Some Old Characters
of Deanshanger Remembered.
And a few tales connected with the village.
I keep drifting back to memories of schoolteachers. Nobody who attended Deanshanger infants school in the thirties could fail to remember this lady. The original infants school, by the "Willow Green", was a small, gothic building which had once been a chapel. It opened in 1899, and closed in 1939. I believe Miss Luton taught there throughout this entire period, she certainly taught my mother and father in the early nineteen hundreds.
There are many accounts of what a wonderful teacher and person Miss Luton was. Here is a selection of my memories of her.
To begin with, my elder brother had given me a poor opinion of both her and the school. The day he started at the infants school was fairly typical and may amuse the reader.
Monday, being wash-day, was a rather awkward day for a mother to take her child to start school. In any case starting school was no big deal, it certainly was not the cause of family upheaval and crisis that such an event causes today. Mother took him to the roadside and put him in the charge of Frank K. who was already an established pupil. Frank agreed to take him and when mother returned to her steaming copper, Frank told my brother that all new boys had to walk backwards to school on the first day. He promptly spun him round and forced him to walk backwards to school, a good half mile.
When the day came for me to go to school, I was not particularly keen. I had been threatened with school far too often, 'You wait, you young devil,' I was frequently told, 'till Miss Luton gets hold of you!' Mother's secret weapon on this occasion was her younger sister, my Aunt Olive, upon whose bicycle carrier I was offered a ride. Never able to refuse such offers, within two minutes I found myself at the door of the school, my aunt's hand in the middle of my back, I was propelled inside.
Inside the dark, forbidding entrance, were several other starters, and knowing most of them I soon felt a little better. At first, there was no teacher to be seen, but there were wooden bricks to play with, and a huge heap of sea shells, from which we were exhorted to select one and listen to the sound of the sea.
A certain boy began to kick the shells across the room, and when he tired of this he stood on top of the heap and jumped up and down. I can still hear the crunch of breaking shells. I think most of us realised this boy was pushing his luck.
Miss Luton appeared. I had seen her before, out of school; but here she was, the quintessential thirties English schoolmarm. She was quite tiny in stature, she seemed very old to me and her face was heavily wrinkled. Her greying hair was swept up into a bun on top of her head, held in place by a gleaming, silver filigree decorated tortoise-shell comb. She wore tiny, gold rimmed pinz-nez's, which clipped to her nose, and dangly earrings. Round her scrawny throat she wore a black choker which appeared to be made from a broad piece of black elastic, with a pretty cameo brooch at the centre of her throat. Her dress, not always, but usually black, hung to below her knees, and on her feet she wore boots, the dainty, ladies sort, of course, highly polished, delicate, laced tightly to the leg and coming to just below the knee. I suppose they would be considered quite sexy these days, but they had no such connotation then. Her hands were adorned with chunky gold rings aplenty.
Her voice croaked and tremored when she spoke, as if years of wearing her choker had affected her larynx.
To return to the first day. She told the boy to stop jumping on the shells. He kicked some at her in reply and remained defiantly on top of the heap. Miss Luton faced him, they stood, eye to eye, for what seemed to me an eternity. She swung her flat hand to his head and knocked him to the floor. He jumped to his feet and ill advisedly swore at her. Her full fury was released and she knocked him down again and stood over him and delivered slap after slap until the time arrived when the boy divined that it would be better for him to cease all further resistance.
With order restored, we were led into the classroom, to the serried ranks of desks. We were two children to a desk. On the floor at each side of the desk was a red mark painted on the timber boards. When we entered the room, from this day forward, we were to stand with our toes on the red mark until we were told to sit down. Miss Luton would walk along the rows of children to check that our toes were exactly in the right place. If a child were as much as a half inch out she would seize him or her with both hands and give a good shaking, pulling this way and that, shouting to the child to get on the line, whilst making it almost impossible to do so. When she was satisfied, she would go to her dais and call the register, each child had to answer to its name with, "Here, Miss Luton!" in clear, respectful tones. We were then told to sit.
When we sat, we found two squares of rag on the desk for each child and we had our first lesson. The lesson was "fraying", we attacked the squares with gusto and pulled them apart, separating the warp from the weft, to finish with a small heap of fibres in front of us. When we had finished we sat with our arms folded in front of us and a "Monitor" would collect them up and put them in a bag. We did this every day of our infant school life and I never knew why. It certainly quietened us for the day ahead but I believe Miss Luton must have had a market for the frayed material somewhere.
Our second day was something of an anti-climax. We dawdled and were late for school. We were in no hurry for a repetition of the first day and entered with long faces. Miss Luton was waiting for us with a slap for everyone who was late. The boy who had defied her the day before had to be brought forcibly by his mother and handed straight into her care. When the mother had gone, Miss Luton locked the door so the boy couldn't run away and gave him another vicious slapping. The boy concerned went through his school life with an appalling attendance record, which must have affected his later life also. This could be laid at Miss Luton's door.
Number tables and the alphabet were drilled into us, we chanted them for hour after hour. A huge, ancient abacus stood behind us at the back of the room. I did not know what it was at first, I simply assumed it was an instrument of torture which she would inflict on us at the appropriate time. We wrote with a slate and a piece of chalk in these early lessons, and I must say I quite enjoyed learning all these wonderful things, among them how to count and how to write, some of them I have still not forgotten.
In these days there was no such thing as illiteracy. We could ALL read and write! So something had to be said for the old system. But we hated and feared Miss Luton with a venom which was only surpassed when we went to the "Big School" and met Mr Brown. Miss Luton's tentacles stretched out of the school and into the village. A child who was "reported" to her for some misdemeanour was punished, usually with a slap to the head, or a whack on the back of the hand with a ruler, which she sometimes turned and used edgeways. She might fold a recalcitrant child's knuckles under to form a fist, then bang the knuckles with the ruler.
She instructed us to stay away from the brook, this was in those days tantamount to telling us we mustn't watch TV. The brook was a healthy, babbling stream in the thirties, unpolluted by the Oxide works and containing small fish and all manner of wild life. Most of us found it an irresistible attraction on our way to school. She had her "Gestapo" amongst the children, they would "report" children who played in the brook on their way to school. The culprits would be weeded out for punishment.
When my cousin started school a year after me, her class was lined up on the first day and stood behind mine. When she saw me she wanted to play "pat-a-cake" with me, being a perfectly innocent five year old, and totally unaware of Miss Luton's methods. I couldn't help responding to her, but desperately tried to quieten her. The next thing I knew I was knocked to the floor by a blow from behind. I looked up to see my junior cousin remonstrating with Miss Luton for hitting me. Miss Luton barged through the children to get at her, she had to be taught that Miss Luton hit who she jolly well pleased, when she pleased, and she didn't need a reason.
Miss Luton and Mr Brown were churchwardens, and so considered it their duty to control the children in church. There was no escaping the discipline. One Sunday, Miss Luton had been delayed on her way to church. I was with a group of children including my brother, who found we couldn't get in because the door was locked. We sat patiently on the wall by the main gate and it wasn't long before Miss Luton arrived. She walked along the row of children and slapped the legs of us all. Sitting on the church wall was a very naughty thing to do, she announced. She strode off to unlock the door.
