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Childhood Memories From The Last Century

Dorothy Waters

My earliest childhood memory is a very hazy recollection of being jostled in a pushchair down Peril (Purwell) lane. I was being pushed by Evelyn Bushnell, our neighbour’s granddaughter and a fox ran across the lane in front of us, hence the headlong flight. Dad worked for Mr. Bill Perrin at Purwell Farm and then at Manor Farm, our tied cottage for Purwell being the first one on the corner of Purwell Lane and for Manor Farm the first one in the row of three by the Red Lion. All the cottages were thatched and some have since been combined to make larger houses. Our neighbours were the Floyds, Newmans and Bushnells. Mrs. Bushnell had a large family and Dad used to talk of when they played football on the green, the Bushnells versus the rest of the village. At that time there were eleven farms in and around the village which provided employment and homes for quite a lot of people.

I was born in 1932 in the new Maternity Home at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Walton Street and was the last of a batch of about ten babies in the village in the space of eight months. Susan Partridge was the last but one and her father, Hubert Partridge, was the only person in the village with a car. Although he quite willingly took the expectant mums into hospital he confided to my mother years later that he always had a secret dread that someone would produce in his car! The young people who wanted to go to Oxford used to walk along the Yarnton Road and then along the railway line to Yarnton Station to get the train. Anyone wishing to travel between villages had to walk or cycle.

There was a house building boom in the mid- thirties and we had to leave the tied cottage when Dad decided to take up bricklaying. We lived at Woodstock for a few months, and all I can recall of that is breaking my leg when I slipped on an icy path. We then moved to Little Blenheim in Yarnton and I started school for a term at Yarnton. Unfortunately the building trade was seasonal and money was very short so Dad obtained a job on the Maintenance at the Osberton Radiators section of Morris Motors, where he worked for over thirty years.

We moved back to Cassington, to a flat in Bell Lane, then known as Union Terrace. It had also been known previously as Workhouse Row. Apparently I was quite put out to find I had to use a slate and chalk at Cassington School, as they had pens and paper at Yarnton! Miss Beale was strict and leaving your seat or chattering was rewarded with a clip round the ear. The Infant room was known as “The Little Room” and the Junior room “The Big Room”. There was a coke burning Tortoise stove in each room and the warmest place to sit was in the front row. I went into the Big Room the same year that Mrs. Holmes came to the school and I consider myself very fortunate to have been taught by her. She had 7-11 year olds in the same room and while she taught one section the others worked quietly. I never saw Mrs. Holmes lift a hand to anyone and she very seldom raised her voice. The school bell was rung and a whistle was used to call us into line in teams before marching into school.

When inside hands and nails were inspected and a chart filled in for cleanliness and punctuality. When it was walnutting time hands were stained and many a point was lost. Came the war and the A.R.P. used whistles, and bells were to be rung in the event of invasion, so Mrs. Holmes clapped her hands and called out to gain attention. We were drilled in sliding under our desks in the event of an air attack. When we were outside a call of “bombers” had us lying face down with our hands behind our heads.

Every Monday morning we had to remember to take 2½d to pay for our mid morning milk. Mr. Perrin brought over crates of ⅓ pint bottles. We drank it through straws and we used to take the cardboard tops home to use for making woollen balls to hang on babies’ prams or for kittens to play with. The tops were also strung across gardens as bird scarers. Thursday was library day. The County Library books were stored in wooden boxes in the Big Room and after school we would put out the books and families came in to choose books. Mrs. Holmes kept the records. It is difficult to visualise now the fact that books were in very short supply and were something of a luxury. The last period on Friday afternoon was story time and Mrs. Holmes would read to us. Whatever the critics say now we thought Enid Blyton’s stories of her daughters and her dog Bobs were great. However, we also heard Black Beauty and Heidi and other such tales.

We had religious instruction (Scripture) every day and the vicar, the Revd. Thomas Brancker, used to come to the school every week to talk to us about what we had learned. We went to church on some saints’ days but on Maundy Thursday and Ascension Day we were allowed home after the service. Once a year a School Inspector came to test us and the winner had the Bishop’s Prize, which was a New Testament Bible, and the two runners up had certificates. I managed to salvage my bible, albeit water damaged, from a pile of books thrown out after there was a fire at Witney Grammar School at the end of 1945.

