church was about £333 (not including the amount received from the Barracks, as it was said that when the Militia recruits attended St. John’s Church one penny, per man, was paid). The Vicar also attended Springfield House where Dr.C.Bowers was Superintendent to administer to the spiritual needs of the patients.
The Clergy had a poor time
I was much surprised to learn that such a wide gap existed in the livings of the Clergy. Just six miles to the west of Bedford a living was worth more than £1,000 per annum, whilst six miles to the north another living was only £50.
It was not until the incumbency of Canon Shorting that the Vicarage Farm 5
and Box lands were sold so that the invested money produced a larger income. Now a minimum sum is fixed, but in the hungry 1840’s and 50’s the Clergy had a poor time, yet it was to the Vicarage that many people turned to relieve their hunger. My mother told me of an occasion when 33 men assembled outside my home in Bell End with cans and jugs to walk in a body to the Vicarage for soup to feed their families. It was during this period that men went poaching; three men from the rural district visited Ridgmont and the surrounding Woburn Park, but were met by keepers and received a transportation sentence. They were men of good character, but circumstances forced them to poach.
It was the usual custom of Mr. William Crowsley to toll the church bell when there was a death in the parish, so many strokes for a male and one less for a female, and then the number tolled denoted the age of the parishioner, but this custom has long since been discontinued. Another custom which has died out was when bell-ringers placed sprigs of oak outside the villagers’ homes early in the morning, and several days later collected a gift for their bell-ringing services. The bells were then rung from where the choirmen and boys now robe, and the regular ringers came from Church End, Bell End and Box End, most of these men being farm-workers. The regular ringers I can call to mind were Alfred Folkes and Alfred Ashpole from Green End; the Brooks family from Box End; and, later on, Messrs. Inskip, Hutchings, Cave, Izzard, Beard, Gilbert, and of course many others who have kept up the reputation of first-class ringers.
It was mainly through the generosity of Mr. W. Harter, a great benefactor, that All Saints’ Church possesses such a fine peal of bells. Mr. Harter also paid to keep the Causeway leading to the Church in good order, as well as having the hedges trimmed, and he also paid a man to blow the organ. Mr. Bithroy was then organist, and, following him, Mr. F. Bonfield. Mr.Bonfield was also Sunday School Superintendent, both positions being held by him for very many years; he refused payment for his services and also gave a lifetime of service to his Parish Church. I believe it was for more than thirty years that I was with him on the gate at the Church Fete and I know that on these occasions he paid much money out of his own pocket to make sure the Fete was a great success. I believe he attended the Church End School, but, like many others who could afford the fees, he later attended Bates’ School at Bedford.
Many years ago baptisms took place in the River Ouse between the bridge and the water that was brought down from the main river by the huge wheel attached to the Mill. I can remember huge crowds gathering on the river bank and on the bridge to watch the ceremony being performed. Those about to be baptised were led into the water just over knee deep and then immersed in the stream.
The Little Farm Workers
Children of seven or eight started work in the fields twitching [i.e. clearing couch grass (ed.)], or stone-picking when the farmer was preparing his land for the winter wheat sowing. I can remember working at Berrill’s farm for sixpence per day, starting as soon as it was light; sometimes the frost had frozen the soil to the twitch so that my fingers were quite numb.
I can also remember being employed as one of eight boys (the eldest being ten years of age) and we had a ganger in charge who was also a well-known poacher. I can almost hear him say now: “Deng you, another bit you’ve missed!” He always carried his belt with the buckle hanging down, and on one occasion he was in a very nasty mood, so four of the boys (including myself) decided to run for it. When we reached the bottom of the field we managed to get into a grass field, but we still heard the shouting of the ganger demanding us to return to work. When I reached home my Mother asked me why I had left my work so I told her that the ganger had been using bad language; it was not long before the farmer arrived at my home and my Mother told him what had happened. He then collected all the boys and took us back to the field where he told the man in charge to stop his abuse, otherwise he would be dismissed. Our work was better after this episode.
On some Saturdays when the engines arrived for threshing purposes, two boys would be employed on chaff treading. The duties of the boys were to keep running about the chaff as the skips were emptied by the men. The payment for this work was twopence per day, and a very tiring two-penny-worth it was, too!
A Saturday morning job was assisting men who took the cake out to feed the bullocks. In those days square boxes of stout wood could be seen in the fields. I have not seen any in this district for a very long time, and that is why the very elderly people say the meat is not so good as in their younger days.
Boys of ten years of age would race to a farm to anyone who kept a sow and ask for the Little Harry; this was the small pig which had been pushed about by its brothers and sisters. The boy would then be given the small pig to bring up on the bottle, and he would vie with his other mates to see who could produce the largest pig. 8-score was the target, but some years ago the market price for an 8-score pig was 36s.6d. whilst a 6-score pig would fetch 50/-. Now why was this? My contention for the difference in price is that the housewife of today demands lean bacon, whereas the housewife of years gone by always wanted fat in the bacon for frying purposes.
When we came out of school we would carry tea to the men in the harvest field. Sometimes the farmer would arrive and I would hear him say to the men who were moving [sic] with their scythes: “Well, shall I bring; you another gallon or two of beer, and how about two or three more hours work?”
This beer, of course, was brewed by the farmers themselves. If the men accepted, it was generally 9.0 p.m. when work was finished so instead of walking home they would rest for the night in the shocks of wheat as they would be mowing again by 4.0.a.m.
The Bell End Fighters
The scene of many a fight when I was a small boy was the field between the Three Fishes and the King William. There was an upturned tub in the field and the Bell End boys would gather around to see who would be the first man to challenge anyone to fight. A man would step on the tub and take off his cap, throw it amongst the rest of the men and wait for someone to throw in his cap; then the two men would go behind a high hedge at the back of Mr. Quenby’s garden and the fight would commence. These were quite regular occurrences, and the Bell End men seemed to enjoy themselves when having a scrap which more often than not originated from the Bell Inn. I well remember an occasion when a big Bell-End woman entered the tap-room where her husband was sitting with a glass of beer in his hand; suddenly her hand lashed across his face, knocking the glass out of his hand. She then took hold of his shirt collar and led him out. She uttered: “That will teach you not to visit a pub until you bring home your wages!”
