|Original typed record of Sydney Giles' memories transcribed by Sarah Gilbert|
Being born in October 1916 my earliest recollection was a visit from the local Policemen requesting attention to a small chink of light showing through the Blackout as at that period of time visits by the German Zeppelins were expected. This must have been prior to the Armistice which was signed at the eleventh Hour on the eleventh Day on the eleventh month.
The Rector was a bachelor, Louis Hubert Lethbridge, and was well loved by his flock. The rectory and gardens were maintained to a high standard and were opened to the public for Garden Fetes and Band Concerts in aid of Church funds. Alas in later years, due to economic reasons, the Rectory was reduced in size and finally dismantled and a new rectory erected for the incumbent. One must be fair to add that in earlier days the incumbent enjoyed a private income and was able to employ a large staff of servants. The services were termed as ‘Middle of the Road’ neither too high nor too low. The statue of the Virgin Mary which is housed in a niche over the North Porch was provided by the Sunday School as the original had been destroyed by Cromwell’s men. The services were in those days attended by the faithful few and the decline in churchgoing was put down to the large amounts of time and money spent in leisure pursuits.
Childrens’ Games used to follow a season with no noticeable indication that one season was ending and another commencing. No doubt certain games were encouraged by commercial interests by the display of whips & tops, the small clay marbles in their traditional colours of green, red, yellow and blue and the larger ‘dosser’ in transparent glass with a delightful spiral of colours to view. Whips were often home-made using a stick and a piece of string or cord. The venue for these games was usually the street as in those days motor traffic was at a comparatively low level and gave ample warning of its approach with its noisy engines added to a slower speed. Marbles were placed inside a small chalk drawn ring, each competitor sharing the total number. A chalk line would be drawn at an agreed distance and the competitors would in turn attempt to knock the marbles out of the ring which would be retained. Marbles on the line were always a problem. Another popular game was to roll the marbles along the gutter using one marble each and this was played in pairs. The aim was to either hit your opponents marble or be able to span the distance between them with the hand. The winner pocketed both marbles.
Tip and Cat or Catty was very popular and relied on home made equipment. The Tip being a straight piece of wood about four feet in length and the Cat being the length of a pencil but just over twice the thickness and sharpened to a point at each end so that it would rise when struck sharply by the Tip. The Cat was placed in the gutter to form an angle between the road and the path and hooked by the stick as far as possible. The aim of the opponent or opponents was to field the Cat and catch it or try to hit the Tip which was now placed across the gutter where the Cat had formerly been placed. Success in either of these operations would mean that the innings had closed. Failure to achieve the above, the striker had three chances to remove the Cat as far as possible by using the tip to elevate it and hitting it as far as possible away from the Block. After the three attempts had been made a score was made of the number of footsteps from the final resting place of the Cat to the block hole. If the number was thought to be attainable it was accepted but if thought to be unattainable the request would be to ‘measure it’. The winner would be the one with the highest score after an agreed number of innings.
Early football games were played in the street with a pigs bladder begged from the local butcher this was the best medium to use to avoid broken windows. During this period there was no recognised Recreation Ground but local fields were used at the risk of being chased off by an irate farmer usually on horseback. Coats were used as goalposts. The game was often terminated abruptly when the owner of the ‘ball’ was called in by a parent to go to bed. The streets were lit by gas and it was not until about 1929 that the Electricity Bill was passed to provide this new source of power for the nation. Each lamp post had an horizontal bar which served as ladder rest and this was an excellent place to secure a rope which made a circular swing. Girls mostly had their own games such as Hop Scotch, Skipping and ball games. Both sexes used to play Blind Man's Bluff, O’Grady, Whats the Time Mr. Wolf? Charades, Rounders and Hot Rice.
Children Comics were popular and it was often necessary to let Father read them first. The two that come to mind are ‘Funny Wonder’ and Illustrated Chips’ featuring ‘Weary Willie and Tired Tim’, ‘Felix the Cat’, and the Stars of Silent Films: ‘Charlie Chaplin’. ‘Buster Keaton’, ‘Harold Lloyd’ ‘Chester Conklin’, and many others.
Like children in all time, mischief was done. Adjacent doors in a terrace would be tied together by cord and both doors rapped smartly. Annoying for the victims, but funny to the perpetrators. Fireworks were very popular and used for mischief, and the Little Demon, price ½d was a firm favourite. Despite more explosive fireworks being on display in large letters a sign reading A BOY WANTED HERE but, in small print, some Standard Fireworks.
