Some Old Characters 

of Deanshanger Remembered.

And a few tales connected with the village.

By 

W.H.Foddy

Died 21st October 2012

 


22.11.2000

 

Hi Ken,
I live in MK. Used to live in Puxley Road. My father was Louis Foddy, he
died 1973, I don't suppose you remember him. My mother died 1982. We lived
there since 1936. I was born up the old yard opposite the Post Office. My
dad was born in the red brick house fronting the road opposite the post
office. My gramp was born in the house by the school, on the green. His
dad was born at the Beehive and his mum had the first licence there about
1845. So you can see I'm slightly bound up by Deanshanger!
I've been wondering who you might be? Are you Mossy's son by any chance?
I like your newly reconditioned site, not that there was anything wrong with
the old one. You've got terrific content I must say. A lot of pics I have
never seen before. Would it be rude to ask where they came from?
I have written a few of my old reminiscences and some of my father's which
shouldn't be left to rot with me. If you would like a copy I will send an
attachment.


 

MILLENIUM 2000

Some Old Characters of Deanshanger

And

Some Stories About Them.  

 

         When I was an impressionable schoolboy in the thirties there were several characters who stood out from the ordinary people of the village.  These characters have all gone, and because of the influence of TV, the motor car, and other civilising and educating influences, nobody has replaced them.  It seems that a rural community can no longer produce odd or eccentric people such as these were.

          I frequently think back and recall these people.  Sometimes I chuckle, sometimes I shed a tear.  Recently it occurred to me that I should write down some of these memories and invite everybody to share them.  I must stress that these are my memories, and mine alone.  Memory plays tricks, and others may well remember the same characters differently.  I make no apology.

          In this Millenium year it is fitting that we remember some of these characters, the like of whom will never be seen again.  It is also fitting that we remember some much earlier ones.  "Hanger" is an old English word, meaning a clearing in the woods.  Deanshanger used to be called Daneshanger, the clearing in the woods where the Danes lived.

          Alfred the Great didn't take to the Danes who lived in the clearing in the woods and eventually they were cleared to the east of the Watling Street.  Edward the Confessor is said to have built a fort near Buckingham to prevent them coming back, but one conjectures if they returned to Daneshanger?

          Now for the more recent inhabitants, those of the thirties who I want to tell you about.


Piper Henson.

          I knew Piper in the thirties, he was already an old man.  He lived in a one-roomed cottage, now gone, which stood almost opposite the Post Office, to the east of the white house which still stands there.  At this time this house was occupied my grandparents, and as Piper lived alone, my grandmother occasionally baked him a cake or some other titbit.  Not being keen on going inside Piper's cott, she was in the habit of sending me round with her offerings.

          Piper would welcome me into his one-roomed dwelling, which I thought was an exciting place to be.  I could not understand my grandmothers reluctance to do the job herself as, once ones nose became accustomed to the earthy, pungent smell it wasn't too bad.

          The floor of the cottage was of earth, as were a good many in Deanshanger at that time.  There was one small window high in the wall, so dirty that not much light filtered through, but once a boy's eyes became accustomed to the dark there were a myriad of things to see.  Piper's bedstead stood in one corner of the room, heaped with old coats which he used to cover himself at nights.  In the centre of the room was a large deal table, stacked with the implements of his trade - poaching.  The table was piled high with ropes, snares, traps of all sorts, knives.  Sticks, guns of ancient vintage stood in corners or hung on the walls with more snares and traps.  Dead game hung everywhere, yet to be delivered, some of them were stuffed and dangled around to embellish the humble home.

          When I took a cake in, Piper would dance with glee and pleasure, and pat me on the head, then rake through his pockets to find me a ha'penny.  He would shout his appreciation out of the door to my grandmother, and was doing just this one day when the time signal could be heard, loud and clear on Gran's new mains wireless.

          'What's that?'  Piper shouted.

          'Time signal,' she replied, 'that's six o'clock.'

          Piper pulled a large turnip watch from his pocket and stared at it.  He shook his head.  'That t'aint, Lou.'  He declared.

          Gran would have none of it.  'The pips are always right.'  She laughed.

          'They aint!' Piper insisted, showing her his watch.  'I put this watch on ten minutes every mornin' and that keeps it right all day!'  He declared emphatically.

*

          Piper had been a poacher all his life, supplementing his income from labouring on the farms.  His prowess at taking game earned him respect among his fellow men.  Not only was poaching a crime punishable with a prison sentence, in earlier years it was enough to get a man transported to the colonies.  Piper had suffered this himself, and I find it astonishing that I - living in the year 2000 - personally knew somebody who had been transported to Australia for catching a few rabbits.  But, in truth, there was a little more to it than that if my dim recollection of my fathers tale about the matter is anything to go by.

          Piper was out on one of his poaching expeditions.  He had one eye open for the burly shape of the keeper, a Mr. Prike.  Mr. Prike had never been successful in getting a prosecution of the wily Piper.  On this occasion, Mr Prike had been laying in wait and Piper almost walked into his hands, but he saw him just in time and fled with Mr Prike in hot pursuit.  Both men were handicapped; Piper by his bag of game, which nothing would cause him to abandon, and Mr. Prike by his manner of dress.  I should explain that in those distant days the keeper was a man to look up to, to gain his position he had to prove he was a man of solid character, he was unpaid and his terms of reference were that he was expected to make what he could out of the job.  He held Sootfield Green, and raised deer and other game for which he was paid to release for the local aristocracy who hunted them.  He had rights to the firewood in the forest and local people had to have his permission and pay him a copper or two to go there and gather it.  Altogether, the keeper in those days had a keen incentive to combat poachers.

