Penny Wiles' memories
It was lovely to walk down memory Lane on your Harston History website. My family arrived in Harston in 1954, before my 7th birthday. I left Harston to go to college in 1965, and only returned to visit. I have very fond memories of my childhood in the village.
Living at Kerrymead- a strange construction
I’ve been messaging my brother and sister to check years. We moved to Harston from West London in 1954 because my father was upgraded by the civil service and was moved to the offices at Brooklands Avenue. He came down first and boarded, then he arranged for the rest of us, my mother and the three children to join him. We first stayed with Bill Martin at his house (which no longer exists), down a long drive behind Ron Bass’s garage/Harston Motors in the High Street. It was called Kerrymead and it was a small holding.
Kerrymead was a strange place, it was accessed down a long shingle drive, and not by the present little lane. It was a strange construction, with bits being added, even while we were living there. Originally a bungalow, the room my sister and I slept in was definitely up a small flight of stairs. I remember that it burnt down, and I always thought that was something to do with planning permission, but that may just have been gossip.
Getting permission to build a modern house
We stayed there quite a long time, there were lots of difficulties getting a house, and eventually my father bought a plot of land from Mr Haradine who lived in that road who seemed to own a lot of the land. My father then set about getting plans and permission to build a “modern” house on that plot. He was initially refused permission to build the house he wanted because they objected to the roof, but he appealed against that and his appeal was upheld.
By this time he had got hold of plans for another house which had the “right” sort of roof, and things had advanced so far he stuck with those plans, so his original dream house was never built. That house was a copy of another house just on the Shelford Road on the right as you head from Trumpington to Shelford. That house was demolished to build a small close I think. The man who built that house was another London immigrant called George Baker who worked at Brooklands Ave with my father. When our original plans were turned down, I think he suggested that we saved time and money by using his plans.
The other strange thing about the road and the front garden is this. My father said that he had to buy the land up to the road, and give it to the council. There was a ditch running through that land. He marked the boundary with the privet hedge. When we went on “main drainage?” The ditch was filled in. So originally we had a “soak away” in the back garden.
People came to look at our fitted kitchen
My father worked in the Supplies Division of the Ministry of Works. He had to supervise the fitting out of government buildings, like telephone exchanges and post offices. He had worked for furniture companies before the war. While the house was being built, he got the use of an old barn from our neighbours in Hill Top Farm, Betty and Wilfred Bishop. Balanced on fruit boxes, he made a complete fitted kitchen, with floor and wall cabinets, and Formica surfaces which was a very new thing at that time. Once we moved in, people used to come to the house to look at the fitted kitchen; it was the sort of thing you went to see at the Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia in London, and it was quite a thing at the time. Now of course, all kitchens are that style, but at that time it was very new.
The house was finished in 1955/6, and when we moved in the road was referred to as Newton Road and the house was called Cavendish. I don’t know when Newton Road became London Road, but when it did, we were number 11. It was called Cavendish as my father lived at a house named Cavendish House when he was younger. When we moved to our house, someone was making the carved signs that you will see on one of the photos. They thought Cavendish House was too pretentious, but Cavendish after the house in Finchley was chosen. I have this picture of my father, Robert (Bob) Wiles, taken outside the house about 1959/60. You can see the house name.
After we moved in, we got a henhouse and chickens and grew our own vegetables, just like we had been helping with at Kerrymead. After the rationing having fresh eggs, chickens and vegetables were a real luxury to an ex London family.
Neighbours & friends on the road
Our house was the sixth house on the left hand side, going down the road from The Old English Gentleman. Dr Erskine was in the first house, set back, then there were two yellow brick semi-detached houses, then Mr Whitmore and his family and next door to us Joan and Ron Weightman. Joan was one of Mr Harradine’s daughters, and he had built her this house. When she died we inherited her beautiful cat, Candy. On the other side was Hilda and Ralph Howlett and their son Roger.
Another of Mr Harradine’s daughters, Alma, lived further down the road, just past Mr Harradine’s own house. I remember that house being built, because Bobby and Marsha Connelly lived there and my brother and I used to play with them. Alma’s second marriage was to a lovely man called Sant Khabanda, who worked at Pyes and was a short wave radio ham. He had an enormous aerial in the garden and he used to sit in a little office, contacting people all around the world. I can still remember his call sign. He would say,
“This is G2 PU, that’s G2, P Pacific, U United, Cambridge in England calling. Are you receiving me, over?”
We had an RAC box on the little triangle that stood outside the Old English, I remember being with a lot of children standing there when the Queen Mother’s car drove through Harston. Opposite were two beautiful monkey puzzle trees in Mr Boulton’s garden. They got cut down when the road was changed.
