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Tatworth Village

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Chapter I: Settlement


Our interest in Chard [The Collins of Chard] revolves around its relationship with Tatworth Village - its sub-manor… a mere three miles down the road,… the distance walked by the population every Sunday - to attend it is nearest Church. The Devon Record’s Office of 1554, mentions Thatteworth as the land granted to William Petre… and goes on to describe it as: ‘the manor and park of Tatworthy’. Interestingly, in the early 1300s, the first warrant holder of the estate was a certain Adam Thatteworhe.

This estate was typical of the period - for the most part engaged in farming and weaving… remaining in the Petre family for almost two hundred and fifty years, until 1790… the first hundred years being ‘The first age of England’s Renaissance’, The hamlet remained roughly the same size, just a collection of cottages, only increasing in size much later - when the lace mills of Chard required labour, and then, later still, when Sparks & Co., were manufacturing net at Holyrood Mill, in Perry Street, Tatworth.

It is difficult to see the effects made by the battles and disturbances on Chard and it’s sub-manor during the Civil War. Land was taken away from some, divided by others, and sold on by widows and the bereaved. This part of England – the West Country, was a Parliamentary stronghold although naturally the high aristocracy sided with the king. What one can say is that things were never the same again, when the dust had died down… even though some of the holdings returned to their former owners, the population had been unsettled, and it took many years for the effects to be absorbed.

The workers of the land – the poor, were housed in cottages still owned by absentee landlords and by The Petre Estate. The destitute taken care of by The Church and local charities. All concerns provided by the Old Poor Law. Many of the poor were exempt from the Hearth Tax whilst receiving relief from charities. Couples preparing for marriage still had to seek permission from the rector of St Mary’s, Chard [Tatworth’s Parish Church] who in turn felt obliged to contacted Baron Petre, the main landowner. If the couple was likely to be homeless, they had to delay marriage, sometimes for years. The manor court could have undesirable couples shipped abroad to the colonies - as vagrants.

The Settlement Law of 1662 required all persons to have a settled [home] parish. This had enormous implications where people lived and the pressure the lord of the manor exerted. Anyone moving from that parish to another could be sent back within a forty-day period. This time scale was later relaxed if the parish of settlement accepted the newcomer. A hundred and thirty years later the decision of settlement relied upon ‘when the person was chargeable’ - to the poor rates of the parish. Most poor families continued to be housed in family units. As a rural economy, the fluctuations in the market and the advent of bad harvests had a great impact on the society.

The many problems of housing the rural poor were obvious well before the Restoration, but the Settlement Laws of 1662, defined the people’s rights more acutely. The poor could be pushed out altogether and never fully established to form the necessary ‘right’ of Settlement. Poor families could be housed by taking over disused accommodation [squatting], take over a portion of an existing property, building on somebody else’s large garden, or a property could be sub-divided. Small freeholders could build their own or re-site an existing timber framed house. Tatworth was just a scattering of simple cottages built on marginal land alongside existing tracks. New dwellings that were built erected further from the centre on outlying parts of the settlement where community control was less strict... Once erected the squatter became accepted and later gained legal rights.

Many new builds were randomly placed to take full measure of the profit from corner plots, unused ground and land unfit for cultivation. Manorial lords profited by allowing new cottages on manorial waste in return for fines and quit rents. Over time these new incomers demanded their so-called rights to the common waste… if these rights were given then the cottage occupiers gained settlement as of right. The lord and his bailiff recognised that some of these newcomers did not have relatives or persons who could vouch for them and there were those who could not pay the rent in advance. It was therefore in the interests of the lord to see that work was provided even if it were work on the estate to repair roads, hedges, ditches and banks. In the next county Devon a survey records 21 percent of the poor were occupying church houses and that over half of the parishes housed the poor.

Ever since the Religious Houses were established part of their inheritance was looking after the poor by providing church and poor houses. These then became a valuable parish resource, which allowed flexibility to a slowly changing society. The birth rate in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries increased the separation of rural families, particularly those from small farms and smallholdings… slowly the poor migrated away from the land to the town and the new factories. The parish officials recognised that the cottagers and farm labourers were totally dependant on their wage especially as the wasteland grew scarce and their gardens shrunk. Self sufficiency for the poor was essential… there were two Elizabethan Statutes that insisted on a certain size of land that should go with the dwelling, and another accepted that squatters could build their own homes or that homes could be constructed by landlords for rent… these were The 1558/9 Acts. The housing of the poor has always been a problem, the responsibility ended up being a parish matter with the help of charities. This became what is now called local authority housing. In the latter end of the seventeenth century, there was a proliferation of habitation orders authorising the erection of cottages for the poor - the provision of rented accommodation.

The problems of the poor are always wrapped up with their relationship with the land - any pressure exerted on their ability to grow food, feed animals and provide a dwelling immediately have a knock on effect. The Enclosure Act was one such event that affected the poor more than anyone else. The object of ‘enclosure’ was to link manorial strips, and common-land ‘waste’, into economic areas - which could be easily contained; stocked, manured, drained and worked… this was obviously beneficial if the object was economic efficiency. Cooperative fairness, reasonableness, and for all the public’s good, it was certainly not. This Act worked in favour of the landowners both large and small. It enabled the less well off and the bereaved to be bought out over a long period.

The almshouse built on the ‘Lands of the Blessed Mary’ in 1471 on the north side of the High Street, Chard, was renovated by the Corporation in 1647… built to house the community’s destitute and paupers. The Borough of Chard provided this group of terraced cottages. Thirteen years later The ‘Settlement and Removal’ Acts of the 1660s was designed to keep out anyone who was likely to be a burden on the rates. The Act tied men to their own parish for the next two centuries. Every parish had to list those who lived within the bounds. There were interminable arguments about the parish boundaries and those who were within and those without. Parish Officers did not have to make this list if they did not want to in fact it only affect any person who rented for under £10 per year and who was likely to be chargeable to their parish or to his parish of settlement – had come to inhabit. In the end, possession of a freehold or copyhold became a means of acquiring a settlement in the parish. Anyone applying for settlement had to live in it for forty days if he had a freehold or copyhold, rent for £10 per annum, serve in the parish office or pay taxes levied in the parish. In the end, it all became quite silly and the whole thing fizzled out mainly because no one could be bothered to go into all the various permutations. As long as people paid their taxes they could live in regulated accommodation [with planning permission] listed at the council offices.

In 1663 Richard Harvey who established a bequest, to the Borough of Chard, obtained premises. These properties were fitted out as a ‘Hospital’. All accomplished by 1698… included a farm for fresh produce and other lands called Chard Farm in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. The second half of the eighteenth century saw the foundations laid for the country’s industrialization and the first agricultural revolution – a time of commercial activity organized to take note of the market place – concerning profit in a consumer society. Nearly fifty per-cent of the nation’s income was generated by agriculture. Enclosure was the destruction, leading to the disappearance, of an independent peasantry – the theft of ‘the people’s common rights’ affecting their fields, meadows and pastures. Enclosure led to evictions and oppression for the very poor, inarticulate, disabled and single parents over the centuries.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the result of enclosure became more apparent. The largest landowners who employed a land agent and farm manager were advantaged being able to increase their employer’s holdings… similarly, the farmer who owned more than fifty acres. The farsighted tenant farmers also increased their farm size by purchasing land for themselves. It was the small farmers with a large family who found themselves disadvantaged; they could not produce enough or buy new implements - to make the land profitable in bad times, as agriculture moved from subsistence to a commercial one.

The most substantial house in the parish is Parrocks Lodge built in the Regency neo-classical style at the time of George II, in 1801. Soon after it was built, John Deane moved in with his wife. Fifty years later the property was sold to Major John Churchill Landon. The Landon has had eleven children, which not only stimulated much energy to the hamlet and local aristocracy, although none married, keeping the family fortune well attended. The Langdon family stayed there for a hundred years eventually selling the place to the North family who took over a dilapidated estate.

Two paths, Parrocks Lane and Church Path [Chard Road], bisected the Tatworth Middle Field [one of the recorded open field systems]. In the centre lay William Drake’s Bean Land on Woodcock Gate, below which Parrocks House, Farmyard and Parkland sits. The present day Lodge and associated farm buildings are sited here. Over the parkland, boundary, and wall, were limekilns and pits owned by the original owners John Deane. When he died his partner Benjamin Coles took over the business and house. Carboniferous Limestone is dry at the surface, and sends out springs at the base; its local soil is thin. It was discovered that by spreading crushed limestone onto arable soil improves texture and fertility. Lime is used in the building trade - for making mortar, lime-putty, daub and lime wash, and in the leather industry - for soaking animal skins - to remove hair. When baked in a kiln lime produces a caustic solid of calcium, and some magnesium, oxide.

In the early to middle 1800s in Tatworth a large part of the male population worked on the land as farm workers – in times of need these worker turned their hand to all the other parts of the industry – hedging, ditching, horsemen, shepherds, stockmen, and foresters... the list is endless. There was a class division between these workers of the land and the tenant farmer, or smallholder. From a social point of view there was also a difference between the farm labourer who lived in Tatworth and a farmer who lived outside the parish – they were not considered part of the community. The business of farming is about working the land, which conferred a ridged social hierarchy. The people in the village knew who their gentry were, and who owned the land... They lived under, and worked within, their employer’s shadow.

Up to the time of The Great Exhibition in 1851, Tatworth had been considered a hamlet, this was prior to the chapel being built, about the same time the Langdon’s of Pattocks Lodge arrived in the now new village… to present an east and south window to the new chapel. Tatworth was raised to the status of ‘village’ when the chapel was built – and then higher still when the school was built twenty years later. Tatworth that year covered an area of 1552 acres and had a population of 852.

As with the rest of the country Tatworth went through many high and low employment cycles – these naturally conformed to average prosperity figures… National and civil wars, plagues and common ailments, clothing fashions and availability of natural resources, all contributed to population growth, economic and social wellbeing, and individual and group feel good factors. The Enclosure Act had a particular effect on rural life especially for the workers and those who lived off the land and forests. Before 1875, ‘High Farming’, was a term used to declare agricultural prosperity. It was at this time that rural emigration reached its peak. It is from that time that many hamlets and villages lost their viability – became deserted – the few who remained moved away.

At the turn of the century, the schoolchildren who knew each other viewed those from another district as suspect. There was a strong kinship between Tatworth villagers past and present, for as my mother explained, ‘what did they know or care how we lived and loved’. The happenings on the continent also influenced to a lesser or higher degree how manufacturing flourished, particularly those towns and villages within easy reach of the coast and trade routes. However, with all those influencing factors the two greatest disasters were the two world wars… the former, by loss of fathers and sons, the latter, the change wrought on the countryside and landowners – the breaking up of estates... this occurred during and just after: The Depression, The First World War, and later, by Government Legislation – Death Duties. Each changed Tatworth, radically.

Our story now moves on to the main characters. There was nothing outstanding about them as individuals. They were born in Chard, went to the church school, were formally introduced, as was the custom, courted, stocked their 'bottom drawer' and married. They set up house in Tatworth to be near the lace mill where Harry was to find work as a machine mechanic. When Harry and Rosa Collins took up residence in Rosalie Cottage, in 1891, Ivy Beviss moved in next door. This was a convenient arrangement for she was able to help-out when Rosa was confined the following year… and thereafter the family grew. As each year went by there was another mouth to feed. Ivy’s assistance became vital to the smooth running of the Collins’ household. There was never a lot of money in the household - things were tight. Clothing the children was always a problem. Either the eldest children’s clothes could not always be handed down because the next in line was not of the same sex, or they were still needed. To meet the problem there was a system of loans of necessary items from the 'lying-in' charity. These essential clothing items, including sheets and pillows, were kept by ‘lady-members, of the church for just such an instance, however, you had to apply for them and you had to be of good repute. Having to make this application put people off. Buying what was necessary at ‘the white elephant stall’ was judged a more acceptable way of coming by the needed item.

Harry Collins was a tall man, with regular features: a sloping forehead, fiery eyebrows and military moustache. Thinning grey-black hair swept back, gave him the looks of a firm schoolmaster, which his height reinforced. He was always dressed in black… a collar-less, thin striped-shirt under an open waistcoat… held together by his watch chain. His boots, which he was never seen without, were made of highly polished soft black leather. His weather beaten countenance friendly and warm. The wrinkled forehead suggested much thought and his eyes, with their canopy of shaggy-brows, gave a penetrating gaze to us small children. His voice and manner was gruff – a product of many years of smoking strong tobacco in his cob pipe.

Rosa was a good foot shorter than her husband, but not lacking in will, or authority… her grey hair always tightly twisted onto of her head was tightly pinned. She controlled and led the house and its occupants - never challenge, and played a ‘close’ hand at whist. I do not remember her without a pinny and her sleeves rolled up. Rosa’s voice was high pitched and brittle… using an even stronger local patois than her husband’s was. Rosa had been raised to follow Christian principles. As a child, she attended Chard Church three times on a Sunday as well as attending the Sunday School.

Rosalie Cottage had been built a few years before Harry rented the house for his new bride. It had been built as an add-on to the original two story semi-detached cottages - built at an earlier age. There were two rooms on the ground floor: the larger being the living room containing the cooking range, and the other, the parlour. Off a small hallway... stairs gave access to three bedrooms - off a tiny landing. Outside, a lean-to extension housed a workshop, kitchen and scullery. The lean-to greenhouse, used the extension as a back wall.

The house was accessed from Perry Street by a bow topped wooden gate set in a flint side wall, capped by large upright stones… beyond which… a brick path lead to the front door. The knapped-flint and brick cottages, nestle in their neat gardens, behind the garden wall, which runs around three sides of the plot… To the rear, the ground sloped up the hill and to the front runs St Margarets Lane. These three terraced cottages, were set upon a spot where the open down falls away to lush meadows, that lies in a combe, sheltering from the prevailing west wind.

The greater part of Tatworth had thatched roofed, timber-framed houses with lime washed walls over cob, [a mixture of soil, clay, straw and lime]… with tiny inserted windows. A cob wall was built up slowly… packed down, between boards or hurdles… each layer allowed to dry before the next built up before the boards removed – when the cob hardened. This was, in many circumstances, the method by which the enlargements of ancient hovels were built- randomly along the track… usually of two bedrooms that had to cater for the large families of the period. By building on additional dwelling space was provided… windows enlarged and roof spaces developed. None had main services until the water was piped to the village in the late thirties. Farm labourers were paid thirty shillings a week, and a carter with two horses to look after, received thirty-eight shillings.

1927 was a year of, continual rain. It was unceasing. The hay turned black from delayed raking in, trying to judge when it could be picked up. Even with hay drier, it was difficult. The farmers waited until October and still there were few days of continual sun. The year before prices had been bad and the farmers account was low. Now the poor harvest compounded to make the position worse. There was a great deal of unemployment and a movement away from the land into the towns and cities turned into a stream.

The pride of the home was the new wireless, with its fretted front panel, glowing valves, waveband squeak and trailing aerial – powered by accumulator charged up at the local garage. The announcers, pedantically annunciating The King’s English, and the style of music, that of Edward German or Albert Ketelby. Like the rest of society, the programs were refined, precise and structured. As children we still played with our ‘cat’s whisker’ and headphones, using a saucepan to improve the sound.

The main meetinghouse open to all was the Poppe Inn. Before 1927, it was named The County Inn, or Hotel. Initially, in 1564, it was a cottage called Culverhays owned by John Bowdyche. It had a straw thatched roof with chamfered first floor beams, [a mark of quality], and an inglenook fireplace. My grandad and his sons frequented its low beamed interior most nights, for at least a couple of hours. In the clubroom, they played skittles, dominoes or shove-halfpenny whilst drinking cider. Most of the men of the village joined them for at least one night of the week. The pub, with cider at 2d a pint, provided a venue for the working men to meet – to discuss their jobs, the weather and all those other things which control their lives. The women and children were banned in the taproom and even in the saloon bar; it was very unusual to find a woman. The pub was the preserves of men. Women for the most part met each other whilst passing the gate – to gossip over the garden wall – invite neighbours in for a cup of tea – to read the tealeaves. There was sewing parties and mother’s meetings. In the main women did not meet up in an organized fashion at a particular venue.

The men were social, using the pub to remove themselves from the sounds of children and the insistent wife, who always needed help. The pub kept them in touch with the latest gossip and created a sense of kindred spirit… where the topic of conversation was the state of their kitchen garden, the troublesome weather and the success or failure of the weekend football or cricket match. It was a matter of great concern how well the village was doing in both these games and even though not everyone played all were most keen to hear that their village was represented successfully. At some point in the evening someone would start singing some well known folk song which would be accompanied by others joining in with comb-and-paper, penny whistle, and on a good night, a piano player. On a dark and windy night, when the fire was blazing well, you could here the jollity going on down the street, as the door opened to let in yet another caroller… bathed in a stream of warm light… to cries of hallo!

1931 was another bad year for rain fell all through the summer. It was wet throughout which was depressing enough without the national economy being under considerable strain. The Lord Chancellor ordered o compulsory wage reduction on all salary and wage earners. For a fifty-hour week, the labourers earned three pounds. Grandma tried to make up the shortfall by selling some eggs.

The police house in the village was not looked on as somewhere out of bounds but one of refuge and help. There was no serious crime only petty poaching, chicken steeling, pub brawls and the occasional robbery. There was just one policeman who walked and rode on his bike to check the roads, shops and houses. It was a matter of long hours of tedious work making sure that each day all of the area covered at least once. He had to check that the public house closed on time and that there was no bad behaviour and noise - created by the last ones to leave. Every year the constable paid a visit to the school to talk to the children about not stealing or harming animals. It was a matter of showing his face and getting to know the children personally. The same applied to the sports field where he always strolled round to show support and interest. It was expected that he should put in an appearance at church at least once on Sundays. The village policeman found it was in his interest to meet as many village people as possible – to see then at work and in their home environment. It made his job easier to be on friendly terms especially with the leaders of the community.

Most of the workers in the village, if not directly associate with the land, had an interest in rural matters. Even those men working at the mill or dairy had relations who were agricultural labourers or knew someone connected with farm animals. It was a rural landscape and that would never change. To a man, they were all poorly paid even those who had authority or a skill had little more than their unskilled counterparts. There is a certain binding of spirits when the majority are in the same boat – scraping a living. Their houses were mostly badly built, cold, damp and rotting. To keep them clean and dry was an uphill battle fought by the women. Gradually this picture changed, until the First World War bought the improvements to a sudden end. Then the deterioration, which had been the position up to and during Victoria’s reign, continued.

Not long after WWI - during the thirties, the country's factories received more orders to rearm. This stimulated the economy allowing jobs and wages to increase. These affluent times allowed workers new rights - allowed more consideration. As their wages increased so did their horizons especially those who valued education… The population increased during the age of plenty. For towns and villages that had no local factory or business the young adults drifted away… there were only a few who were content to work in large houses or estates, the rest had to look elsewhere. The technical advances made to agricultural machines, created a knock-on affect... benefiting allied engineering component manufacturers; those who devised machine tools for mass production… There was a general interest in all matters technical. Every part of society felt the change - wished to take part in the ‘new society’.

This disruption to the old order and the mobility of the young, particularly those using the facilities presented by the new railway companies, allowed a migration away from the country. The young factory staff, construction workers, ship builders and domestic servants provided a stimulus to marriage and home building…, which in turn, caused an increase in the birth rate. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were only fifteen towns with more than twenty thousand inhabitants… by the middle, there were sixty-three. At the turn of the century eighty per-cent of the population lived in urban districts with ten or more thousand. In the first quarter of the twentieth century only ten per-cent of the population owned their own home. By the late thirties, it was twenty-five per cent. These population statistics amply demonstrate the necessity to produce more housing and more food. These needs were felt in Tatworth.

Church and Home

Chapter II: Church and Home


In close proximity to each other there were six religious houses, in and around Tatworth - five were non-conformist chapels, and all were built roughly within a generation of each other... demonstrating the nonconformist conscience of the population. In the first half of the nineteenth century, there were four lace mills in Chard and one in South Chard. All were busy producing lace [bobbin net] - using new technologies... the town was expanding. The generous act of Lord Poulett - donating land, enabled St Johns Church to be built - it was the last one; it is interesting to speculate how many others would have been built if that had been first? There is little doubt that the surrounding villages to Chard were enlarged rural hamlets, and their inhabitants were poor - closely allied to the land. The hardships of their lives – low wages and large families, ensured they would stay so. Children were brought up to adhere to ridged moral values, extolled every Sunday in all the religious houses. They were Christian, if not always, chapelgoers. Politically, the majority were radicals [extreme Liberals] – chartists and non-conformists - protestant dissenters, who did not accept the views of the Established Church.

Even if the Collins family were not frequent visitors to chapel or church, they accepted the accepted doctrine taught – about duty and honour. The older generation spoke about ‘one’s place’ in the order of things. The gentry were offered as examples of ‘the right way to do things’ – manners, habits, language and decorum. The Socialist Party, and Trades Union, were coming into being. The class structure clear in the country but confused in town. In the large houses and estates, snobbery ruled the different jobs.

These beliefs and manners approximately cover Queen Victoria’s reign. The industrialization of Britain - had an enormous effect on its citizens, particularly the country folk. Once begun its progress had a knock-on effect, prompting great scientific advances in almost every field. These created massive building projects. Young people left the land to seek work in towns and cities, which demanded the building of houses, and workplaces. As with all expanding societies, there were at the bottom an enormous number of poor, sick and handicapped people. The impetus of the expansion declined about the time of the second Boer War – about the turn of the nineteenth century.

As in all villages or towns, you were either church or chapel; and usually the parents dictated this choice - if the parents did not attend one or other of them then their children might attend one of the Sunday schools. Anyone who did not attend any religious institution was considered beyond the pale. The church and chapel goers did not mix socially with each other... their congregations, fetes, days out, celebrations, and high days and holidays, were spent apart. Both services had their own procedures – equally strict. Each religious sect was regulated outside the village or town by their institutions – with their books, hymnals, collect for the day, and flags, assiduously collected by their participants. Those who were Church of England had to face the journey to St Mary’s of Chard - to attend church. It had been a sore point for many years. Here they were the worshipers of the national religion having to put up with having to go all the way to Chard, or else go to a non-conformist chapel.