          His station in life, like the bank manager in our day, was in his dress.  He traditionally wore a black frock coat, black trousers and a black top hat even when he was at his work.  He always carried a gun, which at the time I am talking about would probably have been the latest pin-fire muzzle loader.

          Mr. Prike chased Piper relentlessly back towards Deanshanger.  Every time Piper glanced over his shoulder, Mr. Prike was a little closer.  Piper was exhausted, and when he got to the brook, he hid in a thicket, hoping to shake the keeper off.  But Mr. Prike was on to him, he circled the thicket, knowing it was the only place he could be.  They played cat and mouse for a few minutes.  The silence was getting to Piper.  He lifted his head to have a quick peer around and just a few feet in front of him he could see Mr. Prike's top hat showing above the hedgerow; Mr. Prike was beneath it, trying to peer through the hedge, thinking he was well hidden.

          Piper couldn't resist such a target.  He took careful aim with his old gun and blasted the top hat off Mr. Prike's head, more for devilment than anything.  Mr. Prike leaped back in shock, fell into the ploughing, and lay there stunned and winded.

          Piper was surprised and worried at the moaning and groaning from the other side of the hedge and eventually crept out of the thicket and went round to see the result of his handiwork.  He was struck with fear and dread when he saw Mr. Prike laying beside the tattered remnants of his top hat, apparently dead.  This was not what Piper had intended at all.  This meant the gallows and no mistake.  Piper took to his heels, gathered a few belongings from his home and went on the run.

          He was apprehended of course.  Luckily, the charge was not murdering a keeper, but a lesser one of poaching.  He was even luckier Mr. Prike did not pursue the shooting charge, it was said he saw the funny side of it.  So perhaps Piper was lucky just to get transported to Australia for five years.

          Piper boasted of his prowess as a poacher, and told my father one day, how to call a hare, a craft long since forgotten.  He recounted an occasion when he knelt on one knee and began to call.  Hares approached him from every direction, and one by one, they came closer to him till one emboldened hare stood on its hind legs and put its forelegs on Piper's knee, gazing inquisitively into his face.  My father, who didn't believe a word of this story, said, 'Surely you didn't shoot it, Bill?'

          Piper blinked at his words.  'Course I did!'  He exclaimed.

When a younger man, he had worked on Manor Farm for Mr Rogers.  Due to his nocturnal poaching habits he was often late for work, and in order to dodge round the farmhouse when working in the meadows towards the river, he would follow the canal towpath past the farm, crouching below the hedge so that he would not be seen.  One morning, Mr Rogers happened to be taking the air, and stood in the gateway where the track crossed the canal to the fields at the rear of the school.  Piper, bending low, almost ran into him and was caught, red handed.

          Mr Rogers was known for his very odd turn of phrase.  'Hub-thub-thub-thub-ther!'  He shouted.  'I've caught you, Henson, late for work.'

          Piper straightened up and faced him.  He poured out a torrent of excuses.  'Let me off this time, Mr Rogers.'  He pleaded.  'I'll see as it don't happen again.'

          That same evening, Mr Rogers, who was considered to be a match for anyone in cunning and craftiness, positioned himself at the same place.  To his astonishment he saw Piper coming along the towpath once more, this time coming home early from the fields in the opposite direction, bent low so as not to be seen from over the hedgerow.  Again, Mr Rogers surprised him, he stepped into the towpath in front of him.

          'Hub-thub-thub-ther! Henson, I've caught you again.  Late going to work in the morning.  Now you're coming home early at night!  What have you got to say for yourself this time?'

          Piper straightened up and faced him.  'What's wrong with that, Mr Rogers?'  He said respectfully.  'A man can't have two lates in one day!'

*

One day I went to his door to have a chat with him.  My grandmother told me he had gone and I would never see him again.  Some men had come from Daventry and took him off to the "Workhouse", she said.  I knew nothing of such places, but I was horrified to think that anonymous, bowler hatted men could come and take him away like that.  I asked her what they would do to him.  'They'll give him a bath.'  She said.  'And that usually kills them!'

          I knew Piper was made of better stuff than to be killed by a bath.  I was only six and I'd survived a few baths myself.  Sure enough, a few weeks later, I saw Piper, his face pink and wreathed in smiles, calling on a few old friends in the village.  He was dressed in a neat, black suit, and wore a homburg hat.  That was the last time I saw him

          His ancient cottage stood unlived in for a long time.  Eventually curiosity got the better of certain naughty village boys, and one day we went in and helped ourselves to what was there.  The bigger boys took his guns and traps, I had his horse-whip, a piece of whetstone and a mincing machine.  When I got home I was punished for what I had done, but the whetstone went into my father's tool box and gave good service for many years, the whip and mincer disappeared.

*

Old Slosh

"Old Slosh" was never known by me or my contemporaries by any other name.  He lived in a cottage down from the Post Office, and later moved to a bungalow in Ridgemont.  He was not only a very old man, but blind and lame, and hobbled around unsteadily with the help of a stick.  He often stood outside his cottage, by the roadside, his spade-shaped, white beard covering his chest, hoping that somebody would stop and pass the time of day with him.

