Interview with Miss Vera Davis at Pirton Grange 1985 with Clare Baines and Helen Hofton


Bob Davis with his 3 daughters Helen, Vera and ?

Bob Davis with his 3 daughters Helen, Vera and ?

H. What we were really interested in is farming..

Miss D. Of course, I know a lot about it right from the earliest part of this century because Pirton really is rather odd because there have never been any (until my grandfather bought a farm) any resident landlords in Pirton it has been let land. Of course Rectory Farm is owned by somebody in London or Kent or somewhere. It seems always to have been just owned as an investment, I don’t think any of its owners ever had any connection with Pirton at all.

Rectory front of the house

Rectory front of the house

H. And it was your grandfather Daniel Davis that bought it?

Miss D. In 1870. He was a Bedfordshire Filmer I think his family owned it for quite a while I don’t think they ever came to see it.

H. And your grandfather actually lived on the farm?

Daniel Davis at rectory Farm

Daniel Davis

Miss D. Yes, he didn’t move in for a year or two because he had to do quite a bit to the house. Pirton had three large farms. There was Highdown which had three homesteads There was was the one called the New homestead which was halfway up the drive. There was the Black Homestead. Do you remember the Black homestead? Which was between Wood Lane and Highdown.

New Homestead

New Homestead


C. It was at the back of Pink meadow. You know where the aconites are growing in the Wood at Highdown, the wood goes round Highdown House.. When you go up the drive on the right hand side, there is a little wood which stretched down into Butts Close. It used to be down there where the cattle are. The triangular meadow was Pink meadow.

H. There was actually a farmhouse there?

C. N0 it was a homestead.

Miss D. It was known as the Black homestead with the tarred barns. Is the dovecote still there? There used to be a dovecote at the back of the house.

C. No the dovecote and the man trap has gone. 1864 when the other farm was built up the drive.

The man trap from Highdown.

The man trap from Highdown.

Miss. D. And then the main farm, the middle farm, in the middle of the village where your forbears lived.

Middle Farm was in Crabtree Lane.It was demolished in the 1960s

Middle Farm was in Crabtree Lane.It was demolished in the 1960s

C. My great grandfather lived at Middle Farm, and he lived up at Highdown, he was a bailiff up there.


H. You see I never saw that I came to the village too late.

Miss. D. I can remember the farm buildings at Middle Farm at the back of the house there. There was a dovecote at the back there which has been turned into a house. Is that still there?

C. The gallery yes. That was the house which you should have bought. It was the only listed building in the village and it was pulled down and it was beautiful.

H. What about the others.

Miss D. That was Highdown, that was 500 acres. Walnut Tree Farm – 500 acres.

H. Was that connected with Highdown at that stage.

Miss. D. Not at that stage. Pollards Farm, Highdown and Coxalls. First of all there Kinglsy’s.. and then there were Thrussells…. Trossalls ,Throssell married a Kingsley and then there were Coxalls and then when Franklins came there the two farms were amalgamated because they belonged to the Priory at Hitchin. The Rectory Farm was 400 acres and then of course we had Pegsden Common as well

H. Mr. Franklin as well.

Miss D. Yes, but of course that wasn’t Pirton. Gurneys…I think they owned Elm Tree Farm.

C. They bought it at one of the big sales didn’t they?

Miss D. One of the Haileys.

C. One of the Haileys had it before them.

Miss D. But the Haileys used to live in Rectory Farm originally.

Robert Davis took over Rectory Farm after his father Daniel

Robert Davis took over Rectory Farm after his father Daniel

H. Yes, because..He managed it for Filmers or…I can remember that.

Miss. D. There were Kingsleys both at Walnut Tree and Rectory Farm.

H. Yes they were related.

C. Kingsley were at Walnut Tree Farm and their elder son was at Rectory Farm. Then they died at Walnut Tree Farm and George Kingsley died about 12 months afterwards and his sister moved out.

Miss D. And then there were the medium sized farms like Hammonds Farm and Burge End Farm, Wrights Farm. When I was small Weedon lived in Wrights Farm, George Weedon.

Wrights Farm was puled down in 1965.

Wrights Farm was pulled down in 1965.

H. Is Wright’s Farm old then?

Miss D. Yes, the original farmhouse has been pulled down.

H. What was that like?

Miss D. Just like a wattle and dab cottage.

H. We have no record of that, no photograph, nothing.

C. I know who has got a photograph Bernard Davis used to live down there.

Miss D. His grandmother used to live down there. His mother was a Weedon. Of course the Wrights were there before that, that is why it is called Wrights Farm, the Wrights of Graveley. Then Walkers had a farm in Royal Oak Lane and there Baines’ had a cottage. There were Burtons – Burton at Great Green

Great Green Farm

Great Green Farm

C, Tom Burton

Miss D. Toms father was there before him.

C. Yes, David

Miss D. Apparently they kept the Red Lion originally.

C. His wife was a Wright.

Miss C. She had asthma and they had to move out of the pub and went to live on farm. Audrey Forbes was the granddaughter. Nearly all the pubs had a little bit of land with it. There was another Burton at the Shoulder of Mutton. It had a field or two. I suppose they were all related.

The Shoulder of Mutton on Hambridge Way

The Shoulder of Mutton on Hambridge Way

C. They were, they all came from the same… my family I’m a Burton.

Miss D. Are you.

C. My mother was Burton.

Miss D. Are you, have you got red hair?

C. No we’ve not got red hair nor have we. There are some very clever people

Miss D. Tom Burton had red hair and Frank Burton had red hair. Did any of the others?

CV. Yes, one of the cousins has Catherine Caroline has

Miss D. Of course, Marjorie Burton had red hair the one who married Les Nash. Nash is sandy, or was.

C. Yes, it is all the same family. We haven’t got red hair nor have we got the brains. There were some very clever people in the Burton family.

Miss D. Of course the Rectory Farm had been monastic, the property so there is an enormous amount of earth works all round it. You see ditches and enclosures and there is that great Tythe barn.

The tithe barn which was used to hold the tithes ie 10% of Pirton farmers crops. Originally this went to fund the Prioy in Hertford.

The tithe barn which was used to hold the tithes ie 10% of Pirton farmers crops. Originally this went to fund the Prioy in Hertford.

H. I have been to look at it. I thought it was lovely. What was it used for when..

Miss D. At the far end was filled with sheaves of corn after harvest, sometimes the middle bit had corn in it as well. Straw was kept in the middle bit and hay, cut hay ready for feeding.

H. What do you mean cut?

Miss D. Made into bales. You could cut it with a big knife out of the hayrick. You would cut it with a great hay knife and tied it up with straw ropes into bales.

H. Hay was actually kept in ricks.

Miss D. Hay was kept in ricks and the ricks set hard almost. You had a long knife, about as long as that, with a handle at right angles to it which was a hay knife and you cut it like steps, the hayrick all the way down into chunks. Just like a modern bale of hay.

H. Was the rick square?

Building the rick

Building the rick

Miss D. Rectangular.

H. Was it a thatched rick?

Miss D. All ricks were thatched.

H. With straw?

Miss D. And you used bean straw underneath the ricks. The bean straw was used to make the base of the rick because it was hard wearing and kept it off the ground. Sometimes they put faggots underneath as well it it was a very wet place and then you built your rick that way.

H. What about on the sides. Was there any protection to the rick on the sides?

Miss D. No, the eaves overhung a bit. There was a delicate art of building ricks. There were good rick builders and there were poor rick builders and if your rick wasn’t very well built you had to put props of wood against the side of it which were called lawyers. Your prop and stay. Over in Woburn Sands and that part of Buckinghamshire they were referred to as Cranfield men, because Cranfield men had a reputation of being very idle and likely to prop things up. So these props on ricks were called Cranfield men in that part.

H. Who built the rick then, was it farm labourers or one particular..?

Miss D. There was one particular one whose skill was rick building and there were thatchers too and then of course there were professional thatchers who not only thatched ricks but thatched houses as well.

H. Who did they have at the Rectory then?

Miss D. …..who did the thatching

H. Where were the ricks kept?

Miss D. You have got the Great Barn along the west side of the buildings. There are two fold yards on the east side of it.

H. What do you mean

Miss D. Fold yards? are where you kept the cattle.

H. Why was it “fold” where they movable?

The threshing barn with a person using a flail to thresh the wheat.

The threshing barn with a person using a flail to thresh the wheat.

Miss D. In fold. And on the south side was the threshing barn, a barn with a high floor. and then some stabling at the end of it. The east side of the fold yard were the cart horse stables. There were two of them with six horses in each and the extra horses lived in the ones that they had at the side. And each stable had a horse keeper. The head horse keeper was Edward Smith and the other stable was Chris Dawson. And in the afternoons they had to go down to the granary which was farther down nearer the house to draw the ration of corn for the horses for the next day. They had to go up steps to get to the granary . One time  a cousin of mine was visiting, and he and my father were standing where they used to measure up the corn . Poor Chris was trying to get up these steps :there were only about three steps up to it, and he  fell down . My cousin said “weak men you have got in this part of the country, weak men” and Chris

C. He was only a tiny man.

Miss D. And Chris said “Lor bless me its me mothers old mafigalum?” He had been to visit his mother down Burge End in the dinner hour and she had given him some of her home-made mafigalum to drink and it had taken his legs.
Chris lived in one of the houses up the Baulk. You see horse keepers always lived near at hand.

