The Story of Heyford: The train crash of 1951 V3C3

At about 11.20 am on the 21st September 1951, the 8.20 am Liverpool Express to London came off the track at the Stowe Hill Tunnel near Heyford and tipped over in the embankment. The crash killed eight people and another seven died later in hospital. There were also thirty-six other casualties.

David Blagrove, in his book, “Waterways of Northampton” describes how “the railway can be seen plunging into Stowe Hill Tunnel” and it was here that the train, “hauled by the Duchess class Pacific engine, Princess Arthur of Connaught, left the rails shortly after leaving the tunnel at a speed of between sixty and sixty-five miles an hour.”

Engine 46207 Princess Arthur of Connaught

Photo taken by James Banner and lent by Ted Garrett

A prompt response
Frank Denny, the Heyford signal man that day, was the first to realise what happened. His signal box was located about a quarter of a mile from the railway bridge in Furnace Lane, along the stretch of line between Heyford and Bugbrooke. As the signalman, Frank was aware that the train had entered the tunnel from Weedon but he became anxious when it did not reappear. As he looked out of his box, he saw steam rising from the embankment near Tanborough Farm.

Frank instinctively knew something was wrong and realised that his first priority was to halt the Royal Scot which was travelling from London and due to pass at any moment. He therefore rang through to the Banbury Lane signal box at Bugbrooke to get the signal switched to stop. This duly happened the Royal Scot came to a halt near his own box. The driver got out to demand “what the hell is going on.” It was due to Frank’s swift response that a much more serious accident was averted.

MBE
At the same time, Mrs Cecily Hughes, the doctor’s wife at Weedon, took a call from the Weedon Stationmaster to say that the Liverpool Express had failed to clear his section of the line. He asked if she and her husband, Dr Stephen Hughes, would take a look. So far, that was all that anyone knew.

The couple set off in their car, armed with first aid that they always carried. They arrived at the tunnel within seven minutes of the accident. Mrs Hughes describes how they found nothing at the tunnel entrance so they climbed up over the hill – to be greeted by the sight of the crash strewn along the line.

The rescue operation

Photo taken by James Banner and lent by Ted Garrett

The first four coaches were the most damaged and contained the dead and badly injured. The doctor took one side of the train and his wife the other, clearing the debris in order to reach casualties. Mrs Hughes recalls how “Everyone was calm and patient. The last two carriages had not even left the rails and were still upright. They were full of boys returning to boarding school and one of the senior boys took charge, leading the others away from the scene and back to Weedon, to the Globe Inn.”

The doctors found the engine driver, Mr Tomlin, buried up to his shoulders in coal from the tender. It took a while to dig him out but he was quite unhurt, as was the train’s fireman who had clung to the cab as the engine tipped over.

After attending to all the serious casualties, Dr and Mrs Hughes returned to Weedon, only to find that many more people, including some of the rescuers, were waiting for treatment for minor cuts and bruises.

As some of the first medics on the scene, the contribution made by the Hughes’s was invaluable. Mrs Hughes was later awarded the MBE for her part in the rescue operation. She was reluctant to accept at first, as there were also others who had helped at the crash site and she felt that she was only doing her job. However, Mrs Hughes was described as “heroine of the morning” and duly received her medal.

Witnesses
Several Witness also came forward including a bus driver on the A5 who saw the immediate aftermath of the accident and reported it at Weedon station. It was also very fortunate that a police car happened to be passing the scene along Watling Street as it was one of only two police cars fitted with a radio in the entire county. They were able to summon medical help promptly.

Mr George Richardson of London Was driving along the A5 at the time and said: “I saw the train come out of the tunnel and begin to wobble.”

This “wobbling” and lurching was felt by passengers too. One survivor, Mr Blankfield of Liverpool, explained, “I was in a carriage half-way along the train . . . there were four or five jolts and then the train stopped completely.” He described how he and other passengers immediately climbed out of the windows to help others further along the train.

The damage

Photo taken by James Banner and lent by Ted Garrett

Local help
For local people in Heyford who worked near the railway, the sound of trains was a familiar one and you could tell exactly the time of day by the individual noise of each train that passed. When the crash occurred, Mr Gray of Tanborough Farm apparently thought that his wife had knocked over the dresser. But after that, apart from the hissing of the engine, there was an eerie silence.

Word quickly got around and people went up to help. Amongst the first on the scene were Reg and Joan Collins of Wharf Farm. They provided milk churns so that water could be carried up the hill to the casualties. There was no shortage of volunteers to take the churns but at the end of the day. Reg. had to go round and collect them all back again in his tractor and trailer in time for the evening milking.

Joan had to cycle down to Mrs Blaney at the Post Office with messages to be telegrammed to relatives. At this time, there was only the one phone with one public line out of the village. The officials did their telephoning from Holly Lodge which had one of the few phones in Heyford.

Ted Garrett was booking clerk at Weedon Station that day. When the crash happened, communications between Weedon and Heyford were suddenly lost, so they knew that something was amiss. In fact, as the train was thrown from the track, it had brought down the telegraph poles and cut all contact. A message finally arrived at Weedon via Roade Station that there had indeed been a crash. Ted Garrett was given charge to inform the army located at Weedon Depot and ask them to help at the crash site.

Frank Smith arrived with the Daventry ambulance and took the first casualties to Northampton General. He was actually on his second trip to the hospital by the time other ambulances appeared. Then the army from Weedon arrived to help. As they appeared over the hill, people recalled that it looked as though they were on manoeuvres.

Retired district nurse, Miss Raynor – over 70 years of age – walked two miles from Weedon to the crash site with a case of medical supplies. The Salvation Army and the W.V.S. set up mobile canteens and were there all day. The women from the Heyford railway cottages brought up hot tea for the survivors and people also brought blankets and sheets. The sheets were torn up to make bandages and the blankets kept the survivors warm. These were, of course, not returned but compensation was later given to those who had provided them.

The curse of the tunnel
The crash was reported in the national media and was news on the BBC Home Service. Local papers were full of the story; Northampton’s Chronicle and Echo carried the banner headline “8 KILLED IN WEEDON TRAIN CRASH” although this figure was unfortunately to rise. The Daventry paper went further and wondered if there was a more sinister aspect to Stowe Hill Tunnel. The paper reported that at the same spot in 1915 there had been another fatal train crash.

There were similarities between the two railway accidents. Both occurred about the same time of year with trains that had left at the same time in the morning. On 14th August 1915, the Irish Mail left Euston at 8.30 am and it too was disrailed; this time as it left the tunnel at the Weedon end heading north. The crash killed nine and injured 13 and many of those on board were troops in service during World War One.

However, despite the comparisons, the crash of 1915 was caused by a broken coupling left by a passing train. The coupling had ploughed into the track and so dislodged the oncoming mail train.

Board of Trade
In both crashes, the stretch of line was not found to be at fault. In 1951, the investigation by the Board of Trade was led by Lieutenant-Colonel G.R.S. Wilson. He concluded that the engine (number 46207 for train buffs) had an axle incorrectly fitted after its servicing at Crewe. The axle was slightly too tight, enough to cause a problem when it reached Stowe Hill Tunnel. There is a small change in rail type leading in and out of the tunnel (from flat bottom to bull head track) and, with the axle too tight, the Express dislodged when it went over these rails. The service engineer responsible at Crewe was named but, this being the 50’s and not the 90’s, there was no huge compensation claim or court case.

The engine itself had embedded in the soft clay around Stowe Hill and actually suffered little damage. However, it took almost a month before it could be lifted because of the steep ditch of the embankment. The engine had to be lifted out by a crane and villagers can remember its massive size as it was hauled into the air. It was then towed back to Crewe and was running again within six weeks. Driver Tomlin actually drove the Liverpool Express one more time to London, but never again after that.

By Sarah Croutear. A number of people have contributed to this story but we must give particular thanks to Joan Collins, Ted Garrett, Cecily Hughes and Doris Lovell, Frank Denny’s daughter.

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Added 2020:

British Pathe News

24/09/1951 – Many Killed In Train Wreck – A train crash kills several people and injures many more in Weedon

British Movietone News

24/09/1951 – Tragedy occurred aboard the Liverpool-London express train recently, when it crashed at Weedon, Northants., The locomotive plunging down an embankment, derailing all fifteen coaches. It is feared that, at least, seven people were killed and many more injured.

The Illustrated London News

September 29th 1951

Britain From Above

Wreckage of the 8.20am Express Service from Liverpool to Euston (46207 Princess Arthur of Connaught) on the section of track along from the Stowehill Tunnel (the Weedon Rail Crash), Nether Heyford, 1951
LMS Princess Royal Class No 46207 Princess Arthur of Connaught
LMS Princess Royal 6207 “Princess Arthur of Connaught”

https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW040105

No. 6207, A Study in Steel (1935) LMS

Shot and produced in 1935 this film details the construction of Princess Royal Class no. 6207 ‘Princess Arthur of Connaught’, from raw materials to complete locomotive.

Ministry of Transport Crash Report

Report on the Derailment which occurred on 21st September 1951 near Weedon in the London Midland Region British Railways

“The 8.20 a.m. Up express passenger train from Liverpool to Euston, comprising 15 bogie coaches hauled by a Pacific type engine, was travelling at 60-65 m.p.h. on the leaving transition of a left handed curve of about 50 chains radius, when the leading bogie wheels of the engine were derailed to the right ; the cause was an engine defect. The derailment was not noticed by the enginemen at this stage and the train continued forward at speed for more than £¾ mile on the straight without serious damage to the flat bottom track. No more wheels were derailed until the train reached the bull head rails just beyond the short Stowe Hill tunnel, when the leading bogie wheels began to smash the chairs and break up the track with the result that the whole of the train left the rails except for the last two vehicles.

The engine went down the 12 ft. embankment to the left, and fell on its left hand side: on soft ground. The wreckage of the coaches at the front of the train was severe, and I regret to state that seven passengers and one of the dining car staff were killed outright and seven passengers died subsequently in hospital. In addition, 26 passengers, the engine driver, and nine members of the dining car staff were admitted to hospital, or 36 persons in all, of whom 15 were discharged on the same day, and 25 others sustained minor injuries or shock. The driver, who was on the left hand side of the footplate, had a fortunate escape from serious injury when he was buried in coal from the tender as the engine overturned ; the fireman clung to the right hand side of the cab and was unhurt.

The wreckage of the eight leading coaches was piled behind and alongside the overturned engine across both the tracks. It was seen by the signalman at Heyford box 950 yards ahead when he heard the noise of the final derailment, and he stopped the approaching Down “Royal Scot” express at his outer home signal at 11.19 am., and afterwards drew it forward to the box. The block and telephone wires northward were severed, but the signalman got a message through to the Control via Blisworth, the next junction box to the south. Medical and other assistance was also summoned from all possible sources by some officers of the Metropolitan Police who had seen the wreckage from their car on the neighbouring main road. The Northamptonshire County Police were quickly on the scene and performed outstanding services in co-ordinating the work of rescue.”

Magazine Article

Jez Wilson – Updates added September 2020

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Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 3 of 4 | Chapter 3 of 17 | Page 4 to 7

TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford (Extra): Dear Diary – July 1955

July 1955

Dear Diary,

It’ll be the factory fortnight soon. Dad will spend his first week decorating as usual. The walls and ceilings are quite stained after a year, probably because my parents both smoke, as do most grown-ups. I dare say we’ll have the chimney sweep come first or it would be a bit of a waste of time decorating. The second week we may go on one of Mrs. Hilliers’ day trips to the seaside, although they are long days.

Last year we went to Blackpool in a boarding house for a week, but I know we can’t afford to go again this year. If we ever do go again I’ll be able to swim because the school are taking us for lessons at Midsummer Meadow outdoor pool. The water is heated by the cooling towers but the air can be really cold when you get out. The bottom is really rough to your feet and the water is murky sometimes.