          Slosh had got himself into this condition through being found guilty of a minor petty crime.  His punishment was to be sent to a "Training Ship", where he was subjected to severe discipline, even for those days, and lived the life of a seadog.  He sailed before the mast and travelled all over the world.  His career had ended when he was sent on a polar expedition.  His lameness was due to losing his toes from climbing the ship's rigging barefoot in the days when strict discipline dictated that no concessions should be made for the ice and snow.  He lost his sight on the same expedition, through "snow blindness".

*

Monty

Neville Montgomery was the farmer who lived at the Manor Farm in the 1930's, and as such he was the Lord of the Manor and held the Manorial Rights over certain parts of the village, such as the village green and the old forest ridings which, even in the thirties, came down the Puxley Road to within a few yards north of the Ridgemont turn near the shop.  The council houses in Puxley Road were built around 1932 and the road to Puxley became no more then a rough track from there on, and ran between wide swathes of grass verge and was still known by everyone as "The Riding".

          Before the council houses were built, there had been gates across the road to Puxley ridings, wide swathes of grass which were very useful grazing, and Monty had the right to close them if he wished. To keep any cattle in.  He gave away that right when the houses were built and the gates were removed, but for many years afterwards, the sawn-off gate posts were capped with metal plates with "NM" emblazoned on them to mark their position, the extent of the mediaeval power of the Manorial system.

          Monty was for many years the livestock "Valuer" at Buckingham fatstock market.  He was a small, dapper man, he wore a bowler hat, and as one might expect, he was the archtypical, true-blue Tory gentleman farmer.  He was a local Councillor, but by and large could not prevent the staunch socialist fellow councillor, Rupert Ridgeway, a very powerful character, to steamroller him into his way of seeing things.  They co-operated in the creation of the housing estate, which took half of each of their names to become "Ridgemont".  I recall the opening ceremony, attended by all the dignitaries of the county, including the M.P.  I had never seen so many motor cars in one place before, there must have been at least a dozen.

          Monty had a vocal impediment, which caused him to intersperse his speech with a loud "aarrr" every few words he spoke, and the disrespectful quickly nicknamed him "Arr-Arr" as a result.  During the war he ran the A.R.P. (Air raid precautions), while his wife ran the Women's Institute, and they did much good work with the evacuees and suchlike.  The civil defence of Deanshanger was merged with that of Wicken later in the war, and he erected a marquee on the green to organise all those concerned.  It was difficult to exclude troublesome children like myself and we all had a good laugh when Monty made his opening speech.

          'Aarr Deanshanger people will wear armbands with aarr-"D" on them, and aarr Wicken people will wear armbands with aarr-"W" on them.'  He said.

          A wicken lady, who did not know him, rose and said, 'I understand the "D" and the "W", but what does the "R" mean?'

          Monty was one of only two or three people in Deanshanger who owned a motor car before the war, and during the war almost all cars had to be laid up for lack of petrol.  A Beaufighter crash landed in one of his fields, near what is now the Kingfisher Club, the crew escaped although the fuel tanks ruptured, they were very lucky there was no fire.  Monty filled several cans from the leaking tanks, but, although he was a magistrate, he was prosecuted for using the petrol.  The village chuckled because the very high octane fuel also ruined his engine.

*

Louis "Jocko" Roberts.

          Jocko was a scion of the once wealthy Roberts family who established the ironworks in Deanshanger in the eighteen hundreds, achieving world renown as manufacturers of agricultural equipment ranging from ploughs to windpumps.  They finally went bankrupt in the great depression of the nineteen twenties and the family was reduced in its circumstances.  The three daughters of the owner managed to hold on to the "Mount" and its large, walled garden, they appeared to have little income, and things were not improved when their brother, Louis, billeted himself on them after the death of his wife.  I remember his return to the village, which caused quite a stir.

          Louis had never bothered with work since his early manhood, but he was a very intelligent man and had been sent to university and educated in chemistry.  After qualifying, he went to South Africa for a few years and worked for a chemicals company supplying chemicals of all sorts where-ever they were required, all over the Union.  His job was to process the orders, and when there were sufficient, he would load them on to pack animals and set out to deliver them, alone, on horseback, with his bedroll and tent, heavily armed.  He was expected to subsist on his wits on his way through the veldt, as he trecked hundreds of miles, delivering the chemicals on a vast circuit of the country.  He caught his own food and occasionally had to use his guns to defend himself from robbers.  These are the experiences which shape a man's character.

          He would recall the loneliness of the life when on treck, the incessant noise of countless thousands of singing nightingales prevented him from sleeping at night until he had gone outside and quietened them with a blast from his shotgun.  Complaining of the loneliness to a sympathetic man one day, the man gave him a small monkey to take with him for company.  When he eventually came back to Deanshanger he made the mistake of bringing the monkey with him.  He was immediately nicknamed "Jocko", a name which stuck for the rest of his life.

          In the Great War, Louis was commissioned into what were known as "The Special Battallions".  His job, as a chemist, was to run a factory in the Calais area, which brought together the ingredients of poison gas, and filled the shells and bombs just before they were required for use at the front.  This must have been a highly demanding and dangerous job, and he must have done it well to have survived unscathed.

          He married a well known teacher at Deanshanger school, a Miss Laye, she achieved a senior post at another school and they moved away.  It was on her death he moved back to live with his sisters.

          His interests at this time were the usual country pursuits.  He was often seen pedalling around on his bicycle, bee keeping, or gardening.  He was also well known for his practical jokes around the village.  He loved children, but had none of his own.