Old perambulator wheels were much in demand to construct go-carts which used to provide a most thrilling ride. Hoops were popular with girls using a wooden one and boys the heavy metal variety. Home made kites were popular and usually flown in the fields, many used to end their days tangled in overhead telephone wires.
The General Strike in 1926 lasted nine days from 3 to 12th May, but the disturbances were not co-ordinated and the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin let things take their course despite his Cabinet demanding more dramatic action. The existence of Radio made the loss of Newspapers and the growing number of private cars shortage of public transport, minor inconveniences in contrast to an expected paralysing influence. The Miners' Strike went on for another six months and in the end all they fought for was lost, shorter hours, better wages and in addition Union Funds were so depleted that further strike action could not be supported for many years.
Even in the difficult years after the Great War opportunities for employment in the Town were fairly secure for both men and women. Boot and Shoe Factories provided the main occupation for men but women were used to stitch the upper leather. Clothing for Men was the popular occupation for Women and Girls with outworkers used for the less attractive tasks. Whitney & Westley operated a shoe factory in
The fact that the Railway was a long way from the Town did go against this form of transport and put the buses in an advantage. The Railway for reasons of providing a more direct route had to be constructed in the
Another type of gas was used to illuminate cycles this was produced by regulating water drops on to carbide and an excellent light was produced. Oil lamps were also used in the early Motor Cars and horse drawn traps. From 1929 onwards a cable had been laid from Kettering Electricity Works to supply the town with a new type of power and it is interesting to note that the telephone was laid underground in those days. There was a gradual change from gas to electricity for lighting but some people were wary in using this new form of heat for cooking.
Entertainment, Sport and Pastimes
Wireless came in during 1923 with the invention of a Crystal Set which needed no power at all. This did require a tall outside aerial and the station was obtained by finding a spot on a small piece of crystal with a thin wire called a Cat's Whisker. Headphones were used to pick the sound. Later came the valved set, powered by a large dry cell battery and an accumulator, and the signal was received by loudspeaker. Kit forms were available and were very popular at the time. Popular songs had a boost by the radio and they were also circulated by the Music Hall and Song Sheets. The local cinema enjoyed a profitable time in the early twenties and 1929 saw the advent of the "Talkies" and the first films to be shown at the Electric Palace were ‘Woman to Woman’, ‘The Rainbow Man’, ‘Flight’ and ‘Atlantic’ (based on the loss of the Titanic). During the reign of the silent films, music was supplied by a local pianist who had to adapt the music to the mood of the film. The names of Cecil Hickman, Mrs Wood and Tom ‘Concertina’ White come to mind. Ten-Part Serials were put on to draw in a regular weekly audience with two standing out in memory: ‘The perils of Pauline’ and ‘Casey of the Coastguards’. On Saturday Evenings most young people went to
Dancing became very popular and was a good starter in getting to know the opposite sex. Most of the courting was done by country walks; the motor car was only for the few. The local footpath rights of way were well guarded despite yearly ploughing up of cultivated fields. Most stiles and gates were occupied by courting couples. Morals on the surface seemed good but many young people had to arrange for an early wedding in those days.
Club life flourished and the same clubs are still in existence during the eighties. The Finedon Street Working Mens Club in Finedon Street, The Britannia Club at the bottom of Newman Street. The Band Club in the High Street and the Conservative Club in Church Street.
The range of activity was varied with Film Shows, Lending Library, Free and Easy Concerts, Skittles, Darts, Quoits played on a Clay Bed out of doors, Whist and Cribbage Leagues and in some clubs Snooker and Billiards could be played. A very sympathetic Sick Club was run for members which apart from providing cash in the time of greatest need also visited the sick member. A Sports Day for Children was a red letter day. There were five public houses in the Town all supplied by different Breweries: The Dukes Arms, The Waggon and Horses, The Thatchers Arms. The Red Cow and the Horse and Groom. Drinking had become far more civilised and only the odd drunk could be seen and then only on a Saturday night. Drug taking was unknown. Woman gradually were accepted into pubs and clubs, starting at first with the weekend. But in most cases the poor wife was left alone at home and had to eke out the family purse to allow the husband to have his pleasures.