We were indignant. We felt that the punishment was completely unjust. 'Blow Miss Luton!' Somebody said. 'Let's go to chapel.' The Methodist chapel was just across the road from the church and we all trooped across. We were welcomed by the chapel folk, and we sat and enjoyed a splendid sing-song before going home. By Monday morning we were bracing ourselves for Miss Luton's retribution, which we expected on an unheard of scale. We were puzzled, nothing was said until it was time for us to go home. As we went out she called the guilty ones to her with a sweet smile. She patted us all on the head. 'Little Church boys shouldn't go to Chapel!' was all she said, and that was the end of it.
When Miss Luton retired, the old infants school had been closed, and all children were now at the "Big School". Mr Brown could one day be seen erecting a dais and a table with a blue cloth on it on the playing field. Gift-wrapped parcels were placed on it and the children were called to attention. Mr Brown began his speech and announced that the grand occasion was Miss Luton's retirement, and he was going to make her a presentation. Miss Luton stood by him, looking smug, a prissy smile on her detestable features. This was her day.
At hearing this from Mr Brown, her present and past pupils alike let out a spontaneous cheer which could be heard all over the village. We clapped and shouted, sang and danced, and created such a melee that the presentation could go no further. Miss Luton's smile rapidly disappeared from her face and was replaced by tears. Mr Brown looked as black as thunder, he shouted at us to desist, but his words were utterly inaudible as we celebrated with a spontaneous eruption of joy. I think, at that moment, Miss Luton realised what we really thought of her.
Alan was one of three bakers in Deanshanger before the war. The others were Alf Hyde, at the bakehouse adjacent to Boswell Lane, and Spence Masters, further along the High Street. By soon after the war Alan was the only baker remaining, his bakehouse was at the house opposite the school green, still known as "Robinson House".
Alan's bread round took him to Wicken, Leckhampstead and the Lillingstones.
He was a rather severe looking man, heavily built, his hair slicked straight back. He was always to be seen rushing around in a great hurry. In fact he was anything but severe. He did have a quick temper, but was just as quick to forget and forgive. I know this because I worked for him at weekends as a schoolboy. How he put up with me I shall never know.
My job, on arriving at the bakehouse, was to grease the baking tins. He supplied a tin of melted butter and one of his old socks to put on my hand to dip into the butter and swish around the tins. After this task I attacked the dough with a large knife and cut and weighed individual lumps, passing them to him to knead and place in the tins to rise.
Whilst doing this, Alan would be smoking furiously. He rolled his own, using the absolute minimum of tobacco, consequently his cigarettes would often flare up and disappear before he could smoke them. Worse would happen when he lit one and drew on it hard whilst lighting it, the loose tobacco sometimes flew down his throat and caused a frightful orgy of coughing, spitting and swearing. He would fly into a temper and throw things around, purple faced. If anything looked as though it might hit me he would shout, 'Look out, boy! Look out!' Then he would burst into laughter, calm down and roll another.
We set off in his ancient, green, Morris van in the afternoon to deliver the new bread. I used to think it strange that he never wanted me to do any of the deliveries, he wanted me only for company. Then I realised that almost every house he called at would give him a drink, alcoholic of course, and by the time we returned to Deanshanger he was well into his cups. One Saturday, returning towards Wicken from Leckhampstead, he turned the van over on a sharp bend. Fortunately we were going so slowly that little damage was done; we rocked it back onto its wheels and carried on as if nothing had happened. Alan laughed heartily all the way home!
Alan taught me to drive, although he never knew it. When I was with him in the van I watched every move he made whilst driving and I soon convinced myself that I could do it as well as he.
Some of his deliveries involved walking across fields to remote cottages and farms well away from the road, he would be gone for half an hour or more, doubtless chatting and drinking. Bored to death, I would move into the driving seat and start the engine, then go through the motions of driving I had picked up whilst watching him. I drove along the road without any problems, then I would reverse all the way back, and park the van exactly where I had started from. I did this regularly and he never once noticed.
In another orgy of boredom whilst waiting for him, I dismantled the windscreen-wiper mechanism and found it beyond me to put it together again. In the end I crammed all the bits into the casing and put the lid on. As luck would have it, it came on to rain, Alan switched on the wiper, there was a bang, and the whole thing flew apart and the bits fell into his lap. He seemed to have a vague idea that was something to do with me.
We stopped one very hot summers day at the "Long Row", near Leckhampstead. Allan grinned mischievously as he told me the woman who lived in one of the cotts always kept a jar of cider on tap. He delivered the bread, and as usual, I remained in the van and amused myself watching the woman's several small children playing in the yard. The smaller ones were naked, stripped out because of the heat, they played with a large enamel jug, which they sat on in turns and carried in and out of the outhouse. Alan eventually emerged from the cottage looking awkward and bad tempered; the woman had forgotten to offer him a drink. He was not averse to dropping a hint in the last resort, and stood in the yard and drew the back of his hand across his mouth. 'Christ missus!' He said. 'Aint it 'ot?'
This had the desired effect, the woman recoiled. 'I'm sorry, Alan. I didn't offer you a drink.' She picked up the large jug and took it into the wash-house where the cider was kept and came out with it seeming quite full.
Alan lifted it and took a long, thirsty draught, took a deep breath, tipped it up again and drained it. He jumped as if he had been shot as he saw sticking to the bottom of the jug a turd, deposited there by one of the children. He dropped the jug and vomited half way across the concrete yard.
He returned to the van, spitting and swearing, his face was purple. He drove back at breakneck speed, all the time spitting out of the window. Then he suddenly slowed, looked at me and burst into hearty laughter. 'A bleddy smart do!' He announced, and that was the end of it.
Billy was the brother of Alan, he was one of two butchers in the village. A small man, he seemed to me to be a ferocious and fearsome character. He was usually to be seen dressed in a bloodstained smock, and in his shop was never without a large meatknife clamped firmly in his teeth as he wrestled with a huge side of beef, chopping, sawing and cutting at it in front of waiting customers, his face purple, his moist forehead shining as he glared through his pebble-lensed, wire rimmed spectacles.
Billy's shop was across the green from the "Big School", and was a never-ending source of fascination to the children. He had a small slaughterhouse at the rear of the premises, and if we heard the scream of an animal we couldn't wait to get out of school to scamper across the green to watch him at his work.
He was undaunted by any animal and would tackle a bullock, ten times his own size, alone, and without the slightest qualm. If he was killing a pig we would frequently be given the bladder, which we would inflate and play football with, as our fathers and grandfathers had before us.
Yes! That was his real name. He was the owner of the third coalyard in Deanshanger. He had his own wharf by the canal, and it was squeezed into the western side of the farmhouse opposite the old Baptist chapel. Access was by the overgrown gate on the north side of the farmhouse, past the derelict stable building where he kept his horse, and which still stands.
Billy Smallbones was short, almost spherical in stature, a very private little man, he had a wife but no family, and the premises has stood untouched since he died many years ago.
His only claim to fame was his habit of bucketing water on to his stacks of coal on frosty days in an effort to make it weigh more before bagging it up, thus enhancing his profit margins!
Jimmy Toot, as he was affectionately known, was a member of the Roberts Ironfounders family. He was engineer and chauffuer to the Roberts's when the Ironworks was going. After the bankruptcy he made a living as best he could, and was usually to be found doing something of interest to us children.
