Memories of Pirton by Sam Jarvis

Sam Jarvis, now 89 and living in Eastbourne, recalls some of the incidents of his younger days in Pirton and of  more recent changes.

Pirton Wesleyan Methodist Church built in 1906. Sam was the first baby to be christened in the new chapel

Sam Jarvis won the first prize in the baby show at walnut Tree Farm Summer Fair seen here.


It was just after the turn of the century that Sam Jarvis, second of four brothers, was born in Pirton and lived in one of the cottages in High Street(now no. 3)  Although Sam moved away from Pirton in the early 1920’s he has kept strong links with the village. He tells us that as the weather improves he will be coming to Pirton to see  his sister-in-law Nora Jarvis who lives in Danefield Road, and some of his old friends. Sam’s sister Ethel, who died a few years ago, became one of the best known people in the village, affectionately known as Auntie Ethel and variously post lady, school dinner lady and general supporter of village life.


In telling us about his many happy memories of the village, Sam started by saying, ”As an 89 year old Pirtonian on a visit home I was talking with Betty Huckle and said how interesting I found many of the articles in the St Mary’s Pirton Magazine, which I get sent to me. Betty told me I should contribute something. I confessed I was an ‘alien’ as I was brought up a strict Methodist, one uncle being a lay preacher, but she told me this made no difference!

‘I was very sorry to learn that Rev. John Potipher and his wife, Pauline, had left the village. He did a wonderful work at St. Mary’s and in the village as a whole. I remember hearing a long while ago the attendance at the church and chapel was so few  there was a service at church one week and  at the chapel the next Sunday. On my last visit I attended my old chapel There were only sixteen in the congregation. I remember that when I was young the chapel was usually fairly full. I went regularly to Sunday School. I had very many happy times there, especially some mid-week evenings when we had plays, magic lantern shows and other types of popular entertainment. This was all at the old Methodist chapel which became the Sunday School when the new chapel was built. Our old Sunday School stood next to the Hammonds Almshouses in High Street.’  When the old Sunday School building, entered by steep steps, was demolished it gave way to the present house. Now owned by Victor Witney this house retains a link with its past by being named after the great founder of Methodism. ”Wesley’ marks the spot of Sam’s memories and part of  an original wall of the Methodist building still edges  Victor’s garden.

Methodist Chapel which became the Sunday school

Sam, like many of his childhood friends who attended Pirton School, spent much of his time out and around the village. As Sam said, ‘We all took part in gleaning wheat, potatoes, wood and other things. As I look back to my youth, I can still picture a small sack of flour, the result of our gleaning, which we took to the mill near Hitchin Station. It was ground into flour which Mother then made into dumplings and puddings. We boys were more fortunate than the girls as we were employed for work at harvest time; first picking the sheaves of corn up and putting them into a ‘stook’ or ‘shock’ as we called it. Later we drove the horse and cart from the field to the farm.

Collecting the shocks

Mine was Rectory Farm as I lived ‘down – town’.    Those who lived ‘Up-town’ went to help at Walnut Tree Farm. Then after the harvest we helped by driving the horse and cart to the fields with manure. It was usually a month’s work. After collecting the wages, Mother always took me to Hawkins in Hitchin for a new suit for my return to school after the six-week summer break.

‘We were a friendly crowd. ‘Up town’ and ‘Down town’ people mixed well.’ Sam later joined the police and moved from Pirton in 1928 when he was twenty-one. He reminds us of how different the Pirton of seventy years ago was to that of today. ‘Since I left there have, of course, been changes in the village. A large number of new houses, electric lights, water laid on – all wonderful changes. What puzzles me greatly is that in my day we had four bakers, at least five shops plus post office and one butcher. Now, with all these new houses there is just the one shop with post office. There has also been a large reduction in the number of public houses, although I understand, they now serve meals. When I left the village it was a 4d bus ride to Hitchin; on my last visit I had to pay £1.05. What a huge increase!

‘Unfortunately, my mother was deaf and there were no hearing aids as there are today. I was at home one day when Mr Ashton our baker who lived at his bakery, (now Knoll House) called for his weekly money. He said to my mother, ‘I forgot to note down the whole of your weekly order, but I know you will not cheat me. How much do you owe?’ Mother had the amount ready which he accepted. I am not sure it would be quite like that today.

‘I think all my male friends have departed, but good to know that five girl friends are still around.  Ivy Walker (older than me!), Hilda Dawson ( nee Baines), Hilda Cheshire  ( nee Titmuss ), Alice Lake ( nee Chamberlain ) and Millie Walker.  I like a chat with them when possible. I also visit Doris Walker, wife of my closest friend Stanley.

‘The incident of the Flying Bomb, well reported by Millie Walker (Pirton Magazine, June 1995), brings back a vivid memory. It so happened that weekend I had brought my wife down for a rest after a similar bombing in London. In Pirton we were staying at the home of relatives and slept on until breakfast time. My sister in law who lived in a cottage near Walnut Tree Farm  had the glass in the  windows smashed by the explosion. That event reminded me back in 1944 of when I had met my wife at a hospital ‘do’. We had been gaily dancing until three bombs fell on another part of the hospital. We all hastened to the scene through dark passages and I will  never forget the cries of ‘Help, help!’ and fractured legs entangled in wire bedding. Fortunately, the rescue services were quickly there.

‘Two other lasting memories. Firstly, of cricket. As a young lad I watched a game of cricket at Walnut Tree Farm when Jess Walker of Royal Oak Lane took six wickets with six balls. Five in one over and the sixth with the first ball of the next over. Secondly of a huge snowdrift. Again as a young lad, I joined many other much older men with spades and shovels to clear a snowdrift of 5 to 6 feet in the Bedford Road where the road leads up to Holwell. We threw the snow over hedges by the side of the road; all clear for traffic to travel again’.

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