Memories of Hyde Heath

When I was young, the highlight of our school year was not so much the last day of the summer term as a day when we held our May Revels. The First of May was always too cold and wet, for the celebrations were held on the common adjoining the school. The performers all had parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, who made up the village community. Preparations for May Day Revels began about the middle of the Easter term, as they included learning extracts from works of Mendelssohn and Shakespeare, all of which were rehearsed day after day until perfect. The lucky girl to be crowned Queen of the May was elected by popular vote from all her school friends, and other 'star' parts like Jack-in-the-Green, Chief Courtier and Queen's attendants were allocated.
The evening before, we gathered the greenery and wild flowers with which to 'dress' our wooden hoops, make garlands and the Royal Crown. White dresses were ready for the girls to wear with coloured sun bonnets, and white shirts and grey shorts for the boys, except for 'Jack', who had a special green outfit. On May morning my sisters and I carried our dressed hoops and other flowers, except for the years when, in turn, we had been chosen to be Queen.
At the school everyone was busy setting up the throne on the common, and the piano was somehow pushed outside the school playground. If the wind happened to be a bit strong it was always just too far away to be heard well.
It was lovely dancing on the green grass after so many rehearsals on the hard playground. After the Queen's procession and the crowning ceremony the real revels began. Many were the country dances in which the flowered hoops were held aloft and swayed from side to side, and there was also the Maypole dancing. Such intricate patterns we weaved with those pretty ribbons, and woe betide anyone who made a mistake so that the ribbons had to be dropped and the dance abandoned! In between dances songs were sung, about the cuckoo, spring and the beauty of the flowers. The Revels ended with a speech by the Queen, telling her subjects to go home and look forward to the next merry meeting.

Enid Picton, Hyde Heath

Fifty years ago, the common at Hyde Heath was one mass of gorse. There were no trees, but the footpaths that led in different directions were kept clear by the cottagers for walking. Hyde Heath was only a small hamlet but it had three public houses, the Red Cow, the Eagle and the Plough, which at that time only sold beer and porter. Eventually two were made redundant and the remaining one, the Plough, is now fully licensed. Troy Cottage was at that time the bakery where the inhabitants went to collect their bread. Flint Cottage was the only general stores and post office.
Fruit was picked and taken to London by horse and cart and sold in Nottinghill Gate market. Most of the men in the village worked on the farms, some of the women did straw plaiting which was delivered to Luton by horse and trap to be made into hats. I can also remember an old resident, when water was short and having only soft water from the tanks, going to Little Missenden with his horse and cart, taking a barrel to get the spring water for drinking and selling it at one penny a bucket. Several women used to go stone picking, also thistle punching for one shilling a day. There was also a small chair factory, behind the Red Cow. There were less than a hundred houses in the village at that time, lit only by paraffin lamps and candles, and having no baths.

Ellen Morton, Hyde Heath


Extracted from 'A Pattern of Hundreds'(1975) with the kind permission of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes