& GROWING UP IN THE 1930’S & 40’s
Notes of a meeting held in the former School in 2009.
The school day began at 9.00 a.m.with the ringing of the school bell. Miss Bernice Edwards, the teacher, would choose who was to ring it and she had her favourites. The only time the bell was not rung was during the war. The children arrived and lined up, took off their coats and hung them in their respective cloakrooms. (The girls’ cloakroom has since been demolished but the boys’ still remains). Miss Edwards would then take Assembly. She played the piano for a hymn & prayers were said. The children then sat down at their desks. There were set lessons including Scripture and Sums. They did PE outside unless it was raining or snowing. Otherwise they stayed in, read and giggled. It was a hard job for Miss Edwards as there were about 30 children from 4½ years to 11. They all did sums together, easy ones for the younger children more difficult for the older ones. During the war materials were scarce so books were a bit tatty.
The desks all had inkwells set into them. One of Brenda’s brothers sat behind Anne Giles and got a moth in his desk and when he went to get it he hit the inkwell & the ink went everywhere including all over Anne’s dress. Miss Edwards made him go down to Mrs Giles to apologise so he went with Anne and Mrs Giles said it could happen to anyone and she didn’t know what the fuss was. She said “I’ll soak that in milk – it won’t be any problem”. She was obviously a nice lady.
There was only one teacher until the evacuees came when Miss Badger arrived to help out. Brian said she was lovely & used to sit them on her knee. Dennis Lydiatt said Fred Fay, a student manager working for the Emberlins was courting Miss Badger – Brian thinks they got married. Miss Adams came later.
Miss Edwards & Mrs Attwell lived in School Cottage attached to the School House. Miss Edwards had the very first room at the back. She always went to Oxford on a Saturday on the 8.00 a.m. train.
When Sheila started at 4½ she was taught in the library/infants’ room and went up to the main school room when she was older. The others only remember using the library room for having their lunch. The girls’ toilet was straight up the garden (now demolished) the boys’ was in the little stone building which is still there. They were bucket toilets which were emptied once a week it was thought by Ted Giles the Station Master. You weren’t allowed to go to the toilet, unless desperate and had to wait until the lesson was finished.
Miss Edwards used to poke them in the back with her thumb if they weren’t paying attention or weren’t working, which hurt.
She would stand with one foot on a chair so they could all see her brown knickers a constant source of amusement. The Vicar gave Miss Edwards tuition for teaching but she never qualified as a teacher so it is amazing that the children learnt as much as they did.
There was a needlework box just inside the school room door and the girls did sewing and other needlework skills. The boys were taught gardening on plots behind the wall where the tennis court is now, called The Dell.
Every day someone took a jug and went down to the stream to get the water for the day. Watercress grew there. Milk was provided but when it was very cold Miss Andrews would bring down a pan and put all the bottles of milk into a saucepan and make cocoa so that they had a hot drink. The schoolroom was heated by a coke stove. There was a big iron guard round the fire with a big bucket of coke beside it. On Mondays it was always cold as there had been no heating over the weekend. Occasionally some of the children’s shoes leaked and if they had wet socks Miss Edwards used to take them off and put them on the guard to dry. She could sometimes be very kind but at the time they didn’t appreciate it.
Most had sandwiches for lunch as no school dinners were provided although when Doreen started school cooked food was brought from Fritwell. Those who lived in the village went home for dinner some of them coming back through The Close. behind the Rectory.
Those who lived further away such as New Buildings at the south end of the village or Phyllis Golder down by the Railway Crossing (Somerton Mill) stayed for dinner. All of them walked to school.
The girls and boys were segregated and Miss Edwards was very strict about it. Sometimes she would send two of them up to the shop to get paraffin or to post letters. On their return she always said, “where have you been, you’ve been too long?”
The biggest event in the school year was May Day (link). It was the best thing ever and they all looked forward to it. It was marvellous and if May 1st fell on a school day it was effectively a holiday.Marina remembers being the May Queen when Graham Ginger was the King. Brenda was May Queen with Tony Reynolds.
