Nether Heyford’s Tradition of Pantomime – November 1995
As we approach pantomime season it is worth reminding ourselves that there has been a pantomime in Nether Heyford almost every year since 1969.
The article below written by Joan Juland (November 1995) gives us an insight into the enjoyment given by the Monday Club pantomime to both the audience and performers.
This year, as usual, the Heyford Players continue the tradition with ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – Performances will be: 7.30 pm on Friday 26th January, and at 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm on Saturday 27th.
The Monday Club pantomimes began in a small way, but grew and grew, and still continue now under the Heyford Players. They started as an alternative to a Christmas party, and were put on in December” mainly because we wanted the worry of it out of the way before settling down to arranging the family Christmas, later they were presented in January so that the main rehearsals were done in the quiet time after New Year. The list to date reads thus:
1969 Red Riding Hood
1970 Goldilocks and the Three Bears
1971 Jack and the Beanstalk
1973 Sleeping Beauty
1974 Dick Whittington
1975 Hey Diddle Diddle
1978 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
1980 Beauty and the Beast
1981 Mother Goose in Space
1982 Alice in the Underworld
1983 Robinson Crusoe
1984 Snow White
1985 Old King Cole
1986 Jack The Giant Killer
1988 Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood
1990 Peter Pan and the Magic Snowman
At this point the Monday Club decided to finish doing Pantomimes mainly because our membership numbers had fallen so much that we had many more ‘co-opted‘ members purely to take part in the Pantomime than we had members.
The Heyford Players were then formed and they have continued the tradition ever since with the following:
1991 Dick Whittington
1992 The Adventures of Alice
1993 Sleeping Beauty and the Beast
1994 Ali Babe and the Forty Thieves
1995 Mother Goose
Many names that appear in the programmes for the early shows have sadly passed on, such as Reg Collins, who always enjoyed having a laugh and causing a laugh even if it wasn’t in the script. Molly Dawson who also helped with costumes in the early days, and Mike Wallis who was one of our ‘Ugly Sisters’. Many people who have since moved away, some as far as the USA namely Anne & John Martin who both took part in our events. Bev Sewell, Pam & Glyn Bowen, Suzanne Brett, Gwenda Benstead, Angela Dixon, Sheena Harland and Jeanette Purcell are names that spring to mind but I know there were many others that you will remember, not least of all Tim Short who played a memorable Dame on many occasions and I understand still does so!
We had some ‘accidents’ during our performances that the audiences did not always know about, such as the camp bed that collapsed in Goldilocks when Dave Norrie sat on it and the Aspidestra that was dropped from a great height during a scene change and had to be hurriedly swept up, that was in our first Cinderella .
The lines of a song that Gordon Hayes had difficulty remembering so he wrote them on the back of the beam, and then couldn’t read them because of the lighting, but his wife helped him out from the audience, Kathleen had heard them so often at home she was word perfect .
Do you remember our Growing Beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk, and the wonderful wigs in Cinderella as well as the ballgowns. The water fountain in Dick Whittington, which Dick didn’t expect to work, but it had been rigged.
We also had our chorous girls a group of girls mostly the daughters of the cast who sang and danced as fairies or soldiers etc.
We have also had a variety of changing arrangements, for the early performances we had the green curtains pulled round the kitchen corner and had to do everything in there — boys & girls together all very friendly The cast would run down the outside of the hall round the old boiler house that used to jut out, right round to the front of the building and in through the front emergency exit which was curtained off – you can imagine how cold it was on some December nights! We also had to be very quiet, especially on Saturday afternoons when all the children were there and were very inquisitive!
We then had the comfort of the football portacabin, which also meant running through all weathers into the emergency exit. That too was all very well when they were playing away, occasionally they were at home and then we used the Baptist schoolroom — an even longer run through rain and snow!
As many of you will know we were always well supplied in the changing rooms with ‘Dutch Courage’; Sometimes it was tea or coffee, but mostly it was a little stronger, it was the only way we could get some of our cast on stage!!
We tried not to leave out the most important member of the whole show that of the pianist, who was for many years Mrs Marjorie Rogers, The first couple of shows I believe were done by Mrs Betty Sillence, and latterly by David Farmer.
A few weeks after the show we always had an excuse for a party to hold an inquest on the performance and to vow that we wouldn’t do it next year, but we nearly always did and thoroughly enjoyed it for my part for fifteen years.
