Yardley Gobion 1874 – 1974
Paper read by Mrs Warren to Yardley Gobion Primary School children on the occasion of the school Centenary in 1974
If you could be taken back to the early part of the year 1874 and go for a walk through the village, you would be able to recognise quite a lot, would see much that is no longer there, and of course would not see a great many houses that had been built since.
The field known as Lambcut was not then allotments and between the present allotment gate and the Pury Turn was the Tollgate and the Tollkeeper’s cottage, with a shelter attached in which he sat to watch for traffic. The garden and well were on the opposite side of the road. He had to open the gate quickly to let the Royal Mail Coach through because that was toll-free, but every equestrian and vehicle, and droves of cattle and sheep had to pay. There was a side gate for pedestrians who did not have to pay. The proceeds from the tolls were for the repair of the roads. The Old Recreation Field was then grazing land belonging to the Coffee Pot and did not become a Recreation Field until 1912. The Coffee Pot was much the same as now. It has been a public house since about 1750 but was rebuilt or enlarged about 1800.
Going round the corner into what is now Chestnut Road, No 1 was then the home of Mr. Foddy, a tailor who was assisted by his son and a daughter and another daughter who was a dressmaker. The window on the right of the front door had been widened to admit as much light as possible in the daytime. The tailor would sit cross legged on a platform in front of the window with his work in front and around him. In summertime the window would be open and the children would stand and watch, and passers by gossip or arrange for their work to be done.
No 3 next door once had a shop at the end which was burnt down. Hearsay evidence is that it was a butcher’s but may have been a grocer’s shop. At the top of the road were three cottages since demolished, where Mr. Weston’s bungalow stands.
The Chapel was there and has not been altered but it then had iron railings in front; which were given up during the 2nd World War to help the War Effort. The poplar tree was quite well grown even then but there were three of them, hence the house was called the Poplars. This has always been a private residence. It was built about 1806 and perhaps was the first brick built house to appear in this village. Before the Poplars and the chapel were built there were several old houses there, occupied by a family named Hoare who were potters. A lot of pottery waste turned up in the gardens of Orchard Close some years ago.
Next at No 2 Chestnut Road (and which was then two cottages, with two more standing in the garden) was a busy wheelwright’s and carpenter’s shop, and in connection with it there was a sawpit on the Green where two sawyers worked away, one standing below in the pit and the other above. The one down below had the worst job and all the sawdust fell on him, hence the desire to be top sawyer.
The tall Georgian house next door, now Prospect House, was then called The High House and at that time was the home of the Curate; Yardley always had a resident curate then. Originally the house had been the home of the Horton Family; you can see the initials T. H. and the date 1757 on the front. (To look at 1863 inventry)
The two redbrick cottages next door had only just been built on part of the garden of the stone cottages which were then divided into four and have since been reconverted in to two.
The next two redbrick cottages, where retired Nurse Bracken lives, were not built till after 1874 and were once a working man’s club, but there was a stone cottage at the side of the present garden which was occupied by a hurdle maker. Hurdles were small temporary fences which were used to enclose part of the field or kale so that sheep would eat it off and when it was all eaten the fences would then be moved to the next portion and in that way the field was eaten off methodically instead of the sheep wandering all over and eating it in patches. Hurdles were also used for small enclosures at lambing time, and shelters.
The next house which has the initials C.H. and date 1667 on the gable was thatched then. C.H. stands for Christopher Harris who was a well-to-do yeoman and when it was built it would have been considered quite a fine house.
Next comes Mount Pleasant and in 1874 this was a very different looking place. It had been built in 1835 as the Union Workhouse to comply with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which obliged a number of adjoining parishes to unite in erecting a house where all those who for any reason could not support themselves had to go and live instead of receiving weekly payment as previously to enable them to live in their own homes. There was no unemployment pay, sickness benefit, or old age pensions in those days. The men and women were housed in separate blocks, and later a hospital ward was erected the top of the yard(now Nos. 13 to 16).
A schoolmistress was employed to keep the children in order and to teach them reading and writing, and in 1872 a schoolroom was built, also a dormitory and a day-room, and a private room for the mistress who had hitherto lodged with the Master & Matron. Towards the end of the 19th century it was realised that it was a bad thing to keep all the Workhouse children shut up as they had difficulty in facing life in the outside world when they were old enough to go to work, so they attended the village school, a doorway being made in the wall between the workhouse and the school playground.
