Month: February 2016

Hellidon & the entrepreneur

Visiting Hellidon I was drawn again to the church and the village notice board in the centre of the village.

First research led me to the entrepreneur John Wells who cited 3 different professions within subsequent Census reports. He began as a shoemaker in Hellidon in 1841. By 1849 he had become a shop keeper and by 1854 he had become the first ‘postmaster and letter receiver’ of the newly opened post office in the village of Hellidon.


Sibbertoft: The wellington and washing


This is the final village visit of my section of the walk. The Old School house features a brickwork date on the gable end, next door stands the church which has some lovely detailing in the porch area – the door hinge and decorative floor tiles in particular.

05 sign not mine

This above image of the plaque is one I have found since the visit – and have subsequently researched further. As it states, in 1941, a Wellington of 305 (Polish) Squadron returning from a raid on Cologne crashed near Sibbertoft. All six crew members were killed. After removal from the wreckage the crew’s bodies were placed in out-buildings at the Red Lion public house in Sibbertoft to await collection by the military.

Pictured here is Flight Officer Golacki the second pilot who was only 22 years old, the other photo is believed to be the crew.

There is also a nineteenth century reference to the Red Lion pub from the Sibbertoft village website which records that at this time the village saw major improvements being made, ‘this was due to the new Lady of the Manor, Lady Villiers.  She had acquired Sulby Hall and its lands by the middle of the century. Lady Villiers was a stickler for propriety. Tenants of hers (and most of the villagers were) could not hang out clothes on Sunday. All had to attend church and line up outside to doff their caps or curtsey to her after service.  Those that didn’t abide by her rules were thrown out of their homes. Despite this picture of Victorian rectitude the village had quite a reputation as being a wild and lawless place.  Heavy drinking in the Red Lion and poaching on an industrial scale seemed to be the order of the day.  Running fights between the local ruffians and the Constabulary were not unknown’.

Something else to note, up until the Industrial Revolution, flax weaving and farming formed the principle trades of the village. I wonder if, like in one of T’s previous posts regarding Silver Street, there are any street or house references to flax weaving?

Woodford Halse: Up, Down, Stop, Start, Finish




In 1791 Woodford Halse was a small agricultural village with just 61 houses and then came the railway…..

The ‘London Extension’ opened in 1899 as a brand new line into London from the North linking the existing railways of Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire. Woodford Halse was chosen as the site for locomotive sheds, goods sidings and a wagon repair shop and eventually had facilities for 50 engines and 1,000 wagons. 240 new brick homes and shops were built to accommodate the railway staff and by 1911 the population had trebled to 1,520. The new service had to compete with established lines and the first train only carried 4 passengers! The Great Central Railway ran trains from Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, York and Rugby through Woodford directly to London Marylebone. In 1910 there were 17 “up” trains (away from London) and 16 “down” passenger trains (towards London) stopping, starting or finishing at Woodford.

By the 1950’s the service was in decline and in 1966 The Great Central line closed. Two railway bridges, the Railway Hotel and Station Street remain.

Edgecote: Past, Present & Future Positions



1469:   A ‘rebel victory’ under the leadership of Robin of Redesdale (a pseudonym for ‘one of the Northern Lords’) was recorded at the Battle of Edgecote Moor during the War of the Roses.  Whilst the battlefields ‘actual’ position is uncertain the outcome led to the collapse of King Richard III and the start of the Tudor dynasty.

1788:  Having inherited Edgecote House from his father William Henry Chauncy re-positioned the village of Edgecote to improve his view.

2016:  Whilst  protest about  HS2 (which is planned to cut right through Edgecote House gardens and straight across Edgecote Moor battlefield) is encouraged, the position of parishioners appears jubilant as voices sing out through the open door of the church of St. James.