I was always greatly indebted to my typist who would read my long hand scribbled scripts and make sense of them, often as many as 22 pages, also of course the scenery painters and constructors, props and sound effects which always turned up in time for the performance even if they weren’t thought of until dress rehearsal!
Of course one of the highlights of the day for the children in the early years was the arrival of Father Christmas and the gifts that he brought them.
Published in The Prattler – November 1995
Nether Heyford’s Tradition of Pantomime – Continued…..December 2020
The Pantomimes continued…….
1996 Snow White
1999 Babes in the Wood
2000 The Emperors New Clothes
2001 Jack and the Beanstalk
2002 Dick Whittington
2003 Peter Pan
2005 Snow White in the Palace
Thanks to Sheryl Scarrott and Pauline Thackray – December 2020
Henry Isham Longden was born at Lamport Rectory on 26th September 1859. Following the death of Thomas Crawley in 1897 he became Rector of Heyford where he remained until his own death in 1942. He was a popular man in Heyford and in 1943, one year after his death, a book about his life entitled ‘A Northamptonshire Rector — The life of Henry Isham Longden’ was published by Joan Wake. The following is an extract from this book relating to his time at Heyford.
A Northamptonshire Rector – The life of Henry Isham Longden
Except for a brief interval during the war of 1914-1918, Heyford was Mr Longden’s home for the next forty-five years. The population of the parish was about 800. His rectory, though commodious and comfortable within, is externally an unattractive mid-nineteenth century building of local ironstone, overdone with gables and plate glass. The beautiful old church lies only some 100 yards away. His church services were, as to be expected, on the high church pattern. He introduced a choral communion service on the first Sunday of every month, at which he officiated investments, then rarely seen in a country church in the Peterborough diocese. He did not, however, indulge in extreme practices of a ritualistic type. The biretta which he had worn as a curate was discarded for a mortar-board on Sunday mornings. Though ready to suffer and possibly to fight for his opinions as other clergy had done, there was no occasion for it – his bishops left him in peace.
In the musical part of the services he was faithfully and ably assisted by Fred Potter, a man of musical ancestry and himself of no inconsiderable musical gifts. Fred had learnt to play the organ at the age of eleven, and officiated voluntarily as a boy at Shangton Church. At Heyford he became honorary organist and choirmaster, and so remained for forty-five years until his master’s death.
Mr Longden always attended the weekly choir practice and wrote out the lists of hymns and chants himself. Until the later years he taught in the Sunday School. On the friendliest terms with his parishioners, he took an interest in the social as the religious activities of the parish. One of his first acts was to collect funds for a church room which after six or seven years he succeeded in building. He founded a village cricket club, and for years was a member of the eleven. The village lads were very fond of him and he corresponded with many of them during the war of 1914-18. He had one or two pupils at the Rectory during the early years, including the Crawley boys from Stowe-nine-churches Rectory.
From the beginning Mr Longden always farmed his own glebe, though the management was left largely in the capable hands of Mr Potter, whose whole heart was in the work. A great reputation was made with the Heyford strain of Berkshire pigs, as also with the hunters, bred and trained on the place, for which purpose a short ‘steeple-chase’ course was laid out. The Hunters’ Improvement Society’s Show at Islington in March, at which many prizes were won, was an important annual event, which was much enjoyed by both master and man.
The Rectory garden, too, except in Winter time, was always ablaze with masses of flowers. The greenhouse also was full of carnations, begonias, cyclamen, and other flowering plants, all under the care and supervision of Mr Potter. He had from the first days at Shangton always lived under his master’s roof, but when in 1901 he married Miss Bertha Nightingale of Pattishall, he moved to a cottage in the village. This arrangement did not last long, and in 1902, to everybody’s satisfaction, they were allotted pleasant rooms at the Rectory. The bacon-curing, butter-churning, and domestic work of the house were carried out by this devoted couple. The affection and respect which they had for Mr Longden was heartily reciprocated, and the party at the Rectory was essentially a happy and contented one.
Rev Henry Isham Longden with Fred Potter
All the Longden children had been taught to ride at Lamport Rectory, but though he kept a horse at Shangton and was always fond of riding, as a young man Mr Longden did not shew any sporting proclivities. After a few years at Heyford, though not actually ill, his health was not up to the mark and Potter suggested that an occasional day with the hounds might do him good. He had bought his brother Arthur’s mare when the latter went out to the South African war in 1899, so now had a suitable mount. Mr Longden agreed, his health improved, and he soon developed a great love of the chase, though he was rather ‘a parson who hunted’ than one of the old-fashioned type of hunting parson like his great-grandfather the Rev. Vere Isham.