About three weeks to a month before the Day the children would begin rehearsing. A couple of days before they went around the big houses to collect flowers (only the big houses) although they could bring some of their own if they had them. Then moss had to be collected to tie onto the garland, which was a frame made of wood tied at the top with a circle at the base. The next day they used to come down in the afternoon and dress the garland with bunches of flowers and the doll which was dressed in a white gown with a red velvet cloak and is still in the village. The May Queen was chosen by vote and about 6 – 8 girls were chosen by Miss Edwards to be Maids of Honour and were given a flower and a rhyme to say about their respective flowers. They all had to learn the May Day songs.
One year Marina was Violet but because she couldn’t find any violets she cried her eyes out so Brian went out to Ardley Woods and came back with loads as she was so upset. What a good brother to have! The garland was always topped with Crown Imperials which came from the garden of the Emberlins and was carried by two boys on a long pole. There was also the School banner to be carried – this too is still in the village.
On the big Day they started off from the School House and went down to North Aston Mill where the Miss Roses lived. They came back to meet the train and when it stopped they said their verses and sang their songs to the passengers which must have been a lovely sight. Then it was up to Church Street and along to Adams Cottages, (there weren’t any houses at West View) then it was back to the school for the sandwiches that they had brought with them that morning. In the afternoon they went up to Troy Farm and the other end of the village. Mrs Hill gave them tea and they were allowed to go round the Maze. There was a girl in the village who knew how it should be walked so it was follow my leader. (Sheila remembers that later when she worked at Troy, Freddie Golder put weed killer on the Maze instead of fertilizer and all the grass disappeared!)
Every farm was visited. At Manor Farm the Miss Emberlins would hide pennies in the wall for them to find.
After they had been all around the village the children returned to the school and their parents came to see the Maypole dancing in the school yard. Afterwards they had a May Day tea at the School House provided by the ladies of the village. It was the highlight of the year. They collected money en route which was used for a Christmas party. Sometimes when either Doreen or Brenda couldn’t sleep the other would say ‘Think of something nice, think of May Day’. It was so important to them and being the May Queen or King was something really special.
(In the 70’s this custom was revived by Ethel Smith, sister to Brenda & Doreen, and continued until a few years after her death. It is still celebrated sadly no longer in the same way).
Official visits were made by the Attendance Officer but they were seldom off school. Nitty Nora also came regularly. Miss Edwards stood inside the door to the schoolroom and gave them each a spoonful of cod liver oil and malt, the same spoon for everyone. A clinic was held at the Village Hall and Mrs Waddup who kept the shop would stand outside in her big white apron and with a beckoning finger call, “come on, come on” to give them a dose of cod liver oil from a big bottle followed by a sugar lump.
Miss Edwards ran the Sunday School, the Brownies and Guides. The children were expected to attend church at 11.00 and then 3.00 pm for Sunday School and church again at 6 pm. There were prizes at Sunday School. They also went to church with the school for Harvest Thanksgiving.
Miss Edwards had her favourites and preferred to teach those who were bright rather than the strugglers who were poked in the back and told, “you will do it”. Consequently when they went to the senior school they were sometimes behind the other children.
Brian remembers the thatch being taken off one of the cottages up from the school and a new roof was put on but it just slipped off and landed in the path. Luckily nobody was hurt. Mr Cross lived in the end cottage up from the school and he used to stand outside chewing tobacco all day. Sheila remembers picking all the flowers off the runner beans in one of the gardens because she wanted to take her mum a bunch of flowers and getting told off for doing it.
The school years were called Standard 1-5 at Somerton and became Standard 6 in the Senior School. When they were eleven years old most of the children went to Fritwell and were each given a bike (called Famous James) as it was more than 2 miles away from Somerton. (Children from Souldern didn’t get a bike)!
Then some of the rules were changed and Brian went to Dr Radcliffe’s at Steeple Aston which was a bigger school, but this was closed down when Marina left and a new one built. (The old school is now used as a village hall). It was a good school where the boys learnt woodwork, metalwork, science and gardening and the girls learnt cookery. Brian went on a double decker bus & had some frightening times as it very often missed a gear and nearly tipped over. When the Americans came to Upper Heyford they messed all the road verges up, not being used to our country roads, and he remembers the bus almost going over into the ditch. Some bad winters they had to get off and walk home as the bus could not cope with the snow and ice. If the children ever missed the bus and went home they were told that it must have been because they were messing around and it was their own fault and they must walk or cycle. They didn’t dare miss school, except for one of Doreen’s brothers, Donald who was bullied at Fritwell. He would take his bike up Jimmy’s Hill, climb a tree and haul his bike up after him on a rope and stay there until after the other children had gone to school. There were lots of trees up there then which have now all gone. One day when the children were up in those same trees an old tramp came along. Doreen was so frightened she got stuck and Brenda had to fetch brother Dennis to help her.
