My dad, Harold, was the eldest of 8 children, 3 boys and 5 girls. They lived at first in Hurrells Row, Harston. This house had only two bedrooms so it was a bit of a squash. Then they moved to High Street, Harston (theirs used to be the last house opposite the Queens Head pub by Harston Green but a new house has now been built next to it.
My father worked on the railway, like his father Christopher Northrop before him. He was also in the Home Guard and I can remember the Home Guard practising around the gardens of Hill View and the neighbouring cottages.
Living at Hill View Cottage
I was born in 1939. My first memory is living at Hill View Cottage at the top of Button End, Harston. Our neighbours were Mr. and Mrs. Creek. Mr Creek used to sweep the paths and edges of roads. Another neighbour Mr. Hedgell, was a widower and he kept corgi dogs and sold the puppies. I loved going to play with them. Often he had nine or ten puppies in a wire run in his garden. I can remember the mother of all the dogs was called Beauty and one of her daughters which he kept was Dainty. Next door to Mr. Hedgell lived the Stittle family. Joan, the daughter, was my age and we were playmates. Jennifer Bird lived opposite in Riverdale cottage and the 3 of us were good friends. Joan still lives in Button End in Oakhaven, she married Michael Rivers.
I started Harston School when I was about 4 and walked to school with my older sister, Cynthia and her friends. Cynthia is 4 years older and she had to look after me. I also remember that sometimes it was difficult to cross the High Street as Army tanks and heavy artillery was often on the move. We were scared we might be late for the bell if we were held up.
Every evening we had to put up blackout curtains so that the German planes couldn’t see any lights. Dad built an air-raid shelter in the garden. It was a very large hole with a tin roof which was covered with grass. It was cold and damp in the shelter and when the air-raid warning sounded we had to get out of bed and sit in the shelter until the All Clear signal was heard. After a few weeks of this Mum decided not to take us into the shelter at night and we all slept in one bed, except Dad who would be out either at work or Home Guard duties most nights. My mother’s view being that if we were bombed then we would all die together!
Living at Fleece Cottage
We moved to Fleece Cottage (Button End) when I was around 5 years old. I loved my childhood at Fleece Cottage. We lived next door to my Great Uncle Bert who was a builder and owned both houses. Fleece Cottage was once a pub and we had a large cellar which was underneath the whole of the ground floor. The cellar door was in our living room and I often went down there to see the bats which hung from the rafters during the day. Also it was a very good storage place, almost as good as a freezer! Uncle Bert’s wife died when she fell down the stairs in their house. Uncle Bert didn’t move away but he did brick up the stairway and built a different entrance to upstairs. This happened before we moved to Fleece Cottage and I never knew his first wife. However, eventually after many years alone he did marry “Auntie Dolly” who originally came to Fleece Cottage as his housekeeper. We were very fond of her and she was a kind and pleasant lady.
I had a very free and happy life as a child living at Fleece Cottage. The garden was very different in our day. There were no cars down Button End so no need to concrete over gardens. We had a narrow path leading to the front door with a high hedge all round the front of the property. There was an orchard on the left with greengage trees and Dad kept lots of chickens in the orchard. The orchard extended right up to Violet Cottage. (This Cottage no longer exists). We had a large vegetable garden either side of the path. Then a rose arch leading to a lawn and flower garden. We hardly ever used the front door everyone walked round the back. We had an outside shack for a toilet and of course just a bucket was in use. There was a large brick building for coal, and bicycles, and all sorts of storage. Also a large solid wash house with a copper. Mum had to light a fire under the copper in order to do the laundry and then she would put the clothes through a mangle. Wash days were hard work. In the summer we used to use the wash house for our once a week bath! We had a large tin bath and when we were finished had to wrap ourselves in towels and run into the house to dress. In the winter we had a bath by the fire and poor mum had to keep going into the washhouse in order to collect the buckets of hot water.
In 1947 we had a very bad winter and heavy snow fails. Button End was completely isolated for a few days and we were unable to go to school or the shops due to large snow drifts. We kids all had fun plodding around the fields in our Wellington boots and getting very wet feet when falling into large holes. Mum was cross with us because it was so very hard for her to get our boots dry and we needed our wellies for the awful weather.