He was a car owner in the thirties, an indication of considerable wealth and status. But the car was ancient, being a fabric bodied Riley. He was to be found under it far more than he was in it.
He had a large, wooden shed to the left of the old Memorial Hall, and his lovely daughter, Olive, had a rather smarter, timber salon to the left of his. She was much busier than her father, she cut the hair of all and sundry, including mine.
Jimmy repaired anything the slightest bit mechanical or electrical. He would delve into the mysteries of crystal sets and radios, (I should say "Wireless's" or "Werliss" as Deanshanger people called them). He was most in demand for charging "accumulators", the low voltage cells used by all owners of the pre-mains sets, of which there were many in the village. Accumulators had to be re-charged every week or so, and when Jimmy's shed door stood open, several of them could be seen on his bench, festooned with wires, bubbling gently. The wires ran to a generator at the rear of the shed, which chugged steadily. The charge, I believe, was 2d.
Mr Toombs lived in one of Grampy Smiths old cottages at the rear of his house opposite the Post Office.
He and his wife were Wicken folk, it is worth recounting how they came to live in Deanshanger. Mrs Toombs was a jolly old girl, she wore a shawl and a flat cap, and smoked a clay pipe exactly as her husband did. They were always arguing like cat and dog, and could be heard through the walls of grampy's house. The arguments were mainly about who had drunk their stock of home-made wine. Mr Toombs was always to be heard protesting his innocence when she found the jars empty.
Mr Toombs was a carter on the Wicken estate of Lord and Lady Penrhyn. Her Ladyship had already thrown His Lordship out for womanising at this time, and she ran the estate single handed and in a draconian manner. Mr Toombs duties included taking loads of grain to Buckingham mill, using a team of horses. After unloading, it was his habit to repair to "The Grand Junction" for bread and cheese, washed down with a pint or two of good ale. He would then start the return journey to Wicken, letting the horses take him while he slept in the back of the cart. (This is something a motor car has never been trained to do).
On the day in question, the horses had taken their usual position in the centre of the road, plodding steadily Wickenwards. Lady Penrhyn happened to have had business in Buckingham that day and came up behind Mr Toombs with her pony and trap, at a sharp trot. She was not impressed at what she saw, neither was she pleased to be slowed to a walk.
She shouted and cracked her whip till Mr Toombs awoke, and demanded that he pull over to let her pass. Mr Toombs was one of those people who's temper and powers of reason were not improved by drink, or by bossy women, and finding himself in the dominant position for once, he swore at Her Ladyship and told her in no uncertain terms that now he had her behind him, she could ****** stay there all the way back to Wicken.
When he passed the drive to the house at Wicken Park, she was at last able to gallop off in a fine old fury. Mr Toombs though, thought no more of it and returned to the yard, unhitched his horses and completed his day's work.
When he got home to his Wicken cottage, like most other things in Wicken - owned by the Penrhyn's; Her Ladyship's bailiffs were already well advanced in the task of carrying his few belongings outside and placing them at the roadside, along with his distraught wife.
Mr Toombs, by now somewhat more sober, returned to the yard and hitched the horses to the cart once more. He loaded up his belongings and came to Deanshanger. He knocked on Grampy Smith's door and asked him if he could help. Grampy showed him the empty cottage, and he lived there for the rest of his life. That's how Mr and Mrs Toombs came to Deanshanger.
The Perkins family came to Deanshanger from Stony Stratford. Mr Perkins was a postman and he took, as a garden, a piece of ground at the "Pig and Whistle" known as "Fourhousen", where four cottages had once stood, but were long since demolished, although the walls surrounding the gardens of the cottages were still intact. Adjacent to the cottages, and the reason for their being there, were the remains of a lime kiln, where we children played to our hearts content. Mr Perkins was soon known as "Polly", and the area of the gardens we called "Polly's Orchard".
In the gardens which he tended, were fruit trees of all sorts, left over from the older days, and enormous clumps of rhubarb. If Mr Perkins was absent we were not averse to helping ourselves, but when we went, we had to use a bit of guile and go very quietly, because he often could not be seen because of the walls and trees. If he was not there, we would have a good old game, but if he was there we would pretend to be out for a nonchalant walk and engage him in conversation.
We found him very amusing, and would frequently ask him to repeat the story of how he came by his wife. He never tired of telling us that when his first wife died, he went to the workhouse at Stony Stratford and asked for another. 'They lined all the women up, and I picked the best one.' He would recount, proudly.
We would double up in stitches at this story. I later told my mother this tale and she confirmed that he was telling the truth.
His other favourite story was about a tractor, which had appendicitis. He dismantled the ailing tractor and found a grain of wheat somewhere in its innards. When he removed it, the tractor ran perfectly, he claimed. 'You know, that there tractor had got "pentacitus", he would insist.
Mr Perkins had a son by his first wife who was also known as Polly. He was a quiet, amiable chap, but his stepmother refused to have him around. He lived rough, mostly in barns and under hedgerows around Puxley, we children enjoyed his company.
He might be found cooking a rabbit over a campfire, and was never without wildlife of some sort. He would produce a baby owl from a pocket, and usually had two or three ferrets in his shirt. He would take us along brookside, produce nets from his pockets, a folding poachers spade, and in no time he would have half a dozen rabbits laid out, while we watched for Dickie Vellacot, the farmer. We thought Dickie to be only half sharp, 'I'll get you six months for life!' He would shout after us.
When the war came, young Polly went into the army, and I would think he made an excellent soldier.
There were two younger Perkins boys, they came with us during the war, when large gangs of schoolchildren were sent to work on the farms, where they were always short of labour at harvest times. We spent a long period at Frost's farm at Passenham, picking potatoes. At midday we would sit in a group and eat what we had brought for dinner, or "bup". Everybody brought something, usually sandwiches and a bottle of cold tea. The Perkins brothers surprised us when they brought out a boiled suet pudding, the long sort, wrapped in a cloth. They unwrapped it to the hoots of envious children as the older boy took out his knife and cut carefully round the middle. They held one end each and pulled gently to reveal only a large bone inside.
The bone was carefully wrapped and taken home for the next day's pudding, and went to and fro all the time we were together.
Other Stories For Good Measure.
Wiltshire people are known as "Moonrakers", and their story is well known.
What is not so well known is the story that got Deanshanger people the same nickname. This is how it came about.
Tommy Roberts was remarkable for other things than his foundry. His exploits as a trencher and a toper were just as extra-ordinary. My father, when a boy, used to take him to the Bull Hotel at Stony Stratford and fetch him home at night in his pony and trap. When they got home and my father had helped him indoors, he would want what he called "supper".
From the larder, late at night, with everybody else in bed, my father would get out what was left of a ham, a joint of cooked meat, the cheese dish with perhaps a pound wedge of cheese in it, a jar of pickles, a pound slab of butter, a loaf and a half or so of bread. Tommy would eat all of this and ask what else there was. My father would suggest bacon and eggs and would fry him up a pound or so of bacon and half a dozen eggs. He would swill this down with a bottle of scotch. Then there was the considerable problem for a twelve year old boy of getting Tommy up the stairs to bed.