It was when I was about ten years old that a big fight took place between 40 men outside the Half Moon. On the left-hand side of Water Lane, and adjoining the Half Moon garden, there were four houses in rather a tumble-down condition but these were later demolished and on the site two quoits pitches made. It was here that the boys of Bell End were watching a match when a dispute arose as to which quoits had won the quoit first thrown, hit the iron peg and which had sank fast in the clay up to the peg. Apparently a Wootton man had thrown his quoit which had touched the top of the peg; the first player thought he had won, so an argument started and blows were struck. Another match was in progress at the time, at the Half Moon, and the argument soon spread to this quarter. It was in the roadway that the big fight eventually took place and in the scuffle a woman who tried to stop the two men, received a blow. Finally, a policeman arrived on the scene and persuaded the Wootton men to leave for home.
It must seem strange now that events such as these were allowed to take place but I have seen men gather around a barrel in the field between the Three Fishes and the King William, and here they would await a man wearing a Billy Cock Hat (a kind of game-keeper’s hat with two lapels to tie down as a covering for the ears). He would take off his hat, throw it in the air, and then wait for anyone around to take up the cha11enge. When the challenge was taken up the fight would begin, and the men thoroughly enjoyed this gory business.
The first bicycle I saw, and rode, was a bone-shaker owned by Mr. Alex Newman of Vicarage Fram. The front wheel had been taken from a small ponycart, the small wheel at the back from a small barrow, and the whole contraption was made of wood. The Bell End boys gathered on top of Green End Hill and one boy was seated on the wooden saddle and the rest gave a push; down the hill and across the road went the cyclist, finally coming to rest near the Church End School.
John Redman was a maker of bicycles, also Dan Albone of Biggleswade. To true the rim of the wheel Mr. Redman would hold a piece of chalk between thumb and finger and spin the wheel, then where a white mark was visible he would tighten the spoke. He was a fine mechanic, and had many boy-onlookers as he worked.
Bicycle racing very soon took place from Box End to the Hoo Gates. The contestants who took part were Arthur Gell, Reg. Stratton and a man from New Fenlake. Mr. Gell was a well-known racing cyclist, and later owned a cycle shop in Harpur Street, Bedford.
In 1889 the news was spread around that a lady from the village of Elstow, by the name of Julia Prudden, would ride a lady’s bicycle from Elstow via St. John’s Street, St. Mary’s Street, High Street, Bromham Road, Bromham Road bridge, Box End and Kempston. At Kempston many of the residents lined the streets to see the first lady on a cycle.
3. Cricket and Football
One momentous occasion for me was when I asked Buster Morris if he would take me across the river on a raft. The men were busy at that time mowing down the river reed and rushes, and two men were on each side of the banks pulling and roping to and fro using eight or ten scythes bolted together. While this work was in progress I decided to bathe in the overshots but, unfortunately for me, I was seen by a constable who told me to come out of the water at once. As he could see I did not intend swimming towards him on the bank, he picked up all my clothes and carried them to the bridge, so I had no alternative but to walk naked across Mr. Hilton’s meadow where the constable, Mr.Horn and Mr. Hilton were awaiting me. The constable said: “Shall I take him to the Police Station?” Mr. Horn replied: “We will walk to the Mill Gate.” However, at the Mill Gate, Mr. Horn decided to take me home and talk to my Mother.
A year or so later a great race took place from the Boat House (just past the Ladies’ Walk) to the Mill, and I was lucky enough to be a prize winner. This time Mr. Hilton and Mr. Horn came up to me with pride, not forgetting I am sure how once they had tried to prevent me from swimming in those same waters.
The first football team to be formed in the cricket field was formed by the Bell End boys. Bill Page, Joe Dunkley, Mike Chambers, Bill Houghton, Albert Haynes – these were the lads who formed the club known as Kempston Montrose, but that was before Kempston Rovers came into being. The names of the men who gave the Rovers their glory were as follows: Harry Brown, Wally Proctor, Tot Brandon, J. Fields, Kifer Fields, Cecil Stock, Alfy Lofts, W. Sheffield, Frank Devereux (my brother), Buster Brown, H. Smith, Jack Hillyard, M. Brooks, Bert Pilsbury and A. E. Wilson.
Fine football was seen on this ground. One of the players left to play for Bolton Wanderers but , unfortunately, in his first game he broke his leg and this finished his career as a footballer. But it was on Spion Cop that Kempston first came into the limelight; this was during the captaincy of Harry Brown. Fields was goalkeeper; Stock and Alfy Lofts at back; Buster Brown, Walter Sheffield and Frank Devereux as half-back; Brown in the centre, and Brandon, Pilsbury, Proctor, Wilson and Smith. Of course there were many other men of equal skill.
This was the first team ever to represent Kempston Rovers, and in one year alone they collected four cups.
The old-timers who played in Nelson Field were Joe Dunkley, Albert Haynes, J. Church, Shrimp Haynes, Bill Houghton, G. Houghton, Kifer Fields, Mick Folkes, Peter Busby, J. Fields, Fred Felts, Jacob Fields, Harry Churchill, F. Cook and Jack Hillyard. I must not forget, however, to mention Bert Pilsbury – a very clever footballer.
When I was a very young man the field now owned by the Igranic Company was used by the gentry on which to play cricket. The groundsman was an old man named Chapman, from Bell End. After many sheep had been turned into the ground to keep the grass short, we would assist him to clear the field. When the gentry came to practice it was usual for the boys to bowl and scout for them; many were well-known gentlemen such as Walter Harter, Captain Beaumont, the Rev. Carpenter, Noel Carpenter, Bertie Campbell, Stanley Davis, Lawyer Mitchell, Charles Quenby, William . Bonfield and Mr. Jackson from the Clock House. If a boy succeeded in taking a wicket the reward was 2d. and to catch a ball 2d. – so this was a great incentive. On one occasion a team from Cambridge University came to play, and in this match cricket enthusiasts saw some brilliant batting by Noel Carpenter who was then being educated at one of the large public schools.
