The Story of Heyford: Heyford Hills Fruit Farm V1C9

Heyford Hills Fruit Farm

The magnificent house at Heyford Hills was built originally for the owner of Heyford Ironworks. In the late 1800’s it was owned by John Hardy, a farmer. During the 1940’s it was occupied by Major Campbell. In the late 1940’s, Mr Beck, a gentleman farmer came from Herefordshire to Heyford Hills and established a fruit farm for his semi retirement.

He planted 12 acres of fruit on the side of the hill to the right of the drive. He grew apples, plums, gooseberries and blackcurrants. It was a quite a good site because although it wasn’t south facing it was largely frost free and enjoyed the afternoon sun.

He employed local people to look after the fruit, doing pruning, general gardening duties and picking. Three people who worked there regularly were Mrs Butcher, Mrs Lilley and Mrs Sargeant.  Mrs Butcher, who provided much of the information for this article, worked there for 24 years.

The Fruit Farm

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Local people

During the picking season he employed thirty or forty local people. He sent a tractor and trailer into the village to collect them, mostly but often children as well because much of the picking was done during the holidays. The fruit was collected in small tubs, then weighed and put into 50 lb wooden barrels. The pay was a penny—farthing for gooseberries and twopence-halfpenny per lb for blackcurrants. It wasn’t much, but it provided an opportunity for local people to spend many happy hours picking and chatting amongst the fruit bushes in the warmth of the afternoon sunshine. Mrs Butcher remembers on one occasion picking 568 lbs of gooseberries in 6 hours. It was a messy job with stains from the blackcurrants and scratches the gooseberry thorns, and at local jumble sales people went searching for cotton gloves to protect their hands.

They used gooseberry graders to sort the fruit. The big fruit was sold locally to wholesalers as whole fruit, and the smaller ones were sent to a cannery.

When the fruit was ready to be taken away it would be loaded into bushel boxes (large wooden boxes with a handle at each end) and taken away by lorry to commercial processors in Cambridge and Stratford to be canned or to make drinks and jam.

Mr Beck

Mr Beck himself was a wealthy man. He had been a pilot in the first world war and still had the tail of a German plane that he’d shot down. He had some property in South Africa to which he returned each year and to which he eventually retired in 1975. He enjoyed expensive cars and had four or five Mercedes. He hard worker and expected those around him to work hard too, but he was a real gentleman and everybody loved him. He took an active part in the village and was at various times president of the football and cricket clubs.

Mrs Beck’s interest in dog shows for which she was a judge. She employed a kennel maid and kept alsatians and beagles, many of which won prizes. She often judged the dog shows at the village fete.

The entrance to ‘New Creation Farm’ in 1996

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The Jesus Fellowship

In 1976 Beck sold the farm to the Jesus Fellowship. Dave Lantsbury of the Jesus Fellowship first came across Heyford Hills in the early 1970’s. He was a teacher at Campion school and had brought some rural studies students to see the farm. Around that time the Jesus Fellowship were starting to develop their about a community existence and when the farm came up for sale in 1975 the Jesus Fellowship brought it. They renamed it ‘New Creation Farm’

At first they took over the twelve acres of orchard. They added some sows and chickens, they installed 70 bee hives, they planted potatoes, and they extended the fruit bushes right down to the drive. They later bought some other neighbouring land, together with Novelty Farm on the A5. Today they have 300 acres and run the farm as a community, both to feed themselves and to produce crops for selling commercially through their farm shop.

Stephen Ferneyhough

Extract from The Story of Heyford – Volume 1 of 4 – Pages 22 & 23

Memories of Nether Heyford: Joan Collins

What I Know And Remember About Nether Heyford.

(The memories of Joan Collins, and life at Wharf Farm)

I was born in Bugbrooke and moved to Nether Heyford when l married Reg, nearly 70 years ago. Reg was born in Nether Heyford, and as well as being a farmer, he worked on the Parish Council for nearly 30 years, and also became a District Councillor. One of the main features of the village is the very large village green, said by some to be the largest in England. This Green was purchased, together with other land, and a Schoolhouse, using money left to the village in the will of William Bliss in 1674, for that purpose. He had been brought up in Heyford, before becoming a London wine merchant.

Trustees of the Charity that was set up to administer the proceeds used the rental income from the land to pay for a schoolmaster and for the upkeep of the school. This is why the school is known as the ‘Bliss Charity Aided School’. The trustees of this charity, along with another one set up using a legacy in the will of Edmund Arnold (died 1689) may use part of the income from the charities to help “the poor children of poor persons of the town of Nether Heyford” to help with their apprenticeships, for tools, etc. The gift of the green to the village was made with the conditions “that there should not be a spade put into it, and that it should not be fenced in’. This is taken to mean that there should be no building or allotments on it. The area of the green extends to the Memorial Green and the piece of land behind the butchers and patisserie.

At the side of the main green there is an area that is known as ‘The Pound”, which also belongs to the Green. This is called The Pound because in days gone by, the cattle that were allowed to roam and graze the green at daytime, were rounded up at night and closed in the pound.

The estate known as “Rolfe Crescent’ used to be open fields owned by Mr John Radbume Adams. A stream, which rises near to the A5 on the easterly side of Furnace Lane, and goes into a culvert under the railway and the canal before emerging into the field. used to flow across the land of Mr. Adams before running behind the houses alongside the green. This stream then ran uncovered across the village Green and under the road into Watery Lane and on to the river. That is where the name Watery Lane came from.