The Church Army supported a Captain to take the C.of E. Service on Sunday and to manage the Preston Hall during the week to try to keep the youth of the Town out of temptation. There were two fairly good full sized billiard tables and other games could be played. For Evening Classes it was necessary to travel to
The Billiard Hall in
Any undue noise or horseplay would be punished by a period of being barred. He was also a very likeable character and had a cross to bear having the care of an invalid wife. The Church also owned a small hall within the
The Cricket Field was opposite the Hall and owned by Squire Harpur who would pay 5/- for any Hall window broken in normal play from the recognised square. There were many Characters who used to turn out for the Club side although very few honours were won by the Club. One had to travel to Rothwell, Bozeat or Wollaston to find success and the latter had at least two players who graduated to the
The football team played at various location until thay finally settled in Dentons Field which was later to become the Recreation Ground. They were successful in their own sphere and some players graduated to better clubs. The goalkeeper, Len Ketcher being an example. Billy Perkins also a goalkeeper, and played for Aston Villa for a time.
Chapel and Church
Sunday was still a day of rest which marked it a lot different from any other day. Churchgoing was declining but Roman Catholics were increasing and in a small hall over a shop at the Cross, Mass was said to good congregations. The Salvation Army struggled holding almost nightly services in a corrugated hall next to the Britannia Club, apart from outdoor worship in the town on Sunday. They boasted a small Brass Band.
They used to sell War Cry and the Young Soldier in the public houses and clubs on a Saturday night. The Wesleyan Chapel held their services in
The Baptist Chapel was in
During the early years of the decade, Sunday saw most people dressed in Sunday Best and to protect this precious garment, white bib & brace overalls were worn for Sunday Lunch in particular. A lasting memory was the Family Sunday Evening Walk held after Church over well-worn footpaths. A favourite walk was over the fields to Isham - the route being over the allotments (later to be built over) through the fields and over the
The Patronal Festival of
To mark the Feast, Henry Thurston used to bring the Fair and it was held at the bottom of
Three weeks later, Finedon Feast held, and there was an exodus from the town to repay visits. Kettering Feast came at the end of June and the Fair was on a much grander scale and it was usual to pay a visit. Kettering Feast was also a landmark for gardeners being the aim to be digging new potatoes and gathering green peas at this date.
Allotments were plentiful, and those were some of the leisure activities of the Day, along withwith pigeon-keeping. A supply of fresh vegetables all the year round was the aim and within the compass of the serious allotmenteer. Quite a number had a small tool shed which was always useful in a sudden shower and meant that tools could be left on site. Often a garden seat was added so that one could rest and admire the growing crops. Most of the Working Mens Clubs used to hold Flower and Vegetable Shows and the name of W.Turner appeared to carry off a goodly proportion of the awards. There was usually waiting lists for vacant plots. The field was rather unique having no less than three distinct kinds of soil: heavy clay - unworkable in wet weather but useful in times of drought; light loam - easy to work but inclined to dry, but in the drought periods; and finally land that was full of ironstone but fairly easy to work. This land has been built over and is the area west of the Playing Fields. There were also allotments in other parts of the town. Most households in pre-1914 houses situated in
Monday was the common Wash Day, the water mostly being heated by the use of a "copper" housed in an outhouse sometime at the end of the garden, fuelled by burning a variety of cheap waste materials. Off-cut leather bits could be collected cheaply from the local factories and bags of Coke from the Gas Works was also available. Coal dust damped down burnt well with wood.
Usually, the man of the house prepared the hot water for the Weekly Wash and after the children had been seen off to school, operations commenced. Despite the assistance of a dolly tub and a washing board, it was very hard work and the two popular soaps in use were Hudsons and White Windsor. A Reckitts Blue Bag was used to whiten the whites. The washing was boiled in the copper and afterwards the dirty water had to be ladled out by a small bowl with a handle. On Monday cold meat left over from the Sunday joint sufficed for the noon-time meal with pastry sweet to follow. Mother was far to busy to prepare a meal on that day. The afternoon was usually spent with feet up after such an arduous morning. Every back garden was festooned with billowing washing like an armada sailing into battle. Tuesday was ‘Dashing away with a smoothing iron’, the heat source being the gas stove or on top of the
For the Bodily Wash, a tin bath was used with the water heated in the copper or by large kettles on top of the kitchen range or on a trivet by the side of the fire. When not in use, the tin bath was hung on a nail in the wash house after being emptied out by the small bowl. The
ShoppingThe Corner shop was a feature of the twenties and traces can still be seen of conversions back to dwelling houses and of ten terraced houses offered an opportunity to convert the Parlour into a small shop. The Co-operative Society had two Grocery shops, one in the High Street and one in
Tally men abounded and for some it was the only way to afford new clothes. Three shillings would give a credit of £3 and pro rata which was repaid in 20 weeks. Some vouchers were accepted by a wide variety of shops but the co-operative Society had their own scheme. Christmas Clubs were run by most butchers and grocers in order to supply extra items for the table. Late shopping on Friday evenings was available and being Pay Day was the most popular time to purchase the weekly requirements. Milk tokens were expected to be used which did avoid the cost or collection by the milkman.
