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MY MEMORIES OF BLUNHAM IN THE 1920s and 1930s
BY JIM ELLIS
I was born in 1922 and I am the grandson of James and Olivia Samway who lived at 3 The Hill, now number 15, and until 1919 was the public house named The Crown.
My grandfather was a market gardener who farmed the land immediately behind the property and who, with my grandmother, I think moved into the house in about 1921. They had 2 daughters, one being my mother and the other being my Auntie Winnie. My grandfather died in December 1930, my grandmother continued to live in the house until she died in 1941 aged about 90.
My sister and I from Kettering and my 2 cousins from London spent many happy weeks during our school holidays in the 1920s and most of the 30s staying with my grandparents. I remember sleeping in the small bedroom, the window of which faced up the road towards Barford, and seeing the air ship R101 swinging on the mast at Cardington. This must have been about 1929.
Opposite the house was the post office and general store run by Mr John Norman and next to him was the butchers shop run by Mr and Mrs Benbridge. I well remember running across the road to the shop for a pennyworth of broken biscuits which as a child was a delight!
Down towards the church in the square there was another village shop run by a family called Judd. There were 2 public houses as at present, a builders yard, a blacksmith and perhaps, I think, there may have been a shoe repairers shop.
Going out of the village towards Tempsford, beyond the school, the land where the new houses now are was just a field and going further along the road was the village pond with two or three houses adjacent. The village hall was on the other side of the road just before the site of the pond and in the summer the village held its annual fete in the field behind the hall and our great delight was the bran tub in which cheap little toys were hidden and for perhaps about 2d (in old money) one delved around in the bran until one found what you thought was a nice present.
What seemed to me to be a weekly memorable occasion was on a Tuesday evening when a brown painted fish and chip van arrived in the village, I think from Sandy, and stopped outside my grandparents’ home. It all smelled very good to me but I was never allowed to buy any.
My cousins, my sister and I got to know the village very well although I have now forgotten many of the names.
In the summer months we paddled in the river beneath the footbridge on the path that runs to Sandy, the river being very shallow in those days with a gravel bottom. I also spent many hours fishing from one of the two bridges on the Tempsford Road but if I caught anything it was an eel.
We also used to walk down the fields behind my grandparents’ home taking bridleways and footpaths to a field which used to be called Long Meadow and was adjacent to the river some distance out of Barford.
The village today has considerably increased in size, there being no houses opposite the village hall, no houses on the hill opposite number 3 and no bungalows on Station Road. The only new houses I remember being built were the council houses on Station Road between the station and the cemetery.
Quite close to the village hall was a farmyard in which haystacks were built and at thrashing time we used to go to see the steam traction engine driving the thresher and picking up baby mice and, I am sorry to say, taking them back to my grandparents’ house and putting them down a hole in the bedroom floor! Needless to say the house was inundated with mice for some time!!
In those days, remembering that this was the height of the Depression, virtually all the men worked on the land and many of the ladies I think may have been in domestic service. Needless to say agricultural wages then were very low.
I remember early in the mornings during the working week a large number of horses and carts coming up the street from the village and stopping outside the post office where the drivers bought their cigarettes and tobacco.
I do not remember seeing any tractors in the village during my time or even any lorries, all the produce being taken by horse and cart to Blunham railway station and I remember riding on top of sacks of potatoes in my grandfather’s cart which he drove to the station and loaded the potatoes onto a railway wagon. During certain times of the year many of the ladies were employed picking beans, peas, lifting potatoes and other jobs in the fields.
At the time of the building of the R101 airship a number of the ladies were employed at Cardington stitching the fabric covering to the outer skin of the airship.
I remember there was a public house on the station approach and some sort of mill on the river towards Sandy which I understood dealt with the many many dead horses of those days, but what they did I don’t know.
I seem to remember the coming of water and electricity to the village which I think might have been about 1931. Prior to that the lighting was via oil lamps or candles. My grandmother would only allow the electricity to be installed downstairs as she said that electricity upstairs caused the houses to go on fire! The only tap at the house was placed some 5 or 6 yards outside the back door, there being no water or sink or drainage within the house. The toilet was some 10 or 12 yards down the yard from the back door and was quite a frightening experience for young children to have to go in the darkness to the toilet with a candlestick and a box of matches.
The yard at the side and rear of the house consisted of where the first new bungalow is presently situated. Then there was the stable which was joined on to the onion loft which is still there, but as children we were not allowed to climb into, and below which were open sheds where the carts were kept. At right angles to this were two ground floor barns at the rear of which were 5 or 6 brick built pigstys. And in the same area were a henhouse and 2 large plum trees.
The last time I slept in the house was about 2 weeks before the outbreak of WW2 when we did not know what was to hit us.
My next visit, and then only into the yard, was when I was on disembarkation leave from the Far East in 1946.
Looking back all of the things I have described seemed quite normal and, of course, no way old fashioned or primitive and I hold memories of holidays at Blunham with great affection.