H. There were a pair of cottages up the Baulk did horse keepers live in both of them?

Miss D. No, the other one was let. My father didn’t believe in tied houses.

H. Did they belong to the farm?

Miss D. And the thatched one, Lavender Cottage, where Mrs. Baines lived.

H. Who was Mrs. Baines.

Miss D. She was the shepherd’s widow and she used to do the washing. We loved Mrs. Baines dearly.

H. And she did the washing for the Rectory Farm did she? Was her name Mary?

Miss D. And her daughter was Mrs. Carter who lived opposite.

H. In the cottages…

28 Shillington Rd

28 Shillington Rd where Bernard Lake lived

Miss D. In the ones next to where Bernard Lake lived. And then Walkers the bakers lived in the other half. The fold with the carthorse stables in it were where the bullocks lived and there were usually some sows round the back. then there was a long shed between the two with mangers in it and at the end was the pump where the water was pumped – a great chain pump – we had two handles, one each side and two men pumped to turn the great wheel and filled the troughs in both yards and then there was a pen beside that where the bull lived. The second yard farther over was the cow yard where the dairy herd were. This was a mixed farm we had a dairy with about 17 or 18 cows, sheep quite big flocks of sheep, one for each farm one day. And the other side of the cow yard was the granary, the dovecote, great one which was used as a hen house and then the cow sheds and then calf pens and things like that and the great barn stretched the full length of all those buildings and at that back were pig sties, dear little pig sties with runs to them for the sows and the baby pigs. And Joan used to say “Those pigs don’t seem to be doing, I’ll knock a board off the sty”. So we used to knock a board off the gate so that they could get out and run about. And there was a yard behind it where the Wheeler pigs lived and there were more little calf boxes there. Then there was a great pond outside there by the dairy. The large drying ground stood which is listed on your maps as hop ground so they must have grown their own hops for brewing and there were still hops in the hedge round that drying ground then right beyond the drying ground was the rick yard with the implement sheds round it. That had been meadow at one time because the meadow at the bottom of the field

H. The Wheeler’s cottage

Miss D. When my grandfather went there only the bottom bit of that was a
meadow. People complain bitterly about the old ridge and furrow top part of that field that had been there since medieval times and had been ploughed up and Shaws reseeded two year ago. It wasn’t an old meadow at all my grandfather planted it, it was a ploughed field. The ridge and furrow wasn’t very ancient it didn’t date back longer than Victorian times. None of it was medieval ridge and furrow.

H. The one on the corner.

Miss D. The slope that you can see. The didn’t destroy the ridge and furrow they merely skimmed off the turf and reseeded it. They didn’t plough it or anything, they just reseeded it. But that little bit at the bottom was the only grass on the farm excepting what was the rick yard.

H. So did they put the cows out on to that meadow? or did the cows stay within the…….

Miss D. No but grandfather seeded down the top part of that meadow and he seeded down the big meadow the other side of the road which we called the park, the three cornered field. that was a great big meadow, to make more grass.

H. So they put things out there then.

Miss D. We grew all sorts of crops, wheat, and barley because where you had a flock of sheep you have got some land that you can’t drill into until very late, until the sheep are off it. There you got what was known as “cuckoo barley” which never grew very high and you had to cut it with a reaper not a binder because it was too short to tie into.

A reaper cutting the crop in Pirton

A reaper cutting the crop in Pirton

H. What do you mean by a reaper?

Miss D. A reaper didn’t tie the sheaves it merely cut it.

H And then it just fell?

Miss D. And then we had to pick it up.

H. And bind it by hand?

Miss D. No, we didn’t, we just took it and shoved it on the mire? in the barn loose and thrashed it like that. It was often too short to… We grew turnips and kale and things that were called horse carrots which were white. They were much bigger than carrots that you had in the garden and looked rather like parsnips and were white and you fed them to the cattle and the horses and we grew mangelwurzels.

H What’s a mangelwurzel?

H.. Like turnips?

Miss D. They were bigger, things you used to make turnip lanterns out of, we usually made them out or mangles, they were orangey colour and they were huge like that. We grew cow cabbages, enormous cow cabbages.

H. Why are they called cow cabbages?

Miss D. Because you fed them to the cows. They were grown for that. But potatoes were not a farmers crop they were a smallholders crop in those days. You grew a row or two in the field at the back but that was all. Fred Weedon he lived in that white house next to Pirton Court, when I was small, and he had a small holding and he kept pigs and he had one or two fields I believe, and he made a lot of pig manure and he dressed one of his fields very heavily with pig manure in the first world war and grew a marvellous crop of potatoes. Potatoes were in very short supply at the time and that was the start of him increasing his farming because the potatoes were very valuable just then and he got this marvellous crop or potatoes when nobody had them. Then we had a second rickyard half way along the road between here and Pirton.

H. Which side of the road going this way.

Miss D. We are going this way left what we called Little Witmarsh.

H. You called the fields by their old names?

Miss D. Oh yes, the fields all have names. I know all the names and of course this farm is Pirton. My uncle lived here.

H. When did he live here, at that time?

Miss D, Oh, yes, he lived here from 1893 to 1919 but he had some land in Bedfordshire as well because we had what we called Pump Farm over the other side of the road as well because this farm is only about 178 acres – only the Hertfordshire side of it but he had some of the Bedfordshire side as well. We had a set of threshing tackle as the engine was pulled by horses and the great threshing drum. This procession used to start off and you threshed your ricks as you wanted corn and the procession would set off with threshing the rick yard at the house, then they would come to the ricks up along here and thresh a rick or two, then they would come here and thresh for Uncle Henry, and then would move all along the back road to go to Pegsden, to get to Pegsden was about 4 miles, although the two farms touched. We had to go all the way round. The threshing engine would then sit there until you wanted to do the return lot and then you would do threshing at all of them on the way back.

H. But when you threshed your corn at the ricks between here, then where are you going to store it?

Miss D. It was taken back to the farm.

H. But why keep your rick…?

Miss D. But when you carted everything with a horse and cart you didn’t want to go too far. All those fields were stacked beside the road near at hand. It was much easier to cart a few carts or corn and some straw when you wanted a load of straw than it was to cart all the corn back at harvest time.

H. But how would they have stacked….you were talking before about hay stack a rick stack a stack or corn is stacked with the…

Miss D. With the butt end of the sheaf outwards.

H. The root end, the ears are in?

Miss D. Yes.

H. And that is bound, each sheaf is bound with….

Miss D. With string, with the binder.

H. So then when you take it out to thresh you just take out the sheaf..

Miss D. And cut the string before you put it in the threshing drum. Woe betide you if you didn’t! It would get tangled up. And then you had a chaff cutter.

Bagging up the wheat.

Bagging up the wheat.

H. What is that?

Miss D. That also went behind the drum and you put the straw through that and chopped it up into chaff to feed the cattle and the horses.

H. So they ate the stalks?

Miss D. Of the straw, yes. And then at the tail end of the procession going along threshing was a water cart which was like a great wooden barrel on wheels pulled by a horse. It had an opening in the top and it was filled up at the pond. You baled water out of the pond, there was no mains water, with a bucket and filled the water cart.

H. What was that for?

A threshing machine at Burge End Farm

A threshing machine at Burge End Farm

Miss D. The engine needed water, it had a tank of water beside it couldn’t stop while it was going.

H. I have got the wrong idea. How…..but it was moved by the horses.

Miss D. It did, but it worked by steam. It had a fire in it, a huge a traction engine excepting it didn’t move on its own, it had to be pulled.

A Pirton traction engine

A Pirton traction engine

H. But I have seen traction engines moving.

Miss D. Yes

H. But they came later?

Miss D. They were self-propelled. This had a fire in it and steam but it couldn’t move itself it had to be pulled from place to place by horses. Oh and an elevator also went along with the procession to send the sheaves of corn either up to the rick or send the straw up to the other rick. And there was a horse pyre a kind of simple instrument of cogs with a long arm with an old horse harnessed to it and the horse walked round and round and round and worked the elevator. At harvest time a young boy’s job, about 10 or 11 was horse power boy and he had to sit there and if they called out that the sheaves were coming up too fast they wanted a little space, he had to stop the horse and then make it go again and keep the horse going at an even speed – and the horse knew more than the boy did. And then the harvest time not only the little boy the horse power boy but the next stage up the cock boys.

The rick being built with an elevator at Highdown Farm

The rick being built with an elevator at Highdown Farm

H. What’s that?

Miss D. They led the horse and cart from shock to shock in the field while they were loading the corn and they had to call “Hold tight!” every time they moved so that the man on the top load didn’t fall off. And then there were the lead boys who were slightly older still who took carts back to the rick. The young ones weren’t allowed to go on the road they were only allowed to work in the fields that was their training. The first year they just were cock boys in hay time they would lead from cock to cock of hay and otherwise they would lead back to the barn.

H. What do you mean from cock to cock?

Miss D. If you have hay, when the hay is ready to cart you pile it up in heaps or cocks.

H. Just a heap.

Miss D. Yes, then you lifted it with a form into the cart. Corn was shocked.

H. And that is the term around here is it?

Miss D. Shocking, not stooping, we shock.

