This article is reproduced by kind permission of This England Magazine, P.O. Box 52, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1YQ www.thisengland.co.uk/
A Year of Augusts
Bernard A Barton
You may recall Bernard Barton's feature "The Godfrey Sisters of Stoke Goldington". Here he recalls the many unforgettable holidays he spent in Stoke Goldington as a child.
Time and time again my mother would pack her bags and "go home to mother", and my father was only too willing to gather his photographic equipment together, leave the City behind and accompany her. That happy state of affairs applied both before and after marriage, and it is because they were able to continue making Stoke Goldington the venue for their regular holidays, even while they were raising a family, that after the passage of sixty years those August holidays remain, for me, something special.
Being the third in line of family arrival dates (I was born in 1899) it could be said that by August 1914 I had enjoyed at least twelve memorable consecutive visits to Stoke Goldington, each covering the entire month of August. In retrospect those months form a year of perpetual sunshine and warmth - for how soon we are apt to forget the grey patches which surely occur as nature wills.
It so happened that at the turn of the century my father accepted an appointment in Leeds, doubtless a difficult decision for a man with a young family and himself one of a large family strongly rooted in London. However, judging by future events there could have been little cause for regret; certainly we juniors took to our new environment with ease, and thereafter soon assumed the roles of pseudo "Yorkshire Tykes"! It was from these Broad Acres then, Ripon and Harrogate in particular, that my truly unforgettable journeys to Buckinghamshire really began.
By mid-July my mother could be found busily gathering together numerous items of clothing, and transferring them to the family sized tin trunk which always formed the main item of luggage. This task must have called for a considerable amount of ingenuity on her part, deciding just how to cater for the needs of so many for so long a period, and at the same time maintaining a margin available for use up to the date of departure. Maybe she enjoyed doing it, though one thing is fairly certain, there would be little practical help from my father for he would probably he concentrating on preparing his photographic equipment!
Saturday, our regular departure day, dawned at last. Saturday being one of the few days transport was available between Northampton and Stoke Goldington. Breakfast had little appeal that morning, we were too excited and all agog until the arrival of the cab that was to take us to the station. Once there and settled aboard, the long journey commenced and, not surprisingly, what had for many days been a splendid prospect slowly began to lose some of its glamour and we started to tire as the day wore on. However a couple of breaks, usually at Leicester and Kettering, brought us back to life again and with much hustle and bustle we located the next train and transferred our belongings.
In spite of these enforced "breathers" there was a general sigh of relief as we finally pulled into Northampton station and were able to stretch our Iegs once again. Here we usually found time to visit the market --- and I seem to remember visiting a penny bazaar too - then after some welcome refreshment we made for the assembly point from where the final stage of our journey began: that novel eleven miles in cheerful Charlie Clark's Carrier Van drawn by two somewhat weary looking horses, a veritable Dickensian type of covered wagon.
Sure enough there he was, all smiles and prompt with his usual friendly greeting: "Hello, you Yorkshire Tykes here again", his slow measured tones contrasting strangely with the northern accent we had left behind. Then with passengers settled round the bench-like seat (actually a locker) and luggage secured, we made a leisurely start, down Bridge Street, along by the breweries with their characteristic smell, then up the hill past Queen Eleanor's Cross and out into the open country towards Buckinghamshire's northern boundary.
The Godfrey Sisters Cottage
Our feelings were I suppose not unnatural, for we had been on the road most of the day and the remaining milestones seemed further and further apart; but though sorely tried, our patience was finally rewarded, for there on the skyline rising above the hedgerows to our right, the village church at last came into view.
Weariness vanished as we descended the hill and passed the places which were becoming more familiar to us as year followed year, Mount Pleasant; Roddis's Farm; the Rectory: the White Hart; the Reading Room: Sawbridge the Butcher; Whiting's; Uncle John's thatched cottage; Clarabut's shop, each landmark bringing us nearer to the double-fronted cottage that was to be our home for the weeks ahead. Here the door was already open, the family group waiting on the cobblestones outside, and no sooner had we scrambled down than greetings and hugs were being exchanged on all sides. Dusk had already fallen and the oil lamps lit, and after a very welcome supper we were only too pleased to accept the proffered candlesticks and make our way to bed.
Readers may already be familiar with the Godfreys, from earlier articles (See The Godfrey,s of Stoke Goldington). The eldest of the four sisters, Elizabeth, my grandmother, had by her marriage and calling more than the average amount of experience with children, and there is little doubt that her maiden sisters, Sarah, Mary and Esther, would have made equally good mothers. Under the one roof it meant that, in effect, we Barton juniors had the love and devotion of five "mothers", a situation which may well have proved unsatisfactory for all concerned, but happily and greatly to their credit a very successful balance between discipline and freedom was maintained. We probably gave little heed to the fact that daily catering for a family of ten would present problems and involve our "mothers" in much extra work. However, by enlisting our help - tactfully no doubt - we also gained, fo r it was always a pleasure to fetch milk from the farm; pick and shell peas; gather fruit and vegetables from the allotment; collect wood and chop sticks.