I recall my granny saying “The Devil finds work for idle hands”, but strange as it may seem to today’s children, we were very seldom idle and certainly never bored. We used to knit, embroider, and make yards of French knitting on a cotton reel with tintacks round the top and a small knitting needle. We had our own short skipping ropes and we also had long ones, held by two people. We ran in, skipped, and ran out while the rope was twirling (if you were lucky). If you missed a turn or stopped the rope you were out till the process started again. There were team games such as What’s the time Mr. Wolf, The Big Ship Sails through the Alley-Alley-Oh, Oranges and Lemons and tag. Other pastimes came and went every so often such as bowling hoops, whip and top, hopscotch and marbles. We had a garage under our flat and when it was wet I was allowed to have my friends in there amongst the potatoes, onions, apples, and bicycles etc. which were stored in there. We played with dolls, or a blackboard and chalks or listened to a selection of small records on a hand-wound gramophone. The speed varied, as did the pitch, according to whether it had just been wound up or it was running down. The Charles Penrose recording of “The Laughing Policeman” was always a great favourite.

The Waters boys next door used to play cricket using the down pipe from the gutter of the flat as the wicket. One day Mum and I were watching with the window open and a ball came sailing through and smashed the glass on a large picture of Nelson on The Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar belonging to Dad. We cleared up the mess and it was years before Dad discovered the glass was missing.


In summer we walked along the railway line to the “Paddling Pool” by the Black Bridge near Cassington Mill. More experienced swimmers went to “The Corner” which was where the Evenlode joined the Thames. Sometimes when Pop Waters was haymaking in the meadows near the river we would get a ride in the horse drawn wagon. Coming back we’d sit on top of the sweet smelling hay. In winter Smith’s Pit, now known as Marlborough Pool, quite often froze over enough to skate on it and older more daring boys used to sit on trays and saucepans and slide down the bank and across the ice. There were tragedies occasionally. The Willis family lived in a cottage at Cassington Mill and the eldest boy, Douglas, was drowned in the river. Later on a freckle faced, happy little evacuee boy called Donald Walsh, Rose Winstone’s young brother, fell through the ice in Tuckwell’s pit in Bell Lane. Mr. Henry Minn made a valiant attempt to rescue him by putting a ladder across the ice, but he was too late.

The gravel pits provided employment for a number of village men for several years. Before the war while Tuckwells were still excavating manually behind the Bell in Bell Lane the pit was dry. We had a huge bonfire and fireworks over there amongst the heaps of gravel. The moon shone making shadows and craters look like pictures we have since seen from the moon. Someone threw a firework on the bonfire and it exploded and hit me on the forehead. Dad thought he knew who did it (but it was vigorously denied by he who shall remain nameless!)

As time went on the excavating was mechanised and went below the water table. Being a public footpath Acrey Path remained, but it was marooned between deep water which came right up behind the Bell and the grass verge in Bell Lane. The large gates to the pits were locked at nights and a high corrugated fence with spikes on top was erected, known as “the tins”. One of the strictly forbidden games was to dig out under the tins and go under, limbo style. However, children will be children and on one occasion we placed a 6ft plank from the bank to a rocky island and ran backwards and forwards over it. Unfortunately, I fell in but I managed to scramble out and ran home and up the stairs with water squelching from my shoes and dripping everywhere. I don’t recall being punished, but I certainly didn’t get any sympathy. One of the smaller pieces of rock was dragged out of the pit by a steam engine and it still stands by the gate post opposite the flat which is now Fairview. In later years after the pit closed I actually learned to swim between islands about fifty yards from there.

The Williams and Stratford families lived at Worton and they used to have to walk to school via the Acrey Path. Robin and Jean Bird walked from Wharf Farm and had to cross the A40 which had been opened in 1933. Their grandfather was killed there, as was Mr. Harris the butcher from Eynsham. We used to go to school via the Little Lane (the Yarnton Road was the Big Lane). There was a stone wall, a continuation of the one which still runs along the Conce Road (Church Walk). We used to climb up by the end of the plum hedge round Daddy Lay’s field (St. Peter’s Close) and run along the top of the wall when there was no- one to stop us! One of the reasons for doing so was because Miss Hutchins at the Post Office on the corner of Little Lane had a grey and white Border collie type dog called Kelpie. It had one brown eye and one blue one, was kept on a long chain which just stretched to the edge of the lane, and it used to run out and bark as we went by. I was terrified of it. I still do a side step when I go past there, but it’s to avoid Dr. Hughes’ ivy which just creeps!

There was a bar between the two posts at the corner of the Post Office and that was a place for swinging over and over. Years later my daughter, Linda, fell on her head there doing the same thing. She collected two black eyes for her efforts. It was actually more fun to swing over the rail over Battimer ditch because it was a bit more dangerous. The only time I did misjudge was over the stream in the village. Pop Waters cultivated the land where the Elms Road Estate now stands and he saw me land knee deep in the water and ‘split’ on me to Mum.