Heyford lies just inside the Pychley country, on the borders of the Grafton, but though he would take an occasional day with the former pack, Mr Longden always considered himself a Grafton man. The masters liked to see the sport patronised by the cloth, and Mr Longden’s ‘cheery courtesy and inveterate love of little jokes,’ as Mr Cruft writes, ‘made him ever welcome, even to the most anti-clerical followers of the hounds.’ Well-mounted and well turned-out in top hat, black coat and white cord breeches, he arrived at the meets accompanied by Potter, who besides enjoying the sport quite as much as his master, was thus able to school – and sell – the young hunters bred at Heyford Rectory. Then General Livingstone-Learmouth came to live at the parish, and for eight years after the war Mr Longden hunted regularly two days a week from the middle of November right through the season. (He never cub-hunted). The General used to drive him to the meets, Potter going on with his horse. One day with the Pychley – the meet was at Cottesbrooke – hounds had a great run from Maidwell gardens by Kelmarsh, Arthingworth, Braybrooke, nearly to Brampton Ash, and finally killed not far short of Market Harborough. The General was galloping along beside his Rector. “Padre, I can’t go on any more,” he called. “no man ever stopped in the middle of a run in the Pychley country!” shouted back the parson. Both sportsmen were in at the death, and rode home together the many weary miles to Heyford, gruelling their horses at the Ismays at Hazelbeach on the way.
Then one sad day in the March on 1928, when hounds were running near Preston Capes, someone inadvertently slammed a gate in front of Mr Longden. He tried to pull up but there was not time. His horse swerved and jumped the gate-post, throwing him onto his head on the hard road. Only his top hat saved him from breaking his neck. Potter was with him in a moment and took him home. This was the end of the hunting. The old horse was turned out to grass and Mr Longden was no more to be seen with the hounds. He was then in his seventieth year.
The relationship between Mr Longden and Fred Potter was obviously a very close one. Joan Wake’s book includes an appendix headed ‘Faithful Service’ which includes the following words written by Canon F. S. Keysell, Vicar of East Haddon, and formerly Vicar of Weedon.
“No record of the late Rev H. Isham Longden at Heyford could be complete without a reference to his trusty servant and faithful friend for 50 years, Mr Fred Potter. In his early days at Heyford Mr Longden used to drive a horse and trap, but with the coming of motor cars and the increase of road traffic and consequent inconvenience, Mr Longden, like many others, though he never went in for a motor car, decided to give up driving and took to a bicycle. It was then, and not till then, that Mr Longden, acting on the advice of Potter decided to take to hunting, for though he had always been fond of a horse, he had never previously appeared in the hunting field.
Potter, who had always been a good judge of a horse, was soon able to fix the Rector up with the right sort of mount, and not feeling it advisable for him to go alone, decided that it would be in the best interests of all concerned that he should accompany his master in the capacity of second horseman. Henceforth for many years the Rector and his groom were generally to be found at meets of the Grafton hounds on Mondays and alternate Fridays, with an occasional meet of the Pychley on Saturdays thrown in. Though Potter made it his first business to see that his master was in the same field with the hounds not only at the meet, but also when they were running, and though he always seemed to be in the right spot when a lead was required over a difficult jump, yet at the same time Potter was generally to be found here, there, and everywhere. Did any rider take a toss and let go his horse? Potter was always there to catch the animal, and if need be to render first aid to its owner. Did anyone at the tail end of a hunt forget to shut a gate? Potter was always there to do the needful in time to prevent any cattle from straying. Did anyone lose their bearings and not know how to find their way home or the place where they had left their car? Potter was always there to tell them, and if necessary to point them by the shortest cut.
Potter soon came to be recognised as an authority on horseflesh, and it became widely known that in the stables at Heyford Rectory there was sometimes to be found a useful, well-trained type of hunter for sale. Would-be purchasers, however, were warned that it was no good going to Heyford with that object in view on a Sunday morning (which alas! had become the fashionable day for such transactions), because at that time the Rector would be standing in the pulpit and Potter would be sitting at the organ, where for many years he acted as voluntary organist and trainer of the choir.
