Memories of Marsh Gibbon

At the turn of the century Marsh Gibbon was noted for its large proportion of thatched cottages and barns, and most of the farm workers of the village could thatch.
House thatching was a business of its own as carried on by the Carter family and this was their only means of earning a living. The straw was supplied by local farmers, as was the willow used for making sprays and pegs. This craft was very skilled and the Carters travelled on foot to neighbouring villages and borrowed ladders from the farmers for their own use. The process involved was that the straw of the best wheat was shaken out into a heap and wetted, yealmed into bundles to take up the ladder, laid on the roof (working from the bottom upwards) until they had completed a 'stolch' or strip, then it was pegged on, working from right to left across one side of the roof. If a good straw was used and the work well done a thatched roof has been known to last thirty years, but the normal length would be twenty years. The main part of the houses nowadays are covered with wire netting to protect the thatch from birds. Mr Owen Carter, now retired and living in the village, gave me details of prices his father charged. They were rather staggering, 4s 6d to 5s 6d per hundred square feet of roof.
As a farmer's daughter, I recall trips to the corn fields in the summer when the corn was being cut with the binder into sheaves, then shocked into stooks to dry out before being carried on horse-drawn wagons and made into a rick in readiness for threshing in the winter months. Some of my father's straw has been used to thatch houses in this village.

Eileen Chambers, Marsh Gibbon

My father-in-law, now ninety-two, has a few tales to tell. In the school holidays he was given 1 d per week and sent to a little cottage school which only held about ten children. The wives in those days were busy with the lace pillows to earn a few extra pence and they often started the day with a hymn they chose at the school. Because it was a favourite 'Now the day is over' was often sung! Those who reached Standard IV at the age of twelve were allowed to leave school. A few coppers were to be earned in fields in the evenings towards dusk. The farmers in those days were worried about the amount of sparrows and the harm they did, so a sparrow club was formed and some nets bought. The boys were paid one penny per dead bird. Older people say that sparrows' breasts were nice in a pie! The days of a farm worker before the First World War were very long. In summertime they worked from 4 am until at least 7 pm. The wives thought nothing of taking them food to the fields twice in a day. They were allowed the chunky, pieces of wood when hedgecutting, so bought very little coal. Many of the women spent long hours in the harvest fields picking up the  odd ears of wheat. Most of them kept chickens and were glad of the corn. Almost all the families had a pig or two in the sty and grew their own vegetables and fruit. On the very large allotment field, many had a little patch of corn sowed each year and a young man ploughed it for them for a small charge. There was one threshing day arranged in a barn near by and each one had his corn threshed and they each had their own flour ground for the year. All this seemed to stop around the First World War, and now the field is a patch of Council houses.

I.M. White, Marsh Gibbon

In 1917 I was born in the end farmhouse in Marsh Gibbon where I still live, so by now I really belong there.
We had a mile to walk to school and often arrived late as one attraction was the blacksmith's shop. We hung around the doorway for ages, watching the smithy and his son, clad in leather aprons, one working the large bellows and fire, the other shoeing the horses and moulding the iron work.
Next door to the blacksmith's was the butcher's shop and slaughter-house. On pig-killing days we rushed out of school at midday and whoever got to the butcher's first would claim the bladders. We blew them up and had great fun kicking them like footballs all the way home.
In a nearby field there were some very large pits twenty-five feet deep in places, from which the stones were dug and farm cottages built with them in the village a hundred years ago. People used to come from miles around to swim and fish here. It was here that I and many others learnt to swim in summer and skate in winter.
In the middle of the village is a very strong spring, Stump Well. The water is very soft, and brown with iron. The village was piped so that pressure would send the water to the end of the village and gravity would return it back through the village to provide for six taps. If luck was against you and someone at the farthest taps along the line was drawing water, you would wait for ages.
Our local doctor used nothing but this water to mix his medicines with. To him it was full of healing powers. The well is still here today but barricaded from humans and animals as it is in the middle of a field.
Near to the main road was a field with an open hovel in the centre. It was here that we achieved a tramp who became a permanent member of the village. Where he came from we never knew, or what his end was, but his stay was some thirty years. We called him Billy Wontwork.