I love our village green, especially in the summer because so much happens there. It’s the largest village green in the county and it’s great after it’s been mown because we can build dens. The grass won’t be there long though because they’ll want to play cricket at the weekend, so somebody will clear the cut grass away.

Mrs. Blaney has taken over the running of the Post Office from her dad. She was a school teacher once so I bet she knows most of the people in the village.

I was nearly late for school this morning. Dad had borrowed my school pen to write to his brother in Northampton. He is thinking of emigrating to Australia on the £10 package being offered to British citizens and dad wants to talk to him about making this drastic decision. The letter was on the table with the 2 ½ d for a stamp but no pen so I’ll have to go without it. He probably wrote out his bet with it. Does he know how hard it is to get a pen?

Mum was messing about taking the milk off the step before the birds pecked through the lid, then she stopped to talk to Mr. Wigley, the road sweeper, so the bell was ringing before we even reached the green. I ran the rest of the way. Blimey, I’m 10 now so I don’t need her to come with me, but she’s got a little cleaning job and she starts at 9 o’clock when I start school. It’s not like she spent hours in the bathroom as she only has what she calls “a lick & a promise” when she’s going to work.

I’m school monitor this week so I’m to give out the milk at break time and we are having a group photograph in front of the school, with all 70 of us in it, this afternoon. That should be a laugh, trying to get us all looking the same way and smiling. I think we might have country dancing with the boys this afternoon – they hate that. After the holidays I shall be on my last year at Bliss School because they are to build a new secondary school at Duston and those over 11 who don’t pass the 11+, and no doubt that’ll be me, will go by bus. Can’t wait.

Polly

Letter published in The Prattler – July & August edition 2020

 

Nether Heyford W.I. – June 2020

WI-Logo

Here we are – another month on and still waiting for life to go back to normal! What can you put in an article about a group which hasn’t been able to meet since March? Well, one thing that came to mind was the news that, in December 2020, Nether Heyford WI will celebrate their 90th Anniversary! During a conversation with Mo Wright (a long time member) I discovered that she had a back copy of The Prattler with an article about the 50th Anniversary celebrations – memories galore with many good old Nether Heyford names that people will no doubt remember.

During 1930 three ladies, Mrs J. O. Adams, Mrs Punch and Mrs George were walking back to their homes in Nether Heyford. They had been attending the monthly meeting of the Womens Institute in Bugbrooke, where they had been members for three years. As they walked along the quiet lane, they discussed the formation of a branch of the W.I. in Nether Heyford and Mrs Adams volunteered to see the County Secretary at W.I. House in Northampton. When the required 10 ladies had been gathered together, the great day arrived and the foundation papers were duly signed in November 1930. In actual fact there were 48 members present, far more than the required 10! Mrs Adams was the first President, Mrs George the Secretary and their monthly meetings were held in the school where Mrs Carrington, the Headmaster’s wife, supplied the hot water to make the tea. Cups and saucers were loaned by the Baptist Chapel, carried over in a clothes basket and then washed up at home before their return!! By the first Annual Report on December 3rd 1931 they had purchased ‘6 doz of crockery and spoons, an aluminium tea urn and a large tea pot’. Obviously the clothes basket was too heavy!

Their activities were varied, sometimes a speaker on a subject of interest to countrywomen, competitions of all kinds, an Old Tyme Dancing class and Keep Fit classes run by Mrs Blaney. Subscriptions were 2/6d. They corresponded for many years with a group in Queensland, Australia and forged another link, nearer to home, with the Delapre Townswomen’s Guild. It was realised that the village needed a focal point for expanding activities. Fund raising of all kinds, including a Garden Party at Manor House, then occupied by The Vice President Mrs Shiel, raised a sum of £100. ”An ankle competition had been suggested and the Secretary was asked to see Capt. Shiel, Mr Knight and Mr Whitton with regard to judging same”. The minutes never revealed which gentleman was given the job!! As you know, the Village Hall was eventually built by volunteers in 1960 and is still the meeting place of Nether Heyford WI.

Our WI has taken part in raising funds for many charities, assisted at the Blood Donor Clinics, held Annual Produce Shows, have attended the Queen’s Garden party at Buckingham Palace, won the shield for handicrafts at the County Show In Nether Heyford and won the County General Knowledge Quiz in 1968. This was all in our first 50 years – what we do next is down to us!

So, we look backward to our Golden Jubilee Celebration and forward to our Ninetieth Birthday Celebration and see how life has changed in 40 years. There are many differences – those in travel, technology, communication and attitudes being just a few. Some of these have altered the way in which the Women’s Institute functions and few letters change hands now with emails having taken over. But the pandemic has brought some of the WI’s original baking skills back into fashion, with the entire nation rushing to buy flour and cake ingredients! However, the basic foundation of the WI hasn’t changed. In Nether Heyford there is still as much friendship, good humour and interest in other people’s life stories and crafts, as well as the love of our village life, that there ever was. If, when all this is over and you feel you would like to come to join us for an evening, please do. We would love to see you!

Mary Rice – Heyford Lodge – 01327 340101

 

The Story of Heyford (Extra): VH 60th Grand Opening: 7th May 1960

Nether Heyford Village Hall 60th Anniversary

Grand opening: 7th May 1960 

vh1

Left to Right: Lieut.-Colonel C C S Genese, Miss L N D La Touche, Viscount Althorp, Major W Blaney, Viscountess Althorp, Mr R H Adams, Mrs M M Bartlett and Mr C E North.

Their children and grandchildren will owe them gratitude

‘A memorial to industry and good sense’. That is how Viscount Althorp described Lower Heyford’s new village hall when he declared it open on Saturday Afternoon. Not one penny, he said had been spent on labour costs since the first soil was turned by the villagers in 1958, apart from the short period when the roof was being erected by contractors. He mentioned the generous help from the Rural Community Council and the grant from the Ministry of Education. Village organisations he mentioned with gratitude were the Parish Council, Parochial Council, Methodist and Baptist Churches, British Legion, W.I., Darby & Joan, School managers and the local Athletic Club.