Fleece Cottage was very cold in the winter. The living room was the only place where you could feel warm. This was because the stove was always kept alight. It was a black leaded stove which had a fire at one end and an oven at the other. On Sundays Dad would light the fire in the front room and this was very cosy. The best furniture was kept in the front room, but it was only ever used on Sundays or on special occasions. Fleece Cottage didn’t have electricity until some years later. We went to bed quite early because we only had an oil lamp and candles to see by. I can remember very vividly when we had electricity. Mum was able to have an electric cooker and our life was made so much easier.
We didn’t have running water for quite a while and we had to fetch water in buckets from the pump down the road. Once I was old enough I had to fetch buckets of water before and after school. Water was very precious and we certainly didn’t waste any. If, on rare occasions, we washed our hair, then we used rainwater from the water butt outside.
Dad used to have an allotment at the bottom of Button End, so with a large garden at home and the allotment we were never short of fresh vegetables. Also keeping chickens meant we had plenty of eggs and also on occasions chickens to eat. The egg marketing man used to call and we had to give him eggs. Not sure how it worked but I do know that we hid some eggs in the cellar so that we didn’t ever go short. Also Mum used to somehow keep them available all year round by pickling them. As well as the chickens we kept dozens of chinchilla rabbits. The fur was used to make gloves and of course the meat was for eating. Unfortunately I had a habit of naming plenty of the rabbits and would go outside to see which were missing if Mum had provided one for dinner. Having found out that either Betsy or Beauty, Bonny etc. were missing I would accuse them all of eating a pet. My sister remembers being furious with me because she just couldn’t eat her dinner after receiving this information and I certainly didn’t.
Dad had a serious accident at work which left him with a smashed ankle and leg. He was in a wheelchair for some time and after this was never able to run any more. He loved sport so instead of playing he become the Treasurer of Harston Cricket Club. Ted Laman, his best friend was Secretary. The Lamans lived in Church Street. They had two children Mavis, who was a bit younger than me and Graham who was much younger.
When the wheat had been harvested, families were allowed to go gleaning. Lots of corn was left behind as the machinery was not as efficient as it is today. We would all go to the fields with sacks to collect the corn for chickens. It was quite a happy event with lots of families doing the same thing. I also had to regularly collect dandelions for the rabbits. Dad would expect me to get a sack full of food most days.
Our neighbours in Violet Cottage were Mr and Mrs Petty. They had a young son called Mark. When they left the cottage was rented to Mr. and Mrs. James who were both stationed at Bassingbourn Barracks. When Mrs. James was expecting, as they were not on the phone and neither were we, Dad put a bell on Mrs James windowsill and then tied it to some string. He then put the string right across our orchard and into our bedroom where another bell was placed. This was in case Mrs James needed help during the night when her husband was on night duty. However, she didn’t need to use this and eventually she had a baby called Andrew. When our neighbours were away I use to roller skate around their cottage as they had a concrete path and we did not.
I can remember Mr. Shipp the milkman. He worked at Hayes farm down Station Road but also used to deliver milk with his horse and cart. He would allow me to hold the reins whilst he ran up the garden paths with the milk bottles and then take the horse to the next house. I always thought I was in charge but, of course, later realised that the horse knew just where to stop and when to move on. I wish I could remember the horse’s name. Mr. and Mrs. Shipp lived in Rose Cottage down Button End and they had a daughter June. I used to take June out in her pram for long walks on Sundays. This was in between Church in the morning at about 9.am and then Sunday School in the afternoon. Most children attended Sunday School.
When I was about 7 I ran out of Jennifer’s house straight into a milk van. This was probably the first time the milk had been delivered by motor. The impact pushed me into a ditch by the side of Jennifer’s house. Unfortunately I fell onto broken glass which cut the side of my head and my ear. Jennifer’s dad put me on his lap and the milk van drove me home. Dad was in bed having worked the night before and I can remember sitting on his lap once Doctor Young arrived. Once the Doctor had opened his bag and started to thread a needle with thread I was really scared. Until then I think I thought stitches didn’t really mean an actual needle and cotton!
