Woburn Sands life in the 1930’s – As remembered by Arthur Buxton

The late Mr Buxton suppIied me with his early memories of Woburn Sands before he passed away in 2010. I am grateful to him and his family for giving me permission to republish them here.  I have illustrated his story with postcards from my collection.

“I was born at Wood Cottage, Wood Street, Woburn Sands in 1929, the youngest son of Henry Buxton, retired schoolmaster of Wavendon Endowed School, organist and choirmaster, and Edith his wife, schoolmistress, both for many years. I had one brother and three sisters.  In my early years, Wood Street was not yet made up and Chapel Street was all ruts and stone.  Later I remember the fun we had watching the steamroller and men rolling Wood Street, and the gravel and smell of hot tar.  In the early 1930’s there was little motorised traffic, and a lorry or car was something to be marvelled at. I was once or twice treated to a ride in a van by a kind baker delivering the bread, but only to the bottom of Wood Street. Mostly bread, milk, paraffin, and particularly coal and coke, were delivered by pony and trap or cart, and milk was locally brought by foot, Mr. Chester (and his daughter) carrying hand churns and measuring dippers to our own jugs.  Their little farm and milking cows were in Station Road across from the junction with Theydon Avenue.  Some steam-powered lorries travelled the Woburn Road towards Newport Pagnell with cement, I believe, and we waited outside school to see these pass, and sniff the steam odour left behind.  There was at that time a stone horse-trough not far from the sweet shop, and of course the War memorial in the Square where on November 11th each year there was a parade and a service held.

Above, the Square before the War Memorial was erected in 1919. Below, the parade of shops on the east side of the High Street.

We sometimes saw tramps in the village, and unemployed ex-soldiers, begging in the streets, even this long after the Great War, and often a knife-grinder with his bicycle modified and a stone sharpening wheel, earning a few coppers with scissors, knives and other tools brought out for his skill.  Wood Street was not completely built upon, particularly at our lower end, there was a fine orchard between Wood Cottage and the last house, the fine residence of a doctor (Richardson) on the corner where Wood Street joins Theydon Avenue.  On the opposite side we had a large garden some 50yds. depth, and below that and to its right was open meadow and scrubland as far as the priest’s house and the old wooden hut which was the Roman Catholics Church.  This open land turned at the end and came out into Theydon Avenue.

Above our house in Wood Street were some 10 or 12 small cottages, very humble dwellings, two up, two down, above these were much bigger and decent houses all the way up to the corner with Chapel Street and Hardwick Place.  Opposite this junction was ‘Kilpin’s Field’, grazed by small cattle and a donkey, where each year came ‘Shepheards Fair’ in late summer with its old-fashioned roundabouts, swings and stalls – a great treat for the village, where the charge for everything was 1d. (one old penny) Sometimes too a travelling small circus appeared for a few days and this again was well and enthusiastically visited by most of the village people.

Growing up, I remember high-lights, such as the Silver Jubilee of George V and the coronation of George VI.  There were processions, dressing-up, and we decorated our bicycles and ourselves with red, white and blue, and paraded for competitions.

There was also the annual Vicarage Fete, held at the Vicarage in the High Street, and this was a great affair in the lovely gardens there.  My mother used to teach Morris dancing and we were all drawn in as ‘examples’ on the lawns.  At the age of only seven I was mainly concerned with the Maypole and its twists and turns and plaits, but my sisters and the elder village children performed such dances as ‘Bean-setting’, ‘Black Nag’, ‘Gathering Peascods’, and others to piano accompaniment. The village brass band performed, there were pony rides in the High Street, ices (the frozen water sort), cream teas and all the usual stalls.

In later years we celebrated V.E. day in a similar way, with sports on the recreation ground in Station Road, and the village band was called on again. (Incidentally, this band held its practices at a room in the Fir Tree Inn, and I attempted the Tenor horn there, with very little success).

Above, the Methodist Church in the High Street. Below, a view along Wood Street.