In 1827 a meeting had been arrange in the vestry to iron out the problem of too little seating. The unanimous conclusion was to have built a gallery. However, although this built it still did not meet the needs of the Tatworth parishioners. A further meeting found support for a mission chapel to be built, to accommodate all the Anglicans. The lord of the manor, Earl Poulett, contributed a quarter of an acre of land, and all the necessary stone, for the proposed structure, plus fifty pounds. The Langdon family of Parrocks Lodge presented the east and south windows, both to honour his own family. The building was designed by Mr Pinch of Bath in the Early English style and cost £1,400, and the builder, Davis of Langport - created the building of local stone.

The foundation stone was laid in June, the year of grace for The Great Exhibition, in 1851. The building was finished the following September, to be consecrated by the bishop of Jamaica, who stood in for the bishop of the Diocese who was ill. At the ceremony, the congregation witnessed the chapel’s first baptism. Just over eighty years later I too was baptised there only by then the chapel had become a church, and fully furnished. The start of the consecration began when the bishop and accompanying clergy, the village's' principle inhabitants, formed up in procession... to march to Manor Farm... leading all the assembled signatories. It was a grand occasion as they all filed into the church there to be met by the assembled congregation - turning in their pews to welcome the notables in. Some of the congregation could not be accommodated - the crowd was so enormous the overflow formed an aisle outside the great west door. After the service the bishop and those in the procession returned to Manor farm to be served with liberal refreshments.

In 1860 John Payne , the lace mill proprietor, presented an organ to the new church. By Order of the Church Council, in 1866, a new ecclesiastical district was formed which created Tatworth a Parish, now consisting of 1552 acres, and a population of 852 souls. The mother church of Chard retained the right to nominate each new vicar who in 1851 was that vicar’s son, Henry Bell Thompson who had been curate-in-charge of the mission chapel. In 1890, the church was called to attend to the funeral of the king of the gypsies, which was to become an annual service of remembrance - always well attended. The vicar's first job was to gather about him his church committee and start the Sunday school; depending on his authority, he controlled the type of service… in conjunction with the organist, or choirmaster.

The Vicar, tried to make the morning service as popular as possible - to draw in new adherents, but jobs in the home and farm prevented a large gathering. The local gentry did attend matins, which may explain why there were so few workers. However, communion, for the confirmed, was straight after matins or morning service. Occasionally there would be an afternoon service if there was a christening or Mother’s Day service. If those were not laid on Evensong was at 6pm. The church was lit by oil lamps, which gave the interior a warm glow even on the coldest night. The flickering candles on the altar made a focusing point for the congregation. After the service, the congregation stepped out of the church into the blackness of the night with the cheery glow behind them. There was no traffic to worry about so the various families could make their own way home all walking in different directions calling out their ‘goodnights’. There was no fear that anything dangerous likely to happen – it never did. Everyone hurried home to get out of the cold.

Towards the end of the expansionist period there was an immediate increase in family size, which created a population explosion. Churches and chapels benefited - their congregations increased. This religious fervour continued right up to the First World War. The horrors of that campaign were felt all over Britain, and certainly by the county battalions. When the war was over there were fewer men left, and for those that were, many had lost their faith. The many single parents that were available to go to church were trying to bring up a family - lacked time and energy. The numbers attending church or chapel never returned to pre-war levels.

Families usually sat in the same pew. The congregation entered the church to kneel down to say their prayers for forgiveness - for any wrongdoing, before the service began. The collect for the day, or the weeks psalm, gone over in one’s mind… and no one spoke. The service was known by heart as were the hymns… the sermon, always long and boring… the collection, a period of coughing and movement. It was forever the same… the Langdon’s windows reflecting the spluttering candlelight and the decorated altar the only piece of colour. Fortunately, the heating managed by the sexton took the chill off the inside or it would have been most uncomfortable.In the summer, it was usual for families to visit each other in rotation after the evening meal, which, on a Sunday - was the main roast of the week. The older folk would ‘sit out front’ and converse with passers by. A special service was said for ‘The Churching for Women’. After having a baby women would go to the church and the vicar would read the service, which would cleanse her – release her from sin.

At about the age of twelve children were confirmed, after which they could attend communion services. For several weeks the candidates would attend classes one evening a week. They had to memorise and recite the Ten Commandments, The Creed, The Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer and various other psalms and collects depending on the vicar in charge. At the ceremony, the girls had to wear long white dresses, white shoes and veils. Boys wore their best school uniform. Each awarded a prayer book or hymnal. Modesty was considered an essential part of life. Sex was never referred to, parts of the body not discussed, child birth a total mystery, and was'nt climax something to do with a car or fire pump? Menstruation, even to women, a necessary evil, that nobody could quite explain, masturbation made you blind, and the Marquis d’Sade - all you could expect from a foreigner.

The picture commonly painted by artists of a ‘rural idyll’ shows a quaint timber framed cottage, with unruly thatch, chickens running about, children playing with a kitten and mother sitting on a stool outside the front porch with her lace pillow. The colours were clean; the light bright and there was not a scar to be seen. It was a picture of bucolic calm - gracing many greeting cards. However, it was not like that at all. Most cottages were either converted hovels, rows of terraced factory homes or estate houses. They were not owned by the inhabitant but rented. Mains water was piped to the village in the thirties and electricity some years later... and main sewers, some time after that. All had deficiencies relating to construction, few had any damp course, most were damp, and many leaked. The community existed by ‘following dear old dad’ - there was little place for individual action or free thought… for, 'what is good enough for me is good enough for you'. The dress code, hairstyle, meals, habits and pastimes, ‘as they had always been’ – predictable; anyone who deviated was not accepted – considered a bit of a cad.

Was it any wonder that there were many undernourished and sickly children. Large families, little money coming in, and damp, draughty, unsanitary homes... were bound to lead to colds and influenza. Chilblains in the winter sun-stoke in the summer and little understanding about personal hygiene, all contributed to a poor physique. No one understood about the need for balanced meals and clean water. There were no inoculations or advertised health warnings. Hospitals, if visited, had to be paid for. If the family had previously paid into a penny a week health club or hospital scheme, then it was free. It was common for young children to have chicken pox, measles and whooping cough, and cases of diphtheria, and scarlet fever, were rare. TB and glandular fever feared, whilst rickets and blindness not unheard of.

Rosa Collins had a number of stillborn children that needed to be baptized before burial. It was not unusual for pregnant girls to commit suicide rather than face the disgrace of being a single mother. Divorce was unheard of, not that many wished they could. The main reason for women not wanting a divorce was that the courts found in favour of the man - they retained custody, the home and all the possessions. For men it was the shame and the cost. The main reason for discontent was the husband’s drinking, leading to physical assault. What made life at Rosalie Cottage so different was Rosa’s ridged rules of behaviour - which she demanded from her children. The were few crisis, life was structured along tried and tested paths. It may have been boring for nothing upset the ordered existence, but it was most certainly predictable – calm and ordered.

The society as a whole, prior to the turn of the nineteen-fifties, was disciplined. The majority lived by the law, the property owner and the employer. Over all would be the rules set out in the bible. Shame, honour, duty and integrity were qualities set out by parents, by example; the school – usually by motto, and church or chapel - by sermon. As most other people followed the same dictum, the qualities were reinforced.

All men wore a hat or cap summer or winter, it was the mark of a freeman - considered an essential part of daily dress. Women too put on a hat or bonnet when going out, wore gloves and did not think of attending church or chapel without wearing stockings. Men doffed their hats: when meeting a woman in the street, for prayers, Armistice Day parade, the National Anthem or when a funeral cortege passed by… A death in the village was accorded closed windows, drawn curtains and black armbands. My father insisted that my brother and I should raise our caps to neighbours, their friends and elderly relatives. This ended very quickly when we copied our friends and stopped wearing caps… but even then, we had to touch our forelocks. Eventually, even this mark of respect died out during the early part of the war… it was then that society changed - to be less formal.

It was an ordered society where anything out of the ordinary feared. This was never more so than for the handicapped that were treated as odd, sometimes ridiculed and certainly not considered. Many at the turn of the century confined to the workhouse or mental institution. For caring parents of such children it was extremely difficult, for the state provided no help. The majority who went out to work understood that no attendance meant no pay and even if one attended - if for some reason work could not be done, payment would be stopped. Rain would only stop work if the animal could not produce. Thankfully there was always maintenance in the barn or outhouse to tide one over and if necessary using the flail to produce chicken feed. In times when no money came in a loan could be arranged from the tally man or produce bought ‘on tick’. Everyone used cash even the employer who paid weekly. It was considered a disgrace to be in debt and ‘saving up’ was the order of the day. Most homes had a number of tins where money was put for each article of expense – so much for the paraffin, the weekly shopping, the butcher, and baker; the coalman and the rent. There was a good deal of swapping between the tins!

Individuals were extremely independent, especially my grandfather who would not accept charity in any guise. There were no social services or welfare relief other than an amount for the insurance man who called weekly... there was nothing for a rainy day. Anyone too old or feeble ended up in the workhouse, if the family could not look after them. Workhouse inmates were expected to do some work in the cookhouse, laundry, or garden. If too infirm, put into a special sickroom where the fittest fed the others. Because travelling was difficult, the inmates rarely had visitors, which made life that of a prisoner. Chard had the nearest workhouse which was divided into casual and residential sections - casual for vagrants, usually ex-soldiers – some shell-shocked, who moved from place to place, chopping wood before moving on. Residential inmates, were long-term, some children reared by the workhouse, other orphans, some pregnant – who had been thrown out of their home. The workhouse children were found work when they came of age others apprenticed or joined the services. The workhouse was provided with money from the rates, by donation or by benefaction. Life was hard not just, not because money was short, but by intent. It was considered that to earn ones keep was essential and that the harder life was the faster inmates made progress to leave – to make room for others. During the depression – between The General Strike and rearmament for the Second World War - in the early thirties, large numbers of unemployed and displaced men roamed the countryside looking for work. They often slept in barns or outhouses and begged house to house. They were not abusive but filled with sorrow that they had nowhere to go.

In the early twentieth century most men smoked – it was considered unmanly not to; the whole action of: buying, unwrapping, lighting-up, holding, expelling, stubbing out and conversing, was part of society – even part of the social graces. In some cases, buying tobacco considered more important than buying food. Cigarettes and tobacco was issued to the services, they were used as barter, often as contraband or as a bribe. The smell was considered sexy, masculine, homely and calming. Children collected cigarette cards and mounted them in books provided by the tobacco companies. They swapped them, stole them, collected the stubs, and made them. No male wishing to ingratiate himself - enter into a group - start a conversation, or feel at ease, shunned the use of his cigarette case. It was part of life - promoted, advertised, issued, and welcomed.

The village folk were lucky, not only did they have a lace mill employing, in good times, a hundred workers, but a thriving butter factory - with room for twenty. It had a railway terminus with ancillary sidings and sheds, and a corn mill at Forton providing animal feed. There were shops, in Tatworth and South Chard, and at least two main employers of any number of agricultural workers. All these businesses required servicing with a wide range of skilled workers plying their crafts and trades. They, in turn, employed trained helpers, fellow workers, and apprentices. This was indeed a thriving community each person relying upon the other in their work and in the home. Amongst these were the local masons, carpenters, thatcher, and decorators. The carters, farm implement makers and smiths all combining to turn out carts, wagons, and buggies. The miller was relied on to turn the corn into flour, and the brick, tile, and pipe maker, to provide the local building materials… some of his work lined the kiln for baking the lime and making more bricks. Many of these men turned their hand to other trades to affect a smooth flow of work throughout the seasons.

All these workers relied upon the work of a horse – mostly for pulling carts of farm implements, about their daily lives. They had been brought up with a knowledge and respect for its work and loyalty… for they knew they relied upon its power attending to its wellbeing. The local farrier and smiths were there to look village horses in sickness and in health correcting faults by applying the correct shoes. There were specialist smiths for shoeing, hammering out bent tools, sharpening tines, and making cranked handles for wells, gates, railings, and ornamental flower baskets. Ties for builders, chisels, and mending buckets… such a variety of work it was sometimes hard to fit in making the hooped tyres for the wheelwright. The engineering shop down by the station sidings performed a service to the lace mill whilst providing smaller more specialised items for all the other trades.

In general, whilst the village worker received sufficient in his wage packet to pay his rent and provide food he was content. As soon as his wellbeing was disturbed by famine, pestilence or war he became questioning and unhappy. If he heard about others whether in the next village to nearest town, receiving more he became dissatisfied… this was particularly so of the young. For much of Queen Victoria’s reign the country was comparatively stable. What applied – to normal behaviour, habit, custom, and pastime at the start of her reign, continued until the end. The effects of enclosure, bad harvests, the coming of the canals, steam, and the railways all had some effect on countryside life but it was a filtered change - slow to take full effect. What brought about massive change quickly was The First World War and its aftermath, a period she was not to see. Things would never be the same again in Merrie England!

Harry Collins was lucky in his choice of home. Others had to go to the village pump or collect rainwater. Rosalie Cottage had an abundant supply of clean sparkling water that never dried up even in the hottest summer. The new family had their first child Foster Fred a year after they moved in, in 1892. Thereafter they were blessed by the birth of fourteen more children, two being twins, over the next twenty-four years. Eight eventually married and six died whilst still young. Their cottage was of later build than their neighbour’s thatched homes, with a tiled roof, occupying a triangle of land between stream and road ringed on two sides by a low wall. The remaining side held an eight-foot high grassy bank peppered with an abundance of meadow flowers and fern, which when young has bright green fronds. At its foot runs a deep but narrow, gravel-bottomed, fast flowing brook - fed by numerous springs. This also drains the water running off Storridge Hill – the highest point around, and Monkham Down. Close to the cottage, the brook’s edge was lined with large stone blocks which prevented the water overflowing when in flood. Just over the small lane at the bottom of the garden, [St Margarets Lane], was Mr Jaco Parriss’ flint sided, tile-roofed cottage.

The brook, called ‘Water Lake,’ was not a lake at all but a slow stream which provided clear, sparkling water... alive with shoals of minnows. Lower down, watercress beds kept the water clear and fresh. This brook doubled as a convenient refrigerator for milk and butter in the summer... its waters irrigated the kitchen garden, filled the chicken’s bowls and flushed the privies. These rushing waters were slowed, lower down its course, by widening out to give space for untamed horseradish, brooklime, marsh marigold and crowsfoot. Its waters and wetland harvest explains why the cottage might have been built there in the first place.

While our family were on holiday we boys, up early - when excitement refused to allow us to linger in a warm bed, were out in the garden drawn by the temptations of the stream. The early morning sun’s rays caused the rounded pebbles laying at the stream's bottom to shimmer… its crystal clear water appeared like cut-glass, so sharp the shapes. The water, corralled by the edging stones on one side and the bank on the other, passes the backs of the cottages to enter a large pipe - that takes the water under the road bridge, and onwards towards Axminster. This convenient water had another use; carts for farm and home use had wooden wheels, even though having iron tyres fitted. One of the purposes for village ponds was to keep the wooden wheels from becoming too dry and shrinking.

By turning left out of the front gate, you could follow the course of the stream under the bridge – a ford when the road flooded. The fording place at the foot of the rise in Perry Street was wide and a water splash for the passage of carts. Above, the stone arched bridge, its parapets polished by the sleeves of countless travellers - carries the road that grandfather and his two sons took each evening… that led to the Poppe Inn. The water flows out of the pipe and swirls about creating a spreading pool - before the water - penned in once again, conforms to the line of the bank to continue its chuckling way towards the coombe.

Milk was always in plentiful supply; Harry worked at the Wiltshire United Dairies, butter factory, as did his son Hector They had ‘an arrangement’ with the dairy to provide them with butter. Anything extra that could not be afforded came from relatives who worked on the land or neighbours whose gardens produce a surplus. The dairy farm milked its own cows; filling the sterilized milk churns with fresh milk, to be delivered to each house in the village. The gaily-painted horse-drawn milk float – a two-wheeled cart open at the back with a step, for the driver holding the reins. It held a number of churns; the largest had a tap from which the white coated milkman, in formal peaked cap, filled the offered jug. When delivering to the door he carried the milk in a bucket, which he ladled out in pint or half pint measures. The horse knew the route and each house on the round… the milkman walking behind…

The farm worker’s lunch consisted of cheddar cheese and a large slice of bread and pickled onions - to be eaten in the field being worked on, or in the barn, first putting the nosebag on his horse… The milkman, usually in two-pound wedges, also delivered the cheese. The food was mainly homegrown and seasonal coming from Grandad’s kitchen garden. The diet never changed from one year to the next. It was fine when picked early in the season but proved to be hard tack later on when the beans old and stringy. What wasn’t eaten went into the chicken bucket; they did not seem to mind! Potatoes were the staple fare hardly ever mashed or roasted and not often cut up. They were plonked onto your plate with a knob of butter and liberally sprinkled with a tapped, knife-full, of salt. The rhubarb bed provided a continuous supple - like the potatoes, fine eaten in the season but hard, course and stingy, later on. Soon after the main crop of rhubarb, came the red and black currants or his prize gooseberries that seemed to last and last... to make gooseberry pie, tart, fool, pudding and jam. New french green beans, runners, peas and sugar pea.

The mushrooms from the field over the bank, the blackberries from the straggly hedge by the bridge and the wild apple up the lane next to the stile. Each year they gave their crop for us children to pick and grandma to cook. Whatever we brought home went into the pot. It was never wasted.It was a regular meal, to have roast chicken, one of the flock, taken from the bottom of the garden. It hung outside the backdoor ready to be plucked. No one could strip a bird quite like grandma who had it done in a trice. When cooked my brother and I claimed a leg each and as a special treat the parsons nose.

The shelves in the lean-to kitchen were packed with kilner jars. Either empty ready for filling or bearing their contents like a chemists shop. Most would bare blanched plum, greengage or damson. The bead-fringed muslin lay over the sugar jar above the curly treacly-coloured flypaper swaying in the breeze from the open door... bearing testimony to their worth. I close my eyes… imagine myself pressing the catch to the garden gate, and start to walk up the brick path… Then, smelling the box hedge, step into the hall greeted by yet another smell - now what is it… damp wood - slightly musty, could be old clothes? I go on… into the living room, now it’s stronger, like a bonfire - of burnt wood and ash, with a hint of lamp-oil and tobacco…

There was no time to linger – to stand and stare. Grandma would not let you stand idle. There were the eggs to collect, the chickens to feed and the washing to put out. 'Have you cleaned your-shoes-put-your-pencils-away-hung-up-your-jacket-made-your-bed-and-emptied-the-pail…', all said in a high-pitched cackle, with waved pointed finger like an orchestra conductor. There was no argument or discussion it was best to seek out grandpa in the shed and helps chop the wood...!

Village Life around Rosalie Cottage

Chapter III: Village Life around Rosalie Cottage


Tatworth village shared shopping facilities with South Chard and Chard Junction:[If you look upon a map you will see Tatworth,Forton and Chard Junction have equal standing; In lesser form Perry Street and South Chard, come within their orbit - to the south. All these places, and indeed others, were just a few cottages strung out along the road or track, and are today within the Borough of Chard]. For provisions these all came within the sphere of Stoneham’s Store - that provided all the needs of the villages, including the newspapers. The fresh fish man came to the village on Fridays - catering for all - especially the strictly religious, Bradford’s warehouse, near the station, sold all sorts of farm implements and an assortment of ironmongery, whilst Fowlers animal feed, provided the chicken’s with their corn. By turning right, out of the garden gate to Rosalie Cottage… pass the Village School on the left, you eventually arrive at Lacombe’s Store [ It was Ken Larcombe, the saw sharpener, who married mum’s younger sister Ivy]. The store - close by the Baptist Chapel, provided my brother and me, with our sweets – at a penny a bag… which by, taking it in turn to choose the days’ selection, prevented arguments lasting all the way home. The gobstoppers and stickjaws came from large colourful glass jars, placed on numerous shelves around the walls... the better sweets, costing tuppence… weighed-out… on antique brass scales, and proffered in cone shaped paper bags…, set the scene for another day's series of adventure.

Turning left however, takes you over the bridge and up the road - which leads to ‘Crossways’ – a name given to the meeting of several roads forming a five pointed star. In the centre of the road, an imposing fir tree, similar to that planted in the churchyard, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee 1887. The doctor’s house rested on one corner… a large imposing house, which was named after the place. The most frequented hospital was the local cottage hospital where doctors, reluctant to send their poor patients - saved them their hospital fee. The cottage hospital set broken bones, attend to all minor operations and dispensed potions and cure-alls. The Post Office and Wellington’s Stores supported two further corners of the star… whilst on another; an orchard enticed us lads to scrump apples. Two farms, both with their own dairy, supplied the dairy produce to the village. Board & Son, the butcher, slaughtered their own pigs, delivering by Hackney - pony, and smart high dogcart… took orders twice a week and three times closer to Christmas. The baker baked their own bread, which they too delivered by cart. Shopping for larger household items: clothing, materials, furniture and kitchen utensils meant a trip into Chard by horse and carriage, later there was a bus service, which allowed smaller items to be carried too.

What motor cars there were in 1935 all had an interior of upholstered leather with carpeted floors; plaited silken hand straps, plated ashtrays and polished wood dashboards…? Many built with an open top, able to be covered with an erectable hood, with mica windows, called an open-top tourer. Although they had starter motors the battery was often too low on amps to turn over the engine, especially in cold, wet weather… thankfully all were provided with a starter-handles - tied up with a strap. When starting from cold the choke [butterfly valve in the carburettor used to stop the flow of air] had to be pulled out. Frequently this tended to return to the open position so had to be held out. This proved to be almost impossible if you were on your own and had to turn the engine over by hand… it was then a question of who could turn over the starting handle and race round the car before the choke went back. The battery was kept on the running board as was petrol can and a spare wheel. When travelling up a steep hill it was important not to stall the engine when changing gear for the hand brake was not strong enough to stop the car from rolling back. A block of wood in the back was kept handy for such occasions. As there were frequent, fogs the windscreen was kept fully open to see the road ahead. This meant for a very cold journey.

