Here are a small collection of recollections written for the Parish Magazine over the years and edited by the late Keith Gascoigne. They show a glimpse of what life was like at the beginning of the 20th century:
The Queen Mother’s hundredth birthday during Millennium year provoked much recall of the events of those hundred years and what life was like in the early 1900s. John Gaunt, (died 22/11/13 and is buried at St Mary’s Lapworth), who lived in the village for many years, recalled some of his memories of those times to Keith for the parish magazine in that year. Here’s what he wrote:
The poor were poor and the rich were rich; for the working man the weekly wage was £1.5s (£1.25 in our money); from this they paid into a funeral fund, as it was not right or respectable to go to your grave in less than a glass-sided hearse drawn by two black horses. Life expectancy was about 44 years for a man, 46 for a woman. Pneumonia was the most common cause of death among the elderly.
There was little electric light; towns were lit by gas; in the country, oil lamps or candles. Transport was by steam or horses. In town the smell of horse manure was all-pervasive: my father told me factory girls going to work had to trail their long skirts in the horse manure crossing the road, and with the BO due to lack of bathing facilities the workplace was to say the least malodorous.
What was Lapworth like ? My memory only goes back to 1916. Mr Maisey from Arden Hill Farm brought milk in a large pail on a horse-drawn milk float, and with his pint measure filled our jugs; we then had to strain it through muslin to remove bits of farmyard refuse. He was followed by Mr Perks from Malthouse Farm in Station Lane, now replaced by Yew Tree Close; there used to be a pond along the road between the farm and what is now the new school. Oilman Mr Cashmore brought oil for lamps and cooking stoves, along with all sorts of hardware from spades to floorcloths, in his specially-built wagon (later he had a similar motor-driven wagon, while Burgis and Colbourne from Leamington sent their motor vans with groceries out to the villages).
The brewers’ drays were a lovely sight, drawn by four heavy horses, beautifully groomed. Horses were still so common that my father always referred to the “horse road”: “Don’t walk in the horse road; keep to the path, dear!”
Steam was the motive power, not just for railways; there were quite a few steam lorries – Sentinels with rounded front and vertical boiler and Fodens with horizontal boiler sticking out over the front wheels. I can just remember steam narrow boats on the canals, towing another boat, but around 1919-20 they were replaced by oil engines. Horse-drawn barges were common, too. Lines of these narrow boats used to go up the Stratford Canal, taking cocoa or sugar to Cadbury’s.
The bargee would attend to the lock gates and horse while his wife worked the graceful tiller, dressed in black – queen of all she surveyed. I was told that early on women wore light colours but changed to black out of respect after the death of Queen Victoria.
The Old Warwick Road, not sealed with tar, consisted of stone and mud, carefully rolled flat by a lovely steam roller. In dry weather the odd car would throw up clouds of dust; we always had to stand still while they passed because they were very dangerous. In the early 20s the road was tarmaced: horse-drawn tarpots were heated by coke to melt the tar, which was ladled by hand into watering cans for spraying, after which stone chippings were rolled in by the steam roller. There was no paved or tarmaced footpath – just a path worn into the grass on the side of the road.
The Great War moved things on more quickly; I remember a Zeppelin flying over one night; it had dropped a bomb locally. Aeroplanes were by now well developed, but it was still an occasion to run out of the house to see one pass over.
There was no street lighting; we didn’t need it until after the last war. Children from Kingswood could walk up to school near the church, a mile and a half, by themselves, quite safely. Girls off the train from the King’s High School in Warwick could ride their bikes home to Rowington, Lowsonford or Chadwick End, with just the old oil lamp on their bike and no-one worried about them.
Electric light came in the 1930s; some houses had electric generators (the doctor’s house at The Mount had an acetylene gas generating plant in an outhouse). Before that lighting was by oil lamps or candles.
There was no piped water until the late 50s, and the sewage system came in around 1950 – what happened before that I leave to your imagination. We remember our dear old lady help saying she didn’t hold with this piped water; she would stick to her well water: “You can see the goodness in it”.
Although many worked in local towns such as Birmingham there was still a considerable number of people employed locally, on the land, the canal, the railway, in shops, as painters and decorators, chimney or road sweeps, taxi drivers, blacksmiths, etc. They lived in the cottages dotted around the village, now mostly converted into larger houses for people who work outside the village.
There is a stream which comes off the fields just at the side of the Boot and goes under the road. In the old days it ran into a little pool on the opposite side of the road – only about “so big” – but you could catch sticklebacks and minnows in it. I haven’t seen sticklebacks or minnows in a stream for years – presumably because of the chemicals that come off the fields these days.
