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                        Living in America vs England


Aynhoe Village Life- The Way It Was- Then - Before and Beyond From the Aynhoe's One Room School Chapter

Our school year went from about September 7th to around July27th. We always had the month of August off. Teachers said it was too long a break but we didn’t think so. The first official term of the year was from September ‘til Christmas. We would be off until after the New Year when the second term started. That went until Easter, whether it was early or late. At the end of each term, there would be exams. We would have about ten days off for Easter, then the last term would go through until the end of July. At that time, the exams were to cover the work for the entire school year. We would have half term breaks, which would generally amount to a long weekend. There was one exception, and that was for the country children, when the half term break in the autumn was a week long. The reason for this was, that the potatoes had to be gathered in the fields. With the men away at war, there weren’t enough people to get them in without the children helping. It was a fun time for all.

We were each assigned to different farmers, and would meet in their farmyards first thing in the morning. I was always assigned to Joe Watts’ farm. He had a huge hay wagon, with panels that went out about a foot at the top rim. His big carthorse pulled it. Going to the fields, we all got to ride inside the wagon, along with the buckets we were going to use to gather the potatoes. When we got to the field, the women would take the buckets, and place them every so many feet. This was after the rows had been turned over, to expose the potatoes. Then we kids would go to a bucket, and start down the rows filling them as we went. When it was full, we just left it where it was, and went on to the next. The women would come along and pick up the full buckets, and take them back to the wagon, where Joe Watts and Derb Ayres would pile them inside it. We all kept working like this ‘til lunch time, then we would stop and have a picnic lunch in front of one of the hedgerows. After we had finished eating, we would take off exploring, until the adults decided it was time to get back to work again. We would work ‘til the wagon was as full as it could be, then we all piled on top of the potatoes for the ride home. The adults usually walked alongside. This went on all week, until all the potatoes were gathered and safe in the barns. The adults said the reason the children gathered the potatoes into the buckets, was because we were closer to the ground, so it wasn’t backbreaking for us - this made perfect sense. One year, when my friends and I were older and knew how to ride our bikes, we got permission from our mothers to take our bikes to the fields, on the promise not to play around but to behave. Well, at lunchtime, Janet Watts, Cicely-Anne Abernathy and I, decided we were going to try and be cowboys, and ride the pigs in the large pig pen, just like we had seen in the movies. The pigs were in a very large yard, with roofing over half of it, and hayracks around the many posts holding the roof up. The idea was; to climb onto the hayracks, and when a pig came by, drop down onto its back and ride it like a cowboy. All went well until the pigs got scared, and started charging all over the place to get us off their backs. Our laughing and whooping didn’t help much. Finally the pigs ran into each other, and tossed us off their backs into the messiest part of the yard. By the time we got to our feet we were filthy. We knew we couldn’t go back to the fields, or home, in this state. So we found an old water butt. The water in it was pretty green, but we thought it was the best we could do. We stripped to our knickers, and “washed” our clothes until they were not quite as bad as before, but much greener. They were wet of course, so we came up with the bright idea of tying them to the back of our bikes, and riding them up and down the road to dry them. By the time we had to go back to the fields they weren’t quite as wet, but they were very ripe and no-one wanted to be anywhere near us. I am sure we all got a good hiding when we got home, but I don't remember that part of it.

Aynhoe Village Life - continued

There was all kinds of delivery made to the village another kind we used to get at that time, but it was erratic. It was when the Gypsies came around. They were true Gypsies – the Romanies. The women dressed in colourful blouses, and skirts of bright colours, with lots of embroidery on them. Their skin was darker than ours, and their hair was jet black. Even the older women didn’t seem to have grey hair. They would go door to door, with their baskets full of wares for sale – brightly coloured ribbons and clothes pegs to sell. They would offer to tell you your fortune. We were told never to have the door wide open when talking to them. That way they couldn’t see what you have inside. It was wise to buy a little something from them if you possibly could, so they wouldn’t come androb you to get even. The most important thing we were told, was tostay away from their camp, because they; “stole little children”.

They always had their camp at the top of First Crossing, in the spinney. They would have their very decorative Gypsy caravans in a half circle, and a fire burning on the ground in the middle. The horses, that pulled the caravans, were tied up close to the trees. They looked sointeresting and quite harmless to us, but we thought we wouldn’t risk it, and would stay hidden so they couldn’t see us. I remember one year, after all the Gypsies had moved on, we went up to where their camp had been, to see if they left anything interesting behind. They had - they had left one caravan, a horse, and a very old man. We were within his vision before we noticed it, and he called us to come and talk to him.

We asked him why he hadn’t gone with the others. He said he had been taken poorly, and was going to wait a few days before moving on, to catch up with the others. We asked him about all the pretty painted decorations, and designs he had, on the outside of the caravan. He said each one was done to the owner's liking. He asked us if we would like to see inside. We didn’t hesitate, as by this time we felt perfectly safe with him. Inside, the woodwork was beautifully carved and shiny. The cloth coverings were mostly red with patterns on them, as were the curtains. There was no extra space inside, but there were so many builtins and a set place for everything. He said when you lived like this you had to be tidy, and put everything up when you were finished with it. He told us the sofas made into beds. We were all very impressed, and really didn’t want to leave. He gave no hint at all of wanting to steal us.

