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Childhood memories of Longworth, from 1930 to 1940 

A Story recorded by members of the Longworth History Society on 2nd November 2000.

Dennis Adams

I was born on 17/10/27in “Little Thatch” up the school road at Hinton Waldrist it was not known as “Little Thatch” then it was known as “The old house”. I don’t remember living at this house as I was only a few months old when we moved. I had two sisters and a brother older than me and I remember being told in later life that one of my sisters fell in the slurry pit that was in the garden and she came walking up the path all covered in slurry and my eldest sister said, "there is a black man coming up the path all covered in slurry".

We moved on to Longworth into the old council house is now known as “Marten’s Lake” I still don’t remember living there as I was only 2 ½ years old, still in a pram when we moved yet again up to “St Andrew’s Cottages” opposite “Warren Cottage”. I remember my mother was always telling me that when it was I sat in my pram along at the council houses, next door was another aby the same age as me and he was always crying and screaming and some workmen who was still working on the other houses were always saying, “Why is it your baby is so quiet and the other one is so noisy?” I began to take notice of things soon after we moved up to “St Andrew’s Cottages”. It was here that I grew up. I was about 34 or [3 to 4] when we moved to Stanford in the Vale. I can remember some very happy times spent growing up at “St Andrew’s”, there were plenty of fields to play in and lots of space all around.

The house was surrounded by roses, they stretched right up to the boundary between Hinton Waldrist and Longworth, both sides of the Longworth road and belonged to “Prince’s Oxford Roses”. In those days you could go to sleep with the bedroom windows open with no fear of anyone breaking in, when I woke up in the morning the room was filled with perfume from the roses. It is the time I shall never forget. There were coaches of people used to come from all over the place on a Sunday just to see them. I remember my older brother Ken working there for a few years when he first left school and he used to come home with thorns in his hands and fingers and my older sister Doris used to sit with a pair of tweezers pulling them out and putting peroxide on the scar. He used to keep fainting.

There were hardly any cars in those days and the men used to come along on their cycles on their way to work in the rose gardens whistling away at 6.55am but you don’t hear many people whistling on their way to work, not many go to work, but they had to work in those days because the policy was no work no money, there were no benefits in those days.

You could belong to what was known as the National Friendly Deposit Society and you paid 1d a week and if you were sick you could draw 2/6d a week but you had to be indoors by 9pm, if anyone had reported seeing you out after this time your money was stopped. My mother used to run the Great Universal Stores, this involved a catalogue and you had to get 20 members and they all had a card and once every 20 weeks you had a turn to have the catalogue and pick out something you required, you had to pay so much each week when my mother went round on her cycle collecting the money on a Saturday. She would collect the order from the person whose turn it was and send it away, then when it arrived she would get on her bike and deliver the parcel to whom it belonged. It is quite a big job with a family to look after and she didn’t get a lot of commission but she enjoyed meeting people. My mother used to be up at 5am on a Monday morning in the summer outside at the back of the house doing her washing and singing at the top of her voice ("Little man you’ve had a busy day").

There were no washing machines in those days and, it was scrubbing with her bare knuckles and a bar of carbolic soap, and then a rinse in the blue water and then a rinse in clear water then peg it out on the line. She always did bubble and squeak for dinner on a Monday and, although dad used to go in at midday for his dinner, we kids use to have ours at teatime because we used to take sandwiches to have at midday and Mrs. Hobbs, who was the infants’ teacher, used to make us a drink. There were no school dinners then back in 1930. We had a mile to walk to school and a mile to walk back every day but in those days we didn’t know anything else. A man in a horse and trap sometimes picked us up and gave us a lift, we thought we were lords but I very much doubt if the kids would accept a lift in a horse and trap today. His name was Mr Batts and he lived at Charney Bassett. The teacher who taught in the middle class was Mrs Thompson and she lived at Frilford Heath and although she very often past us in her car she wasn’t allowed to pick us up as it would look like favouritism. The head teacher was Mrs. Bousfield and she lived in the school-house which is now a private house, the school is also a private house now. We used to walk over to Hinton School because we got on a lot better with the children there rather than Longworth. I remember my mother saying so to Mr. Saunders, the school attendance officer at the time. “Is it alright if the children go to Hinton school?” And he said, “They can go to Timbuktu for all I care but you mustn’t let the weather be an excuse for non-attendance.” So whether it snowed, rained, blew or sunshined we had to go.

My mother used to go over to Hinton on a Wednesday afternoon to see Gran, who lived at No 8, The Row, so when we came out of school on a Wednesday we had to go up to Gran’s for a sandwich, it was either Marmite or lard with sugar on it.