Do you hear larks or peewits in Lapworth now ? There used to be larks on the field at the top of Boot Hill. Peewits came every year to the water meadow in Mill Lane belonging to the Mill House. Sometimes one could hear nightingales in the spinney along Brome Hall Lane. Song thrushes and mistle thrushes with their lovely song were as common as blackbirds today. Tawny owls with their too-whit, too-whoo and barn owls with their staccato screech were common at night, as well as the little owl by day. In the dusk on a Summer or Autumn evening the little pipistrelle bats intrigued me as they would fly round to investigate a raised stick. They are coming back again now.
The cuckoo was common in Spring, even monotonous; I have only heard it once this year. House martins would build their amazing mud nests under the eaves of house and cottage and swallows built in the many barns. The Spring and Summer air was full of swallows and house martins, along with flocks of screaming swifts, all hunting insects round the trees, over the canal and reservoir, or high in the sky, according to where the weather drove their prey.
Before the Second World War, on the rare occasions a seagull was seen people would say: “There’s a storm at sea”. Now they are common. Kestrels and sparrow-hawks were not common; gamekeepers shot them, as they did magpies.
There was a well known institution called Tilers’ Field, on the farm on the right hand side as you approach Navigation bridge – well known to the poor people of Birmingham because Sunday School outings used to come there for a breath of fresh air, to play games and have their Sunday School tea. We used to see them coming from the station in crocodile fashion up to Tilers’ Field. That’s gone a long time ago…
In July 2001 former Lapworth resident Mrs Mary F Forster of Warwick (died 11/12/14, buried at St Michael’s Baddesley Clinton) reminisced on farming at the turn of the 20th century When collecting the Poor Rate was no easy job…
Mrs Forster (nee Bowley) said: Both my grandfathers lived in the parish at the turn of the 20th century – Frank Oliver Bowley at Yew Tree Farm, at the turn of the 20th century owned by a German family named Weiss, and Thomas Robinson Hattin at Hole House Farm. Yew Tree Farm was sold about 1919; Grandad Bowley moved to Northbrook Farm in Sherbourne and Grandad Hattin to the Park Farm at Baddesley Clinton.
I seem to remember my father telling me that these two were the last members of the public to collect the Poor Rates in the parish (a job I gather was not easy!) before this duty was taken over by Solihull Council, and many years ago I handed in the Poor Rate Book for the Parish of Lapworth, dated 1892, to the County Record office in Warwick, where it is recorded as deposit number CR991.
I was also told of the “Nailers” that used to come from the Black Country just before haymaking each year. They came with wagons loaded with nails of every description, forks, spades and hoes of every type, chains and goodness knows what else that they knew would be wanted in the countryside during the summer. They used to camp out on a grass triangle in the road just outside Yew Tree Farm whilst they supplied the area.
Both my grandfathers regularly sent wagon loads of hay drawn by horses into Birmingham – quite a long day’s work from Lapworth, but they did have stops at various pubs on the way home. The horses knew the way back. In the summer time my grandmothers used to make butter from any spare cream and then take in baskets by train from Lapworth station to Birmingham market, wrapped in rhubarb leaves in an attempt to keep it cool.
Harvesting was a much drawn-out affair at the turn of the twentieth century. My father told me that many times they would be carrying winter beans in the moonlight when the bell-ringers at St Mary’s were practising for Christmas.
Both my grandfathers brewed their own beer but I think Grandad Bowley’s was thought the better.
The road from Packwood House past Pratt’s Pit and on to Lowsonford runs along Lapworth Street, and along it Yew Tree Lane turns off to the right, starting off with a steep hill (I have always known it as “the old hill”). At the bottom there used to be “properly worked” osier beds and fish ponds. In the summer months when a thunder-storm stopped the harvesting there was nothing nicer for my father than to go down to Tapster Brook, catch a trout and take it home for supper.
Children didn’t get to school in cars or buses then; they had to walk. It was a long way for my father to get to Mrs Burden’s in Station Road; on a cold winter morning the old servant who lived in the farmhouse used to put two sizeable potatoes in the range oven to get hot while breakfast was being eaten. When ready to start for school these were put in his pockets so that he could hold them to keep his hands warm.
The headmaster of Lapworth School was a forward-looking man; he taught the boys to swim in the canal and had a piece of ground where he showed them how to garden.