Shocking in West Lane

Shocking in West Lane

H. Your farm…, or father, or was it your grandfather owned the traction engine.

Miss D. Yes.

H. And did he hire it out to other farms.

Miss D. He did Coxalls threshing for them, and when they went gleaning, they used to bring their corn to be threshed sometimes and sometimes some of the small ones would bring their corn to be threshed but I don’t think generally he took the whole apparatus and set it up anywhere unless it was for quite a lot.

H. So smaller people actually come to the farm to have their corn threshed.

Miss D. In the autumn sometimes we had steam ploughing done. That was done by contract. At Edwards’ Highover Farm in Hitchin, Haleys at Wymondley, and Olivers at Wandle End? all had sets of ploughing tackle which were two traction engines with drums underneath them with steel cables on them and you had one each end of the field and the plough went backwards and forwards on the cable. And then when you got to the far end, they communicated with each other by the whistle and when you got to the end you would blow the whistle and the opposite engine moved on a little bit. They were very thirsty those engines one mans job was to cart water to them with the water cart all day long and if it didn’t get there in time of course they blew the whistle and blew the whistle until he did get there. And they brought a caravan with them and they lived in the caravan – we thought it was the height of luxury! a grate on which they cooked their food and they went round all the winter doing steam ploughing, deep ploughing. You had a few fields done each year.

H. So you didn’t have it done every year.

Miss D. No, we ploughed with horses. Six teams of two. We had 12 horses in the main stable and they were the plough horses. the other horses, two or three odd ones, were just odd horses for carting straw as a rule there were six plough teams.

Robert Davis with the horses

Robert Davis with the horses

H. But you wouldn’t have six plough teams out at once.

Miss D. Oh, yes. Maybe not all in one field unless it was a very big field, but you would have quite a number in a field.

H. So there wouldn’t be just one team?

Miss D. Oh no. Definitely not, you each ploughed your shott.

H. So how long is a shott?

Miss D. It was a certain section of the field. You went up one side and down the other.

H. You cant turn very easily at the end.

Miss D. You don’t come back down the same row as you plough you go along the headlands and down the other side. I forget what the width of a shott was.

H. He had a ploughman for each pair of horses?

Miss D. Yes.

H. Did he work with his own horses?

Ploughing teams in the village

Ploughing teams in the village

Miss D. Yes he always had his own team. The horsekeeper had his own team. He had the best pair in his stable and then two other ploughman would also have two each. It was a lovely sight about May when the evenings were getting warmer and the grass was growing and the horses were turned out at night into the meadow and they usually told when it was turning out time because they used to become restless when they could smell new grass and it would be one afternoon when they came in from work when they had been fed and watered and the horsekeeper would come back after tea in the evening and let them out. And they used to open the gates and they went full gallop all the way down the farm road right across the drying ground and into the meadow. Then they rolled and galloped round and round the meadow then settled down to feeding.

H. Were they kept out all summer.

Miss D. At night. They were brought in to be fed because the horsekeepers had to get them in fairly early in the morning because they had to be fed an hour before they started work.

H. And what time was that?

Miss D. It depended on the light. In the summer they wouldn’t be ploughing when the mornings were light. In the winter they couldn’t start ploughing much before about about eight.

H. During the summer then, were these horses just resting?

Miss D. Oh no, they were carting the hay and carting the corn and pulling the binders and the reapers and the hay mowers and the elevators. You put cultivators through the crops, and all that sort of thing.



H. What sort of horses were they?

Miss D. Shires. We had dairy short horn cattle.

H. Was that a particularly good breed?

Miss D. Yes, and they were good for meat too. We kept the bull calves as bullocks. We reared them, we didn’t sell them as calves. The heifers went into the herd and the others were fattened.

H. Where did you sell them?

Miss D. Hitchin market. Butchers sometimes bought them direct from you otherwise they went to the market.

H. And how did they get there?

Miss D. You walked them.

H. To Hitchin?

Miss D. Yes, you walked it to Hitchin. There wasn’t much traffic on the road.

H. Down the long straight road into Hitchin?

Miss D. Yes, a drover usually took them because you didn’t send we hadn’t an awful lot of bullocks. There was a drover used to come from Gravenhurst he used to collect up all the way and drove them into market.

Pirton farmers at the market in Bancroft

Pirton farmers at the market in Bancroft

H. So he wouldn’t just take yours necessarily?

Miss D. No, he would take quite a few. The shepherds took the sheep in.

H. And just walked them with the dogs. I suppose they went on the day of the market?

Miss D. Yes, Tuesday.

H. Just walk in on a Tuesday the same as it is now?

Miss D. Yes.

H. What about your horses, where did they come from did you buy them?

Miss D. We didn’t breed horses we bought them in as young ones and we didn’t sell because quite a few people, when horses were about five at their most valuable, they sold them to the railway and to haulage contractors and things like that but we didn’t.

H. Where would you buy them from?

Miss D. Quote a few small farmers would breed a colt or two and that type of thing, we usually bought them privately.

H. Did you have blacksmiths come up? How did they get shod.

Miss D. There was a blacksmith on the Green. Mr. Newberry – from the church Mr. Newberry was and Freddie Bell his assistant and there was a carpenter and wheelwright, Stibby Day “Steam” Day as he was known as down in Royal Oak Lane and he kept the Royal Oak pub. He was a wheelwright and he made wagons and farm carts and all that sort of thing

William Newbery and Freddy Bell at the Blacksmith's shop on Great Green

William Newbery and Freddy Bell at the Blacksmith’s shop on Great Green

H. Did he come to make your farm carts?

Miss D. Yes, he made the farm carts and the waggons and all that sort of thing.

H. If you wanted the horses shod?

Miss D. You took them up. If was all hot shoeing in those days, no cold shoeing.

H. What do you mean by hot shoeing?

Miss D. They heated the horse shoes in the furnace and put them on red hot. It scorched the hoof round then they cooled it in the tank and then nailed it on. Quite a lot of these travelling smiths that come round now cold shoe.

H. Did they have to have shoes very often?

Miss D. Depended on how much road work they did. They lasted quite well on the fields and the driving horses, on a frosty morning, you had to take them up there to have them roughed. They took two nails out of the shoe and put spiked nails in. On a frosty morning if you wanted to drive, and considering we were driven to school it happened quite often. sometimes we had the shoes in the winter with a spare pair of holes drilled and you could put screws in. Screw “roughs” as they were called. It was the driving horses, they lived in the stables in front of the house and then there was a shed by the side where the donkeys lived and where the waggon lived and then there was the coach house.

H. Why did you have donkeys?

Miss D. Oh we had a donkey each when we were children.

H. As a pet?

Miss D,. No, we rode them in the field. The shepherds used them for carting hurdles sometimes. It was popularly supposed, which was quite untrue, that the old donkey had been my father’s when he was a little boy. Considering that my father was 50 when I was born I think that was extremely unlikely. And then there was another old one, there was old Neddy and then there was old Turpin and he was a brown donkey. And then we had a young one bought for us when I was about three and the other two had died, the two old ones my sister and myself a donkey cart with the original two we went trotting.

H., Didn’t he trot?

Miss D. Our Governess drove us out in a little Governess cart with a donkey. There were three of us very close in age too close all to be going out in a perambulator. So we were driven out in a donkey cart and we used to come over here once a week to see my aunt and other days we drove out as far as the Lodge and then turned back and the donkey didn’t think he should come down the hill, he had come far enough when he came to the Lodge so it took as long to get down the hill as it did to get from Pirton. He was a very stupid donkey. He didn’t like boys. I suspect the farm boys used to get on him sometimes. It struck joke? when we were children any boys we used to say come and have a ride on the donkey because we knew perfectly well that the donkey wouldn’t have them on his back for more than two minutes. He was quietness himself with girls. He wasn’t going to have boys on his back.#

H. When you said about the shepherd and hurdles, what…?

Miss D. That was for making the pens they were all fold sheep, the sheep didn’t wander about loose. They were all kept in pens and ate hay and turnips and all the crops that were grown for them. You made pens for the sheep and then changed the pen every day. And if you were moving from one field to another you had to take all the hurdles and the donkey cart was exactly the right shape and size made by Stibby Day to take the hurdles flat.

Pat Collins was the shepherd at Highdown

Pat Collins was the shepherd at Highdown

H. You were telling me the other day about living in the fields with a little cart a little waggon on wheels that the shepherds used to keep them in the fields.

Miss D. Oh yes, a shepherds hut. That was mostly in the lambing season.

H. So what were they?

Miss D. It was like a hen house on wheels, you know those tat run about on steel wheels, well it was like that, only at lambing time you had to be there all night. Sometimes it was there at other times of the year. He would keep his medicines in it and that sort of thing if he was dressing sheep of course and in May the sheep were washed.

H. Where?

Miss D. They were washed in the moat. There was a washing place in the rickyard and the moat wasn’t very deep just there it had been scooped out and the sheep were washed in there before they were sheared and they were sheared in June.

H. So why were they washed?

Miss D. To clean the wool a bit. After a time you had to dip them in
arsenic dip.

H. Arsenic?

Miss D. Yes, to kill any maggots and that sort of thing. We didn’t do that at home. We used to take them to Higham Gobian where they had a proper concrete dip.

