Wollaston As It Used To Be
This account is by Miss Ivy Walker and we believe it to relate to life and events in the village in the 1920s and to have been written in the 1990s.
Shops and Businesses
- When I was growing up, Wollaston was a self-sufficient village. You could get all you needed from local shops and services. We had our own Doctor, Dr Baxter, the resident Nurse, Nurse Redwood, as well as ladies who acted as midwives when the need arose, and others who serves as ‘layers out’ when necessary. We had three Carpenters, who were also Undertakers; Browns in Hinwick Road, Cowper in High Street and Lovells in Hickmire. Between them they did all the funerals. No cars or cremations in those days – the cortege walked to Church and cemetery. Lovells were also Wheelwrights. We had three Bakers. Fred Murdin in Council Street, Martin Brown in Newton Road and Alwyn Kilsby at the Co-Op in Thrift Street. They also made iced buns and fancy cakes.
- Our milk was delivered by horse and cart, carried in a big churn by Coopers or the Co-Op. When we lived in the Row, we took our jug out to the cart to be filled, or, if you lived in Hinwick Road, you could take your jug to Joe Maycock’s house for filling. When the weather was warm, you put the jug in a bucket of cold water (no fridges in those days) or you boiled it to keep it fresh. The jug was covered by a piece of muslin weighted with three or four big beads at each corner, to keep the flies out. We had two good Laundries; Pollards in College Street and Lucy’s in London Road. Lucy’s could count several well-known County names among their customers – the Spencers of Althorp and the Duke of Buccleuch of Boughton. It was extremely had work. Everything was done by hand.
- Rivetts were the Builders, we had a Blacksmith – Harry Lucas in the High Street, who never minded a row of youngsters watching him as he was shoeing and shuddering at the pungent smell as the new shoe was fitted. We had two Chimney Sweeps; Freddy Goode in St Michaels Lane and Mr Green near the Bell Inn. We had a Vet – Edwin Boyson, who was kept very busy as all farms had far more horses, cattle and sheep than they do now. We had a Policeman who lived in the village and knew everyone in it. He walked the streets every day and kept his eyes on what was going on. We had a library, in a glass-fronted case in the Hall of the School. It was open for one evening per week, with separate times for children and grownups. Mrs Joyce Parker and Mrs Harry Woodhams were the Librarians at different times.
- There were six pubs; The Cuckoo, The Bell, The Boot, The Nag’s Head, The Crispin Arms and The Marquis of Granby, with two outdoor beer houses – The Fox and Hounds and the one at Harry Lucas’ Smithy in High Street – and the Working Men’s Club and the Band Club. There were three Carriers; Len Cox and Billy Darnell went to Wellingborough, Harry Eaton went to Bedford markets. Passengers could travel with them if there was room. My Dad went to Bedford with Harry Eaton and brought back my first bike. It cost 10/- (50p). Since I was about 12 years old, it had wooden blocks fixed to the pedals so I could reach them while sitting on the saddle until I grew tall enough to do without them.
- Three Banks came to the village on Friday mornings, bringing money for the wages of the various factories’ employees and other businesses. Coal was delivered, 1/- (that’s 5p) a cwt and 1/3 for the best. We had our own gas company. Gas was used for street lighting and for some domestic use but not many houses were connected. Tom Bedford was the lamplighter I remember, he used to ride around the streets to put the lamps on and again to put them out. If the ‘man of the house’ did shoe work in the ‘shop’ at the top of the garden he could buy a bag of coke from the gasworks to keep his stove burning in the winter.
- We had two hairdressers, both for men, though they would do a ‘straight bob’ for children. We had a Fire Brigade and an Ambulance Service we also had Billy Rice’s buses to take us to Wellingborough and Tempy Drage used to pick up in the square coming through from Bozeat to Wellingborough (there was great rivalry between these two operators). United Counties ran double deckers with the stairs and upper deck open to the sky. The seats up top were slatted, painted orange and since we children always wanted to go upstairs whenever we used the bus, my mother carried a large piece of cloth to wipe the dust from the seats (if it was fine – the roads were very dusty not cleanly surfaced they are now) and to wipe the rain off if it had been wet earlier in the day.