The roads and lanes were ditched regularly to drain the fields... many having their own spring and watercourse - to carry away the water to brook… stream and river. Most of the vehicles passing over the bridge travelled at the pace of the horse and cart. In the meadows, further down-stream – towards the Combs’s – where the sheep graze as they will in the hollows on the hill-side, the spring waters irrigate withy and osier-beds - the produce of pollard willow trees that provided the village with materials for green and brown – with or without bark: wands, switches, rods, poles and staves.

The edges of the bank are not clearly defined, the verdant growth of rich tufted grass soften the edges and provide a haven for the dragonfly. Here and there, is stunted and broken willow leaning over the water trailing their slender arms that causes the water to divert and reform? Rushes grow in clumps, which give colour, and diversity separates the decayed branches from weed and lily. The chaffinches and sparrows abound for they perch in their dozens chattering away giving a sharper top register to the drone of bee and click of the cricket. The ducks dabbled… to suddenly plunge tails-up to feed from the weed… or stood, on one leg, to appear asleep… made soporific by the sun.

Although the willow provided the villager with osier and withy the fields and roadside hedges contributed most for hedging stakes, fence poles and hurdles. The rich crowns of chestnut, hazel, ash and willow in the lanes tell of past harvests by itinerant Gypsies, bodgers, basket makers and woodworkers… whilst the stick maker eyes the furze, debating its worth. Each piece of woodland known locally for its special use. Birch twigs as strainers, split Beech for tent and clothes pegs, and hewn for chair seats; Larch for ladder poles, Oak for staves, Ash for hurdles, Hazel for wattle, Ash and Elm for wheels; all these were known - where they grown and how accessible. Further away - behind the hills and valleys, the fallow deer graze, their young calling to their mothers… sounding like the cry of gulls… their fathers - the stags, round up their hinds, burping and grunting like pigs!

Over the bank, that bordered the stream… and into the field - abundant with wild flowers, the damp tufted grass wetted our knees and soaked our socks and shoes. There grazed the bull - its nose ring green and wet… guarding the tea-plate sized mushrooms … that rewarded the brave early birds...!During our summer holidays, my brother and I would go mushrooming with either Aunts Ivy or Florence [Florence was grandmother’s sister married to Uncle Wilfred in 1945… the same year Ivy married Ken Larcombe] Ivy and Ken lived over the road in White Cottage, next to the school… their daughter was tragically killed in a cycling accident, when a teenager.Back at the cottage mother would be helping grandma with the preparations for breakfast. The results of our gatherings were taken from the trug to be eaten.

Cottages in 1935, had no cookers, as we know them today, fridges, washing machines, lights or electric heaters. There was no indoor sanitation, main drains, bathrooms or toilets; no tissue paper, gas or telephones, few cars… no aeroplanes, no plastic materials: building blocks, composition wood, and no masonry drills. You had your dwelling but no services. The water was from the well or brook, heating was by oil, lighting by candle, and transportation by horse.

Later in the day: mother would take us gleaning - corn for the hens; picking damsons, greengages, blackberries, and apples from the hedgerows - for grandma to cook for dinner; then later on in the year cob nuts were collected to be dried ready for cracking at Christmas. We always had a slice of bread and butter with the pudding instead of custard or cream. In some instances, the tart was eaten before the main course to dull appetites.

The garden, corralled within the four-foot, knapped flint wall – that flanked the road… gave space for three plots - one for each of the cottages. All held neatly grown vegetables, and flowers for the house… the varieties always are the same: larkspur, pinks, sweet-williams, wallflowers, hollyhocks, London pride and lilies. It was the wife’s preservers to look after and plant the flowers for cutting.

The cottage gardens, at the turn of the twentieth century - in all country villages, did not boast a lawn, for the inhabitants had to make maximum use of the ground they had. Mowers were after all too expensive and considered a luxury. Perhaps there may have been a patch of grass, cut by a scythe or grass-hook that graced below the washing line, a play area for the children - where mother parked the pram, with the sleeping child… The kitchen garden plots, for this was really what they were, became very fertile, through much labour over many years, plus: an annual dressing of swept chimney soot, a frequent scattering of road and field manure, and applications of well-composted kitchen and garden waste… the result being ‘finely textured and black’.

Many of the village cottagers were farm labourers earning perhaps £1.50 per week. It was almost impossible to maintain a family on such a low sum. That is why these gardens had to be productive. Their narrow cinder paths flanked by brick or tile. The man of the house worked the productive side of the garden, it was his job to see that a further crop was possible - by ensuring correct composting followed on after each harvested crop. Most of the villagers were in competition with each other to see whose plot was the most productive… this did not prevent seeds being exchanged or given away and cuttings passed on. Digging and sowing went on late into the evening making use of every moment…

In unison, the runner beans canes were formed ‘in line’, the onion sets proudly flew their flags of browning leaves and the earthed-up potatoes - perched on top of pin-neat banked rows, again, marching in serried ranks, just behind bushes of red and black currant, gooseberry and wired raspberry canes. All these dietary delights were hemmed in, by a neatly cut, eighteen inches high box hedge. Even today, I cannot pass box without that scent reminding me of granddad’s garden - a picture of neatness and colour… Although the family had very little money, the garden landscape and ordered existence, declared continuity, rustic comfort and bucolic charm.

The possession and upkeep of a good vegetable plot - that produced vegetables all the year round, made good economic sense… that it will also form a creative pastime, an essential part of rural life. Necessary digging and planting regulated every month of the year – Seeds had to be ordered and the ground prepared. Every part of the country, county and town had its own special produce - those things that grow best. You have only to look around at neighbouring plots and hedgerow to see what flourished. It is far better to ask established gardeners what fruits best, and when to plant out. Eventually you too will be an expert - on your particular plot. Do not forget, the greenhouse and cold frame are necessary adjuncts to any vegetable garden… for it saves money, labour and time to prepare your own seedlings… At the end of each growing cycle, a selection of each vegetable should be set aside - to provide seeds for the following year… cutting, dividing and layering would also multiply your stock. This sound advice was followed and advocated by my granddad… one of his daily topics of conversation; the only other, was a comment on the weather that, whatever the barometer declared, ‘Was detrimental to good health and sound crops…’

Looking out of the front door - to the right, just behind the privy, lies a small orchard - bearing desert apple, pear and plum… each contributing their own delicate blossoms in late spring – before the bulk of the flowers display their blooms – each to their part in the flowering season. Up against the garden wall, hidden by the trees, the compost rots… those parts the chickens fail to peck… The garden provides vegetables and fruit for the whole year… augmented by the fruits of the hedge.

Chicken runs take up the bottom of each plot, fenced off with wire, to keep the fox at bay - the nesting boxes built-up to form a backdrop to each garden end backing onto the stone boundary wall, which separated the street and side lane, from the garden. Most people in the country kept chickens. Special containers were kept in the kitchen, or just outside, for the hen food. They were fed twice a day once with corn and once with all the meal leftovers. The grit, to keep the yolks and shells strong, was to be found by the hens from the ground. The eggs were collected in a bucket from the straw filled nesting boxes each morning. Fresh straw lined the boxes to keep the eggs from breaking and to give the hens a nesting bed. Most popular breeds were White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. A cock bird was in charge of the flock otherwise the eggs would not be fertile. All the other cocks would be penned up and fattened for eating. Sharing the chicken run was a duck. It made no difference to the chickens who continued to cluck and scratch around in their dust holes. The duck, which happened to fly down one day and liked what he saw, waddled about seemingly unaffected by a different breed. He washed in the chicken’s water bowl and ate the same meal. Eventually, I am sure, he thought he was a chicken… stayed there for as long as I can remember.

Rosalie Cottage had the largest share of the garden for it was the end cottage and the boundary wall circled around the line of privies – one for each property – all faced south. Each privy had a wide, scrubbed, wooden seat on top of the box, with the closet running to a cesspit. The latched, ledged and braced, door was short at the top and bottom to aid ventilation and the interior walls were lime washed. Strung on string were neatly torn leaves of newspaper - to act as toilet paper. High up in the corners were large cobwebs that were home to, what seemed to my childish imagination, enormous hairy spiders. Bricks had been laid on compacted bare earth, which, over the years moss had grown in the joints, made the floor soft to walk on. A bucket was kept handy to pour down the hole - each user had to fill the bucket from the stream for the next person. In the winter, a hurricane lamp was kept by the backdoor for lighting the way. Outside the privy grew an elder to help keep the flies away… a sprig of elder was also used for horses, for the same reason, and kept under the horses’ bridle. Country sanitary arrangements included at that time using pail-closets, ash-boxes, ashbins, midden-privies and wet and dry middens. It was not until the 1950s that all these simple arrangements began to be replaced with flushed closets.

The lichen and moss pointed brick path from the front-gate continues right round the house, past the wide, solid front door and the espalier trained pear-tree, to a door in a lean-to workshop and wood-store. On the other side of which, separated by a wall, is the kitchen. In the lean-to was to be found all the necessary garden tools, baskets, bicycles, stacks of firewood and in pride of place my granddad’s military helmet. The shed held Harry’s grandfather Phillip’s shoe mending, iron-trees, embedded in large tree stumps… and still used, and the winter fruit store with boxes of newspaper wrapped apples.

In the autumn, the outhouse was cleaned and the pickling jars washed and sterilised. Eggs, put-down in Isinglass, walnuts hodded, dried and stored, apples and pears wrapped in newspaper, root-vegetables stacked and covered with straw and beans placed in salt. Herbs dried, soft fruit made into jam, tomatoes pickled and plums made into chutney. Attached, to the side of the lean-to, was the greenhouse, which displayed a line of dried out tomato plants and my grandfather's rocking chair. Cobwebs abounded in every corner displaying numerous skeletons of flies. I do not think the potted tomato plants were meant to be particularly productive…the greenhouse was my grandfather’s funk hole – to get away from the family – it was either this or ‘the club’. The water butt stood outside the greenhouse and quite often, this water was used to rinse hair after washing because it was so soft.

The kitchen 'out back’ was accessed from the parlour with its own backdoor, [with tiny single pane window], leading to the garden and the brook. Hung on a hook is a dull green length of seaweed - to tell the weather. Of no more than eight feet by seven, with a sloping roof and brick floor, the kitchen catered for many; at its back room provided for the clothes washing copper boiler raised up on a brick plinth.The cooking was done on individual paraffin burners - any baking or roasting then the parlour range was used. The butler sink had a wooden draining board and the waste ran to a cesspit. The rest of the room was taken up by hanging pots and pans arraigned around the walls. It was all rather primitive but the cooked results, although simple fare - eaten with relish.

The Sunday joint would yield a bowl of dripping to use on toast or bread, instead of butter, chunks were put round the next joint to be cooked, or used for pastry or dumplings. Dripping was never wasted. As there were no refrigerators, food had to cooked almost at once and in hot weather the milk boiled. There was no farm collection of milk in the twenties and no pasteurising so it was literally from cow to customer transported in a churn from the dairy and ladled out… bottled milk was available, but by ladle was cheaper.

Boxes of Sunlight soap kept on a shelf together with bluebags and starch; black-lead with brushes for the range and a whitening stone for the front door step. From this shelf hung the cooking utensils - the blackened frying pans and battered saucepans… there, too, hung the battered, steep sided pan that held simmering milk, the skimmed surface curds, removed - to make the clotted cream. All the preserves were homemade using the fruit and vegetables from the garden. The meat from the butcher; the milk delivered straight from the dairy, as was the butter and the cheese. During the war granny, mixed margarine and butter together with wooden butter knives… shaping the patted result into a roll. This was to save money and eek out the ration coupons.

In one corner of the outhouse was a round boiler, on which, large wash pans or coppers were heated once a week to do the washing; extra soiled washing soaked overnight, and scrubbed, before putting into the boiler… to be pummelled with the dolly. After boiling the clothes taken out of the pan with a wooden spoon and put into a bucket of rinsing water… After the first rinse the clothes wrung out and rinsed again, and perhaps, even for a third time with a cube or little cotton bag of Ricketts blue dye dissolved in it - to whiten the washing. Back into the mangle for a final pressing then hung to dry. The washing line, stretched from the house corner to the nearest corner of the privy. It was a belief that a bluebag held against a wasp or bee sting would take any pain. The coloured articles went through the same process using a cooler water temperature. The mangle with its large wooden rollers was kept next to the greenhouse door. When the clothes were dry, they were collected from the washing line sorted and ironed on a stout linen cloth, laid on the living room table. There was a selection of flat irons for different purposes, in the main though; it was a favourite pair that was placed on the hinged plate over the fire. These were used alternately. Gophering irons for rounded pleats went out of use in the twenties although still used to curl hair. The irons were left on the hearth to cool before being put back into the scullery.

For my grandad’s stiffly starched collars - used for best, the ironed result kept in a special round box kept on the top of his wardrobe. These collars were attached to the shirt by a small stud. There were no shirts with collars attached before the 1930s. Thereafter, the ‘soft-collar’ became available for casual wear but still needing a collar stud front and back. It was during the Second World War that attached collars came into being - normal dress for men, shortly afterwards, a permanent fashion.

For washing-up the crockery, an enamel bowl was used in the butler sink… soda, sprinkled into the water, helped dissipate any grease, there being no washing powder or liquid soap… perhaps a block of soap was pared down to help the process. All housework was done in strict routine. One of the weekly events was to sharpen and clean the knives. The knife blades were made of polished steel, not stainless, and had to be cleaned with emery cloth… if this was neglected the blades would rust. The range then treated with black-lead and the fender and fire irons cleaned - with wire wool. Brass doorknobs, fingerplates and lamp bowls cleaned weekly, so too the windows and pictures. Paraffin lamps filled daily - using a funnel, wicks trimmed, and the glass chimneys’ washed. Although workers homes were poorly decorated and furnished, great pride was attached to cleanliness and neatness, no home was smarter than my grandmother’s!

The imposing panelled front door was painted leaf-green, which set-off the brightly shone brass knob. Opening inwards - to the right, the door lay open, propped open with a large cast iron dog… Linger awhile… take a last glance at the flower beds on either side of the front door and there, beyond the large stone door step, neatly laid as a border, a small box-hedge. In the beds are sweet williams and marigolds, in February, snowdrops and crocus. Now… smell the air, it is filled with the unforgettable smell of box… the sweet william just distinguishable…, in the distance the ticking clock invites you in.

Before you do so, you observe… a small hallway, off which - on either side, further doors. The one on the right leads to the parlour, behind the open front door, and to the left the living room. Straight ahead, leading upwards ranged the stairs, narrow and devoid of covering. They are scrubbed white, with stained brown edges. Stepping inside a couple of paces, you mount the stairs, clasping tight to the banister… taking good care not to make too much noise on the uncarpeted boards. At the top, a small landing gives you access to three bedrooms… all with sash windows looking out onto the front garden. All the bedrooms have brass bedsteads and knitted bed covers - in colourful squares. The mattresses were similar to the palliases I used when camping with the Boys Brigade – but stuffed with feathers not straw, which, as always, dipped in the middle… Over all, an eiderdown, made the coldest nights snug and warm. Each room had a washstand - bearing a large china bowl, jug and soap-dish - ranged on the top shelf. At either side, hang two pink towels on rails. On a lower shelf, two chamber pots – handles, pointed to the side, this completes the arrangement… The chamber pots, plus the water from the bowl, were emptied into a slop pail, hiding its contents beneath a wooden lid. This was done every morning by my grandmother - who cast their contents into the drain outside the back door. A small rug, with indiscriminate floral pattern, lay at the side of each bed. The wood floors - stained and polished, in keeping with popular fashion, were complimented by the small rose-printed wallpaper and painted skirting. The rooms were simplicity itself, in keeping with the rest of the house and inhabitants.

When the evening games were over there was a general movement around the table, as things were cleared away. The next day’s breakfast was prepared and the fire set-up - to draw gently during the night. Both my uncles and grandfather arrived home from the Poppe Inn, and were enjoying their last smoke outside... you could hear them outside discussing who won the last game.

The following day our family would be off to see Mother’s Sister Dora who lived in Bridport with husband and daughter Sheila. At Easter, time wild daffodils grew in profusion along the overgrown lanes. Later the bluebells adorned the glades in the woods - carpeted with their sky blue colour. My mother’s passion for wild flowers which gave just as much delight as the flowers at home; she told us tales of her childhood picking the kingcups, cowslips, foxgloves and all the other delicate flowers so tiny buried within the tuffs of grass. The cliff top walks to the top of Thorncombe Beacon to see Lyme Bay revealed below. The Pilgrims Way and the ancient village of Stanton St Gabriel, remains just showing behind the headland. The cliff top grass was soft, springy, and full of downland flowers. The lark would soar up singing in the sky watching where you went. Dorset was so full of surprising churches and ancient sites, delightful villages where the broad accent rang out true - unashamedly deep and melodic. The stroll along the pebble-strewn beach all the time looking for traces of prehistoric monsters and footsteps of Neolithic man. At the end of the day a lovely tea on spotless white cloth and the best chine and then home back to grandma's… another magical part of our holiday.

We boys, cajoled to drink our hot milk faster, tried to see the faces in the fire, as we watched the last soldiers - the burning soot, gradually retreat up the fire back. Meanwhile, the candles, in their brass holders, were being lit and the stone hot water bottles filled – to be buttoned up in their felt jackets… All the rooms other than the parlour were lit with tallow candles. The butcher made up the tallow from strips of fat. Then, up the creaking stairs… guided by the candle’s flickering flame – caused by the guttering wax - we cast our own ghostly shadows on the walls. As a door slammed outside the wind whistled round the eaves… it was strange how suddenly the candle flame would almost go out as a hidden puff of wind blew! It needed no urging us to get into bed, as fast as we possibly could… to hide under the bedclothes. The overly soft mattress sagged in the middle rolled us into the middle, we turned away… the candle snuffed… the hurried prayer, joined by my mother:

There are four corners to my bed, There are four angels at its head, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Bless the bed that I lay on.

Mum’s footsteps faded away as she went downstairs - causing the stair treads to creak once more..., the footsteps gradually died away… the beds springs stilled, all was quiet…

Waking the next morning was heralded by cooing dove and crowing cockerel, my eyes focused on faded, flowered wallpaper, fluttering lace curtains..., and my ears detected the noise of grandma riddling the parlour fire. The poker dropped against the brass fender… it was time for getting up. It did not take us boys long to get down stairs… the stream beckoned attendance… we were never in mind to disappoint it… as we struggled into our still damp shoes... another day dawned!

Cottage contents and farming pursuits

Chapter IV: Cottage contents and farming pursuits


All country cottages had a constant fight against damp. Rosalie Cottage had no cellar nor a damp-proof course -the ground floor was on a level with the outside garden. Other than the lean-to, kitchen, and scullery, whose floors were of sandstone brick laid on compacted soil, the rest of the ground floor rooms had flagstones. These were quite uneven and in some places loose. These were scrubbed and remained damp even on the warmest of days. There were no floor coverings except before the fire and at the side of the beds. Because the banks of the stream was slightly higher than the floor level of the cottage, although several feet away, there was a permanent rising damp problem. Two cast-iron down pipes lead from the gutters to soakaways leading back from the house.

The parlour: leading off the tiny hall, was to the right of the front door. An eleven-foot square room furnished in an Edwardian style with lace and chintz. The curtains: masking the edges of the sash windows were partially pulled back leaving the room dark and intriguing. The carpet, somehow, never imprinted its colour nor design on my mind… hidden under many pieces of furniture of highly polished dark wood, which included a whatnot and other small tables draped with lace held in place by a highly glazed pot, holding a fern, and dried flowers. The walls hung with faded engraved prints of cattle and highland scenes framed in dark wood; a mirror framed in ornate gilt hung over the mantle piece. I do not remember the room ever being used…

The living room… onetime the kitchen and scullery, was to the left of the font door and hallway. It was a large imposing room running from the front of the house to the back. It held an enormously heavy oaken table - which could be extended, perched on thick turned legs planted firmly on the stone slab floor. Over the table was spread a green-baize, fringed, tablecloth, which almost touched the floor. Single chairs, with their turned back posts and stretchers, darkened by frequent applications of beeswax and polished by much use, were tucked under the table. Behind four chairs, a line of coat hooks screwed into the sidewall. From these hooks hung all the family’s jackets, coats and scarf’s, all hidden by a heavy green curtain, which hung, from a pole close to the ceiling, to the floor. There must have been a love for green by my grandmother, much of the soft furnishing were that colour. The large oil lamp, hung over the table, had its wick trimmed, bowl filled, and glass chimney cleaned every morning. It’s warm gentle light emitted a flickering glow in the evenings… whose beams, hardly touched the furthers extremes of the room; the spluttering wick drew a circle of soot on the ceiling and perfumed the whole house with it’s familiar burnt oil smell. There was a small deep-set window in the front wall behind granddads chair, its curtains drawn back at the bottom. The ledge was always filled to overflowing with books and papers, which prevented the window ever opening… its intended task not given a chance, even on the brightest and warmist of days!

The low ceiling and exposed beams were covered in various artefacts from: an ancient sword, drying mint, horseshoes, mousetrap hanging from a hook, and resting on a wooden shelf the stub of a candle. Dominating the room, the great fireplace takes up the whole of the centre of the sidewall. The brick chimneybreast - forming the bulk of the cottage structure, supports the floor and joists. The range, probably a Bodley of Exeter of more recent times, is built into the back of the fireplace - its iron flue and canopy leads up into the chimney. Bread had been made in it and meat baked, both giving the room a homely smell… Above all, a large, champhered, and smoke darkened beam, supports the breast - from which a short curtain hangs… to prevent smoke billowing out into the room. Above this ancient beam is a bracketed mantle-shelf, which carries an ancient French clock… It ticks away the hours… Behind the clock, a walnut framed mirror hangs reflecting the green curtained opposite wall. The remainder of the shelf houses the household’s spare-change box, a couple of porcelain ornaments, granddads pipe and tobacco, fire lighting spills and a used candle in a brass holder. There on the shelf, prominent even to the casual observer, a special box marked, ‘For the burial club’, received its sixpence a week with a ritual nod of grandads head - in recognition that he had made another week... to continue the fund…!

