Memories of West Wycombe

My father was a Windsor frame maker and we lived in Crown Court, West Wycombe. There were seven girls and one boy in my family and my mother kept a little shop just down the lane selling sweets, cigarettes and soft drinks, to help out. In summer we hired out sledges and also boiled water for picnic teas. Sledging
down West Wycombe Hill is a summer sport. The grass is grazed very short by rabbits and the sledges are the backs of Windsor chairs with slats fastened
across them and made slippery with linseed oil.
My mother had to pay twopence a week per child for our schooling, which amounted to quite a large sum in those days. As soon as I had passed my exams I left school and went to work at G. North & Sons as a rush and fancy straw worker. I was eleven years old and worked there until I married at twenty-one.
I remember having nightmares for a week when they took up the floor boards in our cottage and found the skeleton of a man under there. We never did find out how long he'd been there or who he was.

I once saw a man who had hung himself in Brench Wood. We young ones got there just as they cut him down and he rolled down the hill, his dinner bag still on his back. Some men got a sheep hurdle to put him on, dinner bag and all. His name was J.B. Spencer.

As a child, I remember the village crier calling 'Hay-O, Hay-O' and then telling the news. We used to watch the coach and horses draw up at the George and Dragon, and always went down there to watch the Hunt start, the men in their red coats and the packs of hounds milling around the horses' feet.
I used to attend the sewing classes at The House (West Wycombe Park) run by the then Lady Dashwood. We learned pillow lace, principally.

Mr Coles, Mr Rippington and Mr Spicer used to play the handbells throughout the village at Christmas. Mr Hughes, the milkman, called every morning with his can of milk and measured out what each household wanted. At Christmas he used to give my mother a Christmas stocking full of sugar watches or sugar sausages for us children.

Of course, there were May Revels too.
There was very little traffic in those days. We girls used to string our skipping rope right across the Oxford Road. At the outbreak of the Boer War we marched abreast right into High Wycombe to see the boys off—right down the middle of the Oxford Road. That October day in 1899 was bitter cold.

My Uncle Tom from Turville was a chair bodger and worked mostly in the woods. The only time he went as far as Wycombe, it was foggy and he saw nothing at all.

I remember my Aunt Eliza calling 'Little girl, little girl, I want you. Go fetch me a pint of porter and a pottle of potatoes'. A pottle measure holds about two pounds.

Kate Brookes, Sands

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

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