Mr. Crow the farmer was always feared, although I do believe he was kind and good to us kids. He would patrol his fields on his horse and if we were sitting up a tree in the middle of the field we would flee. However, this didn’t stop us from going exactly where we liked. As we were brought up with country ways we never walked onto any crops and kept all the country laws. I remember it was almost a sin to steal a pea from anyone’s allotment and we just didn’t do it. Near Christmas time it was usual for children to go and sing carols and then knock on the door for money. Sounds like begging now but it was great fun. I do remember that we all went to Mr Crow’s farm as we were always invited in to sing and he and his wife would give us money or food. (Never sweets as these were rationed and rare). He must have had most of the village children visit him during this season.
Another memory I have is that I could earn pocket money from Mr. Ellis who lived in the house opposite the Church just before Hill View Cottage. He either had a shop or a wholesale business. We had to spoon salt into small squares of blue paper and then twist the top. It took ages to fill a box. These salt packets eventually went into Smiths crisps bags.
I loved Fleece Cottage. From the back garden I could enter a large area of sandpits. There was plenty of water where the sand had been dug out and lots of willow trees. It was an ideal playground and beyond the pits were the river meadows. The river was very popular in the summer when several families would come down to picnic and swim or paddle in the river. The river had different named sections. One was called The Mens which was deep and good for diving. Snails Corner was named for obvious reasons and where the children played the river had a sandy bottom and not much mud. In the river meadows there was a grassy mound and I never found out why. I remember people saying it was something to do with the Romans but that might not be true. I spent all the school holidays and weekends just roaming free, usually with either Jennifer or Joan or both. We loved fishing with jam jars on string and caught lots of tiny fish in the pits and the ditches around the fields. Also we collected frog spawn and kept it until the tadpoles and then small frogs arrived. In the spring we would look for birds nests and it was exciting to discover a robin’s nest or some other tiny bird. Blackbird and thrushes nests were easy to find. I never collected birds’ eggs, although some children did use to remove just one for their collection. It seems a dreadful thing to do now. We also spent a lot of time picking blackberries, Mum was always pleased to receive these. I do remember that we could receive a small amount of money by collecting rose hips from the wild rose bushes for a lady in the village but I forget her name As you can imagine this was highly popular. There was no rule about picking wild flowers and in the spring we would hunt the hedgerows for violets in order to give a bunch to our mothers.
As Dad worked on the railways so we went everywhere by train. Somehow we always managed to have a week away in the summer travelling to various places but we did enjoy Margate. We always stayed in a guest house but the rules were quite strict and you were not allowed back in after breakfast until it was time for the evening meal. This was a bit hard on rainy days.
My Aunt Beat was housekeeper for years for the Moore family who lived in a large house down Station Road. There were three daughters, Helen, Judith and Sheila. Judith was my age and I would often go to Station Road to play with her. We would then go next door to the Station Master’s house where Peggy and Howard Clutton lived. Peggy was the same age and we would have fun playing on all the empty goods carriages in the yard and watching the steam engines going into the engine shed. Sometimes we would crawl underneath the platform in the engine shed and scare ourselves with the loud noise when the engine arrived.
On weekends we would walk or cycle to Barrington to visit my maternal grandparents. They owned the Royal Oak at Barrington and mum would go there to help behind the bar. If we were walking we went down the footpath through The Chestnuts. If we were on bikes then we went through Seagraves Farm and then onto the footpath which led to Barrington.
Move to Manor Close
When I was 14 we left Button End to go and live in a council house at the top of Manor Close. I know that Cynthia and myself were very sad to leave Button End but Mum had always wanted a council house. We still didn’t have a bathroom or a proper toilet but the house was modern by Fleece Cottage standards and far easier to maintain. We lived at No. 96 High Street, which was eventually renumbered to 124 when new houses were built. The Raynors lived opposite us and the Nixons next door. I lived here until I married at the age of 23.