Old Bill

Bill Wing (Senior) on his 100th birthday in 1993
Cambridge Newspapers Ltd

This book was compiled to celebrate Bill Wing’s 100th birthday on 10 March 1993.

The material was provided by Bill in conversation with Bill Wing Junior, Tessa Humphreys and Sheila Forrest in 1992 and was sponsored by Meldreth Village Association.

The text in square brackets was added in 2020 when this page was published in order to correct or clarify certain details.


1. Early Days

2. School Days

3. Working Days

4. First World War

5. Old Meldreth

My thanks to my son, and grandson, Brian, for suggesting that this book should be written.

Bill Wing, February 1993

1. Early Days

On March 10th 1993. I’ll be 100 years old!

I lost my mother when l was about two. I never knew her. My sister was born in January 1895 and my mother died in the February on St. Valentine’s Day.

We then went to live in Chiswick End with our grandma until my father remarried. My sister stayed on with my grandma when we moved in with our new stepmother. There were five children from this second marriage, three boys and two girls. We all lived in an old clay bat cottage which was one of three near the station.

My father was a hay and straw tier – I don’t think he used to do anything else all his life. He used to walk miles going from farm to farm all year round — he never did anything else. One of my step brothers went with him — we tried to get him to ride a bicycle but he wouldn’t tackle a bicycle! We decided that when we had a bit of money that we’d buy him a pony and cart and that’s how he went about in the latter part of his days – in a pony and cart.

My stepmother had many jobs — she was a midwife. She charged what people could afford
to pay. When somebody died she used to go and lay them out ready to go in a coffin. People used to come and fetch my stepmother and she used to go round to their house and sit with them when they were ill — until the doctor came. There was no National Health Service – we had Dr. Mead-King in the village once and Dr. Williams and a Dr. Clarke – in Meldreth House, by the Post Office. Doctors at Melbourn used to go to all villages around. We had to pay the doctors.

My stepmother had other jobs, she used to go out to do washing for the fairly big houses and perhaps go in one morning, cleaning. Once she heard this job was going at the Gables, with Miss Chamberlain (she married Elin). Miss Chamberlain told her she paid three pence per hour.
’Oh!’ said my mother. ’I’m afraid I’m not coming for that price.’ Anyhow she talked her into
paying six pence — she used to go there two mornings a week. I’d left school by then, there were a lot of us so she had her hands full and found it difficult to make ends meet.

Before we went to school we’d have toast or sometimes separated milk and bread. For dinner, we had plenty of vegetables because my father had an allotment as well as a garden. We’d have stew sometimes. You always had a good Sunday dinner, a nice bit of meat and Yorkshire pudding. They always had a nice suet pudding – I used to like that too – with treacle or syrup, if you hadn’t got that you’d have brown sugar. In the evenings you’d get bread and jam. They used to make a lot of their own jam in those days. Maypole margarine used to be around in those days – Maypole used to have a big shop in Cambridge. There used to be a carrier-cart – he used to go to Cambridge on Saturdays and bring margarine back to order. They used to say you buy a lb of Maypole margarine and he’d give you half lb extra – I can’t see them doing that today – good measure!

Although we drank tea, we used to get a cup of cocoa and coffee — not much coffee because coffee always was a bit dear wasn’t it? You got cocoa fairly cheap — from the shop, where the hairdressers used to be. That used to be a real old shop there, he used to sell everything – all sorts. Not much he hadn’t got.

2. School Days

We had to go to Melbourn school and we had a good way to go because I lived in Rose Cottage, Meldreth, by the stocks. We had to walk over the bridge and through the meads, into Melbourn to the school. Sometimes we used to be late and the schoolmaster used to be very cross with us. Sometimes we got the stick to remind us we had to be there at 9 o’clock!

In those days we were in the school full time until we were 11 years old. Then we could get a summer job, we could leave on 1st April and go back at the end of October until we were 13 when we left school. We used to do all sorts of jobs. I used to keep cows on the side of the road – you couldn’t do that today! My cows belonged to Mr Medlock at Bury Farm. One of us would take a herd of cows of about 7-8 milking cows in the morning and then we did other jobs as well. We were there for hay and harvest work and all sorts of other little jobs.

