Memories of Bledlow Ridge

At Bledlow Ridge forty years ago the dwellings were few and far between, often tucked away down a side lane, and the population was little more than four hundred. Cattle and sheep grazed serenely and safely on neat grass verges.
It was a marvellously tidy place, conservation being practised more than it was preached in those days. Although there was no organised refuse collection, no unsightly rubbish littered the countryside and leaving paper litter was a punishable offence for the reason that it might blow about and frighten horses and bring some poor creature to an untimely end. All waste material usually found its way back to the land. No milk bottle problem existed either for, armed with a milk jug, one went to the nearest farm and queued at the dairy door after the morning or evening milking. Water was a valuable commodity. Time was when on these hills rain water was the only source of supply and was stored in large underground tanks usually miscalled 'wells'. For watering of cattle most farmers relied on ponds. The hard water which now gushes through Bledlow Ridge taps certainly has its recommendations. The quality of tank water varied to a great extent; it was assumed that the rain itself was pure, but its collection and after-care were a different matter. A time of drought was deemed the best for descending to the bottom of a tank to remove any remaining water, and an amazing assortment of debris would have collected there. The concrete lining was thoroughly wiped, all down-pipes, catch pits and guttering cleaned out and examined. Then one waited for the rain. Thunder rains were usually impregnated with dirt which had to settle before use. Rain off a galvanised tin roof was cleanest and quickly collected. Second best was rain from slates or tiles but that collected from thatching was usually discoloured and difficult to catch efficiently. For this reason families in thatched cottages drank surface water for preference. There was no drainage. Only a few cottages had sinks in the kitchen. Most cottages had sizeable gardens and usually every bit was put to practical use. Often pigs were kept, either to sell or for the household. Pig-keeping helped to keep up the cycle of conservation in the garden. No chemical other than lime was applied to the soil.
Monday morning early found the few industries of the village already working. The blacksmith at The Old Forge was clanging at his anvil, the chair bodger was at his pole lathe, the farm labourer leading his team of horses, the chimney sweep with tackle in his pony-drawn cart, schoolchildren, packets of lunch sandwiches in hand, walking the lanes to school. At his last was the shoe-maker, locally called a 'snob'.
With the population of Bledlow Ridge at now more than one thousand many of the picturesque thatched  and flint cottages have disappeared, modern homes having taken their place, and much of the pasture has been built upon. Gone too is the old windmill, but happily the Mill House, three hundred years old, still remains a sturdy structure, reminder of a former way of life. Gone too is a vast wild cherry tree of tremendous girth that stood at the corner of a lane dwarfing a cottage beneath it.

D. Rogers, Bledlow Ridge

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