- Wollaston was only half the size it is now, but we had a great many shops. Planning permission had not been thought of. If you had a room with a window on the street and you wanted to open a shop, you went ahead and did it. I’ll give you a list of the shops I remember, starting at the Post Office (which was just a P.O. not a shop as well), there was Althea Barnes next door who sold general groceries and newspapers. My first income came from doing a paper round here, we had to collect the money on a Saturday morning and be careful to remember who paid and who didn’t, for it had to balance at the end of the morning. Williams, the Butcher at the corner of St Michael’s Lane and High Street with Mrs Lack on the other side of St Michael’s Lane. Continuing along the High Street you had Granny Talbot (so called because at various times she had two married sons living with her), her shop was a bit high class. She always had the first tomatoes of the season and a good selection of boxed chocolates for special occasions. The shop opposite, which is now Whibleys, was built later by her son Arthur.
- At the bottom of Wall Terrace was Mrs Kitty Rogers, who sold secondhand clothes and furniture. Her stock was such that her front room was full, the bottom part of the stairs was full and the goods overflowed onto the pavement. A few yards further on, facing Rotten Row, was Leonie Brown’s shop, another general grocery and sweets, with loaves baked by Martin Brown. Then came the Co-Op sweets and cake shop kept by Elsie Murdin, and the Drapery shop (both these are now the Jade office). Further along the High Street was the Co-Op Hardware Store managed by Margaret Darnell, later Woodhams. This sold paraffin oil, furniture, pots and pans, bedding and linoleum. WE didn’t have wall to wall carpeting in those days, it was lino with a handmade cloth clippings rug in front of the fire. When you wanted new lino, you would choose the pattern from Margaret’s shop, she would come to measure the room and lay it for you. This sort of job is usually associated with a man but Margaret was very good at it.
- At the beginning of December, the word went around school that ‘Co-Op ha’ set out’ and after tea we would go to the Hardware to find the big window and part of the shop behind it filled with books and toys. We would stare wide-eyed at the assortment, trying to decide what we would like for Christmas or what we were most likely to get.
- In London Road, facing High Street, was Harry Eaton’s shop where he sold vegetables in season and a few other things, like snared rabbits. We always bought marrows from him. Below, at the top of Partridge’s Hill, was a little dark shop belonging to Lou Cox who sold sweets and groceries. On the other side of London Road was Lew Rivett’s, with a counter so high that we children had to stand on tiptoe to see over it. Then came Mr Hayes, from Bozeat, who was a Draper selling children’s and ladies’ clothes. Just above was Watson’s shop (in the house later occupied by Ernie Bryant), selling sweets and also having a lending library. Up a bit further where the Chemist is now, was Cooper’s Dairy selling homemade pickles, cheese and horseradish sauce. Across the road stood Arthur Pearson’s shop, with a single petrol pump (the forerunner of the garage). He sold cycles and repaired them.
- Going into Strixton End was Mrs Ball’s shop. She sold some wet fish but mainly fried fish and chips and wafers. If we were sent to get fish and chips for the family tea we were in and out of the shop is quickly as possible. If we were just passing the time on a cold winter night, we would sit three or four of us on the high counter the back of the shop, swinging legs and talking. Saying to the grownups ‘You can go first’. In the end Mrs Ball would lose patience and say ‘Now then you children, let’s be having your order’ and one of us would grandly say ‘a penny worth of chips, please’. She never really got annoyed with us. As a child living in Strixton End going home from school the kids would all try and look into the windows of the shop to see if we could see the rats that would sit eating in the pans of fat. Halfway down Strixton End was Jinnie Summer’s little sweet shop. Three ladies lived in Strixton End who gave service to the village. There was Mrs Worley at the top of White City Yard who picked poultry, Mrs Bruce at the bottom of the yard bearing her name, who grew flowers and would make a bouquet or a wreath and, right at the bottom in the house where Nell and Bob later lived, were Mr and Mrs Freddie Shelton who had a smallholding where Shelton Osborn premises later were. They grew flowers and vegetables and we always went for ‘a bunch of spring onions and lettuce’ for summer teas. Their little front garden was always fall of Snowdrops and Aconites each spring and after 11 years those flowers still come up, almost as thick as they ever did.
- Back to the Square and Mrs Palmer’s shop, selling sweets and, every summer, her homemade ice cream which was absolutely delicious. You could have it in a cornet or a wafer, or in a basin for summer teas. On the corner of Council Street was Mr York’s little shop, selling a bit of everything, and facing up Howard Road was Mrs Simcoe’s shop. I loved to get in there; she sold haberdashery and had endless patience with children. Her little room was stuffed full of boxes of ribbons, tapes, elastic, threads and sylko, buttons and button hooks, eyelets, hooks and scissors, tape measures, darning wool, knitting wool, combs and hair slides. That is what we had come to buy. Mrs Simcoe came in from the back, a little woman, quick in her movements. ‘Yes, what do you want?’, ‘A hair slide’ we said, ‘What colour?’, and as we did not answer immediately, she brought out boxes full of cards with 6 or 8 slides on them, all shapes and colours, until the counter space was full of them, and when we had decided, she said ‘That’ll be a penny, my dear’. She couldn’t have made any money on the transaction if she took her time into account.