After a very long, hard winter a great tragedy fell on Lapworth, on Ash Wednesday, 13 February 1907. The children went to church and then had the rest of the day off so a group of them decided to go sliding on Spring Pit, one of the ponds – despite a warning from the headmaster. Winter was just losing its grip and alas the ice broke and let them in; four were drowned. [See also Mildred Tomlinson’s excellent A Warwickshire Village Church, on sale in St Mary’s.] It was a regular winter occupation to go skating on the canal; my grandfather Bowley was quite good at it. I think he played cricket for Lapworth in the summer.
Lapworth farmhouse was the scene of one of the very earliest appendix operations.
At the age of five in 1897 my father became ill with pains in his stomach and vomiting. The local doctor was called (he came on horseback from Henley, I think) and examined my father. He must have thought it was appendicitis and said he would contact Professor Barling in Birmingham* and ask him to come to Yew Tree Farm. The professor with his surgical equipment arrived by train at Kingswood (Lapworth) station where my grandfather was waiting with the pony and trap. By the time they got to Yew Tree Farm my father was desperately ill. Professor Barling examined him and said he would operate so my father was put on the top of a chest of drawers and the deed done. When the Professor and my grand-father went downstairs afterwards Professor Barling said: “Well, Bowley, I’ve operated but I don’t give much for his chances”. But survive he did; the local doctor called daily on horse-back for some time. Many years afterwards when they had moved to Sherbourne my father was in a dreadful accident involving farm machinery and was taken to Stratford Hospital. When he was getting better he remembered some of the doctors examining him and one pointed to the scar on his stomach saying: “Look at that; it must have been one of the first operations done for appendicitis”.
* Professor Gilbert Barling (above), Joint Professor of Surgery at the then Mason College, a distinguished surgeon and a major figure in the development of Birmingham University, of which he became Vice-Chancellor and, as Sir Gilbert, Pro-Chancellor.
When the canal was built – or perhaps when it was extended – most of the work-force were Irish and on one occasion a number of them visited one of the local pubs (the Boot I think, but I may be wrong).
Anyway, they drank too much and started fighting in a big way. Every attempt by the local people to stop them was of no use and then someone had the idea of sending for the Catholic priest from Baddesley. He came, and what he said or did brought them to their senses !When I was a very little girl I remember my father taking me to Lapworth Church when the outside was being cleaned because he wanted to see whether they had cleaned one stone where there were two dents which he had always understood were the marks of where someone had been shot in the Civil War. He was quite pleased to find that the stone had not been touched, though all the surrounding stones had been cleaned. I expect Catesby was involved !
[The marks are still there, on the east wall of the tower, though church historian Mildred Tomlinson described them as “perhaps” made by musket balls. But Robert Catesby, the Lapworth-born leader of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot conspirators, had been dead for decades, his headless body, according to Antonia Fraser, “tumbled into a hole on Tower Hill”. – Ed]
My father also had happy memories of his Confirmation Class under the Revd Bell, who was Rector from 1897 to 1928. Apparently all the young people went home together after the class and eventually the girls complained that the boys were a nuisance to them, so Mr Bell decided the boys should go first. That was just what they wanted as they were able to lie in wait in the hedge for the girls to appear. Naughty boys ! By today’s standards I don’t think much happened except teasing.
My father always talked of Mr Newton’s very precise manner of running the station, but to the group of boys who used the bridge across the line as a means of shortening the distance to school it just called for “taunting”. So much so, they were forbidden to go on the station at all for a time.
There was one old farmworker whom father particularly liked, called Mr Shervington, and long after my family left Lapworth father used to visit him regularly. He was a nice old man, with relations in the Stratford area, and two or three times a year Grandad Bowley would lend him the pony and trap so he could go to see them, especially for Mothering Sunday.
One incident illustrates the awful poverty which was about at that time. While at Lapworth Grandad Hattin’s workman lived with his family in a cottage adjoining the barn. Grandad had stored all his swedes for the winter feed in the barn on the other side of the joint wall. He suddenly noticed that they were getting less and couldn’t think why. Eventually a hole appeared in the wall and apparently the poor man was so desperate to get food for his family he had made the hole and they were living more or less on swedes.
Grandad confronted him about it and he replied: “I suppose you will sack me for stealing”. “Oh no,” was the reply, “I’m far too sorry for you and from now on you can catch all the rabbits, pigeons etc that you need for nothing so you can feed your family a little bit better”.
A query from the grand-daughter of a former oldest resident of Lapworth, then living in Leicestershire, has evoked memories of a family which was split up by domestic tragedy in the early years of the last century.