Late one night, a couple of Deanshanger men were coming home along the canal towpath after a night's eel-lining, a popular nocturnal pastime. It was a moonlit, frosty night, ideal for catching eels, and it was almost as light as day. As they neared the village they saw a movement on the towpath in front of them, and approached quietly.
It was Tommy, he was drunk as a lord. He was on his hands and knees, trying desperately to get to his feet, but finding it impossible. The anglers watched in amusement till Tommy steadied himself as he caught sight of the moon reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water.
He seemed mesmerised by it. He called out to himself, 'I don't know! I don't know! I've bin some bleddy queer plearces in my time, but I've never bin atop the moon afore!' He reached out for it as the anglers grabbed him and took him home. When the story got around, Deanshanger people began to be called "Moonrakers".
A few weeks later, Tommy's body was found in the canal, near the Bridge Hill. He had missed the wall and walked into the canal on his way home from the Woodman.
The Burroughs were a Deanshanger family, who's head was a senior figure at the ironworks. They left Deanshanger when the ironworks closed, when the patents and know-how were transferred to Godwins, at Quenington, in Gloucestershire, the Burroughs family went too. Oddly enough, Quenington was a village not dissimilar to Deanshanger, and I believe the Burroughs, and Godwins are still there to this day, making pumps and rams, mainly for the third world.
Fred Burroughs operated a set of threshing tackle in Edwardian times. He was regarded as a very crafty man, and was a match for anybody.
When the threshing tackle was set up at a farm the men walked, often several miles across the fields, to wherever it was, to commence their day's work. They started out before six o'clock every morning, carrying food for the day ahead.
Fred carried his food in a wicker lunch basket, with a handle on top, of a type common in those days. When they got into their stride Fred's colleague was in the habit of asking if he could put his lunch in Fred's basket, as he couldn't afford to own such a luxury item of his own. Never did he offer to carry the basket. Fred tired of carrying the man's food every day and decided to teach him a lesson. As they passed a large pond while crossing a certain field, Fred hurled his basket into middle of it.
'Hey!' The other man shouted. 'My dinner's in there.'
'That's right!' Fred said, tapping his pocket, 'mine isn't, and I'll do as I please with my own basket.'
Whilst they were threshing at the Duke's farm at Stowe, the other side of Maids Morton, which I believe was tenanted by the Compte de Paris at that time, there were several Deanshanger men on the threshing team. On the first day they all sat together under the trees at the back of the great house and undid their sandwiches and bottles of cold tea. Fred uneasily announced that he had forgotten to pick up his lunch when he left home.
One or two sympathetic men offered him a bite of theirs, but Fred refused. 'I'll show you chaps how to get some dinner when you're threshing at a place like this!' He said, and strode off to the kitchen door at the back of the house.
The cook came to the door, a rotund woman with a jolly face. 'Beg pardon, ma'am.' Fred doffed his cap. 'One of your boss's dugs'as just snatched my dinner and run off wi' it. Do you think you could kindly spare me a crust to get me by till I get 'ome, ma'am?'
'Oh, you poor man!' She cried. 'Come in, come in!'
It was a long time before Fred emerged. A man peeped through the kitchen window and saw him with a great helping of a steaming meat pie in front of him. The cook was making a huge fuss of him. He emerged some time later to face his silent, wide-eyed men. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. 'There y'are!' He grinned, 'told you I'd show you how to get a good meal at a place like this!'
The next day, when dinner time came round, Fred sat on a log and unwrapped his sandwiches. Several of his men gathered round him. 'We haven't brought any food today, Fred! We're off to the house to ask the cook.'
Fred looked at them with a serious expression. 'Oh, my Lor.' He said, 'you can't do that twice!'
Lesson Out Of School.
My father left school in nineteen fifteen, aged thirteen. Before he left he earned a few coppers at weekends, working for Tommy Roberts at the big house across the green. When weekend work was being done at the factory, Tommy would send him across with a hamper of food and tea for the men, which they would wolf down appreciatively. The grateful foreman would not forget the boy and always gave him a cup of tea while he waited to take the crocks back.
One day, the foreman patted him on the head. 'Louis, do you know where Tommy keeps his whisky?' He asked.
'Yes!' The boy replied, he went on to boast that he knew where everything was kept at Tommy's house.
'Well, my boy,' the foreman winked, 'the next time you bring the tay, put half a bottle of whisky in it.'
The boy thought this a splendid idea. He knew Tommy would never miss it, and the following Sunday laced the teapot with whisky before he took it to the factory.
The men were delighted. The boy sat and waited to be given his cup. He waited in vain, eventually, being a little forward, he asked for it.
The foreman shook his head. 'Oh, no!' He said. 'You can't have any of this.'
The boy told him indignantly that would be the first and last time he put Tommy's whisky in their tea.
'It better not be,' said the foreman, 'else I shall tell him you put this in. Now be a good boy and be sure to put plenty in every Sunday.'
It was at the height of the blitz, the blackout was total, even in Deanshanger, as the Luftwaffe swanned around overhead, their BMW engines humming distinctively, looking for the slightest glimmer of light to give them a target.
The real drama was being enacted far below. A knock at the door of our council house in Puxley Road brought us out from under the kitchen table. Since the Deanshanger Fire Brigade had been disbanded, father had become a member of the Special Constabulary. He opened the door, it was Arthur W. He had been visiting his aged parents at the small bungalow opposite, and was very concerned that they could hear noises at the rear which sounded as if an intruder was trying to steal his chickens.
Father grabbed his cap and went with Arthur into the pitch blackness. It was one of those nights, starless and moonless, as black as ink. With the blackout, nothing, but nothing, could be discerned anywhere.
They gingerly crossed the road and found the gate to the bungalow. Father had the bright idea that the intruder might run for it, so he told Arthur to position himself in the road, by the gate, while he (father) felt his way to the rear of the bungalow to attempt to make contact with the felon.
When he reached the back garden he heard a crash and a bang at the front. Arthur shouted and he could hear metallic noises. Father almost laid himself out when he hit the wall trying to get back in a hurry. He reached the road and fell over Arthur, who lay, groaning painfully in the road. They struggled to their feet, with Arthur complaining that his ribs were broken.
There was somebody else there, unseen, swearing and muttering in the darkness. Father lunged towards the noise and grabbed somebody by the coat.
'Here! Steady on!' Said a strange voice.
'What's going on?' Father demands. 'What do you think you're doin'?'
'Doin'? The indignant voice said. 'I were ridin' down the road on me bike an' hit some bleddy fool standing 'ere.'
'That were me!' Arthur said, still in considerable pain.
'Now I can't find me bike.' The strange voice complained.
They groped around in the road till it was found. The stranger grasped it and disappeared into the blackness.
'Where is he?' Father said.
'Gone!' Arthur replied.
'Who was it?'
'Dunno! You're the "Special"!'
An agitated Mrs A. knocked on the door shortly after it got around that father had joined the "Specials". She was wearing a large brimmed, bright red, hat. 'I want you to arrest my nephew, Ernie!' She demanded.
'What on earth for, missus?' Father asked.
'Assault. Common assault. Assault and battery. Anything. Just lock 'im away, tha's all.'
'You don't look as if you've been assaulted to me.'