A nasty hunting accident some ﬁfteen years ago when he was then about seventy years of age ended Isham Longden’s hunting career, and Ruby, the much loved horse which had carried him so well for many years, was turned out in the Rectory ﬁeld where he was allowed to end his days in peace.
Fred Potter, on the right
Photo lent by Charlie Masters
Potter, however did not allow himself to be downcast because he had no more days to look forward to in the hunting field, but turned his attention to gardening (with the exception of an occasional day’s shooting) and soon the Rectory garden became as well worth a visit as had been the stables in earlier days. On one occasion he was showing the beauties of the garden to the writer of this article. Potter remarked to him “There can be no such thing as a groom-gardener, you must be one or the other – you must concentrate!”
The passing of Isham Longden in the early summer of 1942 meant the breaking up of the home in which Fred Potter and wife had for over 40 years devoted themselves heart and soul to all that concerned the well-being of their master and friend, but it has not meant the breaking up of Potter.
The latest report about him is that he is now farming at Heyford on his own account, for though he is old in years he is still young in mind and body. His many friends will wish him every success and if, when the war is over and the country has settled down, ‘Grafton Mondays’ come into their own again, all followers of the hounds will know that there is one farm in that county at all events on which they can be sure of a hearty welcome, and on which the gates and fences will be in good order, and there will be no barbed wire to obstruct. Potter has, and always has had, that mark of the true sportsman that he likes to share his pleasures with others and to enable them to enjoy to the full the things which he has enjoyed so much himself.”
The words of Canon F. S. Keysell, former vicar of Weedon
The memories of Bill Nickolls
A number of local people still remember Mr Longden and Fred Potter, and talk about them with affection. Mr Longden was a kind man who could relate to people of all ages and backgrounds. If you were unwell in hospital he would visit you, ‘even if you attended chapel rather than church!’ The church in those days (19205 and 30$) was well attended. It was normal to go three times a day – morning service at 9.00am, bible classes in the afternoon and evening service at 6.00pm.
Bill Nickolls particularly remembers the choir. It was a full choir, singing all parts. Some of the attendees were Harry Eales, Fred Goodman, Mr Pearson, Charlie Foster, Nell Nickolls, Freda Tebbit, Doll Collins, Ethel Barnes, Bill Nickolls, ]o Nickolls, and ]ack Nickolls. Choir practice on Friday evenings Was run by Fred Potter who was a skilled and knowledgeable musician. He also made it fun. He used to send out to the shop for some sweets and they sometimes played games.
The will of the Rev. Henry Isham Longden
Henry Isham Longden suffered a stroke and finally died in the arms of his friend and servant Fred Potter on Sunday April 26th 1942 at the age of 82 years. The following details from his will are reprinted here from a newspaper cutting (date and source unknown).
‘The Rev. Henry Isham Longden of Heyford Rectory,.who died on April 26 last, left £11,168 9s 1d gross with net personalty £9,725 8s 7d. He left certain furniture and his horses and crops etc. to his faithful friend and servant Frederick W. Potter, and £1,500 upon trust for him for life, and then upon trust for his wife for her life. £300 upon trust to pay the stipend of the organist of Heyford Church. £100 to the rector and churchwardens to provide an additional bell for the church, and £50 to complete the church room.’
Fred Potter moved to a house in Church Lane and kept a small dairy herd in the ﬁeld opposite (now known as Rice’s paddock and partly built on). He continued to farm and to produce milk for the villagers. He died at Nether Heyford on November 10th 1964, aged 87 years and was cremated at Milton.
Regretfully we are announcing the passing of Sheila on May 13th, just short of her 95th birthday in June. She was the last of her generation of Humphrey who moved to Labrams Yard on Church Street. Previous residents/tenants of the property included her brother Ron and family, May, and Arthur. Dunkley, Connelly, Buck, Collins, Barnes, and Gilkes also resided on the property at one time or another. Probably there are others. Her niece, Jean now resides in one of the Humphrey cottages on the property.
Some villagers may also recall the family business of E.W.Humphrey Ladder Manufacturers. This has been documented in the Prattler and the Heyford History.
Sheila worked at The Beauty Counter of Adnitts Department store (now Debenhams) Northampton. She then progressed to being an accounts clerk at the hospital guild.