Viscount Althorp said he was sure the Hall would not become a passive venture –
this was most likely to happen when there was a lack of youth among the committee members. The children and grandchildren of those concerned in the building would owe them a great debt of gratitude. Viscount Althorp, accompanied by the Viscountess was introduced by Major W Blaney (president of the building committee) who said the opening was an outstanding day in the life and history of the village. The committee had been exceptionally good, and he mentioned especially Mr George Masters and Mr H Thorneycroft.

Mr Hugh Adams (committee member) gave a history of the building from the first decision (by the W.I. in 1933) to form a special building fund and praised the determination and loyalty of those who gave up their spare time to work on the hall. He also paid tribute to Major Blaney as chairman of the committee. The hall must now be utilized to the fullest extent he said. The building committee would hand over to a management committee.

Mrs M Bartlett, chairman of the executive committee of the Northamptonshire Rural Community Council, said the hall should be used for everybody in the village and supply the social needs of both the old and the young. She mentioned a conference to be held in the County Hall, Northampton next October at which representatives of all village halls in the county would meet. She paid tribute to the help give by Lt-Col Charles Genese (secretary of Northants Rural Community Council and Miss L N La Touche (HM Inspector, Ministry of education). Mr C North voiced thanks to the speakers and Major Blaney a comprehensive vote of thanks. Two visitors from London who attended the ceremony were Miss M Hann (Architect from the National Council of Social Services and Miss O Emerson-Price from the Ministry of Education.

An opening dance was held at the hall in the evening.

An article from the Mercury & Herald – Friday 13th May 1960

Published in The Prattler – May 2020

The Story of Heyford: Nether Heyford Women’s Institute V4C1

One day in 1930 three ladies were walking back to their homes in Nether Heyford. They  had been attending the monthly meeting of the Women’s Institute in Bugbrooke, where they had been members for three years. They were Mrs J.O. dams, mother of Mr Hugh Adams, Mrs Punch, and Mrs George. As they walked along the quiet lane they discussed the formation of a W.I. in Nether Heyford, and Mrs Adams volunteered to see the County Secretary at W.I. House in Northampton. When the required ten ladies had been gathered together, the foundation papers were signed – with nervously shaking hands – in November 1930.

The Programme from 1938

TheStoryOfHeyford-NetherHeyford_W1_P2

TheStoryOfHeyford-NetherHeyford_W1_P3The early years
Mrs Adams was the first President and Mrs George the Secretary. Their meetings were held in the school where Mrs Carrington, the Headmaster’s Wife, supplied the hot water to make the tea. Cups and saucers were loaned by the Baptist Chapel, carried over in a clothes basket and then washed up before their return. The activities were varied, speakers on subjects of interest to countrywomen, competitions of all kinds, and classes on old-time dancing and keep fit. Subscriptions were 2/6d which though seeming a small amount, was about on a par with those paid today.

A link was formed with a W.l. in Queensland, Australia, and members found much interest in exchanging news and views with an organisation on the other side of the world. During the War, parcels were gratefully received by members, in particular those containing soap, which was in very short supply. Another link nearer home, and in more recent days, was formed With Delapre Townswomens Guild. This continued for many years into the 1980s, with enjoyable get-togethers and exchange of ideas.

For many years meetings were held in the Baptist Chapel Schoolroom, but quite early on the W.I. had an ambition to have its own hall, so a Building Fund was established and money-raising events of all kinds began, including a garden party at the Manor house, then occupied by Mrs Shiel (Vice-Chairman at the time). The sum of £100 was raised, but the W.l. Hall was not to be and the money was eventually passed on to the committee set up to establish a Village Hall. This was eventually completed in 1960 on ground that had belonged to Mr Adams, With the help of village volunteers from all walks of life.

TheStoryOfHeyford-NetherHeyford_W1_P4

Wide ranging activities
The activities of the Institute are far—reaching. The subjects of our speakers and demonstrators are extremely varied. “Jam”? Yes, why not? And pickles, cakes, and grub of all kinds. Not to mention handicrafts, art, gardens, games and sport, local and family history, wild life and conservation, public speaking. “Jerusalem”? Well, no, not these days at our local meetings, though it is always sung with gusto at county and national events.

An annual produce show, open to all village residents, started in 1969, still continues in 1999, and creates much interest and fun.

Teams from our W.I. have done well in general knowledge quizzes run by the County Federation. In 1968 Mrs Judy Ward, Mrs Sheila Masters and daughter Hilary were the winners, and in 1994 we triumphed again, this time with Mrs Hyde, Mrs Essery and Mrs Joan Wright joining Mrs Masters.

For many years W.I. members have helped at the Blood Donors Clinic which is set up in the Village Hall twice a year. We serve the donors with the welcome tea and biscuits after they have given their life-saving blood.

Fund raising is a perennial occupation for all village organisations, and the W.I. is no exception. As well as making sure that we cover all our own expenses – speakers, hall fees, etc – these days we concentrate on raising funds for the Village Hall, now our regular and familiar meeting place. Money-making events include antiques evenings, occasional lunches (appropriately called ‘Nosh and Natter’) where senior citizens enjoy good food and good company, concerts (with, of course, nosh) and a stall (selling, of course, home—made nosh) at the annual Village Hall Fete, at which members have been known to dress up in weird and wonderful array — St Trinian’s and the Mad Hatters Tea Party are amongst the more memorable.

In the wider world our members take part in County Federation events. There is a tree planted in our name in Brixworth Country Park. Each year we discuss and vote on resolutions to be brought up at the National General Meetings, the results of which are passed to Governments, so that our W.I. plays an integral, if small, part in bringing subjects of importance to government attention, and action has been taken in many areas from these. Every few years we send a delegate to represent our W.I. and several others, and their reports are heard with great interest.

Canadian origins
All this started, not in England’s green and pleasant land, but in a small Canadian town called Stoney Creek, where a farmer’s wife, Mrs Hoodless, lost a child and realised that this was happening far too often to women of her generation owing to ignorance of simple health and hygiene rules. She made it her life’s work to help educate women so that they could have happy and healthy families. And on 19th February 1897 the first W.I. in the world was inaugurated at Stoney Creek.

