The Story of Heyford (Extra): Sheep Dipping in the early days at Whitehall Farm – Hugh Adams

Sheep Dipping in the early days at Whitehall Farm

We used to take the sheep to be dipped at Upper Heyford. Jack Perkin and I would leave the buildings at Whitehall Farm around 1pm with 40 sheep, driving them along the road towards Heyford. We would pass High House Wharf where the West family (Coal Merchants) lived. On the right side of the road would be the house on the bridge where Ted Grey and his wife Ellen lived. Carrying on down the hill on the right by the side of the canal and past Mr and Mrs Fry (he was a carpenter) following on down the road towards the village, on the left the French family (now Adrian Hayes) – past the Cemetery – down the hill on the right, the Johnson family.

We are now in the village and on the left was Sid Eales shoe mending hut, past the little green. We would pass on the right the Butchers shop kept by Sid Capel (now Glen). We had to keep an eye on the sheep at this point otherwise they would escape down Church Street!! Next was Chapel Cottage, Mrs George. David Browning kept the shop, past the Foresters Arms, the landlord was Tom Rolfe. Now the sheep would take to the green where there was lots of good grass! Turn left into Middle Street past the School and School House where Mr Carrington, the headmaster lived with his wife and 6 children. Next to the Sun Inn was the Farmhouse, Mr and Mrs Will Smith, past Bens Orchard (full of Apple Trees), now it was plain sailing on the way to Upper Heyford.

Our destination was Dovecote Farm where Mr Cosford would be expecting us. The sheep would be put through the dipping bath. This would take about one or two hours. After a cup of tea and then the journey home with two tired men and a very wet dog called Nell. She had been dipped too.

Hugh Adams

Letter published in The Prattler – March 2020

 

The Story of Heyford: Heyford at the Turn of the Century V4C3

The Census return of 1891

The details from Census Returns are not made available to the public until they are one hundred years old so the one most recently available to us is that of 1891. An analysis of this gives us a pretty good idea of what life in the village was like at the turn of the century.

The houses and people

The details below tell us about the number of houses, people and canal boats.

Lower Heyford

  • 164 houses inhabited, 28 uninhabited
  • 750 people, 365 males and 385 females
  • 7 canal boats with 23 people on board

Upper Heyford

  • 22 houses inhabited, 7 uninhabited
  • 96 people, 41 males and 55 females

The houses listed as uninhabited were either vacant because the occupants were away on the night of the census, or more likely because they were uninhabitable.

A number of the families listed in the 1891 Census have continued to live in the area throughout the century: Names such as Adams, Charville, Clarke, Collins, Denny, Eales, Faulkner, Foster, Furniss, Garrett, Kingston, and Masters are still well known in the village today.

In those days street names were generally not used and there were certainly no house numbers. However several specific buildings are mentioned in the census.

NetherHeyfordTurnofCentury_StoryofHeyford1 copy

Working life

The occupations listed in the census also give some insight into working life in the village. Here is a breakdown into the main types of occupation.

Farming. The census lists 2 farmers, 2 flour millers, 1 milkman, 3 shepherds, 1 tractor engine driver and 26 agricultural labourers.

Building. 1 builder, 1 plasterer, 1 stonemason, 3 bricklayers and 7 carpenters.

Boot and shoe making. 5 shoemakers, 2 shoe rivetters, 1 boot and shoe finisher.

Other trades. 1 tailor, 2 lacemakers, 11 dressmakers, 2 blacksmiths, 1 harness maker, 1 wheelwright, 1 gunmaker, 3 boatbuilders, 1 organ builder.

Dealers. 1 butcher, 2 bakers, 3 coal merchants, 1 timber merchant, 1 corn merchant, 1 draper, 2 carriers, and 5 publicans, beer sellers and innkeepers.

Blast furnaces. These were the biggest single employers in the village with 1 blast furnace foreman, 2 blast furnace engine drivers, 2 stationary drivers, 1 engine fitter, 2 ironstone labourers, 1 weighboy, and 28 labourers.

Brickworks. 16 brickyard labourers.

Railway. 1 railway engine driver, 1 goods shed labourer, 1 engine fitter, 1 telegraph clerk, 3 signalmen and 4 platelayers.