Throughout these years of growing up, apart from travelling to school at Bedford (by ancient Puffer train with a large smoke stack) there was little opportunity for travel outside the immediate area.  Our lives were blessed however by the wonderful woodlands and heaths where we spent much time running free, summer and winter, and without which life would have been very dull.  We got to know every path and all the ways – we roamed everywhere, from Woburn Road (Henry VII lodge) through to Woodside at Aspley, through Birchmoor to the Woburn Road, up ‘Long-Slade’ on the other side and thence through fir woods, heather and sand to rhododendrons to the top of Aspley Heath, over to Bow Brickhill Church, returning by Bow Brickhill woods past Daneswood, down to Tidbury and home via Theydon Terrace and Hardwick Place.  There were many ‘private drives’ (so marked) on which we were not allowed (not if we were caught) and there some angry-looking keepers on the look-out for trespassers.  Our “bushcraft” however was pretty good and we mostly avoided trouble.

A feature of the woods was of course the spring flower, bluebells and primroses in profusion, and the Autumn harvests of sweet chestnuts, conkers and hazel nuts.  There was a great variety of trees, some very special, and the woods in autumn were coloured beyond belief in good years, and tramping through them was a great pleasure, the nuts a bonus.  Altogether, a wonderful place for children to grow up, with little danger in those days, and much healthy exercise.

On Sunday afternoons it was a different story.  It was time for the family in its best Sunday dress to take exercise more formally, with Father and Mother and ourselves on our best behaviour.  My father attended St. Michael’s church each Sunday and I went with him to both morning service and evensong as I sang in the choir for many years, with choir practice each Thursday evening in the church.  The Vicar was then the Rev. Mr. Shelton, and church services were generally well attended (if you missed a service you could expect to be called on by the Vicar) The other men in the choir were hard task-masters and kept us in good order, as did the church-wardens who stood no-nonsense and wielded, as I saw it, high authority in all doings of the church.

As to the villagers in those early days, most were hard-working locally, some on the local farms and estates and others on the roads, railways, shopkeeping, errand boys or any other general labouring tasks they could get.  Wages were very low, in one or two areas of the village there were what could only be called ‘slums’ and pretty dreadful conditions. The Grove in Station Road (later Plysu Products I believe) being one of the worst, and also cottages at the start of Aspley Hill.  There were large families and many children in cottages far too small and with a ‘pump’ rather than mains water, and little else.  The children from these attended Aspley Heath Primary school (as did we all) and were ragged and poorly dressed, some with no proper shoes.  Thank heaven those times are past.

So far I have mainly mentioned good times, but there were matters which affected our lives less pleasantly. In the early 30’s very few had electric, or gas, certainly we had none, and heating was by coal and coke fires, cooking by paraffin stoves (and hot water) except on Sunday when the large iron range was lit to cook not only Sunday dinner, but other foods for the week ahead.  Washing was done in a coal-fired ‘copper’ built in to the scullery, and drying by sun and wind, or by fireside and ironing. Light was by oil lamps and candles.

Gas was laid on, I think about 1934-5 and electric light (not power) a little later. As a consequence of these rather primitive facilities it was almost a never-ending drudge for parents and children alike, and we all had our tasks, and all had to be hardier then in the cold conditions, never dreaming of the luxuries we now enjoy.  But in many ways, family values – good behaviour and discipline, helpful neighbours, lack of crime and so on, village life in spite of its rigours, seems better on looking back, and maybe preferable to the ‘have-all’ style we now enjoy.

Above, St Michael’s in Aspley Heath. Below, the Swan Hotel and High Street.

In most winters in those days we had snow, sometimes a lot of it, and of course we children looked forward to it, and brought out our sledges heading for Tidbury where there was a fine grassed hill.  Most sledges were home-made (there being little money about) and I recall my brother made me one from old timber and with runners nailed on made from the steel spring of a very old wind-up gramophone!  One or two of the ‘posh’ people came with skis!  There were generally hard winters with severe frosts and often there was skating on ‘White’s Pond’ at the bottom of Wood Street where a lane leads round as a short cut to Station Road.