'Well, I 'ave. Our Ernie come up behind me on his bike and knocked my 'at orf. Then he sang, "Where Did You Get That 'at". Then he shook 'is fist at me, and 'e said, "Put your bleddy dooks up an' 'ave a fight!" I ent 'avin that I tell yer. I ent 'avin that!'
'Righty 'o, missus, I'll have a word wi' 'im.'
Deanshanger Fire Brigade.
Talking of the Deanshanger Fire Brigade, you may be interested to learn that this was formed by Councillor Rupert Ridgeway at the critical time during 1940, when Mr Churchill decreed that every able bodied man must contribute to some aspect or other of civil defence.
My father, who was an argumentative man at the best of times, was faced with the alternatives of joining the Home Guard, or the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions). He had a poor opinion of both, so when Councillor Ridgeway formed the fire brigade, he, and a dozen or so like minded others, saw it as a heaven-sent opportunity and the fire brigade was created with a great rush of enthusiasm.
They began life as the A.F.S. (Auxiliary Fire Service), and were equipped with the full regalia of uniform, fire axe, steel helmet, boots and wellingtons, waterproof suit and peaked cap with a shiny badge. Nothing further happened for a month or two, then a pump arrived and was put in Mr Ridgeway's garage. This pump was a splendid brass affair, manually operated by four men, two standing each side, working a coupled linkage. It was gazed at with much head shaking. A few weeks later, a small, rubber tyred trolley was delivered, capable of taking the pump, and with handles suitable for several men to pull or push to the scene of (heaven forbid) any fire.
Later on hosepipes were delivered, together with a canvas reservoir about five feet diameter and three high, and about forty canvas buckets for the purpose of charging it with water should an appropriate emergency arise.
Thus equipped, the brigade was faced with the stark necessity of beginning a training scheme to familiarise themselves with the equipment and learn how to operate it. (I should have used the word "efficiently" here, but I cannot bring myself to.) For the training scheme they decided, (to their credit) that they needed: 1) A large open space. 2)The proximity of a water supply. 3) A large building nearby, against which to demonstrate the capabilities of the pump.
Only one such space offered the facilities they required, namely, the churchyard. It had recently had a water supply laid on; the church was the tallest building in the village, and the churchyard was not as congested as it is today. The vicar was consulted, and although aghast at the idea, felt duty bound to assist in the war effort in any way he could (short of joining the Home Guard). He gave his permission with the proviso that they refrained from their training should a service be in progress. This stymied the programme somewhat as most men, during the war, worked a six day week. The pubs opened at twelve o'clock on a Sunday, an unalterable fact which meant that all equipment had to be packed away by then. Sunday afternoon or evening was out of the question as these periods were always, and without question, spent sleeping the midday beer off in time for the pubs to open at seven
They were thus left only with Sunday morning for their training period, and at risk of upsetting the vicar, they decided to chance their arm.
The equipment was trundled to the churchyard and set up behind the steeple. The first problem manifested itself when they attempted to fill the reservoir, as the tap ran very slowly and it was about three quarters of an hour before the suction pipe could be immersed in it. The hoses were connected and ran out. Four men were delegated to the pump and soon their heads could be observed bobbing up and down in pairs. The pump was brand new and very stiff to operate, by the time the water reached the nozzle they were exhausted. The nozzle spurted derisorily, then stopped. They tried again with equally disappointing results. They changed the nozzle to the smallest orifice. This time they managed to get water as high as the eaves before exhaustion overtook them once more. A shout went up "Twelve o'clock, men." Everything was abandoned and they fled in a group to the "Dukes Head".
That was the only training session the brigade ever held. Thankfully they were only once called to a fire. This was at the Oxide Works and not due to enemy action. It happened to occur on a Sunday afternoon when the members, including my father, were in bed. A pounding on the door woke him and put him in a bad temper to begin with. He put his head out of the window and asked where the fire was, on being told he shouted "Let the b….r burn!" and returned to his blankets.
In the meantime the A.F.S., which had been re-styled the N.F.S. (National Fire Service. Or was it the other way round?) was relegated to fire watching duties along with the A.R.P. Shortly afterwards, they were disbanded altogether and the same group of men then decided what a good idea it would be if they formed a "Special Constabulary" in Deanshanger.
Speed Record For Deanshanger.
It was around 1890. The "Condor Cycle and Sewing Machine Works", the latest, high tech, venture of the entrepreneurial Roberts family, was in full swing at the small factory between the Methodist chapel and Beaconsfield Cottage.
They had just perfected the "Rams Horn" handlebar, a revolutionary handlebar which allowed the rider to adopt, for the first time, a low, streamlined position for bicycle racing, the latest, "State of Art" craze for high speed mechanical sport.
My Great Grandfather, Thomas Foddy, walked past the factory gate one day. The test rider, Joseph Yates, the man who told me this story when I was a lad, was wheeling out their very latest creation, a tandem tricycle with a hand forged, lightweight, steel frame, equipped with the new handlebars.
He paused to inspect the incredible new machine, which Joe claimed that apart from the steam train, was probably the fastest man carrying device in the world. He claimed it would exceed the velocity of a galloping horse when powered by two good men under ideal conditions.
Joe pulled out his turnip watch. 'If you got time, Tom, we'll give 'er a try out.'
Gret Gramp didn't need a second bidding. They peeled off their clothes till they stood in their long sleeved, long legged combination vests and pedalled off. Joe decided to try the machine flat out on a new piece of straight road, recently constructed through the woods from the "Pig and Whistle" to Whittlebury.
Going towards Whittlebury there is an uphill gradient, and the full potential could not be achieved. Nevertheless they pedalled hard and achieved a very impressive speed. Joe glanced behind him. 'Comin' back, tha's when we'll do it, Tom. It'll be down'ill coming back! We'll break all the records in the book!' They rode on into Whittlebury and stopped outside the "Crown" before the astonished stares of a group of local men who had never seen such a formidable machine before.
'We'll have a couple of pints 'afore we start back.' Tom suggested, they went inside to wet their whistles. Time went on; suddenly, the dim bar was illuminated by a brilliant flash of lightning, followed by a loud clap of thunder. Joe drained his glass, glanced at his watch again and jumped to his feet. Come on, Tom. We ent dressed for this sort o' weather!'
They went outside as the rain began to spatter around them from a black storm overhead. They leapt on the machine and strained at the pedals. Back through Whittlebury they went, along the Buckingham Road, the rain increased to a torrent. They turned off for Deanshanger on the new road, dipped down Linshire Hill, gathering velocity all the time. The newly forged steel frame took everything their flailing legs gave to the flying cranks, the chain whirred, the trike bucked and leapt on its way over the bumps and ruts. Soon they were straining up the hill onto the new straight, through the woods on to the downhill gradient to the "Pig and Whistle". They put their heads down and pedalled furiously on the new, smooth surface. Soon, the rain slowed, then stopped altogether. By the time they arrived back at the Condor Works their clothes were dry once more.
Young Joe checked his watch once more and nodded with satisfaction. As they wheeled the trike indoors there was a vicious flash of lightening overhead and a deafening thunderclap; the heavens opened and the rain bucketed down as they closed the doors of the workshop where the trike had been given birth.
'What a splendid machine you chaps have built!' Joe shouted to the men at their benches. 'We've broke the record!'