- At the corner of Howard Road and Newton Road stood Martin Brown’s bakery and shop, and halfway down the street was Buzzer Pratt’s shop with a big window that usually had nothing in it but a glass case holding a stuffed fox. Inside, he sold snares for rabbits, mole traps and shot for guns. At the top of Council Street was Teddy Garfirth’s who was a shoe repairer.
- Down in the middle of Thrift Street was Isaac Murdin selling china, and just below was Mrs Darnell’s little shop. We didn’t have a Chemist but Mrs Darnell was the next best thing, she had the cure for almost everything; Cod-liver oil, Sloane’s Liniment, gripe water for babies, camphorated oil for chests, corn cure, Snowfire for chilblains (so many children had them on their fingers, toes and heels but you rarely hear of anyone suffering from them today). She had Syrup of Figs, powders for headaches, alum for sore gums, fine toothcombs if the necessity arose. She also sold bits of grocery, spices for pickling, dolly dyes for clothes and curtains, blue bags, clothes pegs and slabs of yellow washing soap. You name it, she sold it, although she couldn’t always remember which shelf she kept it on. On the opposite side of the street was the Co-Op premises, the coal yard, the bakery, and the butcher’s shop with the abattoir at the back. Sometimes you could hear the pigs squealing as you waited to be served. Below was the Grocery department, most families were members of the Co-Op and did their main shopping there. The twice-yearly payment of the ‘Divi’ at 2/- or 2/6 in the £ on purchases came as a welcome addition to most families’ income and Dr Baxter always sent out his bills just before Divi day.
- Back to St Michael’s Lane and on one side was George Sherwood’s shop (Philip’s grandfather), who sold cycles and repaired them and did a bit of shoe work while he waited for customers. Opposite was Polly Watts’ sweet shop. This was where on the rare occasions when we had a penny to spend in the middle of the week, we pressed our noses against the window to decide what we should buy. Should we blue the whole penny at once or split into two halfpennies, or we might find something that only cost a farthing. A gobstopper would last the longest and you could take it out od your mouth occasionally to see which colour you had sucked to. You might have a bag of aniseed balls, a small bar of Radience strawberry split toffee (a favourite of mine). It might be a kayli sucker or a long stick of liquorice, the list was endless and the choice was not decided lightly.
- Coming into College Street was another sweet shop, kept by Mrs Rice, who had the distinction of being the first woman in Wollaston to have a Washing machine. At the top in South Street was Watts’ shop, selling paints, wallpapers and all decorating materials. Mrs Matthews in Hickmire completes my list, over thirty shops. Have I missed any out? What have we today? The Post Office and the shop next door, Whibley’s in the High Street, the TV shop in Thrift Street and the Printers. The Chemist on the Square and Pearson’s Garage. Lorraine’s in Council Street and the Co-Op condensed into one building. Richard’s bakery, Talbutt’s footwear, the Chip shop and the corner shop. Sherwood’s shop in South Street, that is fourteen in all, less than half what we used to have and the village has more than doubled in size, but we do have two ladies’ hairdressers and a very nice Library, open on three days per week.
- We lived in Rotten Row when I was small in a row of stone houses, three each side of the entry in the middle. We got our water from the well at the top of the entry, no gas or electricity, we had oil lamps and candles and a bucket loo at the top of the yard which was emptied several times a week by the night soil cart. In winter we children played in the Row, very rarely did a car or even a bike come down. In summer we played in the fields all day, a bottle of cold drink and a packet of jam sandwiches to keep us going and nobody worried about our safety! We had very few rules - you did NOT play in a field that was laid for hay, nor in a field of growing corn and when we went sticking (and we often had this job) you did NOT damage the hedge by pulling out live wood only by collecting dead wood. We had one other rule. The Row is not very wide and did not have pavements. Each night after work the carthorses used on Gordon Harries farm used to come thundering down the road on their way to the old Rec for the night. Eight or nine huge carthorses thundering down the road sometimes two or three abreast filled all the space and we children were under strict orders that as soon as they came into sight we got into the entry and STAYED there until they had gone safely past.