In those days, if there was a boy or girl with a bit of gumption in the class, they used to get help to go to school in Cambridge. You didn’t have to pay to go to school in those days, but I heard them say when my father went to school they used to have to pay a penny a week. My father and I went to school in Melbourn. There wasn’t a school in Meldreth till 1911 [Meldreth School opened in 1910]. In those days there a was a private girls school in Melbourn – Cawdon House, on the right, up Mortlock Street as you go into New Road.

The school was partitioned to divide boys from girls. We learned to read and write mainly, with some figure work. There was religious instruction every morning and PT before we went into school. Some of us played truant for 2 weeks on one occasion. We used to go to the plantation just up from the station by Bury Lane. The brother of one of the boys with us gave us away. We had a beating when we went back to school. I think if they used the cane a bit more now they’d have less troubles than they have now!!

The school masters were good. Two school houses were built in Orchard Road, one for the headmaster and one for the headmistress. The older children used to dig their gardens, chop their wood and get their coal in – we used to do all their little jobs. I think we all enjoyed school.

I remember in the late 20’s [it was in 1938] there was a school strike in Meldreth. The problem was that children over eleven were expected to go to school in Melbourn and the parents refused. The case was heard in a London Court. The village was represented by a local solicitor Mr Ellis and a parent – who lived in Meldreth. The village lost the case.

We used to play with catapults then and the best game was to try and break the glass in the slit windows at Melbourn Church. However there was a man who lived in the big thatched house on the corner as you go into Melbourn and he caught us before any damage was done. He reported us to the police sergeant who had a talk with us and told us if we did it any more we’d be sent to a reformative school!

3. Working Days

I left school in 1904 and went to work for Mr Medlock at Bury Farm and did all jobs of the farm. I got three shillings per week. I worked 6 days a week from 6am – 6pm. my mother used to take half a crown of it and used it to give me sixpence. Sixpence bought a lot of sweets in those days! When I first worked for Mr Medlock I milked the cows – about 5 or 6 cows by hand. People used to come and fetch the milk. Later they started delivering it.

I remember also before I went to school in the morning I used to have to go down to Bury Farm from Rose Cottage to fetch the milk for my mother and two more old ladies. Milk then was two pence a pint. They used to separate the milk and make butter. We used a lot of skimmed milk in those days.

At Bury Farm when I first started there, there was the Housekeeper, the Cowman, and about 5 – 6 other men. Mr Medlock was a hay and straw dealer. Mr Medlock worked 4 – 5 horses on the farm. When I was 15 I used to have one of the horses and another chap used to have another and we used to cart hay and straw up to the station and put it on the trucks and send it to London where it was sold and used. I stayed with Mr Medlock until I was 17.

I heard there was a job going up at Mr Mortlock’s at The Court helping the gardener getting the vegetables in and that sort of thing . That seemed a better job which paid seven shillings and sixpence. Going up in the world! Mr Mortlock, who had a china shop in Oxford Street used to go up to London every day by train – he travelled first class! When he came home at night he would sometimes be irritable because he had gout – he used to travel with a bottle of gin in his bag! On one occasion as I was helping him out of the train I grabbed his gouty leg and he bellowed at me, ” Wing – do you know what you are – a bloody fool!” I replied, “Well, my mother didn’t have them all!”

I got in with the girls at the Court, the cook and the Housekeeper. They used to have a lady’s companion to look after Mrs Mortlock. I became very friendly with them.

Just before the second world war I went to work for Bernie Hart in Fenny Lane (about 1936).

I was living in West Way then. I lived there for 31 years.

4. First World War

I went into the Territorials because there wasn’t much else to do. Different lads were joining something in those days, so my mate and I joined up and had to go to Royston where the HQ was. We went to different camps. I joined up on the 11th March 1912 and we went to a camp that year, last week in July to Thetford, then we carried on going to training evening times after work, sometimes once, sometimes twice and sometimes at the weekend.