Where I live now at St Thomas’s Close there was a rickyard and a cattle pen, the men who worked for Mr. Hawkins used to build the corn ricks in rows so when it came to threshing the ricks they could set the drum between two ricks and when they finished those they just moved up between two more ricks.

There were no combines in those days, it was all done with a binder. One man drove the tractor and another rode on the binder, then the men used to come along behind stacking the sheaves up in stooks, about six sheaves to a stook. They then left them to dry for a few weeks and then they would pick them up on a wagon and stack them in a rick in the rickyard which then had to be thatched. This was a skilled job, one that I never mastered, but then very few did

We used to come down when we came out of school for the day and stand there killing the mice and rats as they ran out of the rick. I remember we came running down one afternoon and they wouldn’t let us in there, they told us to run along home, we wondered what we’d done. It was all quiet and no threshing was going on, all the men stood around in little groups with solemn faces talking. Later we were told that one of the men that was stood on the drum and was feeding the corn sheaves into the drum had slipped and fallen into it and was all minced up. I shall never forget it as I was only nine years old at the time. I remember when they were binding we used to come running along from school and we would grab hold of a knobbly stick and stand waiting for the rabbits to run out of the corn and we would hit them and kill them, that was a good dinner in those days - a rabbit pie. There was a gamekeeper who worked for Mr. Appleton, the man who had the job keeping the game birds under control, kept chasing us because the more rabbits they could shoot meant more money for them. We knew the man there that was driving the tractor, he was a friend of ours, and he told him to leave us alone.

I remember one Friday night we saw an aeroplane flying towards Hinton very low and it was getting lower. It disappeared over the long row of houses and we went running along there and some kids were shouting “an aeroplane has landed in a stubble field up by the council houses”. And we went up there and discovered it was a fairey battle, the pilot said he had engine trouble but we found out later that he was a boyfriend of one of Mr. Hawkins’ daughters in whose field he had landed and he spent the night of the farmhouse. On the Saturday morning we all gathered to see him take off. He ran up the field and went up and away no trouble. On another occasion during the Second World War, I got up to go to school one morning and my mother said, “The Germans have blown Duxford Road up during the night” and I started laughing. I said, “They couldn’t do that if they tried it is only 6 foot wide!” but the teachers took us down in the afternoon to have a look at it and sure enough they dropped a bomb right in the middle of the Duxford Road. The second bomb dropped in the Warren and the blast had blown the geese house upside down belonging to Hinton Manor and let all the geese out, the rest of the stick of bombs went across the field to Wellmore. They say the German plane that let them go was looking for Carterton aerodrome but couldn’t find it because it was too well camouflaged and he developed engine trouble and had to drop them anywhere. They were not allowed to take the bombs back home, Carterton aerodrome is now known as Brize Norton. I wondered if he got mixed up with Duxford in Cambridgeshire where there is an aerodrome. I remember going all over the fields looking for strips of silver paper. The Germans used to go over just before a bombing raid dropping the strips of this silver paper; they said it upset the radar system which of course was nothing like we have today.

On another occasion I remember we were in bed one Friday night and my mother and father were over at Hinton at a whist drive and my older brother and his mate were babysitting us and we heard all these German planes going over the house, you could tell a German plane by its engine they made a sort of droning sound. In our bedroom we had a skylight window and it looked out towards the Cotswolds. We could hear a lot of explosions in the distance and we jumped out of bed to see what was happening and there was a big red glow in the sky and a lot of flashes across the sky. My brother and his mate forgot about babysitting and they went running across the feels to Gravel Path where they had a good view of what was happening. The next morning we heard on the news the Germans had bombed Coventry and it was almost destroyed.

I have a lot of memories of world war two, some bad and some good. I remember one afternoon my sister and me were cleaning my rabbits out and we could see a lot of aeroplanes going over. They were flying very high. The air raid warden went down the road on his bike blowing his whistle and shouted to us to get inside, he said, “Those aeroplanes are German planes.” and I said, “No, they’re not, they’re Bristol Blenheims.” Then I noticed the black cross on the wings and the next thing we heard was a burst of machine gun fire, apparently this was a signal from the leader to dive and they dived on some workmen who had been working at the Carterton aerodrome and they jumped off their bikes and dived under the hedge, the planes then machine-gunned all along the hedgerow. We certainly got involved with the enemy in those days not like the Falklands War and the Gulf War, we wouldn’t have known anything was going on if we hadn’t seen it on the news.