The Godfrey Sisters
The novelty of farm life, particularly at harvest time had an appeal we just could not resist and, with an uncle, Jesse Green, employed as right-hand man on the farm of John Roddis, we were able to take full advantage of his experience and willingness to allow us to join him and play a small part in the daily routine. Many happy hours were spent around the farmyard with its barns, stables, out-houses and dairy, not to mention all the other various items associated with agriculture. Then off to the fields where harvesting was in full swing, and what a picturesque scene it presents. The rotating arms of the latest reaper/binder drawn by a team of magnificent horses being steadily guided round and round the perimeter, while suntanned open-shirted farm hands and we helpers followed closely behind, bent on picking up the ready bound sheaves and arranging them to form stooks. Further excitement followed as cutting proceeded and the rectangle of standing wheat became smaller and smaller forcing the scared rabbits to seek fresh cover and safety elsewhere, only to fall easy prey to the group waiting nearby with shotguns at the ready. We - hopefully and hopelessly - shied stones!
Modern harvesting methods have surely taken some of the romance out of what always seemed to me to be a most pleasurable experience. The noble horses have been retired and a huge machine now takes over, transforming in one operation the sea of golden corn into trailer loads of grain and symmetrical bundles of straw. That is progress, whereas reaping in my day left row upon row of shocks (or stooks) each comprising about twelve sheaves. Subsequent threshing took place either on site or at the farm, in which case our sole aim was to obtain as many joyrides between field and farm as possible, and in doing this I suppose it could be said that we were enacting the closing lines of that ancient but locally popular Moody/Sankey harvest hymn: "Here we come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves". The special carts used for this purpose had supplementary outboards fitted to increase their carrying capacity, but they were hardly designed for comfort!
This recalls an incident when, at the close of a long hot day I was persuaded to accept a lift on the back of one of the farm horses. Once aloft my young legs were so widespread that I could not possibly grip with my knees and, feeling very insecure I was only too pleased to be lifted down to earth once again. The roughest ride of all, however, was during ploughing operations, and I was permitted to sample the journey across the field of stubble on the "captive" plough running on the steel cable which was stretched between the two smoke-belching steam engines, one on either side of the field. No such method exists today but the thought of it, no cushion on the seat, still makes me feel uncomfortable!
The harvesting of brambles, nuts, mushrooms, sloes, hops and crab apples, were occasions for family outings and picnics, and the fruits of these happy gatherings, after suitable treatment, doubtless went to supplement the winter supplies.
Many of these hot, action filled days were followed by warm sultry nights, but before sleep claimed us we were frequently treated to a most fascinating display of summer lightning, a phenomenon comparatively rare today, for something has happened during the intervening years the experts seem undecided just what and these atmospheric electrical discharges appear to have found some less spectacular path
A busy day on John Roddis's farm
Bob, Fleece, Don and flaxen haired Ruby, the younger members of the Armstrong family living almost opposite the Godfreys, were always very friendly. They had a fine garden and ample space at the rear of the shop premises, including a short row of old cottages used mainly for storage, all of which provided a delightful area for youthful activities. A low wall separated the property from the disused brickyard, tumble-down kilns and water-logged clay-pit - an added attraction but we were warned against playing there. Apart from the shop, Mr. Armstrong's business interests included trading in Buckinghamshire lace, and he spent much of his time travelling around the neighbourhood by pony and trap. Time came when he was able to devolve some of this journeying to his sons and this ultimately led us to receive the occasional invitation to go along for company. Seeing the countryside under such ideal conditions, visiting new places and scenes was indeed a real treat.
Most youngsters enjoy playing shops and in this respect we were favoured much in the same way as with the harvesting, Charlie Wesley, my mother's cousin, owned the confectionery and grocery store opposite The Lamb, a business belonging originally to a Mrs. Dowdy who was succeeded for a while by Mrs. Hill, Charlie Wesley's sister. As the Hill and Wesley children came on the scene it was only natural that we should be drawn toward those family circles, and we became regular visitors. The shop and the villagers of our acquaintance who kept popping in further increased our interest, but the greatest thrill was when we were permitted to take part in the handling and weighing-up procedure. Very little merchandise was prepacked in those days and there were many occasions, usually when the shop was closed, when such goods as sugar and rice had to be weighed and bagged into saleable quantities. Transactions involving such items as snuff, shag (fine cut tobacco), black and brown twist, small lots of sweets, called for the making by hand of funnel type bags, usually out of squares of newspaper. Quite neat and efficient when made by the expert but one of the tricks of the trade we never really mastered.
My father's love of the countryside and his urge to maintain a permanent record of the pastoral scene never wavered and consequently he took every opportunity to explore as much of the neighbourhood as possible. This led us to join him in many an outing to places much further afield than we, alone, would normally have ventured, and it is indeed most unfortunate that so few of the relative photographs have survived the passage of time.
Our intimate association with chapel and Sunday-school life during the holidays has been the subject of a previous article. The story of the Godfrey sisters has likewise been published, but a further tribute to them is appropriate here. Their unselfish care and devotion throughout the years covered by this miscellany of events was surely the one constant factor which created such a wonderfully home-like atmosphere without which this disconnected series of holidays would probably have meant little; whereas they all now remain firmly bound together as one august volume of August memories
Bernard A Barton
The Bartons and other children from the village at a picnic In the fields at Stoke Goldington in 1905.
Caption : Below left. Harvesting at Stoke Goldington on
John Roddis's farm. The author's uncle, Jesse
Green, is riding on the machine. Below. Time
for a break
A portrait of the Barton family taken behind the
the Congregational Chapel In Stoke Goldington
with their grandmother. The author is at the
front on the left.
The Bartons and other children from the village at a picnic In the fields at Stoke Goldington in 1905.