On Sundays we went to Sunday school at the Methodist Chapel. This was taken by Lily Waters, known to everyone as Auntie Lily. She used to play a treadle harmonium and we sang all the Redemption hymns with great gusto. I am fortunate enough to have her hymn music books, one of which is inscribed “Lillian May Waters, from Mrs. Perrin. September 1924.” Harvest festival at the chapel was one of the highlights of the year. There were coat pegs all around the walls and they were intertwined with asparagus fern, dahlias, chrysanths, bunches of carrots, onions and beetroots and there were vegetables stacked high for auction. Grandma Waters used to make little cottage loaves specially us children and we went along clutching our pennies. It was magical and the smell of chrysanths and dahlias still reminds me of it.

During the week Auntie Lily used to deliver milk round the village from a three gallon container on the handlebars of her bicycle. The one pint and half pint measures hung over the rail on the inside of the lidded container. If you wanted milk in the afternoon you had to walk to the dairy at the Laurels, where the Waters family lived, after Pop Waters had brought the afternoon milk from the farm. We had cans with lids and handles and it was quite a challenge to swing the cans over one’s head without spilling the milk. Sometimes it was a treat to get beestings, locally known as cherry curds. This was usually the second and third milking mixed after the birth of a calf and with a little sugar and nutmeg this made a delicious pudding similar to an egg custard.

Pop Waters grew potatoes in the fields over Acrey and in autumn the women from the village would go potato picking. There used to be a lot of hilarity as well as hard work. Pop had a dry sense of humour, but he came in for a lot of stick himself when only half his work force from the previous year turned up. Mrs. Elger, Mrs. Hart, Mrs. Green and Mrs. Perrin had all had babies. I believe Mrs. Newport and Mrs. French were also included in this group.

Mum worked for several years for Mrs. Wilkins at Jericho Farm so I spent most of my school holidays down there. Mr. Wilkins had fallen from an apple tree and injured his back and he was only able to walk slowly with two sticks. He used to drive around the village in a pony and trap. John Wilkins was two years older than me and when he wasn’t tormenting me he was getting into scrapes, with me copying every move. I once had to come home in John’s clothes when I fell in muddy Battimer stream which I wasn’t quite big enough to jump. On another occasion we climbed the stone steps to the granary (no safety rail), from there up the dairy roof and slid down the roof on to the top granary step. There was no denying it because I tore holes in my knickers and petticoat and was ‘tanned’ soundly through the holes. Another time we went up the same steps into the granary and looked down through the mangers and stalls below to where a calf was being born. I did draw the line at crawling through ‘dens’ made out of rick pegs stuck in the side of a rick and covered all over with hay, I never did like confined spaces. One rather grisly episode was when a yellow two seater training plane crashed in the field just beyond where Phil and Sandra Delafield’s bungalow stands in Burleigh Road. It was the day before the war started and Derek Waters actually saw it come down. He was working at Acrey Farm with his father and he had to attend the Inquest. Two airmen were killed and are buried in Cassington Cemetery. Being inquisitive children John and I went to the site of the crash shortly afterwards and collected some bits of debris which were left there. We were both severely reprimanded, but it wasn’t until some time later that Mum told me we had picked up a shoe which contained a foot!

After the A40 came through it was only a matter of time before Cassington Halt was erected across the road, a little wooden shelter with a flight of wooden steps running down from the top of the bridge. This prompted the village people to make a collection to widen Horsemere Lane, which was a farm track down to the river from the village. We have the subscription list giving names and amount of subscribers, the highest being one guinea and the lowest 6d. The average amount was 2/6d, and bearing in mind that the average wage was about 25 shillings a week this was quite a lot of money. The men from the village built the lane themselves.

This opened up the village considerably and there was a reasonably good train service each day. As the A40 became busier the Halt was replaced by another one on the village side of the road with a concrete platform and oil lamps. The last passenger off at night was often asked to put out the lights. The Oxford station announcer used to say “Yarnton Halt, Cassington Halt etc. …all stations to Fairford, in the bay on the left. Will passengers for Cassington Halt please travel at the front of the train.” This was because the platform was only the length of one carriage and you had a big drop if you were at the back of the train. The bridge prevented the driver from seeing the guard if he went too far forward. Going to Oxford the guard would look along the path and Horsemere Lane and if he could see anyone coming he’d wait before waving his green flag. Tickets were obtained at Yarnton from Mr. Carter, the station master who always reminded me of Will Hay in “Oh, Mr. Porter”. If you or he had no change and you were coming back while he was still on duty he’d say “Pay me when you come back”. Mrs. Nell Hatwell never had this problem as she always had lots of pennies She was a member of the Fairground family and she kept the Roll-a-Penny stall or Coconut Shy at the fairs.

Farmers still continued to use Horsemere Lane to take cattle down to pastures by the river. One night Dad came home from work and called upstairs, “Bring me a knife”. Mother replied, “What do you want a knife for?” Back came the exasperated, “Bring me a knife!” He was standing covered from head to toe in fresh green cow “muck”. He had skidded, fallen off his bicycle and slid across the A40 like a footballer celebrating a goal. To say he wasn’t celebrating would have been a slight understatement.