About 1897, the local young men formed a club; the players at that time being Fred Cook, Mick Folkes, Cecil Smart; Tom Gillet, Sam Bird, Jim Cooper, Jack Barker, G. Cook, Alf Harding, Dick Harding, and myself. Mr. Harter was, as usual, very generous and no charge whatsoever was made in respect of the ground. However, it was later taken over by a cricket team and it then became a first-class pitch.
The Rugby Club, some of the members being James Felts, Fred Felts, A. Odell, W. Horn, J. Horn, A. Rignall, C. Quenby and Mr. Milton, was a very active Club. Mr. Milton afterwards played for Bedford Rugby Club.
Kempston also possessed its Boxing Club and this was held at the Parochial Hall. Jack Gilbert was Captain, but he later joined the South African Constabulary and was unfortunately killed within a few years.
Kempston also had its own Band; some of the bandsmen I remember are Fred King, Alfred King, Mr. Gascoigne, Mr. Leach, Mr. Sharp and Mr. Hall, but the first Band I can recall was Robinson’s String Band of which I was a member.
A very memorable occasion was when Zaro’s circus came to Bedford and men from all over Bedfordshire flocked for the weight-lifting contest. A sack of flour (weighing 280 lb.) was lying on the ground in the centre of the ring and this had to be lifted up on the shoulder of the man in question and carried round the ring. To our great joy the only man who could lift and carry this sack was our own Buster Morris and he was given a gold watch for this feat. Thereafter he was known as the strong man of Kempston. He also was given the sack of flour.
A Good Women
My Mother was fortunate to receive her education with Mrs.Campbell’s sons and daughters, and two tutors came from London for this purpose.
After her education my Mother spent some time at the Old Infirmary and, following her training, was in great demand in Kempston and the outlying districts. Often stones would be thrown at the bedroom window at night and a man’s voice would be heard to shout: “Martha, my wife’s been taken ill. Can you come, please?” Snow or rain, hail or sleet, she would trudge along the rough roadways and cart-tracks as far as Thistley Green, West 11
End, or Wood End, to be on hand in time of need. Once I asked her if she was paid; her reply was: “Where do you think the people get money from to pay me, boy?” It was well-known in the High street and Bell End that she was always in attendance at the Doctor’s surgery. Each Friday the Doctor would say to his patients: “Martha’s your doctor until next Friday, unless it is a very serious case.” One Bell-End woman had been badly scalded, I remember, and the Doctor was called. He was met at the door by a neighbour and he asked: “Who is with the patient?” The woman replied: “Martha.” The Doctor said: “Then she couldn’t be in better hands!”
She expected no reward for her labours on this earth, but believed her reward would come after she had passed on to Higher Service. She was truly a wonderful person, and a good Mother to her three sons and three daughters.
The greatest flood which occurred in my lifetime was about 74 years ago.
Water poured through the doorway of the house and up four of the stair-steps. The furniture, of course, also had to be taken upstairs, as well as all the furnishings. People marooned in their upstairs rooms wondered how they would be able to geti food but fortunately they were saved by Little Sam Bell who cane along in a boat; with a prop and a securely-tied basket of provisions he managed to hand enough food to each householder. Soon afterwards the landlord, Mr. Edwin Ransom, a well-known Quaker, visited all his tenants and promised to deliver two or three cwt. of coal to dry out their rooms.
When I look back it seems just a myth, but it was an actual fact.
4. Long Hours, Low Pay
At eleven years of age I left school to work for the princely sum of 2s.6d. per week, my hours being 6.0 a.m. to 6.0 p.m. Much of my day was spent in the garden, or weeding paths. I could have had much different work, but, due to a mishap I will now relate, I was banished to the garden. It was after a garden party when I was fetched to help in the kitchen; I was given a cloth to wipe the dishes, and the first piece to be handed to me was, I suppose, a valuable vegetable dish which had been repaired many times. The eldest daughter of the House said: “Now, be very careful!” At that very moment I dropped the precious dish and it smashed into tiny fragments. She turned on me and said: “Oh, you careless boy, look what you’ve done. Do go away and work in the garden!” I cannot say I was sorry to return to the garden as I disliked housework, and I must admit that I have gone through life holding the same dislike for any kind of housework. I have always contended that housewives of all lands deserve so much more praise than they actually receive.
After this period I tried for more lucrative employment and I became a grocer’s boy for Mrs. Winter of High Street, but as I had to work from 8.0 a.m. to 8.0 p.m. for 3s.6d. per week, I decided to look for other work. It was at this time that boys could be seen going into Bedford with a basket on their arm to visit the large establishments to fetch dripping – not cooking fat, but a good beef dripping which was used in many a home instead of margarine.
It was when I was 12 years of age that I became a stable-boy at The Hoo, but here I was at work in the Hunting Season from 7.30 until 1.0 the following morning. On one occasion I had to leave at 4.30 p.m. when it was getting dusk to walk to St. John’s Station, Bedford, to catch a train to take me about ten miles to Blunham Station. On leaving the train I asked the porter which road I should take to reach the mansion which was my destination but, in spite of his directions, I had to ask my way several times as I passed through villages and hamlets.
I can remember one such occasion quite well. On arriving at my destination at 8.0 p.m. I was given supper and had to leave at 9.0 p.m. to mount the hunter and walk it back home, a distance of nearly 14 miles. I arrived back at about 11.30 p.m. and had to clean the horse and wipe the harness down. At 3.0 at night I was able to leave for my own home. My wages were then 5s.0d. per week. There were, of course, the happy moments when large Garden Parties took place; it was my duty to ride the beautiful thoroughbred horses round the park to entertain the guests. My reward would come a day or so later when the butler would tell me I could go on to the lawn and take tea with the Ladies and Gentlemen. Another feature of those days was the vary long dresses worn by the Lady of the House. The dress would trail about two feat along the ground, and it was my duty to go to the main stairway and take the dress from the two daughters who were holding it up as they walked behind their Mother down the staircase. Then I followed the Lady to her carriage, saw that she was comfortably seated, and arranged her dress accordingly. These were the Victorian days and costumes were stately and costly.