Mrs Catherine Maullin, living in Desford, wrote to the magazine:
“When young we used to catch the train from Acocks Green to Lapworth; then over the fields towards the Boot Inn. If the grown-ups needed a drink we children sat on the verge (no children allowed inside), then up the Warwick Road to where Pound Cottages were. There lived Grandad Samuel White, who lived to be 98 and at one time was the oldest resident in Lapworth. He rode his bike well into his 90s to collect his pension from Hockley Heath.
“Life was not easy. Alice, his wife, died in 1905, leaving five sons – Harry, Albert, Edward, George and Sidney, my father, who was born in 1903. Samuel was a former cavalryman whose father had been head gardener for the Earl of Dudley who became Governor General of Canada. He and Alice (nee Taylor) had met in Birmingham; they came to Lapworth where he worked on the canal as a lengthsman and lived in Canal Cottage.”
Mrs Maullin adds the family would like to find out how old Alice was when she died; in 1906 the two eldest boys were sent, aged 10 and nine, from Middlemore Orphans’ Home to Canada, to help ease farm labour shortages in the early years of the century. They were separated, and after three lonely years Harry “ran off” looking for Albert. Together they hopped a freight train, but in jumping off Harry slipped and his left arm was severed by the wheels.
Eventually they found work in Nova Scotia, where their families still live (Harry’s grandson Bruce, one of 25 grandchildren, being the third generation to work in a Liverpool paper mill there). In a newspaper interview Harry laughed: “A hard life ? Well, we made out. I was strong; I could dig 70 barrels of potatoes a day; I could lift my side of a full barrel; with a rope sling I could handle a wheelbarrow. I could harness horses and peel logs…”
While serving in the Canadian Army during the Second World War Harry and Albert’s sons were at long last able to visit their grandfather; Mrs Maullin found strong links when she visited Canada: “It was interesting to find that I was greeted with ‘Well, well, well’ – a favourite expression of Grandad’s which his sons never forgot and which they passed on to his grandsons, now in their mid- to late 70s. I have visited the graves in Liverpool, Nova Scotia and feel more content.”
Edward had drowned in the canal at Lapworth in 1907, aged five; Mrs Maullin has the baptismal certificates of Edward, George and Sidney, all signed by Rector Frank Bell. She and the family would like to know where Canal Cottage stood (was it one of the old Pound Cottages ?) and where Alice, Edward and Samuel are buried. George (as George Robert he was called Bob) followed a family tradition by becoming a gardener; he and his wife died within two months of each other in Bewdley after celebrating their golden wedding in 1987. Sidney, born in 1903, “was looked after by a family called Moseley and went under that name for a few years, not knowing that George (called Bob) was his brother.
“Mrs Moseley died and Mr Moseley re-married”. Sidney became a regular soldier in the Coldstream Guards at the age of 16 and went to Turkey and China; he left the Army in 1930 and had two children – Catherine (Mrs Maullin) and Stephen. Recalled to the Army during the Second World War, he served in India from 1940.
On demobilisation in 1946 he worked for Birmingham Parks Department until retiring. He died in 1981, aged 78; his Army life included the unusual co-incidence recalled below.
How did the former Bishop of Birmingham meet the guardsman from Lapworth in Constantinople in 1923?
Sidney White’s baptismal certificate shows he was baptised at St Mary’s, Lapworth, on 23 August 1903. In a different hand is added: “Confirmed Constantinople by Rt Rev Bishop Gore, DD, 1923”.
This seemed curious; Charles Gore was the distinguished first Bishop of Birmingham when the Diocese was founded in 1905 but in 1912 became Bishop of Oxford, from which office he retired in 1919. Why were he and Sidney White in Constantinople in 1923?
A little research threw up an interesting co-incidence. Sidney White had joined the Coldstream Guards at the age of 16 and served in Turkey. In his Life of Charles Gore: a great English-man Dr G G Prestige writes: “In the spring of 1923 Gore spent some months in Eastern Europe…to qualify himself for more effective service on the Archbishop [of Canterbury]’s Eastern Churches Committee”.
Gore’s diary records that in Constantinople he visited the Patriarch, preached at the headquarters of the British Army of Occupation, inspected St Sophia and other places of interest, “all thrilling.” He also confirmed four soldiers – one of whom would have been Guardsman White, one of his former flock.
It is interesting to speculate whether Bishop and soldier conversed about the Midlands – or even, perhaps, about Lapworth…