C. down the rickyard and we used to ride it when we were children.

Miss D. This was down in the ground and and you drove the sheep through it, you see, and then you held them under for a minute or two so that they got completely submerged and then you let them swim the full length of it and go out the other end. We had a character on the farm by the name of Jemmy Bummer, I don’t remember what his right name was

C. Judy Males

Miss D,. Was he a Males, he was rather simple and he liked the bottle.

C. I knew him very well.

Miss D. But he didn’t mind what job he did so he had all smelly jobs. If there was any cess pit pumping out, or anything, he used to do all that by hand. He used to go and help do the sheep and he would chew tobacco. One time he was talking and he opened his mouth too wide his quid of tobacco fell out into the sheep dip and he just leaned down picked it up, wrung out the poison and put it back in his mouth. Jimmy used to have a few days on occasion when he would go on the drink and he wouldn’t appear and my father used to get very annoyed with him and threatened to sack him if he had another bout . We were away on holiday and my father’s sister was staying – she was a staunch tee totaller, and she insisted on  going down and sitting there while the bailiff paid the men and of course Jimmy appeared three days short this week. The bailiff wasn’t having this one. He called Males! She said “And what has been the matter with you?” And he looked at her and said “Beer, Miss, beer”. My father was so delighted that he said that.

H. Did they get paid every week then?

Miss D. Paid every week through the morning room window or, in winter, in the kitchen. There was a brew house attached to the house which you couldn’t get to. There was a lovely cobbled yard outside at the back door, the kitchen door, with a high cobbled wall all round it. The boys had to move the stones on Saturday mornings with knives and they would weed all the paths and the garden, the pebble paths, with knives. Mother wouldn’t let them work more then two hour shifts .We had one on each path otherwise they just talked. In the winter. in cold weather, they then used to stay in the brewhouse maybe there was a fire in there and then they would come into the kitchen one by one to be paid. In the summer they were paid through the window.

H. I see, the bailiff sat inside and

Miss D. and my father and they sat round the kitchen table and paid.

H. Who was the bailiff?

Miss D. Finally it was Edwin Smith. My father got annoyed after the war. He had so many incompetent ones so Smith became the Bailiff.

H. Did you keep people all the time or were they seasonal?

Miss D. Oh no.

H. You had permanent staff.

Miss D. We didn’t grow seasonal crops.

H. So you always needed them. Who sheared the sheep.

Miss D. The shepherd, with hand shears, with a couple of men who held them. Somebody to roll up the fleeces and a boy with a pot of tar to dab a mark on them to show that they had been done and to dab it on if they cut them, and then there used to be four or five little boys who were what was known as being on the slate – much sought after – there was a slate in the kitchen with their names on it and they had the right to look for any nests of the hens that laid away. They weren’t allowed to take eggs out of the hen houses but any of the hens nest they found they had strict rules among themselves that if you found a nest it was yours and nobody else might take an egg out of it and you could make false nests to induce the hens to lay in them. That was never very successful because You didn’t get any stolen nests that way and they brought the eggs in and the numbers were put on the slate and at the end of the week we would pay out that money at a penny a score.

H. This is children coming in after school.

Miss D. Yes. There used to be one house boy who came before school and filled all the coal scuttles and empty all the ashes.

H. Who was that?

Miss D. Oh they varied it was a boy about 13 and then he came back after school and filled scuttles again and filled the kindling baths and it wasn’t considered correct to light fires with paper only people in towns did that, used newspaper. You had bundles of straw, nice little bundles of straw, fastened with a straw band round them and they were the right size for the different grates. the little boy had to make these bundles of straw. Then on Saturday mornings he would chop kindling and stock up with bundles of straw.

H. You were saying about the brewhouse?

Miss D. It had a brewing copper in it still, an enormous copped in one corner. It was used as a laundry.

H. Was there a time when it was used to brew beer?

Miss D. Well, if they had a hop yard I presume…you see they grew their own hops and made all their own beer.

H. Was that in your grandfather’s time or before?

Miss D. Before because the men lived in. The single men on the farm at one time. Not in my family’s. At one time they did, they slept up in the attics and they sat in the brewhouse in the evenings and went up a ladder to bed. Now the attics were two flights up, there was a great ladder. There were steps. As you looked up in the brewhouse at one time it was a single storey building most of it but as one side where you looked there were there were two or three steps and a little door. This went up into the attics and they used to go up a ladder to the steps and then up the steps to bed.

H. Did that happen on a lot of farms?

Miss D. Oh yes that was the usual, there wasn’t room for them to sleep at home. The girls would go out into service and the boys had to go out and live on the farms. They had enormous families and probably only two bedrooms. They cooked their own food because in the house in 1730 and in the brewhouse there was a porridge pot and a frying pan and a kettle so they evidently cooked their own food.

H. Did you tell me once before that ..what about the beer?

Miss D. The men had beer as part of their wages. Some farmers gave, some didn’t. We had a huge ground floor cellar with hogsheads all round it and Lucas’s brewery used to come with a steam wagon and fill them up and the men had beer four times a day.

H. Taken out to them in the fields?

Miss D. Taken out to them the men drove a pony with wooden barrels slung each side and they filled their mugs.

H. And when were the four times?

Miss D. What was called breakfast, which was about half past nine, and then there was beaver? mid morning snack and then there was dinner and then there was afternoon beaver.

H. Why was it called beaver?

Miss D. From the French word (sic)”Bouver” (bouvoir) to drink. Norman French, going back as far as that. The men ploughed until about half past two or three and then came home and did various odd jobs. They took their meal out into the fields with them even in winter. And in harvest time they had beer at every hour pretty nearly. My father always said that if the harvest lasted longer than three weeks the men were no good after Thursday because they were sleepy.

H. What about when they had finished the harvest, did they have straw dollys and any celebration or anything like that.

Miss D. No, they went to Hitchin larging, largesse. They were collecting up gifts. They took a horse and cart and they went to spend with their harvest money. If they hadn’t a walking stick they had to go and buy one. And they went to buy new boots and a new pair of trousers. They used to pay their rent once a year with the harvest money. They called on the brewery who gave them a five gallon cask of beer which they put in the cart they then enjoyed themselves. It was Tuesday, market day and one young man was not allowed to drink at all because he had to drive the horse home because there would be words if the horse arrived back in a proper state. And the young ones when they were about 18 were what they call “colted”.

H. What was that?

Miss D. They took them larging and made them drunk so that they should feel so awful the next morning they would never want to drink too much again. An initiation ceremony.

H. Did you have harvest suppers at the farm?

Miss D. No.

H. It wasn’t that sort of farm?

Miss D. Franklins did I think. Yes.

H. It wasn’t that sort..It was given to the men to …

Miss D. I think they were given a shilling or something to buy a barrel of beer. To go larging.

H. Were there any other sort of festivals that were kept?

Miss D. On Christmas Eve we had a party for the boys who worked on the farm, in the kitchen.

H. In the kitchen. Not in the house?

Miss D. No. They were fed on mince pies, mounds of bread and butter, bottles of ginger beer and then they topped it up with an enormous Christmas pudding. They must have been blown out. And they had crackers.

H. That was nice.

Miss D. I believe they were very reluctant to eat anything much during the day so they had plenty of room to fill up. It was about six o’clock in the evening.

H. Did you have Valentine’s Day or Maypole Day?

Miss D. Valentine’s Day people, children came to see me.

H. They came to the farm?

Miss D. Oh yes they always came down, singing “Today, today is Valentine there are no grapes upon the vine there will be some in summer time so please will you give us a Valentine?” and they got a penny. They used to walk all the way up to Highdown where I believe they got a farthing and a ginger biscuit. Imagine walking all the way up there. It is odd that that rhyme is peculiar to North Hertfordshire. In Shillington they sang quite a different one. ” Valentine, curl your hair as I do mine one before and two behind Valentine”

C. I didn’t know that. Of course Jack Burton…

Miss D. They all came from Wilberforce School. We thought it was most appropriate because there was a grape vine outside the kitchen door We thought it was specially for that but it wasn’t.

H. What about May Day?

Miss D. That’s a modern thing. May poles were suppressed by Cromwell I don’t think that reappeared much until Arty crafty.

C. Did you have anything in celebration for plough song or Rogation or anything like that?

Miss D. No.

C/ It was just remembering Church services.

Miss D. Yes

C. And how about beating the bounds?

Miss D. That was Rogation Day. I don’t remember it.

H. We talked about that.

Miss D. I don’t remember They go round the moat. The Parish boundary. Palm Sunday was called Fig Sunday and you had either a fig duff or stewed figs.

H. Fig duff?

Miss D. A sucre with chopped figs.

H. Fig Sunday?

Miss D. It was never called Palm Sunday it was called Fig Sunday. It was the cursing of the barren fig tree in the Bible and Shrove Tuesday was Doughnut Day – not pancake day. In Hitchin you could buy very tiny doughnuts about the size of a ping pong ball. They were sold by the pound. They only made them the one day of the year.

H. But doughnuts are American!

Miss D. Oh no, It is a very old English. Those American ones are fat with holes in the middle. These were tiny ones and we bought them by the pound just the one day in the year.

H. Rather like Hot cross buns.

Miss D. I saw hot cross buns on Shrove Tuesday this year in Sainsburys.