Domestic and educational. 1 schoolmaster, 2 school mistresses, 1 clerk, 1 governess, 14 housemaids and domestic servants, 2 grooms, 1 nurse girl, 3 laundresses, 1 midwife.

Other. 28 general labourers.

The village as it appeared in 1900NetherHeyfordTurnofCentury_StoryofHeyford2

The memories of Bob Browning (1892-1997)

Many of the details in the remainder of this chapter came from information given by Bob Browning to Stephen Ferneyhough on Tuesday 9th April 1996. Bob Browning was born in August 1892 and died in March 1997, aged 104. He was one of two brothers and four sisters all born in Nether Heyford. The story of this family appeared in Volume 2 of this series of booklets. All lived well into their nineties (94, 96, 98, 99, 101, 104) and Bob was the last and oldest surviving member of the family.

I visited him in his room at Bethany Homestead in Northampton. He was smartly dressed in a suit and tie. He greeted me with a handshake and made me feel very welcome by telling the nurse that I was a very good friend of his. He was very lively, interested in anything historical and was very glad to pass on anything he could for the interest of future generations. He lived in the village until he moved to Northampton in 1922, and most of the memories below are from that period.

Everyday life in Heyford

Life for most people was a matter of survival and self-sufficiency. The days were long, money was scarce and life was simple. Most families had an allotment and grew most of their own vegetable needs. After work in the light evenings, this was one of the main activities.

Most families kept hens. At harvest time the children went ‘gleaning’, that is picking up any remaining ears of corn to feed to the chickens. If a hen went broody, you’d put a dozen eggs under her in the spring time and so continue the supply of chickens and eggs.

Most people also kept a pig, usually in the backyard but sometimes on the allotment. The straw from the pigsty Was tipped onto the allotment, and the vegetable waste from the kitchen was fed to the pig. The boys went collecting acorns for the pigs in the autumn which they could sell for a tanner a bagful. The pigs were killed and butchered in the autumn to give a winter supply of meat. This was usually done by the butcher Ted Capel, and later by his son jack. The butcher went to the home or allotment to kill the pig. The meat was salted, and then laid in trays or hung in nets in the living room or hallway.

There were several farmers in the village producing milk. They delivered the milk, which was unpasteurised, each day in large cans. They had pint and half-pint measures which they filled and tipped into the jugs of the housewives who bought it. During the war there were shortages of anything that they couldn’t grow themselves. Sugar was rationed to half a pound a week. Butter was scarce and margarine became more common. However, they made a kind of butter by leaving the milk to stand overnight so that the cream came to the surface. By scooping it off and shaking it up they were able to make a sort of butter to use as a treat at the weekend.

There were two orchards in the village. john Barker had the one owned by the school behind Church Street. There was also Ben’s Orchard in Middle Street. This had a wall all around it, but it didn’t keep the boys out. They went scrumping for apples and pears in the autumn and stored them under the eaves the hayricks which were thatched for protection against the rain. They would always know the right time to retrieve them before the farmer came to dismantle the ricks. Nowadays there are no orchards, but the boys go garden hopping instead… presumably to get the same sense of excitement.

Lack of services

There was no sanitation, just an outside toilet. Some of these still exist in village as tool sheds or stores. but most have gone. The toilet would be emptied around once a week, usually onto the allotment. Sometime before the first world war the cart started coming. Two men employed by the council brought a two-wheeled cart pulled by horse to collect the toilet contents. It was then taken away for disposal. It had only two wheels to allow it to tip for emptying.

There was no gas or electricity. Gas came to the village just before the first world war via the Bugbrooke gasworks. Electricity didn’t come until after the second war. For light there were candles and oil lamps. For cooking there was a range with an open fire. On one side was a boiler for heating water and on the other side a small oven for baking cakes. You could divert the flames and heat to one or the other. On Sundays the wife would cook the vegetables, but the joint and yorkshire puddings were usually taken to one of the bakers for cooking while the family was at church or chapel. The main bakery for this was the one in Furnace Lane run by Wesley Faulkner. Most people had a bath once a week, often on Friday. Each house had a tin bath. The water for the bath was heated in the copper in the kitchen over an open fire. The fires were fuelled mostly by coal. There was a ready supply of coal to the village which came by canal. The Eales family who ran the post office kept a coal yard. Tom Dunkley at the Bricklayers Arms beside the canal also had a coalyard. He made deliveries by cart from which people would buy; enough to last the week.

