Memories of Bletchley

By far the best known family in Bletchley when we Bletchley were young was the Leon family.

Herbert Samuel Leon came from Hamburg where he was a banker. He bought a farm not far from the railway station and gradually built it up into a fine estate of several hundred acres. It was called Bletchley Park and the farmstead was replaced by a magnificent mansion. This still stands and houses the Post Office Training School. The size of the place can be judged by the fact that he employed two hundred men, forty of whom were gardeners. Eight men were employed solely in attending the two orchid houses, two men being always 'on the wheel' which meant that two men were on duty all night all the year round to ensure the exact temperatures being maintained. I know this is correct because I was once courted by one of these young men.
Mr Leon stood for Parliament as a Liberal and for many years represented this constituency. For his services he was knighted and dropped his familiar name of Sammy to become Sir Herbert Leon. With Lady Leon he did a great deal of social work in Bletchley, visiting the sick and needy, donating playing fields and recreation grounds, housing their employees and generally looking after their welfare.

One year there was a huge Liberal demonstration at Bletchley Park with speakers of national repute, sports of all kinds, horse-jumping and fireworks. This was the forerunner of the Bletchley August Show on Bank Holiday Monday which became nationally famous. Special trains were run and people came in by foot, bicycle, pony trap and on horseback. My uncle came from Shrewsbury every year to join forces with my father in showing fruit and vegetables of all kinds, for which they gained many prizes. There were a tennis tournament, flower show, sheep-dog trials, horse-jumping, a fun-fair, athletics of all kinds, tugs-of-war, cycling, floodlit dancing, a brass band playing throughout the day and finally a gigantic firework display.

There were two main entrances to the Park, both guarded by lodges. The lower drive wound around the grounds, passed the sports pavilion, cricket pitch and tennis courts and coppices before joining the main drive. Sometimes one could see through the wrought-iron gates in the distance in front of the mansion, a landau driven by a coachman in a top hat and drawn by magnificent horses, bearing inside a dignified handsome couple, Sir Herbert and Lady Leon.

One thing Sir Herbert hated was the sound of the church bells. He tried many times to get the ringing stopped but the rector, a strong character, formidable even to those of his flock who absented themselves from church, was adamant: the church had been there over seven hundred years before Sir Herbert. Only as he lay on his death bed did the rector grant him his request.

My father was shepherd and butcher to Sir Herbert and I had a happy childhood on this estate. Now all that is recognizable from the old days is the mansion itself, the lake in front of it, the sports pavilion now used as a Music Centre and the upper lodge. Everything else has gone.

Amy Constance Knill, Ethel Houldridge and Eliza Gladwin,

In 1884 I started school. I had to take twopence a week while I was in the infants' room and fourpence a week when older.
There were only two rooms, one for the infants and one for the rest where two teachers taught at the same time.
In the infants' room we sat on a gallery—a tiered platform—the new children on the bottom tier, the others sitting higher up, according to their age. When you reached the highest tier of the gallery you were ready to go into the big room.

Amy Constance Knill

I am 97 years old but I remember vividly my grandfather refusing to leave the Old Swan which he had kept for sixty years. The thatched roof was being pulled down about him before he was finally persuaded to quit. He had never had a case in court the whole time he'd been there. He was a gentle man, whilst my grandmother was a fierce woman, quite able to carry on while my grandfather was away for days at a time with his drill sowing the farmers' seeds.

During Bletchley Feast the Swan was open day and night and though the fairground people were often rowdy, my grandparents were always able to cope.

Railway men coming off the night shift would call for a drink before going home to breakfast. Often my grandfather was still trying, at 2 pm, to persuade them to go home to sleep for a few hours before their next turn of duty. There were no set opening hours in .those days. Whenever someone demanded drink or food it had to be served.

The Swan was pulled down and a red brick monstrosity erected in its place.
The rival public house, a wattle and daub thatched cottage, the Shoulder of Mutton, was situated at the village crossroads. and managed to survive until ten years ago. This house being on the main highway from Buckingham to Fenny Stratford had more casual travellers than the Swan which was set back round the corner from the crossroads.

