Memories of a Village - Potterspury

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My memories of this village of Potterspury in which I was born, go back for nearly half a century, and my earliest recollections are centered around St Nicholas church, and Wakefield House, at that time the home of the seventh Duke of Grafton.

The Duke was a man of strong character who lived to the age of ninety-seven, and for many years dominated the life of the village. A number of the village men were employed by him, working either on the farm, or in the gardens which supplied the produce for the house, or in the workshops which maintained the estate, which was large, and included several of the neighboring villages. The wages of these men were small, the tradesmen earning more than twenty-four shillings a week.

 

I remember so well the women Mary Morris, Angela Ratcliffe, Charlotte Meakins, Annie Meakins and the others who wearing their black hats and their shawls or capes, set out each day to walk from the village up the long drive and in through the stable yard to their work in the laundry, or in the kitchen. Many of the villagers were very poor and glad to buy dripping at the kitchen door. A large can of milk could be brought for a penny if one took the long walk to the dairy.

 

I remember being taken to Wakefield to see the oil paintings of the Duke presented to him by the county on his ninetieth birthday.

 

The Duke was a regular worshipper at the village church and every Sunday morning I saw the procession of carriages come down the drive, cross the Watling Street and proceed through the village carrying the Duke, his visitors and his servants to church.

 

It was said that there were two processions on Sunday morning, which met in the High Street, one going to church and the other to the bakehouse where the villagers took their Sunday dinner consisting of Yorkshire pudding and meat to be baked for a penny.

 

The coach house and stables where the Duke's horses were stabled during the service can still be seen in church end. The Duke and his servants sat in the chancel, which is now used by the choir, and he a stately figure would enter through the chancel door, while the servants proceeded to the main door and entered according to rank. What fine looking men they were. The steward, the valet, the butler, the footmen each wearing a frock coat and carrying a tall silk hat. The female staff were all dressed in black, the housekeeper, the cook, the housemaids and the laundry maids and all had their hats tied with large black bows under their chins.

 

The voice was the Rev. Walter Plant and he and his wife (the author of several books) presided graciously over the village and shared the joys and sorrows of all. Mrs. Plant could often be seen driving round the village in the afternoon in a small chaise drawn by a small pony and driven by the sexton Caleb Tapp. Mrs. Plant did much for the mothers and children of the village and many were the nice puddings and jellies she delivered to the sick.

 

The church and Wakefield were closely connected, the Duke being the patron of the living, it was to Wakefield we went for our Sunday school treat each year. The farm wagons drawn by horses came to the gates of the schoolyard and we were helped in. We looked forward to this treat. We had tea in the coach house, ran races were given bags of sweets and buns and returned home singing lustily as the wagons jogged along “for he's a jolly good fellow and so say all of us".

 

From Wakefield came the enormous Christmas tree each year. It was a pole reaching almost to the roof of the school, in it were holes into, which were fixed branches of fur to form a tree. It was then decorated and there were toys for the boys and a doll for every girl. These dolls were all dressed by willing helpers. The following evening the tree was used for the adults the change being sixpence and they each received a gift. A red tin lantern (with glass sides) into which one could fix a candle was a gift received by my mother and used by her for many years when going out on a dark night.

 

Enormous pleasure was derived from concerts in the school during the winter the programme being provided by local artists. We never tired of hearing the same old songs sung by the same singer and if the vicar and his wife sang “I will give you the keys to heaven” and another well known artist sang “ the girl in the clogs and shawl” our joy could not be measured.

 

Religion played a large part in the lives of many of the villagers and there were large congregations at the three places of worship. There was at that time a Methodist chapel in Blackwell end, and the preacher was Mr. Eli Tapp who worked during the week in the Wakefield gardens. This chapel was later closed and made into two cottages ( show picture) . I recall the male members of the church choir nine of whom were faithful members for fifty years, these were Caleb Tapp, Rowland Woodward, Alfred Lambert, Walter Ratcliffe, George Dodson, Walter green, Harry Henson, Levi Bliss and Alfred Faux.

 

Some of these men would in the afternoon walk through the fields to Furtho Church where a service was held. I remember going to a Harvest Festival service there and standing in the church yard to join in the service as the church would not hold the congregation who came from the surrounding villages to the isolated church. The ????? of furtho was united with Potterspury in 1923 and soon after the church was closed. I remember hearing the bomb fall in 1941, which fell near the church and unfortunately shattered the windows on the north side.

 

The village school master Mr. A J Smith could be seen each Sunday in the frock coat and silk hat wending his way to the parish church to full fil his duties as organist and though small in stature commanded respect of everyone. He was master for thirty-eight years 1881-1919.