Emitting a plume of steam… a large blackened kettle sits on a hinged, fretted iron-plate - over the fire…, hissing gently. The kettle was there all the year round, day and night… filled always to the top ready for immediate use - for making tea or washing. Our meals were all cooked in a large iron pot suspended from a bar set into the chimney. Meat of all persuasions, puddings, and vegetables all put in together, the potatoes held within a string cloth prevented from mixing with the pudding. On special occasions, we had roasted meat. Grandma twisted a skein of wool to make what she called a twisting jack fixed to the mantle shelf. It was our job to see that it did not stop spinning. Occasionally grandma retwisted the jack to set it in motion again. Bacon the most common meat. The eggs came from the chickens at the bottom of the garden and milk from the farm at the crossroads. Logs, stacked on top of the side-ovens and either side of the hearth - dry off… a sweet pungent smell pervades the room…; a brass-studded bellows, hangs from a nail, and there, on the opposite side, the warming pan - its polish brass reflects the flickering fire. The objects have been there for years… lovingly polished and dusted… now having a right to their place. Numerous nails, some of enormous size, protrude from the fire surround… the family long since forgotten why they were put there. To the left side of the fireplace a shelf carries the ancient wireless worked from an accumulator, above, a bookshelf filled with novels of long past authors…

To the left of the fire, in front of the window, was a large rocking chair clothed in chequered knitted blanket and cushions of deep red…my grandfathers. To the right, ‘a smoker’s chair’ – an oak wooden carver with curved horizontal arms, turned vertical rails and curved back. Colourful knitting and needles tucked down beside the arm; the whole, softened by a crocheted multi-coloured seat cushion… declared reservation - for my grandmother. The back wall was almost totally taken up by a welsh-dresser, behind which the shove halfpenny board was kept. Plates lodged upon the shelves and cups hung from brass hooks. Its solid construction and much used appearance gave it a status undeserved by its value… upon its broad shelf resided the salt and knife box.

A hearthrug, framed one side behind the fender, and much pitted with scorch marks, set the two chairs apart. No one, other than granddad or grandmother, ever sat on those chairs! It was quite impossible to read at night… the paraffin lamp, suspended from the ceiling, cast its wavering chequered light across the ceiling… its halo of light cast upon the table, leaving the outer extremities of the room in darkness. All those present, except my grandfather - who sat staring into the fire smoking his pipe, played whist, dominoes or shove-halfpenny? Whatever the season the room was always dark and smelt of burnt wood and lamp oil… and depending on the time of day, smoke from grandfather’s pipe. His habits were as ordered as the clicking clock. Every movement, action and breath tried before and found fitting. Nothing disturbed the ritual through the day. The clump of his boots on the stairs - both morning and night, gave voice to the time of day. I only ever saw him with a collar and that was in my parents wedding photograph. He was undoubtedly the king of all he surveyed – outside the home, his rule was law, inside however, my grandmother ruled the roost. It was a standard held firm in most country homes… The living room had a comfortable feel - secure and warm, with the ever-lighted fire flickering in the hearth. The front door and the two ground floor inner doors panelled to the same design, six-foot high, three feet wide and at least two and a half inches thick, sporting large brass doorknobs. Like the house and the people within built to last.

In the morning, those awake hear the doves cooing to each other from the school roof… as the thin pale sun lights up the garden. The scent of lavender, box and honeysuckle begin to percolate the air whilst a spiral of smoke starts to trickle up into the sky. A blackbird sings and the cock crows… grandma rakes the fire and clatters the pots. All this heralds another day just like all the others… Prior to smokeless fuel, all chimneys had to be swept annually to prevent chimney fires. This was even more important if the house was thatched. Most villages had their own chimney sweep that included selling manure in slack periods. It was normal for the sweep to inquire if the soot were to be taken away or left - to spread on the garden to prevent slugs. As the annual visit coincided with the cottage spring clean - the most popular period, he was always fully booked up. All the ladies of the village saw to it that they had their slot well booked up ready for the annual spring-clean a time had been set by grandma for the last day in March – a Monday. The previous evening the fire was allowed to die out and the hearth cleaned, removing all the usual paraphernalia that littered the range and fireplace. My mother recited how she hated the sweep coming for it meant a lot of work cleaning and putting everything back in its proper place.

The sweep appeared early the next morning his cart announcing his prescience as it was trundled to a noisy clattered outside the gate. All the furniture had dustsheets draped over them and the most important sheet of all was arranged by the sweep before the fireplace. The round bristle broom was inserted and the process begun – as the sweep jerked the broom up and down gradually lengthening the handle as the upper reaches of the chimney was penetrated… At last, with a jerk, the passage of the brush became easy and the sweep rushed outside to check that the brush had reached the top and was sticking out of the chimney. It was then, as the brush lowered, that the main work was done. Gradually the brush lowered until with a thump, the range was covered with soot and the brush appeared. Now the remains of his labour were collected up in several bucket loads. The price for the job had included whether or not grandad was to receive the soot for the garden. Each bucket load was taken outside and several piles appeared on the vegetable plot to be scattered and dug in or retained to deter slugs. With a nod from grandma, the cleaning job done to her usual high standard and the sweep disappeared for another year. Now, the annual spring-cleaning could begin…

Rosalie Cottage, in company with all the other village houses, held its annual spring-clean. No family admitted that this celebration of the end of winter was not carried out. The rugs and carpets taken outside to be slung over the washing line to be beaten. Net and lace curtains washed and hung out… windows cleaned and woodwork painted. Floors polished and walls distempered. All the sweeping by broom and dustpan… the flagstone floors scrubbed on hands and knees. The feather beds hung out of the windows to air. All the work in the house was done in the mornings leaving the afternoons for preparing the evening meal, bottling, pickling, jam making, sewing, knitting, and socialising with neighbours and friends.

The Collins’ cottage stood next to the old ford, now bridged over. On a summer’s day, the parapet afforded a convenient leaning place for members of the community to gossip over – discussing questions of the day and those things that concern the village. It is quite narrow, only allowing the easy access of hay cart, and driven flock or herd. It was originally built to save wet feet in times of flood and allow the passage of packhorse and drovers cart… It is like many others - picturesque, with a single arch; the swift flowing water opens out downstream - where the depth lessens, allowing the rounded pebbles to make the water chuckle and gurgle on its way to the reed bed lower down.

The garden gate opened onto the lane linking The Crossway’s corner - past school and shop… over the B37767, to Crewkerne, and on to Chard Junction – the nearest railway station. The name ‘street’ has a Roman origin, for paved way, this one linked all the main features of the village making it a frequent meeting place for passers by. In the twenties… on to the thirties, cars were a rarity – if a car went by children rushed to see it disappear up the road. Other than these rare moments, there was no traffic noise. Villages similar to Tatworth were self-sufficient; there was no necessity to travel afar. Many workers had bicycles and the carrier ran his delivery. There were very few changes to the village structure… for the same families existed - from generations past; everyone knew everyone else… there was no need to write the full address on an envelope for the persons name and village was sufficient. The exodus from the village final began after the war, in the 1950s, when young folk leaving school looked beyond the village. The change was remarkable for not only its completeness but also its speed. Still, I must not hurry the time along, the change was fast enough. Back, we must return, into the thirties and forties, as the robin’s bright eyes peered over the nest – his head swivelled, registering neighbouring birds calling to each other… the chattering swallows, heard in the eaves.

Occasionally a clatter of hooves announced a herd of cattle or sheep being driven by, off to Chard market… The accurate passage of time was not recognised, for very few people had wristwatches and only the older men wore a fob watch. On Sundays, the church bells rang for each service. The churchgoers filed past the gate. When the single bell stopped ringing the late comers ran… Past summer memories return… the chirping of the crickets, the buzz of the bees… and the cock’s crows, to the cackle of laying hens.

In outlying districts, oxen would provide the main pulling power, horses in areas with lighter soil. Women and men would follow along to break up the clods. The only relaxation from the grind of every-day work is a trip to market for the family. The wives and daughters would be in their best dresses their husbands in cord, cap and tweed. The rat and rabbit catcher was still an occupation each dead animal paid by the tail. Hunting was a fashionable sport. Sheep grazed on light arable land like the Dorset Downs. The shepherd and his dog could still be seen standing guard over the flock. Repairing his pens, erecting hurdles, setting up his troughs and hayracks whilst living in his movable corrugated hut on wheels where he sleeps in a bunk warmed by a small cooking stove during lambing time Hand shearing, sometimes done by a single shearer and at other times a gang… began in early spring.

Chard market, which opened each week, was one of the main cattle and sheep sales for the area and covered a large site with hundreds of pens. The auctioneer could be heard calling out the prices whilst the sheep gave voice and the cattle bellowed. This weekly market was what the rural community looked forward to each week. It gave the chance to sell their produce, hear the latest news and to keep up with prices. Streets would be sealed off, completely flocks, and herds driven in to be placed into their stalls and pens. The occasions were take for the wives to visit the shops and buy the produce that could not be purchased at the village shop. There were many customs and festivals all eagerly looked forward to and if possible attended. Mumming plays, May Days with a carnival procession - following the hobbyhorse, raising the Maypole, Morris-dancing, the harvest customs, bonfire nights and wakes… wassailing, on twelfth night and the local hunt ‘meet’.

Every year there were flower shows, fairs, fetes and feasts. Showmen’s vans and carts displaying garish and colourful posters; merry-go-rounds, stalls, roll a half-penny, coconut shies, gingerbread and lolly-pops. The showman’s drum would beat and calls made to gather in the customer; bells would ring and the one-man-band starts up. The jumble sale gave the villagers the chance to acquire cast offs and the unfitting given a new lease of life. Chipped plates a-plenty and broken children’s toys; all were queued for long before the opening hour. The stall, which held the greatest attention, was the children’s clothes. There was little ‘bye-your-leave’ but an undignified scramble… jumpers and blouses held up to the child to assess the correct size. The Rector circled the heaving mass never ceasing to be amazed by the aggressive tactics of the mothers. He was still due his tithes - one tenth of the annual produce from each parish. Even though this was reduced in 1836, many refused to pay it. There was much unrest and many court orders were issued. Even at the turn of the century through to the end of the First World War, and shortly after, tithes were paid. His control and standing soon began to fall-off never to assume its previous privileged position.

The farm-worker who looked after the horses was on many farms also the ploughman. He rose early to tend his horses that had to be fed two hours before they started work. During this time of cleaning, feeding and watering the ploughman had his own breakfast. When all was ready, the horses were led out to the field previously marked out for ploughing and an aiming stick planted to give a guide for the first ‘up’ furrow. The second ‘down’ furrow leaned against the first, making a ridge -a centre-furrow. The ploughman only worked for one continuous hour giving the horses a rest before starting again.Ploughing was an autumn job always a rush to see who could start first after the harvest over and the old ricks broken up to be spread – to be ploughed in, along with stable scrapings and contents of the dung heap.

Even during the Second World War, those working the land continued to follow old customs and attitudes. The ploughman, who worked alone, and his fine team of horses would plough and harrow the field ready for the seed to be sown by drilling. He lurched all day long with one leg down the furrow and the other up turning the fire blackened stubble of the previous year… watching the lifted turf roll off the mouldboard - to compost down the top surface. During their breaks the horses would be given their nosebags contained oats and chaff. Huge flocks of seagulls that came straight from the sea at Seaton and Lyme Regis always followed the ploughing horses. Most of the fields had their attendant rusting farm implements stored away in odd corners - the sprouting corn, weeds and brambles slowly hid them from sight until they formed part of the hedgerow.

The productive arable land was not so intensively managed in the early thirties. Later on, when Britain tried to be more self sufficient, every spare piece of land was used to produce food. It was known that lime and sulphuric acid wash out of the soil and should be replaced. Lime was the chief dressing, which then began to be used extensively - in the autumn.

When my mother was born, and for some years after, it would not have been strange to see oxen ploughing. Oxen had been used for farm work long before the horse in all corners of the world. Their working ability, after training, was the same although the ox stronger – could deal with land that is more difficult but they were slower. Their keepers took as much time over their appearance, with the tips of their horns capped in brass and bells beneath their necks. A farmer would use an ox because they existed on courser food and were fast eaters, withstood worse weather, and after a couple of years could be fattened and sold at market. They were a cheaper option – needed no shoeing; horses were mainly for personal riding and carriage work. When fat beef cattle were preferred for slaughter the life of the ox became less secure… the advent of the tractor finished their working life completely and that of the ox-carter.

After ploughing in the stubble, manure spread, and yard waste added, the field was left for the frost to work, ready for harrowing in spring. The cereal varieties have changed over the years to ripen quicker and have shorter stalks. Although this is good for the farmer it is not so for wildlife. The poor unfortunate field mouse no longer builds its nest at the top of a swaying corn stalk… Some of the field were left in fallow for the next year and others planted with pink clover, vetch, yellow mustard or broad bean. These were used as animal fodder - whilst the livestock fertilized the ground as they fed… Swedes were grown as an animal crop… either dug up or fed to the cattle… or the sheep turned into a fenced section of the field - to graze… the shepherd daily moving the hurdles, until the whole field covered.

Later on, the flock would be moved into shelters, still using the hurdles and bales of straw to enclose an area for the ewes to have their lambs. Coupling up a horse to the shafts of a horse-drawn hut-on-wheels, the shepherd would tow the hut to a convenient spot close to the flock and out of the wind. The hut was necessary, for him to stay with his dog, day and night, to guard the flock and to administer to the needs of the ewes shortly to give birth. The shepherd’s hut contained a bed, chair and small stove to provide some heat and cook his meals… he would stay there until lambing was over.The shepherd’s son was thirteen, coming on fourteen, entrusted with looking after a flock of sheep on the common. He drove the sheep taking a number of different routes - to crop new grass along the way. The path bypassed sown crops and populated hamlets keeping off roads and highways. Taking in the lie of the land, the larks soaring overhead, the growing wheat, and frisking rabbits. Along the path that lead to stream and brook giving water to the hurdle flock as it passed. This was a treat, a change from turnips. In the past, forty years previously – at the turn of the century, there had been a recovery from the imported corn and lamb. Once again, the farmer who had survived the bad years started to receive the benefits of patience and perseverance. Not those things got back to pre 1870 but they were certainly better than the nineties. In the good old days the farmers planned a succession of crops for the sheep mainly vetches, clover and turnips. With the hurdle fold moved daily the shepherd rationed what food was available.

Lambing occurred in February and within the hurdles were bales of hay placed to afford shelter and food. Although it was a bad month for the uncertain weather, it did take regard of the coming spring and the new shoots of grass. The coming summer markets were the goal of the shepherd… his every working moment now directed to achieving the best fattening for the new lambs. Farmers who had the space built lambing pens in the barn but we are more concerned about the shepherd who did not have this luxury. Often you could see, as you passed along the lane, a corner of a field sheltered by high hedges – the lea protected from the prevailing winds. Close to the corner a rick, placed there since time immemorial for the same reason… It was to be the forth side to a pen using the meeting of two corner hedges and a set of hurdles, the third… Perfect for the job. As the lambs were born more individual coops constructed from bales and hurdles inside the main pen. This was no spur of the moment devise but one handed down through the centuries.

The shepherd’s life was an exacting one for about six weeks. His hut-on-wheels emitted smoke from the bent chimney from his tiny round stove. The morning fry-ups always with ample early morning mushrooms smelt fantastic as the sausages spat and sizzled. He tramped his rounds every few hours with his trusty dog, who’s post the at the foot of the steps leading to the shepherds hut, remained his domain. The bed, with the colourful crotched cover remained unmade... no need to be worried about being chastised for not being tidy. The small table and rickety chair, the only furniture, softened by a dusty print hanging askew and from projecting wooden pegs an assortment of aprons, straps and topcoats. For this period, he was the key worker receiving due deference from passers by and other farm workers who acknowledge his importance. His boss kept him supplied with bacon, sausage and bread, and topped up his jar of ginger beer.

Over the garden gate

Chapter V: Over the garden gate


Within the time allotted for lambing, the first green tender points of new grass began to show. It was getting on for late April when it was time to move the ewes and their youngsters down to the meadows. Still the ground was penned to allow the new grass to have a chance to grow. Within two or three weeks, the whole field could be opened up. By May, there was an abundance of clover, vetches, pea, old dredge corn, and wild rye, to feast upon. Haymaking time was fast approaching…

The ploughman would quickly follow on after lambing, if not done previously, or with the harrow - to break-up furrows - to prepare the surface ready for sowing. Whereas the harrow only cuts up the top, the plough digs and moves the soil in a certain direction. The ploughman considers how to turn over the soil – to prepare it for the winter’s action, composting the previous year’s stubble and root systems whilst allowing air to circulate; all the time giving thought to proper surface drainage making sure ditches were kept clear - without causing erosion or a series of hollows. It was normal working practice to plough furrows along he contours of the land. There were only a few reversible mouldboards and these were not always successful… so ploughing ‘up’ and ‘down’ was done a certain distance apart – into ‘gathers’. These strip of ploughing kept the field in its original state consciously allowing the ploughshear to skate upon the surface, at the turn of each row. Finally, the whole field was circled anti or clockwise to set the direction of the soil needed. Ploughing was performed soon after the stooks had been removed to the rick, and the wastage burnt off.

It was almost a race to see which farm started work first… making sure all was ready for the first frosts to break the turf. Old ricks were broken down, and together with chaff, spread over the field to be ploughed in. The ploughed fields in autumn allow the winter’s weather to break down the clods, which together with the rains exposed the flints and stones… These were picked up and removed to the edge of the field by children - to swell the heaps of many generations of labour. Steam powered engines worked the land operated by contractors using sets of cultivating equipment … these became less used at the start of WWII. However, threshing and barn work still carried on with steam power as did road repairs using steamrollers.

At the beginning of the thirties, just after the General Strike ended, the agricultural community was in tatters. Generations of farm workers suddenly found themselves out of work – all their hard won skills unwanted. Many found work in factories, like the butter factory or lace mill. Some turned their hand to building, being somewhat allied to farm maintenance work. This increase in building work was to be seen and felt all over England, particularly along the railways lines, and towns. It was fortunate that the lace factory continued to produce net for curtaining. However, none of this happened without a great deal of anxiety and worry.

Boys left school aware of local customs and work habits. Within a short space of time, they absorbed a number of different skills - all to do with building and farm work. These skills they picked up watching their elders and listening to their conversation. The tractor driver knew a thing or two about machinery and its maintenance. The ploughman could repair a fence, weave a hurdle and dig a ditch and the dairyman could become a shepherd - if needs be! No different for their wives and girl friends - it was a matter of being versatile, for jobs were rare and times were hard. Not one of them does the same job… day in and day out… throughout the year. They may like to, but circumstance dictate they have to turn their hand to anything that needs doing.

At the start of the Second World War when the government were forced to make the country ‘as self sufficient as possible’ farming began a series of transformations. As much land as possible was quickly brought into cultivation - some neither economic nor practical. More tractors and harvesters brought into use to cope with difficult terrain, larger fields: lack of skilled ploughmen, insufficient casual and migrant labour, and conscription of The Women’s Land Army. The country was at total war it was no good having too many scruples about maintaining parks and gardens or maintaining small fields and non-negotiable gateways. From the time when I was old, enough to take notice until well into the 1950s when rationing still in force, self-sufficiency was the governments aim. The farmer was as much fighting the war as the soldier; if not cooperative, he was forced to comply with The Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery’s strictures or removed from his land. It was a difficult time; the seasons dictated the speed of progress towards the government’s diktats… it was not many years before, that flails were used to thrash out the corn.

In the winter of 1939 there was enormous activity on the land… two million extra acres were to be sown in preparation for war. There was not enough equipment including horses – only fifty-five thousand tractors were available, in all of Britain. Winter starts in mid November when the last leaves blown off the trees - by the harsh cold wind. It does not take long for the Technicolor picture of summer to fade and the cold hard reality of winter about to descend… The icy blasts harden the furrow’s ridge turned up by the plough’s mould-board as the field is prepared for the winter sowing of wheat. Over the hedge the field of Swedes were dug up for market, and the remainder placed in clamps, next to the potatoes and mangold-wurzels. The carrots and beetroots taken inside the barn and put into tubs of dried peat.

Soon the onetime rain-filled clods are frozen rock hard. The dry twigs - lifeless rumpled leaves, and remnants of half-eaten acorn, and chestnut, crackle underfoot. Everything covered in the rime of hoarfrost… the countryside, glistens in the sparkling winter sunlight. On the allotment garden it is the month of digging and planting, making sure the beds are ready for next years potatoes, broad beans, cabbages, and onions. The occasional flurry of snow showers are chased hither and thither by the north wind. The last of the leaves drop at the beginning of December… the bare trees show their deformities to the windward side as the chilling wind dries up the last remaining moisture. Wheat sowing continues unabated as the last field are ploughed for oats. Whilst the hedgehog, dormice and bat hibernate, other animals lie still - conserving energy… Not all animals are retiring though… for the fox and weasel are on the prowl.

It is time for grandad to prune the fruit trees and take cuttings from the currants. There is little time for the birds to feed… grandma puts out an enamel plate, on the grass, full of table scraps… it is not long before the plate is bare! The gorse on the common and the winter-toadstool in the wood, give the only colour to an otherwise grey scene. Pairs of hooting tawny owls begin their courtship feeding… not giving the foraging mouse and scurrying vole time to linger! The wind begins to be noticeably colder – it is now bitterly cold with clear skies. Walking about close to the stream, the dead leaves were now frosted and sparkled in the morning light. The mistletoe in the lime trees looked like airy nests against the sky. The ditches are checked to ensure they are free and not blocked and the manure is taken to the remaining field that have so far escaped ploughing. Any good day is taken up spreading lime on fields for the brassicas.

