Liz Chapman's memories of life in Harston

Hilary Roadley chatted with Liz in October 2022

Liz Chapman Oct 2022

Liz Chapman Oct 2022

Liz initially lived in Cambridge but moved to Harston with her husband in 1955.

Early life

Liz was a Barnardos child and was brought, age 5 in 1935, on the train to Cambridge from Portsmouth after her mother and husband had died when she was little. Her son Nick recently found out her birth mother’s history and discovered she had 3 older brothers and two sisters, all born like she was on the Isle of Wight. She was the youngest and was born a year after her mother’s husband died! While her elder brothers went to their granddad and the sisters went into service, her 13 year old sister was told to take Liz to the Barnardo’s home in Portsmouth.

Liz came to Cambridge the day before Christmas Eve. She ate egg sandwiches on the train to Cambridge and when they arrived and met her foster mother and daughter Pat (15 months older than Liz), the Barnardos ‘matron’ said to Pat: “This is the sister that God has sent you”. The matron then left her with her new family. Liz’s new family only had Pat and had wanted another child so Liz was brought up in a loving family. Liz arrived with her basic provision of clothes (see attached document), so her new family took her straight away to the shops to buy new clothes.

Barnardo’s workers checked up on Liz regularly, approximately every 6 months visiting her both in school and at home. They would chat to Liz privately in her bedroom to ensure she was happy. When she was in her teens they offered to move her to London to have Secretarial training but she declined as she was happy to stay with her foster parents. Barnardos visited Liz until the day she went to work. She discovered the Barnardo forms after her mother had died. Her mother was paid 7s and 6d a week to look after Liz. She never felt anything other than a member of the family, though. Liz was surprised to hear that Harston had a number of Barnardos children fostered here, too, in the early 1920s to 40s, but most of them returned to London to undertake some sort of training. Liz got her secretarial training in Cambridge, shorthand and typing, as she first worked at Chivers’ office and they were the first firm to let their staff do day release.

Liz was quite sporty when young, playing badminton and basketball for the County. Although Keith was involved with Judo, Liz did no sport after she was married.

Move to Harston

Liz and her husband Keith came to Harston in January 1955 as her mother-in-law knew that a flat was becoming vacant. The got a one-bedroomed flat on the High Street, attached to the back of the Laurels (119 High St). Mr & Mrs White owned Laurels then and had a big garden as well as keeping pigs (now The Piggery is a house in Sheepshead Lane). Liz remembers that once there had been a private school at 117 that took the wealthy kids and the Hurrell’s children. John and Ann Cowan later owned 117 High St before they sold it and houses were eventually built behind it. John was chairman of the Village Warden Scheme. The Laurels was next to the BP garage which used to mend cars then. Keith, a mechanic, worked there at one point. Sheila Miller’s husband sold cars there. They lived in one of the 2 storey houses behind the garage.

When they lived in the High Street, a couple, Dick & Cora Lee Scott, came to live nearby. Keith knew them through his garage work and enjoyed Judo as did Dick. Cora was 19 years old and had a baby but not much idea on how to look after it. They were quite religious and the husband wished to train as a minister but as he was in the American Airforce he became an assistant to the Chaplain there, first at Wimpole then at Alconbury. Liz kept in contact with Cora. After he left the service Dick took up his ministry training but died young. He did however, get his Ministry specially the day before he died. Although in her 80s Cora has written a book about her experiences, including her stay in Harston, and Liz has the book.

Liz’s daughter Joan was born in Jan 1959 so in August that year they moved to 18 Queen’s Close into a three bedroomed house. There was no central heating, just a coal fire in the lounge which backed onto the kitchen. There was an old fashioned range with an oven which Liz never used as it didn’t get hot enough. In fact she put linoleum on it and used it as a nappy changing area. There was a copper/boiler? that heated the water and at the back was a scullery, sink, toilet and coal house. She got her first washing machine when she was expecting her son Nick. You filled it up with boiling water and a central part moved around and agitated the washing. Then she used the attached fold down wringer to put the clothes through after carefully lifting them out of the hot water. It was much better than the long table her mother had when she was a child with a set of rollers underneath that she put the washing through, although it did get the clothes very dry. Liz eventually moved onto a twin tub. Once, before going on holiday, they wanted to hide the money that Keith kept for the Judo Club he belonged to. They put it in the washing machine under the central agitator, thinking no-one would look there, but on their return Liz forgot and filled the tub with water. Keith saw in time and stopped it being switched on – they emptied the water and put the notes on the line to dry!