 

The organ was blown by hand by Mr. Edwin Ratcliffe affectionately known to everyone as ‘Teddy'. He walked the three miles from Wakefield lawn twice every Sunday to perform this duty. He also walked each day pushing his truck into Stony Stratford, and for the price of a penny would do any errand. He took note into the local doctors and was a source of amusement for often he would diagnose the complaint as well as deliver the note. He collected medicine from the chemist and often his truck was so laden with parcels that he could not see over them. The Stony Stratford tradesman later brought him a donkey and cart, but Teddy was not very good with animals and the donkey did not live very long and he reverted to his hand truck.

 

I recall Dr Powell who visited the village driving a grey horse in a high trap, Dr W Bull riding on horseback, and later Dr Douglas Bull riding a high bicycle with two bars.

 

Some of the village men worked in the Wolverton Carriage Works and walked the five miles to reach there by 6am. Later they bought the “Nails”, tow horse drawn covered wagons and drive themselves, stabling the horses in wolverton to await the return journey at 6pm. In the village one was kept in the Rope Walk which was no longer used for rope making and one was kept at Mr. Charles Stewart'' farm.

 

Mr. Stewart also had a covered cart and carried on a carriers business drive the twelve miles into Northampton in Saturdays. He would also take passengers. We sometimes travelled with him to collingtree to visit an uncle. We did not often go to Northampton but I remember walking to Castlethorpe to catch a train and walking back over the fields carrying the shopping. A party wishing to visit Northampton or go out for a drive as we sometimes did when we had visitors could hire a wagonette or brake from the local bakers who had a horse for hire and Mr. Jefcoate also had a fly drawn by two grey horses. Prince and Trilbey as well as a fine horse drawn hearse for hire.

 

As I walked to school I often saw the lacemakers wearing starched while aprons sitting at the door of their cottage with their pillows twisting their bobbins. I was fascinated by the twisting of the bobbins and the “sticking a pin” Some of the smaller patterns were The Fan, The Running River and The Spider. The patterns were pricked out on a strip of parchment. Great pride was taken in the pillows and the prettiest prints were used to cover them and for the cloths and the prettiest beads for weighting the bobbins. The lace was at that time bought mostly by Mrs. Chettle a farmer's wife who lived at the “The Beeches”. She was a lace buyer and paid as little as two pence a yard for some lace.

 

I came to know one of the lacemakers very well. She was mrs wootton who made lace for several members of the Royal Family and some to trim the clothes of the present queen when she was a small child. I recall Mrs wootton telling me that she was twice widowed and left with a family of six, four boys and two girls to bring up on six shillings a week. To provide for the family she went out to work for a shilling a dat and made lace at home.

 

Mrs chettle sometimes held lace making schools to encourage the making of pillow lace. My mother went to one of these schools. Mrs chettle also ran clothing clubs and coal clubs for the villagers. At certain times of the year the amount entered on the card could be spent. An outing to Stony Stratford or Towcester to spend the “Club card” was an event looked forward to by many families.

 

Later a coal club was formed by some of the vollagers and after a time they were enterprising enough to buy their own railway coal truck. This club flourished for many years until the ill health of the secretary Mr A Lambert and the rationing of coal made it impossible to carry on.

 

Many of the cottages had to pig sty and large pots of pig food were always cooking on the old black grates. Pig killing days were red letter days to the owners and their friends. There were many tasty delicacies to put on the table such as black puddings, faggarts, chitterlings, home made lard, bone puddings and bone pies. The pigs were killed at home and we children loved to watch the singeing process. The pig was placed in a pile of straw the straw was lighted and the flames leapt high.

 

The owners would sometimes canvas the village for orders for the home killed pork, or they would cure it for bacon. Huge sides of bacon and large hams could be seen hanging on the walls. Some people were the proud possessions of a salting lead in which the bacon was salted. This they would lend around to their friends.

 

Large quantities of made wine were made from couslips, dandelions, sloes potatoes elderberries plums etc. Large red pans of wine, with a piece of toast floating on the top could often be seen under the parlour table going through the process of fomenting. It was then stored in large stone jars and when friends called a glass of wine was always offered.

 

There were mand wandering visitors passing through the village. The vagrants on their way to spend the night in the workhouse at Yardley Gobion. They carried a tin can and often called at the houses asking for boiling water to make tea. Often spending the night in the work house they had to break stones for road mending before starting on the road again. There was a dancing bear led by its owner on a long chain, the horse drawn gipsy caravans with their wares to sell and the barrel organ complete with the monkey holding a cap to collect the pennies these paid regular visits. A blindman (blind barley) who played a concertina and was led by a dog, an old soldier with only one arm who lustilyn sang, “three cheers for the red, while and blue”. These came at regular interals and we always gave them pennies.