The water supply consisted of four taps and many wells. There were four public taps in the village. One outside the jubilee Hall, one opposite the school outside Dennys house, one on the wall in Church Lane, and one near the Church rooms. A lot of the houses had wells, all supplied by the many springs in the area. The wells were dug two or three feet wide, five or six feet deep, and brick lined. The water was obtained by means of a bucket and rope. Later after the first war it became common to fit a handpump to the well.

The top of Church Street in 1913NetherHeyfordTurnofCentury_StoryofHeyford3This photograph, lent by Bob Smith, was taken in 1913 and shows a view from the top of Church Street. In the distance can be seen a small group of cottages, since demolished.

The homes

Most of the houses were of stone (either limestone or sandstone) with thatched roofs and stone slabs for flooring. Some of the older ones like the tinsmith forge opposite the war memorial had mud walls. But many of the newer houses built late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were of brick and slate with red quarry floor tiles. There was a brickworks in Furnace Lane where Wickes now is, but again the canal brought a ready supply of both brick and slate into the village. The owners of Flore Lane Wharf were dealers in brick and slate.

Inside the homes, most walls were plastered. This was made with a mixture of sand and lime. There were two good sandpits in Furnace Lane and there were a number of lime kilns along the canal which supplied slaked lime.

Church Street – the working heart of the village 

In those days there were no street names or numbers. It was just ‘Barkers yard’ or ‘Tandy’s place’. Everybody knew who everybody was and where they lived.

The stone and thatch house behind the war memorial known as ‘the Springs’ was a laundry owned by a family called Smith. Sometime before the first world war the laundry was closed and the house was taken over by the Ward family.

In front of ‘the Springs’ was the Jubilee Hall. An article on this appeared in volume one of this series of booklets.

On the site of the jitty opposite the war memorial was a tinsmith forge. The path of the jitty then ran further to the left and came out beside the house known as ‘the Springs’. The forge was made of mud walls but became derelict and was demolished in 1920 when the New School house was built.

The small building to the right of the jitty which housed ‘Tops the Hairdressers’, and more recently ‘Heyford Antiques’ was built by William Browning, (Bob’s father) as a haberdashery and material business. Bob grandparents, Mr and Mrs Alfred Marsh (maternal side) lived next door.

To the right of this is a small three bedroomed cottage where the six Browning children were born and grew up. Behind these buildings was a saw pit and builders yard.

Next door is the house known as Tandy’s place. There used to be a right of way here through the yard to the jitty. Before Tandy was there it was occupied by a man named Gammage who ran a boot and shoe business. He married into the Faulkner family but later moved his business into Northampton. After he left it was taken over by Mr Tandy who made only heels and soles. He bought scraps from the leather factories and cut them up with special knives, building them up in layers to make heels and soles which were then sold on to shoe factories. After Mr Tandy left, it was occupied by a man named Williams who kept three or four cows and supplied milk to the village.

Further down Church Street, where the road turns sharply to the left, the red brick building on the inside of that corner was a bakehouse. It was owned by Thomas Faulkner who also ran the Methodist chapel for around 50 years until his death in 1940. He lived opposite in the stone and thatch building known as Ash Tree Cottage.

To the right of Ash Tree Cottage are some black doors. Here there used to be a blacksmith. The building belonged to the Faulkner family but the forge was used only once a week by Mr Green who came over from Flore. Later on it was Edward Wright who came (Bob Browning’s father in law). It was closed sometime before the second world war.

To the left of Ash Tree Cottage is “Capel Cottage. so called because it was where a butchers business was run by the Capel family for three generations. Firstly by Ted before the first “world war, then later by his son Jack. Most of the pigs in the village were slaughtered by the Capels.

Just around the corner was a small wheelwright shop run by Mr Foster. He learned his trade as an apprentice sponsored by the Arnold charity. The main local wheelwright was in Flore.

Further down Church Street, round the corner, almost opposite the Church is a stone, brick and thatch house that was a shop selling sweets, general groceries and beer. It was run by Mrs Oliver. Her husband worked on the roads (building and repairing),

Two views of Church Street

NetherHeyfordTurnofCentury_StoryofHeyford4This view of Church Street at the corner of Manor Walk shows Manor Cottage and Capell Cottage. The lady in the picture is Mrs David Browning.

