History > Reminiscences > #4
PERSONAL MEMORIES OF A CHILDHOOD IN BARFORD, IN THE 1930’s AND DURING THE WAR YEARS, by Joyce Perrott
Early in 1929, my father, Fred Lane, met Mr William Carter
from Barford at Warwick Market. Mr Carter owned some property in Church
Street and offered my father the lease of a cottage with adjoining shop.
So Mum and Dad got married and came to Barford on the bus from Leamington
carrying a suitcase and a can of paraffin for the heater and set up home
and opened the shop (where Rita and Paul Hunt now live) to sell vegetables
and groceries. The following year my sister Beryl was born, followed by me
the next year and Valeria three years later.
Our books were old-fashioned and rather boring; for example “Nan rode in the gig”, but were hard to come by in those days. We sang songs – “Rickety Tick”, “I wish, how I wish that I had a little house” etc. Each week the rector, Canon Hugh Prince, who lived at the Rectory (now the Glebe Hotel) used to visit the school. He was a kind old gentleman who loved children. He would bring his dog, Jan, and one day put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a handful of puppies for us to play with. The classroom had a big open fire with a high fireguard and I can still see Miss Gent standing with her back to the fire enjoying the warmth. She was such a lovely kind lady and I’m sure that we all remember her with affection.
When I was six and Beryl seven we caught diphtheria, as did two teenage girls, one of whom helped my mother in the house. I learned years later that their brother, who was in the Navy at Portsmouth, had brought the infection to the village but fortunately it spread no further. We were taken to the local fever hospital, Heathcote (now the Rehabilitation Hospital) and were allowed no visitors the whole time we were there. This was a traumatic experience for small children and several young patients died while we were there. Our local GP, Dr George Tibbets from Warwick, diagnosed the disease by its distinctive odour as soon as he came into the bedroom. In those days patients had complete bed rest so, when we did return home, we were pale and weak and could hardly walk. Luckily we survived the ordeal.
Leaving our early days behind we felt quite important on moving into the Juniors where Mrs Calvert taught four different age groups in one room. We sat in double desks, each age group in columns from standard one to four, about eight children in a group. Mrs Calvert must have been a remarkable teacher to have taught about thirty children, aged seven to eleven in one classroom and certainly in my last year four of us moved to Grammar schools. Some children were chosen to take the scholarship, which later became the eleven plus. If you failed to obtain a free place, you could still attend the Grammar School as a fee payer. Most children moved into the Seniors where they were taught by Mr Twigger and left school at fourteen.
Just before Mothering Sunday the children were encouraged to go into the woods and lanes and pick bunches of violets. Mrs Calvert would then pack strong cardboard boxes with all these violets and send them to London by train, probably arriving the next day for the children to give to their mothers. Mr Davies, who lived in a house in High Street, was the carrier and delivered goods from various places in and around the village. His son Tony was a very clever boy and was in our year together with David Hemmings, Amy Harding, Rita Bayliss, Fred Ireland, Peter Read and a couple of others. David and I were great buddies and sat together all through Barford school.
About 1939 my father bought a cottage and four houses, Gladstone Place, on the opposite side of the road from an elderly lady, Miss Fairfax. Our old cottage, which was formerly owned by Mr W Carter was now occupied by Harold and Nora Carter and family and the shop and cottage, after some alteration and modernisation, became a wool and haberdashery shop. Dad turned the front room of the cottage on the corner of Keytes Lane into his new shop and the cottage itself was occupied by Mr and Mrs Smith and their six children. We lived in the first house, with the steps, then Mr and Mrs Ilott and Jeff, Mr and Mrs Simmons with John and Gordon and then Mr and Mrs Tilling with Godfrey, Trevor and Christopher. There was no running water in the houses and we all shared a pump in the garden. At the end of the gardens were wash- houses with coppers to boil the washing. The lavatories were behind a brick wall with buckets which were emptied weekly by the night soil men. We were scared of the dark so two sisters would walk together to the wash-house. One evening, when my sister was sitting on the lavatory, I was kneeling on the brick floor drawing faces on the scrubbed lavatory seat with blackened match sticks when my sister suddenly said “Joyce your hair is on fire!” I had leaned over the candle and I was alight! We managed to put it out and crept to the kitchen where we brushed out handfuls of singed hair with the wire hairbrush. On another occasion I fell in the bucket! Oh dear! Then there were other incidents such as riding my bike with my feet on the handlebars and falling off when a dog ran in front of me. Mum was sent for and she and Ed Hadley the butcher, half dragged and half carried this semi-conscious child home.
One day I was cleaning the bedroom window when I found myself upside
down, feet on the window sill and hands on the top of the downstairs
window, with the cellar grating below. I could see Mr Twigger walking
down the street on the other side and all I could think of was that he
would see my navy school knickers as my skirt had fallen over my head.
Val managed to pull me back but my knees were so wobbly I had to sit
Like most villages, Barford was a happy friendly place. Everyone knew everyone else, doors were never locked, people had time to stop and talk and elderly ladies would sit inside their doorways in Church Street and we would stop for a word or two. If they became ill there would be kindly neighbours to help them out and children to run errands.
There were very few cars so we could play whip and top, skipping, ballgames and bowl our hoops in the street. Bill Hadley would walk his cow twice a day quite safely, with no fear of traffic, from his field at the end of Church Lane to his house at the bottom of Church Street to be milked.
The post lady, Mrs Griffen, who took over the postal delivery after her husband’s death, delivered our letters for years. The houses had no numbers but she knew where everyone lived. Many of the cottages were owned by the squire, Mr Smith-Ryland and occupied by those who worked at the big house. In fact there were several large houses in and around the village some of which were owned by people who had made their money from the factories in the industrial Midlands. Villagers worked hard and losing their job was a disaster as being on “the dole” was something to be ashamed of. Most men had an allotment, usually beautifully tended and there was friendly rivalry as to who could produce the earliest potatoes, etc. Chickens and pigs were also kept in back gardens or on the allotment. We had a pig called Horace and Dad used to ride his bike with a bucket of pigswill on the handlebars – a familiar sight in the village as bicycles were the main form of transport. The day came for Horace to be killed so several men and children gathered to watch the event. Horace must have got wind of what was about to happen and ran off from the allotments, down Church Lane and Church Street, chased by men and children alike, until he was finally caught and met his end!
When a pig was killed, straw was set alight and
used to burn off the bristles, then the skin was scrubbed to remove
the debris. Some of the
villagers owned a pig bench which I think was lead lined, with a hole
for drainage. An incision was made down the front of the pig and all
the organs removed. Liver was called 'fry' and tasted delicious, cooked
straight from the pig. The pancreas was 'sweetbread' and the heart was
stuffed and cooked, kidneys were fried and the small intestine was cleaned
and boiled and eaten cold with vinegar. These were called 'chitterlings'.
Brawn was made from the pig’s head which was boiled whole and the
meat from the cheeks, etc, removed, set in a mould and eaten cold. The
fat from round the kidneys was suet, used in puddings and the apron of
fat covering the abdominal organs rendered down as lard, the crunchy
bits remaining eaten as scratchings. The tongue was cooked, pressed down
with heavy weights and eaten cold. The stomach was cleaned and boiled
as tripe and served with parsley sauce. Pig’s trotters were also
boiled and considered a delicacy. I remember seeing ‘lights’ (lungs)
hanging in the butcher's shop. I don’t know if anyone ate them,
certainly dogs did. Nothing was wasted. Some of the women in the village
were expert in dealing with all of this but many thought it too messy.
Pig meat, eggs, vegetables etc were always shared around and when the womenfolk made cakes, jams, etc they would invariably give some to the neighbours. There were some very poor families in the village, particularly farm workers living in tied cottages, and I remember children having to walk two or three miles to school in very inadequate clothing. The thought of their red chapped fingers and cold wet feet as they walked through the snow wearing plimsolls fills me with sadness even now.