The movement came to Britain in 1915 – the first W.I. being formed in Llanfairpwll in Anglesey, and the national Federation was established in 1917. One can scarcely believe that in those days it was difficult to find the 2/- (10p) subscription and to obtain the husband’s permission to attend meetings. However the enthusiasm of those early members surmounted all obstacles, and while the emphasis was on skills for country living, their horizons were immensely widened. I suppose it would be called ‘empowerment’ these days. Women who would have said they ‘couldn’t do anything,’ suddenly found that they could hold a meeting together, speak in public, demonstrate their skills and share their experiences. Many members have increased their skills and developed their talents at Denman College, the W.I.’s own Adult Education College in Oxfordshire. Opened in 1948 and named after Lady Denham, the first National Chairman, it offers courses to members on anything from painting to philosophy, from lace-making to local government, opening to women whole new worlds.

TheStoryOfHeyford-NetherHeyford_W1_P6

Seventy years and still going strong
Nether Heyford W.I. has passed its Silver, Golden and Diamond jubilees, and our ‘70th’, whatever that is called, comes up in the year 2000. It would take too much time and space to enumerate all the fine personalities who have graced our membership down the years. But we remember with pride some of those who have gone from us. Mrs Adams, the first and longest serving president – twenty-two years non stop. Mrs George, founder member and long time secretary and president. Mrs Nora Humphrey and Mrs Lou Garrett (later Robinson), both stalwart members and both serving as treasurer for many years. Mrs Ellen (Nen) Blaney, enthusiastic and generous-hearted member, Mrs Hilda Chapman, long serving secretary, instigator and for years the organiser of our produce show. Mrs Eve Gothard, County Committee member and enthusiast for our overseas connections. And Mrs Nellie Clements, willing, skillful, tireless committee worker, the kind of member who is the backbone of our movement.

Back in 1897, Canadian women chose for their motto, ‘For home and country’, and despite all the changes and modern improvements that have taken place down the century, it is difficult to think of a phrase that more closely reflects the purpose of the Women’s Institute movement.

Sheila Masters (with the help of Maureen Wright, and other members)

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Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 4 of 4 | Chapter 1 of 8 | Pages 2 to 6TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: The Browning Family V2C11

The Brownings are a notorious Heyford family — notorious, that is, for their longevity! The last generation of Brownings to bear the family name in the village all died in their late nineties and early one-hundreds. The very last, Bob Browning, died aged 104 in 1997.

The Browning story begins in Maxey, near Peterborough with David Browning, a labourer, who was  born some time in the late 1790s. He married a woman called Maria and it may have been she who provided the longevity gene. Maria was born in 1798 and died in 1881, in Daventry, at the age of 83 – only a year before her own son and daughter-in-law.

Police inspector

Maria’s son, also called David was born in 1832 in Maxey and he brought the Browning family to Northamptonshire. He married Susan Price, the daughter of a butcher in 1861 and a year later went into the police force. He became the Police Inspector at Daventry and lived at the County Police Station there. The couple had nine children over thirteen years – the last three were all born within a year of the previous birth. While this is an eye—watering thought, of course it was not unusual to have so many children so close together. More remarkable, perhaps, was that seven children survived into adulthood.

Their parents, David and Susan, were not so lucky with their own life expectancy. Both died in 1882; David aged 50 and his wife, only 41. It appears that an unfortunate incident affected David’s police career and ultimately his life.

Hilda Collins, David Browning’s great grand-daughter, said that when the police inspector turned out gypsies at Dodford village as part of his duty he was attacked and, as the family recalled, “was never the same since.” He did not work again and was retired early from the force.

In the October Court Session of 1878 it is recorded: “That Inspector David Browning  be superannuated for 12 months, he has been in the force since 1862 and reported by two Medical Gentlemen as unfit to perform further duty. And it is further ordered as the Chief Constable recommends Inspector Browning for a pension that he do receive for the next 12 months an allowance after the rate of £48 per annum, the allowance to be paid quarterly; at the expiration of the 12 months Inspector Browning be then incapable of performing duty the Court will have to consider the continuation of the Allowance as a yearly Pension.”

One year later the October Session recorded that Inspector David Browning was “incapable of further duty” and was permanently retired. The pension would have been helpful but the family needed to find another income. The Brownings moved to Sheaf Street in Daventry and Susan Browning became a grocer. The census of 1881 shows Susan Browning to be the head of the family, (although David was still alive at the time) with five of her children at home. The elderly Maria Browning, Susan’s mother-in-law – who had been living with the family for at least ten years – had died just before the census was taken.

William Price Browning

Susan and David died shortly after the census, in 1882, and it was left to William Price Browning, as the eldest son, to take care of his younger brothers and sisters. He was 18 and was a commercial traveller and later, a rate collector in Nether Heyford. There must have been some financial difficulty in keeping the family together because Leonard Browning, the youngest child, was sent to Wolverhampton Orphanage at the age of six. Hilda Collins has a Bible inscribed by the orphanage and presented to Leonard. She is not sure why Wolverhampton was chosen but thinks that it might have been a connection with the police force.

Several of the Browning siblings moved to Heyford with William Price Browning (“W.P.”) including one of his younger brothers, David. He was the second son to be called David, the first having died in infancy. David Browning married into the Eales family, who ran the post office, and he kept the shop and post office from 1930 to 1955.

William Price Browning in 1923

NetherHeyford_BrowningFamily1

Photo lent by Hilda Collins (nee Smith)

The Hardly Annuals

W.P. Browning married Violet, a teacher. They lived in a small cottage near the top of Church Street and had six children within seven years! For this reason, their father referred to them as ‘hardy annuals’ little realising how hardy they would actually be. Violet – without the Browning streak of endurance – died aged 49, but all six children lived on into their late nineties or one—hundreds.