Mr. Ernie Pancott kept The Bell and had a little shop in one room. Later he had an extension built for the shop behind the pub. He used to roll pieces of greaseproof paper round his hand and twist the bottom. We would buy 1/2d worth of sweets such as chocolate buttons with hundreds and thousands stuck on them, aniseed balls, barley sugars, humbugs, jelly babies and wine gums. You could also get liquorice sticks, sweet cigarettes, sweet tobacco, sherbet fountains with a liquorice tube and triangular sherbet dabs with a lolly stick inside.

Mr. Pancott sold paraffin for cooking, lighting and heating and he also charged accumulators to use with battery operated wirelesses. I was always warned not to spill the acid in the accumulator when I carried it, but the holes burned in socks, skirts and coats bore witness to how carefully I listened. The programmes I remember were Children’s Hour with Uncle Mac, Doris Gamble and Romany, In Town Tonight, Monday Night at Eight, and ITMA. The Ovaltinies were on Radio Luxemburg which was always accompanied by lots of crackling and oscillating.

When the war started Mr. Pancott was Senior Air Raid Warden and eventually had a manually operated siren on the side of The Bell. However, the very first time there was an air raid warning he went round the village sounding a klaxon horn as no other arrangements had been made. It was early one Saturday morning and Mum hauled me out of bed and shoved a gas mask on me, which promptly steamed up where I was crying. She took me next door to Mrs. Waters who reassured her that it was not a gas warning.

Mr. Pancott made his grocery deliveries in a little green van with his initials on the side. He quite frequently had to rub out the letters TW chalked in front of the ERP. We used to sit in the back of the van with the doors open and go round the village collecting waste paper for the war effort. One day we had been down to Reynolds Farm and were coming back between the Chequers and Mr. Arthur Simpson’s barn when we went through a large pothole and were spilled out on to the road. We collected a few cuts and bruises as well as paper that day. The paper was stored in the coach house at the vicarage until it could be collected.

The other shop in the village was at the Post Office which was kept by two sisters, Miss Hutchins and Mrs. Ferrett. Mary Elliott (Jones) also lived and worked there later. There was a hinged counter on the sweet and grocery side and wire mesh on the post office side. There was a black telephone with a separate earpiece on the wall just inside the door. You turned the handle and waited for the operator to answer. She was based at Eynsham and she always knew any number you needed.

There were a several travelling tradespeople who came round the village. Mr. Walford, the baker from Bladon delivered bread. Mr. Strong of Strong & Morris, Ladies and Gents Outfitters from Woodstock came round once a fortnight and “Fishy” Pitts from Woodstock delivered fresh fish once a week. In later years Fred Jones took over the round. Reg. Haines came round on Sundays and one day in the week selling sweets, cigarettes and groceries.

During the war Mum and I used to cycle into Summertown on a Saturday morning to get our meat ration, 1/- (one shilling) worth of fresh meat and 2d. (two pence or tuppence) worth of corned beef each. We would queue at Oliver & Gurdens Bakery for cakes. Bread and cakes were not officially rationed until just after the war, but everyone was allowed so much each, so Mum would give me the money beforehand and we’d get two lots. Mrs. Alice Bowerman in the Eynsham Road ran a “Glad & Sorry” club (glad to have it and sorry to pay for it). You ordered from a catalogue every twenty weeks and then paid 1/- in the pound every week. This was a very great help when money was short.

When the war started most of the men went in the forces. Dad’s work was considered to be essential war work because he was building furnaces and dipping pits for the manufacture and repair of plane and tank radiators. He worked 18 months without a day off and also had to stop some nights on ARP and fire watching duty at the factory. Years later when I worked for the Service Manager at Morris Radiators he told me that production had dropped considerably when the men were working non-stop. When they were given Saturday afternoon and Sundays off production immediately rose.

Three young men from the village were killed in action - Des Putt, Tom Peacock and “Gooseberry” Simpson. The village itself was unscathed. A stick of incendiaries dropped across the fields between Cassington and Bladon, the last one falling in the village. Mrs. Cashmore lived in a colonial style wooden bungalow surrounded by a high hedge and about half an acre of trees and shrubs, situated between where Mavis and Ray Bowerman now live in the Eynsham Road and the A40. The bomb hit the corner of the bungalow bounced over the hedge, rolled down a slope and burned out harmlessly in the field beyond. On another occasion a high explosive bomb was dropped in a field on the outskirts of Bladon. We heard it, but when the baker from Bladon came round he told us an evacuee boy in the nearest house slept through it with his bed littered with glass and plaster.

One Sunday afternoon in November, 1940, we heard several loud explosions and ran to the window in time to see a low flying German Junkers 88 with its marking and the pilot clearly visible. Apparently he had bombed Campsfield Aerodrome (Kidlington) where several airmen were killed and injured, and we were told that he had machine gunned a cyclist along the A40, unsuccessfully fortunately.