In 1886 a Casual Ward was built where tramps or any poor traveller looking for work could stay one night. There were many tramps on the roads then. They used to arrive in the late afternoon and sit on the seat, surrounding the elm tree on the Green till the gate opened to admit them. They had to bathe and change into clean workhouse clothes, were given supper, a bed, not a very comfortable one, and a breakfast in the morning after which they had to break into small pieces a heap of large hard stones, used for road mending. Some of them disliked the clean clothes so much that they tore them up, in which case they were handed over to the police constable, and went to prison for a time. After they were let out, on completion of the stone breaking, they went round the village begging food to see them through the day until they arrived at the next workhouse. Some workhouses were better than others, so tramps arranged their journeys accordingly. The tramps entrance was where the post office now stands.
The main entrance was in the house next door now called Marguerite’s where the Guardians held their meetings and records were kept. The home of the Master and Matron had to be demolished to make room for the road, if road it can be called, up the centre of Mount Pleasant.
Although the Workhouse could accommodate 200 inmates, to be drawn from 14 parishes there were rarely as many as 100, and the average weekly number for 1874 was 52. This seems to indicate that living conditions in this area were improving a little. Though the law laid it down that out-relief was not to be granted, it appears that the Guardians did pay out small sums, and it is possible of course that many outside the Workhouse fared worse than the inmates, so far as food was concerned, but they retained their independence.
In 1908 old aged pensions were granted followed in 1911 by sickness benefit and unemployment pay and the need for the Workhouse decreased. Finally in 1917 it was closed down and the buildings were then used to house German prisoners of war who used to work on the farms. After the war the buildings remained unused for some time but as no use could be found for them they were sold and converted into dwellings.
Old School Lane was then called Maltings Yard as it led to a large building where barley used to be malted for use in beer making. This belonged to the Duke of Grafton and as it was no longer wanted he had it demolished and a school built for infants. Before 1874 some boys and girls over 7 had gone to Pury School, and the children of farmers and the better off went to private or boarding schools. There was Trinity School at Old Stratford for boys, and also a Commercial School, with a good reputation at Towcester. There were some private schools for girls at Stony Stratford and Roade, some of which took weekly boarders.
The 1870 Education Act stipulated that every village must have a school, but attendance was not made compulsory until 1876. At first the children over 7 still had to go to Pury, but after some time they stayed at Yardley till they were 8. In 1883 the Girls’ department was built and eventually all the children were able to stay at Yardley till the age of ten when most of them were able to leave if they passed an examination. In due course the school leaving age was gradually raised. In the 1950s the over thirteen’s went to Pury till Deanshanger School was built.
One of the most momentous events at Yardley School must have been the robbery in 1887. When the Schoolmistress opened the school on 4th May she found books strewn about and soon discovered that a large box containing the girls’ sewing and knitting had been stolen. The work was all completed awaiting the July examination, and consisted of one print dress, six flannel petticoats, 3 night-dresses, one apron, 4 pairs of mittens, 2 pairs of stockings, socks and cuffs. Scissors, cotton, a Bible and the gong were also missing. The girls had to set to work to make the things again. Two men and two lads were soon identified as the thieves, and one man who absconded was traced to Birmingham where he went to the Workhouse for a night’s shelter and on being made to have a bath in the regulation manner was found to be wearing a female night-dress and two flannel petticoats under his other clothes. The Schoolmistress had to go to Towcester Police Court and later to the Assizes at Northampton to give evidence, where the absconder having several previous convictions was sent to penal servitude for 5 years, the other man 9 months, one boy let off and the other because he admitted another recent robbery was given 3 weeks hard labour.
Churchfield House had a butcher’s shop at the rear. It is now called Church House but it has no connection with the Church. The name seems to have been given because it was next to the Church, but it was built long before the Church was, which was only ten years old in 1874. There were cottages all along the street where the Church and churchyard are now, probably very similar to the existing cottages on Church Bank.
The big house called Stonebank was then two cottages with a Bakehouse at the rear. It was rebuilt in its present style in 1902. In a little cottage nearby lived a man named John Brown who owned a field adjoining on which some of the Mackenzie Hill houses have since been built, hence Brownsfield Road. Later a man named Grey lived there and sold toffee and afterwards for a time Fish and Chips. Next came two tall houses built in 1866. The first was called The Red House but has since been whitened over. It was a public house and later had a butcher’s shop at the back; which was in use till a few years ago. The other house, called Elmstead, was a grocery and drapery shop. Sturges Lane gets its name from a family who lived in the cottages at the top, since modernised and now called Horseshoe Cottage.