Gwendoline, the eldest child, was born in Nether Heyford in 1891 and followed her mother into the teaching profession, becoming a pupil teacher at Weedon School. In an interview for The Prattler in 1977, 86 year old Gwen remembered how “I did some self—tuition by taking a correspondence course and then later on cycled to teachers’ classes in Daventry.”

She recalled that as a child, “We’d go up to the canal at Heyford Bridge and then all the boys would change one side and the girls the other. Then we’d have a swim or watch the boats, all drawn by horses of course, being pulled up the canal.”

As a young woman, Gwen had an illegitimate daughter, Dorothy. She then married Mr Fred George and had two sons, although the eldest Philip died at 13. She could remember the village midwife, Anne Clarke: “It was quite an occasion when she brought her thousandth baby into the world.”

Like many in the Browning family, Gwen was a Baptist and actively involved in chapel life. She later claimed that her secret to a long life was “to never think about age. Forget how old you are, go wherever you’re asked and never turn down invitations.”

The eldest son, Robert (Bob) was born in 1892 and died in 1997 aged 104. He was the oldest surviving sibling. Like the other Browning children, he attended Bliss Charity School under the headmaster, Mr Cook who he remembered as a stern man. One of his earliest memories was in 1900 when a policeman from Bugbrooke cycled to Heyford to post up the call notices for the Boer War.

In 1905 at the age of 13 he left school and went to work for W H Smith in Weedon, delivering newspapers to the surrounding villages. He would walk with the post to places as far as Grimscote. Later, he joined a boot making factory in Northampton to which he cycled each day. He could always recall the terrible stench of the tanneries as he approached the outskirts of the town.

On the outbreak of World War One, Bob Browning was declared unfit to fight but contributed to the war effort by working a modern boot making machine. He married a woman called Mabel and in 1922 he moved into Northampton. However he retained an active interest in his home village and contributed occasional articles to The Prattler.

May Browning, born 1893 married Harold Smith whose family lived by the canal, beside the Bricklayers Arms before it closed. Harold’s father, Charles, was a railway signalman at Heyford South and the signal box was located on the Litchborough Road near Bugbrooke until the early 1930s.

Hilda Collins remembers how her mother, May, took the post up to Upper Heyford. A family there had a piano and May asked for no charge for her errand but just the opportunity to play it.

Winifred Browning, born 1895, married a Trinidadian, Mr Punch, which was probably considered unusual in 1920s rural England. They had two children but marriage did not survive and at the end of the 1930s, Win Punch earned her income running the fish and chip shop in the barn near The Olde Sun, taking it over from George Oliver.

Nell Browning was born in 1896 and married George Bennett with whom she had a son, Bill. The youngest sibling, Fred, was born in 1898 and lived to be 98. He was an active member of the village community and involved in the parish church — particularly bell ringing. He married a woman called Gladys and lived in Furnace Lane.

Despite the size and longevity of the family, the Browning name did not survive this generation. Of nine children born to the siblings, eight were born to the sisters under their married names and the other was a girl who also married. However, the Browning stock continues in the village through the Collins family, with its most recent name change, by marriage, to Willgress.

The six Browning children as they appeared around 1906

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Left to right: May, Fred, Robert, Gwen, Nell, and Win

The family on the occasion of Bob’s 90th Birthday celebration

NetherHeyford_BrowningFamily3

Left to right: Mrs Winifred Punch (87), Mrs Gwendoline George (91), Bob Browning (90),
Fred Browning (84), Mrs May Smith (88), and Mrs Nell Bennett (86)

Photos from an article in the Chronicle and Echo August 1982

W.P Browning’s family on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding in 1921

NetherHeyford_BrowningFamily4

Top: George Bennett, Bill Bennett, Nell Bennett (nee Browning), Gladys Browning, Fred Browning, Friend, Friend, Mabel Browning, Friend, Friend, Fred George, Friend, Friend, Bob Browning

Middle: Win Punch (nee Browning), Odette Punch, Charles Smith, Harriet Smith, Harold Smith (bridegroom), May Smith (bride), Violet Browning, W.P. Browning, Gwen George (nee Browning), Philip Browning

Bottom: Dorothy Browning, Ellen ‘Nen’ Browning

Photo lent by Hilda Collins (nee Smith)

‘Progress’ by Bob Browning (1892-1997)

These days it seems there’s such a fuss about which foods are good for us.
What’s worse, I notice with dismay, the list grows longer every day!
They’re all the things that I miss most: Yorkshire puddings, Sunday roast,
Mash and bangers, eggs and ham, warm scones and strawberry jam,
Toast with butter, thickly spread, beef dripping on fresh-baked bread
Cheese and chicken are suspect too. I really don’t know what to do!’
Obediently when I was small, what Mother served, I ate all,
It seems to me now I am old, I still must do what I am told.
I’m over four score years and ten, and won’t see ninety—five again.
Since everything I ate was wrong, I marvel that I lived so long!

The words of Bob Browning whilst in Bethany Homestead where he spent his later years.

The Post Office

Other Brownings contributed to life in Nether Heyford. As mentioned, David Browning, brother to W.P., married into the village’s post office family. His wife, Annie, Was a member of the Eales family who had run the business since 1877.

John Eales was the village’s first postmaster and ran the post office and shop for 30 years before handing it on to his daughter Amy. She took over in 1907, When the shop and houses on the site were auctioned at The Old Sun Inn and bought by Amy Eales for £320.

David and Annie Browning then took over in 1930 during which time the thatched premises was pulled down and replaced by the present corner—shop building, They had a daughter, Ellen (‘Nen’) who was born in Manor Cottage, Church Street in 1907. Nen taught in the village school before succeeding the shop and post office from her father in 1955.

David Browning outside the post office in the 1950s.

NetherHeyford_BrowningFamily5

Photo lent by Judy Armitage

Nen Blaney 

Nen ran the business until 1968 When, on the death of her husband, Major W. Blaney, Nen sold the shop to a Mr and Mrs Eales (apparently no relation) and opened the newsagent and post office next door. She continued working until 1986 — retiring gracefully at the age of 80!