I can still recall many names from those early times. Our Aspley Heath schoolmaster was Mr. J.R.W. (Jack) Codd when I was at school there, and he and his wife lived in Theydon Avenue and were friends of my parents.  Mr. Codd wrote and produced a most interesting booklet -‘The History of our District’ published by Powage Press of Aspley Guise.  I have lost my copy but I recall that “Hog Sty End” and Woburn Sands origins were comprehensively covered and many other local and interesting matters.

Other names I recall are those seldom come across nowadays, and I used to think were a peculiar mixture for such a village. I mention one or two below:
Mowbray – the Miss Mowbrays lived in a small ‘mansion’ in Hardwick Place, behind a high holly hedge. The house was demolished before I left the district. They attended church, in long black dresses with hat and veil, and, strangely sat in separate pews.
Kestrel-Cornish – a church-warden (gentleman) lived I think in Aspley Heath.
Tarbox –   Lived in Chapel Street, played the euphonium, and could be heard very plainly practising when one walked past his cottage.
Pikesley – Kept one of the first motor garages in the High Street, dispensed petrol not electrically, but by a hand winding pump delivering a gallon. He married:
Mercy Stone – who lived in Wood Street, a lively and cheery middle-aged lady who visited us regularly as a good neighbour.
Griggs –   Lived in High Street where he ran a rope works – His house led down to ours in Wood Street with a ‘rope-walk’, about 50 yards long where it was fascinating to see the laborious process of rope making. His children went with us to Bedford Modern School.
Tanton – Confectioner
Partridge – Baker
Whitmee – Greengrocer
McMurtrie – Furniture
Tansley – Paraffin and Hardware
Tommy Garrett – The Singing postman – you could hear the post coming with his cheery melody.
Tyers, Dawborn, Henman, Pinder, Munn, Dovey, Wesley, Deeley, Maynard, Barnwell, Marchant, Blanchard, Hooper – and many more.

My father died in 1957, and mother in 1959.  Henry Buxton and Edith, his wife, are both buried in the churchyard of St. Michael’s, Aspley Heath.

In September 1939, I started school at Bedford, where I stayed for the long years of the war, but this is another story. I lost touch, to some extent, with my earlier friends and made new ones.  I finally left Woburn Sands in 1960, and only returned occasionally to visit.  My memories of those earlier days, however, do not fade, and I look back on them as good, notwithstanding the sometimes ‘Victorian’ ways of our upbringing.

The Duke of Bedford’s Farm, Birchmoor, 1942 – 1946

[Birchmoor originally had its own church, but it is not known exactly when this ceased to exist, although it is thought that its stones were used to build the church in Woburn. Birchmoor once had more buildings, but today there is just one row of houses in Birchmoor Green and a restaurant called The Birch, previously The Birchmoor Arms… Ed.]

I have mentioned in earlier notes that there was little money to spare at home. Consequently pocket-money was very limited, unless one earned it somehow.

At the age of about thirteen I managed to obtain employment during school holidays, summer, Whitsun, Easter and Christmas at the Duke of Bedford’s farm, Birchmoor, Woburn. This was a farm of some 1000 acres, and other than Park Farm (Woburn Abbey) was the largest of the Duke’s farms in Bedfordshire, there being other small farms at Milton Bryan, Eversholt, Sheep Lane and other small hamlets locally.

In summer 1942 I started and was attached to the stables under a military man (a retired sergeant from the army called Tom!). The stables at Birchmoor had ten standings for heavy horses, most in use – eight working horses when I started, mainly Shires, two Percherons (dapple grey) and one Suffolk Punch mare. The shires were about 17 hands (one taller) but the others mostly about 16 hands at the withers. The names I recall were Prince (my special charge), Depper, Diamond, Bay Lively, Duke, Betty and Dinah – some I can’t recall. The boys’ work was cleaning stables, grooming, harness cleaning, feeding, etc. Tom, the horseman, however measured out the corn rations for each horse depending on the workload for the day ahead, which we mixed with chaff in the mangers. We also fed the bets hay, and occasionally they would be fed whole mangold wurzels which they rolled around their mangers and crunched like apples.