NetherHeyfordTurnofCentury_StoryofHeyford5This picture above shows the row of cottages between the two bends in Church Street. The ones at the far end have since been demolished. 

Stephen Ferneyhough

~~

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

Volume 4 of 4 | Chapter 3 of 8 | Pages 12 to 17

TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford (Extra): Dear Diary – February 1950

February 1950

Dear Diary,

What fun. When I opened my curtains this morning I saw the fields all covered in snow. It was like looking at a late Christmas card. In February 1947 it almost reached the tops of the telegraph poles and they had to dig their way out of the houses.

After breakfast I walked down the village with Mum to see Nan. Her house is draughty and the windows get iced up in the bathroom; not that she ever has a bath because it’s full of apples from Pap’s orchard put there to last through until next autumn. She should stay in the living room where she has a Rayburn.

We went to the shop down Church Street, not the little thatched post office which they talk about pulling down. I love looking at the rows of sweets in jars in the window. Sometimes Nan buys me two penn’oth but she hasn’t got enough change left today. Next time maybe. ‘Course, it could be that she hasn’t forgiven me for taking the pig for a walk down the street last week. She followed me, banging on the bucket which holds the pig swill, trying to persuade the pig home for tea. His, not ours.

Somebody’s in the phone box by the green. It must be an emergency like doctor or fire brigade. Well, who else would you call – nobody I know has a phone. Let’s hope they get a reply. Still, if nobody answers they can push button B and get their money back. I bet the boys will be in there later just to check, Well, tuppence is tuppence.

The snow soon melted. Good job because I can see the men putting up the goal posts ready for a football match this afternoon. They keep them in a shed at The Foresters Arms. They can’t really leave them on the green or the boys would be swinging on them. Perhaps we’ll come and watch. I like to hear the money rattling in the collection tin that someone brings round at half time. Most of the village turn out to watch and it can be a fun afternoon.

Nan isn’t very well. We could ask the doctor to call when he does his morning rounds but she says she’s not that ill, or, as it’s Saturday she could go and see him when he comes to a house in Close Road. She won’t go though because she says everybody gets to know your business there. I’m not keen on going either because you have to sit in a lady’s kitchen and wait your turn, then go into her front room to see him. By that time either somebody has decided how to cure your illness or they’ve had it themselves.

I brought a note home from school last week asking who would be interested in a
day trip to Hunstanton in the summer and mum and dad are going to talk about it
tonight. It says we would leave at 7 o’clock in the morning and get home very late. I’d love to go to the seaside, my first trip ever, and I’m 5.

We’re going home now to light the fire for when dad comes home for dinner. I can play with my colouring book while mum cooks the sausages she bought at the butchers. I hope she makes an apple pie for pudding with some of pap’s apples. Blimey, my tummy’s rumbling.

Polly

Letter published in The Prattler – February 2020

 

The Story of Heyford: Lost Street Names V4C2

Census Returns

There has been a census return once every ten years from 1841 onwards. The only exception was in 1941 because of war time. The details of these census’ are made available to the public when they are 100 years old. Therefore it is currently possible to look up the details for Heyford in 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891. They are held in the Public Record Office at Wootton Park.

Details from the Bryants map of 1837

NetherHeyford_BryantsMap_1837

Census returns are wonderful documents because they list the names of every occupant in the village, giving details of their ages, their occupations, where they were born, and their relationship to the head of the household (eg wife, son, servant, etc). The returns for Heyford during the second half of the nineteenth century show an abundance of agricultural labourers, brickworkers and furnace workers. They show a whole variety of crafts and trades people such as lacemakers, laundresses, beer sellers, coal merchants. bakers etc, and also those employed in domestic service at the Manor House and Rectory.

The census returns also state the address of the householder, but most of the returns for Heyford for this period give only very general descriptions such as “Heyford Village” or “The Green”.  However the Census return of 1871 gives very detailed street names, many of which no longer exist. The following paragraphs takes us through the returns in the order in which they are listed. This may or may not be the same order as the route followed by the enumerator, but if we assume that it is, we can speculate about where these lost street names may have been located.