Nen Blaney had many memories of Heyford. Her uncle, Mr J. Earl, ran a carrier’s cart to Northampton on Wednesdays and Saturdays. She recalled that “the first bus we had in the village was a coal cart that  travelled once a day and was run by a Mr Harold Botterill from Bugbrooke. On Saturdays it was a bit different because they put a shed thing (a wooden structure) on top as a cover.”

Mrs Blaney outside her post office

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Photo lent by Judy Armitage

She also remembered a postman named Albert Bates Who used to cycle in from Weedon with the post, hand over Nether Heyford’s share and then cycle on to Bugbrooke. Nen Blaney’s own working day was long; starting at 5am and often finishing around midnight. Despite this demanding schedule, Nen Blaney was chairwoman of the British Legion Women’s Section for over 20 years.

She was proud to be invited to the Queen’s Birthday Party at Buckingham Palace in 1971 in celebration of the Legion’s 50th anniversary. Major Blaney chaired the British Legion’s Northamptonshire Branch and served Nether Heyford on the Daventry Rural District Council, of which he became chairman. Family of Nen Blaney still live in the village today.

Sarah Croutear

~~

Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 2 of 4 | Chapter 11 of 11 | Pages 26 to 32

TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: Childhood Memories V4C7

Before the second world war the village was only half the size that it is now, transport was very limited, and the modern leisure facilities that are so commonly available today simply didn’t exist. Therefore the young people made their own fun in whatever way they could. There are many people in the village, now in their eighties, with childhood memories from the pre war period.

Children and young people
Before the first world war, the children went to school up the age of 13. Life was pretty busy keeping up with the chores. Mrs Dorothy Kingston of Furnace Lane remembers taking bread and jam to her father at the Brickworks when she came home from school. There was water to fetch, pigs to feed, eggs to collect, vegetables to prepare.

At thirteen, you left school and went to work. Some worked on the farms, some learned trades in their family businesses, but some worked outside the village. Bob Browning’s first job was a Saturday job at the age of 12 for W H Smith in Weedon. He walked from Heyford to Weedon and collected papers for delivery to Litchborough and Maidford and then walked back home. The journey was done entirely on foot and took him all day.

When he left school in 1905 he went to work there full time. They gave him a bicycle and two panniers to carry the papers. His new route was from Heyford to Weedon to pick up the papers, then to Dodford, Everdon, Farthingstone, Upper Weedon, then home. He ate his packed lunch each day under one of the big Beech trees beside the road through Everdon Stubbs.  There he double checked his takings.

On one occasion he arrived home and found he was one gold sovereign short. The sovereign had come from Everdon Hall where they always had several papers. His mother was desperate because he had to give his takings in the next morning but they didn’t have as much as a sovereign in the house.

So Bob cycled back to Everdon Stubbs to where he had counted the money at lunchtime, and there he found the missing sovereign. He was delighted at finding it that he carved his initials with his pocket knife into one of the trees. The four trees are still there today. All of them have dozens of initials carved into them of which some are quite new, but others could be 100 years old. Somewhere amongst them are the initials R.B.

Walking 
With time to, spare, little transport, and few organised facilities, walking was common. People would walk miles without a second thought.

The children all walked to school, some coming from Upper Heyford and others from the Railway cottages, or from Stowe Hill. They mostly travelled in small groups, unaccompanied by adults. Nobody worried about safety. The school didn’t provide lunches then so they made four journeys each day, often dawdling along the Way. There were several brooks in those days, running either side of the Green and also alongside a number of the hedges. Here it was tempting to dally along the way, making boats out of whatever materials they could find in the hedgerows.

Families walked together on Sundays, often for miles up to Glassthorpe or Stowe. They sometimes ended up at one of the pubs where father would have a beer and the children a ‘spruce’ – a bottle of pop with a glass ball in it.

Cars were a rare sight in the village between the wars so groups of young people would walk up to the ‘Turnpike’ (the A5) and sit on the bank by the Stowe turn, Waiting to wave at the drivers as they passed at a rate of only one or two an hour.

The Railway children
Mrs Doris Lovell, now in her eighties, lived in the railway cottages because her father, Frank Denny was a signalman. Although there was never a station in Heyford, she recalls how the railway had a strong presence in the village. There were sidings in the brick yard, there was an active signal box, and there were four railway cottages occupied by signalmen, platelayers and their families.

In the days of steam, each locomotive had its own unique personality and they chuffed past at a more friendly speed than today’s diesels. The driver and fireman, whose faces were often familiar to the villagers, would wave as they passed by, and sometimes they would throw lumps of coal for the children to take home.

The children played in the fields alongside the railway, although there was a strict understanding that playing near the tracks was forbidden. Favourite play areas included the stream near the brickyard just the other side of the small foot tunnel under the embankment. Here you could make stepping stones, build dens, and fish for tiddlers.

The railway bridge and railway cottages in the 1930s

memories2.jpg

Photo lent by Judy Armitage

Box Pond and ‘the Humps’
Another favourite play area recalled by Doris Lovel was in the field where the furnaces used to be. There was a pond here called ‘box pond’ because it was near the signal box. There was another pond across the road in the brickyard where deep water had formed in the claypit. Both ponds were popular play areas with much wildlife in them, including lizards and moorhens.

Also in the furnace field were four huge clinker mountains. These had been formed out of clinker waste from when the furnaces were in operation. Each seemed as high as a house. They had set solid into various shapes, Weathered through time, and were full of interesting nooks and crannies. They, were affectionately known as ‘the humps’. Cut hands and scraped knees were common.

These ‘humps’ were eventually moved when the M1 was built in the late 1950s. The field was full of hills and hollows from where the furnaces had been, and the contractor, Dowsett, was looking for somewhere to put the topsoil from the construction of the M1. So they broke up the humps, rolled them into the hollows, and covered them with topsoil. Box Pond was also filled in.

Fishing and swimming 
As today, there were plenty of fish in the canal. With a line, a hen feather, a bent pin and some bait, you could catch gudgeon to take home to feed to the cat. Favourite places on the river were by one of the two bridges – either the bridge to Upper Heyford, or Coach Bridge (now only a footbridge beyond Manor Park). Jumping off Coach Bridge into the deep waters below was a regular summer game for the boys.