          I remember him best for the large, wooden shed in his garden, where he spent most of his time, out of the way of his sisters.  He was a biggish man, his face was rather intimidating, grim, and he had a large, hooked nose, which reminded me of Punch.  On the end of his nose a "dewdrop" usually hung, and he smoked a curved pipe.  He wore heavy twill, countryman's clothes, with "plus fours" or riding britches.  Long woollen socks came up to his knees and he wore dirty, brown boots which had seen better days, they were made of fine leather of an expensive make.

          He loved to fill his shed with children, girls and boys, some times it would be so crowded that we couldn't all get in.  We would listen to his stories and gaze around the shed at the hundreds of things that hung from the ceiling, bird traps, lanterns, bee smokers, everything was old, even in the thirties.  We children considered Jocko to be the fount of all wisdom, there was no subject he failed to have the full command of.

          He had a malicious streak and loved to use us children to make mischief.  He taught us the art of "window tapping", "shoeing the donkey", "release", and other rather silly games which disturbed and upset people on dark, quiet nights.  He also taught us to make gunpowder and rather crude fireworks, as, during the war, they were unobtainable.  He frightened the girls with his ghost stories, showed us how to cheat at "conkers" by artificially hardening them.

          He also had a good side.  On cold evenings he would show us how to make crystal sets, these were the forerunner of the wireless, he would produce boxes of wires, coils, earphones, and all manner of bits, which were very "high tech" for the time.  He would show us how to wind coils and connect the bits up, then we would sit, spellbound, with the earphones on, listening the gabble of foreign stations and morse code messages.  With the war on, he would tell us that this was all top secret stuff, and we could be shot for even talking about it.

          He was a great angler, at that time there was good fishing to be had in the canal that ran through the centre of Deanshanger.  He taught many a child the rudiments of angling, and provided them with rod and line.  In the winter, when the canal was frozen over, he could be seen enjoying the ice on his skates, and could give us an accomplished demonstration of his skills.  He seemed to have an endless supply of "blocks", (what we called skates) to lend to the children.

*

Laura, Dot, and Polly Roberts.

          These were Louis's sisters, daughters of one of the village ironmasters.  They lived at the "Mount", the finest house in the village, they lived very frugally, with no outward display of wealth.  They were old ladies when I was a schoolboy, and seemed quite quaint.  Dot was considered to be a little potty, Polly was fairly normal, but Laura was in charge, and ran the house with a rod of iron.  I imagine Louis did not get things all his own way when he came back to live there in the thirties.

          I lived nearby, and Dot would frequently take me indoors and give me a rock cake, much to the displeasure of Laura.  One day they had just finished spring cleaning the vast living room when I went in, and were busy putting the pictures back on the walls.  Over the fireplace were two pictures in pride of place; one was of the king, King George the Fifth, the other was of Queen Mary, both resplendent in their finery.  Polly had replaced them with the queen in the higher position, Laura found fault and insisted they should be the other way round.

          'But that's how they were before we took them down!'  Polly insisted.

          'That they weren't!'  Laura declared, 'and never have been.'

          They argued for a while, but Laura tore the pictures down and reversed them.  She delivered another rebuke to her sisters.  'It's man on top of the woman - always!'  She declared.

*

Miss Holland, sometimes known as Dick Holland.

          Miss Holland was not a Deanshanger person, but worthy of note because she attached herself to the village over many years.  She lived at "The Briary", a house which still bears that name, hard by the woods, off the Whittlebury road.  She and a colleague ran the house as an old peoples home or nursing home.  She was a frequent visitor to the Roberts's at the Mount.

          Miss Holland was an oddball.  I mentioned earlier how experience shapes the character.  Miss Holland had written a book about her experiences in the Great War.  The book was titled 'Serbia, The Land Of "Sutra".'  The book tells of her time as a driver with a private nursing organisation during that war.  She drove staff cars and ambulances, firstly in Belgium, then in France, then they packed their bags and went to Serbia, where they thought the need was greater.  They were a group of young British women, mostly nurses, and they must have been mostly from well-to-do families.  They set about the task of creating hospitals in the middle of the war zones, raising funds when their own money ran out, buying equipment and using their initiative to save lives anywhere they could get into the thick of the fighting, fleeing before an advancing enemy, then doing it all again in conditions of the most diabolical filth, weather; bombardment from the enemy, assault and robbery from those they were trying to help.  All this was at a time when women found it very difficult to be taken seriously.  Her book was published shortly after the war and still makes a good read.

          Miss Holland cut an astonishing figure on her frequent visits to Deanshanger.  She was tall and incredibly thin, her legs were like spindles.  I never saw her wearing anything other than full Scottish Highland Regalia.  A colourful "Tam-O'Shanter" on her head with a silvered cockade of eagles feathers.  Often she went bare headed, and had her greying hair cut short in a man's cut, brushed straight back and kept in place with brilliantine.  She wore a tweed jacket with elaborate cuffs and a silver mounted eagles claw on the lapel.  She wore this over a lace shirt or blouse and sported a bow tie.  She wore a kilt with a splendid silver mounted sporran with an animals head on it which I used to think quite frightening.  Her skinny legs were adorned with knee length woollen stockings, sporting clan motifs on the garters.  In one stocking, in the traditional Scottish manner, she wore a silver handled dirk or skeandhu, a fearsome looking weapon.  On her feet she wore brogues, the Scottish type with fancy tongues folded over the laces.  Her bony hands were festooned with jewellery.  She wore a monocle on a black lanyard in one eye, and smoked cigarettes using a twelve-inch long, silver banded cigarette holder.  To me, a rustic Deanshanger boy, she looked the picture of sartorial elegance!