There were posts with wires strung across the A40 to prevent planes landing on the road. There was also a concrete wall, camouflaged and with what looked like a road winding away in the distance painted on it, situated on the side of the road this side of the Woodstock Road roundabout. I can’t see what good it did, as the spires of Oxford would have been much more easily seen from the air than that wall! We had the Local Defence Volunteers in the village, known as the Look, Duck and Vanish until Winston Churchill renamed them “The Home Guard”. The village “fortifications” consisted of a huge tree trunk with barbed wire round it at the side of the Yarnton Road just outside the village. On the opposite side there was a rickety old farm wagon which probably would have fallen to pieces if it had been moved. It certainly wouldn’t have stopped a tank. Someone painted in large letters on the side “ENGLAND’S LAST HOPE”

We had 40 evacuees at the beginning of the war but most of them went home after a short time. Florence (Nancy) Cash stayed with Mr. & Mrs. Hale until 1945 but Ethel Bunyan stayed on with Mr.& Mrs. Aubrey Quainton until she married and moved to Eynsham. Mr. & Mrs. Walsh also stayed in a cottage requisitioned by the council at The Court by the lower green and their daughter, Rosie, married Owen Jones, a local man. There was another evacuee called Kathy Brown who came to stay with Mr. & Mrs. Harry Floyd, and we used to play together with Nancy Cash. We were in the field where Grange Farm bungalow now stands and we found a large goose or turkey egg. We used it as a ball, throwing from one to the other. It broke with a loud ‘pop’ when I caught it. It was addled and it sprayed all over me. I have always said I have a strong stomach, but on that occasion I heaved with every step all the way home.

In 1943 Dad bought The Court. Three cottages were occupied and two were condemned. He had hoped he could renovate the two unoccupied ones, but the council refused a building licence, so he did the spare gardens and kept pigs, chickens and rabbits there to supplement our rations. We had to forfeit our bacon and egg ration in order to get meal to feed them. Mr. Bert Edgington was our local road sweeper but he also kept the Ministry of Food records for meal allowances and killed and cut up the pigs for us. Mum had a lead salting trough and she used to cure the bacon. Tom Hedges supplied the meal from Cassington Mill. Morris Radiators were building a factory in Llanelli at that time and Dad was working there for several weeks on end, so Mum dug and picked up over a ton of potatoes as well as feeding the animals. We also had fruit which she bottled in Kilner jars and we forfeited our jam ration in exchange for sugar for jam making.


Up until the war Cassington Feast was quite a big occasion. On the Sunday friends and relatives from other villages would meet in the village, including several old age pensioners in their uniforms from Goring Heath Alms Houses. (The Allnut Trust is associated with both Goring Heath and Cassington Alms Houses). A Methodist chapel service was held in the afternoon on the lower green and the boys would take pews from the chapel up to the village green in readiness for an open air church service in the evening. It was customary to have the first new vegetables from the garden by Cassington Feast Sunday. It was a particularly good season if they were ready by Bladon Feast, which is two or three weeks before Cassington. The show people would start to draw in on the Sunday and we had a fair on Monday and Tuesday, which was always well attended. I understand that until the mid thirties steam engines were used to bring in the equipment, but I only remember the diesel ones. They brought galloping horses, roll-a-penny and coconut shy and the ‘overflow’ was erected in Mr. Mobey’s field, which is where the school now stands. At the end of the war when Hatwells erected their galloping horses in their own field prior to going back in business, Buller Hatwell invited villagers to have free rides.

In 1943 I went to Witney Grammar School. Those who went to Gosford Hill School had a school bus from the village, but the few of us who went to Witney had to cycle to Eynsham and get a bus to Witney. In winter it was dark when we started out in the morning and once where everyone else had ‘flu I had to go on my own and was frightened when a ghostly shape appeared beside me. It was a barn own and it glided alongside me for some distance. On that occasion I had the consolation prize, because I eventually went down with ‘flu the week the end of term exams were held. On another occasion Monica French and her brother Edward were with us. Edward was younger and went to Miss Swan’s school in Eynsham. He rode a small bicycle and we looked round to see him some way back, dragging his bicycle out of the ditch. Sadly, shortly afterwards Edward became another victim of the crossing on the A40 when his grandfather, Mr. Reg Collett of Reynolds Farm, was involved in a car crash and Edward was killed instantly.

Life at Witney Grammar School was very different. We were all called by our surnames and although it was a mixed school girls and boys had to use separate entrances. The American G.I.s were stationed in the Church Hall and Masonic Hall in Witney and just as they were about to relinquish use at the end of 1945 there was a fire in what was known as the New Building at the school. The authorities were very helpful in vacating the Halls so we could use them as temporary schoolrooms while the fire damage was being repaired.

