Letter to Doreen from Buckingham
We were not in a hurry to leave Derby on Tuesday morning. Our plan was to visit the Rohan shop (yes, again!) in Milton Keynes on our way to Buckingham. We wanted to buy Beryl’s birthday present from me which was another pair of the smart walking trousers she likes so much. We arrived at the hotel at 4.20 and did very little with the evening except go out for a meal and read our books.
Next morning we were in the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies just after eleven o’clock. Because I have not been to such a place before I was really not sure what I was doing despite the excellent help from the staff there. So, after an hour and a half of not finding all that much I could feel myself making my way to the exit. Just before we were about to leave, however, a lady librarian found Pat and Ivy’s wedding certificate and from that came so much more. We popped out for lunch in a pub in the market square but during the afternoon session we were able to trace much further back in both Pat’s family and Ivy’s.
This letter is not the place to list the family history but four things stood out for me. The first was that Ivy’s father and his father before him were grocers, although Ivy’s father changed to become a house painter. If he had remained a grocer he would not have fallen from a ladder and killed himself on iron railings. I do remember a certain grocer who tried to flick a packet of cereals off a top shelf with a carving knife and ended up with the blade impaled in the top of his skull. Uncanny stuff family history! The second was that Ivy’s mother, who came from Downley, had worked as a servant along with her sister in a village called Hurley, a favourite fishing spot for Uncle Roy. The third was that Pat’s grandfather was called John who married a lady called Phebe Herring and neither of them could sign their own name. The fourth was that in 1891 George North, Pat’s father, and his family lived in Rose Cottage in Hunt’s Hill, along with eight other families, just a short walk across the common from Downley. I will be entering all the details into a computer program called ‘Family Historian’ and will show everything mapped out properly later.
We left the library just after four p.m. with sore eyes having spent most of the day reading. We went back to the hotel, where I wrote notes about the day’s discoveries and Beryl continued reading the biography of Peter the Great. We then took ourselves off for a walk around Buckingham and dinner in a hotel there. The rest of the evening was spent with a detailed road atlas planning the next day’s journey to maximum effect.
The plan for Wednesday was to visit all the places I had laid out on a map weeks before and also to add in as many of the places we had learnt about yesterday. I wanted to take photographs of any of the houses family members had lived in. I am not really sure why. I think it is that Beryl and I are utterly fascinated by houses and looking round them. If we are ever invited to look round someone’s house we always do and everywhere we go we find ourselves drawn to estate agents’ windows.
The route we planned was in geographical order rather than any kind of historical or family connection. We started at Hunt’s Hill which we found straight away and near the entrance to the lane we saw a postman. When I asked if there was a Rose Cottage along the lane he said there was but it was right at the end where the lane had become just a track. We drove along, found the cottage and had just started peering though the bushes when the postman turned up with letters and parcels for the inhabitants so we tagged along behind him and asked the lady owner if she would mind us taking photographs of the building.
Not only did we take photographs of the outside but the lady very kindly invited us in to look at the way the cottage had been a number of separate dwellings originally and showed us where different ceiling heights were and where the bread ovens were. It seemed unbelievable that whole families could have lived in the space of a part of a room as it is now. The current occupiers seemed to number four in total and had extended the building in a number of ways.
If one had a sentimental view of how things would have been rosier in the past then this place would fit the bill perfectly. A beautiful cottage set in large grounds with the nearest other properties in the distance. It was surrounded by woodland and paths and was bursting with wildlife. I took a video of the woodland to capture the sounds that photographs would miss. But, as I wandered about in the woodland I could not help but think of all those people sharing such a small living space and came to the conclusion that I would have spent as much time as possible outside. On the sheets from the census I printed out there were at least thirty nine people living in the cottages. For the two of us who live in a six bed-roomed house with nine foot ceilings that kind of overcrowding seems inconceivable.
This is a view of the track just beyond the cottage.
If you have a movie player installed turn your speakers on and click play video .
Such a find was a brilliant way to start our day but because we had much more to see we soon moved on to Downley. Although we did not have an address to search for we wanted to see what the village was like. Our detailed road atlas does not show paths and what was a drive of a number of miles would have been a very short walk on the footpaths. Obviously, I wondered whether Ivy’s mother knew Pat’s father as they lived so close to each other. But, as later research showed, most of the family of the time lived within three or four parishes.
From Downley we went to Booker where I had an uncanny experience. As soon as I spotted the pylon on the corner of Highfield Road memory took over and I stopped outside Raylen (now Raylens) knowing exactly where I was. I have not been there for forty nine years.
The first photograph shows that Grandma Waterman’s bungalow has been demolished and five others have been built in her garden and orchard where I used to collect eggs and shut the chickens in their huts for the night.