The large house called the Old Parsonage was once two cottages but was much enlarged, and improved by the addition of large windows. In 1874 it was a drapers and grocers shop and the first Post office was probably there. Later it was the home of the Curates as Prospect House was needed as a farmhouse. Both houses were sold with the rest of the Grafton Estate and became private dwellings.
The house; now called West Rise was originally a separate dwelling but for a time became part of the Old Parsonage, then was sold separately. Where the garage of West Rise stands was once the village pound where stray cattle or horses were placed until the owner reclaimed them and paid a fine. Sometimes the owner broke the pound and took away the animal which was a punishable offence.
The next house now called the Old Hall; was built in 1865 by the Duchess Of Grafton as a Social Club for boys over 15 and men. They could play cards, draughts, dominoes, and that type of quiet game in one room, and in the other the weekly papers and some magazines were provided. It was much appreciated then and for a long time but after the 1st World War interest in it declined, perhaps because the members no longer had the assistance of the Duke of Grafton who had been very generous. The Women’s Institute held their meetings there and during the 2nd World War it was used by the boys of Holloway School as classrooms on the days when they did not go to Towcester Grammar School, which they shared with the regular scholars. After the war the building became the Village Hall, and when the new Village Hall was built in Chestnut Road, the old Hall was sold and became a private house.
Next to the Old Hall where bungalows and houses now stand was a large cottage once divided in to four dwellings and the adjoining orchard was once used as a market garden. The plum trees bore small dark blue plums; which were early and known as Harvest or Wheat plums. There was also a larger red plum known as the Yardley plum; which was sent away for making dye. It was said that this plum would not grow anywhere else but in Yardley.
Then comes the old Post Office which was kept by members of the Holloway family for many years. The last one was Miss Letty Holloway who die a year or two ago aged nearly 102. The Mackenzie Hill houses stand on what was called Highcroft Field because it belonged to the house opposite which was built in 1902, but before that for hundreds of years it had been called Hall Close and must at one time had a house of some importance connected with the Gobions. It has a large depression in it; which was at one time filled with water known as Broadwater and may have been a moat, but it dried up long ago. Until 1846 Hall Close and the pightle opposite on which Highcroft was built always went with Manor Farm (Mr Keeve’s farm) and also Tomb’s Farm where Yardley House now stands, and can be traced back to the Gobions.
After the break-up of the Grafton Estate in 1920 there was no house for the Curate who had to live where he could, and in1935 a Miss Butterfield left money for a house to be built, so what has until recently been called the New Parsonage was built on part of Highcroft Field or Hall Close. Since 1944 however Yardley has not had a curate and the house has been sold.
Opposite Kerry Farm was an orchard and three or four cottages since demolished, where a new bungalow has been built. From there down to Moorend there has not been a great deal of alteration until in recent years most of the houses have been improved in some way.
Moorend Manor Farmhouse has been divided, one portion being called Castle Close in reference to the Castle which stood opposite from 1364 till about 1540 when it was demolished.
Coming back on that side of the road, where Aurora bungalow now stands was a row of three cottages late turned into two.
What is now Kerry farmhouse was a bakehouse, the name Kerry was given to it by a wartime owner. The house at the corner of Grey’s Lane where Mrs Townsend lives was a beer off licence and later lived in by the village police constable. Yardley always had a constable in those days.
Mount Pleasant farm was once lived in by a farmer named Grey, hence the name Grey’s Lane. The house was built to replace a much older house: most of the land round here was owned by the Brown family I mentioned previously. The house which was, till recently Warner’s shop was a fine house in 1702 built for a rich farmer named Joseph Peake. If you look carefully you can see I.P. 1702 on the front. The letter J was written like an I in those days. Like so many houses this was later divided into 4 cottages but later converted again into one. The ruined house next was a bakehouse and is still known as the Old Bakehouse. Under the archway was a row of nine cottages called the Alley.