Tramps were very common, there was one in particular who was very scruffy with a long beard, who came to the Lydiatts’ house every Christmas and Mrs Lydiatt always gave him food and mince pies.
Brenda’s mother thought she wasn’t strong enough to ride a bike every day to Fritwell so Mrs Giles suggested she go to school in Kidlington with her daughter Anne on the train (Anne’s father Ted being the Station Master). Brenda secured a place at Gosford Hill School, but then Anne left and Brenda had to come home on the train on her own but her dad would come on his bike to meet her. She had to use the crossing by the signal box coming back or go down the bank and under the road bridge. In the winter it was dark when she got to Somerton and she was always frightened. One night she had just crossed over the track but had not heard the train coming which only just missed her although it took her satchel! What a narrow escape. She was absolutely beside herself and when she told her dad what had happened he said, “that’s enough you’re not going on the train again”. After that she caught the bus.
Weekends they sometimes went to the pictures. It cost 1/10 (one shilling and ten pence) to get to Banbury on the train. If you had a car you were either a farmer, or rich.
As children they used to walk all round the rivers on Sunday afternoons. They always had a big slice of cake or bread pudding when they got home from school. The bread pudding was so heavy that if you dropped it, it would break your foot!!!!!!!!!!
Everyone had allotments and gardens and lived off the land. When Brian’s dad got home he always had something in his bag. The whole village revolved round the farms. Most of their fathers worked on the farms and their mothers stayed at home to look after the house and family. Marina’s dad was in the Navy for over 20 years. When he came back he worked for Eagles but then he went to work on the railway and because Mr Eagle owned the cottage they were in and their dad was working elsewhere they had to move. The Godwins, Hills, Emberlins and Browns owned most of the property and several families lived in tied houses so you had to watch what you did and said.
For entertainment there were film shows & good social evenings, musical chairs etc. in the village hall and it was such good fun. A football team was started but it didn’t take off. However there was a cricket ground up Glyde Hill. Nearly everyone in the village used to swim in the river, went fishing or just played down in the meadows. In the winter they went sledging.
The V.P.A. Show was always a great success. They had a Village Fete. They were very keen on Whist Drives and it was said that the Village Hall floor was the best dance floor in North Oxfordshire. They used to put bath crystals on the floor to make it slip.
Everyone was keen and worked and played together. They were all together and remember very happy times. There were ten in Brenda and Doreen’s family and four in Brian and Marina’s and the community was very close knit.
The doctors’ surgery was in The Old Post House in Church Street. The doctor was only there once a week and you queued and went up the steps. There was Dr McCloud and sometimes there was a Dr McCabe who had silver hair and liked his drink. He was accustomed to going to the Emberlins for a drink before surgery but if he was hunting he didn’t come at all. Lee Wolf was another doctor who wore a long black coat. Subsequently the surgery went up to the New Rectory where Rector Clifford Rhodes lived. Mr Wickson had the shop and before that Mrs Waddup. There was Mr Moore the butcher and the coal place where the cottages are in Church Street and milk was sold at the back of the butcher’s shop. Mr Fox did hair cutting. The bread came from North Aston and a van came from Steeple Aston with fruit from Charlie Preston. The Co-op was at Steeple Aston then it moved to Upper Heyford. Your order would be taken one week and then delivered the following week. Waddup’s shop on the corner sold everything. Round the back of Waddups was a cobbler called Mr. Harris who mainly repaired the farm workers footwear. His son Harold made baskets. He was blind with big black glasses. A man in a maroon coloured van came and charged batteries. Mr and Mrs Knight ran the dairy. Dennis worked for David and Peggy. He took over from Auntie Bet when she had Cynthia.