Fitting in at School
What a walk down memory lane to read John Wick’s memories! We all went to Harston school, arriving there as outsiders from London when I was about 7. I know that school photo and I’m amazed how many names I remember. But there I am, in between Faith Jennings and Christine Ely. My family also lived up John’s end of the village, next to the Howletts in fact. We also went to the Baptist Church, where Christine’s father was the vicar, my sister Jennifer was about the same age as John’s brother, my brother Peter came in between us. (Both Jennifer and Peter Wick are in Mr Shoote’s 1954 class photo.)
I was admitted to Harston School in May 1954.
The school that the three of us had attended in Southall, West London, was a small, private primary school, referred to as Southall Preparatory. We had a uniform, which included the navy gym slip I’m wearing in the first of the school photos. This singled me out as being a bit different, but the thing that really singled me out was my accent, or rather my lack of it. I remember being asked where I’d come from, and also being asked if I was “posh”. I had not heard of the expression before so I wasn’t really sure what I was being asked, and whether this was a good or a bad thing to be. Eventually somebody said that I must be posh because of the way I talked. And I guess the gym slip must have looked like something out of a comic too.
In hindsight, having gone off to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama, I can easily see what happened next. Within quite a short time I matched the way I spoke to the other children in the playground. I learned to ask my friends if we were going “up yours or down mine” after school. I learned to tease other children by calling, “Oooh er!” if they said or did something strange. Things that were not old were “noo”. Things that were lovely were “booerful”. And I absorbed the intonation pattern, I fitted myself in. Every so often I forgot to leave my Harston accent at the school gate, and I’d slide into it at home. My mother did not like this at all,
“Don’t bring that sing song voice home here,” was her usual way of stopping me.
The best Cambridge accent
When I went into town to school I lost a lot of my contact with the village. Eventually I went back to college in London and I’ve stayed here. But when I came back I used to love travelling on the 108 bus in and out of town where Gerald and Ivy still charged me half fare. This enabled me to “top up” my Cambridgeshire accent and if I was lucky I got to sit next to Graham Laman’s mum who had the best Cambridge accent, and I could remind myself how that was. Graham Laman had been in my class at Harston School, and his mother had an absolutely wonderful accent. I would sit next to her all the way from Drummers Street to the Old English Gentleman and lap up every word she said. Now when I visit Cambridge I love to hear that accent, it reminds me of how happy I was at that school.
By the time I went off to school in Cambridge accent wasn’t such a big thing, it wasn’t so noticeable I don’t think. In fact it wasn’t until I went off to college and started studying voice and speech that I started to pine for it. Lots of the others had beautiful regional accents, from the West Country, from Yorkshire, from Hampshire to name but a few. They switched easily from the regional accent they used at home to the Received Pronunciation we used in college. I used to try to resurrect my village accent, but it was a bit rusty.
Even now, when I come to Cambridge to visit a friend, I find myself slipping into accent when telling stories. Years ago I wanted to visit one of the colleges to retrace something from my youth and as we went to enter, my friend said that I might have to pay. The Porter asked her for something with her address on to prove she was from Cambridge and she pulled something out of her bag. He let her in, so I just walked behind her.
“Excuse me Madam,” he said, “do you have anything to prove you live here?”
“Yes” I said, and then in a sing song style Mrs Laman would have been proud of,
“I’ve got my accent.”
And I hope I always will have.
I loved being a child at the village school
I loved being a child at the village school, I loved the playground games, all seasonal. Everyone would be playing marbles for a couple of weeks, and then suddenly all change. Everyone was playing jacks, or conkers or British Bulldog. Then there was stringer, a version of “it” or “he” where someone had the magic touch and chased you until you were “had”, then you joined hands with the person who was it, and went on to chase the next person. Sometimes these games involved half the school and there was an enormous, unwieldy string of children all holding hands across the playground. We also played grandmother’s footsteps, and a game where you took steps to cross the playground based on a series of letters being called. If the letter was in your name you could take a step. I had 5 letter e’s in my name. There were also chanting games, one that went,
“The wind, the wind, the wind blows high,
The rain comes scattering down the sky”
That one ended up with a boy’s name being chanted and they used to say
“If you love him clap your hands, if you hate him close your eyes”.
The farmers in his den was another game I liked, again a circle with someone in the middle, and everyone else skipping in a circle.
I think I loved these games because they also fed into those wonderful Singing Together programmes on the radio. We learned all the old folk songs, it was a great way to keep them alive.
Something in the back of my memory is saying there was a terrible disaster one day, when someone knocked over the huge brown school radio and it smashed. This was when radios were huge cases filled with valves. It must have been replaced somehow but I only remember the shock and horror at the scale of the accident.
Time for me to leave the playground and walk home. That was always the best bit.