The next photograph shows Waltham House which Uncle Roy and Auntie Kath had built. I found out recently that Uncle Norman drew the designs for the house. The house looks nothing like I remember it. It seemed much grander when I was a child but when you are five or six most things look bigger I suppose. I mentioned to Beryl that trees had changed less than houses or spaces. Sure enough the paddock at the back of the house is no longer there. I used to collect mushrooms and horse manure from the paddock. As I am writing this I wonder if I tried to con Uncle Roy into paying me for collecting them.
From Highfield Road we travelled the short distance round the corner to Squirrel Lane where the pub ‘The Squirrel’ is. It was owned at one time by Pat’s older brother Ted. Despite being completely surrounded by houses now it did not take much imagination to see it as an isolated pub in a tiny lane. The original building was quite small and so would perhaps have had only a few local agricultural labourers in it as Flora Thompson describes in ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’. We had lunch there and as we left we explained to the bar maid why we had called. The only comment she made apart from saying that a brewery now owned it was: “Don’t tell me it is haunted!” I resisted the temptation to invent a scary story.
After lunch we looked for Hillingdon House, the one Ivy and Pat built at the top of Marlow Hill. I have now been told that I was misinformed before. It is the other side of the road to the one we looked on and is still there. As the road is now a dual carriageway it is little wonder we could not find it. Still, we shall look for it another day. We turned off Marlow Hill on to Daws Hill Road where Uncle Norman and Auntie Hilda lived in the fourth house along.
It is only after this visit I realised that there may have been competition between Ivy and Hilda to see who could have the grandest house at the top of the hill. In Ivy’s case it no doubt fuelled her rivalry with her sister that she owned quite a number of the houses you could see at the bottom of the hill.
The bottom of the hill was where we went next, to Abercrombie Avenue where Ivy owned a number of houses. I think she owned some in Desborough Avenue and Desborough Road as well from what dad said and only looking at the map after discovering where she lived as a child with her father in Brook Street did I realise how close together these places are.
We did intend to visit Chestnut Avenue where Ivy and Pat brought up Uncle Roy and dad and to visit The Rye where I sometimes played as a child and where a distant relative is said to have died in mysterious circumstances under the water wheel of one of the mills. However, we missed a turning and decided to leave that part of the exploration for another day.
Next was Wooburn Green where you and dad were married and a number of other relatives I think and then on to Bourne End. We took photographs of each of the houses I could remember of the Sabin family and called upon Aunt Violet but she was not at home. From there we went on to Marlow. We did intend to take a walk by the river where Beryl canoed when she was younger and to stop for tea at ‘The Compleat Angler’, the hotel by the bridge, where Jerome K. Jerome, author of ‘Three Men in a Boat’, was said to have done some of his writing but we knew that we were running out of time and so decided to plan another visit to Marlow. I did notice as we passed through that the little track beside the bank in the High Street where Mr. Saint used to live is still there.
From here we went on to Temple and then to Hurley to look for Lee Farm where Lizzie Turner, Ivy’s mother, had worked as a servant to the Birch family. We could not find Lee Farm and we did not see the name Birch in the graveyard. We walked extensively around the village and via a long diversion down to the lock on the river. What a fabulous place, or rather what fabulous houses in a place that must be hell to live in on a hot summer’s day. Most of the houses had high walled gardens and electronic entry systems. A number of the few people we saw there looked at us as if we had come to challenge the effectiveness of the Neighbourhood Watch. We watched a lorry driver try to deliver some ballast to a house. He spent a long time talking to the keypad on the wall by the gates and then someone came out and unlocked the chains that blocked the road that led to the double locked high gates. After the lorry had gone through the gates everything was locked up again. This is a, rather poor, photograph of the front of the house.
Beryl went in to the local shop to enquire about the farm and the only customer announced that she ran the only working farm in the village and that Lee Farm was now just a big house. We still did not find it. (Since we have arrived home I know it to be at SU 853 829.)
On the Friday morning we went back to the library and discovered more about John and Phebe. John died before he was sixty and Phebe ended up looking after her own children and two grand children left with her whilst working as a char woman and living in Spreadeagle Yard. Thomas Hobbes’ words (admittedly taken out of context) about human life in a state of nature being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” kept coming to mind whilst thinking about John and Phebe who could not write.
Also on Friday morning we managed to go back a further generation in the North family. John’s father was William who married Ann Gardiner on the 22nd August 1787. So, in less than six hours of study we had moved from a vague idea of a date for the wedding of Ivy and Pat of 1918 or 1919 to a marriage certificate in 1787. More importantly perhaps than just following the generations back in time was the wealth of other information: there are large number of relatives with certificates and details to be traced; large numbers of properties to be found and photographed; old maps to be considered in relation to current ones; many more journeys tracing those of our ancestors.
The last few days have been exciting and utterly fascinating and we have only just begun.
The River Thames at Hurley where Uncle Roy used to fish.