For a long time afterwards, Joe and Tom were regarded in Deanshanger with some sort of awe. Fingers pointed at them in the street. They were the men who raced the thunderstorm - and won!
Quiet Day's Fishing.
At around turn of the twentieth century my grandfather was a young man and a considerable angler. He worked in Wolverton loco works and it was his turn to run the "Mail" from Deanshanger. This was a covered wagon which took a party of men, joint owners who had bought it and a horse for the purpose of getting them to Wolverton. The wagon had three benches running front to back, on which the men sat, straddling the benches so that they could squeeze up and cram themselves in. They worked a strange system in which each member of the co-op "owned" it for a year, before passing it on to the next man and whilst a man owned it he was expected to make what he could from the running of it to defray the expenses.
What has this to do with a day's fishing? You may well ask. Bear with me. Arthur was sitting quietly by the river bank, in the shade of a large willow. The insects were biting, but the fish were not. It was a hot summer's day and he sat with his thoughts, watching the lazy water swirling gently downstream, past his float. He took out his pipe and lit up to drive the gnats away.
He was suddenly aware of a hissing noise in the willow beside him and he wondered why the water had lost its mirror-like quality for few seconds. His bare arms could feel something and he rubbed something like sand off them. All went quiet again. A few seconds later it happened again - hissing, splashing, sand. He looked around, but there was nothing to be seen.
'Monsieur!' He jumped at the distant sound. He looked around again. He must be hearing things. He went back to his rod and line.
'Monsieur! Si vous plait, Monsieur!' He was sure now he really was hearing it. Who could be talking in a damfool furrin lingo? He put his arms behind his head and leaned back, puffing a cloud of blue smoke at the gnats hovering over him.
'Monsieur!' The voice was closer and much more urgent. 'Monsieur! Non smok! Non smok! Explosian! Explosian!'
Arthur took the pipe from his mouth and opened his eyes against the blazing sun as a dark shadow blotted it out. A gas balloon was drifting very slowly over him in the almost still air, just forty or fifty feet up. It slowly came lower and its solitary occupant released yet another bag of sand ballast to steady its descent. A rope trailed behind it on the ground.
He jumped up in astonishment and the two men's eyes met. 'Monsieur! Hold ze rop if you please!' He galvanised himself into action and took the rope and held on. Gradually the balloon subsided to the ground, the gasbag slowly deflated and wallowed there. The balding, red faced occupant finally deemed it safe to jump out of the basket and extended his hand to Arthur with a polite bow.
'Merci beaucoup, monsieur!' He seemed very pleased to be on terra firma, and introduced himself as Monsieur Jacques Bellamy. Arthur turned the name over and over, he thought he'd heard it before somewhere.
He was wondering what on earth he could do with Mr Bellamy. He helped him lay out the gasbag, fold it up and put it into the basket. The basket was full of equipment of all sorts, scientific instruments, clothes, huge amounts of food and water. Monsieur explained in pigdin English that he had set off on a Polar expedition, and intended his balloon to be the first ever to reach the North Pole, hence all the instruments and food enough for a very long flight. There was no way that the two of them could move it under cover. They would need help.
Arthur suddenly thought of the Mail. He took Mr Bellamy through the meadows towards his home at the green. Mr Bellamy tried to explain that he needed 'Gaz -hydrogene gaz, - pour le ballon', and waved his arms about. Arthur surprised him by assuring him he could fix that up, he would take him to the new gasworks at Stony Stratford, they would soon blow his balloon up there, he told him, waving his arms about. He asked his bemused wife to make Mr Bellamy some tea while he went to the little field along the Hayes Road to get the horse. He trembled at the thought of that horse. It was a bad one, it was lazy and wouldn't be caught except by extreme craftiness and guile. But that's another story.
Eventually he harnessed the horse to the Mail, rounded up several men, and off they went to fetch the balloon. It was so late when they got back that Mr Bellamy had to stay in Deanshanger for the night. In the morning they rose early and went to the gasworks. Arthur thought it would be easy from then on, but he met with some puzzled stares. Mr Bellamy looked very doubtful. It seemed the gas company could not produce hydrogen to order. Arthur asked if he couldn't blow it up with something else - just to get him going.
Mr Bellamy decided to return to his native France. His balloon would need a thorough overhaul and modifications, it seemed to have certain shortcomings for a journey of this nature. Arthur took him on to Wolverton station and put him and the balloon on the London train. Monsieur Bellamy was full of gratitude and thanks and paid Arthur handsomely for his services. A couple of weeks later he received a very nice letter from him, thanking him once more.
It was several weeks after that that Arthur saw a small item in the newspaper announcing that a Monsieur Jacques Bellamy had departed from somewhere near Paris on his second attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon. He was never seen or heard of again.
All Deanshanger boys, almost without exception, collected birds eggs. They possessed most of the common birds eggs but lacked the harder to get eggs such as owls, jays, and - yes - even the humble crows egg was one of the most difficult to come by.
Bert G. had been watching the solitary crow's nest develop at the top of a massive elm near the Glebe Farm at Puxley. It must have eggs by now, they would go and take them. They legged it across the fields in their tightly laced "clod hoppers", and stood in awe at the sight of the nest at the top of the intimidating hundred foot monster.
They had second thoughts. Even its lowest branches were twelve feet from the ground. Kids don't have a chance with branches that high.
Bert was not to be defeated. After the initial pessimism he threw his chest out. 'Give us a leg up!' He said. 'I'll show you chaps how to shin up there.'
They hoisted him on their shoulders, he grasped a lower branch and disappeared into the foliage. They stood back and caught sight of him from time to time as he went up and up. They shouted encouragement. He paused for a rest at about seventy feet, wondering whether to go on. He couldn't lose face now. To the cheers from the ground, he disappeared once more into the branches and was lost to sight again.
They soon saw the topmost branches begin to sway as Bert reached them. The female crow flapped angrily from her nest, objecting noisily at his approach.
Bert climbed higher, soon the slender, topmost branch, the one holding the crow's nest, began to sway dangerously. Bert came into view once more. He reached the underside of the nest. It was huge, far bigger then it appeared from the ground. To get the eggs he had to go higher still. The branch creaked at its limit, every time he tried to take that final step up so that he could reach into the nest, the thin branch bent and swayed and forced him back again. After several attempts he had to admit defeat, even his friends on the ground warned him not to go on.
Bert was loath to admit defeat. The crow flapped and cawed wildly at him. Crows build their nests into a massive clump of dry twigs, and carry up anything they can find to bind the whole lot together, such as clumps of sheep's wool and pieces of binder twine. Poking out of the bottom of this nest was large piece of newspaper.
Every schoolboy carries a box of matches with him on the offchance that he might pick up a cigarette butt with a few puffs left in it, and Bert was no exception. He fumbled in his pocket and eventually managed to light the piece of newspaper. He would at least avenge his honour on this dastardly crow and show it who was the boss.
He shouted to his friends as the twigs began to burn above his head like a beacon. The crow was enraged. Bert looked down at his laughing chums. They thought the whole thing was hilarious. A chunk of flaming nest fell on the back of Bert's neck. He let go his hold and flapped wildly. A split second later he grasping desperately for a lower branch to steady his fall. Masses of flaming twigs were now showering around him. His clothes were on fire and he beat at the flames and lost his grip once more.