The big house called Yardley House was built in1862 so was nearly new in 1874. The Elms farmhouse has since been added to and improved by larger windows. Some of the cottages down the Grafton Road have been much improved
The Old Wharf Farmhouse was built about 1805 when the canal first came through Yardley. There was once a boat building yard there, and a brick, slate and tile depot, but these activities apparently did not prosper. The Wharf itself was, however, much used and barges stopped to take away corn for farmers, and to deliver fertilisers, lime, stone for the workhouse, bricks, slates, tiles, coal, in fact anything too heavy to be carried by road. The Wharfinger sold beer principally to the boatmen but the villagers used to go down there too on summer evenings. Not Sundays – only a six-day licence. It was known at various times as The Peace and Plenty, the Grand Junction Inn and the Navigation Inn. The weighbridge can still be seen in the ground in front of the red brick building attached to the house. There were three fields attached to the Wharf, now sold separately away from the house, and the wharfinger rented other fields in the village on which Mackenzie Hill houses now stand.
In 1875 a terrific explosion occurred at 5 o’clock in the morning, which awoke the whole village, who must have wondered what on earth had happened. Explosions were not so common then as they are nowadays and certainly not in little villages. It appeared that a steamer towing five barges had arrived at Yardley Wharf too early and had to wait till 5.30 which was when work commenced down there. The Captain who was an old man was apparently in a drunken sleep in his cabin, and the man in charge did what was absolutely forbidden and which he must have known was wrong and dangerous, but he had probably done it before without consequences. He gagged the valves to keep in the steam while he was waiting, to avoid the pressure dropping and delaying the departure once they had unloaded the cargo intended for someone in Yardley. The boiler burst and killed two men.
I expect you have all been to the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne, and seen the models wearing the old fashioned clothing, and brightly painted buckets and jugs which the boatpeople used.
Down the fields from the wharf near the river stood the Paper Mill; which had ceased to make paper some years before 1874. The house was occupied by two farm workers for a time but was later demolished. It was a lonely place and no doubt nobody would want to go and live there if they could find somewhere nearer the village.
Coming back up Grafton Road, the two houses near the main road were converted from a slaughterhouse where the local butcher used to kill his animals.
At the top of Grafton Road round the corner in the High Street stands a whitened house No 1 High Street. Until about 1955 this was The Pack Horse public house built in 1806 on the site of an older house which had been St Leonard’s Chapel closed down in the reign of Edward VI. It was not a parish church and the ground adjoining was not a burial ground. At one time it was a cherry orchard.
Mr Penny’s house new house was built on the site of the blacksmiths shop. Mrs Warner’s bungalow was converted out of two cottages. Miss Shakeshaft’s shop was made out of two cottages and a bakehouse early this century. In the garden adjoining were once two cottages and a bakehouse which were burnt down by a boy who fed his rabbits in an adjoining barn by candlelight and accidentally ignited some loose straw.
The next two thatched cottages were once a farm house and the first one was occupied by the police constable early in this century. On one of the postcard views you can see the notice board on the railing. The adjoining house had a bakehouse which was the last one in use in the village and closed down about 30 years ago.
The Manor Farmhouse was built in the 18th century to replace a much older house somewhere in the village. It was known as Towns End Farm for a time but later became Manor Farm.
Back in 1874 the village would have looked much more like a village than it does now. The road was narrower and the grass verges wider on which you may have seen cattle or horses grazing tended by a boy or girl. There were no footpaths along the Stratford Road and no curbs so it looked more like a country lane than a main road. The greens were larger and there were other odd pieces of grassy land about. The road was not nearly as smooth as it is now. The method of repairing the road was to fill the potholes with the small stones I mentioned before and to rely on the heavy wagon wheels crushing them even smaller. Soil was scattered over and then watered by the water cart. Finally a heavy roller was dragged over the road. The consequence was that in wet weather the road was very muddy and in dry weather very dusty. It was not till about 1907 that liquid tar was used as top dressing, and that was dreadful stuff. However careful one was it got on shoes and was taken indoors, and children got it on their clothes. The tarmac used now is a great improvement.
On the central green were elm trees and the Duke had a seat placed all round one of them. There was a very deep well with awindlass; which was used by all the villagers who had no well of their own. Yardley was well watered and quite a number of houses had their own wells now covered over or filled in. Men and women would be seen fetching water in two buckets suspended from a wooden yoke hung across their shoulders. In 1889 the Duke had a pump placed over the well which made it easier to draw up the water.
On Sundays people would be seen carrying their dinners to one of the bakehouses to be cooked, batter pudding in the tin and the joint on a rack over. The baker would also on weekdays bake cakes or make one if you took him the ingredients. Dough cakes or Baker’s cakes as they were called were very tasty. The last bakehouse to oblige in this way was Berrill’s at 21 High Street.