- My grandmother made wine, from all sorts of flowers and fruit and vegetables. My mother didn’t she made dia-drink. One day in spring we would come home from school to be presented with a basket and instructed to ‘get me a basket half full of cowslips with stalks and half of dandelion heads with a few white nettles on top and six or seven stems of Agrimony. The first two came from the right hand side of the cricket field (you would have to go a long way these days to find a cowslip field), the nettles and Agrimony were found at the top of the long field stretching up from the brook towards Fairy’s Hill. The next day when we came home at teatime there would be a big bowl of dia-drink on the kitchen table and we would say ‘is it cold? can we have some NOW?’.
- We played energetic games in the winter, Stag was a favourite, do you remember what was chanted by the children that were ‘on’? ‘Stag, stag a rony, my black pony, fe fi fo fum, I touch my finger, I touch my thumb, I touch the ground and away I run’. We played rounders, hide and seek, skipping under the street lamps, chanting as we skipped ‘Salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper’, with the speed increasing as we skipped and ‘My mother said that I never should, play with gypsies in the wood. If I did, she would say, naughty girl to disobey’, again with increasing speed as the chant went on.
- In the lengthening days we played in the fields, we found the first Violets, the bird’s nests, collected frog spawn in a jam jar and took it home to watch it develop into tadpoles. When the tails began to disappear and legs to grow my mother insisted that they go back to the brook, so we started fishing for tiddlers instead. Our playthings were often homemade or cost very little or were handed down from older members of the family. Hopscotch only needed a bit of chalk and an empty tin filled with earth or sand. Kites were made from whippy length from the hedge, tied together and covered in brown paper with a design crayoned on it. The tail was a length of twine with pieces of cloth or newspaper tied on at intervals. For whip and top there was usually a top in the family or one was made from an old cotton reel with a hobnail in the base, a whip was a bit of stick with a length of old leather bootlace tied to it. The wooden hoops used by the girls sometimes got broken but the iron ones used by the boys lasted for generations. We played marbles too, and tag. We used our imagination, playing Mothers and Fathers for hours with a ‘house’ in a thin bit of hedge bottom or marked out the various rooms in the field with sticks and stones. There was an unwritten rhythm about our games, we would be playing hopscotch for weeks then suddenly that was out and something else was in, and that happened throughout the year.
- We moved from Rotten Row to the Telephone Exchange in High Street. It was a double fronted redbrick house, a range in the living room, boiler on one side, trivet and oven on the other, a cold water tap in the kitchen (no more going to the well), a gas ring, a built-in copper fired by leather bits, where my mother sweated each Monday morning, gas-lighting downstairs and a water closet, a definite improvement on the house in Rotten Row. The Exchange covered Wollaston, Bozeat, Easton Maudit and Grendon. The switchboard had room for forty numbers but, out of all four villages, there were not enough subscribers to take them all up. Most of the factories were connected, several of the farmers, the Doctor, a few shopkeepers and a very few private people. Edna Lucy was in charge in the daytime, we took over during the dinner hour, in the evening right through the night until Edna arrived in the morning, and at weekends. The room was used two thirds for the Exchange with a partition dividing the remaining space which had a phone so that people could make or receive their own calls with some degree of privacy. Saturday afternoons were always busy, people would come in and say ‘will you book me two seats second house at the Palace tonight, please, upstairs’, and when we said ‘would you like to do it yourself?’ the answer invariably was ‘Oh no, you do it, I ain’t never used the phone’. We also delivered messages, though it wasn’t part of the job. Someone would ring and say ‘I know Mr So and So’s shop isn’t on the phone but would you please get a message to him that his order will definitely be delivered in the morning, first thing?’. And this would be done. Or it might be ‘This is Bill So and So. My Mum lives in your street, would you let her know that my wife’s had the baby, it’s a boy and they’re both all right?’. We never minded that sort of message; it wasn’t so pleasant to deliver news of an accident, or death in a family.