Many local people, now in their 70s and 80s remember swimming in the canal. On warm summer days the young people would take their swimming costumes, some sandwiches, a drink, and a pot to pick blackberries. This way they could would spend hours by the canal.

An article in the Mercury and Herald dated 25th May 1978 included an interview with Mrs George (nee Browning) in which she recalled how ‘we’d go up to the canal at Heyford Bridge. The boys would change one side and the girls the other. Then we’d have a swim or watch the boats, all drawn by horses of course, being pulled up the canal.’ Unlike the railway where it was firmly understood that the track was out of bounds, the canal was considered ‘safe’. This was in spite of the murky state of the water and the waste disposed of by the boat people. However it was a fun place to spend the day, and was the only way to learn how to swim.

Swimming in the canal

memories3.jpg

This photograph, taken in the 1920s shows a group of young people beside the canal.  They went up Furnace Lane and turned left at Wharf Farm where they walked along to the next bridge. They are seen here in the field opposite the tow path. Pictured from the front are: Ivy Denny, Jack Earl, Friend, Nen Blaney, Odette Punch, Friend, Friend, and Mrs Frank Denny. The little girl to the left of the group is June Denny.

Photo lent by Doris Lovell (nee Denny)

~~

Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 4 of 4 | Chapter 7 of 8 | Pages 28 to 30TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: Life at Heyford Mill V3C8

I was one of a family of three who moved into the mill house in November 1954. My mother had been a housekeeper at East Haddon where she lived in a tied cottage with my sister and myself. Due to ill health she had to give up her job, and of course the cottage. We met some friends of ours, Betty and Bert, who lived in the mill house. They put us up, but when we had been there some weeks they moved with Bert’s job on the railway, so we took over the tenancy of the mill house.

Primitive

It was very primitive to say the least, but at last we were in rented accommodation again. For the £1 per week rent we had a unique dwelling. Having no electricity, mains water, or gas, we used oil lamps and candles for light, and a large black range to cook on, for which we had to collect wood from around the fields. The coalmen Guy and Bob West couldn’t deliver coal to the door because the track was so pot-holed. They thought it would break the axle of their truck, so they left the coal at the second field gate.

In the kitchen we had an earthenware sink. Above it was a pump which you had to ‘prime’ to get the water up from the spring below. To prime it you had to turn the metal pipe (which swivelled) upside down, pour a pint of water down, and then pull a handle, much like a beer pump, and so get your water. The wash-house was a shed opposite the kitchen across the yard. It had a large metal copper which was mounted on bricks, with a space to light a fire beneath it, and so heat the water.

But the greatest delight was the loo! It was in a shed at the far end of the house. It had a wooden seat with a bucket below, which when full had to be emptied and the contents buried in the garden! Home produced manure! When you went after dark you had to go armed with various items — a candle in a jam jar to light your way, and a thick stick and a bucket to bang on to frighten the rats out of the building before you went in! But for all that it was a most happy place to live.

Flooding

We had to go across the fields to get the shopping from Mrs Courts shop, and we bought paraffin, candles and stamps from Mrs Blaney’s store. That was when the weather was fine. When it rained the house did get flooded in the hallway and the main room, but the kitchen was above water level so that wasn’t too bad. When the weather was bad we had to paddle through the mud to the large dutch barn, then past two fields to the top gate (change from wellies to shoes). Then we walked along the main road to Upper Heyford and down the lane to Nether Heyford (Lower Heyford in those days). Sometimes the lane was flooded near Crow Lane so we had to paddle through freezing water.

I married from the mill in 1955 and had my eldest daughter in April 1956. The ambulance taking me to the Barratt got bogged down in mud, but managed to get me to town in time for the birth. Then in September 1956 we were given a council house in Hillside Crescent with all mod cons.

It was a hard life at the mill, but at the same time an experience that my sister and I are pleased to have shared. We were the last people to live there and it is so sad to see the dreadful state it is in now.

Wendy Blackmore

~~

Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 3 of 4 | Chapter 8 of 17 | Page 17

TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: Heyford’s First Motor Vehicles V2C1

In the 1920’s cars were very few and far between. Groups of people used to walk up from the village to the A5 , then known as The Turnpike, to watch for cars. Doris Lovell nee Denn remembers sitting on the bank b the Stowe turn waiting for cars to go by , which they did at a rate of only one or two an hour. When one passed they all waved to the occupants.

On 25th May 1978 the Mercury and Herald published an article about the village. It included an interview with Alf Garrett who was for many years clerk to the Parish Council. In it he said, ‘When I was first married I earned £2.10s per week as a farm foreman. The farmer wanted someone to learn to drive and offered me the job. I jumped at the chance and learnt down at Grose’s in 1920. At that time there were only two cars in Heyford.’

Major Campbell, who lived at Heyford Hills, was one of the first in the village to own a car. It was a Morris with a canvas hood. He was a generous man. If he saw people walking along the road, he gave them a lift into the village.  He also gave pocket money to the children if they watched to see when it was clear for him to pull out of the drive.

Heyford’s first motor bus 

NetherHeyford_FirstMotorVehicles

Photo lent by Judy Armitage (daughter of Mrs Blaney)

Mrs Blaney recalled how the village’s first bus was actually a coal cart. It was owned Harold Botterill of Bugbrooke and was used during the week to carry coal. On Saturdays he put a wooden structure on top with seats in it, and with this he made two journeys into Northampton and back with passengers.

There was also a bus from Weedon to Northampton. If walked up the lane to Upper Heyford you could catch the bus there.

~~

Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 2 of 4 | Chapter 1 of 13 | Page 2

TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: The Humphrey family and ladder making V1C8

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

The_Story_Of_Heyford_Nether_Heyford_Ladders_1

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

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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

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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

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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.

Eiluned Morgan (1996)

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Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 1 of 4 | Chapter 8 of 13 | Pages 16 to 21

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Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

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