There were of course no motor driven vehicles but many different types of horse drawn ones, from heavy long farm wagons to small basketwork carriages drawn by ponies used by ladies and of course riders on horseback were quite common. Bicycles were just coming in but expensive so not many villagers had one. Boneshakers, pennyfathings at first with fixed front wheels and no brakes, but in 1884 the more modern safety type with two equal sized wheels was invented. At first the brakes operated on the tyre; which was solid then, but William Smith who kept the Coffee Pot and was a blacksmith by trade invented a rim brake which was applied by pulling up on a chain attached to the handlebars.
Droves of sheep and cattle were often to be seen on the road, and geese, ducks and chicken, and dogs roamed about freely. Naturally the children played about in the road only scattering when a horse or vehicle came along which would not be very frequently. Boys bowled iron hoops and girls had wooden ones but liked to get hold of an iron one if possible. It was possible to hold a skipping rope across the road then turned by a girl at each end a long line of girls skipping in turn or girls would have their own rope and run along skipping. There was a season for most games, one would be all the rage for a time and be supplanted by something else. Whipping a top, flying kites, rounders, hopscotch of various kinds, marbles, tip-cat, tig, I-ackey and tin I-ackey (very noisy and bad for the boots). Boers and English turned into German and English during the 1st War. Belgian refugee girls imported a new kind of skipping game which was instructive as it taught you to count in French.
However I must get back to 1874, and I am sorry to say that by the age of ten most boys and girls were out at work, and indeed before 1867 some went out as young as six crow scaring or picking up stones. Girls had to start learning lacemaking at five years of age. After 1876 when schooling became compulsory they had to attend to the age of ten and could then leave if they could pass an examination.
Before the invention of farm machinery many more men and boys were employed on farms. In 1874 over 100 men and boys worked on Yardley farms, but occasionally one could not find a job in the village and had to go where he could within walking distance. One old man told me he started work at ten years of age down at Furtho where he had to arrive by 6 o’clock and work till six at night. On Sundays he worked fewer hours and rang the bell for church. He received 2/6d (That’s 12.5 new pence) a week and his Sunday dinner. After a year his father said he must ask for 6d (2.5 pence) a week rise and this was refused so he left and went to Isworth, which was nearly as far to walk.
Life was very hard in those days. A man only earned 10s (50 pence) a week with extra at harvest time. Of course the price of food was low in comparison with today but the wage did not allow much more than bread and cheese and a little meat. The cottages were small with no water inside, and indeed no modern amenities at all, and housewives had to work hard to keep clean and do the washing. Most of the women in Yardley made pillowlace which helped a bit but by 1874 it was very badly paid and by sitting long hours she could only earn a shilling or two a week. It was unhealthy too. In order to save fire and light in the winter three or four women would gather in one cottage while the husbands were at work and the children were at school and sit in a circle with their feet on foot warmers filled with hot embers, and with a stand in the centre with a lamp. In the summer they could sit at the open door.
Besides the farm workers, in 1874 there were 3 Bricklayers, 2 Stone masons, 4 carpenters, 4 bakers, 1 butcher,2 tailors, I tailoress, 3 dressmakers, 2 seamstresses (they did plain sewing like hemming sheets etc. not dressmaking), 2 charwomen, a corn dealer, a horse breaker, a brick maker, a blacksmith, a hurdle maker, 2 coal dealers, a police constable and four public houses and two off licences. You will see that nearly every body worked in the village unlike today when the majority go out of the village.
As time went on some of the younger men found labouring jobs in Wolverton Railway Works but it was a long way to walk. After the station opened at Castlethorpe and also the works changed from being a locomotive works to carriage and wagon building and there were far more jobs and more and more men went to Wolverton. In summertime and dry weather they went down the Drift to the canal, along the canal bank and across the fields to the station and then by train. When they obtained a bike they went to Cosgrove and then along the towpath; they paid a shilling a year for a permit to go on the path. The hours were from six to 5.30 p.m., with breaks for breakfast and dinner.
The men used to take their dinners, usually a meat pudding in a basin; which their wives made the day before, and deposit it in the dining room where it would be heated up in a steam heated contrivance. Each man had his own numbered seat and the same number was put on his basin, so there was no chance of the dinners getting mixed up. The basins were carried in small rectangular baskets with a lid and numbered and this basket was put under the seat ready for taking home again with the empty basin in. The wages in the works were several shillings a week higher than farm workers received, and also in due course the sons of railway labourers were taken on and taught a trade which was better paid still. To be a tradesman at Wolverton Works was the height of ambition then.
