by Ruth Jeavons
[This formed the basis of a short talk, accompanied by slides, given by Ruth on 8th February 2002 at the Annual General Meeting of the Wheathampstead Preservation Society]
|Imagine you’re standing at the cross roads at the top of
the high street at 8 00 a.m. on a weekday morning. What would your impression
be? Traffic, I think would dominate the senses. I think you would be overwhelmed
by the noise and rush of cars zooming out of the village on their way to
somewhere else. You might be lucky enough to catch the aroma of Thai or Indian
curry or the enticing smell of fish
and chips. Wheathampstead in the 21st century has become quite
international, but everyone seems to be on the move dashing about to get
were lucky you might have heard the railway engine stopping at the station and
letting off steam as it came to a halt. The pace has slowed down to that of the
horses and cows. The road to
Hatfield road was steeply banked and gently winding, dusty in summer and muddy
in winter. Tarmac was still way off in the future. Trees shaded the high street
and there were no kerbs. There were only two cottages along the Marford Road at this
time, and much of Necton Road would have looked rather new – a recent
development in quality housing.
|A peaceful picture you might think, but deceptive. Beneath
the surface there were tensions bubbling away, as in any normal society. In 1901
the issues of education and religion were very much to the fore (as today with
our Faith schools debate).
|The school was overcrowded and had been enlarged in 1884 to
take 330 pupils. Payment by results was the system of the day. The inspectors
complained of overcrowding and poor ventilation in the infants school and
threatened to withhold funding. Numbers
in the infants dept. had to be restricted to 120. Not surprisingly, there were 6
changes of Infant headteacher in the years between 1898 and 1906.
|Canon Davys was now 72 and a widower, living with his
daughter Blanche aged 36 and 6 servants, including a butler (Harold Skillman)
and a pageboy aged 16. The Rev. Morgan, minister of the Congregational church on
Brewer’s Hill, was up in arms about non-conformist children being educated in
the Church of England catechism at the local school.
The following year he publicly burnt a copy of the new Education Act on
Church Green, Harpenden. Non C of E children were taken out of school for lessons in
their own religion. Rivalry between
the denominations extended even to the matter of church fetes, apparently, each
church trying to outdo the other. The Ecuemenism of today’s Wheathampstead
Churches Together was still a long way off.
|Society then was still hierarchical with the gentry clearly
privileged in their enormous homes with droves of servants. Their splendid
dwellings at Lamer, Wheathampstead House, Blackmore End and
Delaport are all
gone now. Only Mackerye End remains as a family home. Place Farm house is
offices. Even the larger middle
class houses such as Garden House, where the Governor of the Straits Settlements
(Sir Cecil Clementi Smith) came to retire, have given way to more medium-sized
housing. (Incidentally, another interesting inhabitant at the time was Lord
Harmsworth, of Fleet Street fame, who enjoyed the fishing here and spent a lot
of time at the Fisheries on the Lower Luton Road.)
|Most men were agricultural labourers from the age of 14. A
few were employed on the cress beds, cutting or growing the cress. At this time
Jabez Nash was at Castle Farm, Presumably this is where the main cress growing
industry was based. Frederick Wright employed several men and boys as gardeners
or nurserymen in his nurseries at Gustard Wood.
|Gravel digging was the other significant occupation for the
men of the village: many men supported large families of six children on their
income from gravel digging. Joseph F. Owen is listed as a builder and
merchant and his son, also Joseph, as assistant manager in the local
(He was also the village undertaker, supplying you with accommodation both for
this world and the next.) The foreman of the gravel pits was William Austin of
Necton Road. Presumably these were up on the dump. Which explains those vast
holes that later came to be used as a dump for Londoners’ rubbish.