H. Did you have Easter Eggs and things like that.

Miss D. No. Miss Hanscombe of Pirton Hall, she was in a nursing home in Pirton finally. I took her an Easter Egg and she said she had never had an Easter Egg even as a child. I asked my mother and she said that she had had them as a child but then she was brought up in Yorkshire and she said confectioners made their own. There weren’t any commercial ones – either you had a confectioner who made Easter Eggs (they had moulds and made them) but she said they weren’t in general production in factories. Miss Hanscombe was about the same age as my mother so I suppose that about here they probably didn’t make Easter Eggs. By my time they had them, peculiar little things you could buy Mr. Andrews that tasted like sawdust – they were tiny biscuits stuck with sugar on the outside and they had a ring or something in the middle of them, we weren’t allowed to have them.

Andrews shop on the corner of Town St and Wet Lane

Andrews shop on the corner of Town St and Wet Lane

Mr. Andrews shop was gorgeous, down on the Knoll. Everything hung from the ceiling. There were kettles and tin bottles that the men took their cold tea out in the field and tallow candles that you smeared on brown paper and put on your chest in the winter if you had a cough and there cardboard little tiny boxes of pills that would cure everything – heart, liver and kidney all in one, that sort of thing. He sold cooked ham, all kinds of groceries, lovely hams, a peculiar thing called German sausage it was sliced and known as the baum? and the ground floor cellar next to the shop he had an off licence. He sold beer. there were barrels of beer in there. There was always a barrel of vinegar, a barrel of treacle and a barrel of paraffin, all sorts of things. You had enormous bottles of Daddy’s Sauce on the shelf. I was very fond of Daddy’s Sauce in large bottles. They had vinegar on their bacon too.

H. Why was that?

Miss D. I don’t know. They liked it. Vinegar on cabbage and vinegar on fried bacon. You bought your vinegar loose, you took a bottle and bought it loose and then up in the village was the Shopland Mr. Westwood, where Rachel Burlings was afterwards that was the Shopland and you could by boy’s suits there and celluloid collars and black woollen stockings all things like that as well as sweets.

H. It was a drapery wasn’t it?

Miss D. Bunyans had a grocers shop next to the Red Lion. Ted Darkie’s father cut hair and he sold pots and pans, what used to be the Blacksmith’s Arms.

H. Opposite the pond?

Miss D. Yes. And there was Harry Davis’ pork butchers but there was never a butcher in Pirton. Two butchers came over from Shillington but there was never a butchers. A pork butcher I suppose they didn’t each anything much except pork.

Harry Davis shop in High St

Harry Davis shop in High St

H. Didn’t they have their own pigs then?

Miss D. Yes, they all kept a pig.

H. But they didn’t slaughter it?

Miss D. No. I don’t know whether he did it but he sold pork. There wasn’t another butcher except those that  came round. No resident butcher.


Miss D. On Great Green

H. I was thinking that that would have been by the church.

C. No, it wasn’t it was Nash’s. Nash’s bull was.
Miss D. By the school where they used to have their jumble sales. They had a policeman standing on the door. One rush.

H. For bargains. On the farm were you affected by the first world war and do you can you recall did it change things?

Miss D. Well of course, after the first world war mechanism started. There was much less hand work done. Before that it was all done by hand. I remember the first world war very clearly.

H. Do you?

Miss D. Yes.

H. Were people called up from the farm.

Miss D. They enlisted quite a few of them. Farm workers were not called up. They were reserved if they wanted to be.

H. So you didn’t have any women taking over the men’s jobs.

Miss D. No. We had German prisoners.

H. Did you, in the first world war?

Miss D. Yes, they wore red patches on their uniforms. One on their arm, one on their leg and over on their heart and if they tried to escape you shot them through the arm and if that didn’t stop them you shot them through their leg and if that didn’t stop them through the heart. I don’t know how true that was but that is what we used to say and we had to fetch them. There was a German prison camp in the mansion of Offley Holes which is the it burned down in the first world war when the prisoners were in there. They used to walk down, and then down that Angels? lane to Pirton Cross and then we would pick them up at Pirton Cross and they had a very ancient and beery retired sergeant with a gun. they had to work as a gang, there were six of them. They brought their own food with them. I think we had to provide them with salt and boiled potatoes and they used to sit in the brewhouse to have their meals. They used to do hoeing and of course the crops were hoed by hand – a good many of them. Mangelwurzels and those sort of things had to be singled like sugar beet and that was all hand work. They used to do  shocking and dock pulling. They only came at times of the year when you wanted them. And then we had Grade 3 soldiers sent to help on the farm.

H. What were Grade 3 soldiers?

Miss D. Medically low grade. They didn’t bother about what they had been in civilian life they just drafted them on to the farms because they were Grade 3. We had a piano tuner, and a shop walker and don’t know what the other one was. They were billeted in the village. They lodged with Mrs. Gazeley on Great Green. there was one long thin thing who was a lance corporal, I forget what he did in private life but he didn’t know anything about horses and he was sent to go to roll? which was considered to be a boy’s job with a very quiet old horse and the roll was up in the field. He took the horse up in my father’s field, right outside the … Of course he didn’t realise that you dropped the chack rein of the horse onto the ground and the horse would stand and the shafts of the roll stuck up in the air and he had to pull them down on to the horse’s back on to its saddle and he let go of the horse and pulled down the shafts of the roll then he had to walk all the way back to the farm to fetch the horse.

H. I bet he didn’t do it again.

Miss D. My father didn’t consider that they were a good help because we had the German prisoners and of course after they burned down Offley Holes there weren’t any German prisoners because they moved them elsewhere.

C. Where was Offley Holes, in Offley village?

Miss D. No, in Sutfield Green.

C. Where was that?

Miss D. …foot, pronounced “sut”. You know the little lane from Pirton Cross up to the Offley Road, if you went straight across that there used to be a lane on the opposite side shot back. What do you call that little lane.

Miss D. Angel Lane.

H. I thought I heard you say that. It was called all sorts of things, it was called Oogie Lane.

C. It was called Oogie Lane my husband and his family..

Miss D. It used to be called Angel Farm that farm along there. I suppose someone called Angel lived there at some time. I suppose Oogie is a corruption of Angel.

H. It could well be, couldn’t it?

C. My husband and his family always called it Allwoods Lane.

Miss D. I suppose somebody called Allwood lived in the farm.

H. Its just like Coxalls.

Miss D. We call it The Cut.

H. It is isn’t it, a very short cut through the field.

Miss D. It used to be grass in the middle and hedges touching either side. You just got a waltz? through it.

H. Its not much wider now.

Miss D. The old men, when I was a child, very few of them could read or write. They had gone to the plaiting school on the Green teach reading or writing but taught plaiting, but most of the old ones couldn’t. They used to wear moleskin trousers which, with washing, were almost white and they had straps below the knees so that they could pull them up so that the mud didn’t get round the bottom of them and they wore waistcoats, high waistcoats with a collar. You undid your waistcoat but you never removed your waistcoat when you were hot. You took your coat off but you never removed your waistcoat. They always seemed to wear a waistcoat and they wore a spotted handkerchief around the neck but if you were a hired wage you wore a rop?

H. What is a rop?

Miss D. A narrow woollen black and white checked scarf which you wound round your neck like a cravat and then tucked it under the braces and tied it.

H. Rop?

Miss D. Wrap and they also wore toe rags. The boots were very heavy and you bound each toe separately with a strip of linen, that was toe rags, and then you stuffed the toe of your boot with some grass and hay and then your feet were nice and warm and dry and the boots didn’t chafe.

H. And then socks on top of that?

Miss D. Yes, but toe rags

C, Did they do that each morning or did they never take them off

Miss D. They took them off I suppose when they got into the bath

C. How often did these men bath?

Miss D. Never, never. No there wasn’t any water bath from a well. When I was a child there was no bathroom in the house. All the water was carried upstairs in big enamel cans for the baths. We bathed in front of the fire.

H. men on the farm did much washing.

Miss D. The women bathed. There used to be a big tin bath hanging outside the door we kept it outside. The women, and bathed the children in front of the fire but I don’t think the me did Did you know Beckton? Do you remember Beckton, who lived in Hammonds Almshouses?

C. Was that his proper name or was that his nickname?

Miss D. That was his nickname.

C. What was his proper name? Sheraton?

Miss D. I think perhaps that it was, but he worked in Beckton Gas Works and if anybody asked him what his name was he said called me Beckton, and Beckton had never washed in his life I think. There was this standing order..there was Mr. Rushton then at the shop, not Mr. Andrews, of a free bar of Sunlight soap with a free scrubbing brush for any woman in the village who would scrub Beckton.. Nobody ever took it up! The boys used to tease him they used to go in the house and sit with him and put his tie over the chimney of the lamp so it would smoke. He couldn’t notice whether there was any smoke, I should think, in the room or not probably and he fell and broke his arm and they took him to the workhouse where they had to clean him up with ether soap. Certainly ordinary soap and water was no good in those days they had to use ether soap. He died of pneumonia with the shock of being cleaned.

C. How often did these men shave?

Miss D. Once a week………………The old men had a Newgate frill down their chin that’s is just a beard round.. they shaved the middle and then there was a frill known as a Newgate frill.