The edges of the stream freezes… it is only the swift flow of the water in the centre that keeps it free from ice. The snowstorm fulfils the promise of the dark, heavy clouds… the lanes and fields merge: it is truly, a bleak mid winter scene. The wind swirls the snow about creating banks against the hedges. It is just as well that the workers in the butter factory can walk to work - for trying to cycle is impossible! Some dried reeds disguised the fact that the young growth had started to show through the frost-covered ground, as a lonely bulrush nods its bedraggled head at the strength of the wind. It starts to rain and the light fades fast… The sheep begin to move towards the sheltered side of the field… A patch of dead flag iris cropped down by the sheep displays new growth - just visible under trampled leaves. A flock of lapwings fly overhead as a startled partridge races away.

Grandad spends his time in the greenhouse studying the seed catalogues the trays bearing the seed potatoes are under the shelf starting to sprout. Back in the cottage, the fire in the parlour range heats the room and casts a cheery glow. Outside hardly a sound disturbs the snow-bound village… The family gather round the fire comforted by the crackling, hissing sap, as it bubbles out of the burning wood; the occasional crack heralds another flying ember... the nearest target extinguishes the glowing missile whilst grandma serves out the next round of cooked chestnuts… passing them in turn round the ring of fire lit faces. They do not linger… the offered nut is far too hot – is tossed from hand to hand…

The snow gives way to slush and the banks of the stream overflow. The bridged, one time ford, holds back the flow… the water creates a pool that dissipates towards the reed bed. A weak sun and drying wind soon returns the fields to a furrowed brown. At last, time to break up the spade turned soil - in preparation for outside sowing. February is the month to sow parsnips – the first vegetable to begin the cycle all over again. It will not be long before the purple orchid graces the woodland glade, to be followed by the pansy and violet.

There was talk about a mole that had been busy in the garden making a series of mounds across the grass under the apple trees… it is just as well that the mole is not distracted in its digging by the sodden ground. The snowdrops are a pitiable sight, dipping and bending under the weight of water. The rain continues to fall… Will it ever be possible to be warm again, and to run barefooted over the grass?

As soon as the scattered primroses line the ditches, the bees begin to fly. Now, at last, spring is in the air - to last from March to the end of April. Throughout England in the thirties, and at other times - after tillage, farmers would sow their seed to coincide with their area’s weather and ground temperature - knowing that spring is a period of instability. It is time now to attend to fattening and breeding stock.

Therefore, it would be wrong to say that on the first day of spring the corn was cast… wheat was sown in February, oats in March and barley in April. What decided the issue would be how the suns rays had warmed the ground - the local meteorological forecast for future sun, and the access of machinery… not on the amount of rain or wind. The sown seed is then promoted into life by dampness and decaying plant acting as an insulator from the cold night air. Usually after the warmth of the March sun just as the blackthorn comes into bloom - plant growth is triggered - when the ground temperature is 43ºF. The early potatoes are planted and the summer carrots pricked out… early dwarf peas and summer spinach sown in succession. The onion sets are given their regimental rows, together with the shallots. There is so much to do that it is late before granddad settles down in front of the fire.

The buds on the oak tree noticeably green peeps out. At last, winter is over… Along Perry Street, the ivy leaves on the walls are bright and shiny and opposite the church, the Jubilee Tree outlined against the pale blue sky. There is talk about some snow; forecast for the afternoon… the news does not interest the cock blackbirds who watch their hens battle it out on the grass. The wind now is blowing quite hard a few drops of rain fall - shaken out of the trees… The rooks are repairing their nests. It is a time of great activity in the field, hedge and tree. The invaders migrating from abroad challenge competition between breeding birds for what food is available. The dawn chorus proclaims each individual’s territory, beginning well before sunrise. Now the swallows begin to arrive… just before the cuckoo’s call.

Down by he stream the willow’s twigs and branches show more colour and buds have started to form on the ash. At last, spring is beginning to show itself… the hawthorn buds are green and the pussy willow worth collecting. Those blackbirds have started rowing again as they chase each other, making such a racket. The work on the farm increases in intensity, the machinery shaken out and oiled. Before sowing can take place the farrows had to be levelled off and the clods reduced. Harrowing with drag harrows with iron teeth reduced the soil to a fine tilth. Rolling could be used alternately to further reduce the lumps of soil. It was always beneficial to cover sowed seed to prevent birds for destroying the field. Sowing was still partly done by hand but quickly died out in the early thirties except awkward corners and small fields. A good sower of seed could cover an acre field using just three pounds of seed.

Mechanical drilling was often done with two horses and would take an hour to cover an acre field. A trickle of grain fell down the funnel into the small furrow from the box. The roller followed the seed-drill, in many places drawn by horses. Mangelworzels, spread over the next field by hand, or from the back of a horse drawn cart, this gave the sheep something to crunch on, particularly at lambing times; this fertilized the field, although the mangols were difficult to pull out of the frozen ground.

It was the schoolchildren’s job to scare away the rooks using battered pans and rattles. The high branches of the elms hold the rookery - the nests made out of twigs laced together hold firm against the swaying of their homes. They are there surviving the winter storms to be rethatched the following spring. The rook’s cries… filled the air. In the houses and cottages, the start of spring heralded Spring-cleaning. All the rag, wool hand-stitched loose rugs would be taken out of the house to be beaten. As the cottage door was left open on most days – not only to air the living room but allow the smoke filled atmosphere to clear, the rugs would be damp… having to be hung on the washing line to dry before house-work started.

In the garden, it is the month of almost continual weeding, transplanting and thinning out. The greenhouse is taken up with pots of this and that sprouting up… The sweet peas are taken out to be planted and summer cabbage given another row. We start having rhubarb tart for starters…

The stream seems to know winter is over - that new life forming… It bubbles and chatters over the rounded stones on the streambed in celebration, sparkling brightly - in the morning sun. The catkins hang down from the hazel as a new growth of bramble entwines round the stem. At the base a patch of assorted primroses, some white, others pink, vie with the violets to brighten up the riverbank, mainly colourless in its winter coat… I wonder who is going to hear the first cuckoo… The cows from the farm start to enter the field… over the hedge there is a great deal of lowing. The milking is still done by hand in many areas - especially small farms, 100 million gallons a year was transported to London by rail in the thirties using special milk vans. Field crops were planted by hand every potato sown by gangs of local women and children all paid just four shillings a day, the same rate for stone gathering. However much the land around is finding new life the farming people still are challenged by the daily grind.

The swallow whirl overhead… they swoop round the eaves darting here and there just for the fun of it. If only they would be still – just for a moment. The reeds, once flattened and bedraggled, standing upright, resplendent in green. The hoverfly staggers by as he hurries home carrying his sacks of pollen. Now it is the turn of the wagtails to dart amongst the now active undergrowth wagging their tails vigorously on landing. There is no doubting the advent of summer, as the May buds start to open… All along the bank, the riversides bestiritself. The flash of orange-red and turquoise startles them as the kingfisher, showing off, dashes by…

Early May sees the birth of summer… the weather makes a perceptible improvement. The trees spread their canopies giving shade… filtering the sunlight onto the ground. Now the insects start to home in on their particular source of food. The open countryside starts to change colour as each fruit starts to ripen. The birds start to quieten when the lazy days of summer herald school holidays and another harvest, about to be planned.

The splendid horse-chestnut tree in the next field now has bright green leaves and a few sticky buds are opening… it will not be long before the flowers open… At last, summer is just around the corner…, it has taken so long. All the winter rains and chill winds seem an age away. The hawthorn blossom is such a delicate thing but the most prolific flowing tree - which starts the race - for all the other blooms to follow. In the field, the first buttercups give voice to early summer suns. The cuckoo call seems to echo, bouncing off the trees in the wood.

Down by the stream the early summer sun warms up the cow-parsley the myriad small white flowers give off a scent that is slightly sour - hangs in the air. Close to the riverbank, the cow’s foot weed. It appears as if a larger version of the watercress, or giant clover; whose flower has to wait two or three days before its ball is fully open. Is it any wonder that it is such a favourite of the bee… who unfortunately has to be content with nectar from the comfrey? It is just as well that the bee is such an active insect – life would soon come to a halt without its labour. Little do that pair of tufted ducks care about such esoteric thoughts, they are far too busy - concerned about their nest and the batch of speckled eggs it contains… In the deeper stretches of the river a pair of swans continue their patrol - first this way and then that. No river scene is complete without their graceful presence. Dusk begins - soon after tea; the evening stroll requires the welcoming comfort of a coat. A turn up the road, over the bridge… a glance over the hedge shows the mist is beginning to raise… the reed bed is now a distant outline.

A second sowing of French beans is tackled first thing after breakfast on Saturday, quickly followed by the potatoes being earthed-up. The kitchen garden is now almost fully planted with neat orderly rows stretching across all the gardens. Nothing is left to chance for it is most important that the garden produce all that the family needs.

Tinkers still visited the villages in the thirties… and on into the early war years, their carts rattling over the stones… the men about to set up their braziers to heat the pots and pans. They would grind and sharpen the gardening tools, household scissors and kitchen knives. Their call of, ‘scissors to grind’, an oft-heard cry, as they spun the grindstone wheel. The tramps too made their way along Perry Street with their loads of clothing tied in bundles. It was not unusual to find one setting up his pot over a fire or making his lean-to tent. They never seemed to be thin… perhaps it was the amount of clothing they wore that fattened then out? They were in the main successful beggars, housewives giving them a crust or drink of milk to make them go away. For hamlets and outlying villages – away from the main highways, where the population was sparse the Tinkers and Hawkers took the place of small shopkeepers – they were an essential part of the countryside – a much relied on source of communication as well as suppliers of essential goods.

Pedlars and Knife-grinders also had a place in rural life… they plied their trade too. In those days the Pedlar was called the Chapman and was very welcomed… he passed on news and gossip to outlandish places in a similar way to the Tinker carrying an amazing variety of goods in his carpetbag – pins, needles, vests, caps, girdles, laces, gloves, knives, glasses, tapes, dusters and much else besides. He sold clothes for babies, cleaning materials for the kitchen and floor. Lengths of material, aprons, ribbons, and thread, for the dressmakers, and wool for the knitters. All were very handy for those unable to get out - to the shops in town. The Pedlars had their rounds and were expected to provide the same produce summer and winter… for they were relied on… His round was passed on - from father to son - jealously guarded. No tradesman’s cart invaded his preserves… for in some instances, he worked conspiring with a local town’s, general store - which provided his merchandise. It has been known for Tinkers to set up shop within the village, and in time to be accepted and integrated into the running of the village co-operative. There was no other means of obtaining these articles for who else would travel on rutted tracks in all weathers and in all seasons.

The proud gypsies, with their dogs, still wandered the lanes of England, most staying within their locality where they knew the habits of the workers and the farming community. Some stayed in town during the winter only travelling during the summer months to sell what they had traditionally made; others worked picking the summer crops. The women sold wooden pegs, woven baskets and bunch of ‘lucky’ heather whilst the men picked the fruit, helped with the harvest and planted the seed. In winter, they sold scrap metal and made-up their stock. The traditional highly coloured bow-topped van, with its decorated sides and neat, stepped, glazed door - displaying gaily painted cans and boxes, all pulled by a single horse. Often there a convoy of gypsy caravans which passed by heading for an old familiar campsite? Underneath the cart, a cage was to be seen carrying a clutch of hens. The rabbit catching lurcher loped along ready at a call to find a rabbit for the pot. The families would all meet up at the same site to pick fruit or vegetables in season… re-establishing past friendships - cementing family links.

The Spanish onion seller on his bike operated from coast to hinterland. Having his own route cycled year after year, with his strings draped over every part of the bike so that it looked like a travelling stack on wheels. It is the time of year when the sky shows a saturated blue above the new, fresh foliage of the nearby elms. The sky’s colour, so intense that it creates a lightening vignette - halo, around the skyline branches. This distortion or adjacency is purely an action of poor eyesight not actual. It is unlikely for a human being not to be uplifted by natures allure. At last all the trees are in full foliage although still not fully formed and the sunlight reaches the ground below allowing under plantings to flourish.

Early summer mornings in June are heralded by the cocks crowing in all the chicken runs - at the bottom of the garden. This would be the start to one’s day, quickly followed by the dawn chorus and the chatter of swallows in the eaves. There being no traffic as such only the clip-clop of the milkman’s horse and cart, resplendent in its coloured paint outlining its panels… the open back, made it look like a chariot, swayed as the milkman descended to deliver the days supply. The welcoming chink of his bottles and clank of his churns was another reminder…

Along the roadside dense thickets of blackthorn covered in early morning dew, sharp smelling and alive with bees feasting off the white blossom. In the fields, the chirping grasshoppers fidgeted and the ever-buzzing insects flew about with a purposeful beat to their wings. Along the lane the mighty stag beetle worked his way over the rotting wood, his, was only a very short life, whilst the ants formed up one behind each other carrying their scrap of leaf, to who know where? No phones rang, no planes flew overhead and no dust was disturbed on the lanes. There was always plenty of time and the tranquil scene remained unspoilt even through the war years. Down stream, from the bridge, there are two workmen cutting the weeds and dragging it to the side of the bank. Quantities of weed escape the attention of the men and drift down river becoming entangled in the trailing willow branches. It is late afternoon and the warm light highlight the heads of the marsh orchid amongst the waist height reeds. The swans paddle by now accompanied by their young, little grey-brown bundles of downy feathers. It is getting late and the background hum of insect life quietens the evening strollers, as they start up the road towards the Poppe Inn.

The end of each day was announced by the screech of owls in the neighbouring trees, the local cats fighting for territory, and the bark of foxes in the copse. Pathetic crying… another victim would follow the occasional fluttering, scuffles and rustles... The countryside was not always sleeping!

Most villages were self-supporting in that they had a shop, a butchers and bakers. The fields and gardens provided the rest. Many folk had a bicycle - adequate for getting to work or shop - there was always the carrier to cart the extra purchases. Village life carried on with the help of small businesses - passed on from generation to generation. Because families were large most of the children, on leaving school, left home to take up employment in the nearest town, which was in this case Chard. At least one boy always followed the father’s occupation and one of the girls looked after the aging grandparents. Later on, the same daughter looked after the parents. Other girls within the family provided help in wealthier homes, close to the family home. Those children left at home after the parents had died usually took over the tenancy. Although it was difficult to travel about there was a lot of visiting of families, friends and relations, which closely bonded the community. Most of the village and local industry served the farmers - their farms and country estates. There was, throughout the year, a general working up towards harvesting time – getting all the machinery into working order.

It was not often that my grandma went shopping to Chard. The lack of money being the chief reason but distance and time made it a chore not an enjoyment. The children going to school, then to work, had to be looked after. Still, there were times when a visit had to be made, and more often than not, for clothing. Only working class mothers inhabited the shops. Nobody who wished to be thought of as middle class would be seen in such places. The workers manners, clothes and speech would embarrass the shop girls of high-class establishments. The formidable shop-walker, in black jacket and striped trousers - who’s job it was to provide security and to stop shop-lifting, would soon hover close to unfamiliar faces as soon as they came through the door enquiring if he could direct you…?

The shop windows would be dressed very conservatively. The plaster models and designer sets represented daily scenes, most of the produce was kept in glass fronted drawers or cupboards – not in a position where the customer able to handle the goods. The shop assistant would be told the item to be assessed and they would have to fetch it and point out its suitability. If the article was large then the shop’s carrier called to either see the client to the door or to take the item out and place it in the dogcart or carriage. It was possible to take the item on approval. Then the carrier would take the clients name, address, and list the goods taken. No deposit was required and the client departed.

Tills or cash registers were not on the counters. The cashier sat in a glass sided cubicle at the back of the shop. The shop assistant took the cash to the cashier - who placed it and the price tag in a metal container that was taken by cord and air pressure along a tube to the office. The receipt and change returned by the same route. If the change included a farthing, this was used to buy pins or some other small item. The penny bazaar was a favourite place to visit, especially for children to spend their savings. Such places had an open front and display counters presenting all their produce to open view. They were always well attended the crowd shuffled through at a snails pace as… the excited children stared in wonderment. This was the forerunner of Woolworth’s ‘thrupenny and sixpenny’ store. The shops stayed open late on Saturdays particularly those in the street or market place. It was the place to buy cheap meat for the weekend roast, at the end of the working day. On market days, the place was alive with people, with stallholders all shouting - declaring their wares. It was always colourful and exciting with the one-man-band playing, jugglers and the occasional beggar… all demanding attention.

Grandma was careful, that whenever buying any material - it was carefully examined. The material was rubbed to see if the cloth was full of ‘dressing’ - which would wash out leaving the garment thin and limp. Clothes for her children were always bought too large, so that they could be worn for the longest possible time and then handed down. Invariably the colour was white, in that way they could be repeatedly washed - without wondering if the colour was going to last, and being the same colour as sheets, pillowcases and towels they could all be washed together. All bed linen was white, which allowed girls, about to be married, to sew on lace edging… similarly the towels, flannels and tray cloths – embroidered then laid in tissue paper in the lowest drawer. Each daughter reserved this drawer for her private things – for her ‘bottom drawer’, items kept aside for when she became married. On rainy days this drawer was carefully turned out – relined, and then refilled. Keeping a bottom drawer was started at a very young age and used to condition girls - to seek a husband and start their own home. It was also used to keep the girls occupied. If they left home to be ‘in-service’, they ‘lived in’ - treated as one of the family, under the control of the housekeeper. In that case, the bottom drawer stayed where it was; ready for the day she left home for good. Household items were bought to last a lifetime. Good saucepans and frying pans were very heavy - made of iron, and carefully treated with oil, which eventually became burnt-on and black. This was never washed or scoured off, but left – being just wiped out. For boiling vegetables, plain white enamel was thought to be suitable.

Seasonal work and the village school

Chapter VI: Seasonal work and the village school


Just after WWII it was still possible to see steam engines propelling wagons, road rollers and farm implements. The threshing machine working in Tatworth was hired from the local supplier. It usually came with its own team of men who were familiar with its workings. The decision to start threshing was a judgement made by the farmer. His starting point would be the price of flour, the position of his bank balance and the gamble he was prepared to make on the state of the local economy. Usually the corn was threshed in late autumn and early winter. If done outside, the state of the weather or what was forecast, was the adjudicator. The flail was still known to be used – mainly in the winter, to give work when bad weather kept the workers from the field - to produce corn for the chickens.

Threshing was always done in a hurry - using the maximum number of workers. A full water cart was always to hand. It was no good finding you were out of water halfway through the job - having to close down the boiler. It was the farmer’s responsibility to see that water was always available and sufficient coal to hand. If local water unavailable it was pumped from a stream or pond into the water tub. Welsh steam coal was shovelled into the boiler as gradually steam pressure was reached… The tall chimney belched black smoke and the whistle blew – at last pressure 'was up!' The great flywheel turned and the piston rod jerked backwards and forwards… the belt started to flap and the speed regulator spun… The thresher started pulsating – humming its never-ending tune, as every piece of loose metal, associated bit of tackle, and worn bearing, started to rattle and shake. One man started to go round the road wheels on the engine, to hammer in wedges to prevent the engine from moving closer to the thresher, and another man wedged the thresher – the idea was to stop the belt from slipping by maintaining the correct tension on the belt.

Two men usually unricked the sheaves of corn onto a cart… which duly, pulled up to the elevator, to be off-loaded onto the conveyor. The sheaves passed along the conveyor to the bond cutter who cut the string or untied the band to release the stalks, which were then entered into the drum feeder. At the other end of the feeder the now husk-less straw was taken off the drum to be taken to the straw-stack… the grain was bagged up from the side-chute using a sack-trolley in two hundred-weight sacks, and loaded onto the grain wagon.

Ten men often carried out this whole operation. The spent straw not always taken immediately to make a stack – some farms would tie the straw into trusses using a straw-bond, sold-on or ricked-up. The husks left to fall onto the ground, although: the very action of the belts driving the action, the spinning drum, and conveyor, tended to blow the husks out, making a cloud of irritating, itching-making husks, mask the whole operation – covering everything. From removal of the corn from the ear, to grinding at the mill, as much husk was removed as possible - winnowing, by using draughts of air - by blower or fan… The threshed straw went to build the rick. This straw would be animal feed for the winter and cut out of the rick by the ‘fogger’ using very long and broad hay-knives to cut away a truss, which was then bound and carried to the field. Un-used ricks, which were surplus, broken down and spread on fields - to be ploughed-in or cut-up to make manure heaps. Ricks could be either round or square-sided, with or without end hips. They were built mostly in the rick-yard reasonably close to where the animals were to be fed – near to the chickens - to nest, feed and lay. If likely to be infested with vermin the rick would be built on staddle stones [mushroom shaped stone or iron to prevent vermin from getting into the ricks] - if not, a base of bundles of brushwood laid to allow air to circulate - kept the straw or hay off the ground to prevent rotting. Once the rick built up, the top was thatched.

At the turn of the century, this would cost the farmer 2s for five hours work. At the same time the ricks were being built, the swedes and mangles were being made into heaps [clamps] and covered with straw and earth to keep off the frosts. Potato clamps were specifically for humans although if sufficient, at the end of the season, they would also be fed to the pigs. Both these root crops were used as winter-feed for the cattle. In the winter, cattle food was not just thrown on the ground but placed in large wooden troughs and hayracks. The carter’s stockmen and shepherds were expected to administer to their animals when they were ill. Old remedies were used perfected over the ages to cure swine fever, foot and mouth disease, and foot rot. Antiphlegestin, Stockholm tar and castor oil, were all popular medicants. The only animals to be kept in close confinement were pigs. In some farms, they were allowed to feed off the apples in the orchards or in small fields to graze the acorns. Very often, particularly for hops and soft fruit, town’s folk would descend on the farms to do casual work – staying in purpose built wooden huts. They considered this not only a method to earn a little extra but as a holiday too. It was usually an expected and organized event at harvest time and the same families met up every year taking in turn to look after the children. The huts were provided with cooking facilities and a communal sink and latrines.