Sheila, from time to time recalled her childhood. The Humphrey family kept dairy cows, Sheila and her niece Jean were often tasked with distributing milk to Heyford villagers. She had a pet lamb, ‘Betty’ who was missing one day upon returning from her day at Bliss School, evidently in latter years realising the pet was part of the family larder. She recalled as a teenager the drone of the aeroplanes on their way to bomb Coventry in the Second World War.
The Humphrey family were very involved with the Baptist Chapel in the village, Sheila along with sister May enjoyed being a Deacon and part of the weekly flower rota at the Chapel. Both Sheila and her step daughter Trudi were married in the Chapel. Besides flower arranging, Sheila embraced singing with the Heyford Singers.
In her latter years Sheila endured Cancer, and after the death of her husband Albert found it increasingly difficult at home at Ladder Cottage. After a nasty fall in her home in 2015 – at her request – she moved to Bethany Homestead in Northampton where mother Alice spent some convalescing time.
In these challenging times, Sheila has sadly become another statistic of our current pandemic. We will hold a memorial to commemorate Sheila’s life when time allows.
Laddermaking did run(g) in the family! The Bugbrooke firm of J Ward and Son were undertakers and ladder makers and three generations of Humphreys worked there. Ernest Humphrey, Ron and Arthur’s father, was born in Bugbrooke and worked at Ward’s with his wife’s father. Ernest became a journeyman carpenter and for a while went to work in Loughborough with Moss Builders who built the Narborough mental hospital. He remained at the hospital where he was responsible for building maintenance and helped the patients in the workshops there. He married Alice who had been a children’s nurse in Northampton and they started their family, but he became unwell and had to leave his job as a result. The asylum, as it was then known, continued to pay him a small pension until his death in 1936.
How the business began
The family came back to live in Northamptonshire, only this time in Nether Heyford. Ernest returned to Ward’s. His eldest son Ron went to work there in 1920 when he left school at the age of thirteen, and perhaps it was their experience of working together that encouraged his father to start his own business in Nether Heyford. The asylum pension allowed him to buy the first lot of poles used in the business. Steve Ward, their previous employer was not very happy about this and threatened ‘to smash them’. He even took out a summons against them for not working out their notice, but it didn’t come to anything and in time relations once again became amicable.
At that time the family lived in the cottage on the south side of the Green, no 17, where Mrs Pearson now lives and near to the old folks bungalows. They used the house and garden to make ladders. The garden was turned into a work yard for boring holes in the poles which formed the ladder sides, and for assembling the ladders. The room which is now the living room but at that time was a wash house, was used to make the ladder rungs. The chips left over from making the ladder rungs provided a useful supply of fire lighting material and were sold to local people for sixpence a sack. The ladder sides were planed in a barn behind the Baptist Chapel Rooms, now gone, and at that time owned by Mr J.O.Adams. This space was also used for finishing the ladders off: painting, etc.
Their first venture into business was not a financial success. They were offered a big order from a firm out of the area, which they duly completed. Somewhat strangely they had been asked to deliver the ladders to Travis and Arnold in St James, Northampton from where the ladders would be collected. Having no transport, Mr Humphrey, Ron, Arthur and daughter May had to push the ladders into Northampton on a cart. They were delighted to have made a good sale and looked forward to settlement of the account as money was tied up in timber stock. This was not to be. The firm went bankrupt and not a penny was received.
The move to Church Street
Younger brother Arthur joined the business in July 1923 when he left school. Money was tight and it took time for the business to establish itself in the harsh economic climate of the years after the First World War, but in time it grew sufficiently for Mr Humphrey to buy a property in Church Street where there would be much more space for the family business and home.
The property in Church Street comprised a group of farm buildings complete with an orchard, still there, and a stream with watercress growing in it. The farm was bought on 8th August from Mrs Lookes, an elderly lady who lived in St Matthews Parade in Northampton. There were a number of sitting tenants who, one imagines, were rather disconcerted at the prospect of having to ﬁnd somewhere else to live. There was Mrs Dunkley who moved to another cottage in 1928, the Collins family who moved to the farm beside the canal bridge in Furnace Lane, the Barnes, the Clarke family and Mr H Gilke.
When Mr Collins was served notice to quit it seems that he didn’t take it lying down and Mr Humphreys noted in his records that he ‘used abusive language to me’. It was not until 1929 that the Humphreys ﬁnally moved in.