H. Newgate prison?

Miss D. Yes. With the old men that was the favourite beard and they wore a flat black hat, a pork pie hat which had been sat on. Lake who was the green gardener in the harness room he kept a celluloid collar and a made up cravat tie and a bowler hat and a grey coat and then when he had to drive out he took off his smock and put on his cravat tie and hat.

H. Did they have still have smocks or anything like them.

Miss D. No they never wore anything like that. Mr. Lake’s  father could remember them. They were olive green colour, Hertfordshire smocks.

H. I didn’t imagine that they were green.

Miss D. He used to tell us about them he’d worn them when he was a young man. You turned them inside out on Sunday and wore them inside out for the second week.

C. Old Mr. Lake, did he live down Shillington Road in his latter days?

Miss D. He lived there all his life.

C. In that little white cottage?

Miss D. The one on next to the penfolds. You remember George Lake…….Audrey Forbes was his granddaughter. young master. They were both about 60.

H. Had he worked for your grandfather?

Miss D. Yes.

H. He always worked at the farm.

Miss D. No, in his young days he had walked to Mill Hill to cut the hay crop, carrying his scythe on his shoulders. Young men did and they stayed up there sleeping in the barns, mowing the hay with scythes. They said one or two winters before he was married there all winter and carted into London. He couldn’t …..marvellous memories.

H. Were they not obliged to go into school?

Miss D. There weren’t any, you had to pay anyway. They went to the plaiting school and paid tuppence a week and were kept plaiting. You could sell the plaits.

H. Did many people plait?

Miss D. In Pirton, yes. I remember plaiting. Well there wasn’t a lot being done this century because they got the plait from China and Japan but before that Pirton was considered quite a wealthy village because the women earned more than the men, mostly, plaiting.

H. So agricultural wages were quite low then?

Miss D. Women plaited, they weren’t very good at weaving I, believe, but they were very good plaiting and my father said that they were very elegant on Sunday’s. They nearly all had a velvet dress to wear on Sunday. In some agricultural villages there was a lot of poverty but where there was plaiting there wasn’t so much.

C. Did the whole family plait?

Miss D. Yes, the children too. The plaiting schools, they who ran the plaiting schools, just kept them plaiting.

H. Nothing else?

Miss D. They were supposed to teach them reading and writing but I don’t think they did.

C. Miss Davis can you remember anything about the way they used to celebrate weddings and funerals.

Miss D. For weddings you bought currant buns from Ashtons and had blancmange as far as I remember. If you were Noncomformist you were christened in church so that you could be married in church because it was cheaper. They had to bring Minister from Hitchin and you had to have the Registrar there if you were Nonconformist so it was expensive so not many could afford to get married in Chapel. They used to be christened in church so that they could be married in church.

C. Did they invite the minister to the celebration.

Miss D. Not many, just your ordinary guests mostly……and they had an amount of currant buns from Ashtons and blancmange.


C. Did people wait until they could get a cottage before they married or did they tend to live in with parents or grandparents.

Miss D. I think a lot of the houses were double houses. One up and one down and two up and two down and so on and then you started off with the one up and one down and then when you had a family that was too big for it you changed over with your parents who probably lived next door and they went into the little one or else you parked your children out. Ethel Jarvis was parked out to sleep with her grandmother and her cousin Mabel Carter also slept at the old Mrs. Hanscombe’s and then another Carter sister slept in with the Mrs Baines who was her great grandmother. If you hadn’t enough room when you had both sexes of children you had to park them out with your relations.

With funerals, the Sunday after the funeral the mourners went to church and sat in the front pew under the pulpit and chose the hymn before or after the sermon. We groaned on the resurrection morning most Sundays. There were certain hymns that were favourites. That is all I remember about funerals except that Stibby Day made the coffins or Slipper Dawson down the Lane. Charlotte down the lane who came from Mitcham in Surrey was very ill and he asked her if she wanted a coffin and she got better that he how he got the name slipper because he sloped the undertaker. After that he was known as slipper.

H. There were lots of nicknames in the village.

Miss D. There were so few surnames.

H. So you had to differentiate between people?

Miss D. Yes wives were known by their Christian name and their husband’s nickname. Do you remember any of them?

C. Oh yes there were a lot of them.

Miss D. There was Rose Andy and Rose Eago and Sarah Ann Dobbin and Blacky Dawson was called Blacky, not because he had black hair but because he whistled like a blackbird. He was dark but I don’t know why Bottler was called Bottler – his brother was Bottler. Bob Clod Ears.

C. Who was he?

Miss D. Was he a Pinkey? or a Burton, I forget, one or the other he had a smallholding along the Hexton Road just past Pirton Cross.

H. They are all related.

Miss D. You are one of the few old Pirton families aren’t you. Your father was Yankee.

H. Because he went to America?

Miss D. Yes.

C. He was over there for twenty two years.

Miss D. They say he only came back when his father was ill.

C. Yes.

Miss D. His father was a Pirton a Jack. He was always held up to us as a strapping example in the class room that you did not play with lime because he was blind in one eye. He was blinded with quick lime and children were always told to never play with lime because there was always a certain amount of lime in the village and sand and that sort of thing for plastering. Remember that Jack has lost the sight of one eye. I remember him when we got a chimney was alight one Saturday afternoon we sent for Lewis Reynolds the Sweep with his donkey because Jack  and Lewis arrived and put ladders up on the roof and climbed up on the roof and he dropped the cart rope with a brick on the end down the chimney and the gardener pulled up a gooseberry bush and he attached the gooseberry bush to that end of the rope and another rope on the other end of it and when the brick got down the chimney somebody had to pull the rope down and the gooseberry bush swept the chimney. Most efficacious system. They thought that it might scorch the brush it they had put a brush down so that put the gooseberry bush down because it didn’t matter – there were plenty of gooseberry bushes in the garden. I can always remember him going to pull up a gooseberry bush.

C. He was resourceful if nothing else.

Miss D. He could do anything in the building line, and of course Stibby Day could do anything. Ron Ogle who was his assistant, Stibby Day’s assistant, he was what was known as a hedge carpenter because he had never served his apprenticeship so he wasn’t considered qualified to make a wagon or make wheels. But he was a very good workman for all that. He did all the rough repairs, fencing and all that sort of work round the farm because they used to come and work on the farm. In May a Mr. Timms from Barton, the saddler called he was he drove in every morning and stayed about a week, worked in the great barn sitting up against the stage and went through all the harness on the farm. He relined the collars and the saddles with checked woollen material and he oiled all the harness and he repaired all the buckles and everything like that before hay time and harvest. It was May when he came and worked. If any harness broke at other times of the year you had to take it over to Barton, but he came in person and worked on the farm and did the whole thing. Binder canvasses, they were sheets of canvas with wooden stretchers across that carried the corn up into the binder to the tier they went to Ickleford to Olivers that was a specialist job you riveted them. The binder canvasses had to be taken over there to be repaired. The blacksmith put tyres on carts. They lighted a fire up on the Green and put the tyre on it and when it was red hot they had a sort of turntable with the wheel on it and you put the red hot tyre on the wheel and then they ran round with buckets of water dowsing it and it shrank.



H. But that wouldn’t grip very well?

Miss D. Oh, yes it was calculated down to one tenth of an inch how much expansion. They were very clever.

C. They had no education and yet they knew all those things.

Miss D. And they could calculate the amount of seed you needed to drill each year yet they couldn’t have worked out the acreage. They new by just looking. Because you could leave school after 10 at one time if you had got to the course? standard and very little ones benefited by staying.

C. Were these skills which you have mentioned, were they really appreciated by the farmer?

Miss D. Yes because practically all the repairs were done by the blacksmith in those days. Little Johnny, Johnny Burton serviced the binders and things like that, he worked for Lindsy in Hitchin. He was a very clever. One gorgeous time when I was about six I don’t know who did it, but this specialist firm came and put a new boiler and water pipes in the threshing machine. It took ages, I attended.

C. Were you taken to see all the special events like the wheelwright working.

Miss D. Oh yes, you always went to see the fitting the tyres. But the repacking the engine was marvellous it was filthy. They hauled me in every day to put a clean dress on me.

H. You said that the children worked with the horses. Did they move on, what happened next? After you had pulled these threshing machines.

Miss D. It stood beside the lake.

H. But later on did it pull the tractor or did the horses.

Miss D. After that there were traction engines. It was pulled by a tractor finally.

H. I suppose tractors came in after this.

Miss D. They were late 1920’s tractors started to come.

H. What about threshing with flails.

Miss D. I remember old Mark Smith but you only threshed beans. It was considered that the seed – if you put the beans through the threshing machine it bruised them – you saved your own seed so you threshed it with a flail.

H. It must have been quite hard work.

Miss D. But it was their skill, you twiddled it round your head bumped it down.

C. They had a rhythm with it.

Miss D. Yes, two used to thresh when they threshed corn facing each other. One whacked then the other I always wondered what would happen if they didn’t coincide and they whacked each other. There must have been occasions when
that happened. You opened up a field before you went round with the binder, with a scythe and scythed round the corn field before the binder went in and that had to be tied by hand.

H. Did they ever sing?

Miss. D. No, Pirton wasn’t very musical.