By this time most of my friends in the village had left school and started work. They were allowed to leave school at the end of the term in which they were 14. Some girls worked for Sobrani Cigarettes in Eynsham and some at Wolsey Hall Correspondence College in Banbury Road, Oxford, and they used to cycle together in groups. Boys quite often did apprenticeships to builders, carpenters, plumbers etc., or as toolmakers at the factory. I missed the companionship during school holidays and pleaded with my father to let me leave school, but of course he refused

There were dances (sixpenny hops) held every Saturday night in the village Hall. We did the Palais Glide, the Hokey Cokey, and Sylvia Cox (Waters) taught me to waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. We danced to records by Victor Sylvester and his Ballroom Orchestra. French chalk was scattered on the floor and a spotlight picked out a revolving spherical faceted mirror which was made and installed by Buller Hatwell (definitely preferable to today’s disco lights). There were two Tortoise stoves, one of which always smoked and the windows on that side had to be opened, so we would crowd round the other one. The places where the panelling was put in when they were moved could be seen up until the old Village Hall was demolished in 2000. The cloakrooms were just that – for coats. The Gents toilet was a corrugated enclosure outside to the left and the Ladies was one bucket lavatory at the back on the left. There was no water and although there was a kitchen there was no cooker in it. We were allowed to stay until the pubs turned out and one of the fathers, usually George Cox or Wilf Newport, would come to take us home just before 10 o’clock. Mrs. Very Putt and Mrs. Phoebe Booker never missed attending. They danced together, tall Mrs. Putt taking the lead.

I always took the club money to Mrs. Bowerman every week and she liked to talk about her sons Arthur and Jesse who were in the forces. There was great excitement when they met up with each other and one of the Swadlings from Yarnton while they were in Egypt. Arthur had found out where Jesse was and made the journey to meet him in Alexandria.

The end of the war came and on VE Day we had an enormous bonfire on the ground which is now the village hall car park. Everyone linked arms and went all round the village laughing and singing. Dad didn’t normally drink but he went in all three pubs. Mother belonged to the generation when women didn’t go in pubs and I was still at school so we waited outside while Dad had a celebratory half a pint in each one. We went back to the bonfire and skipped round it and danced till the flames died down.

The men were demobbed and Derek Waters married and brought Kay back to the village. When Derek’s mother died suddenly in 1946 they came to Acrey View, next door to us. Kay had lived in Romford and worked in The City during the Blitz and she was what my mother called a “live wire”. We immediately became firm friends and Kay was my advocate with my parents on many occasions. When we went on a W.I. trip to see the lights of London Kay was highly amused at the way we ambled up to buses, expecting them to wait as they did in the country.

Around that time someone started bringing film shows to the village hall every Wednesday night. We took our own cushions to put on the hard chairs and we saw all the old films such as the Marx Brothers, Rose Marie, The Great Waltz, The Cry of the Werewolf, Making Whoopee, Sleepytime Gal and many more. The film broke down several times a night amid catcalls and good natured remarks from the audience.

On Sundays a crowd of a dozen or more used to cycle to Kidlington to see more up-to-date films at The Sterling Cinema. We left bicycles outside with lights, pumps, and carriers with waterproofs attached and nothing was ever stolen. One night when Gone with the Wind was showing Kay didn’t want to go as she had already seen it so Derek cycled with me. It was a wet, windy night but we had the wind behind us going so it wasn’t too bad. Coming back it poured and the wind was against us. The dynamo on my bicycle consisted of a wheel which revolved on the back wheel tyre making it more difficult to push the pedals round and my cape acted like a sail in the opposite direction. I watched Derek’s rear light disappearing in the distance and struggled to keep up – one of the more painful memories, of which Derek was blissfully unaware at the time.

The village cricket field was Little Battimer, in the Yarnton Road opposite Jericho Farm. There was a series of small fields surrounded by hedges which have since disappeared due to intensive farming. Cricket matches with other villages were held on Sunday afternoons and they were always well attended by villagers. There was a small, thatched, wooden shed in the corner where the grass cutting and marking equipment was kept. The cricket pitch was mown and fenced off but cattle grazed in the rest of the field during the week. This sometimes led to some colourful fielding! There was originally a football pitch there but that was later transferred to a field opposite Wharf Farm in Eynsham Road. Just after the war the village had a very

successful football team. I remember going to a couple of finals when Cassington won trophies, one at the White City Ground in Oxford and the other at Jackdaw Lane off the Iffley Road. One of them was against the Civil Defence Youth Club which I later joined when I left school.

