The words below are an exact copy from an article which originally appeared in the Northampton Mercury in 1911. It consists of an interview with Mr William Mann who was born in Heyford in 1833. It tells of life in Heyford in the middle 1800’s.
A Vigorous Veteran – Mr William Mann of Heyford
There are not many stronger men of his age than Mr William Mann of Lower Heyford with whom I had a ‘crack’ the other afternoon. In his 79th year he still stands firm and erect, has a clear eye, a sound mind and a memory that takes him back to the ‘hungry ‘40s’. They were hungry indeed. The wages of farm labourers in his early days were not more than 8s. a week, and many capable men were working for less. Two good workers who he remembers were paid only 6s. which was increased to 7s. in one case when the man married. “Seven bob a week,” exclaimed Mr Mann in scorn, “to keep a nice bird and himself on.”
Working folk in the villages, he said, never had meat in those days unless they stole it – and there was a good deal stolen. He remembers one man in the adjacent parish of Stowe who was sent to penal servitude for ten years for sheep stealing. The bread they ate was made from barley flour, and they were very glad to get that.
His old smock frock was the best suit of clothes he had. Like charity it covered a multitude of sins, and he remembers going without his trousers while his mother washed them — a performance which has been scarcely tolerable since the smock disappeared. “I wouldn’t give threepence for all the clothes I had at that time,” he said. “Boys nowadays are young gentlemen compared with what we were in my young days.”
Not good old days
No. Mr Mann would not go back to the old days. His pension now is nearly as much as men in the prime of life earned seventy years ago. Things are better in every respect. There is more liberty as well as better living, greater freedom for the mind as well as more nourishment for the body.
“Years ago in my parish,” he said, “the parsons would not bury unbabtised people. I remember one funeral which took place in the dark at eight o’clock at night. Some Staffordshire men were working with me at furnaces and they said they never saw anything like it before. We used some poetry about it:
“Not a sound of bell nor funeral note
As the corpse to the grave was hurried.”
“You know where that comes from?” he said, and I pleaded guilty to remembering something rather like it.
Sunday schools and charities
Continuing his reminiscences, Mr Mann told me that in those days no Sunday School was permitted except for a few privileged young people who went to the Manor House. He himself and some others used to walk to Bugbrooke Chapel on Sunday morning and take their dinner with them. Afterwards a school was started at the Heyford Baptist Chapel.
Another incident in his memory concerns the local Arnold’s Charity, which like many other charities has been a bone of contention. His father – “he was just such a man as me” – wrote up on the end of his house near to the Church: “No ﬂannel or calico wanted here, but money according to the testator’s will” – and money was afterwards distributed.
An election reminiscence
The powers that be at Heyford were very Tory in those days but the people, said Mr Mann, were of a different sort. “Five out of six of them would have voted for the disestablishment of the Church in England as Well as in Wales.”
At one election a sightless old man called Blind Tom Robinson, being a freeholder, was taken in a Tory conveyance to vote at the booth on Northampton Market Square. There were no ballot papers in those days – the man had to say straight out who he wanted to vote for. When he was asked to whom his vote should be given, he shouted out boldly, “Althorpe!” for Lord Althorpe was the Liberal champion in that fight. “Who?” said the Tory who brought over, thinking the man had made a mistake. Blind Tom gave the same answer again and again, till the shoemakers and others standing by shouted “He’s just told you,” and then (when the man had voted) “Take him away,” but the Tory escort would have nothing to do with him on the return journey.
Blind Tom Was left stranded on the Market Square. He found his way to St James’ End, and then was given a ride in one of a number of coal wagons that were going to the Near Fields. “Where?” I asked. “The Near Fields,” he said, meaning the nearest coal fields in Warwickshire.
A hunting story
Another of my old friends stories was of the hunting field. Mr John Stanton of Upper Heyford hunted a good deal and was very fond of his joke. One day he was after the hounds, and near to Bugbrooke Mill a rev. gentleman’s horse refused a fence and pitched him over the hedge into the brook. “Help!” he cried. Mr Stanton, hot for the chase, looked to see who it was, and then said, “Oh, never mind him, he won’t be wanted till next Sunday.” It was then Monday morning!
Mr Mann has any number of these old yarns with their broad humour, redolent of the soil. Although the rigours of the old days killed a vast number, some of the survivors are extraordinarily fine old fellows. He was one of a family of twenty-four, and his father was a poor man. The old age pension of which Mr Mann is the proud possessor, was then beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. May he live long to enjoy it.
With many thanks to the Northampton Mercury
He did indeed live a long time
Mr Mann did indeed live a long time. His ﬁrst wife Sarah had died in 1870, his second wife Sophia died in March 1913, aged 77. But on Saturday 19th December 1914 he was married again. His bride this time Was Elizabeth Green, aged 77, also from Lower Heyford. They were married at the Registry Office at Derngate in Northampton. The photograph below appeared in the Daily Chronicle on Monday December 21st, 1914 under the heading of ‘A Northampton Romance’.
William Mann eventually died on December 23rd 1925, aged 92 and is buried in Heyford cemetery. With three marriages and a long life behind him it seems that the Mercury correspondent was absolutely correct in referring to him as ‘a vigorous veteran’.
Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s
Volume 3 of 4 | Chapter 5 of 17 | Pages 9 to 11