Liz and Keith divorced in 1982. After a very harsh winter when the downstairs toilet and upstairs bathroom froze up, Liz with daughter Jo moved on 13 April 1982 to 16 Meadow Way which had some form of central heating, possibly underfloor as there were no radiators. The heating didn’t work that well and it was soon updated. Liz was in Meadow Way for some time. It was a two –bed house but when the stairs got a bit too much for her she applied to move onto a ground floor. There were 31 people who wanted this Queen’s Close residence but as Liz was vacating a much needed two-bed property she got it, and moved there on 20 Dec 2014. She has been in it about 7 years and enjoys the lounge views over the fields.

Children at school

Both Liz’s children were born at the Mill Rd hospital – once the old workhouse, still dreaded by people even though it was renamed as a place for the elderly. Liz took her babies to be weighed in the Village Hall once a month. There she bought Ostler Milk and other things much cheaper. You could also get advice.

Her children enjoyed going to Harston school, although there were no extra-curricular activities then. They had school meals there. The swimming pool was built while they were there and they enjoyed using it on lots of sunny days. Nick got banned for a week for hiding the girl’s knickers when they got changed! Jo (Joanna) remembers teachers then, Mrs Chittenden and that Mrs Spanswick or Rodmore had class 1, Mrs Barnes Class 2, Mrs Wainwright Class 3 and Mr Shoote was Class 4. Mr Shoote was the headteacher but he never lived in the school house next door as he suffered from breathing problems so lived up on Newton Hill, on north side. The Utsi’s lived on the other side of the road. They were so different – Mrs Lindgren was tall and American and Mr Utsi was small (and Norwegian). They brought reindeers every year to show the children.

Jo, Liz’s daughter recalls when she was with her friend Jill Christine who suddenly, white faced, said she had just seen a ghost- a woman throwing herself in the river. Jo didn’t see anything. Later, however, when they went to Melbourn Village College they were doing a history project and discovered the ghost story in Helen Green’s 1937 book that tells the tale of a lady throwing herself in the river. Jo sadly also remembers when a young boy from Queen’s Close was killed on the road in Harston, playing chicken- jumping off road in time. He had been injured before doing the same thing but did it again and got killed.

After Liz’s son Nick started school she put her name down at a temping agency and did secretarial work for Premier Travel in Cambridge, just during school hours and not in the holiday. When they wanted someone full time she went to work at Mill Rd hospital. She changed jobs back to Premier again and worked there for 30 odd years. She went there on the bus initially, then by car as she could park at the back of the colleges until eventually there was a space free in the Underground parking. Liz has a picture of the Canberra cruise ship on her wall as for some years she escorted tours for Premier Travel on the cruise ship. Her daughter Jo also worked on the cruise ships in the USA for 10 years.

Village involvement

Liz got involved in various village activities. At school she enjoyed helping with the books at Book Week and supported the children’s plays & nativity by helping with refreshments.

Liz was involved with the Young Wives Group at the parish church. Mrs Hurrell had the leadership but later retired and handed over to Liz. The young wives was a bit like the WI with a speaker once a month. The Young Wives would help out with functions in the village and had working parties to make things to sell at bazaars. They often went to the old Vicarage (now Rhee House) which was very old fashioned and was eventually sold off. They held meetings there and also helped with the summer fete they had for the church in the vicarage grounds. When the Rev Allen & family moved in they offered to help them move in by carrying things. Liz was surprised that Marion Allen asked her to unpack all her shoes for her. They had a daughter who liked to take the lead in church plays and a nice son.

Liz saw something in the parish magazine asking for people to join the drama club so she did, initially behind the scenes. She then very happily moved on to acting on stage. They got a prize for producing a one Act play at the Cambridge Festival and got very good write-ups for their plays. When Fisons closed so did the Drama Club at their clubhouse in Hauxton. However, HATS (Harston Amateur Theatrical Society) started in Harston and Liz joined in with that. As she got older and less steady on her feet on stage it was felt safer for her to move to the front of the house, selling tickets. This she did until last year when she just went as a spectator.

Liz’s son Nick joined the Drama Group for a while and was in some of the plays, while still at MVC. Nick had his own model stage and did a little magic trick, first for the Over 60s in the Village Hall. Iris Armstrong ran the Club and for his act she gave him a big cape which his grandmother re-lined for him. He would end his act by singing ‘All the nice girls love a sailor’. Premier Travel had a party every summer for all the children and Nick did his act there, too.

Liz's invite to Buckingham Palace May 2022

Liz’s invite to Buckingham Palace May 2022

n May 2022 Liz went to Buckingham Palace to a special party in the palace grounds to celebrate people’s achievement. Liz had been on the parish council in one way or another for 45 years, first as the Clerk, then as a councillor and chairman. Prince Charles, Camilla, Princess Anne and the Duke of Gloucester were at the palace and all shook her hand. They had a special place for disabled parking next to the palace so Liz and her daughter were able to take a wheelchair and push her around. A uniformed place official offered and pushed her into the grounds. There was a military band playing.