In the meantime there were rents to be collected and taxes to be paid and it is evident that Mr Humphrey was concerned that the rents were not really sufficient to pay his overheads. It seems that in 1929 ‘the property only brings in yearly £51-12s-6d’.
The large stone farmhouse was in a sorry state and barely habitable. There were also two Victorian cottages on the right hand side of the drive into the farmyard. It was decided to live ii the old farmhouse and to renovate one of the cottages. Eventually the family moved into the cottage, although by that time May was already living at Moulton. When Ron married he moved into the cottage next door where he spent the rest of his life. When Arthur married he moved into a house in Church Street and then to a house on The Green where he still lives.
Ron, Sheila and Arthur in the 1930s
Photo lent by the Humphrey family
On the farm there was plenty of space to erect two good workshops fitted up with gas lamps. One of the Workshops (where Ladder Cottage now stands) was assembled from an ex-army sectional building. It had a beautiful wooden lining and good windows, and was large enough to take the assembly of a sixty rung ladder. When the business was closed the building was dismantled and sold to a scout group east of Northampton. The other workshop, still standing, was lined with First World War munitions boxes and the pillars for the building were built by Mr Denny.
The ladders were made by hand until 1946 when a universal machine was bought from Birmingham. This was purchased with the proceeds of selling the family’s dairy cows and Arthur attributes the success of the company to the fact that from that early date they made a point of investing in new machinery. Other machines came from Fells of Windermere, a firm which is still in business. These machines made the work much easier and enabled production to be increased.
The Humphrey’s ﬁrst and last lorry
Photo lent by the Humphrey family
The ladders were made from two very different timbers. The sides were made from ‘poles’ imported from Norway and were of Christiana pine and spruce. A special trip would be made to Great Yarmouth or Hull to inspect them. They were then brought by train to Weedon from where they had to be delivered to the workshops, sometimes by the local carrier, Tarrys. Timber was also bought from the London timber docks, south of the River Thames at Surrey Docks. The poles were brought in ‘green’ and were seasoned on the farm. Oak was used for the ladder rungs, and for this it was necessary to go to Leicester where they could be relied upon to supply good quality timber. They must have liked the Humphreys ladders because they would buy their ladders to sell on. Mabbutts of Brixworth supplied first class oak which was knot free. Oak was also bought from Badby and from between Everdon and Stowe. When the oak became scarce and too expensive and the Humphreys had bought the last oak from Earl Spencer’s estate, they turned to ash of which supplies were plentiful. During the war all timber was rationed and it was necessary to have a licence to buy the poles from local merchants.
Many different types of ladder
Over the many years different kinds of ladders were made. They were of different lengths and were measured by the number of rungs they had. A thirty rung ladder was twenty-two feet long. When a pole was split to make the sides of the ladder it produced a round side and a ﬂat side. Builders liked to have the round edge on the outside. perhaps to make it easier on the hands when climbing up it. Others such as farmers and thatchers wanted the round side to the centre, perhaps so that it would not hurt their knees if they leant against the ladder, but also because the thatchers would use the outside face of the ladder as a straight edge to help them lay the thatch.
Thatching hay ricks using Humphreys ladders
Photo lent by John Smith
There were extension ladders too. The longest was a triple extension ladder of ninety-three rungs for a hotel in Bournemouth. There were also window cleaners ladders and decorators ladders. Some of the ladders were painted, others simply stained. Load ladders were made of willow and were used by farmers when loading the hay wagons. The willow for these was cut from along the Nene Valley and they were not straight. In fact they were deliberately irregular so that if they were knocked over when the hay wagon was loaded they would fall to the ground and rock but not break. Load ladders were also used for thatching hay ricks or ‘thaking’ as it was called locally. The ricks were thatched to keep the hay dry over winter.
In 1930 a forty-five rung ladder for the Northampton Electric Light & Power Co. cost £5-6s-8d. This company were for some years the Humphreys’ best customer with an insatiable need for ladders, and in that same year bought at least ﬁfty of various different lengths. Electricity was still relatively new and presumably the company were busy putting up poles to serve the new customers. I wonder how many of the poles which still exist in Hey-ford were put up using a Humphrey ladder.
