Memories of Stokenchurch

Eighty years ago the village had two blacksmiths, three wheelwrights, three undertakers, two bakers, two shoe repairers, two butchers, and a tailor. We were independent of mains water as each house had a tank where rain water was stored. There was a village well, and springs nearby which were used in dry weather. There was also a sort of mobile cistern where villagers could buy a pail of water for one penny. Well water was very chalky and had to stand some time before being used. There was no gas or electricity.
Women sat at their front doors, with a bundle of canes hanging from a nail, caning chairs for which they were paid twopence a chair. Rushes were brought from Shubbington and Shillingford for matting chairs. They had to be soaked in water, usually the pond, and used the next day. Lace was also made in the doorways on fine days and evenings. A craft which has died out in the village was tambour beading: one lady employed five girls at one time.
There was a communal drying green where ropes were attached to a pole in the centre and the other ends tied to a tree.

The stage coach ran from London to Oxford. Two horses in the village were used to meet the coach at the foot of old Dashwood Hill (the present cutting was made in 1926), hitched to it and helped pull it up the hill. They performed the same service at the foot of Aston Hill on the return journey. The bottom of Dashwood Hill was said to be a haunt of Dick Turpin, and he is reputed to have lived in the village at one time.

The blacksmiths, Bill and Bert Barney, were local characters and their garden was entirely edged with up-turned Bovril bottles.

Sunday dinner could be cooked by the bakers. One dish cost one penny, but potatoes, batter pudding and meat cost a penny ha'penny. Up to forty years ago, food could be taken and cooked specially if one was entertaining for a large number of people. Dough could also be bought, the customer's own bits and pieces added and taken back to be baked.

The employers of the chairmakers kept truck shops where groceries and clothes were sold and the workers were expected to spend part of their wages there. Lace-making cotton was also sold.

At the end of the Boer War when the men who had been fighting came home, their horse-drawn cart was met on the outskirts of the village at the Raven, the horses unhitched and the men of the village drew them home to the cheers and welcome of their families and friends.

The village had two brass bands, the Stokenchurch Temperance Band and the village band. A German band used to visit once a month on a Monday, and play at various points around the village. They did not return after the war.
Another event was the Annual Horse Fair. During the day horses were run singly or in pairs up and down the street to show off their paces to prospective buyers.

There used to be a windmill where villagers could take their grain and have it ground. Only the name Mill Lane remains as the mill was blown down during a gale.

The village had a lock-up where rowdies were kept overnight and usually let out next morning or taken to the court at Watlington.

Members of Stokenchurch


My early life was spent at Hill Farm, near Stokenchurch near the top of Aston Hill. The farm was a 'clearing' of about one hundred acres cut out of the woodland and had been a bulb and flower farm. The land was cleared of bulbs but a few escaped and to this day a few wild daffodils grow in the boundary hedgerows. For many years some white narcissi grew in a pit in the middle of the field. In the paddock behind the cottage grew bright red anemones which defied all cultivations. There were large orchards surrounded by lilac bushes. Under the trees grew masses of Mahonia Aquifolia which we used to call Berberis. The leaves of these were packed with the flowers when they were sent to market.

We had two plough teams of beautiful shire horses. The ploughman's day began very early as the horses had to be fed and watered before they went into the field, and there was only a very short break for the mid-day meal. The horses had a nosebag of chaff and oats, the men had a 'thumb piece', a lump of bread about an inch thick with a large lump of cheese or very fat home-cured bacon. This was held between thumb and finger and cut with a pocket knife, washed down with a bottle of cold tea or wine mixed with water. The men rarely sat down to eat but just rested on one knee. Ploughing finished for the day about three o'clock and the horses were fed, watered and groomed before the ploughman could have his own tea.

Water was a great problem during the summer. We had a pond on the farm but as we had about twenty milking cows, each drinking ten gallons of water, the pond soon dried up. We had three underground fresh water tanks, collecting water from the roof of house and buildings for household use, but this often ran dry as well. Water was collected in a horse-drawn water barrel from Swilley pond in Stokenchurch for the cattle and drinking water from the village well.
During the very dry summer of 1921 all the ponds dried up. The water for livestock was fetched by water barrel from Nethercote about five miles away. This meant continuous shifts of water-cart day and night. The water was 'bucketed' out of a small lake from which a pretty little stream flowed. There were yellow irises on the banks and a marshy meadow full of golden king-cups. My mother had to drive about four miles to get drinking water from a spring.
There were two carriers' vans that went from Stokenchurch to Wycombe daily. They were affectionately called the 'Bluebird' and the 'Tin Lizzie'; they carried passengers and goods. When we went to London we walked one and a half miles to Kingston Crossing, which was just a small hut by the level crossing; from there we caught the 'Watlington Donkey', just two carriages, to Risborough and from there to London. Quite an easy journey, really, as the trains connected every time.

By about 1920 the Oxford and Watlington buses were running into Wycombe four times a day, thus opening a new world for people living in isolated places.
Although the farmworkers' wages were very low and there were no luxuries, they had many privileges and were not short of food and warmth. There were plenty of logs for the open fires and the oil lamps provided background warmth as well as a gentle light. The cottage gardens were large and they grew plenty of fruit and vegetables. The main crop potatoes and swedes were grown in the fields. The farmworker had free milk and kept pigs and poultry to provide meat and eggs.
Hill Farm is now part of a larger farming unit about five times the original size. With modern methods and machinery it is efficiently farmed by the same number of men that my father employed nearly sixty years ago.

M. Smith, Bledlow Ridge


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

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