Later McCorquodale’s established a printing works at Wolverton and this provided more scope. They employed a lot of female labour but it is doubtful if Yardley girls went there until buses started to run after the 1st War.
Before the advent of buses, people walked a good deal to Stratford, and to Wolverton market on Fridays, and even to Northampton sometimes, but for those who could not walk there was a carrier’s cart, rather a slow and long journey. Joe Blore the horsebreaker went to Northampton each Wednesday and Saturday: Jelley from Alderton passed through every Friday to Stratford and Wolverton, and he brought back the weekly newspapers. Few people bought a paper then and often two or three shared the expense and passed it around. Those who did, read every word from beginning to end, and retailed the news to others. No daily papers came into the village then. The carriers were most obliging and would take or bring back anything within reason.
Although life was hard then compared with today it was not all gloom, and Yardley was more fortunate than many villages in other parts in having the Dukes of Grafton as Lords of the Manor. They had many villages under their control and built churches, schools and helped in various ways in all of them..
In 1840 the Potterspury and Yardley Gobion Benefit Club was founded. For a very small subscription aided by donations from honorary members, members received free medical attention and a weekly payment in time of sickness, also funeral aid. Every Whitmonday the Yardley members walked down to Pury headed by their banner and Band when that was formed and joined their Pury comrades in a Feast. The Banner is in the Guildhall Museum in Northampton.
In 1838 a Sunday school was started, where probably children were taught to read; they certainly were at Potterspury. Boys over ten already at work could attend and they paid a trifle to learn to read and write. Children often taught their parents. An annual treat was provided at Pury for both Sunday Schools, a dinner of roast beef and plum pudding, followed by games, then tea and plum cake. In 1864 the church was built at Yardley by the Duke, and in the following year the Duchess had the Social Club built. By 1872 the brass band was in existence and at a later date won a 1st Prize at the Crystal Palace Band Concert, afterwards being called the Yardley Gobion Britannia Prize Band. They used to go and play at the Benefit Club Feasts and Village Feasts of other villages around.
In old times May Day was a great village festival but dwindled away and by 1874 the maypole had long been discontinued at Yardley though it did linger on in a few places. May Day was still kept up to some extent by the children. They used to make what was called the Garland. This was a framework covered with boughs and flowers with a doll sitting inside which they called The Lady. They carried the garland all round the village for people to admire (and criticise no doubt in some cases) and to give a copper. The children sang the May Song which must have been handed down from generation to generation and was probably never written down, as every version I’ve seen differs slightly. The only verse that Miss Letty Holloway could remember went as follows:-
A bunch of May I have brought you
Before your door it stands
It is well set out and well spread about
By the works of God’s good hands.
About 1880 a new type of May Day Festival was started at Whitelands Training College for Teachers in London and this was taken up by schools all over the country and spread to the Commonwealth countries. In the ancient form adults took the chief parts, and men and youths danced round the Maypole, not girls. The crowning of a child Queen and her dedication to the service of her fellow students was suggested by John Ruskin, the eminent author and art critic. He also brought in the weaving and plaiting of ribbons;which was the continental custom and had not been practised in olden times in England. The English custom had been to decorate the Maypole with flowers, ribbons and flags and place a crown on the top. Those Maypoles were 30 ft high and made of birch trees if possible, but whether the pole was climbed first and the crown placed on the top, or whether the pole was decorated on the ground and then raised into position I cannot find out. I suppose the latter method would be the most likely.
At Yardley the new type of May Festival seems to have been suggested to the Headmistress of Yardley School by Mrs FitzRoy, a relative of the Duke who lived at Yardley House. She or the Duke bore the expense of dressing up the children and providing various accessories at first; the first May Day was in 1892 but soon widened to a village festival, almost everyone helping in some way, and from year to year fresh characters were introduced so as to give every child a chance to be someone.
A Mr Thomas Cadd who worked at the wharf revealed that when he was a young man he had belonged to the Morris Dancers at Brackley so he was induced to train some at Yardley. At first he trained men but it appears that the dancing created a great thirst in them, the assuaging of which interrupted the proceedings so he got rid of them and afterwards trained boys. The May Day Festival continued down to about 1931 when differences arose among the organisers and the whole affair came to a halt.
It was revived as a school activity in about 1954 by Mr Lawson, the then headmaster, who talked to the parents who had themselves taken part as children and between them they managed to remember a good deal of what they had done and sung, but the Morris dances and the Hobby were not reintroduced.