H. Not a singing as you worked, sort of thing?

Miss D. I never heard anybody sing. The boys whistled. Pirton had an adult school during the first world war. It was held in the Old Chapel Sunday School and it was run by our governors in under the auspices of the good Quakers in Hitchin rather like the Women’s Institute excepting that the had a course of lectures not a different thing each week. It met once a week on Wednesday afternoons, I forget how many weeks a term. and there would choose what they would have. They had cookery, they had embroidery and needlework and they had a social They had marvellous concerts, there was a lot of talent in Pirton but they didn’t sing.

H. That was just women there wasn’t an adult school for men.

Miss D. Very similar to the women’s institute excepting that it was continuous, same subject. They chose what they would have. The lecturer would come out from Hitchin.

H. Was the Chapel used for anything else?

Miss D. Just the old Sunday School. And various events were held in there.
Was it in use in your day?

C. Yes, I can remember my children going to a class there.

Miss D. It was used even after the Village Hall was built.

C. Yes, it was used for social events connected with the Chapel. Children’s groups.

Miss D. They seemed to have quite a lot of things there. Of course the Chapel isn’t all that old it was in my life time.

H. I can’t remember where it was.

Miss D. Not the one on the Green. Providence whatever it was called?

H. We have a drawing. There was something that looked like a log cabin and it was the Methodist Chapel, the very first one.

Miss D. Probably on the same spot, I don’t know. The Sunday School was the original Chapel.

H. But there was one even before that one, because we found the records in the County Records office but we couldn’t identify the area.

Miss D. It wouldn’t be the Chapel where the Sunday School was because they wouldn’t pull it down till they built the new one, would they? I don’t know who were the Methodist families who lived in the village.

H. It started at Walnut Tree Farm in 1820.

Miss D. They were Baptists

H. I though it was there where the religion was started they applied for a licence or something. You had to apply for a Nonconformist licence.

Miss D. Of course, old Mr. Mitchell at Hammonds Farm was mother was a Kingsmith. His uncle was a Kingsmith because he inherited from the Kingsmiths. He had a housekeeper, Miss Curry. In the first world war she was sure that the Germans were going to land and in the Dial opposite, there was a hollow tree and she provisioned it with tins of biscuits and water and Mr. Franklin said “The first thing when the Germans arrive I’ll come and give you a leg up into the tree”. She was furious and she always went away when the census was held so that Mr. Andrews, as the returning officer, didn’t know who she was.

C. She did marry in the end.

Miss D. Did she?

C. In about 1937.

Miss D. She lived with her sister in Twickenham or something.

C. I don’t remember.

Miss D. She used to go to Twickenham for the census , go and stay with her sister in Twickenham. She used to let us go boating on the pond at Hammonds Farm which was an old brick pit. It was supposed to be bottomless. We had wash tubs.

H. You might not be here today.

Miss D. Round wash tubs with a stick to paddle it and we used to go boating on the pond. Our washing was done in washing trays. Do you remember wooden washing trays did you ever see them? They were rectangular and the sides sloped like that and you had a row on them on the long bench. One for washing, one for rinsing, one with blue water in it.

H. Yes, to whiten things.

Miss D. And a ring right at the end you had a copper where you could boil things. The brewhouse had a considerably lot of work in modern things they had a mangle and a copper and a pump and a drain to pour it down and a fire in the cold weather as well as a copper.

H. What about the dairy? Did you make cheese and things.

Miss D. No, Geraldine Hammond did all the dairy work – only butter.

H. How was the butter made?

Miss D. In a churn, over and over- a barrel churn – and then a long butter roller. A chopped corrugated roller that you ran down it and the butter came out in long corrugated sheets and then you pushed it back and it went back into a corrugated roll. You turned it round at right angles then did it again to get the buttermilk out and you set it in brine if you wanted it salted.

H. What did you do with the buttermilk?

Miss D. The buttermilk went to the pigs and the skimmed milk, some skimmed milk was sold, and some used to feed the calves or pigs. The afternoon skimmed milk went to the calves, but in the morning people used to come with cans and buy it. People used to drink skimmed milk. Slimmed milk was mostly used in making rice puddings of Yorkshire pudding.

H. Cream?

Miss D. We didn’t sell much full cream milk. Some people had it and of course quite a few small farms kept a cow or two. But children used to have to fetch milk in the mornings before they went to school. That’s why we had lots of .. tooth.

H. So they came to the door to buy the milk?

Miss D.Yes,.

H. Of course it wasn’t delivered round.

Miss D. No. Afterwards it was when Tom Lake took over then we didn’t make any butter after that.

Miss D. Before that people had to come and fetch milk if they wanted it. the butter – some went to the Village Shop and some went to the Latchmores in Hitchin. The eggs went to Latchmores packed in hampers with layers of hay.

H. Why didn’t you make cheese?

Miss D. No cheese….

H. Or eaten?

Miss D. Oh, yes, vast quantities, good old strong Canadian. It is interesting isn’t it that now Canadian Cheddar is more expensive than English. When I was young Canadian Cheddar was the cheap kind.

H. That was imported?

Miss D. Yes. Very strong and much nicer the English Cheddar was much more expensive and now it is the other way round.

H. What about chickens and things like that did you keep chickens to eat as well?

Miss D. Yes, and ducks.

H. Did you have a duck at Christmas?

Miss D. No ducks were in summer, that was a summer dish when they were young. We didn’t keep ducks as such they bought the duck eggs and set them and then fattened the ducks left. Thursdays in summer was a chicken…..

H. Which were shot on the farm. Was there a lot of shooting in those days.

Miss D. My father never shot. Joe used to go out with gun in the park we had several shoots…

H. The cowman? Joe Davis?

Miss D. The shoots that they had were a party of my father’s friends and then we had big shoots.

H. That was where the singing happened?

Miss D. my mother was very good. They could sing “Tom Bowling” and “John Peel”. He used to sing as he drove we all sang as we drove……. whether it made the horse go I don’t know.

H. What sort of cart did you have? Did you have a carriage?

Miss D. We had a wagonette, a rally cart a, four wheel rally, two wheels there and two at the back, like a dog cart only bigger and then they had a Governess cart.

H. What is a Governess cart?

Miss D. A tub cart.

H. They had a door on.

Miss D. At the back. That was mother’s and then there was another one for the children and the donkey. My father drove the rally cart and Lake drove the wagonette and if we went shopping the wagonette held quite a lot of people. When we went shopping we usually drove that.

H. You said you went to school, where did you go?

Miss D. Hitchin.

H. What about earlier on?

Miss D. We didn’t go to school until we were eight, we had a …

H. I see, as soon as you were eight did you go to a Grammar School?

Miss D. Yes. in Kings Barton from five.

C. That was very young.

Miss D. I was at other School for ten years.

H. Was the Grant school a private school?

Miss D. Yes, Private school, you had to pay to go there. There were Sunday colleges, more for Pirton then anywhere else because Rands Charity provided them for Pirton. More Pirton children could go than others.

H. I didn’t realise that Rands had supported that. We use it now.

Miss D. That was what it was for.

C. The Parish paid for all my education.

H. Did it?

C. Yes, I had a Rand’s Scholarship. We all did. There were only about 30 County Scholarships and they were taken up mainly by people in the school already and Wilshere Dacre it varies.

Miss D. There were a certain number originally for the children of Hitchin because the old Grammar School was a free school and it was for the children of Hitchin only although they must have had private pupils because my father went to the old Grammar School at the top of Tilehouse Street until he went away to boarding school and of course, he didn’t live in Hitchin so he must have gone as a private pupil.

H. Your grandfather Daniel Davies went to British Schools.

Miss D. Until he went away to boarding school. I don’t know if he lodged in Pirton or what because he lived in Hexton.

C. Its a long way to come.

Miss D. Even with a pony, he may have lodged during the week. He had no relations in Pirton.

H. Is that when William Dawson was there?

Miss D. Yes. No, it was William Damson’s father after all my grandfather was born in 1821. So he would have only been there until he was about 10. Because education was very difficult for children in the country. Pirton was fairly lucky because at least you could cycle to Hitchin. If you lived out somewhere like Kings Walden or somewhere like that and Gravenhurst. Children cycled from Gravenhurst and Meppershall to the Grammar School in Hitchin, nine or ten miles away. Of course, we were driven we were dropped off at the bottom of  Windmill  Hill and had to run up. Some children rode to school. Maud Kidman from rode her pony to school and put it up at the Railway Inn and then went up the little alley ways to school. The Kidmans, when there were a whole lot of them they drove to school – one of the older ones – but not the youngest and there was a tale that someone was going along the Bedford Road and saw a tub cart upside down in the ditch and the horse grazing along the side of the road and they rushed up to see if anyone was hurt and they they saw the handle of the door wobbling and the handle of the door opened and the children all crawled out one by one. They were all unhurt – upset in the ditch. Deborah Kidman became a very well known artist. She married Ponsonby. She exhibited at the Academy and so on. Her daughter and her granddaughter were

H. But they are not at the Academy now.

C. Do you ever get nervous living here by yourself?

Miss D. No. I don’t suffer with nerves.

C. You never worry about anybody snooping around?

Miss D. No.

C. What will be will be.

Miss D. I’ve got a lot of hunting crops in the hallway.