After the harvest had been gathered in and the festival blessed in the church, the village held its thanksgiving. In times past this was known as ‘The Revels’, but Puritanism soon put a stop to all that. Now the village fete and garden show took its place. They still draw the inhabitant together: for the children to run wild and the merry-go-round to spin - by the efforts of the showman and his cranking handle. There were country dancing, races and hoopla, ducking apples… and the maypole to be laced – danced round. However trivial it may seem, it was planned for, looked forward to, and continually remembered. A demand was now made on Bradford’s warehouse for coulters, ploughshares and dung forks, as the crops were cleared from the fields. Dung was tipped in piles across the fields and old ricks broken up and interspersed too, ready for ploughing. It was the time for the stable hands to start repairing the harnesses and to put right all those faults with the carts and wagons.

The morning started bright and clear. It was the most perfect September day, the sky was cloudless, the only sounds disturbing the peace was the cooing of the wood pigeons, and the squabbling of the rooks high in the trees overhead. Not far away a stag rears on its hind legs to knock some more acorns off the lower branches of the oak… a shaft of sunlight through the branches lights-up a peacock butterfly - which settled for a moment before continuing its erratic journey. On one of the top branches, a kestrel swivels his head - to left and to right, surveying his kingdom…

The wet grass from an overnight shower sparkles and thousands of small cobwebs glisten from tiny water droplets that shimmer in the sun. Gradually the morning mist lifts from the ground as the sun warms the air… piles of newly dug soil advertise the underground run of a mole. Autumn has begun, we put aside all thoughts of how well Somerset is doing in the cricket league… the football season is upon us. The countryside now changes. The sun is still hot but comes to us lower in the sky. September kicks in with a sudden chill makes one reach for the jumper. The ground begins to show the first scatterings of fallen leaves. They are in a variety of browns, reds and oranges blowing about the ruts, rustling and chattering as they pile up. The dewy grass, covered with early morning webs, soak my shoes that are not waterproof - giving me wet socks again… The acorns and fallen twiglets crunch underfoot. The humming and squawking wildlife quietens as day by day their food becomes more difficult to find… finally the blackbird and song thrush leave for warmer climes…

Tomatoes are starting to ripen outside as well as the blackberry and autumn delight raspberries, the potatoes, onions, beans and marrows become staple diet. The weeds keep coming… it is a full-time job to keep on top of their growth. The pears and apples on the trees behind the privy are picked as they become ready. Those not eaten are wrapped in newspaper and stored on trays in the outhouse.

The local thatcher lays out his unthrashed wheat straw… gathers and ties them, in handy bundles. On wet days, he whittles his pegs, sharpens his scissors and prepares for the next fine day. His first job on Monday morning is the cottage in Perry Street, by Crossways Corner. It is there that he places his very long ladders – in readiness, carting and stacking his prepared bundles for an early morning start. He not only works for the farmer repairing barns, haylofts and making ricks but also re-thatched and replaced roof ridges in the village.

The fields, in the first half of the twentieth century, the banks, and ditches, all presented an enormous variety of plant life compared to today's selection. There were trees of fruit, nut and thorn, varieties of bush rose, vetch, yarrow, knapweed and birdsfoot. The ditches were deeper and damper, with grass more lush and succulent. Insect life not only of greater variety but larger: dragonflies, stag beetles, butterflies, moths, glow-worms, snakes, lizards, toads, frogs and crickets. Birds too would be more numerous. In fact, the whole flora and fauna would be almost unrecognisable by the profusion of differing types and species, especially the winged insect variety.

As September led into October… the cabbages displayed frayed edges as the white butterfly’s caterpillar nibble away - gradually reducing the leaves to skeletons, a number lay across the leaves producing a crosshatched colouration of yellow and black. Some of the cabbages have their hearts completely destroyed – going mouldy and black. There is no time to be sentimental the caterpillars have to be removed – pinched out. By now the beans are stringy and the marrows hard. Digging in earnest… preparing the ground to sow the spring cabbage must be concluded… All the old decaying crops removed to the compost heap. The time for sowing the broad beans, that are going to stand the winter, will have to be sown - to give the New Year a good start.

The compost heap was broken into and manure from the yard made up the load to spread upon the stubble. Now is the time to start pulling and cutting the tops off the cattle-beet… followed by the autumn ploughing and the planting of beans… Immediately drilling the winter wheat, the horse teams are prepared in advance, putting at least a two-horse drill on the light soils. The mangels could now be collected up and carted off to the clamp - which lay beside the potatoes. Autumn is well under way. October starts cold and damp. The early morning mist lies late into the morning giving the fields a ghostly presence. The river is clear and low and the banks encroach – the luxuriant grass weighed down by water droplets sags dipping their heads into the water… the water reflects the growth making the width of the stream appear even smaller. Lower down a pair of swans go through their bonding ritual ducking their heads then reaching up until finally they touch one another.

The thick hedges provided not only a field boundary but also give new material for future hedge and fence, shelter for the farm animals and birds, and provide a byway for wild creatures – to pass from field to field. The hedgerows at the side of the lanes would not be cut, becoming, in some cases, interlinked over the middle of the road forming a tunnel - which shut out the daylight. In the evening or winter nights these lanes were frightening places for us children; the trunks began to form faces and the long tendrils of the branches looked like arms ready grab any unfortunate passer-by. The glow-worms light twinkled in the dark, dank ditches and lane sides, whilst the bats flitted above on their set course to the nearest food. The hooting owls and barking foxes gave a sinister background to the shadowy undergrowth… The hedge banks and ditches were ancient boundaries of tracks running from hamlet to village, from village to town… a source of wonderment at the diversity of wildlife, a fascination at the beauty of the leaf and branch - forming a varied, colourful picture.

The ditches became flooded every year. Tall rushes, herbs and reed, shoot up, at the expense of smaller, less vigorous plants, when the ditches are lush and green – it is impossible to see the bottom of the ditch and quite difficult to extract oneself - if clumsy enough to fall in! In early November, the wind penetrated the stoutest coat. The skies washed out and threatening. The rooks were buffeted, being blown off course, having to make an extra effort to regain their perch. They complained creating a tremendous racket. When they took off to find food, they swept over the fields in gigantic swoops soaring upwards to gain height and then down again almost plunging into the ground. They seemed to keep this up for hours, almost as if they were at play…

Halfway through the month, the better weather arrived and a walk by the brook revealed a wider streambed - now that the dead and dying vegetation had rotted and fallen away. The trees were beginning to look bare - half their leaves had fallen. The reeds with their yellow stems and black rotting heads were flattened by the wind - lay in the water, the fallen leaves clogging their matted remains.The warm weather never lasts long for the rain settles in again, turning the roads into glistening rivers of black ink, gurgling down the drain which leads to the river. Now the mornings were frosty, quickly thawing out to leave just the shady areas icy on dead leaves and limp grass. The river changed again now reflecting browns and ochre’s. It is going to stay that way for some time to come… Back at the cottage, work continued... the war had not changed the routines of life one jot. The butter factory, near Chilson Common, took over the mantle of chief employer after the net making industry had suffered yet another poor year.

The early mornings were crisp, the frost glistening on the roads. The forecast is two days of rain and sleet followed by strong winds. The river is high and unusually brown from mud washed down stream. Last weeks rain has made the current strong as the water rushes over the stones swept down from higher ground. Once again, the moles have been active on the grassy bank every so often the brown earth thrown up into soft crumbly piles. Out of all the greenery, left by the winter’s blast, the ivy remains bright and vibrant. The flowers of pale-yellow populate the tops and by the end of December the berries will be very dark green. Also looking strong, but not as colourful, is the holly with its many bunches of bright red berries - declaring a hard winter… Should look a picture when pinned to the beams in the sitting room, along with the mistletoe, from the oak in yonder field. There is just time for grandad to plant the shallots… before he sits down to the main meal of the day. Then off with his sons to the Poppe Inn… known before 1927, as the Country Hotel, the local meeting place for most of the local village men folk… this is where they played darts, shove-halfpenny and dominoes, until about ten, when they returned home to sit by the fire, play cards or relate the local gossip to grandma.

After Christmas, when all the festivities were over, the farm-workers tried to keep indoors, or at least stayed close to the barns where the seed-barley could be thrashed. On dry days, the broken fences and gates could be repaired or the stack-yard swept. There was always something to do even in the foulest weather to keep the men busy. At Rosalie Cottage, life got back to normality after the Christmas jollities. Other than during the winter the cottage door was left open – guarded by a large, cast iron dog. Step over the threshold onto the thick stone step, which spans the width of the door; take the cambered sandstone brick path through the gate onto the road beyond… Turning right, start up the hill; a few paces more and there, on the left… some steps, with a neat set of iron railings supporting a handrail which lead to a gothic door. The school entrance stands impressively tall. Its an official building… surmounted by the bell tower… the autumn term was ending - another year almost over… The children are practicing their carols; ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ filters out - in time with the piano… Another cold day - the third week in December – the last week of term. The sun shines weakly as it tries to penetrate the moisture-laden air. Nobody dallies, head down, they move quickly to get inside out of the cold. There, the fire blazes up, casting a warm, flickering light, against the brass warming pan… the paraffin lamp is already lit, the smell of the oil another part of my memory bank… gives light, as well as comfort.

On the beams in the living room the pinned holly and mistletoe remained. The painted and crayoned cards still lurked behind the clock and candleholders. The table is set again as grandma bustles about cutting the bread ready for the evening meal… Life in the village changed little. This was the quietest time, it was as if everything waiting for warmth to strike flesh or ground. Inside the cottage the fire crackled in the hearth and the clock strikes midday. The wind and rain of January has passed to clear cold days of February. The farmer over the hedge has started drilling the spring beans and peas. In a few weeks time the oats and barley would have to go through the same procedure. In the village school the children stayed in during their break times, the cold penetrated up from the floor making their toes as cold as ice. The coke fire did little to keep the cold at bay…

Tatworth was not a normal rural village. The lace mill, butter factory and railway junction made it more isolated from the affects of low farm prices - than an economy solely reliant upon what could be produced from the land. The offshoots to all three plus the corn mill at Forton gave it strength to resist unemployment. Even when there were hard times for lace, production one or other of the employers would came to the rescue, plus the largest landowners like Parrocks Lodge and Forde Abbey. This relative isolationism was reflected in the population’s view of the outside world’s troubles, as being a hindrance to the perpetuation of all that was good and normal. Life, like the language, was slow and ordered, in pace with the seasons. Within all his rural activity, the creative industries fed off the large manufacturers circulating wealth and jobs. This circular life in Tatworth, where all benefited from this mechanism - each part fed off the other, maintained the coherence of the complete social group.

Village schools in the eighteen hundreds had their teaching practice based upon learning by rote… in classrooms holding a number of other age groups. In most schools, there was only one large room, which was cold, damp and dusty. Religious bodies… mainly the Anglican National Society established in 1811, controlled the institutions. Church schools greatly outnumbered voluntary organization. All schooling required fees supplemented by donations and government grants. ‘The Education of the Poor’, such as it was, was ministered by the church – by the Church of England’s National Society. At this time, there was no Government provision or legal requirement. The provision of a school was dependant upon patronage and beneficence of the Rector of Chard Church… plus, bequests and subscriptions. Only five years before A Parliamentary Act banned the use of child labour although it did carry on for a few more years.In 1837, Victoria came to the throne one year after the Union workhouse was built on the Crewkerne Road. A further two years saw 243 people sheltered there from the town and borough. Out-relief was a fund raised to help the unemployed… that year a sum of seventeen hundred pounds was allocated for that cause.

The start of the century had seen harvests ruined by bad weather and the lead up to the coronation was to see little improvement. William IV had been on the throne for seven years… now it was the chance to turn round the economy. Victoria was eighteen and she was made of sterner stuff. One the continent, 1830 was a year of revolution. England was up in arms serious rioting broke out. Farm machinery was smashed, ricks set on fire and fists were raised. The rain in 1828 had been the worst in living memory and agricultural prices dropped. During the next ten years farmers’ begged for a reduction in their rent's – a few had to sell up and move away to the town. The lord of the manor, in a number of estates, gave land over to the community for allotments. It was a bad time for all, particularly for the already poor. There was much unemployment, for neither farmers nor workshops were taking on labour. The poorhouse in the town had to turn people away. The Mayor of Chard called a meeting where he put it to the assembled parishioners that the severe weather was creating hardship. It was decided to make donations and a collection was immediately taken – which raised £60. The plan was to purchase coal, bacon and peas and share those out to six hundred poor persons.

The social gap was widening as the inefficient and uneconomic farmer sold up and the wealthy tenant and lord increased their holding. Landowners had benefited from the purchase of low price land. The industrialisation of manufacturing brought to a head the scandal of child labour. By 1844, the employment of any child below the age of eight, in the textile industry, was banned. Between eight and thirteen, the child had to attend school for three hours a day. Many parents evaded the restrictions where they could. Textile workers opposed the raising of the minimum working age of half-timers. Lace schools were set up to teach children to read. The commissioners later tested the children to find out what had been learnt. The results proved that although the children could read the majority could not write.

The Union workhouse was still a necessary. Inmates were issued with a hammock although it would appear that these were not in a very good condition. An issue of string gave some comfort to repair the netting and to ensure the hammock hung properly. Two rugs made by previous inmates were all that were allowed for each person. There were complaints about not being able to wash and the violent disturbances resulted in two months hard labour, in the House of Correction.

It was the large acreage now of the thrusting landowners that allowed them to survive the hard times, after the act of enclosure. Once again, the Pouletts gained most. By 1865 horse-powered threshing machines had been installed, improved land drainage continued, whilst fields redesigned both assisted hay farming to reach its peak by the end of the century.In 1866 J B Gifford, who owned and foundered a lace manufacturing business at Forton - then moved to Holyrood Mill, forming Gifford Fox & Company, who were approached to finance and provide premises for a Co-op. This they did with the additional loan of £15. This proved to be a very successful enterprise although it did not stay at the mill but moved to Fore Street under the title of Chard Industrial & Provident Society. The shop’s staff was in the main local people. To them came Thomas Dolling as a twelve-year-old errand boy in the year 1879. He was a Chard Board pupil who was not only accomplished at schoolwork but also diligent in the shop. Within twenty years, he had risen to become the head of the Co-op. For the next forty years he stayed and directed the operation taking it to great heights.

Tatworth boasted the building and consecration, of a daughter-church to St Mary’s of Chard. This became the Mission Chapel of Tatworth, in September, 1851, [at that time, still considered a hamlet]. When built it was consecrated by the Bishop of Jamaica – the foundation stone being laid three months before, in June, with much approbation.. The chapel, built on a quarter of an acre of land, had been donated by the lord of the manor, Earl Poulett, together with the necessary stone, and fifty pounds towards the total cost of one thousand and forty pounds. All previous churchgoers from Tatworth had to walk three miles to attended St Mary’s Church, Chard. When the poor arrived the church was short of seating – even as far back as 1827. Years later a gallery had been erected, but still the church lacked sufficient accommodation. Many worshippers attended St Margaret’s Chapel of Ease in South Chard rather than face the walk and the possibility of not having a seat.

The early life of Elsie May

Chapter VII: The early life of Elsie May


Tatworth school was built in 1872, in the same Early English style as the church, built some twenty years before. These two institutions gave the village a new status: recognised as a separate community from Chard - to became a parish in its own right. Thirty-percent of the population was aged fourteen or less, and it was deemed highly desirable to have a local school. The new school was built of local flint stone with brick quoins around the windows and doors. Two gable ends faced the road, separated by two lean-to aisles and a front porch. Two sets of steps mount the pavement to meet at the arched wooden doors, which led into cloakrooms. Topping the whole was a bell tower, whose ringing bell called the children to school.

The pupils were mainly from homes who’s parents worked at the mill or creamery - they all knew each other or knew of each other. It was that sort of village school. Very few lived at a distance and most walked or rode a bike. Living opposite, gave the Collins children an even greater sense of belonging, not just to the school but to the community and to its inhabitants.

When the school day was over all the children came out in succession - the youngest first, making the otherwise deserted road alive with their shouts and calls. It was a happy place remembered fondly. They were all oddly dressed especially the younger ones. Their chatter was joyful if rather quaint not in the least embarrassed by their local patois. The boys in their caps and the girl’s hair tied up in ribbons skipping along in their pinafores. The majority would come from poor homes but that does not explain how they were brought up. The village was in the main a god-fearing place, its inhabitants Low Church, ridged in behaviour, and set in their ways.

The boys and girls who lived at the other side of the village - near the railway station, or Chardstock, used lane, path and short cut, to reach school. Along the way they could usually find some stick or special find to show-off with… betting each other that theirs the greater find, and couldn’t be bettered. It was the boys who liked to find a stick to make a bow or make-pretend sword, catapult or pipe. The girls, who kept well away from the nettles and briars, were the authority on what could be eaten safely or which leaf would make the better print. They chatted and giggled, keeping to their own little group, as they weaved their way past the cowpats refusing to take notice of the boys… by now, carving their name on the beech tree.

Their past-times, games, hobbies, and interests, are little different from those played generations before, or now. The boys kick a ball or tin and the girls skip, play catch or hopscotch – the same the world over. Their clothes less tattered today although fashions have changed slightly - but childish behaviour remains much the same… The bullies demand subservience and the meek consideration, the confident were heard, and the shy tried to hide. That, after all, is the way of the world!

The village was lucky having the mill and creamery, with all their ancillary trades, giving training and employment to its inhabitants. The Chard Road station and sidings, gave employers the means to import labour and transport goods. Both the warehousing sheds and ironmongers provided all those ancillary pieces of equipment necessary to support both these firms engineering shops.

Ten years before the school was built, education standards were linked to ‘student results’ – under the Revised Code. There was an annual examination, an attendance record level, religious instruction and needlework for the girls. Specific subject grants for grammar, history and geography, were brought into being in 1867, which raised the number of subjects - giving a broader curriculum; these subject became ‘class’ subjects, eight years later. Shortly before, a number of other subjects were included: Latin, mathematics, science, modern languages and domestic economy – cookery and gardening. By the turn of the century, the curriculum as we know it, was in general use, and not long afterwards ‘payment by results’ ended.

Child labour under eight was forbidden, six years later the employment of children on farms was not allowed [in a group less than ten] even though eight-year-old children could be employed, if they had attended school for 250 days during the preceding year. However, all the laws passed to regulate labour were widely evaded. The Elementary Education Act of 1870-73, compelled Chard authorities to ensure that there was adequate provision… to establish a Chard Board School. The cost of the board was met by local taxation. Church Aided Schools had to rely upon voluntary donations topped up by donations from the local gentry. The Board Schools provide national elementary education for over two million children. There was now a universal curriculum, which had to be followed. Secondary education did not have the same encompassing system until the School Boards tried to instil order. Eventually the Education Act of 1902, ensured the basis of all public education, and lasted until the Education Act was brought into being by Rab Butler in 1944.

My mother, started school at the age of four, in 1912. Academic standards in the Board Schools still did not rise sufficiently, even after the 1902 Act set out targets levels for Standards I and II. Standard I required an ability to read from a textbook, including words of more than one syllable: dictation, writing down a few common words, in a neat hand, the ability to add up, and subtract - not more than four figures, and the recitation of the multiplication table up to six. Many children did not reach even this low minimum standard and it is unfortunate that teachers resorted to harsh methods to improve their standards.

Village schools, at the turn of the twentieth century, laid great emphasis on the principles of Christian religion, morals, reading, writing, and the casting of accounts with beads. Some pupils went on to grammar schools. Girls were accepted into the village school but not allowed into the grammar. The grammar school’s curriculum consisted of Latin grammar and literature, history and geography - to some degree, and a little Greek... The scriptures were obligatory, so too arithmetics - mental and addition. Diction and manners were given special regard, along with National heroes. Marching, some games, and physical exercises, considered fitting in short measure. Boys attended six-days of the week and church on Sundays. Those parishioners who valued education – the ability to read and write and reckon, were usually those who could afford to do so without their child being ‘put to labour’, for as long as was necessary. Those folk were tradesmen, yeoman farmers, and lesser gentry. When the School Boards were put in place it was to those citizens – those unable to afford individual lessons by tutors and public schools, they were planning for.

The School’s Inspectors - noticed in both town and country, the bad treatment of schoolchildren. The nation’s children were, from this time forward, going to be better educated. The ‘payment, of teachers, by results’ had disappeared by the time Elsie went to school. Although the children in Tatworth had the benefit of an education in a new school, operating a regulated curriculum, they still lacked the cultural benefits available to town children. Eight years before, the Board of Education defined elementary education as ‘forming and strengthening the character of children, and developing their intelligence’, assisting boys and girls to, ‘fit themselves for the work of life’. Girls were expected to be self-sacrificing, domesticated, and moral… boys, hard working, loyal, and brave, both boys and girls extolled as, ‘Children of the Empire. The Nation was proud of itself believing that there were, ‘further noble deeds to be done’, the Empire was supported throughout the country. Heads of rural schools not only maintained discipline within the school but were sometimes expected to control the behaviour of their charges outside as well. In many outlying hamlets, sending older children to school was looked on as 'wasted labour' by the poor.

When Elsie went to school in 1912, children were being given cocoa or some other warm drink for a 1d during the midday break. The local nurse still discovered ‘dirty heads’ during a school inspection, teachers were always taking care that when children scratched they were inspected for lice or flea bites. Inferior meals at home caused some of the children to be undernourished. Giving free school meals afforded the school the opportunity to instil good manners and proper eating habits – to eat properly with a knife and fork. A full-time dentist travelled from school to school checking the children’s teeth. He carried out inspections whilst the children were sent out to play. Cheap spectacles were obtainable free of charge and instruction given about the correct way to clean one’s teeth. The health of the nation’s children had become a national issue and initiatives started to improve the general state of health, and other child welfare matters. The Rowntree Foundation highlighted the ‘serious physical deterioration amongst the poorer section of the community, in their 1901 publication. The First World War evened out the vast difference between children health, in good and bad areas, by government inspection.