I used to go to Garford to my uncle and auntie for my summer holidays and we had to walk in those days from Longworth to Garford, there wasn’t a lot of cars about. The working class people just couldn’t afford a car. My auntie and my cousins used to walk over and then they would have a cup of tea and a rest then they would turn round and walk all the way back with me. We used to walk along to Harris’s Lane, down there and up the Waggon Path along and through Kingston and Southmoor then along the Abingdon Road which was closed off to through traffic then because of the Kingston aerodrome. We went to Fyfield Wick turn, which didn’t exist then, it was just a cart track called “The Gallops”, this would take as over the Ock Brook and up through the fields and we came out on the road that runs through Garford right opposite where my uncle lived. It didn’t take that long, only about 2 ½ hours and because we were used to walking in those days we didn’t feel tired.

There was a family living opposite my uncle and the man was a pilot of the Wellington bombers which were based at Harwell and when he got back from a daylight raid he used to fly very low over his house to let his wife know he had returned safely and then he would return to base. One day he was doing this and a German plane started to attack Garford school, machine gunning along the desks and all the children had to dive under the desks, and for years after this you could see the bullet holes in the desks and on the school. The Wellington pilot took chase and shot the German plane down in the sea, when he got back to base he was court-martialled, he said, “I don’t mind at all my two children were in that school and I didn’t want them killed.” I can’t remember for sure but I think he got off. We were woken up at 3am by a bright light shining in the bedroom window and my uncle jumped out of bed and looked out and said, “It’s a flare and it’s right over the horse’s field. I shall have to go and see if they are all right it could frighten them. It turned out it was the Germans had dropped these flares to light up Grove aerodrome but they were a bit out.

One of the worst things I can remember is the doodlebugs; these were crewless objects and they flew until the fuel ran out then they fell to the ground and exploded.

I recall the day when the evacuees were coming and we kids had to be over the Village Hall at Hinton Waldrist at 4pm and Lady Page had laid out a tea party for us and them and she thought we were could get together and get to know one another and help them settle in. When they arrived there were lots of tears but we soon cheered them up when we got on with the party. After the party the volunteer drivers delivered them all to their respective homes and they soon settled in and became one of us. They were from East Ham and some of us used to take the mickey out of them about the way they spoke - it was quite posh off of us, we were Berkshire then, and still are as far as I’m concerned, but they soon started talking like us and a lot of them never went back to London. They got married and spread around and there was one that never got married, he still lives in Hinton and does a lot for the church, he’s a bell ringer and he is the Bell Tower warden.

I didn’t go in the services, I had my medical for the merchant navy but when I got called up the war finished. I think Hitler must have heard I was joining up and got scared and he surrendered, well that’s what I reckon anyway.

I was disgusted when I saw the notices go up recently saying “Pinewood Road” instead of “Lodge Lane” even when there was a big pinewood forest up there by Longworth House. I should know I lived at the end of that road long enough. It got its name from Warren Cottage which was then the North Lodge for Longworth House and the South Lodge was at Springhill on what was then the turnpike and Mr. Bill Weston lived in there at the time and he worked for Lady Hyde who was at Longworth House then. If there was a fire at Longworth House [he?] had to run up the drive that went up to the South Lodge and open the big gates ready for the fire engine to drive in and straight down the drive, this saved them from having to go right from the road to get to the fire. The same thing has happened to the road they now called “Rectory Road” that was always known as “Bobbies Lane” and “Bobbies Corner” because it was two cottages on the corner and one was where the village policeman lived. It was never known as “Rectory Road” even when there was the rectory down the road. The trouble is these people come into these villages from miles away and the first thing they do is to get on to the parish council and then rename these roads not knowing the history of them.

I was too young for the home guard, they were known at first as the L.D.V. (Local Defence Volunteers) but everyone used to say it stood for Look, Duck and Vanish - so they had to change it. I remember some Sunday mornings they had rolls of barbed wire all across the road and two or three men were on duty there to see that no one passed these barriers and they said that the Germans had landed and were coming this way, but we never saw any sign of the Germans so they had to put their rolls of barbed wire back on the grass verge. I was in the Army Cadet Force at Longworth and we used to meet on Wednesday evenings in the village hall from 7 to 9pm. In the winter we would be inside reading maps and different things and in the summer will be outside. Sometimes we would have to attack Harrowdown Hill, this involved about half a dozen of the lads up on the hill and the rest of us would have to crawl through the fields and try to capture it. It was very exciting and it kept us out of mischief; it was much better than like most of the kids today sitting indoors watching television but then of course we didn’t have telly to watch thank goodness. You also had a rifle to get along with when you were crawling through the grass, but we were not allowed ammunition, we were only youngsters. On Sunday morning we would be either on the rifle range at Lamb Pit where we were allowed live ammunition or down at Lower Kingston Farm (Race Farm) drilling in the farmyard. You see Philip Long who owned the farm at that time was our Commander-in-Chief but on Remembrance Sunday we had to parade to Kingston Church but we were not allowed to sit down or there would have been no room for the regulars to sit, so we had to stand up the aisle.