          She came visiting in an Austin Seven, a very tiny car which didn't seem to befit her at all; she should have had a Rolls Royce at least.  Miss Holland was fond of children and she would cram us in her car and give us a ride round the village when she visited.

          Needless to say, such a character as Miss Holland aroused a certain amount of suspicion in the village.  Not without reason.  Miss Holland was not quite all she seemed to be.  She was heavily in debt and seemed unable to stay solvent.  She owed money to several publicans in Stony Stratford.  She was in the habit of buying cases of spirits, would offer the landlord a cheque for perhaps twice the amount and ask him to kindly give her the surplus in cash.  The landlord was thus doubly out of pocket when the cheque bounced.

          The old people's home was closed when the authorities eventually caught up with her.  In those days there were very few checks on the way such places were run, and the inmates at the Briary, remote from civilisation, no car, no access to a phone, no way of communicating except through her, were half starved.  It eventually came to the notice of the authorities and she was closed down.

          She came to live in Deanshanger and had many other schemes going.  She published a small book of poetry called "Some Memories" in the name of "Dick Holland", but the poems were in fact mostly written by my Uncle Albert Rogers, the local cobbler, who was looked upon for many years as the Poet Laureate of Deanshanger.  She gave him sixpence each for them.

          There was a lot more than met the eye to this lady.  She was probably as well qualified as anyone to run an old folks home.  She had had a genteel early life and made great sacrifices and took great risks during the war.  But she probably had no business acumen to help her through harder times.

*

Christine A. Bradley.

          On the subject of schoolteachers I would mention Miss Bradley.  When Mr Pascoe, a well liked teacher, was called up into the army during the war, he was replaced by Miss Bradley.  She had, years before, taught at Deanshanger, but had retired.

          The children did not take to this lady and referred to her as "Cab".  Her interests were limited to singing, and soon after she started at the school, the dulcet tones of children in full song could be heard far from the school.  The angelic voices singing descant would have done credit to a cathedral choir.  Mr Brown was so pleased with her achievements that he insisted all classes be taught singing, and she would strut around the school, purple faced and puffed up with self importance.

          Children who could not sing, including myself, were beaten and slapped to improve our vocal abilities and soften our vocal chords, but it was to no avail.  Eventually we were told not to sing and this pleased us no end.

          She attempted to rule us after Mr Brown's style of disciplined absolutism; but we would not accept her authority and children retaliated, and made her life as hellish as she made ours.

          She had favourites in her class.  When I was eleven we took the "Eleven Plus" exam for a scholarship to the Grammar School.  Miss Bradley decided who this scholarship was to go to and coached two girls accordingly.  They were encouraged in every way and sat close to her desk, it was generally understood that one of these two girls would go to the Grammar School.

          We took the exam, and no more was heard for a long time.  One day, Mr Brown padded into the classroom and announced that the scholarship had been awarded by external adjudicators to me, of all people.

          When Mr Brown left the room, Miss Bradley was seized with a fit of near apoplexy, her face went purple.  She went to the front row of desks, where her favourites were sat, and slapped their faces.  The girls were both stupefied at this, and burst into tears.  Miss Bradley shrieked and raged at me and told me what she thought of me, then she ordered me out of her classroom.  Fearing murder, I ran home.  That was how the news of my scholarship was given to me!

*

Dennis William (Billy) Smith.

Grampy Smith was my mother's father.  He was a native of Leckhamstead.  His own mother had died when he was a child, leaving his father with five small children.  There were no social services whatsoever in those days and out of necessity he re-married a widow who had been left with several children of her own.  They went on to have several more children and they all lived in a small cottage.

          When they were old enough, my grandfather and his brothers decided to go to London together to seek their fortunes.  They stayed together and got work with one of the daily newspapers.  My grandfather had already become betrothed to a young Deanshanger girl, Louise Rogers, whose parents kept the Post Office, but when they married and went to London she was soon desperately homesick to come back.  He therefore returned to Deanshanger and worked at E. & H. Roberts Ironworks as a painter, and eventually rose to become foreman of the paint shop.

          When the ironworks collapsed in the great depression of the twenties he was thrown out of work along with many other village men, and cast around for something to do.  His friends at the time were both established Deanshanger butchers, Billy Robinson and Billy Atkins, all young men who enjoyed their ale.

          They roamed far and wide on their drinking sprees and frequently went on the train to London, where Grampy impressed his friends with his knowledge of the London drinking houses, theatres and clubs.  All this was brought to an end one day when Billy Robinson, a fiery tempered, rather ferocious little man, stumbled when climbing the steps to enter an hotel.  The uniformed commissionaire assumed, rightly, that he was the worse for drink, and barred their way.  'Not in here, Gentlemen!'  He said, emphatically.

          Fists began to fly as they squared up to the man barring their way.  'You can't come them there tricks wi' us Dunsanger chaps!'  They roared as they pitched drunkenly in, an expression that passed into Deanshanger folklore.  The "Met" was called, and they were fortunate to be put on the train home without charges being laid.

          With Grampy out of work, they put their heads together to help him find something profitable to do.  Their brains clouded by drink, they decided to set him up as the third butcher in Deanshanger.  His house seemed eminently suitable as he lived fronting the footpath, opposite the Post Office.  To cut a long story short, the enterprise was a failure, and in a more sober moment he decided to try his hand as a painter and decorator.

          Grampy Smith was one of those men who could turn his hand to anything and do it well.  He already had a lot of experience with mixing paints and he built a large shed in his large back garden, in which he could work, and built a second, long and narrow shed alongside, to house his ladders.