Every day began the same for all children. At the turn of the twentieth century, most working-class families expected their children to contribute to the running of the household. Tasks were learnt by following their parents round the home helping as they went. The boys took on the heavier work whilst the girls helped with the sewing and food preparation… water had to be bought from the stream... each day had its routine of household chores. All this work had to be done before going to school… It was expected that Elsie and her sisters helped their mother look after the chickens, fetch the eggs, and clean them out. The washing had to be mangled, hung out, turned, and then ironed, when dry. The vegetables gathered from the garden, washed and put away for the next meal. There was a half-time system at the mill; children over the age of ten could work limited hours, whilst receiving their education. This continued until after the First World War.

After the war, the troops were dismissed and returned home. They might have been informed by letter that the village had changed or they might have seen for themselves a few of these changes when they were sent home on leave. However, it was a different thing altogether when they had to face the changes day after day. Younger people were not content to put up with things that had gone on for centuries. They wanted to sample the so-called good living to be found in the towns and cities. Women too had seen for themselves their sex working on the land and others had gone to work in factories. The industrial age had started the decline. The First World War had carried the momentum further, shattering the old ways. Things were never to be the same again. It was not just the working class that had to adapt. The upper classes, particularly the large landowners lost their sons who were going to take over. Working arrangements at the mill continued, but not for long…!

Children still worked at the mill crawling under the looms, with bare feet to stop slipping, to retrieve the ends of broken threads. These ends had to be instantly repaired in very hot and damp conditions to quickly get the gliding jennies back into action again. They felt proud they were contributing to the family’s income as they felt the sixpence in their pockets. The children of farm workers also turned their hands to the work in the fields. Picking up stones, weeding the crops, and collecting potatoes. No child of the poor was allowed to get away from, ‘working for their keep’.

The bell on the roof tolled at 9am. It seemed very loud and the pigeons scattered at its sound… the noisiness of the children greeting friends subsided and the running around stilled… lines were formed outside the door and all waited for the teacher to admit them. No talking was allowed and each child allotted a seat - after the girls put on their pinnies. Any late comer received a black mark and this was entered in the term report. The roll was called when attendants were ticked off in red. All the Collins children went to this school – there was no escaping either the building or its influence – it stood before Rosalie Cottage and dominated the skyline!

Prayers and Hymns started the day - always the well-known favourites learnt by heart… just as the scholastic subjects were reinforced, by repeating them in rhyme - intoned in a singsong fashion. It was an unchanging ritual going back generations. Classes started at nine o-clock, and lasted until three thirty every day; these went on until she was fourteen. The school hall divided by a large curtain, which did not reach the top of the pitched roof, one side for the younger children and the other side for the older ones. The sun’s rays, finding a gap in the curtain, penetrating the dusty haze, created a spectrum on the opposite wall as they passed through the glass … normally drawn back for morning assembly and special occasions.

A trained certificated male assistant teacher received £100 per year; his female colleague received £10 less. Teacher training colleges insisted upon a strict religious calling for their student intake – they must be free from all faults. It was about moral ascendancy over literary knowledge. It was not always the case that properly trained teachers filled the vacancies. Acting teachers, who were usually the brightest girls in their final year, were preferred – heads considered that they understood their jobs better and had an empathy with their charges. Elementary teachers were, ‘uncultivated and imperfectly educated’, commented one Chief Inspector. It was not unusual for the local squire or magistrate to require schoolteachers to attend Sunday school, play the piano, and organize out of school educational trips, without payment...

The first and second year children followed the seasons with calendar records noting when the first snowdrop showed itself, when the first cuckoo called, and the first swallow flew. The class would be given the task of drawing these and the best ones displayed on the wall.

All the younger children and newcomers used slates and squeaky slate pencils and approved lessons like English and arithmetic checked by the local authority. Scripture was compulsory for all and once a week the vicar would come to talk about moral behaviour - told in the form of a story. Country children were taught to observe and appreciate the countryside and local history sometimes by a village elder. When the class was considered capable, they were given lead pencils and told to copy letters of the alphabet and words from cardboard specimens. The next stage, after obtaining the correct standard - exercise books with faint green lines were passed out, was to copy off the blackboard simple sentences, this carried them to the next stage, linking sentences together to make a paragraph.

After the two years, the class graduated to the use of pen and ink. Every day the ink monitor would pass out the filled china inkwells placing them in the drilled holes at the top of each desk. It was found difficult to control the ink at first or even to make the pen work at all. The nibs had to be clean and the points not splayed out or crossed - by too much pressure – if so a new one was issued from the store cupboard. Blots and smudges appeared as if by magic. Sleeves and hair sometimes got in the way. But these hurdles were soon overcome and the class settled down to perfect their copper plate hand writing – less pressure on the pen for up strokes and a firmer pressure on the way down. There was always a controversy whether strokes down should follow directly on top of those going up instead of making a loop.

It was consider important by school authorities that ‘drill’ superseded random gymnastics. The class was told to march swinging their arms forward with the opposite leg – in military fashion. All the arm and leg movements were to be done in correct order - following an accepted pattern – so that each exercises known in advance. Every muscle had an approved exercise and running strictly regulated. If the day were particularly cold then: marching, swinging the arms, hopping and coordinated exercises proceded in turn - the class all following round and round folding and unfolding like a snake. There was never enough space for games, and no equipment if there were. Once a year there was sports day, when all the classes did their exercises before their parents. There were three-legged races, egg and spoon and sack races, throwing the beanbag and catching the ball. All the children had to bring an enamel mug to school so that lemonade could be served out. There were iced and currant buns, provided by the school authorities. Prizes won and achievements recognised, usually in the form of a book with an inscribed insert.

Music lessons consisted of practising singing the National Anthem, the national songs of each country making up Britain, popular patriotic songs and folk songs. This involved much practice, which was taught using the tonic sol-fah system, using a tuning fork to start on the right note.

The whole school marched into the playground to salute the flag and sing all the songs practised…. on Trafalgar Day - with an emphasis on why it was so important to have a navy to protect the country, its Empire, and its trade. After the First World War, Armistice Day was observed when once again the whole school assembled to salute the flag and observe the two minutes silence with the flag at half-mast. National and Saint Days celebrated - Flying the Union Jack and the flag of St George a prerequisite for all organizations and groups. Empire Day considered the most important national event next to the Kings birthday. Patriotic songs sang and tales of daring do – exploration, discovery and invention, read aloud and cheered. All these national events were celebrated during the Sunday church service, which following on from where the school left off.

My mother and her class were taken for country walks where the names of plants and trees were written down and the local wild-life pointed out. Collections of grasses, leaves, butterflies and other insects mounted and named. Records of when certain things happened throughout the year were copied down and older children made their own sketchbooks, which were initialled and coloured up. Prizes were presented in the hall at the end of each year, these, once again were mainly books.

There were three teachers taking different groups called standards. Infants were taught to knit dishcloths and to patch holes and darn. Elementary dressmaking, buttonhole stitching and pleating was also taught. Reading was considered especially important and frequently checked by the School Inspector. The quality of writing - using correct English grammar, neatly set out on the page a necessity: Geography, History, and Nature Studies, Needlework, Cooking and Gardening, all given attention.

Most girl pupils had long hair, plaits or ponytails [on leaving school hair was ‘put up’ either in a bun or braids round the head or draped either side below the ears]. Where possible in large families most of the clothes would be hand-me-downs. If these were not available, they were purchased at ‘bring and buy sales’ or made by mothers, except shoes and hats. Generally, the dresses were of checked gingham, knitted socks, and cotton knickers. Winter wear usually navy skirt attached to a bodice, with hand-knitted jumper, knee high socks, brown lace-up shoes, knitted woollen vest, a liberty bodice buttoned down the front, and an assortment of other buttons to hold up suspenders and knickers. In extremely cold weather, fleecy knickers were worn with a pocket for a handkerchief.

Nothing was ever wasted in the clothing line. Discarded clothes were: cut down, shortened, taken up, patched, darned, or cut into squares - for rag rugs. Worn sheets turned side to middle or made into pillowcases. Worn pillowcases became handkerchiefs, liners or tea towels. There was no end to the amount of make do and mend necessary to look after a large family. All families had a rag bag the contents useful for repairs or making up patchwork quilts and mats.

The only outside building was the coal shed and a row of lavatories in the playground. They contained a wooden seat over a bucket that was emptied each week by the school caretaker, who also provided the torn-up newspapers on a string!

There were lessons on Health & Hygiene – the importance of washing hair emphasised, as were: brushing teeth, cutting nails, and what was good to eat. The importance of bathing; the girls were taught how to look after babies. However, there were no lessons on sex. Girls were instructed on how to look after and run a home and this was linked to sewing - the make-up of curtains and covers. Boys were instructed how to dig, why to dig and how to plant out vegetables, and run a greenhouse. There were talks on how to avoid common ailments by a local nurse who cautioned about practising old country remedies, dispelling superstitions, and tales of false beliefs - especially about the menstruation period. Some children smelled strongly and no one wanted to share a desk with them… much of the nurse’s talk was trying to make children aware without spelling out the truth. Children sometimes wore underwear all the year through, never taking them off.

There was neither school milk nor lunches – sandwiches were eaten at the lunch break… there was always water from the tap in the playground. The eldest children did not finish until three-forty-five to give the infants and their mother’s time to clear the front entrance. Those children who had an elder brother or sister, to take then home, had to wait inside.

The rooms were well lit because there were such large windows set into the gable ends. In winter, it was always cold due to the high ceilings. Two large round stoves heated both ends of the room. However much the stoves were stoked it was never sufficient to heat the corners. The floor was bare boards, which gave off clouds of dust whenever there was any movement, particularly during the morning assembly, and for the dancing class.

Infants were taught to knit with two needles and then four. Darning, using a wooden mushroom, how to turn, hem and take-up and gather in, how to sew on buttons, make floor cloths and cover buttons and taught fraying out – removing each separate thread from a patch of material and un-picking – unravelling an old woollen garment, were methods used to provide material to make-up new. Sewing bags made and each girl’s initials graced the sides – these were end of first term tests and used by the teachers to keep one class quiet whilst the other in the room carried on with their reading and writing. Material was supplied by the council – always-white cotton. From this articles of clothing were made, pillowcases and nighties. Patterns had to be traced, suitable for the child’s size. There was a communal box of thimbles, needles and thread. Embroidery with coloured wool made simple samplers.

A school inspector of the day noted that a number of children had died through diphtheria. The winter always brought the usual bout of illnesses: whooping cough, mumps, chicken pox, scarlatina, diphtheria, scarlet fever, colds and influenza. The Schools Medical Officer had to be notified especially in an outbreak. These problems affected the standard of education. Special lessons were arranged for children to catch up with lost lessons. Regular attendances by the Doctor and Nurse, to inspect for infections and general cleanliness.If there were, the parents were visited to check that action had been taken... Heads were examined by the Nurse, for nits, and general health. Proper clothing and shoes for winter wear identified, reported and logged. There were no aspirins or cold remedies. Antibiotics had not long been discovered. Infections were easily spread by contact. In the early twenties, there was a national epidemic of mumps and influensa.

The senior classes had to fill in nature notebooks mostly by personal observation, making sketches and writing explanatory notes. It was encouraged that everyone should be observant and knows what to look for when each season arrived. Poetry was used to promote a good memory. Popular writers of the day discussed and passages read out. On Speech Days, prizes would be distributed for every subject. As with national songs, poems and noted authors - these works committed to heart - to the extent that they could be remembered all through one’s life. In rural areas, in the early twentieth century, most children left school at twelve, to start work. The Education Act of 1918 raised the age to fourteen. The School’s Inspector noted, ‘that arithmetic was not a strong subject but that the discipline was good and the children attentive to their lessons’.

In the early afternoons, before the youngest children pored out of the main school doors, shouting and screaming, their mothers had done the shopping and made courtesy calls... pushing their coach-built, second-hand, much used prams, containing the latest addition. It was a time relished by the mothers knowing their peaceful existence about to be extinguished when their little ones came out of school. They remembered their time in the same school, sometimes even the same teachers. The layout of the schoolrooms recalled - the smells and sounds the same. There were brothers, sisters, cousins, and even more distant relations, mingling with friends, made many years before, all doing the same lessons, in the same manner.

After school my mother roamed the woods and fields with her sisters and brothers in search of birds’ nests and ‘fruits of the hedge’ to take home and present to their mother which might stop her complaining about their torn clothes. She was strict which was necessary considering that at thirty-seven she had eleven children to look after. Her life was a constant endeavour to make ends meet. Gentle, devoted and strong willed, worshipping respectability and constancy. The children played hide-and-seek and Red Indians leaping the streams, climbing the trees, collecting bluebells in the wood and constructing bows and arrows. Mum would be wearing her pinny and hair in ribbons, her brothers, corduroy knee breeches and a jersey. They would search the hedges for suitable sticks to make into pipes, whistles, catapults and peashooters, spud and pop guns, bows and arrows, lances, swords and daggers. The vibrating blade of grass - held between thumbs, made a whistling noise when air blown through… Owl hoots, produced in the same way, but without the grass… betting each other, they could whistle louder or longer... Children still trundled their hoops, bowled marbles – tip-cat'd and skipped; drew hop-scotch chalk lines, spun tops and constructed ‘cats cradles’… Girls played their singing games - joined hands and skipped… here we go gathering ‘Nuts in May’; Jenny Jones visited, Orange and Lemons chopped off heads, and What’s the time Mr Wolf - tempted giant paces… The Big Ship Sails, and The Farmer wants a Wife, gave everyone a chance. Throwing a ball against the school wall, clapping hands, whilst spinning round, sevens, or swapping marbles, or cigarette cards, were all games played at school. Conkers were strung in the autumn and daisies threaded in spring.

All the children in the village went to Sunday school, whose numbers had been built up since the chapel had been erected, thus enabling a choir of boys and young men to be formed - the Morning Service, followed on after the school. The choir was used, as a means of teaching basic music to the children - would make them keener to continue attending. Occasionally there would be special services for a christening, saint’s day or Mothering Sunday. The annual Empire Day was celebrated using paper hats previously painted in the Union Jack colours. Patriotic songs were sung - stories of daring-do – Cecil Rhodes and Captain Cook, atlases perused for its pink areas and places of British influence. It was a day for rejoicing and celebration, greatly looked forward-to. The organist who doubled as the choirmaster religiously stuck to the few Hymns, Ancient and Modern, which were well known and practiced. It was a way of ensuring that there would not be any embarrassing silences of mumbled verses. The church brought together all the various elements of the population cementing the community together. Whether the day wet or fine… the music of the choir, gave the stark interior a softer touch.

In the winter, the cold seemed to be far more intense. Clothing was not so efficient at keeping the cold out and often children had chapped hands and legs. Some cried, when their hands started to thaw out, whilst standing round the coke brazier. Many of the children reached school having to stumble over rutted ground and frozen field still wearing ordinary shoes worn by much use – usually from being passed on from older brothers and sisters. Sometimes the soles would be so thin that studs and blakies would not hold in to the leather. Fortunately, the Collins children lived opposite the school did not suffer these setbacks. This was one of the positive aspects to having the school so near!

My mother told us that her reading was done mostly in bed by the light of a candle. During the evening, before going to bed, time would be filled by knitting in front of the fire, resting her feet on the logs, set before the fire. Her sisters would embroider, make spills – rolling up strips of newspaper, make dolls’ clothes and Christmas presents: kettle or iron holders, gloves, pin-cushions, handkerchief sachets, lavender bags, padded coat hangers, peg bags and tray cloths – many of these would be crocheted or contain crocheted borders. French knitting, using a cotton reel with looped wool over pins, made a long cord that could be tacked in the round to make mats. A useful present could be made from sewing mothballs in red silk… providing leaves, cut out of thick felt, to represent holly, a hanging loop of platted wool would ward off moths in the wardrobe. Dishcloths were knitted from heavy cotton yarn, face flannels from old cut down towels, old dresses made aprons, rag rugs, patchwork quilts and sacking doormats. Cardboard cutouts were decorated with coloured paper stuck on with flour paste to make theatre sets were some of the pastimes, which contributed towards passing long winter evenings. Her brothers designed poker work using red hot skewers spliced onto a wooden handle, cut jig saws out of pictures pasted on boards, and interlaced wooden spills to make mats.

Along with the harvest revels, Christmas Day and Boxing Day were the other two great occasions for the whole family. Both these were holidays celebrated by everyone, although the animals still had to be looked after. Holly and mistletoe – the only decorations, were draped across the tops of pictures and laid across the ceiling beams. Carols were sung, everyone singing one verse on their own, party games enjoyed and simple presents unwrapped. The children went to church three times on Christmas Day and on each occasion they enjoyed a special meal, the highlight of the day's events, the afternoon meal served with parsnip wine for the elders. The church choir did the rounds and the children knocked on doors after singing a carol. Neither, New Year's Eve, or the following day, were marked by celebration.

Elsie and the world of work

Chapter VIII: Elsie and the world of work


Amongst the children who left school, in the twenties, there were few who went on to higher education. Some of the girls took up nursing or teaching - the only two positions which required training for girls. Those who were to become pupil-teachers could stay on at school to teach the youngest children and pick up some of the skills necessary for teaching. Trainee nurses might be taken on in hospitals if they were near enough. Both positions were underpaid receiving less than the lowest paid worker. Women teachers, and nurses in training, could not get married, having to leave if they did so.

If a bright thirteen year old, from a lower-middle class family, residing in the country – father perhaps a self employed artisan with a flourishing business employing others; the track to become a teacher would be as a class monitor, to an uncertificated teacher, teaching the first induction class of about fifty children. If he/she proved capable, offered a formal indenture - as a pupil-teacher. The first hour of every day was put aside for instruction… you would be also expected to take an annual examination for each of the five year apprenticeship course when you then proceeded to a teacher training college - to take a two-year course. After 1903, the starting age for apprenticeships was sixteen and paid £2 per annum. Their title was pupil-teacher in a four-year course. It is clear that a national scheme was still a long way off. The observance of one scheme rather than another depended on the local authority - whether it was at a board school or attached to a religious body.

There were no unions or tribunals working arrangements were strictly adhered to. Pupil Teachers had to attend county classes twice a week This continued until the Second World War had been underway for a couple of years. Then the emergency of all out war made such rules irrelevant. The training for both skills took until the pupil was eighteen - then earning about £1.16p per month One pound usually went back home to mother and the rest on lodging and keep, leaving very little left; then a college course undertaken for full training.

The County Council paid any travelling expenses – this was the only grant. Books had to be bought and college fees had to be paid – by the parents. An oath had to be taken by Pupil Teachers that they would not work out of the county for two years after qualifying. It also meant that the now trained teacher could not get married until after that period had been completed.

Some children were bright enough to sit for a scholarship examination when eleven – and then go to a grammar school. However, there were so few places that extra cramming had to be contemplated. School uniform, books, sports equipment and satchel all had to be bought, and the fares paid for train or bus. It was quite impossible for workers children to think of such treatment.

If the boy was to go into ‘trade’, he too had to think of an apprenticeship. There were no such schemes for girls until the late seventies. An employer had to be found to take on a lad and there were many who wanted the chance. Most trades took five years - to become full trained, others took seven. The parents had to pay the employer a fee for the privilege - which might be several hundred pounds. The often meant that the boy had to leave the village and find lodgings. At the end of his apprenticeship, he would have his ‘papers’ stating that he was full qualified. He was then likely to be taken on as an ‘improver’ at the lowest paid rate, for at least the first three months; by which time the employer would be in a better place to judge whether to take on the worker. If taken on, it would take several years to be accepted as a fully trained worker, then, and only then, would he receive the ‘going’ rate for the job - at the bottom rung of any ladder - any layoffs, then he suffered the 'last in, first out' rule.

An alternative was to work on a farm – as a ‘lad’, to pick up the skills of a land worker - this maybe, looking after animals, helping repair walls, ditches and fences. Alternatively, as a carrier’s boy, delivering. Other employment could be found working for the local estate – park, garden or ‘in house’. Girls usually stayed at home under the watchful eye of mother – perhaps making lace, straw dollies or making garments. What is interesting is that women were more adventurous than men and that of those women it was the younger who opted for urban life – more often than not, to life in-service. It is clear from census figures that economic and social developments since the latter part of the nineteenth century have confirmed that women were attracted to town life… It only needed the stimulus of a shortage of men in the work place to attract women from the home. Each of the wars in the twentieth century has contributed to this trend. By the time the First World War was over women had seen a complete change in social cohesion. This was the start to the breaking up of class structures. The numbers of men killed and maimed, particularly the officer classes, was felt by the gentry who were looking forward to getting back to pre-war standards. Inheritance taxes completed the breakdown…

Girls from agricultural labourer’s families in their first job often only worked for their keep - so that they might receive training and eventually that much sought after reference. The turnover of servants was high the average time in a first job was three years. Positions for more skilled trades were found through the grapevine – the church, tradesmen, family or friends.

My mother started work, four years after the Great War finished, in 1922 - immediately on leaving school at the age of fourteen. Her father, aged fifty-two, was employed as an independent lace engineer at Small & Tidmas net factory doing maintenance work. Elsie’s mother Rosa was looking after ten of her children at home. It is uncertain if they were all living together, but certainly seven were – which made Rosalie Cottage very cramped living indeed. The number of children conceived close together was normal for the working class and the lack of living space common for the poor. The obvious lack of family planning being the result of the absence of sex education, lack of discipline, and personal ambition... there was also a degree of, ‘conforming to general behaviour patterns’. Even though there was a national exodus to the cities and towns, there were still insufficient jobs and housing. In the 1920s, neither the Tatworth Parish Housing Scheme, at Wellings Close provided sufficient housing, nor did the Perry Street Factory cottages - mainly taken up by retired workers. This shortage mainly affected the growing population of young people with children. Money was short, jobs hard to come by, and even when they did, the choice was limited; everything had to be within cycle range.