At this time the urge to earn more money caused me to seek work as stable-boy to Colonel Green.
Batman to the Colonel
At sixteen years of age I become batman to the Colonel who was Commanding Officer of the 3rd.Vol.Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. (Men of the regiment were then being asked to form a company to reinforce the Bedfords serving under General Buller in the South African War; I volunteered, but as there were sufficient men I was not accepted). I went to camp and looked after the Colonel’s horse and kept the Colonel’s uniform in order, and it was during this time that I had some very interesting experiences. On one occasion, at Shorncliffe Camp the horse refused to carry the C/O, trying its best to unseat him, but the Colonel was a first-class horseman. The servants in those days had a tent in the Officers’ lines, and the Colonel called me to his side. I walked up to the horse, but sad to say, I committed a grave indiscretion. I said: “Give him a stroke, sir!” The moment I spoke I could see I had done wrong. On dismounting, the Colonel said: “Take him for a hard gallop across the plain!” The horse carried me alright, but when the Colonel remounted, the horse tried again to unseat him, so I had to take the horse back to the Cavalry Barracks.
The Officers of the 8th. Hussars seemed intrigued that a boy should be the Colonel’s servant. One day they came to see me clean and put the bridle and saddle on the horse. One Officer said the men on duty thought the horse was very unruly, but I told him that ho was only playful. He thereupon wrote to Colonel
Green asking me to join their Regiment; he stated that I would make a good rough rider training the remounts and he assured the Colonel that if I enlisted at the age of eighteen, I would be promoted to Sergeant. Perhaps I missed my chance in life when I did not take up the offer!
During camp another interesting incident occurred. On going to the Barracks of the Cavalry Regiment I passed the concert room and canteen of the Irish Brigade stationed at Shorncliffe. When some of the soldiers asked if I could sing I replied that r knew many Irish songs. Although it was forbidden for English soldiers to enter the Irish Canteen, a Sergeant was called who, in turn, called the Sergeant-Major. He told me to go in, and I stood on a stool and began to sing. On finishing just one song, the soldiers ran towards me with pots of beer.
After a few more songs an NCO approached me and said: “You’re not English, you must be Irish!” Sometime later Colonel Green said to me: “I have received a letter from the O/C of the Irish Brigade. He wants you to enlist in the Connaught Rangers!” Who knows, perhaps I ought to have accepted his offer.
Willing to work anywhere
Although my wages had risen to 10s.Od. per week, I had heard that more money could be earned in the shoe trade in Northamptonshire, so, at 17 years of age, with ls. 01⁄2d. in my pocket, I went to the Midland Road Station, Bedford, and bought a ticket for that amount which took me to Irchester. From there I walked across the fields to Rushden. I called at a large factory and asked for a job; the question put to me was: “Do you know anything about shoe work?” I replied: “No.” So the answer was: “Sorry, we can’t set you on.” I trudged from factory to factory getting the same answer and when I was beginning to think of the long walk back home, I decided at 5.0 that evening to have one last try at another factory. I rang the bell and an old gentleman came to the door. I said “Can you give me a job, please?” He asked me where I came from and I replied: “Kempston. If I don’t get a job tonight I shall have a sixteen-mile walk ahead of me.” He then called his two sons who owned the factory, and said: “Give this boy a job!” It was with great relief that I heard him say “Come tomorrow morning at six 0′ clock, wages 13s. 6d. per week.” Now, I could not expect lodgings for less than 13s.0d. which would leave me with only 6d. so I was unable to go home for six months.
When I did return I was walking along Kempston High Street when Mr. Clarke, the baker, spoke to me. He said “I will give you 15s. 0d. to come and work in the bakehouse!” I took the job on, but it was 5.0 a.m. till about 8.0 p.m. and with these long hours I did not gain much. However, during this period the wages of carmen were only 14s.0d. so I considered myself lucky.
Then there came the time when a bricklayer whom I knew told me he could get me a job on a brick kiln being built for Charles Franklin at Marston; the employer’s name being Harrison. So, on the following Monday, I went there and saw the foreman, a Yorkshire-man. He said: “You must get a pad to wear on top of your head under your cap, with a board across the top!” When I started I had to place so many bricks on the board and mount the plank to where the builders were busy, but this was not so easy as it looked. As can well be imagined, I dropped many off my head and had to go down again and pick then all up but, by Thursday, I had mastered the technique. When the Contractor arrived I was going up the plank quite quickly and he came to me and said: “How much do you want an hour?” I replied “4d. per hour, sir!” He looked at me and said: “I don’t pay boys that wage” However, he went to the foreman who told him I was doing a man’s job and, after a lot of talk, I was given the money. When I went home with 18s.0d. in my pocket I thought I was the richest man on earth, and felt as though I had knocked Rockefeller off his perch!
I was ean1intS four shillings more than a married man, but unfortunately when the kilns were finished I was finished, so I went back to the bakery trade with Mr.Clarke, delivering bread. This was an interesting, as well as a sad, period as many of the customers were deeply in debt owing large sums of money, some as much as £45., which they could never hope to repay. I remember on one occasion when I was told not to leave any bread unless the housewife had the money to pay for it. When I called on her she asked for five loaves; I asked for the money and she began crying and told me she had none, so I asked if her husband was at home. She said:“Yes.” He came to the door and I could see he had been drinking, but I said to him: “I am letting your wife have the bread which I will pay for, but tomorrow morning (being a Sunday) I shall be here to collect my money and you had better have it, otherwise there will be serious trouble!” Well, I got the money and screwing up my courage faced the man with these words: “In future you give your wife enough money to live on!” Many months later the woman said to me: “You have changed my husband. I get a good week’s pay from him every week and he has told me that he did not realise he was causing’ me so much misery.”
I kept in the bakery trade, working for Mr. John Church of St.Loyes Street, Bedford, for seven years. He had one of the best businesses in the town and the bakery was a first-class place in which to work. I later tried to enlist as the War had commenced but unfortunately the money was only 2s.6d. per week for motherless children, so I obtained employment with Messrs. Sanderson and Mills, implement makers, as storekeeper and timekeeper.