The standings were all of thick stone with very heavy timber dividers. Harnessing a working horse is very heavy work; the bridles, collars, hames, chain ridge saddles and breeching are all very thick and strong leather with strong chains and brass fittings, all of great weight. Some of the horses obligingly lowered their heads to receive the heavy collar which was put on over their heads upside-down, and then turned for the hames to be put at the top after it was on the neck.

Remember, I was still a schoolboy and in those days quite small (a Cox at school) and I needed a compliant horse – they were all quite used to the work, however, and we seldom had any trouble in the stables – no noise or temper was allowed to upset them, which would have been quite dangerous considering their size and strength.

We started work at 6:30am. It took me perhaps half an hour to cycle to the farm, so I had a very early start. The horses had to be fed and prepared for their work before the farm workers started at 7:15am. All workers did small tasks until 8:15 am, a short breakfast in the bunk house, then the foreman Peter (an important old man) gave each man or team his instructions for the day; this was quite a formal meeting in the rickyard, This did not include those workers whose work was routine i.e. the pigmen, the milking parlour staff and other specialists whose duties were of a daily programme nature.

There would normally be about sixteen general crew (and two boys). The ‘bunkhouse’ was a stone built small stable, part of the many old buildings surrounding the main rickyard, but it had a stone fire-place with spits and irons, for heating kettles and acting partly as an open oven. The stable had a dirt floor with hand-made seating all round the small room, and each regular retainer (old George Battams, about 80) lit the fire and brewed up a great kettle of tea ready for 8am. The various ‘breakfasts’ were also placed near the fire to be heated up (and often covered with ash by the way) …A word about those times…

I started off by taking sandwiches made the night before but soon found the ‘proper’ order of things. You acquired a small enamel pie dish and put in it already cooked a piece of bacon and a fried egg, then covered it with a thick slice of bread. This was then wrapped overall in a clean rag. The preferences for lunch for the men was a ‘Bedfordshire Clanger’, a suet roll savoury at one end and sweet at the other (usually jam). If you were in the bunkhouse these were heated near the fire, if not eaten cold. A ‘shutknife’ or clasp knife was essential, to cut pieces and to convey them to the mouth! I followed this procedure as far as was possible, and varied the diet with apples from home, and whatever else came to hand. Remember it was wartime rationing and bacon and such things were difficult, but we kept our own chickens and eggs were plentiful. A bottle of cold tea was the normal fluid, but particularly in summer homemade ginger beer or ale were taken to the harvest field, and sometimes quite strong locally produced cider. Often with our horses in the fields could sometimes camp up for dinner, make a fire and brew cocoa, a tin of which we kept with us in the cart.

Incidentally, the same clasp knives were used to clean the horses feet and pare their hooves!

The talk in the bunkhouse did not really start until after food, and at any rate we boys were not expected to contribute. Conversation was regularly about the availability and quality of the beer in the locals at the Birchmoor Arms and Ridgmont pubs – beer was often in short supply all through the wartime, and sometimes ‘no beer’ signs were up, with consequent doom and gloom affecting all. Sometimes, however, the talk shifted to local gossip and love life, and I learnt some interesting things, listening carefully, but not fully understanding?

All the food mentioned above I prepared the night before and carried to work in a leather shopping bag in the handlebars of my very old upright gents bike each day.

To come back to the horses. By 8am they were fed and harnessed, then lead to their work. This usually involved “shutting-in” i.e. harnessing to the carts, normally two-wheeled high, general load muck carts. The horse was backed in to the right position below the shafts (the cart was tipped onto its end for this) and then the shafts brought down over the horse with the heavy ridge chain on the shafts then fitting into the harness saddle ridge. The chain was adjusted for the correct height (horses differed in back height) and the collar hooks (tugs) then hooked to the cart rings, Similarly, the ear hooks (drags) were fitted to the harness breeching (these operating as brakes to the cart). Finally a belly band was strapped under the horse to prevent a loaded cart from lifting.

