Aug/Sept 1999 Just after the Second World War, John Thompson sent many of the school holidays in Pirton. In 1962 he emigrated to Australia with his wife and two small boys. John wrote to us from New South Wales recalling some of his memories in
SCHOOL HOLIDAYS IN PIRTON
From 1945 to 1948 I spent many of my school holidays in Pirton. During school terms I was a boarder at Highgate School. My grandmother was a member of the Cooper family who lived in a long-ago, disappeared cottage in Walnut Tree Road and my grandfather a Thompson from Stondon. My holidays were spent on Cromwell Farm which belonged to my Uncle Fred Weedon I was there during harvest-time, later driving horses which carted dung from the yards out to the fields. As I grew older my services were needed on our own ‘Hoo Farm’ at Meppershall where our family were until 1959. I loved going to Pirton as I had a lot of friends there.
Fred Weedon was a very good farmer. The last time I saw him was in 1961. I think he died shortly after that (in fact on 13th April 1961). His wife was Ethel, the sister of my grandmother. The Weedon family seemed to run most of the farms in Pirton. In addition to Fred at Cromwell Farm, there was Bill at Rectory Farm, Bert at Hammonds Farm in Burge End Lane and George at Wrights Farm off Shillington Road.
My Aunt Ethel was a great cook as was her sister, my grandmother. I have never tasted Yorkshire pudding like they used to cook. I well remember my Uncle Fred, a man of habit. Every Saturday night he went to the Hermitage cinema in Hitchin (later rebuilt as the now defunct post-office in Hermitage Road). It didn’t matter what was showing at the cinema and he would not know in advance; he went anyway.
He was an expert at rolling cigarettes in the dark and he always smoked them in a brown tortoiseshell cigarette holder. He was a man of few words and very quietly spoken. Whenever I went with him to the movies, he usually gave lift into Hitchin to some of the women who worked for him in the fields. It was usually a very silent journey with hardly a greeting or a goodbye. Then, when he came out of the cinema there, they were waiting for the lift back to Pirton. I often used to wonder how these lifts came about as I never heard them discussed or organised. Aunt Ethel would never accompany us on these Saturday nights out.
His brother, Bill, had Rectory Farm. I never did see so much of him. It was from Rectory Farm that the village milk deliveries were made. I used to love doing the rounds on the milk cart. The milk was ladled out of a churn into containers that people brought out with them when the cart turned up. I will never forget the huge barn at Rectory Farm, which I noticed was still standing when I drove by a couple of years ago. If I was seen at the farm hanging around doing nothing, Bill’s son – either Frank or Ted – would make me sweep the barn out. This was very hard work for a young lad.
My father, too, spent a lot of time at Pirton. His name was Alfred but he was always known as ‘Son’. His mother was Martha, nee Cooper, who had previously lived in Pirton and thus our strong family association with the village.
I was in the UK 18 months ago on a very quick visit and did drive through Pirton late one evening. I didn’t have time to linger, but I was amazed to see my Aunt Alice’s cottage still standing just as it was when I used to stay there in the 1940’s.
(No 17 High Street, the home of Cynthia and Christopher Newsum). The thatched roof looked untouched, * as was the path leading up to the front door. It brought back a lot of fond memories seeing that little white cottage. I’m afraid my memories are a bit vague after all these years. (Aunt Alice was, in fact, Alice Gibson – nee Baines. She was Muriel Timbury’s mother. It was Muriel who kindly filled in some of the ‘gaps’ which John was unable to remember).
This picture is from ‘A Foot on Three Daisies’ (page 8) and refers to the Cooper family’ outside their cottage in Walnut Tree Road; the cottage burnt down in a fire practice of 1926. I just must correct a detail of the caption to that photograph. I have a picture, taken in 1913, of some of the same people in the ‘Foot on Three Daisies’ picture outside the same cottage; this contradicts the statement that everyone in the picture was a Cooper. The man in the centre of my photograph (the same as in the ‘Foot on Three Daisies’ picture) is my grandfather, Alfred Henry Thompson. Also in both pictures are at least two more Thompsons – daughters Gladys, with a flower in her hair, and Ruby his youngest daughter.
Grandfather left Pirton as a young man with Harry Hare and together they went to the Barnet area and started a company called London County Public Works. They built roads all over North London and later started building houses. My father tells me how they used to travel from Barnet to Pirton in a pony and trap. Quite a distance to travel trotting along like that. Aunt Alice’s husband, Bob, joined grandfather in Barnet and spent some years working for him before returning to the family home in High Street, Pirton.
My father spent a lot of his youth at Uncle Harry and Aunt Fanny’s farm at West Mill. Harry was my grandmother’s brother. Sadly, Uncle Harry was shot and killed at harvest-time by one of his own men. He stepped in to stop a fight and one man picked up a shotgun and killed him. (This was on 18th August 1939 when Harry Cooper was fifty-five years old).
If there is a Gerald Froy still in the village, perhaps you would give him my regards. He was a very loyal friend and used to write to me and visit me at our farm in Meppershall for many years after I left school. (Gerald, John’s friend, lived in David Crescent but now lives in Hitchin). I remember that there was a very pretty girl I fell in love with. As a twelve- to fourteen-year-old I admired her immensely as she could throw a ball, climb a tree or kick a football better than any of the boys. I think her name was Jean.
*In fact the cottage has been re-thatched since John’s visit.
Thanks to John Thompson, Muriel Timbury, Gerald Froy, Denise Marshall, Cynthia and Christopher Newsum, Claire Baines and ‘A Foot on Three Daisies.’