I forgot to mention the Hobby Horse before. At first two men under a blanket represented the horse but after some time a wicker clothes basket upside down with a hole in the bottom was used with a man in it, whom thus appeared as the rider. The horse had a head and tail which it whisked vigorously, and it used to prance about and run at the spectators. Tommy Cadd dressed as Robin Hood, armed with a long pole with a pigs bladder tied on the end, used to belabour the horse and sometimes the spectators, and caused much amusement. The Hobby Horse is now in the Abington Park Museum.
The next big event in village life was Harvest time. In those days a lot of corn was left on the ground by the reapers, and women and children were allowed to go gleaning. The woman took a large sheet which she laid out and the children gathered bunches of ears of wheat and laid them on the sheet. When she had as much as she could carry she folded it into a square parcel and carried it home on her head. When all had been gleaned and bagged up the sacks would be stored in a large barn at the Coffee Pot, and then came the threshing. In the olden times threshing had to be done by hand with a flail, but later a machine was invented. At first this was horsedrawn but later by a steam engine. This used to come and stand in front of the Coffee Pot, and a gang of men came with it. There would be a ring of spectators, and one thing which impressed the children was that the men used to thrust into the furnace the long handled shovel which was used to stoke it up, and when it was red hot they used to draw it out and cook rashers and bloaters on it. After threshing and bagging the men used to take the sacks of corn home and then it was sent to Castlethorpe Mill to be ground in to flour. An industrious woman with several children could obtain enough flour this way to last a year.
In 1886 the Duke allowed the villagers to rent two of his fields as allotments, Hortonsfield 12 acres and Lambcut Field 15 acres. Nobody had less than 20 poles and many had 80, one or two even took 160 poles, and it was all dug over and cultivated by hand after a hard day’s work elsewhere. Work on the allotments on Sundays was not allowed. Quite a lot of corn was grown and barley for feeding pigs. Diagonally across Hortonsfield ran a footpath to the Pury Road; this was the old Pury Churchway along which Yardley people went to church before Yardley Church was built, and along which Yardley children went to Pury School.
Even before the allotments were granted there was a Potterspury and Yardley Gobion Horticultural Society. The first show I know of was held in the Vicarage Field at Pury in 1873. Later a show was held every year at Wakefield in a large marquee on the Lawn, decorated with ferns and beautiful flowers from the Duke’s greenhouses.
Early in November each year the villagers killed the pig. Almost everyone kept a pig and pig-killing was a great occasion. In olden times November 11th St Martins Day was the time when the animals were killed and salted down for winter use, as it was impossible to feed many animals through the winter. November 6th was St Leonard’s Day when the village Feast was kept so that coincided nicely with the pig killing time. The pig is a wonderful animal and only the squeak cannot be used. The back and the sides were cured for bacon, and the hams pickled. A nice large joint was eaten fresh, and the liver and kidneys, the tail was boiled and given to the children as a treat. The leaf was melted down into a huge basin of lard, and the odds and ends made into collared head, brawn, faggots, black and white puddings, haslet, sausages; even the intestines were cleaned and cooked and known as chitterlings. The bladder could be filled with lard for storage, or blown up and tied to make a plaything for the children. This was the time when friends and relatives living in nearby towns or villages were invited to share the delicacies. A fair would come, caravans and stalls stood in the Pack Horse yard and in front of the Workhouse, and a little roundabout stood on the Top Green. After all the good things were eaten, the bacon was hung in the chimney corner or on the wall, the best of all pictures they thought, and this would have to be eaten sparingly to make it last as long as possible.
At Christmas time the children had a good tea and a tall tree laden with presents given by the Duke. He also provided a dinner and tea for the Workhouse people. Three times a week soup and dripping was brought from the Wakefield kitchen to Mrs Fitzroys at Yardley House and given to anyone who went for it. It was a very good rich soup with quite a lot of meat pieces in it, and enough for two dinners if eaten with care. They would eat the meat one day, and the liquid the next with bread in it.
As time went on various outings were arranged for children. In summer they had a treat on Wakefield Lawn or were taken to Brickhill Woods in horse-drawn brakes, large vehicles which held a lot of children. It was very pleasant then on a nice summer day to sit behind trotting horses and to be able to look around and hear the birds singing, and see lots of wild flowers growing on the verges, hawthorn , dog roses and honeysuckle in the hedges, much better than tearing along in a car too fast to see much at all.