I well remember the occasion when Mr. Sanderson, who had constructed an aeroplane with an exceptional pilot’s seat (a roomy wicker armchair), took the craft to Dunstable Downs for the first trial run. Although I had told him a Rolls-Royce engine was necessary, he decided otherwise, and the outcome of this was that the aircraft never left the ground – which was perhaps just as well under the circumstances. Although I served in the War, I returned to work again for Mr. Sanderson and at that time he was engaged on tractor building; tractors of 25 h.p. drawing three furrow ploughs, and tractors of 50 h. p. drawing six furrow ploughs.
These were sold to Russia, Rumania and many other countries. Ernest Lack, Mr. Brown and another man were the three drivers taking this equipment abroad.
Mr. Sanderson also constructed one tractor balanced on two wheals only. I well remember when he asked me to return on the Saturday afternoon for a trial run. As he took his seat on the tractor I asked if I should attach a six furrow plough but he said: “No, start it up!” The result was that the tractor went straight across the road, through a tall privet hedge, and buried its nose in the hill by the side of Cow Bridge. There was a certain degree of hope, however, that these tractors could be used to draw heavy artillery, but the “caterpillar” came along, which was more capable of spanning the trenches.
Mr. Sanderson was also the inventor of the river weed mower [an example of which is in the Museum of the Broads, Stalham, Norfolk (ed.)], and many of these mowers were sent abroad.
It was about the year 1920 that the works closed and 480 men were thrown out of work. As I was on my way to the Labour Exchange I saw nearly 2,000 men waiting outside the Howard firm (now the Britannia Works) hoping to get employment on the new extension. Mr. Marshall, who was engaging new staff, asked me if I would like a job, so I was employed there until the work was completed.
Sixty-eight years ago I was asked by Mr. W. Crowsley, who lived at Cemetery Lodge, if I would attend some threshing operations in the Dudley allotments and get the yield. In those days some of the farmland was only producing three quarters to the acre. I saw the first two acres threshed and the result was eight quarters to the acre; of course, these men set their wheat with a dipper. Now, for seven years, I had been passing some farmland which was uncultivated; 50 acres in one field and 35 acres in another, but these were a mass of wild onions. Of course, these same fields are very productive now, but whether it was due to lack of funds to do the work properly I really could not say.
Years later came the de-rating of farmland and the press now publishes wills of farmers, some totalling £30,000 or £40,000, so it seems a more profitable occupation than it was many years ago. Perhaps someone can say how much a 150-acre farmer received when the land was de-rated £35. or more; I would not know, but I do know that agriculture is vastly improved since my young days.
5. Those Old Characters
The well known characters of Kempston years ago were quite numerous.
There was the watch and clock-mender of Bell End, “Britches” Brightman, who wore trousers with short legs. When the Mormons came to Bell End and told of the wonders -of Salt Lake City he and his daughter emigrated there.
George Benson, who toured the out-ends with his basket of mending materials for the housewife. It was related on one occasion that he called on a housewife and when she opened the door he shouted: “Anything in my way, Mam?” She answered: “If there is, kick it out!”
Postman Smart who walked, or should I say trotted, to Marston with letters and mended shoes there during the day. He collected the mail in the evening and then walked back to Kempston.
Bill Garner, a farm labourer, in his round fur hat. I can well remember when he had a stroke and my brother and myself were called to get him to bed. A few days later he sent for my brother and, pointing to his gun which stood in one corner of the room, he said: “You can have that, Ralph. At 50 yards it’s dead accurate!” It was a very old weapon so one had to use a rammer to load up.
Harry Worral, the builder. It was said the following incident occurred because of Harry’s old age, but this I can not vouch for. He was building a house at the time and as a friend walked up the scaffold towards him he said: “Harry, how are you going to get in the room?” Poor Harry had put in no doorway!
Teddy Burnapp, the house decorator, who could be seen on a Sunday morning walking down Newell’s Lane towards St. John’s Church. He was always dressed in a frock coat, top hat and spats. He was noted for repeating a prayer after the Vicar which was intended for the priest alone to recite.
The three men in their corduroy suits from the Workhouse who could be seen pushing a large truck with their farthing faggots for fire-lighting.
Mary Worral, a very cute businesswoman, who bought and sold second-hand clothing; her sister, Liza Bell, who kept a little shop in Bell End and was an expert curer of hams.
The Ashpole family of West End, noted farm labourers. The father, Sid and Harry could be seen walking the countryside with their horses, the shire stallion being in one of the Ashpole’s hands.
Mr. Lowe could be seen hedge-clipping for the farmers many months of the year, and the well-known Wagoners were Buster Morris, Teddy Boon, Alfred Robinson and Alfred Beard.
Crafts and Trades
The craftsmen I can recall and who were employed by Mr. Samuel Foster, the builder, were: Carpenters: Mr. Haynes, Mr. Dennis and Mr. Bob Stratton; Decorator: Mr. Gibbs; Bricklayer: Mr. Charlie Francis; Blacksmiths: Mr. Bill Goodman and Mr. Jackman.
Mr. John Lack was the brick-maker, and the, bricks were made in the Green End Brickyards. Much of the clay used was top-clay which, when burnt, made “wirecuts”, bricks so hard that they often broke the brickmakers’ trowels. The houses built from these bricks can be seen in certain houses in King Street, Kempston, and Bromham Road, Bedford, today and are strong enough to last for centuries. Mr. Samuel Foster lived in St.John’s Close and was one of the largest property owners. The work of restoration to the Parish Church was entrusted to his firm and this work was carried out in 1901.
Some of the tradesmen I can recall were:
Mr. Ford, grocer, St. John’s Street. He was also a well-known tailor and made most of the working suits for the grooms and other stablemen, and also supplied uniforms for men who wore livery of any kind.
Mr.Sargent, baker (where the Conservative Club now stands). His rival was Mr. Clarke of High Street. They both had good rounds, but debts were enormous.
Mr W. Benson, grocer of Bedford Road. Mr. Luddington, shoe repairer of Bedford Road.
Messrs. Lee and Ray, carters and contractors of Bedford Road (between Park Road and Thornton street).