We were called up on 4th August 1914. We had a telegram in the morning and we left that day at 12 o’clock from Meldreth station to Hertford. We were billeted in a school at Hertford and went from there to Romford and we slept in a big school at Romford on a brick floor, very hard! From there we went down to Bury St Edmunds and from Bury St Edmunds we went to Rougham. We did a good bit of training there. We couldn’t all go to France at one time. I stopped at Rougham till October 1914.

When I left Meldreth to go to war, I told the foreman gardener at Mr Mortlock’s and he said he didn’t know how he would manage without me. Mr Mortlock got to hear about it and sent for me and asked me what it was all about. I told him I was going to join up. ‘ Well, he said, ‘If you want to go – you go.’ He said, ‘Before you leave, I want you to come up here and see me in your uniform.’ I did and he gave me five shillings – wonderful in them days.

Anyhow I left, I didn’t really like the job. Nobody dared answer him back. On November
5th 1914 I went over on the boat to Calais, France from Southampton at 12 midnight and the
moon was shining lovely. A chap on the boat sang a song from the top deck on a wonderful
night. He sang ‘When we Return’. The old boat we went across on, she sunk coming back.
The morning after we landed we went straight up to the front. That night we went straight
into action. The British Expeditionary force was nearly wiped out. It was a shock. We went to several fronts, I fought at Ypres – terrible conditions till they got a bit organised. I came home on leave at Christmas 1915. The first people I saw when I come down the little path from the station were German POWs coming up the street. They’d been cleaning the river out. I thought I’d got away from the Germans! They were living in Whitecroft Road [Hope Folly] where Mr Oak was going to build a jam factory – that fell through. We had 7 days (leave) – we never had long at home.

My parents didn’t know I was coming home. It was a big surprise for them. We lived down in Rose Cottage then, by the stocks on the left. I came home once more in 1917. I had several narrow escapes but I got through the war. We were in France all the time, in the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment there. I worked on the supply line with horses in France. There was a chap from Whaddon with us, I don’t think there was anyone else from Meldreth with us. There were some from Royston.

I lost three horses altogether. Two, a chap took over when I come home on the first leave in 1915 and he got hit by a shell and they were killed – I missed that. I lost another one in 1917. A shell hit him just behind my leg and we had to shoot him. They soon taught us to ride.

I came home again in 1917 for leave. I went back again and came home from Cheverois (?) in France or Belgium on the Northern [Western?] Front. We went to Crystal Palace and got de-mobbed and we had a suit of clothes. I remember I had a navy blue suit! I came back to Meldreth and had to look for a job. Things weren’t very bright. I went to work for Mr Medlock at Bury Farm, Meldreth. I got married from there. Things weren’t very good and money was tight and I went to work at the Cam Cement works down North End (Cam Farm). It closed down after the general strike in 1926.

I met my wife when I came home on leave the first time. She wrote to me and then I saw her again when I came home the second time. She used to work at the big house near the British QueenLongmead – as a servant. She used to be friendly with a step sister of mine, we was quite a big family. We got married on the 1st November 1919, in Meldreth Church. We lived when we first got married in a little cottage at Melbourn by the Sheene Mill Restaurant – Rose Lane. Two of my daughters and Bill were born there. Then we moved to a cottage near Valley Farm where I was a cowman. We stayed there till we moved to the council houses in West Way and lived up there for 31 years. My youngest daughter was born in West Way – she died of a brain tumour when she was 38.

There were celebrations in Meldreth at the end of the War. We had one in the meadow in North End, where the council houses are now, for all the village. There was sport and they made a tea. We had a jubilee in there – can’t tell you the date of the jubilee just now. Mr Mortlock who had the crockery shops in London gave all the children a commemorative mug.

5. Old Meldreth

Meldreth starts in North End by the little bridge. You come to the Jubilee Cottages, then there was the Sailor’s Return (now called the Bear’s Den) then a farm house, from there, there was the Maltings. Then there was a coal merchants. Next was Malton Lane where you get to Malton and Orwell. On the other side of the road there was Stone Lane – then there were 3 old cottages now made into one, next to Wesleyan Chapel, from there another cottage and then 3 old cottages all in a row where my grandfather lived. This was opposite the old Maltings near Cam Cottages.