- We didn’t have the variety of food that we have nowadays, I suppose now it would be called ‘stodge’ but most people worked harder in those days, the jobs took more energy. We had a lot of various suet puddings; Spotted Dick, onion clangers in a cloth, steak and kidney in a basin with suet crust all round, various fruit puddings made in the same way. My mother made what she called a ‘light’ pudding plain steamed in a basin and cut into slices, each member of the family putting on their choice of butter, sugar (my dad had both), golden syrup (that was always my choice) and several kinds of homemade jam or blackberry vinegar. We had baked potatoes with a hock or other meat in the middle of the tin, crust all round and the rest of the space filled with potatoes and onions that was often cooked at the bakehouse (I believe that this dinner was called Hock and Dough). We had rabbit pie, a variety of stews as well as various milk puddings. We always had a joint of beef in a Yorkshire for Sunday, cooked at the Co-Op bakehouse and collected as you came home from morning service. There would be an oven full of Yorkshires all in almost identical tins but as dinnertime approached, each time the bakery door opened Alwyn would glance up to see who was coming in, then slide his long wooden peel into the oven and bring out the very tin you wanted. As far as I know, he never made a mistake and brought out the wrong tin. A lot of families finished up a Sunday joint for dinner on Monday, so Tuesday morning, the Co-Op butcher’s shop was crowded, if you weren’t there early you stood a very good chance of being late for school. We children used to edge up to the front only to be told ‘Get back, young ‘un. Tent your turn yet’. But occasionally, a woman would say ‘Go to the front of me, gal. It’s getting on for nine’ ad you’d give a grateful smile, get your meat, run all the way home with it and all the way up to school to get there before the bell stopped ringing.
- Christmas and the Feast were both exciting times. Our presents were small compared with what children get these days but we probably appreciated them more. The Feast was a big event in our year; from the time we met the Fair vans up the Furze and walked with them down to the Fair Field. We watched them unpack and the various roundabouts and stalls assembled to that long awaited moment when the lights came on, the music started, the horses flew around, the Dodgems roared around the track, the darts and coconut shy were ready to take your money, spit rock and brandy snap were on sale and a ride on the swing boats gave you a view of the whole field. It was a little bit of magic dropped into Wollaston for a week and we youngsters spent every spare minute down the Fair whether we had money to spend or not, until ‘Christians Awake’ on Saturday night signalled the end of the Feast for another year. Feast Sunday was the day houses needed elastic walls; so many aunts and uncles and cousins and friends came visiting, some we’d not seen since the previous Feast and it was a great time to exchange and catch up with family news. We always had poultry for dinner with the first new potatoes and green peas, and for supper was a huge pie of gooseberries and red, white and blackcurrants and raspberries (picked from Mrs. Spreckley’s Garden at Strixton) with a big bowl of custard. The queues for the late night buses to Rushden and Wellingborough stretched right around the square. Other events marked our year; Sunday School Anniversary when we had new dresses and white shoes. The week before Anniversary was a time when the council decided to tar and gravel the streets so that despite all warnings, we would go home with tar on our new shoes - then there was trouble. There was the Sunday School outing, sometimes a tea and sports in a farmers field, sometimes a bus ride all the way to Wicksteed. There was the Penny Bank tea in the paddock, with sports following. The Oddfellows gave a children’s outing, usually a bus ride to Bedford, with a stop at a pub on the way home when a man would come out with crates of bottles of Spruce with a glass marble in the top and give a bottle to each child. The Foresters and Rechabites gave outings to their child members too. So did the Working Men’s Club and the Band Club. We had a Sunday School Christmas party too, with tea and social, when we played ‘Spin the Plate’, ‘Oats and Beans and Barley Grow’, ‘O this Lovely Girl of Mine’, ‘In and Out the Windows’, ‘I sent a letter to my love’ etc. etc.
- We spoke differently in those days Mr Poole, who used to be the headmaster here was interested in speech. He could listen to a person talking and tell whether they came from Wollaston, Earls Barton just over the valley, or Bozeat only two miles away. There was a subtle difference in accent. He quotes the unconscious humour of Northamptonshire speech by telling how Lew Burgess, who was the school caretaker, was sweeping up the leaves from the Virginia Creeper covering the schoolhouse. Mr Poole commented on how many had fallen during the night. ‘Yes’, said Lew, ‘I’ve never seen so many leaves in all my life, it was just the same last year’. Radio and television have to some extent standardised our speech; you don’t hear so much ‘kent, shent and entagunu’ these days. It’s a pity that some of the dialect words have dropped out of use, they’ve been part of Northamptonshire for hundreds of years.
- If a house was on the route of a funeral procession, the blinds were pulled down until it had passed. People on the street stood still and men removed their hats as a mark of respect as the mourners walked past. Only once did I see the Plough Monday Boys. They came down the Row with faces blackened, caps on back to front and jackets turned inside out, singing ‘Think of a poor Ploughboy’, ‘Only Once a Year’, etc etc. Only once did I go with girls carrying a May Day garland of hawthorn decorated with bunches of buttercups, daisies and keck, singing ‘Branch of May, My dear I say, before the door I stand’ etc etc.