As Clerk to the PC Liz looked after the allocation of spaces in the burial ground. She recalls one incident when a woman visited from far away and later left instructions in her will to be buried with a man already in a grave. When she died they discovered a woman was already buried with him so another body couldn’t be buried- already used two depths, so to meet the instructions they had to cremate the woman’s body and add the ashes. This left people wondering why two women wanted to be buried with the same man! On another occasion, a man who lived in the High St wanted his wife’s grave moved as he liked to kneel in a certain way by the grave which he visited daily, and there was insufficient room to kneel. He wanted the parish council to pay for moving the grave. Eventually he paid for it privately but it had to be done by contacting the Home Office and digging up and moving the body in the night.

Liz became chair of the PC once she had resigned as Clerk. There were always complaints about speeding so the police frequently had speed traps on Sundays but they got nowhere. The PC improved the processes and started sub-committees that dealt with Planning, Finance, Recreation Ground, etc. Liz enjoyed the work in a masochistic sort of way. They dealt with Planning Applications and the PC gave their opinions but if they objected the application was still likely to be passed.

Before The Limes was built Ms Collen’s had the farm there. She used to even have the animals in the house with her. Eric Whitmore was a councillor and chair of PC for a long time and he and his wife Daphne decided that Ms Collen’s farm would be a good place for a Recreation Ground and entered her property and started measuring it up without permission. Ms Collen didn’t like this and said she had intended to leave the property to the village but would now leave it to her nephew, which she did. The PC had to buy it off him by borrowing money from South Cambs which they had to pay back. Chris Paget on PC suggested they sell some of it off for housing but most objected so they kept all the land. The design for the pavilion and its siting changed many times before its present location.

One challenging member of the PC was Fred Kinsey. He lived in Queen’s Close and used to do a lot of handiwork around the village- for the Village Hall, Green, etc. He was a very good worker but was aggressive on the PC and would curse and swear and say he was the only one doing any work. In the end Liz as chair told him to go or to sit and not open his mouth. At the next PC election he went round putting up posters saying he was the only one getting things done and Liz had to go round taking them down as they were not legally worded which could cause the PC trouble. They got over 15 people standing for the next election and when 15 were chosen he got lowest votes so was off the PC!

Village people

Liz got to know Peggy Johnson when they were both on the Parish Council. They ended up having a tea at the Orchard Tearooms in Grantchester every summer. After she moved to Harston, Peggy and her fiancé stripped back their house, Hope Cottage in Button End, to the wood beams. Liz visited the cottage quite a bit and remembers it had little stairs that went up to the bedrooms. Peggy’s fiancé died and Peggy would have liked to have planted a tree next to his grave and was unhappy the PC said she couldn’t as the roots would affect the surrounding graves. Peggy told Liz that she went to work in India and taught the Maharaja’s children who were wonderful and well behaved. In contrast when she came back she went to work in a deprived area in London. What a difference! Peggy had a huge red cut-glass lamp in her window and on one of her visits Liz told her what a red light in her window might signify. Peggy was horrified but still kept the lamp there. As Peggy got older and less able Liz persuaded her to join the Warden’s Scheme so people would visit to check on her. Peggy was very reluctant to use it. Eventually she went to stay with her brother in Yorkshire.

John Heap had a lot to do with the village Hall, and along with his wife Peggy, set up the Village Warden’s scheme. Liz was a trustee of the scheme for quite a long time.

Liz's children painted by Marian Allen

Liz’s children painted by Marian Allen

Liz has a picture on her wall- sketches of her daughter and son produced by Marian Allen, Rev Allen’s wife. She was very artistic at everything- great artist, cook and skilled at embroidery and sewing. Rev Allen was very good in dealing with people in trouble and would have made a good hospital chaplain but he wasn’t so good as a parish priest. He was very High Church – sex was only for procreation! He used to wear a long black cloak that would fly behind him so the children nick-named him batman. One day when Nick answered their door to him, he called out to Liz that ‘batman was there’!

Village life

When they moved to Harston it was very much an old people’s village. Then housing estates were built that encouraged people with young families to move in. This brought new life to the village. It was initially us and them but gradually the new and old became integrated.

The present village shop was much smaller then but the general store opposite that (now the accountants) was bigger and it provided everything. There was a garage opposite the present BP one where Porsche now is. Premier Travel buses were where Ducati now is and the building has changed hands several times. The doctor’s surgery looked at using the site but were slow to decide so another offer was accepted.

There was no recreation ground but the land opposite Park House was used for cricket. There were a few swings behind the village hall and some tennis courts before the land was sold off.

This page was added on 12/11/2022.

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