Jack Burton

Interviewed 7/12/84

Jack Burton left and Claude Farey right opening the village sign which was carved by Shelley faussett

Jack Burton left and Claude Farey right opening the village sign which was carved by Shelley faussett


Jack Burton   b.1908 Crabtree Lane                       Father: Herbert D Burton 

On his mother’s side of family : grandmother, Hannah Titmuss (née Stapleton), went on first excursion train to the Great Exhibition of 1851 with a teacher from the National School.  Everyone tried to persuade her mother that she should not go (trains were dangerous).

His mother was (Isabella) Jane Burton (née Titmuss).  Her elder brother Norman Titmuss went to the School when it first opened in 1877.  At 13, he went to the Luton Fair and was hired to work on a farm in Harpenden.  He later became a farmer there; but as a boy lived at Middle Farm (where new Docklands’s houses have just been built) in Crabbs Lane (now Crabtree).  When he first went to school, he went across the meadow and jumped over the school wall, instead of going round and in at gate.  Ted Odell told Mr Crowther.  Mr Crowther asked Norman if he had done so, and he said NO, and looked innocent, so Ted Odell got caned for telling lies!

Jack Burton’s mother and father were born in 1877 & 1881, so went to the school when 3 years old in 1880 & 1884.

They said Mr C. was rather cruel and caned a lot.  He also had a wooden ruler up his sleeve and when going round classroom would poke children in back of neck with it.

Jack went to school in 1911, when 3½ (he was rather delicate).First teacher was Alice Shepherd (a local girl – very good with children and liked by them).  He was in Babies’ Room for 2 years.  Then he went into Mrs Donson’ class – she was strict.Standards I and II in little room next to room with bell tower – Miss Cotton (from Hitchin).  Standards III & IV – Miss Prutton (from Shillington), then later Miss Cotton.Standards V, VI & VII – Mr Donson.  He was a very poor schoolmaster and didn’t teach well.  Left the children very much to their own resources – you didn’t learn unless you were keen to.  J.B learned quickly and easily and when younger was pushed up and was with much older boys who bullied him.  Not good.  But he liked school.Mr D. often sat and read the newspaper and set the children to reading round the class – a verse each from the Bible.  Sometimes there was a “rude” passage – then he would say when someone started on it “leave that and go on”!!(Jack obviously has contempt for D’s lack of effort and injustices).He remembers once being thumped so violently across the back that the breath was knocked out of him (unfairly because the bigger boys each side of him were pricking him with pen nibs and he was moving to avoid it).Mr D “Put your feet straight “You – your feet” etc. etc.  “Stop that confounded coughing – the next one to cough gets the cane” (all the children had bad coughs and colds.Coloured inks for colouring maps out at the front.  Got tired of children coming to get them “I had finished drawing, so went out – Go back to your place – Get on with your work – go back to your place etc”

Although not at school, Jack knows how everything changed when Mr Housden came in 1924 (Mr H. was Asst Master at St Mary’s Hitchin before coming to Pirton).

He remembers really cold winter of 1916/7 and also a particular blizzard (snowstorm and very high winds on March 28th 1916. 1918 – the Spanish influenza

Dr McFadyan came in once a year – mothers went along.  Jack’s brother had had his tonsils out the previous year.  Dr M “Wants his tonsils out” Mother “he had them out last year!” Dr M. “Very badly done”! (They were very keen then on taking tonsils out.He remembers going to the hospital in Jack Walker’s horse and cart to have his tonsils out.  This was done under chloroform.  He says children were then laid in forms in waiting rooms and when they came round they were very sick – remembers lots of  children.  Then they were taken home the same evening in the cart.

He also remembers at 10 walking with his brother (8) across the fields to Hitchin Hospital to see Mr Blade, the Dentist.  Teeth were extracted without anaesthetic (brother had an abscess under one!) and then they walked home again across the fields, scarf round face.

In 1920 in coal strike, there was no coal for school fires – sat in coats and did P.E. in classroom to keep warm.

Clothing  they had a Sunday suit, otherwise they wore clothes mother made, usually cut down from father’s clothes – most people were poor..

Typhoid 1848/9 – bad epidemic – wiped out the whole Kingsley Family of Walnut Tree Farm.

Gladys Donson married Arthur Walker of Hill Farm and died in childbirth in 1923.

[Tom Hare – older than Jack’s father – had a bakery at Terry Villa, Royal Oak Lane – until about 1900].

[Azel Young, a cabinet maker and carpenter, lived in Shillington Road in thatched cottage next to the row of 6.  Had to move to Stevenage, because he took part in a political demonstration (for Liberal party) and upset local farmers and gentry – so they gave him no more work].



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