Mr. James Lack, Grocer of Bedford Road.
Mr. James Keep, pork butcher, whose shop was near the Bell Inn.
Mr. Arthur Riddy, baker and grocer of Bedford Road.
Mr. J. Felts, Bedford Road. He owned the factory for making pots, kettles and pans.
Mr. Stanley, barber, Bedford Road.
Mrs. Winter, grocer, High Street (on the site where Messrs. Dudeney and Johnstons shop now stands). It was a regular sight to see Mrs. Winter on Sunday mornings being pulled to church in her three-wheeled shay with her niece, Miss Simcoe, walking by her side.
Mr Mike Tory, wheelwright of High Street.
Mr. James Folkes, Builder of Bell End.
An open-top bus (horse and brake) taking about six people, was run by Mr.Marshal of The Half Moon, followed by Mr. Berrill and then by Mr.George Houghton. Mr. Houghton’s son, William, could later be seen driving a heavy grey horse from the Half Moon to St. Peter’s Green, Bedford – the fare: 2d. single, and 3d.ii return.
The nicknames of Kempstonians I can well recall were: Punch Gillet, “Britches” Brightman, Jumper Harding (a veteran of the Indian Mutiny and Crimean War), Happy Jack Lack, Doff Lack, Bogrom Gore, Customer Hall, Nink de Bob Wilsher, Puppy Gillet, Buster Morris, Tinker Tanner, Hoss Keeper Barker and Turkey Haynes (pork butcher).
The Great Walnut Orchard
There were many well-known figures in Kempston.
Mr. Walter Harter, a very rich gentleman, was noted for his generosity and gave his wealth to the poor; the people of Kempston were very fortunate indeed to have such a man living in their midst. Each week he donated £25. to the needy, and apart from this he often asked me into his study so that he could discuss certain cases of need. He liked to hear all the circumstances of those he assisted but it was always the same – no one was ever turned away and his generosity was unbounded. He was also an ideal employer, paying much higher wages than anyone else.
His walnut orchard comprised 185 trees and it was stated that the trees when first planted numbered 365 – one for each day of the year. It was noticeable that whichever way one looked the trees were in perfect alignment, but as they became so overcrowded half of them were later removed. 85 years ago the orchard was let to Mrs. Ann Ashpole, her three sons doing the splashing of the trees. Wootton girls were employed picking up the walnuts and boys helped on Saturdays. (100 walnuts sold had to number 125 – that was called 100 in walnut counting). When Mrs. Ashpole gave up, Mr .Harter offered the orchard to my brother for £90 (approx. 10/- per tree). These walnuts were much in demand and Mr. Harter sent them to London where large notices could. be seen in the Roman road and Petticoat Lane: “Kempston grown walnuts for sale – the best in the land!”
I was talking to Mr. Harter a few days after a very bad storm in March 1916, when many of the trees had been blown down, and he remarked: “What a sad sight. Some day I may set some more!” Alas, this was not to be.
He was also one of the first gentlemen to have his hedges trimmed like those belonging to the old Duke of Bedford. The hedges were trimmed in such a way that they gradually sloped up to a ridge on the top.
Clothes for the Family
Another wealthy gentleman asked me if I knew of anyone who was unable to get the necessities of life (I am not able to divulge the name of this kind-hearted gentleman as he wished to remain anonymous for all time). I quoted an instance (not in the Parish) where the family was struggling on 13s.6d. per week out of which ls.6d. had to be paid for rent and club and one penny per day being allowed the husband for a glass of beer. The woman told me: “I’m left with 11s.0d. a week to keep my eight children fed and clothed and I do not know what will happen if it’s not a good year for cowslips and blackberries, as they are what I rely on to buy clothes and boots for the children.”
I described as carefully as I could to the gentleman in question the mother, father, as well as the ages and sizes of the children.
The clothes were duly bought, but when the hamper arrived the poor woman was so overcome that she asked the man who delivered them where they had all come from. The man replied: “Is there anyone in this hamlet with the same name as yours?” “No, sir,” she said. The man answered: “Then they are yours!” However, when her husband came in for his breakfast after working in the fields he looked through all the wonderful clothing and saw a beautiful overcoat meant for himself, but, although his family was so ouch in need, he turned to his wife and said: “These things must have been stolen; you must take them to the Police Station!” When I saw him sitting there in the small kitchen I asked him why he had not gone to work and his reply was: “I ain’t going to have the police fetch me for having stolen goods in the house!” I thought then I had better try and prove that the goods were for his family, but this was rather difficult for me as I could not tell him how I knew about the clothing, so I said: “You are the only person of this name and there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that these were intended for you, so return to your ploughing and do not worry any more.” All he would say was: “We do not know who to thank!” So I said: “Oh, they will get to know, and I am sure they will not expect any thanks.” Many times afterwards when I visited this family the man would thank God for the clothes and boots sent for all the family.
This same gentleman was very concerned about an old lady he had seen trudging along a country lane to do some charring. He asked me her age and I replied: “I should say she is between 60 and 70 years of age.” He said: “I must do something for her.”
He did not say what the help would be at that time but the amount he eventually gave her was 15s.0d. per week; this saved her going four miles or more to where she was employed.
On one occasion, though, he was not at all pleased as he had given 10s.Od. to a couple to buy food, but he discovered later that 5s.Od. had been spent on snuff and 5s.0d. on whisky, so he said he could not give any money to be spent in this way.
The Lady of the Manor
Mrs. Charles-Williamson, Lady of the Manor, was another well-known personality. As well as starting basket-making classes, she also gave money to form a Boxing Club for the young and during its existence she allowed the use of the large room at the Coffee Tavern free of charge. When her estate was sold, which included Hill Grounds and Dudley Field, as well as many other properties, she gave the allotment holders an opportunity to purchase their 20 or 40 pole of ground, and the sum asked was only £11. Two or three houses could have been erected on this ground, and I am told the sum now asked would be in the region of £1,000. I remember one holder getting approximately 30 acres for £330. Mrs. Charles-Williamson was widowed only a few years after her marriage to a clergyman, and was left childless. She devoted her long widowhood to the Church and charitable work. She built and endowed the Almshouses as a memorial to her late husband, and eventually lived in one of the houses.