East Farndon: A dancer with bells on

09a ??firemark

Another picturesque village set on a hill. The houses became the main focus here and when I took the photograph of the small sun plaque, high up on the front of a house, I had no idea what it represented; having referred to Geoffrey Grigson’s Country Alphabet book, it seems likely that this is actually a firemark – or insurance sign, these were issued after the Great Fire of London when it became apparent that some houses needed insuring. The number is the insurance policy number, they were affixed to houses and told the fire brigade that the house was their responsibility.
On the main street there seems to be a trend for naming houses based on their original use, and another nice feature is the date brickwork feature on the gable end.

I found this personal recollection from Marjorie Houlston (nee Read) who lived in East Farndon and she refers to some of the houses:
I remember three shops in the village. One is now ‘Hillside’ and was kept by a Mr Mayes. Then there was the Post Office and shop kept by Mrs Nichols (now ‘The Old Post Office’) and one in ‘Ivy House’, kept by a rather eccentric lady called Mrs Dancer. She used to sell everything and had small bells stitched to her long skirts, which tinkled when she moved about. 

I love this evocative image of Mrs Dancer – and just the sort of person you can imagine fascinating – or scaring(!) young children, I imagine her being rather bohemian. Bells seem to be a recurring theme at the moment! (The images above show Ivy House from two different angles).

Wardington Manor: England, The Octopus & Ferguson’s Gang



Built in 1665 by George Chamberlain Wardington Manor is located between the villages of Upper and Lower Wardington.  Many subsequent owners have made alterations and extensions to the original building adding new wings, staircases and a library.  The most creative series of improvements were made by the architect  Williams-Ellis and acknowledged as  ‘one of the most imaginative programmes of restoration of an older house in the Oxfordshire county’.

Born and educated in Northamptonshire, Williams-Ellis was the creator of the Italianate village of Portmerion in North Wales.  In 1928 he wrote England and the Octopus as a response to the urbanisation of the countryside and the loss of village cohesion.  He denounced insensitive building and ugly modern developments.  This book inspired a group of young women to form Ferguson’s Gang; a secret society raising money for the National Trust!  They took up Williams-Ellis call for action and were active in rescuing important but lesser known rural properties from being demolished until 1946.  The gang raised huge sums of money which they delivered in imaginative ways –  coins hidden inside a fake pineapple, a one hundred pound note stuffed inside a cigar and five hundred pounds presented with a bottle of homemade sloe gin!  Their stunts were reported in the press, and when they make a national appeal for the National Trust, the response was overwhelming!  The women remained  anonymous, hiding behind masks and using bizarre pseudonyms.  The gang’s leader Peggy Pollard (known as her pseudonym Bill Stickers) and Williams-Ellis became lifelong friends.

Stepping into the unknown

Since starting the site visits, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to research into each village in more depth, and it is the stories with a human connection that have the most resonance. This type of subject matter is not necessarily the sort of material I would have chosen to work with – nor is this process and the fact that I am unsure where it is all leading; however there is something satisfying about this way of working and not knowing what the outcome will be.

The images are of two recent eBay purchases of postcards showing Stamford Meadows – the starting point of my walk. The viewpoint in both cards is very similar, in each case the Baths can be seen in the distance as well as four of the church spires. The hand-written messages on the reverse of each card are the thing I like most, as it personalises the pieces. Written in 1904 and 1910 they offer a snapshot of a long forgotten moment in time.

book 3
The Shell Country Alphabet by Geoffrey Grigson was a recommended purchase. In the foreword written by the author’s daughter Sophie Grigson – she recalls ‘He taught us to delight in the traces of the past that make up our present’ – this seems to perfectly describe the process we are both going through at the moment.

Moving towards the middle

Facetime #2.
P. We discussed the site visits, and how important there are to the development of the project. Despite the fact that additional library or internet research can sometimes supply richer content, we recognised that visiting each village is imperative to the process. We decided to delay the decision regarding format and project structure until all visits are complete.
Other topics included the cross over of subject matter between the north and south sites and how T’s post about the bell casting had started to inform my own enquiry, particularly the disappearing industries within village communities. Further discussion was based around street names and reference material, which we agreed to add to the blog. We agreed that this project was forcing us – in a positive way – to think about things we wouldn’t normally consider in terms of project content and development.