Falling through the branches, the agile boy grasped another and steadied himself, then deliberately jumped to another. In a few bounds he was on the ground. His pals were in stitches, they had no sympathy whatever. Bert was never allowed to forget the crow's nest.
One of Louis Roberts' stories related Deanshanger to the Mormons. He used to tell that a row of largish cottages, one of which may have been a pub for a while, were bought by the Roberts family and radically altered to create "The Mount"
Before the alterations were made, one of the cottages was used by the Mormons when they came to Deanshanger on a recruiting drive, they persuaded several people of the area to assemble at the Deanshanger house and go back in a group to Salt Lake City. It was rumoured that Brigham Young himself was one who came, but this seems doubtful.
Whether this was a one-off happening, Mr Roberts didn't say, nor could he remember exactly when it took place, but we know that Salt lake city was established in 1847. Opinion is that they would have been desperate for labour, especially builders and the like, from around 1860 onwards, and they probably came to Deanshanger between 1860 and 1870 to recruit such people.
Whilst the above took place before Mr Roberts was born, nevertheless, he would have heard about it from his father, as well as other people. He recalled a letter he had seen, from local people who went, saying how worried they had been about some of the shady characters they met on the voyage, but they were much relieved when they got to their destination to find themselves with people of a much better calibre.
There is a mention of this episode in Gordon Roberts' book "Passenham".
When I was a small boy, my father used to take my brother and me to the woods, sometimes nutting, sometimes birds nesting, sometimes just for the walk. He knew the woods like the back of his hand. Occasionally, we took a picnic and went to the "County Banks".
What are the County Banks? You may well ask. In centuries past, it seems that the aristocracy held parcels of land at a distance from their country seats. Such a parcel was held on the Lillingstone side of the woods by the Duke of Buckingham; yet another, adjacent parcel was held by the Duke of Bedford, and although both these parcels were within the bounds of Northamptonshire, these aristo's were powerful enough men to insist that Parliament give their lands special treatment, and these parcels came to be regarded officially as pieces of their home counties.
Thus, for many years, these areas were considered to be part of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, and old maps of the county still bear this out. Thus, there arose a situation where these two adjacent pieces of land had a common boundary, and came together at a certain point on their border with Northamptonshire. This point was within the forest, and to demark it, three banks were created, one in each county. They were known as "The County Banks"
When we went to picnic there, the place seemed to have some sort of magical quality. I could imagine fairies dancing in the triangle created by the banks, about thirty feet or so apart, in a tiny, pleasant glade, surrounded by trees. The banks were like large anthills and stood perhaps four feet high. The whole glade, including the banks, were covered with lawn quality grass, kept well nibbled down by the rabbits, and we would sit in the middle and have our picnic.
Father would relate to us the stories of the drama's that had been enacted there, on the very spot where we sat. History had been made there. Sporting history. It went back to the days when bare knuckle fighting was outlawed by the government in the mid eighteen hundreds. These contests were immensely popular with everybody, from the highest aristocrat to the lowest vagabond, vast sums of money were wagered on the results. The fighters fought to no particular rules. When a fight started it went on till one of the combatants was unable to rise from the ground. It was a cruel and bloody affair.
Bare knuckle fights could be prevented in the towns and cities by the police. So it was no longer possible to stage even the great prize and title fights in London. But somebody thought of the County Banks, buried deep in the forest, near Deanshanger.
The newly laid railway system made it all possible. On the appointed days, thousands of people arrived from London, indeed from all over the country, at Wolverton station, in train after train. From Wolverton they walked in droves, through Stony Stratford and on to Deanshanger. They passed through like a plague of locusts, eating and drinking everything in their path, Stratford and Deanshanger were in a state of starvation and severe deprivation for weeks afterwards, till the slow moving supply lines caught up with things. There was little food available after the massive crowds had passed through, and what hadn't been bought by people with money had been stolen by people without.
The travellers slept in barns and under the hedgerows on their way to the County Banks. Thievery and roguery were rampant. Nothing and nobody was safe till it was all over.
Later on the appointed day came scores of flies, gigs, traps and coaches of those who could afford them. Then the coaches of the fighters themselves, famous men, brightly coloured banners and streamers flying, all heading for Sootfield Green and beyond. Deanshanger had never witnessed such goings on and joined with the crowds wholeheartedly.
The bets were laid and the fighting started. The crowds roared amongst the trees, up the trees, anywhere they could get for a glimpse of what was going on. The police arrived, but only as spectators. They knew there was nothing they could do to stop it.
The point was that the area within the County Banks came within nobody's jurisdiction. It wasn't Northamptonshire. It wasn't Buckinghamshire. It wasn't Bedfordshire. Nobody could prove otherwise, it would have posed an insurmountable legal challenge, so the fights went on till eventually the parcels of land were returned to Northamptonshire. But the County Banks remained for all to enjoy for many years afterwards, for children to play around, and for all to remember the history of the place.
A few years ago, I mentioned the County Banks to Will Henson and Burrell Church, local parish councillors, and asked them if they remembered the County Banks. Of course they did, and one day we borrowed a good compass and measure, together with old maps showing their exact position. We certainly needed them to locate the exact position. It was a rather sad moment. There was not a vestige of the old banks remaining. There was not a tree worthy of the name within a hundred yards, and the whole area was desecrated by deep ruts caused by the continual use of heavy equipment. It is now a wasteland within the thoroughly devastated old forest area. It is a disgrace to the people who caused it. Yet another historical landmark had gone without trace.
Talking of landmarks, there are a couple more, which shouldn't be forgotten. One is Cranley Oak. The decaying stump of this tree can still be seen at the roadside on the A422 towards Buckingham. The present road, just past the Wicken turn, curves gently to the right before heading downhill towards Cattleford. The old road, which the new one replaced several years ago, still exists as a lay-by, and can be seen to have had a much sharper bend than the new road. Cranley Oak stands at the old roadside on this bend, gnarled and dead, it had lived its span.
This tree is related to the history and folklore of Deanshanger, going back several centuries, to when the Dove House Farm, without doubt the oldest building in Deanshanger by far, was a monastic building. By all accounts it was a very impoverished one, and a French monk, an incumbent by the name of "Le Cran", hit upon an idea for improving the finances by becoming a highwayman.
He carried out several robberies, but after one at Banbury he was pursued by a posse which caught up with him almost within sight of the Dove House. The surrounding country was much more heavily wooded than it is now, and having caught him, they selected a sturdy oak and hung Le Cran from it. The tree has been known as Cranley Oak ever since.
Once again, not much more than a stump remains of this tree, although it is a much younger tree than Cranley Oak. This is due to it having been struck by lightening several times over the years, possibly because of the ironstone deposits around it. This tree is situated in the hedgerow on the Shrob to Puxley road, almost at Puxley, on the Shrob side of the Little London turn.
There are many stories on the history of this tree, including the common story that it is one of the oaks hidden in by King Charles.
It is nothing of the sort. The king referred to is King Edward VII, who came periodically to enjoy the shooting when the forest still came down almost to Deanshanger, and until the Duke of Grafton bought it, had been a royal hunting ground for centuries.