Walking home was always the best bit
I have always said that the walk home from school was one of my favourite memories from my days in Harston. This might involve playing marbles, collecting birds eggs, jumping ditches, (sometimes getting a wet ‘un) and best of all picking flowers.
The person I remember doing this with was Marsha Connelly. She lived in the same road as me, but her mother, Alma was a Harradine, and that was a land owning family that knew lots about Harston and the people who lived there. This was particularly useful when the flowers we wanted to pick were on people’s land, because we would have to summon up the courage to knock on the door and ask if we could pick some of the flowers for our mothers. The owner of the house would invariably recognise Marsha, and would happily agree.
The reason why I remember this cycle of flower picking so fondly, is that it was something we chose to do in a very natural way. Nobody ever told us what time of the year to start, but we went to a series of places and collected the flowers almost by instinct. Some of the places were easy going to find as we walked past them on our way to school. Others were places we hardly ever went to, except when we wanted to pick the flowers.
I don’t recall many mixed bunches being picked. We didn’t bother with buttercups, mallow or yarrow. They didn’t seem important enough. Daisies were alright for making chains, and we certainly did that, but the stalks were too short for a posy. We disregarded the tall white cow parsley flowers, but we used their leaves as they looked like the ferns you got in wedding buttonholes and posies. We hoped one day to find an orchid, which we knew was rare, but if we did we didn’t recognise it. We dreaded finding deadly nightshade which we knew to be poisonous, but again, I’m not sure we would have recognised that either.
I remember a house not far from Miss Jackson’s hairdressers which belonged to the Miss Pasks. The house was set back from the road and had a large tree in the front garden. Early in the year, snowdrops would spring up around this tree, it might have been a yew. This is one of the houses where I remember us asking if we might pick some flowers, and we were allowed.
Behind the Baptist church there was a graveyard where lots of primroses grew. We used to visit there and I remember the posies we picked, with the primrose leaves on the outside. We were slightly concerned that these flowers might belong to the church, and therefore we might be stealing, but we picked them anyway. After quite a lot of hunting, we discovered the best place for violets was the bank of the railway bridge in London Road. This was also a bit tricky, as the instructions were always to stay away from the railway lines. We were probably a bit vague if we were asked where we found our violets. Near the doctors, close to where the Hartshorns lived was a ditch with a steep bank which was a mass of aconites. It was a bit of an adventure to reach the flowers and escape without a wet foot.
Things that went wrong
This is all a bit of a romantic picture of little girls skipping home from school gathering flowers for their delighted mothers, but one of the reasons this ritual has stuck in my memory, is because of the things that went wrong.
The first concerns one of our expeditions down the Drift. There was always a hint of danger when you set off down the Drift; it was away from houses, we weren’t sure who the land belonged to and if they minded your being there, for example. But in a bit of an idyllic haze, I remember Marsha and I setting off down the Drift in search of the cowslip field. Maybe Marsha’s mum had mentioned it, maybe another child, we weren’t certain where to find it but we believed it existed. We wandered further and further down, then off to the left, it felt like we’d gone miles, but it probably wasn’t very far. And then, hallelujah! There it was, a whole field of cowslips, like some scene from The Wizard of Oz, stretching out in front of us, thousands of them. We picked huge bunches and carried them home. Mission accomplished.
The seasons pass and we are heading home from school, when one of us senses that it might be the right time for cowslips again. We make a plan, head off down the Drift, and wend our way toward the place where we found the cowslips. Disaster! We are too late. The cowslips have flowered, they are over. We scoured the field for the remaining few but there were hardly any. We cannot understand how this could have happened. We are devastated. As an adult I have often thought how amazing it was that we got it right so many times, and that the one time we got it wrong surprised us so much.
The other story of flowers and getting it wrong is stranger yet. On our way home to lunch we saw some pretty white blossom which we decided would make good bunches to take to our mothers. So we each gathered a fairly hefty bunch each, and carried them back. After lunch we met up outside my house to walk back to school. We were both a bit crestfallen.
“My mother didn’t like those flowers.”
“No, nor did mine, she wouldn’t have them in the house.”
“She said it’s bad luck.”
“That’s what mine said too.”
We had inadvertently gathered handfuls of may-flowers, which were deemed by both our mothers to be such potent symbols of bad luck that they rejected our offerings for the first and only time. Looking back I can believe that Alma, brought up in the village, would know about this superstition, but how my mother, born in West London believed in it too is a bit of a surprise. Anyway, this joint rejection made it very clear to the pair of us that we would have absolutely nothing to do with hawthorn flowers ever again, and certainly never bring them into a house.
A quick internet search has shown me that this superstition is or was widely held in both England and Scotland.