 

The old cattle drovers who bought the cattle from the markets to the butchers were familiar figures and when the poor frieghtened beasts were drive through the village we children scattered and got inside the garden gate. I remember by name two of these drovers “towcester toff” and Tom nicholls. Tom nicholl's father was “Sooty Nicholls” the local chimney sweep. He would walk from Yardley Gobion and sweep the chimney for three pence.

 

A travelling theatre occasionally came into the “Reindeer Yard” and performed such plays as “MURDER IN THE RED BARN”. I remember also a travelling cinematograph show which presented “FROM THE MANGER TO THE CROSS”.

 

The Watling Street was a very different scene with the horse traffic, the early cars and the steam engines, Lyons Tea vans were pulled by these engines and they stopped at the brook to draw water.

 

I remember the day when the thatch roof of Mr. C Stewarts farm was set on fire by a spark from one of these engines. We watched the fire engine drawn by horses arrive.

 

The thatcher at the time was a familiar sight renewing the thatch roofs. These have almost disappeared six remaining.

 

There was then a thatched public house in the lower end know at the “the Blue Ball” which had the unusual sign of the red heart above a blue ball and bore the Latin inscription “lor supra mudum”. I was told by an old lady who had lived there about 1895-1900 that it was thought there was only one other sign like it ( It is I belive still in the procession of caption Atkinson of cosgrove priory). Mr. James bryant the first policeman in the village was also licensee of this inn.

 

The blacksmith's shop was always and still remains a place of interest. The blacksmith Mr Sidney Smith was one of a family of blacksmiths, his father and brother also working at the forge. We saw the horses being taken there to be shoed and to be roughed in the bad weather. Now there are few horses and the blacksmith Mr John Smith is occupied with mending farm implements and doing wrought iron work. A fine piece of his work is the seat standing on the piece of grass near “The mansion”.

 

Whilst writing of horses u must mention the fine stallions which walked through the village on their way from farm to farm. These were beautiful creatures well groomed and their tails and manes plaited and braided with coloured braids. WE all ran to see it pass or to watch it when it halted in the “The Anchor” yard and the man in charge still holding it would call for a mug of beer.

 

We Saw the followers of the Grafton hunt in the their hunting pink pass through the village on their way to and from the meet. The hounds were often brought through the village when being exercised. Some of the local farmers “walked” a hound puppy. The puppy was kept until the puppy show and then returned. A prize was given for the best puppies.

 

There were certain days that we looked forward to. Boxing day, when the Brass Band from Yardley Gobion came round and always played “The Mistletoe Bough”. They called at many houses for a glassof home made wine.

 

Good Friday when after the service in church it was the custom for everyone to go to the woods to gather primroses and there we would meet people from all round the district.

 

Easter Monday when we watched the people going along the Watley Street in horse drawn brakes, wagonettes, gigs etc on their way to Towcester Races, which were then only held once a year and we would patiently wait to see them return when those who had been lucky would often throw pennies for the children to pick up.

 

May Day at Yardley Gobion when we went to see the may queen crowned and to watch the traditional Maypole and morris dancies. Until rece ntly there was no may festival in this village it was started by the local W.I.

 

Rogation Sunday when we followed the vicar and the choir after evening service to the fields and allotments to bless the crops.

 

Whit Tuwesday and Wednesday were “Club Holidays” Tuesday the OddFellows Club and Wednesday the Old Benefit Club, These “holidays” were held in the field called fattwell. In there were such attractions as the village band playing rousing tunes and a stall where you could buy ginger and rock. There were races and a greasy pole with a leg of mutton at the top for the onw who could get to the top. There was also revolving wooden horse which you mounted at the tail and endeavoured to reach the head. It was fun to watch, the competitor would mount and carefully scotch along, but before he could reach the head, the body twisted round and he was thrown off.

 

On either August 1 st or 2 nd we always walked into Stony Stratford to visit the fair held for two days on the market square.

 

Although it has not been generally kept my family has always kept “The Feast” and we have kept feast Sunday on the Sunday before christmas. This is strange as it is hot the feast of St Nicholas ( I know my grandfather who died at the age of seventy nine and he had always kept the feast on this Sunday.