When I lived up Church Road at Longworth in the 60s the village hall burnt down one night and where I lived was just at the back of it. We never heard a sound but someone said that the Boy Scouts came round knocking on the doors but couldn’t get any reply. The next day someone said the village hall was burnt to the ground last night and I just laughed, I thought they were joking but we took a walk round the corner and sure enough there was only the concrete base and a pile of rubble still smoking there.

We were surrounded by aerodromes during the war, they were at Abingdon which we called Shippon, Kingston Bagpuize, Stanton Harcourt, Carterton, Stanford in the Vale, Grove and Harwell - we were right in the middle of them. I remember one day when we were up at the school at Hinton a Whitley bomber came over, it was very foggy and it hit the overhead cables at Duxford; there was a vivid flash and an explosion and the plane just disintegrated, we went running down from school but within a very few minutes the RAF police were there and wouldn’t let us go near it. There were men’s legs and arms left all over the field, the aircraft carrier arrived and started to load it up, I don’t know what happened to the bits of the men as they sent us away. Apparently these planes had a crew of seven and was a foreign crew and they were learning to fly it, but they didn’t reckon on the fog we used to get near a river. We used to call them flying coffins because they were always crashing. I also remember a Lancaster bomber crashing on take off at Lyford, it was loaded with bombs. I can’t remember whether the bombs exploded or not but it made a hell of a mess of Lyford.

We used to have a mobile cinema come to Longworth Village Hall from Faringdon cinema on a Saturday night and a bit later on they started coming twice a week, the other night being on Wednesday. A man called Mr Kirby and his wife used to come with it and he was in the fire service at Faringdon but there was no such thing as bleepers in those days so if there was a fire they had to ring the New Inn public house, one of the few places to have a telephone in those days, and someone had to run up to the village hall and tell him. Then he had to dash back to Farringdon and get into his uniform and take the fire engine out because he was the driver; it didn’t happen very often thank goodness. He used the leave me in charge of the equipment when this happened. He had shown me the way to go on so I knew just what to do, he would do this if he went down to the pub for a drink. I didn’t mind this because it meant I got a free seat. He showed me how to change the reels but the biggest problem was the projector used to slip sometimes and the picture would finish up on the ceiling and I would have to jump up and go and adjust the legs on the projector, it was quite exciting.

During World War II there were soldiers billeted all over the village, there were some Americans at Longworth House which was owned by Lady Hyde at the time. They were good to us kids, they gave us sweets and chocolate, which they called candy, and loads of chewing gum and cigarettes for mum and dad, this was good because sweets were rationed at the time - we were allowed 1/- worth a week, the equivalent of 5p today but of course 1/- bought a lot of sweets in those days but not enough for us of course! There was one man in particular that used to take us for rides in the lorry he drove sometimes even into Oxford. This was very exciting because not many people could afford a car in those days and they could be trusted with young children then, not like today. It was a much better world to live in. We used to go carol singing up there at Christmas and they were so pleased to see us, being as they were so far away from home, they used to take us all around the different huts and we would finish up with loads of candy and money – it was great. Then there were English soldiers at Brights Farm which was just off the village square and they had a lot of Bren gun carriers and they used to take us for rides around the fields. Then there were more English soldiers at Longworth Manor. My father worked there and they used to give him little Tommy loaves by the sackfull, also bags of sugar and pots of jam - all very welcome as everything was rationed then and we were a large family.

We didn’t do too badly at Christmas considering my parents didn’t have a lot of money. It was not like the money they get today, we used to get a party up at Lady Hyde’s to do with Longworth Sunday school, then we had a party at Hinton Village hall to do with Hinton Sunday School, and then we had a trip to Southsea in the summer to do with Hinton Sunday School again. It was always Southsea but we didn’t mind, we were only kids and it was a day at the seaside and that’s all we worried about. We used to save our pennies for months and it meant the world to us.

There was a scrap iron dealer came from Oxford on a Monday his name was Mr Dalloway and his daughter Maggie came with him, he bought all sorts of scrap and rabbit skins and old clothes and we kids use to roam the fields looking for horse tips and old plough shares. He used to pay 1/2d for a horseshoe and 1d for a ploughshare, I can see the kids doing this today. We were quite lucky, in a way, we knew a tractor driver who worked for Mr. Hawkins and he used to save us all his old ploughshares. Well I can’t think of any more memories offhand but if I think of any more I will let you know. Bye for now.

Dennis Adams