Eliza Gladwin


Bletchley always had an abundance of water. Almost every field had its pond, every cottage its well and the presence of springs could be detected by the streams of water ever running out of banks. This plentiful supply often caused severe flooding in the rainy season. One man's death is partly attributable to excess of water. Being a farmer, he went to market once a week at Fenny Stratford by pony and trap. One particularly wet and stormy night the pony took the last bend in the road at the bottom of a long steady hill too sharply. The trap tipped over, throwing its occupant into the full ditch. By the time he was found, he was drowned. Ever since the spot has been known as 'Mobb's corner'.
Duck Lane was always flooded regularly as it was in the lowest lying part of the village. As the name suggests ducks were to be found on the pond there. School Lane also boasted a pond on which the scholars used to skate and slide on their way to school. High hedges along this narrow lane made ideal courting territory.
Church Lane was the only other road in the parish apart from the narrow road which led out of the village at the cross roads to Newton Longville and another to Shenley.

The hedgerows were alive with bird life, small mammals and insects of every kind. The verges contained every species of wild flower imaginable. Today—hundreds and hundreds of council estate houses! No yellowhammers flitting about, no nightingales filling the air with sweetness.

Ivy Fisher, Amy Constance Knill and Laura May Morris,

Bletchley Station has always been of great importance since it was constructed. It was the junction for the Oxford and Cambridge branch lines as well as being the main through line from Euston to Scotland. This was not always so for at one time it was the end of the line. Passengers had to alight at Denbigh bridge just beyond the station, board the stage coach at the Denbigh Inn and proceed along Watling Street to the next railway station—Rugby. There is a plaque on the side of the bridge to commemorate this phemom-enon.

The actual approach to the station covered a large area, with livery stables at one side nearest the main road. Huge horses were used to shunt trucks and carriages about, as almost all goods were transported by rail, and the horses used for drawing the wagons were also kept here. One could hire a horse and carriage from these stables, too. Bricks from Newton Longville were brought by horse and cart and stacked into trucks standing in the sidings at the goods yard.

Bletchley, being in the heart of the Whaddon Chase Hunt country, was the station to which hunters and horses travelled. Two huge mounting blocks stood at the main entrance to the station and were there until the recent electrification of the line and structural alteration of the station approach. Stabling on a large scale was provided by Deacon's stables opposite the station. Horses were left here for the season and tended by resident grooms. This system remained in operation until the 1914-18 war when the stables were requisitioned as a timber supply yard and manned by prisoners of war.

Sir Herbert Leon had a horse trough erected at the entrance to the station approach and it was there for many years after horses had disappeared from the general scene.
Ivy Fisher and Gertrude Collins, Old Bletchley

Bletchley Feast was always held on the first Saturday after the seventh of September. The village came alive for this very important social occasion for everyone went for the fun.

It was held on the village green, Three Tree Square as it was called because of the three large elms which grew there. Stalls of all kinds were put up around the green while the funfair had the centre site. The stall I liked best was the brandy snap stall—never were such delicious brandy snaps!

Amy Constance Knill

One of the highlights of our childhood was when the hunters and hounds met at Three Tree Square. Around the green small thatched cottages stood, a public house called the Shoulder of Mutton and a farm known as Manor Farm.
The pink coats, white breeches of the men, the long black side-saddle skirts of the women, the highly polished boots, the shiny top hats, the well-groomed beautiful horses, the friendly but eager-to-be-away hounds, all made a never-to-be forgotten picture. Everyone who possibly could followed as long as they were able, on foot or on bicycles.
My brothers ran miles, opening and shutting gates to earn some money.

Ethel Houldridge

Sunday really was a day of rest and worship. No work was done except the bare essentials. Every member of the household went to church and chapel at least once a day and some went three times.

A certain amount of slackness was creeping into this strict custom by the time I was old enough to be taken to church, possibly because the First World War was drawing to its conclusion and many things never returned to what they had been before 1914. My grandmother used to relate how the rector would be sure to visit during the week any member of his flock who had failed to appear at church on Sunday—and woe betide him or her if no valid excuse was forthcoming. There was no backsliding in his day.

