Memories of Princes Risborough

Princes Risborough was a small market town of four or five streets when I first came to visit my great aunt in the year 1895. My aunt's farmhouse was in the High Street, with the barns and fields behind, and is now a jeweller's shop and coal office downstairs with a dentist in the rooms above. The old barns are now used by an engineering firm. There was another farmhouse up on the opposite side of the street with their fields and buildings beyond, and still another farm called Town Farm round the corner off the Market Place. There were many public houses in the High Street, most of them licensed for market day only. At the top of this street was the blacksmith's forge, and where Lloyds Bank is now was a very nice inn. There were more inns and taverns in Duke Street, Church Street and Bell Street as this seemed to be the only means of recreation and sociability enjoyed by the men.
There were two schools in the town, one was the National and the other was run by the Church, and in those early days parents had to pay for books. If they could not afford to pay, children did not go. The man who worked on my great aunt's farm could neither read nor write but was skilled in farm work. His wife was a beautiful lace maker. Mothers taught their daughters this craft.
The first of May brought a special gaiety to the town. Children would rise early and dance round the streets carrying poles festooned with garlands they had made the evening before. Lots of cowslips were gathered for this. Two children would carry a pole and they would all sing 'Here we come a-Maying'.
They would gather up the coppers, thrown to them from doors and windows, with great glee, and would no doubt spend them later at the Spring Fair.
There' was at that time a Charity which gave a black dress to several deserving poor and bereaved women once a year. They were fitted, the dresses were made at the dressmakers, and then at a special church service the dresses were presented to them.
I remember going to the woods to watch the bodgers at work. They were self-employed men who bought the rights of certain areas, then set up their benches and tools next to the trees. Their skilled eye would select the right branch and bend and turn it into chair parts on the spot. These were sent to the chair factory at High Wycombe.

Mabel Gertrude Rodgers (aged 92 – in 1975), Princes Risborough

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