Another well-known personality was Mr. James Sintzenich, an Austrian gentleman, who tenanted Kempston Manor House. The Sintzenich and Horn families were united by the marriage of Mr. Sintzenich’s daughter and Mr. Horn’s eldest son. St. Sintzenich gave the beautiful brass lectern to All Saints’ Church in memory of his wife.
Then there was Captain Frisby of Manor Cottage, a follower of the Oakley Hounds.
Mr. Martell, architect for Samuel Foster, was another well-known figure.
Three well-known Colonels were: Colonel Larpent, in command at the Depot. Colonel Green, commanding the 3rd. Volunteer Beds. Regiment. Colonel of the 3rd.Militia Regiment – the old Duke of Bedford.
The Misses Carpenter of Moorlands, Bromham, gave the Rood loft in All Saint’s Church in memory of their Mother. (Mrs. Carpenter before her marriage was a daughter of Talbot Barnard, the banker)
Another loved figure was Canon Shorting. When he first came to Kempston he had no idea of the value of the walnut trees in his orchard, so he sold them for a small amount of money each year, but, being a good businessman, he soon realised the value he could himself obtain on these trees. I assisted in the splashing of these trees and the walnuts were sent to Bedford, He had a great love of nature and the growth of vegetation; his garden was a veritable paradise of how everything should be cultivated. I remember one occasion when he sent 21 exhibits to a well-known show and received 19 first prizes, 1 second and 1 third. This was truly a wonderful achievement.
The principal landowners were:
Mr. W. Harter, The Bury.
Approx. 250 Acres
Mr. R. Orr Campbell (formerly of Dunbartonshire), The Hoo. (The Hoo was purchased in 1880, with the Hoo Farm, for £24,000).
Approx. 450 Acres
Captain Newland, Green End.
Approx. 200 Acres
Mr. H. Howard, The Grange. (his widow bequeathed the house and park to the people of Kempston in memory of their only son who was killed in the 1914/18 war).
Mtrs. Charles-Williamson, Manor House, cottages, and property in High Street and Hill Grounds.
Approx. 300 Acres
120 years ago John Abbott was, in all probability, the first man to fix the rate to be paid by property owners. I believe the amount was about 3d. in the £. My own home was let at 7s.8d. per month.
6. What the Women Did
The women helped with the housekeeping by making lace; they often sat for hours and hours to earn one or two shillings, One old lady told me of an occasion when her husband came home from work the worse for drink. He lifted his hobnailed boot under her lace pillow and sent bobbins and pins flying all over the floor. She said to me: “You know I do not hold with bad language, but I looked at my husband and said: “You old b ••••• !”” In the morning, she said, he apologised, but she said: “I should think you are sorry; do you know I have earned £87 on my pillow to help bring up our children since the time we were married?”
The noted lace-makers at that time were Mrs. Crowsley, Mrs. Hayward, Mrs. Newberry, Mrs. Joel Beard, Maggie Huckle, Caroline Morris and many others.
Mrs. Crowsley of Cemetery Lodge was an expert lace-maker and her son, Leonard, Gave my wife many of her old parchments – some of which have now been handed over to the Higgins Museum in Bedford.
My wife has made and sent lace to various parts of this country, as well as to New Zealand, India, Canada, and The States (including lace stoles for American Clergy). One American lady on a visit to this country asked my wife to teach her this craft, and she learnt very well during her stay here; she went as far as to say that my wife was needed in the States for the instruction of this work.
My wife has in her possession parchments and bobbins used 100 years ago. She also has two very old bobbin winders, one which has been in the family for nearly 200 years. A man would make the wooden bobbins for 4d. per dozen. She also has many bone bobbins; if a man committed a crime and was hanged according to the law his name was put on the bobbin.
Women also walked miles to earn a few shillings washing. One old lady told me she had pushed her two children in a perambulator 16 miles; when she arrived she did the washing, stayed the night and finished the rest of the family washing in the morning. She then started her long trek home – and all for a few shillings to help pay her way!
The wedding dress was worn by the woman every day for many years after the marriage took place, as no other dress could be afforded. These women were so hardworking and deprived of the necessities of life that, at 60 years of age, they were worn out and could be seen seated by the fireside with a shawl over their shoulders and wearing a lace cap which seemed to add to their forlornness. Of course, those were the days of the parish relief when the only income was 4s.6d. per week.
Of course, Kempston had its quota of poachers. I heard a story of one such man who had been across the Biddenham Fields poaching, when the police saw him and gave chase. As he was a good swimmer he swam the old river as well as the main and, by taking short cuts, was able to get home and change. When the police arrived at his house the constable said: “I could have sworn it was you, but it couldn’t have been as the man crossed both rivers!”
When I was 17 years of age an old man of 80 who had long since reformed and had obtained a good position as Head Keeper for a large landowner; told me of his poaching days. He said that on one occasion the keeper told the Judge of the Assizes that he had pointed his gun at him for this offence he received a three-year sentence. When he cane out of prison, however, he went on a grand poaching party (according to his story), the men numbering 27, and they netted more than 1,000 rabbits and these they sold at 5d.each.
In 1914 I ,joined up and was sent to Aldershot. I was only there two days when an NCO. said: “Boy, you have to go to Brentwood to join some mounted infantry”. This was sheer good fortune for me – horses again! However, when I arrived the quartermaster said that, although he had spoken to the C.O., no one knew anything about me. I gave him the papers I had received at Aldershot but he said: “You had better go and find an empty house to sleep in, and come back in the morning.” I was kept messing about for weeks, without any pay, and it was three months before I received any pay at all. It so happened that from the 1st. mounted Brigade I was sent to the 2nd. Brigade in a different part of the country. When Pay Day arrived the, men fell in to receive their pay, with the exception of myself. The quartermaster shouted: “Come on, Devereux, and get your pay!” I told him I had never had any yet, so he called the Sergeant-Major who said: “What’s this? You have not received any pay?” So, after seeing an Officer, a Brigade-General rang up Woolwich and I then received £2.19s.0d.-my first Army pay. The Sergeant-Major said to me: “Why didn’t you go home? A soldier is entitled to one shilling a week so it would not have meant desertion!”