Lydia Herring, Marsh Gibbon

At Marsh Gibbon there are wide grass verges on the sides of the roads. Before roads were tarred, the roadsides were wide to enable traffic to pull out of the ruts that formed in the middle of the road in wet weather. After tarring, these verges were used for grazing and making hay. Right up to the 1930's, at Marsh Gibbon the Parish Council auctioned them for the year. Small farmers were glad to pay £4 or £5 for a couple of miles of roadside where they then grazed cattle with an attendant or cut it for hay. In that village the money so made was given to the parish representative on the Rural District Council towards his expenses.
A great deal of milk went from Bucks on the Oxford-Bletchley railway line to Euston. The milk had to be at the station at 8 am—some thirty horses and carts converged on the station at Marsh Gibbon before the 1914-18 war.
The cows were all milked by hand and the milk all had to be run over a surface cooler before going to the station, and sometimes there was a dash to get there on time. The milk was on sale in Euston in the afternoon.
In frosty weather the pony had to be driven very carefully. The blacksmith would put longer nails in the horse's shoes to give a grip. These wore down quickly, and if the frost lasted more than six or seven days they would have to be done again.
Mr Batchelor remembers cutting corn with a scythe and then using a hook and a left-handed iron hook to make it into sheaves that were tied by hand with straw.
Later they had a 'Sailer', a two-horse drawn implement that cut the com, which fell back onto the platform behind and some sails swung round and threw the corn loose in a sheaf onto the ground. This was tied by hand. Beans were not tied.
Later they had a binder drawn by three horses which cut and tied the sheaves. In the 1939-45 war one of these was converted to use with a tractor. Before it started in a field, one width had to be cut by hand all round so that it did not run over standing corn.
If the builder of a hay or corn rick was not very skilled the rick might lean and it would then have to be propped up with wooden stakes. These stakes were known as 'policemen'. A neighbour might comment, 'I see you've got a policeman up at your rick so's it won't run away'.
.Quite a lot of hay was made for sale, much of it for the horses in London. This hay was 'trussed'. The trusser did this job throughout the year, moving his truss from farm to farm as required. He then used a knife to cut out slabs of hay. This was put in the trusser and a handle pulled down to press it tightly and tie string round.
Trussing was no longer necessary when hay was baled in the field in the 1940s.

Percy Batchelor (born 1895)

My home was in a huddle of houses surrounded by fields, except on one side where a canal and wide expanse of railway kept the town at bay. We had many more shops than most villages. Just over the canal bridge was the 'local', it was a good idea to give this a wide berth at turning-out time on Saturday night, or risk being bowled over by a lurching drunk. Opposite this was a power station, where gas was extracted from coal, turning it into coke.
Over the bridge was first a paper, tobacco and sweet shop. Next, a fish and chip shop where one could get 'a penny and pennorth'—a penny piece of fish and a scoop of potatoes, with vinegar and salt thrown in if wanted. A couple of houses separated that from the greengrocer's. Oranges cost four a penny, apples 1 or 2 lb a penny, according to the season, and a bag of mixed herbs (onions, carrots and turnips) only a few pence. At the grocer's shop there was rice, sugar, split peas, lentils etc. in sacks on the floor. These were sold in a wrapping of stiff blue paper screwed into a cone. On some occasions a rice pudding had to be skimmed before being put in the oven, or one got sacking hairs with it.
Next came the oil shop, where they sold fire-wood, candles, gas mantles, fire lighters and some hardware, besides paraffin.
Beyond the draper's shop about a dozen houses continued on, one of which was a barber's shop and had a striped pole standing out beside the door; and then, of all things, a coffee shop.
Across the other side of a cul-de-sac was a 'snob', or shoe-maker, and we were allowed to go in and watch him at his work, though he used to chase small boys away. He also renewed rubber heels, which were disks held in place by a screw. When worn at one edge, the disk could be turned, so that the worn edge was the other side of the shoe.
Quite a bit further down the road was another tobacco, sweet and paper shop where we could get 4 oz of sweet crumbs for a farthing. These were the bits of any kind of sweet left in the jars or boxes when they were otherwise empty.
Across another side road was a grocer's and off-licence. Here there were boxes of biscuits along the front of the counter with their tops off to show their contents. Then the 'milk shop' where they sold all kinds of dairy produce, and a very large earthenware bowl took up a good part of the counter. This was glazed, and white, with a picture of a cow in blue, with a sort of wreath of leaves round it. Customers took their own receptacle into which the milk was measured with one or half pint measures.
The last shop was a bakery, with lovely smells issuing.
A few more houses, then fields and more fields and on the nearest of these one of the first cottage homes for orphans was built.
In our nearest shopping centre was the Jubilee Clock, where on 'Hogmanay' Scotsmen, brought down to man the new McVitie & Price's factory, gathered to drink, dance and sing the old year out.
The baker brought our bread in a horse-drawn cart When he had gone by we looked up the road for manure, and if the horse had obliged ran out with bucket and shovel, for we had a small flower garden at the back of the house. Most people kept rabbits, chickens or pigeons.
Downstairs our house was gas lit, but we had to use candles upstairs. My brothers and father were all over six feet tall, so we had to keep a good supply of mantles in the house. The street was also gas lit, and at dusk the lamplighter came down the road carrying a cane with a hook at the end which he used to turn on the gas.
The milkman called round the village with a brass ornamental churn slung between two wheels. Horizontal bars held the measuring cans which were of a lead-like metal with flat brass hooks for the dual purpose of handles and to hold them on to the bar. We put lidded cans of the same lead-like metal on to the front step, and he filled them as he passed. The rag and bone man with his cry of 'Rag'ne a bone, bottle a bone', used a coster's barrow, as did the Hokey Pokey man Who called 'Okey Pokey penny a lump'.
The canal came into my life. The playground of the infants' school overlooked it, with iron railings shutting it off. One teacher here would let us go out to watch the barges go by if we put our hands up in time. We always looked into the tiny cabin to see how much shining copper and brass they had, and often sparkling glass. Occasionally we would see a mirror framed in flowers painted on to the glass. The half door, and outer walls too, were usually brightly painted with all kinds of scenes and designs and the horses' harness shone with dangling brasses.

Anonymous, Marsh Gibbon

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