All this required careful adjustment to ensure the comfort of the horse during the days work. We mostly used this type of cart for loose loads, muck of bags of fertiliser, but ‘ladders’ were fitted front and back if hay, straw or other loose light loads were carried. For harvest times heavier long four-wheeled carts with high back and front ladders were in use requiring two horses in line, one hitched as above, one in chains at the front.

No horse was allowed to work, loaded or empty, at other than walking pace. Occasionally they were startled into a trot, but this was quickly controlled. Most work was on heavy land or poor, uneven tracks.

The horseman, Tom, used a two-horse team to plough, usually only marking out and ploughing ‘headlands’ of fields accurately, the old Ford green tractor following to complete the field. It was wonderful to see him pacing out the land and setting up sticks to guide his eyesight, and to see the very pleasing picture of ploughed lands that this achieved. A two-horse team was also used in the harvest fields to cut corn with a horse-drawn binder in the smaller fields at Milton Bryan and other farms.

We boys cleared the harvest fields after the corn was carted using a horse trip rake, going up and down, raking the leavings into lines to be picked up. This was a pleasing job, sitting on the machine, tripping the rake to produce tidy lines when the crop was oats or other corn, but sometimes it was black horse beans (very dusty work) and worst of all linseed or flax, very difficult to cut, rake or handle.

At harvest time the horses were used for carting the sheaves to the large (about an acre) rickyard in the centre of the farm, the fields often being 2 or 3 miles from the centre. The horses were mainly rested while the cutting and shocking (stoking if you prefer) was done, and all hands turned out day after day following the binders, mainly tractor drawn, teams of perhaps twenty per field stacking the sheaves into 10, 8 or 6, depending on the weight and level of the yield. This is when the rabbit harvest began; as the binder worked to the field centre rabbits broke out to run for cover. We were all armed with heavy sticks, and very few animals survived. Any hares or pheasants were attended to by a keeper with a gun, who made sure that only ‘common’ game went home with us. This food was very welcome at home as meat rationing was very severe throughout the war.

After a few days to dry in the shocks we started on the corn cart, picking up and loading from dawn to dusk. The horses only had to move gently and we were all available for pitching and loading. My job was loading, and I became quite adept. It was very important to load the cart to its highest to get the job done, but the loading had to be carefully done and the centre filled to prevent the load shifting during the journey to the farm, which as I said was a long way and on rough roads or paths. With perhaps 10 men pitching up the sheaves on each side it was not idle work.

The pitch forks the men used were very long-handled, and the cart loads finally might be two pitch forks high; I used a loading fork, quite short and with smaller prongs to receive the pitched sheaves and lay them in the correct manner.

Then it was off to the rickyard to off-load, where the skilled stackmen had prepared a suitable wood and straw base on which to build. The stacks were quite massive when finished, built with outward sloping sides and ends and a high-pitched top sloped for maximum clearance of rain. A chimney or partial hole was allowed whilst building, usually in the centre, to allow air flow and to prevent overheating of the grain. The stacks were later thatched with straw and looked very fine.

The threshing drum and steam tractor would arrive later in the year, the thatch removed and corn sheaves fed into the drum by hand. There was great noise, dust and activity as the threshed corn gathered in sacks for storage and the straw and chaff was removed and stored. There was a great ‘Dutch’ (Steel) barn where hay and straw were stored loose, not baled, for later use as fodder and litter for the cattle.

I was privileged to be present in the summer of 1945 when a very large crate arrived, from the USA I believe, containing a Massey Harris Combine Harvester, maybe the first in Britain to be in use. The corn harvest was already in full swing and a lot of corn was cut and shocked. The vast machine puzzled all the various mechanics and particularly our tractor men who had not yet really come to grips with mechanisation! But they finally got it on the move. By then there was no corn left to cut, and the machine was driven to a field with the shocked corn, where binder strings were cut and the corn-fed directly onto the front crevasses of the combine. This of course meant that it was at rest while threshing (not travelling through the corn) and whilst the grain went in to the hopper, the straw and chaff which would normally have been laid in neat rows behind the moving combine of course needed fast removal from its rear to avoid it blocking up. This, unfortunately, is where I came in, and it was the worst job ever. The dust and chaff were choking, and I went home as black as a coal miner and quite exhausted.