Watercress used to grow along this stream. Similarly, the estate of Brookside was named due to its proximity to the same stream, or brook. Mr Wakefield Whitton owned land here, so when another small estate was built there, it was naturally named ‘Wakefield Way’.

Water also ran down from Stowe in a full stream, again under the railway and then under the canal, and on down the rear of the houses on the westerly side of Furnace Lane. It used to flow under the Weedon Road and down Church Street into the Manor, and on to the river. I suppose this is why our village is called “Hayford” as water used to run over the road before it was routed through a culvert there.

Manor Park was an estate belonging to the owners of the Manor, but a road used to run from Manor Walk, passing by the Manor House. across the fields to the coach bridge and on to Heyford Mill. Farmers would drive their horses and carts laden with corn along this lane to the mill. More recently, the fields at the rear of the Manor House were all built on, providing the homes in which some of you now live.

Middle Street, behind Mr. Denny’s house, used to be all open fields, but is now the site of Parsons Close, and other houses on that side of the road were all built on farm land belonging to the Manor, in the 1970′s, a bit before those in Manor Park. There was a footpath from the end of Middle Street that crossed the field to the river bridge leading to Upper Heyford. On the opposite side of Middle Street was a farm just below the “Olde Sun” where houses are now built.

Up Furnace Lane towards the A5, near the railway bridge, were ironstone Furnaces. One was on the land between Wharf Farm, Furnace Lane and the railway (LNWR, then LMS) line, and was known as Heyford Ironworks. operating in 1857. The other was diagonally across the railway where the Wickes site is. This one was known as Stowe Ironworks and was operating in 1866. Iron-ore was brought in by boat or rail from Stowe and other villages around.

The iron-ore excavated at Stowe Lodge was brought by a tram railway to feed the ironworks at these sites.

In its original form it was a narrow-gauge tramway which ran under the Watling Street (A5) near to the turning to Church Stowe, and then over a couple of fields to cross under the main LNW railway at a point about 1/4 mile west of the Furnace Lane bridge. it then went across one more field to be loaded into barges at the Grand Junction Canal. This tram-line was working pre-1863 and was one of the earliest and longest of the ironstone quarry lines at that time. The narrow gauge tramway was upgraded to a standard gauge line and elevated to link up with the mainline beside the Stowe Ironworks, probably before 1870. Iron ore could now be brought directly to the Stowe Ironworks, and be shunted across the main line into the Heyford Ironwork sidings. Therefore iron ore supplied directly from the Stowe quarries and other local quarries, was smelted into “Pig iron ingots’ and loaded originally onto horse and carts or canal boats to be taken away for further processing.

Through the railway bridge. the Stowe Ironworks site on the right changed hands several times. at one time being the home of the brickyard known as “The Stowe Tile and Brick Works’, where some of the finest bricks in England were made. At one time it may have been ‘The Lion Works” because an application was made to run “a tramway under the railway bridge into the Lion Companys Works’ (Feb. 1855). Apparently, the applicant didn’t wait for approval because there was “Indictment by the Queen” to be heard at the Northampton Summer Assizes of 1855 against John Judkins ‘for the nuisance on a highway in Nether Heyford – for laying iron tramrails on the highway, with an endorsement that the nuisance be abated’!

At this time the canal was one of the main means of transport, busy carrying iron ore and bricks, with the boats being pulled along by horses.

The building next to the canal bridge near Wharf Farm, which we used to use for cow sheds, has now been converted into a house. However, it was originally used for stabling these horses, and as the adjacent land is where the loading and unloading took place, the area was called “Heyford Wharf’.

There were many Public Houses in Nether Heyford, eight in all. There was one at the canal bridge, opposite the old stables, which was called ‘The Bricklayers Arms‘ and the house that I live in at Wharf Farm was another pub, known as ‘The Boat‘.

There were gravel pits in Heyford, at the back of Wakefield Way and Brookside Close, which were shown on some maps to contain Roman remains.

Returning to the village green, there is a now a Village Hall on the south side. There once was an Ox hovel where this hall is now, which belonged to Mr. Adams of Whitehall. This was demolished and our Village Hall was built using the voluntary labour of village people, and it was completed in May 1960. We are all proud of our hall and the lovely green, and the village as a whole. The green isn’t used as much for sport these days. There used to be football matches played on it. when local people would all tum out to support our team, and cricket matches when villagers would sit around the green on the seats to watch the play in hand.

The annual fair would come to the green at Harvest and was always known as “Heyford Feast”, and all the old village families would come back to meet up at it. l can remember the galloping horse roundabout, ’1d a ride‘, the coconut shy, hoopla and swing boats, etc.

Families were poor, money-wise, but happy with what they had. They grew their own vegetables, and kept hens. They would go gleaning at harvest time for food for the chickens, and would also keep a pig in the sty which would feed the family for a long time. This would provide lard for cooking, etc. and bacon on the wall to use all year round. When a pig was killed, it would be shared with neighbours who in tum would share theirs, when that was killed.

This all helped to make this a very friendly village. They were happy days and people weren’t so greedy for money. There were more poor people than rich ones, but it didn’t worry them that someone else had more than they did.

Happy Days.

Compiled by Joan Collins