          In those days, paint was not obtainable from shops as it is today.  If you wanted paint, you went to somebody like Grampy Smith and asked him to mix you some.  From his store of pigments, oils, turps, and goodness knows what else, he would use his expertise to produce the required colour and degree of gloss, both for sale and for his own use.  In no time at all, he had a cracking little business going.  The great depression was abating at last and people were catching up on jobs which had needed doing for years.

          Grampy Smith didn't make his fortune at painting and decorating because in those laid-back times, when he got paid for a contract he would retire with his drinking cronies to the "Rose and Crown" or one of the other hostelries, and stay there until the money was gone.  Only then, driven by necessity, would he begin the next job.

          His nemesis came in about nineteen thirty-seven, when the fates conspired to obtain him a job of a complete re-decoration, inside and out, of the "Dukes Head", a Deanshanger pub long since gone.

          At opening time he would place his brushes in the water-pot and drink until closing time, then re-commence work.  He was no longer a young man and had a pronounced "brewers goitre", which did not make ladder work any easier.  He was painting the gutters at the front of the house, and on the bar closing at two-thirty in the afternoon he emerged and climbed his ladder.  The inevitable happened and he overbalanced and fell, his head struck the lead sheeted canopy over the door, and a sharp edge almost severed his nose from his face.

          I was at Granny Smith's when three or four half drunk men carried him in and laid him on the settee.  His face was a fearful sight, there was blood everywhere, where his nose had been were ghastly open channels that were once his nostrils.  Nobody knew what to do, but I was told to run and fetch the nurse, that indomitable lady, Nurse Johnson, who was all things to all people.

          She came quickly on her bicycle, weighed the situation and demanded rags and hot water and began to clean him up.  'Good Gracious!'  She exclaimed when she saw the extent of the damage, 'where is his nose?'

          Nobody knew.  'We never sinnit!'  Announced one of the drunks from the floor.

          'Well, go and find it.'  She ordered.  We all ran to the Dukes Head on the other side of the village and his nose was soon found.  It was wrapped in a dirty handkerchief and given to me, being the only one with full mobility.  I ran back and gave it to the nurse.  She took it to the scullery and swilled the dirt and dust off it in the bucket of springwater which resided under the table.  She examined it minutely, and satisfied, replaced it using small pieces of sticking plaster.

          The miracle was that it took.  Unfortunately, it had not been aligned quite perfectly, and he had a rather nasty, disfiguring red gash down his nose for the rest of his life.  Modern medical science suggests that this sort of thing is impossible; that when a part has been detached for more than a few minutes it cannot be put back.  I often wonder if the high alcohol content of the lost piece had any bearing on this, but Grampy Smith was definitely separated from his nose for quite one hour.  After this experience he adopted a more sober way of life.

          It was at about this time that electricity was brought to Deanshanger.  Poles were erected by the "Northampton Electric Light and Power Company" to carry the cables all the way from their huge and splendid new state of the art coal fired power station at Cow Meadow, Northampton.  The wiring up of a house for light and power cost the princely sum of twenty-eight shillings (1.40p) and my father declared he had no intention of paying such a considerable sum.

          Grampy Smith was newly flush with funds from his latest contract when he signed up for the new fangled source of power.  Men came and fixed cables all round the house and connected them to a bright red fuse box and main switch high up on an outside wall, and we witnessed the marvel of electric light for the first time.  The oil lamps and candles were packed away and my brother and I went to his house every night to bask in the brilliant light and listen to his wonderful new mains "Werliss".

          Grampy was well pleased with the electric light - till the first bill came.  I believe the bill was for around three shillings and six pence (0.17p).  He jumped up and switched everything off at the outside switch and reverted to the old oil lamps once more.

          When the bowler hatted gent came to read the meter for the second time, he asked Grampy why no electricity had been used.  Grampy told him no uncertain terms what he thought of his electricity, that it had cost more for a quarter's electricity than oil and candles cost him for the whole year.  Undismayed, the man took out his little red book and went through his list of tariffs.  Grampy was offered, and accepted a lower one, the switch was turned on once more, and everybody was happy.  That was how business was done in those days.

          Grampy had a large cellar under the house and kept several thirty-six gallon barrels of home made wine down there, mainly elderberry and parsnip.  Granny didn't mind him making it, but she objected to him drinking it because he never knew quite when to stop.  He kept a tumbler in the cellar and did his drinking down there, but she soon found it and he went down one day and found the broken glass on the floor.  There was always a fuss when he announced that a barrel was ready to "tap", and Granny prevented this from happening for as long as she could.  The battle of wits was carried a stage further when Grampy obtained a glass tube, and instead of tapping the barrel, he would ease the bung out of the top and drink through the tube.  This baffled Granny for a while, she was puzzled as to how he got drunk when the barrels were clearly untapped, but eventually she found the tube and smashed it.

          Before the war, my brother and I used to go for tea to Grampy Smith's every Sunday, after tea we would listen to his radio, a mains set, much better than our battery operated thing with a big horn on top.  We listened to the "Ovaltinies" on radio Luxembourg, then the "Perils of Fu-Manchu", a diabolical Chinaman who would stop at nothing to thwart the powers of good who relentlessly pursued him.  This weekly serial terrified me, and I listened in fear and trembling.  When Grampy noticed the fettle I was in, he would sit me on his lap and give me a cigar and a tumbler of parsnip wine.  I didn't bother about much else that night, and went home with my head in a whirl!