In 1947 we had a very bad winter. When the blizzard started we were sent home from school and as the school heating system was out of action we were unable to return for three weeks. Horsemere Lane was impassable for weeks and the intense cold went on for about six weeks. As coal was rationed we had only one fire going, so bedroom windows were continually frosted. The only concession I had was a small oil stove for a few minutes to wash and dress by in my bedroom. There were no bathrooms or mains water and chamber pots and washing water jugs had ice on them in the bedrooms.

Immediately after that there were floods everywhere. We had to cycle through water along the Eynsham Road just past Wharf Farm. The following summer was long, hot and dry. Sometimes when Susan Partridge and I cycled home up the bridge over the Evenlode by Cassington Mill a heat haze would rise from the brow of the hill making The Chequers appear to wobble (and we hadn’t touched a drop!)

In 1947 the council houses in Elms Road were started and there were many changes afoot. In 1948 families moved into Elms Road, newlyweds renovated and moved into cottages, Mr. and Mrs. Walsh were rehoused by the council and the cottage was de- requisitioned so we moved into The Court – and I left school.

In the next few years the mains water came in the village, farms and farm land were sold for development, then came mains drainage and gas, the Bell Lane gravel pits were reclaimed, but that’s another story.


By Dorothy Waters

The Revd. Thomas Brancker was a tall thin man with a grey pointed beard and he always wore a cassock, which he would hitch up at the waist when he rode his bicycle. He was a very imposing figure, which made it all the more a source of merriment when he rode through the village one day with a new lavatory bucket dangling from his handlebars. One day when he was cycling to Coombe to hold a funeral service he either forgot to turn at the bottom of Swan Hill going out of Hanborough, or his brakes failed, because he hit the bridge and was catapulted over into the stream. He picked himself up and continued on his way.

In the publication “Changing Faces of Yarnton, Begbroke and Cassington” one picture outside the church is of three “unknown” ladies and a nun. They were in fact the Revd. Brancker’s three housemaids, Olive, Daisy and Lily. They always went to the early service and then returned to the vicarage to prepare lunch. This produced an obvious retort from my Mum when, having told him she liked a lie in on a Sunday, the vicar suggested she should go to the later service and forgo cooking a Sunday lunch.

Mr. Brancker was the local district councillor and in the mid 1940s he instigated the compulsory purchase from Miss Martindale of The Elms orchard for the new council houses. Pop (James) Waters and my Dad were very much opposed to this particular site being used. Pop rented it and cultivated it to supply the family market gardening round. My Dad’s main concern was that it was on a belt of clay and, knowing the way the rain water ran down from the hill beyond, he was afraid the houses would flood. Sure enough they did at first until some remedial work was done. Pop and Dad always referred to Elms Road as Brancker’s Folly. The vicar eventually lost his place on the council to Mr. Gillett Smith from Grange Cottage, who fought the election on the issue of getting mains water in the village. He won and the “City water” as it was known came in the early 1950s.

Our kitchen window at the flat overlooked a field with lots of elm trees along Bell Lane as far as the Chapel, and the stone wall was about 2 ft. higher than at present. There were also poplar trees round a pond just inside the gate which is our gateway. A track ran across the field to Mr. Mobey’s farm (Glebe Farm, now Foxwell Court) and was a back entrance to the vicarage quite frequently used by the vicar. One day I heard Mum making a scolding noise and banging the fastening to the window and heard her mutter, “Dirty old man, I hope he did it down his leg.” It appears the vicar had imagined himself well hidden in the trees inside the wall and had relieved himself against a tree in full view of Mum. I’m not sure which of the two was more shocked.

Mr. Mobey had two sisters, Flossie and Phoebe. Miss Phoebe as she was known used to go across the field every day to the farm to feed her chickens. Another brother, Teddy, was unable to walk and he sometimes wheeled himself around in a wheelchair and sometimes drove a donkey and trap. The donkey was kept in the field and would come to our window for scraps. The only disadvantage was he didn’t know when it was Sunday when Mum and Dad wanted a lie in. He would stand under the window and bray until something was thrown for him. I have learned only recently that the Waters boys next door were told off for making a noise early on a Sunday morning as well!


There was a thatched bull shed and a slurry pond where No. 10 Bell Close stands. Most farmers had such a shed and there was one in what is now the school field. What is known as the Dew Pond was originally where gravel was dug to build the Conce Road (Church Walk) and excess water from the road and slurry from the bull shed gradually filled it. There was a shed by the sign post opposite Acrey Farm just inside Burleigh Road and another at the top of the slope on the left up Burleigh Road. That particular sign post has always been known locally as the “andin” (handing) post

On the Yarnton road just past the turn to Worton there used to be tall trees both sides of the road and it was quite shady along there in summer. Sometimes when we went for walks or cycle rides to visit relatives in Yarnton there were gypsies with horses and wagons camping under the trees. They were Romanies and they used to come round the village selling home made pegs and would sometimes carry a can and ask for fresh water. We always felt a bit scared of them but I can’t recall them ever being any trouble, apart from a chicken going missing occasionally. In between the shaded parts on very hot days the tarmac on the road would blister and we would pop the bubbles with our fingers. The tar was removed from our fingers with butter or lard and sugar, often accompanied by a scolding from Mum.