|They got thirsty these hardworking men, and luckily pubs outnumbered the farms. There were 21. Shall I list them? (In alphabetical order of the proprietor’s name: )|
|The Railway Hotel, run by James William Collins would have
been a cut above the ordinary public house, offering accommodation. The Bull
also advertised itself as being “nicely situated to accommodate commercial
gentlemen and cyclists”. So did the Park Hotel on Nomansland common offering
“every convenience for cycling and beanfeast parties”
|Luckily we had our own local Hope Brewery on Brewer’s
Hill run by Harry Boys Woolridge and Francis Christopher Hill. A few men and
boys were employed here, as maltsters, labourers or brewer’s draymen.
|More surprisingly there was a coffee tavern in the high
street, run by Mrs Eliza Howard.
|The railway employed some men and boys, as messengers,
platelayers, shunters, clerks, taction engine drivers, etc. The station master
in 1901 was George Holland.
|We had our own policeman, Wm Hagger lived at the Folly: and
there were 2 police pensioners, including Charlie Pond at Marford.
|There were three boot and shoe makers in the village (William Gatward, Thomas Seabrook
and William Neale) - all pillars of the
community, two of them serving on the newly formed parish council. Mr Gatward
was parish clerk as well as church sexton. He would make your shoes, count your
rates and dig your grave.
|Dressmakers, milliners and hat makers were even more
numerous, many of them living in Church Street. We had our own jeweller, Edwin
George Worsley, and a watch mender.
|Charles Latchford would cut your hair for you, and John
Nash would sell you a hat from his draper’s shop which was also a grocery down
near where Dillons is now. In 1901 Nashes had been keeping a shop there for the
past 50 years (recorded there in the 1851 census as well.) And I haven’t yet
mentioned the four bakers, and three butchers supplying the village with
quality, home-grown bread and meat.
|And what of the women of the parish? The number of widows
is striking – both rich and poor. At Wheathampstead House, Mary countess of
Cavan at 55 was living on her own means with her daughter Lady Ellen Lambart and
8 servants. The head of house at Mackerye End was Caroline Green, also widowed,
aged 58. (Her son Charles followed the unusual occupation of marble merchant.)
Delaport House too was presided over by a widow, Emma, living in comfort
with 5 maids and a butler with her inimitable daughter Olivia Upton Robins, aged
23. Olivia was a great follower of the local football and, I believe, started
off the boy scouts Robins Nest in the Folly and the working men’s club in a
tin Nissan hut near where the post office is now.)
|At the other end of the social scale there were several
middle-aged widows supporting several children and an ageing relative on an
income derived from taking in laundry. Hannah Barton in Necton Road was one,
widowed at 47 with 5 children aged 8-14. (Londoners sent their dirty linen up
here in hampers on the train to dry in the clean country air.)
|No wonder then that as soon as children left school they
had to contribute to the family income: in Gustard Wood boys could add a
shilling or two to the family purse by caddying on the golf course. At the Folly
the girls went off to Batford to work at the Indiarubber factory.
Was this the Almagam? Or was that a later name?
|My impression of Wheathampstead in 1901 from looking
through the newly released census returns is of a hard working country
community. (They had to work hard. They were overrun with children.) The village
was self sufficient, prosperous and people looked after each other. Most of
their basic and spiritual needs were catered for locally. People then did not
have to leave the village on their way to somewhere else. They lived and worked
around Wheathampstead. That is the big difference between then and now.
|[There follows three films. The projectionist
for the evening is Alan Willmott from Windjammer films, well known to us from
previous film shows.
We are especially indebted to Alan for discovering two of the films we are going to see: The Village Postman and the Map Reading film. Both these are educational films professionally produced in the 1940s. These last about 10 minutes each.
We thank David Cleveland and the East Anglian film archive for making these films available to us. They have specially copied the first film onto 16mm stock for projecting this evening.
The Village Peepshow was made by Margaret Wright in 1938 It lasts about 15 minutes and we see:
We hope to add a commentary to this film and there is a move by the
East Anglian archive to produce it as a video, along with a few other
local films. new