          Grampy Smith was a shortish, rather portly man with a pronounced "beer belly", he wore a truss as the result of a rupture, which was the only treatment for it in those days.  He was a gentleman in every way, other than his drinking habits, he never lost his demeanour, even when the worse for drink; he never ever swore, even at me, and I pushed him hard at times.

          When he retired, at 65, he took the tenancy of the newly built shop opposite the "Rose and Crown", hoping for a profitable semi-retirement.  The war upset his plans and when rationing came along it became a nightmare for him, but he hung on till the war ended.

          After Dunkirk, in 1940, the "LDV", which became the "Home Guard", was formed.  They had almost no arms with which to face the expected invasion and cast around the village for help.  In those days there was hardly a household which didn't own a gun of some sort, but wheedling them for the Home Guard was not easy.  At such a time as this, people were thinking of their own protection first.  Grampy Smith possessed a revolver of a very large calibre, dating back to the Boer War.  He had a cardboard box of ammunition for it and it had always been kept wrapped in an oily cloth in the coalbarn.  At the call to arms he retrieved it and I found him one day busily cleaning and removing the rust with emery, oiling it and getting it back into good working order.  I was amazed to see this gun in his possession and he made a very big mistake when he let me handle it and showed me how to load and fire it.  He suddenly changed his mind about giving it to the Home Guard, and put it back in the coal barn.

          Fascinated by such things, I frequently visited the coal barn and handled the brute of a gun, to me, it was better even than the Lone Ranger's.  On one occasion I took the gun and some bullets along the brookside and fired it.  Its deafening roar and mule-like kick frightened me and I returned the gun and the unfired bullets to the hiding place in the coal barn.  I did not realise that I had carelessly dropped a couple of bullets in the heap of coal below the shelf.

          A couple of days later there was an explosion in the fireplace in grampy's living room.  The fire was blown all over the room, ruined several pieces of good Victorian furniture, and nearly set fire to the house, not to mention frightening Granny Smith half to death.  Gramp didn't take long to put two and two together; he soon discovered the gun had been used and some of the bullets missing.  He knew the culprit could only be me, but I denied all knowledge of this dastardly act.  The gun was moved and I never saw it again.

*

Albert Rogers.

Albert was a brother of Granny Smith and thus was my mother's uncle.  Their parents were Jane and Thomas Rogers, who started the Post Office in Deanshanger at the same premises where it is now.  Previously it was Canvin's butcher's shop.

Albert's father, Thomas, was a shoe-maker by trade, and Albert decided to follow him.  Unfortunately, Thomas died while still young, and before Albert completed his apprenticeship under his father's tuition.  Albert would shake his head and think of what might have been if his father had lived long enough to teach him how to make the uppers.  He felt sentenced to a life as a shoe mender, or cobbler.  His workshop was a tiny brick outbuilding adjacent to where he lived, near the brook on Sawpit Hill.

          Albert, although he came from the wealthy Rogers family, lacked the work ethic and had to be pressed hard to repair a pair of shoes or boots.  He was interested only in poetry and was considered to be the Poet Laureate of Deanshanger for many years.  It was Albert who wrote poems for Miss Holland for sixpence each, which she published in her own name.

          As a very small child, my father took me to Albert's workshop one day to collect his working boots.  The inside smelled strongly of leather and old shoes.  Albert sat on his stool at the bench; several pieces of paper strewn around him.

          He looked over the top of his spectacles.  'Oh, hello, Louis!'  He said  'I'm sorry I haven't done your boots yet.  I've been so busy writing an ode to Professor Piccard in praise of his record breaking balloon ascent.'

          My father flew into a great rage at hearing this.  'B    r Professor Piccard!'  He yelled.  He banged his great fist on Albert's bench till his tools jumped up and seemed to float three inches in the air.  Albert recoiled in fear and dread.  'If you spent half the time mending shoes that you spend writing your bloody poetry, you'd be a rich man by now instead of a pauper.'  He went on.  'I want my boots, Albert, and I want them today!'  We stormed out, hand in hand.

          An hour or so later there was a timid knock at the door.  It was Albert with my father's boots, repaired and ready for work..

          Albert rang the bells at Deanshanger church for a few shillings a year.  The sight of him ringing amused the children, he rang sitting in a chair, a bell rope in each hand, the third rope tied to his foot, his hands and foot would be jigging up and down as the three bells went "ting,tang,ting; ting,tang,ting."

*

Mrs Green.

Mrs Green lived in one of two red brick houses at the top of Boswell Lane.  She was known to all and sundry as "The Dispensary Lady".  She was a widow of great respectability, as a small boy it seemed to me she had always carried out her task of going to the dispensary at Stony Stratford, on errands for Deanshanger people, and probably always would.

          The system worked like this: when the doctor had called on a sick person, (Doctors called on the sick? Do I hear you say) he usually left a prescription with that person.  If it was convenient he would take it back to Stony with him as the dispensary was attached to the surgery, but in any case, the sick person would have a problem of actually getting his hands on the medicine.

          This problem was solved by Mrs Green.  Messages and prescriptions were taken to her house with two pennies, (the bus fare was 3d return) and the same day, or the next at latest, she would deliver the medicine to its owner.  If the weather was fine, she would walk across the fields to Stony and save the bus fare.  If the weather was bad she used the bus.  She performed this valuable service for many years.

*

Mrs "Runner" Reynolds.

Mrs Reynolds lived in a cottage just over the "Bridge Hill", where there were two rows of houses, which were eventually demolished to enable the Oxide Works to push their developments further into the village.