C. You have got such a long memory and you are so clear aren’t you?

Miss D. It’s a pity you should have had Helen on farming because she really knew a lot about farming, her memory is better than mine.

H. That is your aunt?

Miss D. No. my sister. Oh I had an aunt as well.

H. Oh you’ve got a sister have you?

Miss D. No she is dead now but I had one. The older sister.

H. There were three.

Miss D. I am the only one left.

H. Were you the youngest?

Miss D. No. the middle one. The delicate one. Survived them all.

C. Have you got cousins and people locally?

Miss D. Not in England. My mother’s people are in South Africa. I’ve got various Ivorys, I am connected to the Ivorys.

C. Do they ever come over from South Africa?

Miss D. Two were over last summer.

C. Where abouts do they live?

Miss D. Johannesburg. I’ve got them in Capetown.

C. I’ve a cousin in Johannesburg.

Miss D. Just outside Johannesburg in but one of my aunts lives in Johannesburg.

C. The cousins I’ve got in South Africa there are William Newbery’s granddaughters.

Miss D. Are you related to them too?

C. No, my father’s cousin married one of the sons.

Miss D. They didn’t have any family did they the Newberys.

C. Oh. yes, they had two boys.

Miss D. Did they.

C. Alec and Norman and there was one girl who died. This cousin of my father’s, married an Ashton…Lily.

Miss D. Are you related to the Ashtons too?

C. of Pirton.

Miss D. Piggles Ashton?

C. There were four children. There was Jack, and Tom, Doris and Lilian they lived at Baldock.

Miss. D. Not the Pirton Ashtons.

C. But they did come to The Croft, they had the Croft built George Ashton.

Miss D. Now what was the boy’s name who died? The Ashton boy who died, of tuberculosis. They built the Croft for him and Piggles Ashton father who ran the bakers shop I think was a cousin of the

H. Piggles?

Miss D. It was his nickname, he was fat.

C. It was the other side, it was the wife who was related. George Ashton. These girls they were both married and lived…

Miss D. Hedley Ashton was the one who died.

C. Mary lives in Johannesburg and her sister lives in Kimberley.

Miss D. My mother was motherles,her mother died when she was a tiny child and her father went out to South Africa and married again and he had four or five more children. My mother was left behind with her grandparents.

H. She stayed behind in Yorkshire.

Miss D. She never went out to South Africa. She never saw her father again. She only ever saw one of her step brothers and sisters. One was over at the Royal Academy of Music and she came over here. She was the one who lived in

H. How did she meet your father, was she down here?

Miss D. My mother’s family really were from Norfolk. Her mother came from Yorkshire and they were farming in Yorkshire and the grandparents went back to Norfolk after the death. No she lived in in Hitchin. And they were married by Archbishop’s licence which I have. An Archbishop’s Licence. Greetings from the Bishop of Norwich, that kind of thing, all done most beautifully.

H. Because this house is so old isn’t it?

Miss D. The modern bit is 1590.

C. The modern bit is 1590. Rectory Farm is about 1620. That had a ghost.

H. Did you ever see it?

Miss D. Yes.

H. What was it?

Miss D. It was an old woman in black who sat in the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden. She was also reputed to look out of the spare bedroom window but I never saw her looking out the window and she was supposed to sit in a high chair in the drawing room. No cat and dog would never go into the drawing room after dark it was down the end of a passage.

C. Where did you see her?

Miss D. Sitting in the summer house.

C. And weren’t you frightened?

Miss D. No, as a child I took for granted that there were plenty of old women in black about in the family. You see my father married rather late in life all my uncles and aunts were a generation ahead like my grandfather.

C. You see if a woman was 45 in those days they were old weren’t they?

Miss D. Yes. My father didn’t marry until he was 45. His brothers were seven years older than him.

C. So you were really brought up in quite an old atmosphere. When I went to the Grammar School I thought Miss Gosser was a dear old lady and they found her a bit terrifying she was just like my aunts.

C. I suppose really the influence on your life was a generation earlier than most girls of your age, very Victorian.

Miss D. It was very odd that there were no children of our age.

C. In your circle of friends.

Miss D. None of the vicarages, doctors hadn’t any children.

H. Isolating of course.

Miss D. There were the Kidmans at Ramerick. There was only Maud who was anywhere near our age. The Franklins were older than we were. Laurie would be thirty or forty years older than we were. Catherine was several years younger.

C. She is not still alive?

Miss D. No, she would be over ninety. when I think of her she was a teenager and I was a little girl. But there were no children at Highdown, nobody at Holwell anywhere. except Simon and and his sister. Marjorie was seven years younger than me,

C. Who was the Vicar of Holwell, was it Mr.Lorraine?

Miss D. I forget, it was an elderly one with a sister. There was Mr. Langmore and his sister-in-law Miss Brierly at the Vicarage. So we were really brought up without any other children until we went to school. We played entirely with boys.

H. Farm boys.

Miss D. Yes, the egg boys and so on – the Saturday boys.

C. Are any of them still alive now?

Miss D. Not many.

C. Who were they?

Miss D. John Lake, Harold Bunyan, Ethel Jarvis’s brothers.
Sam was a house boy.

H. Did you say that you had fireworks and things.

Miss D. Oh yes we had a Guy Fawkes party out in front of the house. The gates were shut and the children had to stand out in the road so that they couldn’t get too near them. Fireworks were all tied along the fence. One or two of the young men on the farm would be letting them off. We used to have jumping crackers in the horn lantern and then watch the lantern jump about and then they used to get great slabs of parkin.

H. Was that unusual to have fireworks?

Miss D. The village shop sold coloured matches and sparklers and that was all.

C. Miss Davis, Shillington Road as we know it now was it always like that when you were a child?

Miss D. Yes, exactly the same except that there weren’t all those new houses. Ten Steps was a row of cottages.

C. From the village to here was just the same road.

Miss D. Exactly the same.

C. You don’t remember when it was built or constructed?

Miss D. This road was a closed rack road

C. 1811.

H. Miss Davis was saying how the road.

Miss D. The road to Pirton went across here at the back of the Hall it came out down Burge End.

H. I could never really understand how Gallows Corner was in such an odd place across a field.

C. Well it was a County Boundary.

Miss D. County Boundary.

H. But it was also on the road.

C. That was the road they used to come before this road was built and they always had the gallows on County boundaries didn’t they.

Miss D. The road branched there and a bit went across Rosehill Common and came back by the Chapel in Shillington what we call (Cottage End)? and there was another branch came out where we used to have the ricks that was a Whitmarsh. That must be very wet ground because the fields there are Great Whitmarsh and Little Whitmarsh and I don’t know whether it is White Marsh or whether it is Wit Marsh because it wasn’t firm enough to graze until after Whitsun.

H. I think it was White on some of the old 1600 documents I’ve looked at.

Miss D. And there was Duckreedy. Duckready it is pronounced now. That must have been a swamp.

H. Catsbrains was another funny one up there.

Miss D. The Catsbrains is poor ground.

H. And that’s a definite definition in the book. That is known throughout the country as Catsbrains

Miss D. I’ve got a book on the field names and I have a book on Central Hertfordshire.

Miss D. And there is Linces Fork.

H. Is that N.I.N.C.E.S ?

Miss D. Lynch really but it is called Linces this one. Lynches step or strip. On Pegsdon Hills you can see the. The levelled out the terraces and ploughed the flat bits and cultivated the flat bits. Lynch baulk – it was originally a lince baulk, you see linces flat strips and then a bank between terrace that you couldn’t cultivate. Catsbrains has three names because the middle bit is Hollow Pit Shot and the bottom bit is Rack Pits.

H. What do you think about that?

Miss D. I think Rack Pit was probably where they retted the flax in pits by the brook.

C. Did they grow flax there?

Miss D. They grew flax everywhere for linen.

C. Or did they use nettles? Because they used to do the same with nettles to weave with didn’t they?

Miss D. But I think about here probably they grew flax. By having pits it would look as though it was something they soaked to get the water in the brook. It used to be a meadow actually and it was dug by hand in the days when you didn’t hand out free aid, you made them work for it. The Poor Law when there was a lot of unemployed the people had to dig up, they got their five shillings a week they had to dig for it and they hired a bit of land from a farm and dig it by hand and they dug that meadow up by hand when there was a lot of unemployment in Pirton.

C. How big was the meadow?

Miss D. It would have been very big a couple I don’t know how far it went whether it went right along the bottom by the Driftway. That is another old word.

H. A drovers road.

C. I remember my father saying they used to go to the Black Prince for water when there was a water shortage in the village.

Miss D. And people used to go to the spring. They used to collect and and referred to it as high water. All the old people used to keep it in a bottle on the side for bathing their eyes it was considered to be have great medicinal value for bathing your eyes, the water from that spring.

C. From Black Prince? That’s a new one.

Miss D. Everybody had a bottle of high water It comes from the chalk I can’t really see that it had any virtue whatever except that it was cold but they all kept a bottle of it.

C. I remember being taken there by my father when I was a child being shown the spring. That is where – being told how he used to get the water.

H. Did the wells run dry?

Miss D. There were surface wells in Pirton very few wells were more than 6ft deep.

C. In 1921 there was a drought and I know father spent the whole summer lowering wells.

Miss D. Our well at Rectory Farm was under the floor in the passage and that never ran dry even in 1921.


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