However, it was not long before I was on my way to France and what a journey! When we arrived at Le Havre, we had a long march up a stony hill to Har Fleur and, after resting many times, we reached the top. We were confronted with about a foot depth of snow, but, fortunately, the tents were boarded which was not so bad as it could have been. One of the noticeable factors in France was our being issued with a complete suit made of mole skin, and we wore thus able to withstand the bitter cold and wet of the trenches. 250,000 were issued and about the same number of Goat Skins which were a perfect protection against the bitter weather of Northern France.
Then we had another move, which was the last before we left to followed the defeated armies back to their country; it must have been a humiliating experience for them as we marched all the way to Cologne. After that I crossed the Rhine (five miles being the limit), ~and after a nine-month stay I returned to England.
The aft or-war period was vary bad; unemployment was rife and prospects were bleak in the extreme. This was a distinctly worrying time for the troops returning from abroad; they had fought for their King and Country, but no work was available for them on their return.
It was not long after this that I entered the Postal Service. The pay was small, but the work constant and of course the pay regular. For fifteen years my bicycle journey was Wood End as far as Wood Farm, back to Tythe Farm and past the Three Horse Shoes, over Stagsden Hill to the village of Stagsden, along the Newport Road to Stagsden West End, up the Hill again to Duckworth Farm and then to a cottage close to Astwood, and finally back to the office along the Newport Road calling on the outlying farms.
Some duties were difficult when there were heavy falls of snow. On one occasion the hedges by the roadside were completely covered and I had to cross large fields carrying my cycle over my shoulder. The roads were eventually cleared by large gangs of roadmen and I passed through with the snow on either side piled six feet high. I remember one day leaving the office at 7.0 a.m. and not returning until 2.0 p.m.
This was a healthy job and it certainly made one tough, and surely contributed to a robust constitution. I liked the peace of the countryside by day and the stillness of the country by night, and I met many people who were very kind to me. I served for 241⁄2 years but, unfortunately, had a serious illness which caused my retirement.
After three years I recovered and obtained employment lasting another seven years when I was compelled to cease altogether at the age of 69 years.
7. The Years of Retirement
Much of Kempston is on gravel soil and a great amount of sand and gravel has been taken out of the pits for building purposes. The country roads were still being gravelled in 1923, and the carters were Henry Morris of 2 High Street, and George Odell of The Three Horse Shoes, West End. After a heavy rainfall holes soon appeared in the roads and this made riding very bumpy indeed.
The pit at Hillgrounds, owned by Mrs. Charles-Williamson, was worked by Mr. William Folkes.
Another of the pits, where the telephone exchange now stands, was worked by Mr. Jarvis.
The King Street pits were worked by Samuel Foster, the depth taken out being about six or seven feet. After the soil was replaced, apple trees were planted and also a large number in the orchard belonging to Mr. Luddington. After the gravel and sand had been taken out to a depth of 6 or 8 feet the top soil was put back about 3 or 4 feet, and many apple trees were planted, but in 30 years the roots began to reach water which caused bark rust and many of them died.
Since my retirement I have enjoyed working in my garden. Today I have some good espaliers. One of my apple trees has the bottom branches stretching to 15 ft. and its height is about 12 ft, This is a magnificent example of what a tree can become if properly trained.
There is so much to learn from nature. I once took a friend down the garden to show him that, although the leaves were decaying and turning yellow, life was beginning in another way. I took a dying leaf from a plum tree and in the small hole left by the leaf there were three small growths not visible to the naked eye but under a magnifying glass revealed what would be in six months time the embryo fruit. Sure enough the second week in April appeared my three blossoms and, in the centre, the small fruit which would become the plum I would hope to gather in the Autumn.
As I end I feel I must comment on what I believe to be the greatest calamity that has ever befallen Kempston. This is the banning of people from the beauty spot of Hill Grounds.
In Mrs. Charles-Williamson’s time everyone was free to enter this charming place by the placid River Ouse and gaze across the green fields to the Parish Church in the background. May the time be fast approaching when our Urban Councillors will consider taking this under their control for all time. Surely trees could be planted as before, and all encumbrances removed, without incurring too much expense.
This was our greatest heritage and should, in my opinion, be returned to the residents of Kempston for their pleasure and enjoyment now and in the years to come.
8. A Sheaf of Poems
Now is the month when vegetation cones to life It has weathered the cold and stress and the strife Soon buds and leaves will begin to show And in quietness alone how fast they will grow.
The countryside will be a beautiful green And all will be covered with a beautiful sheen Restful to eye, the body as well As the days go by our new health-found body will tell.
The warmth of the sun reaches the earth And all vegetation begins a new birth The flower buds will grow into a beautiful bloom Whilst the fruit blossoms to form fruit to make room.
Then on through the spring, and summer they grow They wind up their growing and to ripeness they show Then the Autumn comes, and the fruit we can pick To store in the winter, when the snow is so thick.
The fruit is delicious, it keeps us in Health Its much more to us than all untold wealth, For we read that just an apple a day Will certainly keep our doctor away.
Each season the sane things always come round And the food for the peoples will always abound.
The Christmas Rose
My Christmas rose buds creep through the earth A reminder to me of the greatest Birth when all my garden stands so grim and bare Yet you can see my Rose Plants always there.
No matter how severe the frosts, snows and rain I have grown up to be with you once again; To give you pleasure when you see my charming bloom So you may gather and place me in your room.
The past year I lingered, my roots below the ground Now my blooms amongst my leaves do abound I come again each succeeding year It is my resurrection when I reappear.
Nurtured and fed by God’s Almighty Hand My blooms arrive – graceful, charming, grand; When my flowers droop and my leaves decay I do not die, but rest in God’s warm earth to stay.
What lesson of my return can you discern There is no death but just decay we learn; So we must believe that Jesus died and rose again.
Then this message from my Rose will not be made in vain.
i The original says “let”
ii The original says “3rd.” iii The original says “started”