Memories of Coleshill

Village life in Coleshill has changed considerably since we were children about fifty years ago. It is a very beautiful village and over the past twenty years has attracted the financially better-off. Consequently all the cottages which in our childhood were rented to people with families, some of them quite large,-have been bought up and enlarged and on the whole are occupied by elderly and retired people. Most of the young couples from the village are unable to afford to buy any property here—there being now very few to rent—so they have to move away to live, and this means that we have far fewer children living here.

As a village we are lucky in having our own school, church and Baptist chapel and quite a large hall, and fifty years ago our lives revolved mainly around these.

We had seasons for all our different games—of course, there was very little traffic about and so it was safe for children then to play on the roads.
In the spring we had our season for skipping to the rhythm of 'Salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper' and 'All in together, girls'.

We played with hoops—bowling them along the road with a piece of stick—some of us couldn't afford a proper hoop and one wealthier family in the village gave us old car tyres which we used. .Marbles was another game. We bowled them along the ground into a 'dossy-hole' made by screwing our heel round into the soft ground.
We derived great pleasure in picking bunches of wild flowers which grew everywhere; heather and harebells from the common, bluebells, primroses, cowslips, kingcups, milk-maids, fox-gloves, violets and celandines from the hedgerows. We also gathered many a basketful of dandelion heads for our grandmother to make into wine and we picked baskets of blackberries in the autumn and collected wood each week to store for winter.

We were lucky in having our own village blacksmith and wheel wright who used to allow a few of us at a time to go in and watch him at work, as did the village shoe mender.

There were two small shops in Coleshill which sold groceries and dozens of other odds and ends. We looked forward eagerly to our 'Saturday penny', which often we would spend a farthing at a time.

We used to visit the meadows in early spring to see the first lambs and in the early summer watch the sheep being sheared by hand and 'dipped'. At haytime and harvest we went into the fields to take the men's tea—usually sandwiches and a bottle of cold tea, always referred to as 'wittles' by my grandmother. A highlight on the farms in mid-winter was the visit of the threshing machine which travelled round the villages to thresh the grain from the sheaves of corn which had been stored in ricks since harvest.

Our local farmer brought the milk round in large churns by horse and cart—carried it to the doorstep in a large can with a half pint measure hanging on a ledge inside and served it into a jug. We could also fetch a quart jug of 'separated' (skimmed) milk for a penny for milk puddings.

More tradespeople came to the village then, such as grocers, butchers and bakers. On Good Friday our baker from Amersham would deliver warm cross-buns before we were up and leave them on the ledge above the door. The muffin-man came weekly through the winter carrying his tray of muffins on his head and ringing a hand bell. A traveller we called 'the London man' came down every Friday from London via Beaconsfield station with a huge case in which he carried an assortment of underclothes, socks and haberdashery for sale.

We never went on holiday but looked forward eagerly to our Chapel Sunday School outing—to Bricket Wood and Hampton Court and eventually to the seaside.
When anyone was seriously ill straw was spread on the road outside their home to lessen the noise of traffic—mostly horses and carts. There wasn't much hospital accommodation then. When anyone in the village died, the knell would be tolled by the church sexton—three 'strokes' for a man, two for a woman and one for a child. We all knew each other so well that if anyone was ill, and we heard the knell, we would realise straightaway who had died. This custom was dropped during the war.

Louie Edwards, Violet Darwill, Penn Street

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