In comparison, we were more fortunate. Although life in those days was totally different from that of today, we enjoyed different activities such as Brownies. Mrs Parry, who lived in Church Lane, was Brown Owl and wonderful times were spent in the Brownie House, a small cottage at the top of High Street on the right just before Plestowes (now Hareway) Lane. We would clean, cook, tend the garden, etc until it was finally decided that it was unsafe for us to use. It has since been demolished. Then came the Girl Guides, our Captain being Miss Winnie, a teacher from Seaford Ladies College which had been evacuated to Westham House. When the school returned to Sussex we had Cath Burns and Agnes Winston. I thought it would be a good idea if we could have a girls' choir at church and approached Archdeacon Parr about it. “Come back when you have found six girls” he said, so half an hour later I came back and the girl’s choir came into being, no doubt much to the disgust of the boys! I’m ashamed to say that we were rather badly behaved chatting and giggling in the choir stalls and Mr Allibone, the Organist and Choirmaster would frown and wag his finger at us in the mirror above the organ. At Christmas we would be driven to large houses on the outskirts of the village where we sang carols in their beautifully decorated halls and then be rewarded with cups of homemade soup, mince pies, fruit, etc. These were magical experiences for us in a time of austerity, never to be forgotten.
The war started when I was eight and I can remember going home to lunch and my parents listening to the one o’clock news on the wireless not quite realising the seriousness of it. Initially, we had evacuees from Coventry – among them Billie Whitelaw – and later from Islington, London. People who had large enough rooms were forced to take them and there was a certain amount of dismay when it was discovered that their mothers came too. One day, when my father went to his allotment, to his surprise he saw two young evacuees running away in fright, green apples falling from their knicker legs as they went! Most of the evacuees found it difficult to settle in such a different environment and returned home. Winning the war became an important issue to us all and I certainly felt personally responsible at a young age. We would collect tins, jars, bottles and newspapers for the war effort and iron railings were removed to be recycled. There were 'Warship' weeks', 'Battle of Britain' weeks and 'Dig for Britain' weeks where concerted efforts were made by everyone in the village to do their bit. I remember, as part of National Savings week, we were invited to design a poster. My effort won the 1st prize of a fifteen shilling savings certificate. My greatest delight was beating the “posh” girls of Seaford Ladies College!
We were issued with gasmasks and officials visited us at school to make sure they fitted properly. Imagine the pandemonium with a class of thirty two children trying to inhale deeply enough so that a piece of paper would stick on the end and then exhaling producing rude noises all round! There were blackout curtains, strips of paper stuck onto the windows, Air raid Wardens and Home Guards who, with the Royal Engineers, built a bridge over the river. Italian prisoners of war were delivered in lorries to work on farms. British and German planes flying overhead, sounds of bombs and gunfire when Coventry was being bombed and one night a German bomber crashed at Wasperton though I think the airmen parachuted to safety. When convoys of American soldiers went through the village, the children would call “Got any gum, chum?” and would run and pick it up as they threw it to us. The village came through the war unscathed which was fortunate considering the close proximity of airfields at Wellesbourne and Longbridge where still the skeleton of a hanger remains.
Church bells which had been silenced since the war began rang out to celebrate its end. Victory parties were held. Servicemen returned to find there was little employment and those who did not return were mourned by their loved ones. Our food and clothes continued to be rationed. Those of us who were children at the start of the war were now teenagers. I am glad to have been part of the end of village life as it used to be before taking its first tentative steps towards a new and completely different era.
"How I wish ……."
How I wish, how I wish that I had a little house,
To school in the morning my children off would run,
I would shine all the tables, all the windows and the doors,
At night, by the fire when the children are in bed,
Rickety Tick was a little brown sparrow
"A funny old man……"
A funny old man whose hair is quite white
He carries a bag of sweetmeats and toys
Joyce Perrott, May 2003