We would go for walks in search of the beautifully scented violets which grew in the hedgerow by the cricket field, and white violets round by Acrey Farm. The ones in the Burleigh Road were not scented and these were known as “dog violets”. Primroses were to be found in Burleigh Woods, also bluebells. The best place for primroses was “The Batters” which was the stretch of railway line between Ranham Bridge, Burleigh Bridge and Hanborough. We were always warned to beware of the snakes there, though I personally never saw one. I now understand that adders were seen there quite frequently.

The fields at the side of the A40 which are now being excavated used to flood in winter and that was a good place to find kingcups (marsh marigolds), and on the opposite side of the A40 Yarnton Meadow the cowslips and burnets were gathered to make home made wine. There also used to be expeditions to pick dandelions from these meadows for wine. We knew where to find bee orchids and fritillaries, but even in those days we were told not to pick them because they were rare.

The girls liked to push out people’s babies. Betty Knight (Bowerman) took her young sisters , Elsie (Floyd) and Dawn (Bowerman) and Joan Elger took Malcolm. The first one I took out in a pushchair was a little toddler called Michael Hart. Mr. and Mrs. Hart had just come to the village and lived in Rose Cottage opposite Thames Mead Farm. Later I spent hours walking with Pat Green (Goodlake) in the pram. After Joan started work I sometimes had Malcolm. We had a large black cat which on one occasion gave him a nasty scratch. He retaliated by pushing it out of an upstairs window when it was asleep on the sill. I hauled it back in when I saw two black paws clinging to the window ledge. In later years a group of us walked with our own babies to the Infant Welfare Clinic in the Baptist Church Hall in Eynsham every fortnight. It was quite a social occasion.


When Dad worked on the farm he had a little terrier called Tip. She went to work with him every day until I was born, after which she stayed at home by the pram. As soon as I walked she went back to work with Dad. After he left the farm he used to go rabbit shooting on a Sunday morning. Tip would ride in a sack slung across Dad’s back with her head poking out of the top when he went off on his bicycle. One morning Dad returned without Tip’s head showing. Someone had fired a gun into a hedge when she was flushing out rabbits and she was killed. Dad was devastated and couldn’t bear to bury her so he took her to a taxidermist and had her stuffed, which seems a bit bizarre now. For years afterwards Tip gazed glassily across the ‘front room’, one front paw not quite touching the ground, and Dad never went shooting again.

During the war Dad started keeping rabbits for food, except for one rejoicing in the unlikely name of Josephine who was my pet, so he kept her for breeding. The meat was almost white, very like chicken and Mum made some marvellous rabbit pies and stews. One doe had a litter of 13 young, which was far more than she could feed. Dad would lift the babies out of the nest and bring them indoors to be fed with warm milk from a spoon and we reared every one of them. They eventually used to jump into the basket themselves and one dark night he arrived indoors to find he had the doe as well in the basket.

They were a cross between a Flemish Giant and a Belgian Hare. When there were fetes and flower shows in the orchard in Bell lane (The Tennis) we used to show them and I came across some cards for prize winners among some old photographs a while ago. Dog Shows were also held on these occasions. The flower and vegetable shows were always fiercely contested by the men and everything had to be ‘staged’ just so. The ladies entered the jam, bottled fruit, cake and pastry sections. For years Mrs. Tom Hedges won the best pastry award but she was none too pleased one year when my mother won it. We also had egg and spoon, sack, wheelbarrow and three legged races for the children and sometimes races for the mums as well!!

All the entertainment was homespun and was always much appreciated. The school children gave a concert once a year and during the war the proceeds were sent to the various government appeals. I still have the letter of thanks received for the donation of £11 to the Wings for Victory campaign. Several years running the Eynsham Boy Scouts put on some hilarious entertainment in aid of their funds. After the war the Women’s Institute put on shows, as did the British Legion. The W.I. Ladies also did excellent catering for functions such as weddings etc.

There was a large billiard table in the Village Hall, but I can’t recall ever seeing it used, except as a perch when the hall was crowded at dances or concerts, or as a table. My daughters belonged to the Youth Club in the 1960s and 70s and apparently it was played on then but it was eventually disposed of some time before the old hall was demolished.

Roy Bruce had an enthusiastic band of St. John’s Ambulance Cadets. There was a thriving Civil Defence Section who did hay box cookery and set up field kitchens. They were advised on what precautions to take in the event of atomic warfare, always assuming that our proximity to Harwell hadn’t already determined our fate!

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