There was no electricity. There were paraffin oil lamps on the table and candles to go to bed with. There was no mains sewerage just a big hole dug in the garden. The big houses had electricity first. Brenda was up at the New Buildings when the electricity came. She and other children made a seesaw with some big planks which they laid across the big wheels of wire. It made a great seesaw but they got into trouble for it. In 1948 Brenda remembers the well. They all went with their buckets to collect water. Sheila collected the water from the wells up from Water Street. The water was always ice cold and always running, coming from Glyde Hill. When they went walking they brought back wood for the fire. They were also sent gleaning and picked up the heads of corn for their chickens. They went potato picking and had time off school for that and a bucket of potatoes to take home at night. Brenda didn’t like getting her hands dirty but Sheila said it was worth it to get some potatoes!
All their houses had tin baths. Once a week the copper in the corner of the kitchen was heated and then they went in the bath in turn by age. Dennis was always the last one and said there was always a lot of water when it was his turn and he couldn’t make out why it was still so full!
They left Fritwell at fourteen years old. At that time there were about 12-15 villagers who worked on the local farms. If there were no other jobs you went up to the Heyford Base which had just opened. Brenda was sent to Emberlins to work. She wanted to stay at school another term but wasn’t allowed to. Sheila earned a pound a week at the grocers in Banbury.
The Connors were a family who lived at Connors’ (Deep) Lock. They were very poor and never had shoes or socks but Mrs Connor must have had style as she always wore her makeup. At one time or another they all fell into the canal. The baker would leave any left over bread on the canal bridge for the family and one day Alfie Connor came with a pram to collect it and fell in, bread ‘n all. Monty Stevens told Sheila he saw it all from the signal box – all the bread floating down the canal. Doreen’s mum would make clothes for them from old ones of her family on her treadle sewing machine, another example of how the community helped one another.
There were ten of the Lydiatts in Aston View. Doreen was in a cot until she was five until David came along. Their mum had to tie Doreen’s nightie to Brenda’s because she used to sleep walk. One night she tried to go sleep walking and when Brenda tried to stop her from jumping out of the window, Doreen bit her and her dad had to pull her free and prize her teeth off Brenda.
Brenda recalls that despite the fact that most of the time their childhood was spent during the war years when money was tight they all made the best of what they had and shared everything with one another. “We weren’t angels by any means but the mischief was innocent if at times a bit naughty, the worst being apple scrumping in the Emberlins’ and Moores’ orchards. Plums and pears were our favourites, Victoria and greengages in particular but by Jove if we got caught we were in a deal of trouble and sent to bed with no tea. We played lots of games – cricket, fox & hounds, tracking, to name but a few. They were very happy days. In fact all our childhood days were very happy. I quote the words of the song, ‘Those were the days my friends’.”
With grateful thanks to the Rees-Jones family for their hospitality
Dennis, Brenda, Doreen, Marina, Brian & Sheila
The Schoolroom, Old School House.
|Doreen Brookfield nee Lydiatt (Sister to Brenda & Dennis)||1939||
Born 1 New Buildings. Started school at five in 1944 and moved to No 1 Aston View until married and then went to the middle one of Adams Cottages. The family was obliged to house a farm worker of the Browns and to pay £2 a week rent plus look after him. He had lunch every day with them. The house had three bedrooms and the bathroom was in the kitchen. Auntie Sis and Uncle Ron, (Sheila’s parents) lived next door.
|Brenda Moignard nee Lydiatt (Sister to Doreen & Dennis)||1937||Born 1 New Buildings then moved to Aston View. Started school at age five. Now living in Fritwell.|
|Marina Warr nee Calver||1948||
Started school at four and a half in 1953 and was born in the cottages inChurch Streetopposite the church. They had no water or electricity but had a pump outside. It was the first red brick house. She moved at about two years old to 1 West View where she stayed until she was twenty. Then she moved to Fritwell to be closer to Brian.
|Brian Calver, Marina’s brother||1937||Lived in Church Street. Went to school in 1942.|
|Sheila Stevens nee Lydiatt (cousin to Brenda, Doreen & Dennis).||1931||
Born at Deddington Hill, Came to Somerton when six months old and at 4 ½ went to school. Lived in the middle School Cottage. Went to Rectory Cottage, then Adams Cottages until married and then went to Aston View next to Dot Coupe. When she married Monty they went to the Station House
|Dennis Lydiatt (Brother to Doreen & Brenda)||1932||
Lived at New Buildings. Started school in 1937 when he was five. Living in Middle Barton now.
Rosemary Arnold and Shirley Grant