Access to the cottages was through a gap in the wall, where steps led down to them.  Children on their way to the infants school had to pass by here, and this strange old lady would crouch in the gap, wearing a hideous mask, and as children approached she would rise up into the road, her arms in the air, wailing like a banshee.  She would chase after the children and generally give them a fright!

My mother recalled that she had been doing this for many years, and had frightened the children in the same way thirty years before, when she was a child.

No actual harm was ever caused and nobody ever complained about these activities, which had been going on so long they were considered part of Deanshanger life.

*

 

Harry "Sugar" Canvin.

Harry Canvin, commonly known as "Sugar", seemed an old man to me in the thirties.  He farmed "Home Farm", and lived in the farmhouse opposite Boswell Lane.  The adjacent stone barns were part of the farm, as was the rickyard, opposite where the "Woodman" stood.  When he died the whole area was taken by the Oxide Works and turned into a rat infested and heavily polluted dump for the next fifty years.

          When it was a farm it was the scene of all the usual farm activities.  Chickens wandered into the road from the rickyard, and in the autumn it would be crammed with ricks from the harvest.  There was great excitement amongst the children when the threshing machine came, and we would flock there on our way to and from school to join in the industrious noise and hullaballoo, the smoke of the engines and the dust from the corn rising in great clouds as the thresher shook and whined, the engine puffed and chuffed, men shouted and terriers yelped, trying to keep pace with the thousands of mice fleeing from the diminishing ricks.  The hens, bossed by a fearsome cockerel, strutted around, helping themselves to the abundance of food.  Suddenly, all was quiet again till another year.

We regarded Sugar as something of a tyrant.  He would not countenance the sight of a child in any of his fields, and he farmed most of them close to the village, both to the north and the east.  If he spotted us in his fields he would shout, wave his arms and brandish his stick wildly, and without fail set off in our pursuit, waving his stick and urging his terrier to join in the fray.

We soon realised that Sugar was growing old, he had no chance of catching us fit and healthy youngsters, and that his terrier, a quite amiable creature, had little interest in the chase.  Really, we enjoyed being chased by Sugar, and to ensure a good "run" we would frequently stop and let him catch up with us before we set off again, deliberately keeping to his fields to keep his ire up, and taking care not to get too far ahead of him that he might lose interest.

He was called "Sugar" because, being a religious man, he avoided swearing when such an expletive was called for.  Instead of saying 'Dammit!' or words to that effect, he would say 'Sugar it!'

Sugar was known for his meanness.  He was in the habit of going to sales of farm equipment, of which there were plenty in those years, it did not matter to him what was being auctioned, he would open the bidding with 'Tuppence!', and would seldom increase on this figure.  A story was told of him at an auction, the auctioneer grew increasingly annoyed with him opening the bidding at tuppence, it seemed to make a mockery of the whole thing.  'My good man!'  He shouted at Sugar.  'I'll have you know that I am not a tuppeny auctioneer.  Please desist.'  Sugar stirred slightly on his feet.  'Well, threppence then!'  He said nonchalantly.

*

 

J.W."Billy" Bambrook.

J.W.(Billy) Bambrook was perhaps the most eccentric person in Deanshanger when I was young.  He lived in one of the tiny cottages by the canal.  He claimed to be the agent of the canal company and demanded that people ask his permission to use the towpath.

          His father before him had been a chimney-sweep, and Billy followed in his footsteps.  When the old man died, Billy erected a chimney over his grave as a headstone.  He was made to take it down, although it seemed a perfectly fitting memorial, and as such was surely a piece of "folk art".

Billy Bambrook was a tall, slightly built man, he had an unusually long neck and always wore black.  He wore a black flat cap, which was so flat it appeared no more than a disk on his head.  He had a very odd way of walking, and at each step would thrust his pelvis out, making himself the butt of many jokes.

He lived alone, but was always on the lookout for a wife.  He was in the habit of writing a proposal of marriage to any eligible lady who came to his notice.  He often caused great offence and alarm to the ladies on the receiving end of these letters, and had frequent cautions from the village bobby.

There was insufficient business in the village for him to make a living at chimney sweeping, he not only had competition, but many people were loath to have him in their house to sweep a chimney, so he had to look for other forms of gainful employment.  He had two other strings to his bow.  The first was fetching loads of coke from Stony Stratford gasworks.  Many people used coke to supplement the more expensive coal, and Billy acquired three hand-trucks of various sizes, which stood outside his cottage.  He was very proud of these trucks and painted them in bright colours with his name on them.  Each truck denoted whether it was "CarrierNumber 1", 2, or 3!  He was frequently to be seen hurrying towards Stony to fetch coke, and appeared to be doing good business till he was suddenly barred from the gasworks for upsetting the girls in the office!

His second job earned him a few shillings a week as a part-time assistant at Stony Stratford Co-op, turning the handle of the sausage machine in the butchery department.  He obviously took a great interest in what went on there because after a short time he erected a notice over his cottage door, which said "J.W.Bambrook Esq.  Licensed Pig Killer and Slaughterer".  Naturally, he found such work very difficult to come by.

He was eventually persuaded to move from his house when the owners of the Oxide Works wanted to demolish the cottages so that they could expand, and he ended his days in an old railway coach on Shrob allotments, with no water or electricity.  That a slightly deficient eccentric should have been treated in this manner at the end of his days did not reflect any credit on those concerned, who colluded to obtain his property, and treated him generally in a very shabby way.

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Updated  18-01-2014 11:04:46 AM