Brook Farm

NetherHeyford_BrookFarm

Watery Lane

The first four households listed by the enumerator were in Back Lane. Church Lane was at one time called Back Lane, but could the Back Lane listed here have been what is now Watery Lane? The next entries in the returns are Heyford Cottage, occupied by John Smith and Farm House occupied by George Tarry, farmer of 60 acres. Was this one of the former farm houses in Watery Lane? Perhaps Brook Farm?

Middle Street

The enumerator then seems to move through to what we now know as Middle Street because the next five entries are: the School House in Middle Lane, occupied by Thomas Stanton, schoolmaster, the Olde Sun Inn occupied by George Attwood, tailor and innkeeper; and three other houses in Middle Street. From here, he seems to have walked alongside the Green, where there were then no houses, to the Foresters Arms.

Heyford Cottage prior to 1880

NetherHeyford_HeyfordCottage1880

A view of the school site and farmhouse prior to 1880

NetherHeyford_Farmhouse&SchoolSite1880

Church Street

There are then many entries listed in the area that we now know as Church Street. This was obviously the heart of the village as there are eighty households listed in this area. It can only be speculation, but the journey seems to go right down to the Manor House, then on to the Church and Rectory, and all the way back up to the Green. The entries are as follows: The Foresters Arms, occupied by John Wright; the Primitive Methodist Chapel, the sub Post Office, occupied by William Treadwell, bricklayer, and his wife Millicent; seven houses in Billing’s Yard; seven houses in Front Street; the Manor House; ten more houses in Front Street; eleven houses in Masters Row; one house in Church Street; the Rectory; the Church; 15 more houses in Church Street, including Edward Capel, butcher; 2 houses in Robinsons Yard; one more house in Church Street; one more in Front Street; six in School House Lane; and finally seventeen in Grocers Row.

An old stone house on the site of what is now 5 Manor Walk

NetherHeyford_ManorWalk

The Green

The journey then seems to take us around round the Green. The entries are as follows: twenty-eight households listed as The Green; then Farmhouse, occupied by Thomas Starmer,  farmer of 213 acres;  thirteen houses in The Barracks; and four at Crabtree Corner. Where exactly were these places?

Weedon Road

Next he goes out along the Weedon Road towards Stowe Hill: two houses in Stowe Hill Lane; one called Primrose Cottage; one called Field House; two at a place called Pincham; then High House, occupied by William Thompson, boatbuilder; two at Flore Lane, both coal merchants; six at Stowe Hill; the Globe Inn, since renamed the Narrowboat; four at Stowe Hill Yard; the Anchor Inn, possibly the building across the A5 from the Narrowboat; and two more houses in Weedon Road. The enumerator seems to have walked along the A5, taking in one house at Tanborough and two at Aldermans Hill before turning back into the village down Furnace Lane.

Furnace Lane

Finally we come back into the village down Furnace Lane. There are four houses in Furnace Road, one at Heyford Wharf,  one referred to as the Bricklayers Arms, occupied by John Dunkley,  beer seller; and five in Wrights Yard, including George Payne, furnace keeper. Here, the enumerators journey ends.

Stephen Ferneyhough

Two views of the shop and post office as they appeared before the war

NetherHeyford_Shop_PostOffice_PreWar.jpg

This photo lent by Judy Armitage, shows the newsagents and the group of cottages behind since demolished.

NetherHeyford_Shop_OldPostOffice_PreWar

This view shows the old Post Office, demolished in 1950s, Photo also lent by Judy Armitage

~~

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

Volume 4 of 4 | Chapter 2 of 8 | Pages 7 to 11TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: The Canal Burst of 1939 V3C15

In October 1939, prolonged and heavy rainfall brought the canal level up dangerously high. A break of sixteen feet wide occurred on the Weedon bank, releasing 300 million gallons of water into an already swollen River Nene. The entire Nene valley became flooded and water levels rose into the villages. There has been periodic flooding in the village from time to time, eased to some extent by the culvert inserted in the mid 1980’s. But the recent flooding during the Easter of 1998 showed us again the damage that can he done. On each occasion it was Church Street that bore the brunt of the disaster as is illustrated in these photographs, all taken in 1939.