He was able to keep this paternal eye upon his children because Bletchley was a small village of one hundred houses until about sixty-five to seventy years ago. So the rector's task of knowing everyone would not have been difficult.

Ivy Fisher

My father came to Bletchley to be cowman to Lord Dalmeny, now Lord Rosebery, who was then living at the Grange. After years of hard work, one day Lord Dalmeny accused my father of not looking after the cows properly and said that the quality of the milk was very much below standard. My father was a very conscientious worker and this riled him so much that he said he'd leave as he wasn't giving satisfaction. Of course, we had to come out of the farm cottage and he got a job at the brickworks, digging clay for the bricks which were all hand made in those days. For this he was paid sixpence an hour.

Not long after he started this new job, Lord Dalmeny came and begged him to go back as cowman because he had found out that the cook was skimming the milk, making butter and sending it home to her relatives in Ireland. But my father refused, saying that if Lord Dalmeny could not take his word, then he was not the boss for him!!

Monica Savage, Old Bletchley

In 1880 there was only one tiny shop in the village. In fact it was really the front parlour of a thatched cottage used as a general store. Mrs Chandler looked after the customers while her husband was away doing his job as postman. Although Bletchley was such a small village at that time, this was a full time job for him because he had to walk to Whaddon and Newton Longville if there were mail for these places. Each is a good three miles distant in opposite directions from each other, and the only means of transport then was on foot. If fine and dry he could walk across the fields to Whaddon, thus shortening his journey by a mile.

The cobbler lived in Yew Tree Cottage in Church Lane. As there was no shoe shop we had our shoes made for us—and we had to take good care of them.
In Duck Lane lived a candle-maker. His trade used to stink to high heaven. On Sundays he preached in the little chapel, next door to his cottage. It held twenty people.

A chimney sweep lived in the same row of cottages. He was nearly always drunk and one never knew whether he would turn up to sweep the chimney on the day arranged—or next day, or a week after. He worked in his spare time as odd job man at the two public houses.

Amy Constance Knill, Gertrude Collins and George Chandler, Old Bletchley

My father, John Meager, and my grandfather and great-grandfather all followed a trade which has completely disappeared—that of wheelwright. Even before my father's early death in 1936 things were changing drastically and he was fast becoming a builder of houses instead of farm carts and implements.

But I can remember quite clearly the lay-out of all the buildings. The massive barn with its great timbered beams was the wheelwright's shop. All along one side were windows underneath which were the wheelwrights' benches; racks of tools at eye-level above the benches were kept in perfect order, everything in its proper place. Each man had his own tools, and no-one dared to touch them. Across the shop was the turning lathe with its deep pit beneath for shavings.
A door out of this barn led into a long dark shed which housed the timber, great long planks of various woods, and this in turn led into another barn which had a loft above where hay was kept for the horses beneath.

At the top end of the wheelwright's shop another door led into the blacksmith's shop. The floor of the working end was cobbled but the end where the horses were tethered to be shod was made of long, well-worn wooden planks.

Besides horse-shoes the blacksmith had to make tyres for the wheels made in the main shop. When a wheel was ready for its tyre six or seven men were pressed into action to 'shut' the tyre into place. Great speed and skill was needed for this vital operation for tyres had to fit and not be liable to 'open'.
Besides these larger things, the blacksmith could make small objects such as door-hinges, window fasteners and gate catches; and besides wheels and carts, the wheelwrights made barrows, gates, candlesticks, stools, tables, cupboards, wooden toys, in fact almost anything that was made of wood. When completed all these things were transferred to the paint shops.

Beyond all these buildings stretched the fields and the main orchard with its massive walnut tree which gave its name to the new house, built in 1919, Walnut Tree Cottage.

The skills which were in such great demand a hundred years ago and for which the 'Meagers' were famed, have been lost along the road of progress.

Ivy Fisher

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

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