 

Then there were the “Mummers” who sometimes came, They would come any time between Octover 31 st and Plough Monday ( the Monday after january 6 th ) The “Mummers” weere a band of men of to make merry. They were dressed chiefly in paper, paper skirts, paper streamers and hideous masks and headdresses. Often they were in the form of animal heads. I did not like the “mummers”, but I believe if they came to the house you were more or less obliged to ask them in.

 

I remember Major and Mrs brougham who lived at the “The Mansion”. He read lessons in the church on Sunday morning and the founded the first troop of boy scouts in the village in 1912. Their daughter married Viscount Ipswich, who was killed in a flying accident in the 1914-18 war. She was the mother of the ninth Duke of Grafton killed in a motor cycling accident when he was twenty one. She gave the memorial in nthe Lady chapel in memory of her husband and the widow above depicking the crucifixion was given by the village as a memorial to those who died in the 19114-18 war.

 

Mrs Newton and her family lived at Pury Lodge, and were often seen in the village. After her death it was bought by Mr G Beale who became Sheriff of Northamptonshire. He built the chapel in grounds which was used as a catholic chapel. The house is now used as a school for maladjusted children.

 

In my childhood whole families including uncles, aunts and cousins could been walking out together on Sunday and the walk along behind Pury Lodge to the three known as “Queen's Oak” where elizabeth woodville was supposed to have met edward IV as a favorite one.

 

The summers then seemed hotter and the winters more severe. We picniced in the hayfields and played around and jumped the haycocks. My friends and I always took the lace that we were knitting on five steel pins with very fine cotton. Many a needle was lost in the hay.

 

I saw the gleaners at harvest time setting off with their prams and trucks with a pocket apron tied round them in which to glean the short ears. Some families gleaned enough corn to keep them in flour all the winter. The corn could be taken to the village mill then worked by the old water wheel ad owned by Mr Busby who would grind it on oayment. The villagers also collected acorns which they sold for pig food.

 

Often in winter the snow was deep and we waited for the snow plough to come down from wakefield before we could go to school and there seemed to be long spells of skating and sliding on the wakefield lakes. People came from over a large area to skate there and on bright moonlight nights there were often summer parties on the ice. The local skaters who could cut a figure eight were much admired. A chair was provided to help those not quite so proficient. During the cold weather soup could be bought at certain times from Hill House the home of the estate agent. It was sent down from wakefield and people went with earns to buy it.

 

I remember the large band of young men who set off so light heartedly one morning to join Lord Kitchener's Army and the Belgiun family madame De Keysen and her three children, Isidone, Alphouse and marie whom the village adopted in the 1914-1918 war. They were a sad family who had seen the father shot by German soldiers. Many of the villagers made weekly contributions to provide them with an income. They had their own home and lived in nthe cottage now known as 47 high street. “madame” was a good needlewoman and able to take in dressmaking. They returned to Belgium after the war.

 

Our postal address in those days was Potterspury, Stony Stratford, Buckinhamshire and our letters were brought by a postman who walked from stony stratford to the village and on to deliver at Wakefield house. The village Post Office has been kept by the osborne family for many years. I can recall three generations serving here. For many years they also ran a wheelwright and under takers business.

 

The only newspapers we received during the week were the Northampton papers. These were brought by a small lane man. Mr “Georgie” Webb who lived in Yardley Gobion. He cycled to Castlethorpe station to collect the parapers and then delivered them to both villages. On Sunday Dr Wamsley came from stony stratford in a pony cart.

 

The villagers have always been fond of sport and there was a football match played every year between Potterspury and Yardley to decide the fate of the “watercress cup”. It was only a wooden cup but was coveted by both villagers. There were also cricket and tennis clubs.

 

About 1916 the firstof the “Pink” Days were organised by Mr A Wise of blackwell end who grew large quanities of “Clove Pinks” in his garden. Those were made into buttonholes ad sold in the neighbouring towns and villages in aid of Northampton General Hospital . Then followed the hospital fetes which for many years raised large sums of money for the hospital. To enter the hospital it was necessary to have “a letter” and the number of “letters” given depended upon the amount sent to the hospital. Before these efforts a collection had been made in the village annually.

 

1917 The first company of Girl Guides was formed in the village.

 

About 1919 a bus service was started on Wednesdays and Saturdays frim Northamoton to stony stratford by Grose's Ltd. This passed through the village and transport out of the village became easier. The six-o'clock bus on a Saturday evening was an open double deck solid tyred bus could be seen leaving the village loaded to its fullest capacity. There were no restrictions and passengers sat on every step of the stairs and even on the ledge which protruded over the drivers seat. The return journey from Stony Stratford was at 9 pm.

 

 

 

 

         

 

(c) 2012 Mark Russell - www.potterspury.org.uk

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