Naturally, when the sovereign came, a great fuss was made of him, and so that he didn't get his boots dirty, a specially protected platform was built for him to stand and shoot from. This spot was marked by a nearby oak tree, which became known later as "Kings Standing Oak". The adjacent field is known as Kings Standing. Simple as that.
When King Edward came to Puxley for the shooting, it was barely a mile down the Shrob lane to Passenham, were his mistress, Lady Warwick, would be waiting for him. The Warwick coat of arms is still emblazoned on the front of the cottage for all to see, being the first house you come to when entering Passenham from Deanshanger, and is said to be the place where she provided the king with ongoing sport after dark.
A Mr Rogers (no relation to the Post Office Rogers) was Lord of the Manor of Deanshanger and a prominent farmer in the early nineteen hundreds. My father worked for him both before and after he left school. He employed a good many men, amongst them George and Ted, who were frequently sent out to work together.
They were told to go to a field between Deanshanger and Wicken and begin the task of thinning mangolds, a manual hoeing job, hard work and soul destroying in its boredom.
George arrived the next morning and commenced work. His colleague, Ted, arrived an hour late, much to George's annoyance.
On Friday the two men went to collect their pay. In those days a farm labourer was lucky to earn a pound per week. Mr Rogers was little different to any other farmer, he was mean and parsimonious and liked to make a great display of paying his men. In his pocket he had an envelope for each man already made up with his wages, but nevertheless, before he handed it over, he went through his ritual.
'Hub-thub-thub-thub-thar!' He would exclaim to each man. 'Tell me how much I owe, and I'll pay you!'
The man was expected to call out the hours worked. 'Seventyseven hours at tuppence-three-farthings th'hour.' The man would claim. 'Tha's seventeen and sevenpence!'
Mr Rogers always reacted in the same way. 'No! That it aint. You worked seventy-three hours and I pay tuppence-hapenny hour!'
A ferocious argument would then ensue between the two men. Eventually Mr Rogers would take an envelope out of his pocket and give to the man, who would find it contained seventeen shillings and seven pence. He would then go to the next man and repeat the ritual.
When he got to Ted, the man who had arrived late for work, he claimed for a full week. Mr Rogers bridled at this and argued for longer than usual, when he handed the envelope over he found he was short by an hour and demanded to know the reason why.
'You know why!' Mr Rogers said. 'You were sin getting to work hour late Monday.' Ted deflated.
'Oo told you that?' He demanded to know.
Mr Rogers grinned and tapped the side of his nose. 'Miles's boy told me. Miles's boy copped you good and proper.'
The two men were still working together the following week, and once again George started on time and Ted was late. On payday there was a repeat of the argument. Mr Rogers was aware of the man's lateness and had docked his wages once more.
Once again he demanded an explanation, and once again he was told that it had been Miles's boy who saw him begin an hour late.
George and Ted were still working together the following week in a field well away from the farm. They both arrived on time and began hoeing adjacent rows of beet. They paused to rest their aching backs and straightened up.
'George!' Ted said. 'Oo is that there Miles's boy? Do you know 'im?'
'No, Ted. I don't know 'im.' George said.
'I reckon I do!' Ted announced.
'You do? Oo is 'e, then?'
Ted brought his hoe down sharply across George's shoulders, making his knees buckle. 'It's you, you b r!' He said.
Mr Rogers was approached by three boys, school leavers, all twelve years old. Caps in hand, they asked politely if he could offer them a job on the farm.
Mr Rogers eyed them suspiciously. 'No. Not howsomever, that I can't. That I can't. What next, eh? What next? Three boys, Hu.'
The boys stared at him, somewhat crestfallen.
'No man can work three boys.' He went on. 'Boys play about too much. What I say is: "One boy's - one boy. Two boys is half a boy. Three boys is no boy at all." That's no good to me. Now you run along.'
The boys turned away. The bigger boy felt Mr Rogers restraining hand on his shoulder. 'Hub, thub, thub, my boy. You can have a job. Start Monday, six o'clock sharp. One and ten-pence a week.'
Around 1936 I stood, a small boy, with my mother, in Stony Stratford, waiting for the bus to Deanshanger, near the Co-op bus stop. While waiting, we watched a group of builders men on the opposite side of the road who had been busy converting the old school into a new pub, to be called "The Plough". The work was almost finished and I watched, fascinated, while the men hauled on pulley blocks, lifting up a genuine, single furrow, horse drawn plough, to be used as the inn sign on top of a sturdy timber cross post.
The specially prepared plough gleamed silver and black, and as it settled into its resting place it looked a treat.
Mother pointed to it. 'Do you see that plough?' She said, 'That is the last plough ever made at the Roberts Ironworks at Deanshanger!'
Wonder of wonders - it is still there today. Wouldn't it be nice to bring it home to Deanshanger and give it pride of place in a public area?
I must mention a game once very popular with Deanshanger children. It was played in the street, but as traffic increased over the years it became impossible.
Tip-tap was a game introduced to us by canal-boat children, who only had the tow-path to play on, and couldn't use a ball because it kept rolling into the water.
The only equipment needed was two builders bricks and an old broom handle. Eight inches or so of the handle was cut off and each end of the short piece was cut to a taper with a shut-knife. The two bricks were placed side by side with about a two inch gap between them. The tip-tap was placed across the bricks and the game began with it being struck along road. If it was caught by a player, the boy was out. If it was not caught he went on to hit the tip-tap on the tapered end with the stick, it would jump in the air and he would attempt to hit it further. It was a marvellous game. Any number of boys and girls could play. They could divide into teams or play as individuals. I have seen as many as thirty children playing together in the Puxley Road, and nearly as many adults standing watching at their garden gates along the road! I won't explain the rules here, but I shall be pleased to write them down if anyone is interested.
Deanshanger feast is the first Sunday after October 11th. If the 11th. is a Sunday, then Deanshanger Feast is on the 11th.
This derivation is from "Old Michaelmas". Before the change-over from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, Michaelmas was moved to the 29th. September. Deanshanger, in common with many other villages, opted to keep to the old calendar, which suggests that Deanshanger Feast is a very ancient one.
These days the actual celebration of the feast is sandwiched between the two weekends of Buckingham Fair, when the town of Buckingham has, by law, to be cleared in the interval, it suits them to come to Deanshanger.
The Millenium year is here, and with almost all traces of the world renowned ironworks and the subsequent Oxide Works on the site erased for ever, it is time to draw a line under the old Deanshanger and look forward to the new. Let us hope that people with foresight will take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the tremendous new development going on in the village to make it a much more pleasant and desirable place to live.
We have lived to see the end of dirty, yellow rooftops and walls, discoloured vegetables and crops, the noise and smoke of the last sixty years. Let us also hope that the centre of the village, the old Home Farm, which has been a rat infested dump for the last half century, will at last be given back to the people to be made something of for all to enjoy.
We should not forget the old Deanshanger. We should not forget the old characters who made it with their toil and sweat. We should not forget the proud men who made the renowned "Roberts" elevators, ploughs, pumps, rams and many other products, and sent them all over the world for three quarters of a century. We should not let that all be forgotten, their only memorial a rusting iron plate in a remote farmyard with "E.&H.Roberts, Ironworks. Deanshanger."
This document is by kind permission of Mr W.H.Foddy