Memories of Stanton
It was difficult to explain just why she needed to do it and quite strange how the thought had just appeared as she sat quietly amidst the small group in the same parish church where really she now only went for funerals and weddings.
The Millennium committee listened whilst she made her suggestions with her crazy ideas spewing out.
“I know history is important and that I have no intention of repeating all the historical books that John our historian here has already written but I want to take another approach.” They all sat quietly listening including their new parish priest father John. Then she continued, “I am thinking of all the people I have grown up with here and the varying lives they have lived. I want them to share their memories with me if they will. A celebration of life that might live after death has crept in with her broom but she didn’t say that of course! She then coaxed her bored son into designing a poster on her little computer including a map of the town and what her aims were. Then the art-work was displayed in various shop windows including the newsagents on Wellingborough Road and then she waited for a response. Did she have people battering at her door or blocking her drive-way and annoying her neighbors?
Perhaps folk simply did not trust her enough to share something as precious as their memories with her for it was quite a big thing she was asking them to do. Her new opening came quite naturally and in fact unexpectedly whilst visiting a dear friend and elderly neighbor who was already aware of her intentions and also knew quite well about her past, remembering meeting her own dad when they had been on a family holiday in London; that must have been just months before he had died!
“I will be your first guinea pig,” she said as they sat one evening together in her neat council flat. So much had changed since she had arrived as a scared kid from Essex. Other folk’s memories now lingered since she had been talking to them and she felt more in touch about the towns past as she and her little cherished terrier walked together down past the church.
Vivid in her mind as she walked in the footsteps of the Inns of Court with their Billy cans from their many billets to the metal hut in Summer Lee Road. Frightened kids evacuated from London to be dispatched like parcels, with no jurisdiction as to where they fell. Some people though, had stopped with Mr. Donaldson who ran the farm whilst others boarded with cookie at the butchers. Others with a nice kind benevolent chap with Christian principles that had done so much for the town without so much as a nod or a wink of those who he silently moved about.
The original village of Stanton probably consisted of a main street; a lesser street running parallel plots on both sides running down to the stream. She could barely imagine how in the sixteenth century there were probably only about seventy five houses in Stanton housing about three hundred people. They were lucky to still have buildings dating back from the sixteenth and seventeenth century including the old boys school her brothers had attended, which had been endowed in 1595, and then old vicarage in 1688, and the Meeting House 1690, which were said to lie at the edge of the village at that time and these were untouched by the Great Fire of 1739. Thirty-nine parishioners some of them widowers were excused paying hearth tax because they were too poor at least no one was as poor as that now thought Esther as she walked then stopping to look at a Lingerie Shop.
There was now Esther’s book to think about…500 books called Memories …stored in dozens of cardboard boxes throughout her house. She had taken the risk and gone ahead with self-publishing; but to her it was worth every penny, knowing how important memories actually were, and still having huge gaps of her own father’s families. The next question was would anyone buy them. If she had been unable to find her paternal family, despite her years of fruitless searching, perhaps it was time to stop seeking and record a little of the small town she had grown up in. Despite a slow and shaky start an amazing display/exhibition was mounted at their community centre in the millennium year. She thought the task might have been quite boring yet it was anything but that as residents shared their rich memories with her as she scribbled them down. Each time returning to ensure what she had been told by them was accurate and complete. It was amazing. Over time her file grew to more than fifty people spread right across the social strata which were as she had wanted it to be. In the end there was such a collected mass of social/historical material it was a matter of sticking it in the attic or sharing it with the town. She had stumbled across many fascinating stories and characters. She learnt about local pitmen being injured in mining accidents, with no compensation or type of benefits coming in. How thankful she was for the help of her daughters and their friends who had made the effort to set up the posters and nineteen stories Esther had compiled over that year in the community centre. They had been keen to help, but wanted to go to the pig roast and the fun of the tug-of-war in the recreational field facing onto their old junior school, and then there was a dance at night and a drink in the next town. The crowds had appeared through the swinging doors of the Community Centre, first for refreshments, and then to see the various displays available, including a display on the yards upstairs by the local history society and they could see how once life used to be for some of their own relatives. How shocked she was to see the interest her own display had created, probably underestimating the mounting interest of history in the millennium year everywhere, not just in Stanton. Even more delighted that some of the history she had discovered as well as photo’s important for some residents who were looking at filling their family gaps in the same way that for many years she had tried to do and now practically given up any hope of getting anywhere. There on the wall near the main entrance was a large photo of a boxing day hunt in 1939 with children on bikes or running besides the huntsmen in red passing by what would one day be Banks Park, where beautiful scented roses grew and Esther mum had walked with her dad, and then out by the AA box and a few cars on the road. A picture of a carnival day in what must have been the early 1900’s with women in long dresses pinched at the waist and frilly blouses, a boxed camera and a box pram all seemingly frozen in time.
There on the wall typed in 18-font, bold, were the memories of their village bobby who said that when he trained there was no fancy gear, no radio but just a bike and how every hour he would be instructed to go to a certain conference point such as the local telephone box or the police box and then wait there for at least five minutes which would make him accessible to the general public, as well as contactable. He remembered how panda cars had been introduced and believed from his stance that this was a retrograde step as the police could no longer be easily stopped by anyone wanting to report anything suspicious or to talk about a problem. One evening, he remembered how he parked his panda car, how his flashing blue light was pinched off the top. He said how he was responsible for contagious disease notification as well as issuing movement licenses for animals, issuing fire-arm certificates, and also worked as traffic warden and did road safety work in local schools. He said in his story how he remembered a local character digging up lead cable from the ground down at the pits and when the handle of the spade broke he left without his spade handle or the lead. He broke into the cricket ground for a drink and a quick arrest was made as the spade had had left behind had his name on it. He remembered the biscuit ware-house fire, which spread right across the A6 and how eleven fire engines had to be summoned.
Then on the opposite wall in the community centre there was the story of Dan Bowles, tooth doctor and wart charmer. There were no telephones in those days, 1813, so it was by word of mouth that Dan learnt of his clients, both sexes, young and not so young, within their busy small town. A settled community of one thousand, three hundred souls, it was no different from other places in the medical requirements of the population. From the Rev Paul going down to Watercress Harry in the pecking order of the day, all needed a tooth pulling now and then (it would be miraculous if one didn’t have at least one such appointment with Dan during their lifetime). He lived in a two-up and two-down iron and limestone cottage in Pound Place, enough for his wife Jemimah, two children (one sadly with polio) and one dog and two cats. Special mixtures and ingredients were carried in his special bag, and included alongside these potions an assortment of clamps, pliers, squeezers, small hammers and files as well as one or two bibs and odd lengths of dressings for use in the wart routine. Everyone knew Dan, and Dan knew everyone else. Unusually, he was a devout Catholic, and on the Sabbath attended the little chapel on the road into Great Harrowden hard by “Vaux Hall”. His caution to the population was - a raw carrot does wonder for dental health and don’t share towels (for wart control).