Hay and silage were also grown for fodder. In those days the hayfields were sown with seed, small peas, clover and bents, making not just meadow hay but rich nutritious feedstuff. The silage was made in a very large earthen clamp, with three sides banked to a height of perhaps 4/5 feet. Layer after layer was delivered from the fields and molasses (black treacle) spread between the layers. Finally the clamp was thatched with straw and earth. In the spring we cut in to this with massive hay-knives and carted it to the cattle and sheep. Kale was also grown and cut and spread out to sheep when the grass was low. These were Merino sheep (with short horns) and fed with cartloads by horse outloading into their pastures. Very cold work early in the Easter holidays with frost still about.

I should mention the men I worked with. They seemed to me almost to be inter-related (the permanent labourers) and names like Bowler, Battams, Dancer, Turney, Tylers etc cropped up all the time; everyone seemed to know each others’ relations, and many men of the same name were employed, sons, fathers and grandfathers. Their dialect was pure Bedfordshire, but this is a thing difficult to explain, being a drawling sort of talk with many repetitions -“Beer wornt too good in Blackgird last noight were it Jarge -ah an’ Robert ‘ere er tal yer the same, ain’t the roight Rober’”. One old man said to me, more than once -“Boy, I tal yer there arnt a great post ner yet a stoile atween ere and North Crawley but what Oi arnt ed a little morsel up agin!” This may give some idea!

Of course there were more temporary employees at harvest time, some land girls, and now and then German POWs brought from a prison camp. I tried my schoolboy German on some but with little success and to great laughter.

The foreman named Peter (never heard his surname) was a very strong and competent youngish man who gave his instructions and expected results. He would often appear at wherever a gang was at work and did not fail to pitch in at whatever task, showing by example with great ability. The men had no quarrel with him – a fine man so I thought.

The Bailiff (under the Duke) lived in a fine house at Birchmoor, almost a mansion, a little way from the farm activity. He and his wife were sometimes seen, always very smartly turned out, and two pretty young daughters who rode their hunters and ponies. I believe he also had a son, perhaps away at the war. They were all pretty ‘aloof’ from us however and seldom showed themselves or spoke.

The Duke, I was told, gave joints of beef or venison at Christmas to the farm cottagers on the estate. I sometimes saw large shooting parties on the land, but we had to keep well away and out of sight when they were about. The Duchess of Bedford was said to be a fine shot. Woburn Park was at that time a beautiful stately home and the park itself was delightful with its wonderful specimen trees, its deer and lakes. My work was quite hard and hours long, but sometimes relieved by duties which took me into the parkland. On two occasions the other lad and I were ordered to take horses to Park Farm to be shod, there being no smithy at Birchmoor. We each rode one horse and led another, through the Parkland crossing Crawley Road through park gates, some six miles there and back. There was a steam launch on one of the lakes as I remember, and bison and other rare deer in some of the paddocks. Now the Park and Abbey are open to all, almost a zoo or wildlife park, and many weddings and functions are catered for and the house much used.

Going back, I recall that I was at first paid at the rate of 6d per hour (about 2 new pence), but this was later found to be wrong and raised to 9d. Later my rate rose to 1/ – (5p) per hour. At Christmas and Easter I earned about two pounds ten shillings every week, but in harvest when the hours were very long (dawn to dusk) this rose to as much as three pounds fifteen shillings a week, a veritable fortune! Half of this went to mother, more if there was need, but this left me with unheard of wealth, which working such long hours, had little chance to spend, and which set me up for school pocket-money, so that my father’s pocket was much relieved.