The Duke also paid for the church choirs of Pury and Yardley to go on a joint outing; one year they would go on a long journey usually to London and the next a shorter one perhaps to Bedford or Oxford or to Tring Flower show which was a great attraction held in the grounds of Lord Rothschild. These journeys would be by train.
Blankets, flannel petticoats and clothing would be given to needy people. Nowadays people sneer and say why did not the Duke pay better wages instead of giving charity, but the wages would have been pocketed by the men and in some cases would have been spent on drink and would not have benefited the women and children. There was a great deal of drunkenness especially on Saturday nights and many a fight took place in the Coffee Pot orchard, all fair and square, and watched by a crowd to see fair play. Sometimes the police constable had to arrest obstreperous characters and take them to Towcester Police Station in a horse and cart.
The Duke gave a fire engine to Yardley which was housed in the Workhouse until it closed down, then at the Old Bakehouse in Moorend Road, and lastly at the wharf where practices were held. It was not often used for serious work but did go to a fire at Grafton Regis, and to the Queen’s Oak which was accidentally set on fire in 1903 by sparks from burning hedge cuttings. Several large branches were burnt off but the tree survived. The water was pumped by hand, three men each side up and down, and gave 60 gallons a minute which was considered good then.
Concerts were held occasionally in Clare’s Barn opposite the Social Club, also Penny Readings, and once a month an open night was held at the Club where women and girls could go and refreshments were available. The Mothers’ Union, the Church of England Men’s Society, the Band of Hope for children to encourage abstinence from strong drink, the Girl’s Friendly Society all came into being and had a good influence. The Congregational Chapel had a good membership and various organisations.
Towards the end of 19th century County, Parish and Rural District Councils came into existence and Sanitary Inspectors and School Attendance Officers were appointed. The roads were improved gradually, and widened, and the general tidying up process resulted in a loss of picturesqueness. The first motor cars came chugging along, often breaking down to the delight of boys who earned coppers by giving a push or fetching a horse to tow it home. One of the earliest cars seen locally was a Benz owned by Mr Atkinson of Cosgrove Priory. The first garage was started at Old Stratford Cross Roads where Druce’s factory is now.
Old age pensions, sickness and unemployment insurance, came in and were a great help and by 1917 the Workhouse closed down.
One man went to the Boer War and got back safely but a number gave their lives in the 1st World War. A cottage on Sturges Lane next to the Old Parsonage was furnished to provide a home for a family of Belgian refugees.
After the War buses started to run between Stratford and Northampton, and working hours became shorter, no longer did the Wolverton Works start at 6 am but at 7.55 and a busload of men went from Yardley and Pury every morning.
A new water supply was brought into use, piped into houses, and electricity came in 1933. Telephones came about the same time. The Women’s Institute was founded and a branch started at Yardley. The County Library sent a supply of books, changed periodically, later a mobile library arrived with a much larger supply.
Just before the 2nd World War all the cottages were inspected and a number scheduled for demolition but the War stopped that, and several were rented by evacuee families. A number of Holloway schoolboys were billeted and shared Towcester Grammar School. The Women’s Voluntary Service and the Home Guard were organised, and firewatching and telephone manning was carried out at Wolverton Works by some employed there. An aeroplane with a Canadian crew crashed in Shakeshaft orchard and bombs and landmines dropped some distance away sometimes caused ceilings and garden walls to collapse.
As soon as the war in Europe was ended a sewerage scheme was installed and the first six Council houses were built in Warren Road, later followed by many more in Hortonsfield and Hesketh Roads. Old cottages were demolished and the tenants rehoused and new houses have been built on vacant sites. Eastfield Crescent and Malborough Way followed, gas being brought into the village at that time, and Orchard Close, and the continuation of Hesketh Road and the several roads leading off it, the shops and your new school.
All these improvements in our standard of living mean a great increase in the rates which we all dislike to put it mildly, but we would not like to go back a hundred years to the conditions of those days, although the loss of some things is to be regretted. The influx of so many new families all unrelated to each other and to the older village families means that we do not know one another. In the old days every villager knew everyone else and nearly all were related, and there was a great deal of neighbourliness and help for old people and in times of sickness, which is impossible in these days when nearly all the men and a great many of the women go out of the village each day. On the whole however I think that we must agree that for the majority the old days were not the good old days.
Compiled by Mrs Dorothy Warren in 1974