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Recollections of visits to Swerford in the 1950s

Northvale Swerford

Gill Stroud now living in Nottingham recalls visits she made as a child in the 1950s to relatives who lived in Northvale Swerford.

Nellie (Helen Osborne), Polly, and Tom (Thomas Henry Clay) sitting on the wall at the front of Northvale.

As a child in the 1950s we visited my two great aunts who lived in the family home- Northvale - in Swerford - twice a year. Having no car the family travelled by bus from our home in Oxford to Chipping Norton and then took a hired car from 'Chippy' to Swerford. This, as can be imagined was quite a trek. We went with my grandfather, Thomas Henry Clay whom we called 'Old Dad', my mother and two of her sisters. My cousin who was two years younger than me also came so you can imagine that all this was a real adventure for us. We must have started fairly early in the morning as I remember we always arrived by mid morning. I also remember that it always seemed to rain in Chipping Norton but was fine by the time we arrived in Swerford.

The house was double-fronted and after initial greetings we were allowed to sit on the chaise longue while we had a drink of orange juice and the grownups had a cup of tea. I remember this room being dark with the Aspidistra and lace curtains which seemed to block out the light. The black-leaded fireplace added to the general gloom. This was also where the family ate so that there was a large table and chairs around which we gathered for meals. The room across the hall was by contrast of extreme interest to us as children. It seemed light and airy although it must have been fairly cluttered. There was an ancient harpsichord which we were allowed to 'play' only under supervision. In this room were many ornaments and knick-knacks including a porcelain house with a chimney designed to burn sweet-smelling herbs. My cousin was later given this. There was also a bookcase with many treasures which housed the Family Bible, prayer books, and copies of the Boy's Own Annual with articles and memorials of World War 1. These proved fascinating to us. There was a complete set of encyclopaedias from which my great grandfather, Thomas Clay had gained a great deal of his education and from which he had learned to read.

I remember that there seemed to us to be a wide staircase and a wonderful landing with banisters on three sides where my cousin and I would play if we weren't allowed out. I remember nothing of the bedrooms which must have been places 'out of bounds' to us children.

Downstairs at the back of the house was a large kitchen with a deep stone sink and a black-leaded range for cooking. Standing on the range was a large black kettle steaming away along with pots and pans. I also remember a large white bucket in which the water from the well was poured and allowed to 'settle' overnight. The sediment and impurities thus sank to the bottom and the water became drinkable. Whether this had to be boiled first I cannot remember.

Lunch would often be ham with vegetables straight from the cottage garden at the back - or was it to the side of the house? We always had milk pudding which I especially remember because to this day I cannot bear milk puddings made with egg. This was usually semolina sweetened with dates or sultanas. Never jam or sugar. Of course we had to eat every last mouthful before being allowed to escape into the garden.

Lurking at the bottom of the garden was the outhouse which housed the privy. This was to be avoided if at all possible. It consisted of three separate wooden seats suitable for Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear and in summer smelt a bit like I imagine a bear pit to smell. This was emptied by a man who went by the name of 'The King of Swerford' who also collected items of household waste suitable for pig swill. He was, of course, an essential asset to the village which at the time did not have the luxury of mains drainage, a water supply or a rubbish collection. We would often scale the low wall alongside the outhouse to fertilise the field behind instead of entering the dreaded building. Our elders and betters were, of course, oblivious to what we were doing. We also enjoyed playing in the field which I believe had a mound or small hill and there were certainly loose boulders and trees.

When the hire car came to pick us up in time to catch the Chipping Norton-Oxford bus we were always sorry to leave as we dutifully kissed the Aunts goodbye until the next visit scheduled in the autumn.

Gill Stroud 24.06.08

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