All in all, I learnt a lot, and I began to understand the labourer’s life and to appreciate the conditions under which they and their families lived – a far cry from our own existence. I also hardened my body and grew fitter. The work the men did was monotonous and mostly with hand tools which they used with skill. In those days there were few mechanical aids, though these were beginning to arrive. One Easter I worked with others on a potato setting machine, taking the place of hand dibbing. This took the form of a heavy machine drawn by a ‘rowcrop’ tractor i.e. with a front wheel in the centre only, which, with rear wheels set right worked to produce rows. The setting machine had a plough-like ‘bouter’ opening up a furrow to the right planting depth (in fact this machine had two to set two rows) and the machine wheels drove a ring of planting trays which turned and dropped at intervals. We sat at front and back in front of a hopper full of seed potatoes which we picked and set into the dropping trays so that a seed was dropped each 15” or so. Two sets of bouting wheels at the rear drew in soil and covered the seed as we moved. This does not sound wonderful, but it very considerably lessened the task of hand planting. It still took nearly three weeks to plant this field of about 40 acres, and was still back aching and very cold work.

There was also introduced a caterpillar tractor which drew a seven furrow plough on the heaviest land. These introductions together with the combine harvester mentioned above, were the start of improvements in the labourers lot. At this time only the large farms had the resources or could justify their introduction.

There was no great approach to safety on the farms at this time, but I do not recall any serious accidents. The muck forks at least were fitted on each tine with buttons, so that the prongs were not quite so lethal when working!

I remember admiring the accuracy with which many tasks were approached. For instance, at muck cart, old Tom the horseman would set out lines in the field, sometime 40/50 acres, and measure spaces so that each cartload was dropped in heaps a certain distance apart. Muck-cart took a long time, as to clear the yards where cattle had wintered made about a hundred cartloads all dug out by fork, carted and tipped in equal heaps as above. As I say the field when finished looked very neat and symmetrical before spreading, and of course the spreading made for a very accurate covering before ploughing in.

In all the above I have referred only to the tasks done by general labour with which I was mostly concerned. There was also a fine milking herd of red and white Ayrshire cattle (all with horns then, not like the present day). These were then hand milked, but progress was on the way, and machine milking was introduced before I left. There was also a fine piggery, quite a large enterprise. Beef cattle were also kept in large numbers on the farm meadow land, and overwintered in the yards. I had little to do with these, except when carting of hay or other fodder was required.

As I have said, the experience was one I’m glad I had and I grew to have a liking for the agricultural life.

Later, I did half-heartedly apply to both Durham and Reading colleges to see if I could be trained towards land management and perhaps aim to become a Bailiff, but all places at that time were given to young men immediately connected with farming i.e. farmers’ sons and the like.

Before joining the Army (Nat Service) I left school in late 1946 and after 6 months with Beds C.C. in the Treasurers Dept worked until August 1947 at a local farm on Bow Brickhill Road called Woodleys. This was some 250 acres and I had to milk by hand, each day twice, with one other daughter of the farm, the mixed dairy herd of some 20 cows. Also of course, other work with sheep, and harvesting and tractor work. In later life (1973) I left industrial management and bought a smallholding in Wales about 28 acres. My wife and I with 5 young children, much enjoyed those few years – we kept ponies, bred from them and rode them, Ruth, my daughter, hunted on Flame, her pony, with the Llandeilo Hunt when she was still quite young. We bought beef calves and grew them on the land, took them to market as store or fat cattle. Geese, ducks, goats, chickens and pretty well everything we kept. We had our own house-cow, Ethel, our own milk, made butter. All the children had their tasks and for a few years we lived the farming life, making hay each year (over 900 bales one year) using old-fashioned implements and an old, but reliable tractor, a Ferguson T20. So my time at Woburn was not entirely wasted.

My wife Madeline, often had to put up with my stories of work with heavy horses, and was amused by Prince, my Shire horse charge, falling asleep in the harness and cart when stopping at a gate whilst two boys had not got down quickly enough to open it! He and the harness were unharmed thankfully. She often told me to write a record and at last I have made an attempt.”

Arthur Buxton, Carmarthen

Written in 2007 & 2009

If you have recollections of Woburn Sands before 1950, or perhaps know a relative who does, why not jot down some of those memories, or record them onto tape, before they are lost forever. That era will soon pass out of living memory.  Or you could discuss the people and places detailed above with elderly relatives, and see if they can add any information.  I would be pleased to transcribe any tapes you make and add memories to those here.

Webpage last updated Nov. 2018