Aynhoe Village Life - continued

July 24th 1891 was a hot day, and two nine year old cousins, Ada and Mabel Wrighton,were hungry for fruit to eat. They both knew where the best supply could be had, because their grandfather David Wrighton was renowned for his fruit growing of all varieties, according to what was in season. He grew strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants.

Ada lived in the last house on the left, at the top of Blacksmith Hill, on the edge of the village. She was the fourth, of six children, and the eldest daughter of Edwin and Eliza (Robbins) Wrighton. Edwin was a Master hedger and a water diviner; he could also read and write, which was unusual for men of his age in the village. He frequently scribed letters, or read correspondence for the villagers that didn’t have those skills. Mabel was the twelfth of fifteen children, of Edwin’s older brother Henry and Julia (Borton) Wrighton. They lived at the station, and Henry made bricks and operated the brick yard located there.

 Ada and Mabel together, used to clean house for their grandfather and his daughter Sarah, each week. Sarah was born with a deformity of her arms, making it impossible for her to do more than just care for her own personal needs. Sarah was known to be very dogmatic, and very much a no nonsense person, most children and many adults, were scared of her.

Ada thought that if they could get past Aunt Sarah, they could fill their pockets with a bumper crop of fruit, that was just right for picking. The house was the first house on the right, of the cottages known as Hill Cottages. There was a hedge that bordered the garden, and the path led to all the other cottages on the hill. Ada thought; if they could get to the hedge without being seen, they could crawl along low down beneath the window of the house that faced the garden, and make it to the fruit supply. All went well.

 They filled their pockets to overflow, and were about to go back the same way, when Aunt Sarah’s thunderous voice boomed over their heads. “You girls thought I couldn’t see you, well I have been watching you the whole time from the window. Now you get right into the house and empty your pockets onto the table; then skidaddle.” The girls went right into the house, knowing it was a waste of time to resist her. They emptied their pockets of all the fruit, and was about to leave; when they noticed a curtain across the room that hadn’t been there before. Typically, curiosity got the better of them, and they went to look behind it. To be stopped in their tracks, when Aunt Sarah curtly told them, “You girls stay out of there; my Pa is lying back there dead, waiting to be buried.” They just looked at each other, and ran as if their lives depended on it

Aynhoe Village Life - continued

All the ceilings in the houses have exposed beams. Usually there was one large central support beam, that went the length of the room. Perpendicular to that, and about a foot apart, were the other beams going across the width of the ceiling. These were used to hang the hams, and slabs of bacon, that had been smoked or cured previously in the fireplace.

The fireplaces were very large open ones, that were used for cooking, and were the only source of heat for the whole house. There was an open grate about a foot wide, two and a half-feet high, and two feet deep, with 3 to 4 metal bars across the front, to hold the hot coals and cinders back. This was great for making toast, using a long handled toasting fork, so as not to burn your hand or scorch your shins, if you sat too close to it. To the side of the grate was the brick oven. To know what the temperature was for the cooking, it was necessary to put your hand on the metal door handle to gauge the heat. Watching my grandfather do this, it seemed you could gauge how hot the oven was, by how quickly he removed his hand from the handle! My grandfather, called Gramp by all the grandchildren, would always check it for my Gran. If it was to be for pies, he would remove his hand pretty fast, and say “Just perfect for your pies David”. My grandmother’s name was Ada, but until just a few years before he died he always called her David. No one knows why. Some of the fireplaces had a bread oven to the side, our house didn’t have one, but my grandparent’s did. The entire fireplace had big open tops, for cooking what is now cooked on the top of a stove. Above this was the massive opening that went up the chimney. The chimney opening is where the hams would be hung to cure or smoke. When there wasn’t a fire burning in the grate, one could lean over, look up the flue, and see the metal stakes in the walls. These were what the chimney sweep boys used to climb up, so that they could sweep it. This is how it was done in the nineteenth century. One could also see the large opening to the sky, which is why, when it rained and the fire was burning, we would hear “spits and spats”, as the rain hit the fire and hot coals.


June 5th to 6th 1944

I remember the night the planes were flying over for D-Day. Lying in bed, with the lights off and the blackouts up, I watched them. The sky was black with them, and I could hear people going past under our window saying: “This is it; it has got to be it.” There was a lot of anxiety in their voices, so I knew this must be something really important.  The planes seemed to keep going for hours. I remember having the sensation of butterflies in my stomach, but I am not sure I fully realized why.

In the past, I had spent many hours listening to planes coming back from bombing raids over Germany. Almost every night, there would be at least one that would sound like it had been damaged, and was just limping back home. They would go ‘round and round’ up in the sky. Mum said it was to use up what fuel they had left on board, to make it safer for them if they had to crash land. The sound the plane made was awful. You’d feel they are never going to make it, and just pray that they would come down safely. It never crossed my mind they could come down on us! It was just the worry for their safety. It is not a sound I ever want to hear again. I am happy to say, I do not ever remember hearing one of them crash.


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