It is not generally realized that between the end of the First World War and 1922, one quarter of the land in Britain changed hands. It was not appreciated at the time and has scarcely been written about after. It was not just one factor that brought this about... the great landowners were short of cash, and they were tired... tired of the responsibility, after so many of the owners, and their male progeny, had been killed - in the slaughter of WWI. It could have been put down to taxation, poor grain harvests, imported grain prices forcing down its profitability and the decline in the old tenant landlord system. It all came a head... the old ways could not continue. The aristocracy had let the country down, now it was the turn of the Trades Unions and the Labour Party. Surely, the workers could rely upon each other?

In the twenties, most working-class families expected their children to contribute to the running of the household. Tasks were learnt by following their parents round the home helping as they went. The boys took on the heavier work whilst the girls helped with the sewing and food preparation… water had to be bought from the stream... each day had its routine of household chores. Even though Tatworth had two main employers that made the village more self sufficient for jobs at least forty per-cent of labour was connected to the land. Agricultural prices had been falling for six months and continued to fall. The price of wheat had halved in six months and the farmers, to combat this: shed workers, reduced prices, and reduced the acreage of cereal cultivation. It took ten years of struggle for the farming industry to recover and by 1932, the Wheat Act guaranteed prices and control mounted through Marketing Boards.

Knowing that her daughter needed work her mother arranged for her son Cecil, to introduce Elsie to Mr Phelps - the manager of the lace mill. Her good references and connection with the factory - through the family, ensured that she would stand a good chance of being employed - to become a trained lace hand. This was no light matter. Only one child in six was offered training of some kind, and to be an apprentice was even more difficult... My mother’s references and good school report stood her in good stead. She started work at the Small & Tidmus net factory in 1922, the fourth member of the Collins family to work there. This was three years before the ‘mule’ spinners, became the first group of workers to be enrolled as legalized trade unionists. The man in charge of the lace factory was Fred Phelps who lived at the top of St Margaret’s Lane, opposite the thatched chapel of ease.

The Perry Street Lace Mill was Tatworth's main employer giving work to over fifty people in lean times, and a hundred, when in full production. The mill had been developed by Cuff & Co., in 1830. Ten years later J B Payne had bought it but had very little capital to develop the mill. The power was supplied by a feeder pond discharging into leats. During the next ten years, the industry was in the doldrums and the workers on half time. This unsettled production period was caused by the usual social problems – industrialization, labour problems, cost of living, export restrictions, fashion changes, and war. In effect, lace for fashion was a luxury; however, for mosquito netting it had a permanent place in the nations shopping list - during wars and troop settlements abroad – later for parachute silk.

Mr Phelps, the works manager, saw to it that Elsie was properly taught, and then she was placed under the watchful eye of one of the senior lace hands... It was not long before she was crawling about under the looms joining the broken thread in company with the other girls. Eventually she was allowed to wind the bobbins. The Manchester spinners, their wagons rolled into the mill yard at frequent intervals, supplied the yarn by the hank, which were slipped over the free-running spoked frame and drawn off by Elsie and her fellow trainee girls to wooden bobbins.When sufficiently filled the wooden bobbins were placed into a basket, taken to the machine bobbin rack, and placed in rows… their threads taken through feeder guides to brass bobbins, an inch and a half diameter within a slim case. Once winding completed they were packed tightly into a bobbin carriage ready to be inserted into the lace machine. The yarn from each bobbin threaded through an eyelet.

Another rack was filled with a long line of wooden bobbins their threads drawn off and taken through guides, to converge with others – warping onto a drum. From the drum groups of threads taken off onto a long roller called the beam… this beam was then taken to the lace machine and placed in position. A bundle of threads were then untied and lead through guides to the net roller and when given tension - the warp was ready. The brass bobbin carriages then set into slots in the machine. The machine was set into motion. The weft thread was given a twist as it engaged with the warp thread making a series of interlocking loops.

There, Elsie worked with her assistant for ten years, with the great mill wheel, within the building on the floor below, revolving with enough weight and power to shake the building, throbbing and thrusting away, as it gathered speed. A clackerty, pulsating action, that seemed to be beating time with your pulse. The mill’s power transferred by an iron shaft beneath; above, on every floor, the pulleys, spindles, cogs running in and out, and drive belts slap and clap as they start the bobbins spinning… then nothing but the mighty crescendo could be heard. The lace hands signalled to each other by hand, mouthing the words – much like the deaf and dumb. The world trembles as the tiny cotton particles dance to the tune. It was the job of her father to repair and make his own machines in the workshop alongside the mill.

The ‘lace hand’ or ‘twist hand’ worked with a boy or girl to look after a pair of machines… setting the machine up – un-tying a bundle of warp threads… leading them through the guides to the net roller, to be tensioned. When the brass bobbins were slotted into carriages the machine was ready to start… knitting - twisting as it engaged with the warp thread. The labourers made up the largest numbers in the mill followed by lace menders and lace hands.

After learning the trade, she was paid five shillings a week; a labourers wage was forty-six shillings. Nearly all lace manufacturers kept a general store and made the workers take goods for money. Two loaves of bread and half a pound of butter formed part of the weekly allowance. Mother could well remember the noise made by the machinery, the dust and the fluff that flew about – being breathed in… and the danger of fire and explosions. She worked among the rows of whirling spindles where the threads often broke when the tension was too great… twisted and spun. Her first job was to repair these broken ends as quickly as possible moving as fast as she could taking care not to slip on the oil-soaked wooden floors. It was so hot in the spinning and weaving sheds maintaining a moist atmosphere to prevent the threads breaking… that the girls wore just their slips throughout each day. Elsie stayed there for ten years until she was twenty-four, working her way up the ladder… becoming one of the senior lace hands.

Both men and women operated a number of looms packed closely together. Although this made a short distance to cover, it was tightly packed. The operator had to maintain his or her own looms making sure the area was swept clear and the machine oiled. The breaks in the cotton and lack of weft made good if the young trainee girls were not there. The weaving shed were kept cool and damp in summer and steam heated in winter… the object being to stop the cotton from breaking and assist in a better weave. However, the dripping condensation and damp atmosphere did nothing for colds and chills. In summer, the floors kept damp to hold down the flying dust and fluff, which could become a hazard being flammable and causing lung damage. From accounts of factory life at the turn of the century it is obvious that the working conditions for both men and women would not remain in such a depressing state… relying on time to heal the sore expected… however, forces more urgent pushed evolution.

The comparison is easy to make between the periods prior to each of the World Wars… both lengthy agricultural depressions. It is also not difficult to see why these depressions were immediately reversed by rearmament and conscription. The second agricultural revolution saw the state intervene to reconstruct rural Britain. There was an urgency to expand production at any cost we were to become self-sufficient.

Grandfather gave up being a self-employed lace mill engineer when he was sixty-five, in 1935. The Salter & Stokes creamery had open up in South Chard near to Chard Junction some years previously and he and his sons went to work there. In the 1938, The Wiltshire United Dairies stated a milk processing plant on the site, the most modern in the world at the time. Shortly afterwards it became part of the United Dairies Group… then in turn Cow & Gate… all part of the Unigate Group. Now there was no family connection with the lace mill.

Only a cycle ride away from Tatworth is Forde Abbey. The original abbey had been built to accommodate twelve brothers in 1142 – after taking six years to build. By 1200, it was considered one of the major scholastic, religious foundations in Britain, continuing its role until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The last abbot, Thomas Chard considerably enlarged the building adding the cloisters. After the dissolution, it fell into decay until bought a hundred years later by Sir Edmund Prideaux – who later became Oliver Cromwell’s Attorney General - further enlarged it to today proportions. In 1702, the estate came by marriage to Sir Francis Gwym, whose inheritors continued the ownership until a relation of the present family, Mrs Bertram Evans, bought the building and nearly two thousand acres of land, including five farms, in 1864. In 1905, there were eight resident servants for the family. The in-house servants included a housekeeper, governess, a nurse and nursery-maid, a cook. A parlour maid, and a ‘tweeny’, who combined the duties of housemaid with those of the kitchen. For outside duties, a coachman/chauffeur and stable-man who occupied the stable mews, whose duties involved driving the new car – the brougham was still kept, as were a pair of horses for carriage work, and a hunter for him. Head gardener with a staff of four who maintained a kitchen garden and park, and pig man whose duties included the pig-sty, chicken houses and milking the cow. The laundry was done outside the house in the village, as was the shoeing of the horses. Increasingly the number of servants was reduced the work taken over by part-time staff. As the main services were introduced so there was a further reduction in staff. Before mains water was piped to the abbey, there was a great deal of water to be supplied to the rooms daily. There was three breakfasts to prepare - for the nursery and schoolroom at eight and for the dining room at nine.It was the housekeeper’s job to control and direct the staff inside the house. Many of the servant’s duties carried over into other tasks to help. The gardener and stable-hand trimmed the lamps, filled the lamp’s bowls and pumped water into the cistern.

Life at the abbey was highly structured. To maintain the house and grounds required an enormous amount of work… it needed to be painted on a regular basis both inside and out and the grounds kept mown. The annual spring clean was a major event when a number of village girls were employed to dust, polish, and attend to the crystal chandeliers.

The Lady of the house announced locally that there was a vacancy for a live-in woman’s maid/house-cleaner. It was common knowledge that the owner was a good employer – considerate towards their staff. Her sister told Elsie that there was a vacancy for a maid and it was for this post she applied after telling the foreman at the lace factory her intentions to apply. The management graciously supplied her with good references to go with the application. She soon heard back that her application was satisfactory that she was expected to attend an interview in a few days. This she did and the interview was a success to the extent that she was offered the position of ladies maid instead. Elsie considered she was very fortunate, excited by the thought of leaving the mill -having a far gentler, cleaner, superior job.

She was lucky to be employed by someone considered a good employer who was fortunate too, in that my mother was very keen to leave the mill - to do more gentle and refined work, in comfortable surroundings. In 1932 at the age of 24, Elsie left the lace factory for good. The job description was changed to that of ‘Lady’s Maid’, after my mother had been interviewed. The owner was delighted to find someone who understood quilting and cap making even though they were outdated skills. A Lady’s Maid was often expected to originate new dress designs whilst up dating others. Her other main task was to dress and fashion her mistresses hair. Having worked at the Lace Mill, she was familiar with the skill of maintaining-materials, cleaning, stitching and re-adapting old work.

This was towards the end of the Depression - things were just beginning to ‘look-up’. It was a new start for my mother, at a time when there was more optimism about. It was also the time when many estates were breaking up. The wealthy had tried to hold on skimping here and there trying to make ends meet. Many failed and their homes sold up. There were many house sales. Land was sold to absentee landlords as an investment. The old ways stated to disappear. Into this new world, my mother trod without knowing where it would lead. She had been offered the position of Lady’s Maid and she was excited, as she had just cause to be…!

The four year period between the end of the First World War and Elsie ‘going into service’, one-quarter of the land in Britain changed hands – the largest change of ownership since the dissolution of the monasteries – it was the break-up of the landed estates. Once again, much of the land ended up being cultivated by farmers. There was a shortage of domestic labour, rationing was imposed and the state intervened in the running of the countryside. All these things were to affect the owners. Forde Abbey survived and continued to play a part in society.

A Lady’s Maid was a considerable step up in the world, no more backbreaking work replacing shuttles. There was always the possibility of visiting London, which she had to agree to do before accepting the job. Quite often Elsie wore clothes handed down to her although she was obliged to alter the dress so that it was not recognisable as her Mistresses. Her ordinary dress was black stockings and close fitting floral dress. There was a strict code of behaviour even though her employer was easy going. My mother would never speak badly about her mistress and nothing would ever induce the mistress to disparage her maid’s character.

Elsie’s position in the household was just below that of the housekeeper – above the nurse, and about the same as the governess. Most came from middle-class parents in reduced circumstances, which is why my mother was so delighted to be offered the position. Her income was £20 per week. Although the work was not arduous, she was very much kept on the go – adjusting her lady’s hair, changing her clothes and preparing for the next outing. The biggest drawback to the job was that generally the Mistress preferred their personal maid to be young, good looking and well turned out. As the older ladies maids lost their calm so fear of unemployment followed.

Mum was woken at seven every morning by the housemaid to quickly wash and comb her hair; her day lasted until ten o’clock at night having half an hour for breakfast, tea and supper, and an hour for dinner. She had to be ready at half-past seven to take tea and toast, the morning paper and any letters. The bath had filled and the toiletries prepared, before taking breakfast with the other servants in the Servants Hall. Immediately afterwards she had to be upstairs to help her Mistress to dress.

She had a comfortable bedroom next door to her mistress. The bed was made for her by the upstairs maid, with clean sheets every week. There was hot water for her bath and jug, and on cold night a hot water bottle. Once a week she had her own tablet of soap and a lighted candle placed by her bed at seven. Her main tasks were to correct, alter, make-up her mistresses clothes in the sewing room and attend to her mistresses every want.

Dinner was at one o’clock, the first course in the Hall, and the second in Nan’s [the governess’] room. Work started an hour later, completing her morning work. A walk in the grounds could take up the rest of the day until teatime at four, when it was time for a buffet meal of sandwiches and cake. This lasted a further hour when the mistress’s clothes were to be prepared for the evening - or, for ‘calling’. The timing for the evening's entertainment discussed well before. It was now four years after the First World War. The services reduced to pre-war levels… the influx of so many men onto the job market created massive unemployed. There were groups of men on every street corner around the job centres.

The social changes brought into being by women taking over men’s jobs changed forever the role of women. They liked the responsibility and the freedom from household drudgery… women were not going to give up their newfound status. Women’s fashions displayed this change - skirts and dresses were designed to be worn level with the knee. It was the age of the flappers – short straight dresses, dropped waistlines, cloche hats and short hair – cut in a shingle, or bob if slightly longer. The Marcel effect, corrugated waves, was achieved by using curling tongs.It was the time for women to display boyish figures to go with the shingles and long cigarette holders. Waist was small, and hips and busts kept in proportion. Undergarments changed, now waists compressed in roll-on girdles with suspenders attached – stocking always worn. A shapeless bra known as a bandeau flattened the bust. Over these were worn cami-knickers or a camisole and French knickers.Length of outer garments kept well above the knee consisting of sleeveless dresses with dropped waistlines. Strait skirts with perhaps box pleating that mother had to continually iron. Shoes had medium heels, pointed toes and a bar across the instep, considered very stylish. Hats were cloches, tightly fitting over the ears with a close turned-back brim. It was mother’s job to sew trimmings of ribbon on the hats to match the suit worn for the next day.

Each morning’s task was to prepare her Mistresses clothes, for the day as well as seeing that the previous were put away - clean and tidy. Any repairs set aside for future work by the seamstress. There was generally an hour for needlework and specialist ironing. Once ready for her day, and had left her bedroom, the room was tidied, bed aired and remade and the next set of clothes laid out for the afternoon or for travelling out – walking or riding in the dog-cart. Carpets cleaned, surfaces dusted and dressing glass polished. At monthly intervals the furniture was polished.

If a shopping trip arranged then mum would accompany Mrs Roper to help her with the bags and be a companion. If visiting, presents or gifts set aside ready for the occasion. If she stayed in there would be tea, served in the Servants Hall at eleven… In the winter, it was mum's job to make-up - keep lit, the bedroom fire - to ensure the room aired. A clotheshorse draped with recently ironed clothes to air them properly. The lake in the garden, enclosed by the flower borders and tall trees, held the evening air, which made the house damp if the windows left open and fires not kept in. The Servants dinner served at midday and taken with the rest of the staff. The pudding, and after dinner tea served in the Housekeeper’s Room where mum’s friend Nan, who was the governess, entertained her.

Between the hours of two and four – when tea served in the Servants Hall, mum was able to catch up on her sewing and any leisure-time practices before helping Mrs Roper to dress for Afternoon Tea - served at five. She may have visited the garden to arrange with the Gardener to cut some flowers for the bedroom. Thereafter, the bedroom was set ready for preparation - dressing her Lady for dinner and the evening’s entertainment. This started at half-past six and ended with tidying up the room and toiletries, preparing the bed, inserting the hot water bottles, which were changed at half past eight. An hour later supper served in the Servants Hall after which the rest of the evening given over to leisure activities until the Mistress retired to bed when the final undressing supervised.

Her life revolved around her mistress who always referred to her as Miss Collins. A lady's maid had to be with her mistress all the time whether at home or away. Every piece of clothing had to be in perfect condition - properly washed, ironed or steam-cleaned. All sewing completed, the dressing table equipped with all the necessary items and the bathroom laid out ready for use. For the lady of the house her maid was not only a helper but a confidant and friend.

Elsie was expected to travel with her employer wherever she went - to supervise her comforts and to carry anything extraneous. For the annual move to London - for the ‘season’ the ladies maid went along as did the chauffeur. This state of affairs for the wealthy was going through a transition period. Increasingly young staff did not want to enter service - the duties were considered boring and beneath them. Socialists and Trade Unionists, pointed out that servants were being exploited and should seek better wages and the ‘Girls’ Friendly Society considered the moral welfare of the young. Inheritance Tax finished off what industrialization started. The Second World War completed the transition not just the death of many young men who would have received an estate as an inheritance but the rise of Socialism and the victory of the Labour party. By the time Elsie started her new job the General Strike was in the past and the Government bent on rearming the nation. A period of full employment, massive house building and euphoria took the place of stagnation and decay.

The lady’s maid was responsible for dressing her employer's hair and laying out all the clothes to be worn that day - for every occasion. Dignity at all times and in all places was essential. Her mistress used Pond’s Cold Cream at night and Pond’s Vanishing Cream during the day, with a hint of rouge under a thin dusting of powder. Cremola hand cream used to soften the hands and scented lavender soap was at the side of the basin. Gloves of soft leather, white for summer and brown for winter, washed by my mother and dried very slowly to retain their softness. My mother stayed for only a year… as a companion rather than as a Lady’s Maid. That same year, 1933, she met her future husband at a Masonic dinner… they married … at St John the Evangelist, Tatworth and the wedding breakfast held at Rosalie Cottage.

It was a long way for my mother to have travelled… from the garden gate, that lead out onto the street; the stream and its bridge - that never ceased to play a part in every day life. The dominant school building opposite - refusing to play a minor role, and of course, ‘The Mill’… and the childhood, teenage friends - all enduring, the cold, the damp and the clammer together. The secure family routine… closeness of relations and friends… wandering the country lanes - looking over the hedges at trees on far off purple hills, that touched the sky…; all things of the past but retained inside… Now, when married, it was to be a life of suburban pavement and shop… children, a pram and brick built house…, cinema, and all that makes for town-life. I am sure it was all, what my mother wanted - imagined in her dreams… whilst working away at the looms, and later… attending as a Lady’s Maid.

Elsie’s upbringing, despite the obvious lack of amenity and convenience did include security and love – the sort of love common to the time not sentimental and clinging. What stood her in good stead was her love and understanding of nature, which permeated her soul. She had witnessed the change in how the land was managed. The reliance on the horse now given over to the tractor, the decline in the number of village craftsmen and the move away from country ways to industrial muscle and the vans delivery service. The deferential attitude accorded to higher social classes by generations of tenants and workers were now questioned – changed for good after World War 1. Peoples ambitions, like my mother’s, did not included working three looms for the rest of her life. She wanted a bit of luxury not servitude… Mum could easily have returned to Tatworth, but, as with all dreams, reality dictated otherwise… what price then a glow-worm in the ditch instead of a street lamp… It is just like forgetting the pain of fingers thawing out, especially when the sun is burning the back of one’s neck!

By the time mum took us on holiday she had been living away from home for nine years. In those nine years she had been in service, married, moved to two London suburbs, had as many children… whilst suffering the blitz. Not only had her life changed, but work back at the mill had altered too… Her father had been retired for six years, missing the bombs, randomly dropped on the mill. The mill by 1941 was turning out mosquito nets for the Far East… the village meanwhile became inward looking when the blackout descended. Rationing had to be coped with and the extra hour of double-summertime allowed more work to be done in daylight hours. The Make-do-and-Mend slogan, initiated by the government, indicated the sort of attitude that should be adopted - for a country under siege.

The already hard rural existence was made harder still by shortages and absentee men folk. It was the woman’s job to ‘make ends meet’, which they did, turning to age-old methods of living off the country. They had not only the means to do so but also past experience to draw on. In fact, there was little change in the life of the Collins’ family or in the day-to-day life in the village. Some of the innocence and obedience, dignity and pride had rubbed off, replaced by: better education, fewer acceptances of past rules and regimes, more casual attitude to dress formalities, manners and etiquettes.

Elsie never forgot her early life, which shaped everything she did. Recounting those times brought her eyes alive and a smile to her lips. Giving time to her past kept the memories dust-free - easily plucked from her memory-bank in times of stress. She could recall and name the trees down the lane, the shrubs in the hedges lining the winding path, and the wild flowers in the meadow. The ford and the bridge, not far from the garden gate, served the brook, which bubbled and chuckled as generations of laughing children played in its crystal-clear water. Flocks of sheep passed over the bridge, hurried on by the shouts from the shepherd, later, the farmer’s cows pushed and shoved to get to their stalls - to be milked. The banks that lined the waters edge burgeoned with rush and thyme, waterlillies and cowsfoot. The willow in the hedge, beneath which the waters flowed, alive with chattering sparrows pecking at the berries then wiping their beaks on the lichen covered boughs. All these she left behind… for a town life, she had hankered for… To step away from the fluffy, damp atmosphere of the lace mill and in-service attendance. All these pictures were the rock upon which she clung, recalling their colours and shapes to pass on… more to satisfy her longings than to educate us children.