Watery Lane

NetherHeyford_WateryLane_1939

Church Street / Manor Walk

NetherHeyford_ChurchStreet_ManorWalk_1939

Heyford Antiques (formerly Tops of Heyford)

NetherHeyford_ChurchStreet_1939

The Jubilee Hall

NetherHeyford_JubileeHall_1939

 A view from the top of Church Street

NetherHeyford_ChurchStreet_2_1939

~~

Extra photograph added 2020

NetherHeyfordCanalBurst

Bob Smith January 2020

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

Volume 3 of 4 | Chapter 15 of 17 | Pages 28 & 29

TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

 

The Story of Heyford: Memories of Heyford Scouts in the 1950’s V1C11

Heyford Scouts was formed in 1952. The School headmaster, Mr Woods, was the scoutmaster, ably assisted by Mr Bert Wilkinson. During the 1950s it had a thriving troop of more than 20 boys. The troop was split into several patrols – peewit, kingfisher, etc., each with their own patrol leader, and weekly meetings were held in the school hall.

The Scout Troop in the 1950s

StoryOfNetherHeyford_Scouts1.jpg

Back row: Terry Randall, Norman Denny, Tony Lovell, David Butcher, Brian Eales, Anthony Hinnick, Colin Haynes, Michael Eales, John Smith, Colin Harrison, John Haynes
Seated centre: Gordon Cabbam, Bert Wilkinson 
Front row: Michael Royle, Roger Wilkinson, Richard Danby, Ken Garrett

Photo lent by Mrs Mary Butcher

Gang shows
Gang shows were very much a part of the scout year and were always a great success. They were presented on stage in the church rooms on the corner of Church Street and Church Lane and consisted of the normal songs (such as Ging Gang Gooly) and sketches. Rehearsals seemed to go on for ever and parents must have torn their hair out trying to provide costumes for some of these. The show was sometimes taken on tour for one night only to places as far afield as Flore, and it was just as daunting performing to strangers as to family and friends.

Soap Box Derbys
During my time in the scouts the troop entered the National Soap Box Derby. We built our soap box with a lot of help from Grose’s garage, and to our great delight we reached the national final held in Morecambe. To reach there we had to leave the village at about five o’clock in the morning and didn’t return home until late. The excitement of winning, however, got us through. The ‘car’ was on display for a month in the garage showroom, which at that time was in Marefair where the Barclaycard building is now situated. Boy, were we proud!

David Butcher winning the Soap Box Derby at Morecambe

StoryOfNetherHeyford_Scouts2

Photo lent by Mrs Mary Butcher

Camps
From later Spring until early Autumn several weekend camps were held fairly locally, and once a year the annual camp took place. This was always further afield and normally lasted for two weeks. One of these camps took us to the Pendle Hills in Lancashire, and inevitably it was raining when we arrived. After showing us to the field in which we were to make camp, the farmer pointed to the hill behind us and solemnly declared that, “If you can see those hills it’s going to rain, and if you can’t see them it’s already raining.” If memory serves me right we had about one day of dry bright weather in the whole fortnight and I seem to remember using washing bowls to scrape mud away from the front of the tents. No-one suffered any ill effects from this experience however and all returned to the village quite healthy.

During these camps one patrol was responsible for cooking the breakfast each morning and the others all went for an early morning run accompanied by the scoutmaster in order to work up an appetite. Each patrol took it in turns during the week so that nobody missed out on the joys of the run. Breakfast consisted normally of porridge made in a large billycan and coated with golden syrup diluted with hot water. This was followed by bacon and omelette. It was never a surprise if you found a generous helping of grass in either or both courses, but it never had any adverse effects on anybody.

The morning ablutions were always an adventure as we normally washed in cold water. One camp in the Lake District was near to a small stream and this was used by one or two hardy souls.

Street cred
Uniforms were strictly shorts (even the scoutmaster wore them!) and the distinctive hats with the stiff brim, reminiscent of the Canadian Mountie. These were terribly difficult to get flat again once you had bent it out of shape. This often happened, especially at camp.

I spent many pleasant and happy years in the scouts and during that time learned to cook, tie knots (some of which I still use, especially the granny), semaphore and Morse codes (all of which I have forgotten!). I also learned that it was easy to be polite and helpful and that this didn’t damage your street cred. I feel that I am better for the things I did and look back to this time with much pleasure.

Ken Garrett

~~

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

Volume 1 of 4 | Chapter 11 of 13 | Pages 30 to 32

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

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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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