Mrs Anne Clarke was a midwife in Heyford for forty years. Born around 1846, Miss Bateman as she then was took a nurses training course at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. She was sent to Heyford to recover from housemaid’s knee, where she met and married Thomas Clarke. He was a village man who worked at the old brickyard in Furnace Lane. They bought a little thatched cottage that used to stand on the corner of Church Street, opposite the little village green, and had nine children. Mrs Clarke later took an interest in midwifery and became the village midwife for forty years, and it is said that she was reluctant to give up even then.
Outside her house Mrs Clarke kept a long pole which was used to tap her bedroom window should she be needed in the night. She attended all confinements on her own and visited her patients daily for two weeks. One story suggests that she had two confinements at the same time, one at Upper Heyford and one at Upper Stowe, and a pony and trap had to rush her from one home to the other. She made one delivery on a boat on the canal. The next morning the boat had gone. She had to give evidence in court as the baby had not been registered. They later traced the family up north.
Mrs Clarke is remembered as always wearing a hat and shawl, carrying a black bag and a supply of candles and sheets, as some families lacked these necessities. She could be seen every day at noon with her little white jug fetching her half pint of stout (at a cost of 2d) from the pub ‘to keep her going’. Her charge for a confinement was 7/6d which could be paid in instalments of 9d at a time. As families were larger and closer then, it is possible that these instalments were a regular allowance in the family budget for a while.
She had a brother in America who regularly sent her a dollar note which was a great deal of money in those days. On her old age pension of 10/-she managed to fatten up a pig for the winter, pay 1/- for a bag of coal, and still manage her half pint a day!
Anne Clarke was a widow for a number of years and died during the 1939-45 war at the age of 95. Several of her descendants still live in Heyford and no doubt have heard many a tale of their grandmother or great-grandmother.
Photos lent by: Mick Lilley
Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s
Volume 1 of 4 | Chapter 1 of 13 | Pages 2 & 3