Memories of Akeley

At the turn of the century, this little village in north Bucks was almost entirely self-supporting. There were two general stores, a butcher, a baker, who was also landlord of the Greyhound, a builder and undertaker, a coal and wood merchant, two cobblers, a tailor and a wheelwright who carried on his trade in the yard of the Bull and Butcher. There was a headmaster and two assistants in the little school, built in 1854, and a new church built on the site of an early thirteenth century one.
In addition, there was a thriving pottery where simple bowls, puncheons and flowerpots were made from clay obtained nearby, and hand-made bricks in sufficient quantities to build cottages in the village. Every Saturday a load of flowerpots, bowls and other crocks were taken to Buckingham market and from time to time into the surrounding villages.
Bread was made at the Greyhound by John Miller. When the bread was taken out of the ovens, villagers took their pies, cakes and stews to be cooked in the residual heat. On Sunday mornings the ovens were heated specially so that Sunday dinners could be cooked there, for the price of a penny-halfpenny.
Milk was fetched from the Church Farm where the farmer's wife, Mrs Winterburn, on Christmas Day stood a large basket of oranges by her door and gave one to each child who came for their milk.
In August, the village feast was held. The local showman, Sheppard by name, who lived at Blisworth when not 'on the road', brought all his gear and set it up in a field allowed for the purpose. Swings, roundabouts, shooting-gallery, hoop-la, were all manned by members of his family.
Akeley has always been a village of sturdy independence, with small farms and cottage industries. The nearest it came to having a squire was in 1873, when a gentleman named Pilgrim bought some land and built an Elizabethan-style residence in Akeley Wood. He also became patron of the living. His widow, Mrs Pilgrim, is still a legend in the memories of the older parishioners, for she was a strange woman of strong evangelistic tendencies, with generous impulses towards the village while seeking, by missioners and others, to instil the rigid code of her own beliefs.
The school children were taken in two wagons every Christmas by one of the farmers for a sumptuous tea and Christmas tree in the 'riding-school', now used as a gymnasium, since the house was converted to a preparatory school about forty years ago. At this Christmas treat each boy was given a muffler and the girls a doll. These dolls were beautifully dressed by Mrs Pilgrim's lady's maid. On May Day the children assembled there with their garlands to be judged by Mrs Pilgrim, and a doll given as a prize.
When Mrs Pilgrim died, she was buried at her expressed wish with feet towards the west instead of the east; her reason being that when she rose again at the Last Day, she would be facing towards her old home. On the stone slab, encircled by iron posts and chain around her grave, are two words only; Anna Pilgrim.
Lady Verney of Claydon House took an interest in the village school and provided wall-pictures which she changed periodically. They were usually by Landseer and contemporary artists.
The traditional country craft, Bucks lace, was' encouraged by a 'lace school' in a thatched cottage which was then opposite the Greyhound but which was pulled down later to make room for Council houses. Many of the village girls were taught there.
Akeley has a record of longevity, many living to their late nineties but none as yet exceeding that of Ann Clarke, who died in 1773 at the age of 104 as her tombstone shows. The story goes that one old lady who lost a daughter aged seventy lamented, 'Ah! I never did think I should rear her', and a retired postmistress remembers a mother and son, he aged seventy, both drawing the old age pension in the 1950's.
The old people remember the characters that village life produced and fostered, such as Jonas Knibbs, one-time sexton and verger, who was employed as milkman at Manor Farm and spent his Sundays in a frenzy of changing his clothes as he fulfilled the day's obligations: from milking to church, back to milking and then church again. Indeed, clothes were such a part of Sunday observance that children of careful parents might change from 'everyday' to 'Sunday best' three and four times.
Becky Knibbs—this surname was noted in the church registers for over two hundred years—lived in Duck End. She was a tall old woman who constantly wore a sun-bonnet and made medicaments from herbs kept fiercely secret.
Where the children once found excitement in watching the Duke of Grafton drive four-in-hand through the village, mothers now watch them anxiously cross the road where the great lorries and giant containers lumber along.
Plans for a new school are in preparation, modern houses stare brashly across the fields, the many little duck ponds have long been filled in, but to many of its older inhabitants Akeley is still the best place to live.

Edith Victoria Cox, Akeley

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

Additional information