Nearly all the customers were local at the beginning but over time it became necessary to look to a wider market and it was then that the ladders began to be exhibited at the annual agricultural shows. Each summer the Humphreys triangular ladder display was loaded up on to the lorry and taken to such shows as the Royal Show at Stoneleigh, and the East of England Show at Peterborough. In time Humphreys ladders were delivered within a seventy-five mile radius which included Worcester and Coventry. But it was the local firm Travis and Arnold which became their best customer.
The Humphreys did not only make ladders. A 1930 order came from ].Y.Castell of Gold Street in Northampton for four milking stools at 4/ – each (less 10% discount), and in the same year a ‘navvy’ barrow was made for W.G.Denny of Nether Heyford for 35/-. They also did repairs such as ﬁxing a gate for the Parish Council, sharpening saws or repairing the handle of a billhook or mallet for Mr J.O.Adams. There seems to have been a delay in settling this bill which eventually involved the exchange of 1.5 cwt of potatoes.
In time a number of local ‘youths’ came to work in the ladder workshops including Bill Kingston, Cliff Gilkes and Ted and Maurice Sargent.
Other family activities
While the men of the family were busy making an selling ladders the women were also active. May Humphrey, the second child, was the post mistress at Moulton for many years before coming back to Nether Heyford to work in Mrs Blaney’s post office. May and Sheila, the youngest daughter, lived in the family home with their mother. For a while they moved into Northampton where it was easier to look after Alice but she died shortly afterwards in 1974.
Arthur and his sister Sheila were well loved members of the Bugbrooke Choir. May was known for her Albert the Lion monologue of which Stanley Holloway also gave a good rendition, and with a bit of encouragement May can be persuaded to do it even today ! The family were stalwart supporters of the Baptist Chapel, May having been Church Secretary and Shelia playing the organ for many years.
Arthur was also a keen gardener and for sixty years gardened the allotment next to the Church Street jitty. This once was a ﬁne garden with flowers and vegetables and the food grown was enjoyed by the whole family.
In order to help with the family finances Ernest had started a milking herd of about nine cows. They had names like Buttercup and Daisy and would respond to their names when called. On Ernest’s death Arthur took over responsibility for the cows which most days would be driven up to fields on Weedon Road. To the dismay of Alice and Arthur, Sheila’s pet lamb, Betty, did not like to be left behind and used to try to go out with them, walking beneath one the cows where it was hard to detect her. There were also hens and many fruit trees. Because of these farming activities Arthur was exempted from the war and the Humphreys continued to deliver milk to local people throughout the war years. When they sold their herd Sheila continued to deliver John Smith’s milk for a while before getting a ‘proper job’.
During the war many people were expected to accommodate evacuees and the Humphreys were no exception. Mrs Humphrey was asked to accommodate a Mrs Buck and her children, and she did what she could to make the old cottage next to the farmhouse habitable, although by now it was in a very sorry state. Mrs Buck’s husband would come up from London at the weekends and in time he got an allotment. He knew nothing about growing vegetables but learned quickly, and to the amazement of the other men in the village was soon producing some of the best. One of the Buck boys was so impressed with Nether Heyford that at the end of the war he decided to stay and in time moved to a house in Furnace Lane. His son Jeff still lives in the village. I always thought he had streak of the Londoner in him. Now I know why !
The later years
The Introduction of baling machines meant that hay as no long loaded onto the wagons and the demand for farming ladders dropped almost overnight. Arthur can remember the first baler in the village at what is now New Creation Farm. The demand for wooden ladders continued to decline after the war. New, lighter metal ladders began to appear. The lack of demand, together with the lack of younger members of the family wanting to go into the business led them finally to close in May 1975. Ron was then 68 and read to retire. He died in 1994. Brother Arthur took retirement and with his wife Nora gave much of their time to the Hospital Guild in Northampton. Nora sadly died but Arthur Humphrey can still be seen walking round the village and gardening in spite of his very bent back, probably brought on by the heavy work of lifting wooden ladders.
Mr Ernest Humphrey and Kit the cow in the orchard in the early 1930s
Photo lent by the Humphrey family
In 1985 a house was built on the site of the assembly shop and Sheila and her husband Albert Beharrell moved into it. It is aptly named ‘Ladder Cottage’. The old farmhouse has now been largely demolished, although part of it has been incorporated into house built in 1995 by John Connolly for Albert’s daughter and her family. May still lives in the house that the family renovated for themselves ,and Ron’s daughter Jean lives in her old family home next door to May.