In the twenties there was a more static population which meant that everybody knew everybody and the various Pubs, Clubs, Church & Chapel organisations, Football & Cricket Clubs meant that there was strong bond forged in the Town and no account of these times would be complete without a brief mention of some of them.
Nicknames abounded and were passed down from father to son Most persons with the name of Eady were called ‘Dash’ Beeby’s were called ‘Pistol’ (Son of a gun) Then there was ‘Trump’ Sharp, ‘Wocker’ Turner,’ Nicey’ Johnson ‘Spluff’ Capps, One, tragically to die at a young age with T.B.,’Quiller’ Underwood, ‘Bunny’ Panter, ‘Spazzer’ Mason, who kept a petrol station at the south end of the High Street and lived in an old ironstone farm house. Curly Pearson who kept a small filling station at bottom of
Most gardeners are aware of very stony grounds in some parts of the Town due to traces of ironstone. There is still plenty of evidence of tramway tracks in the area of Finedon, Irthlingborough,
The Isham Pits though in the Parish of Burton Latimer started from the Midland Railway Line (Kettering Wellingborough Main Line) the line then went East to cross
The War Memorial
To mark the 1914/18 Great War, a Memorial, consisting of spiral steps topped by a tall pillar with St. George on top, was constructed on the Cross in the centre of the town but this was later removed to Preston Gardens - one supposes to take out a traffic hazard as the column obstructed the view of vehicles joining the A6 from Rosebank. The new position did not appear to give the monument the same authority but in general it seemed to be for the best. (Note - the memarial was subsequently restored to its original location when further realignments were carries out at the High Street/Church Stree junction). The names of all the dead was recorded, and for such a small town the losses were severe. In those days, the two minutes silence was always held on the actual Anniversary Day and at the exact hour. That is the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and all traffic stopped and the factory machines silenced there were many signs of War injury apart from men with a leg or an arm missing there were cases of Shell Shock and there were men who suffered from the effects of poison gas. The British Legion was formed and was a very flourishing organisation and did a lot to relieve suffering and fight authority in obtaining pension for the needy. It was always a harrowing time at school when children who had lost fathers became very distressed at the Armistice Service.
Growth of the Town
Being near to
The Library was held once a week in the
Looking back from the early eighties, these years seem to be primitive but they did demonstrate a period of social change. The wider world was opening up and people were able to move travel more and the Continent was beginning to no longer be confined to people with means. There was a levelling-up of the classes and no longer did the Squire and his Lady expect a touch of the cap or a curtsey. The birth pangs of Social Security were beginning to be felt with the Poor House no longer a threat to the destitute. Multi-national Firms were opening up and manufacturing geared itself to producing for the mass market. Woolworths gave access to cheap articles for the masses and led the way for others to follow.
The real tragedy of the times was the high mortality from consumption (or medically known as tuberculosis) as the names of whole families give witness in the Cemetery. "Whole families" is a bit misleading, as often the mother and father would survive. At the time it was thought that malnutrition was a cause but well-fed families were just as vulnerable. No doubt the attention to health of the dairy herds was a big factor in reducing the disease. There were no vaccines available for children's ailments and in the end the ailments were accepted as the norm. There did not seem to be many cases of nervous diseases, probably due to the more leisurely life style despite the fact that the working day was longer and the holidays were shorter.
Were people any happier? Looking back, one remembers the good times and forgets the bad, and the only answer is ‘don’t know’. The milk of human kindness flows in all ages, with daily opportunity to do good and to try to leave things better than they were.