Further along the road – there were the Cam Cottages – next to the cement works and the farm – where the pits were dug. I worked there – clunch came out of the pits. We dug the pits. We used to get the chalk from the pits and make it into cement at Cam Farm. Next to them a big house where Mr Russell, who ran the Cam Cement works, used to live called The Laurels -now called Hawkesbury House. Then there was College Farm where the Wedds farmed.

Back along the other side – we got to Malton Road – down Malton Road the Courses lived – they still live down there, a Meldreth family. Several Courses lived down that end of Meldreth. On the corner of Malton Lane stood some old farm buildings where the chap used to do a bit of fishmongering – now 3 new houses. Up a bit further a new house was built in the 1930’s. Opposite College Farm there used to be 3 old cottages, now bungalows. Then you come to The Warren – another big house. They had a moonlight flit from there one day – people who lived there were there in the evening, but they weren’t there the next morning, run off – they disappeared over night! They hadn’t paid their rent. Then they built the council houses after the 1st World War. Next to them we had a Parish Room before you cross over the river – a lovely Parish Room. Had some nice little do’s there. Then it all fell down – now there’s just a gap between council houses and the river. They used to have concert parties and used to have good turn outs. People from the village put on the entertainment, sometimes from Royston, on Saturday evenings.

Then we come to the Vicarage – Mr Harvey lived there. Next to the church. Go back on the other side of the road up from College Farm to a house on the corner, I remember that being built for Mr Plimloss – managing director of the brewery. It’s now called Belmington Close. Then we come to Bury Farm – Mr Medlock lived there.

Then the Topcliffe’s Mill which was owned by Mr Adcock  they used to grind grain up for the pigs and hens and deliver it to people. [The mill was owned by St. Thomas’s Hospital and leased to the Adcock family.] Mr Adcock – one of the sons lived in the cottage near to the mill. When Miss Bowen bought the property she had the cottage built on the way up to the mill for her gardener. There was a big old building opposite the church, where the bowling green is now – a big old warehouse – the brewery had that. Going on from there a big orchard up to Mill Cottage belonging to Mr Adcock the miller from Topcliffe’s Mill.

Next to the church – Manting House – Mr Gibbs used to live there, he was another man from
the brewery – the brewery was on the corner. Down Brewery Lane there were two cottages
that belonged to the brewery. Then as you turned into Brewery Lane there used to be a pub –
the Green Man, which belonged to Philips Brewery from Royston, right next to Meldreth
Brewery! From there we come to the blacksmiths – where the Hale family lived, carpenters,
blacksmiths, wheelwrights, did the funerals, rang the bells. The post office used to be there
(now called the Old Post Office) 3 brothers – all postmen – did all the jobs in the village.

From there, 2 cottages endways on to the road, they were knocked down when they built a bungalow there.

Meldreth Manor is near the Stocks, where the Spastic Society [now Aurora] School is now. I remember several families lived there. Two doctors lived there, Dr Mead-King, Dr Williams came after him. Also Mr Jebb and family, they used to fall out with Mr Harvey the Vicar. Mr Jebb dug up the piece of land leading to the church – and found some human bones. The vicar and he had an argument about that.

Applecote and the Homestead were owned by J. G. Mortlock. Then the Gables – a 15 year old boy shot his mother there one evening about 7pm (they were called Rogers – his mother was an alcoholic); it played on his brain, he went to a remand home. He got 15 years, but I don’t think he did the full time. They left Meldreth after they got everything cleared up.

There were 2 cottages that went with the Gables, where the Rogers lived that were pulled down. Next to that was Mr Gipson, and an old chapel stood behind Mr Gipson’s house. Then came Mr Palmer’s General Grocers shop and all that property. I used to take a jar up there for three penny worth of treacle from the barrel, really black and runny. I used to put it on suet pudding. From there Bell Close meadow and the Adcock’s house. The Bell pub stood endways to the road, it’s called the Dormers now. Then an old cottage where the post office used to be when they moved it up from the Blacksmiths Shop.

There is a pathway through from the High Street to Whitecroft Road (from the Post Office) which is next to the other house, Meldreth House, where a Colonel lived after the war. Then they moved to Cambridge. From there, there used to be a Farmhouse where old Mr Ellis used to live at the corner of Elin Way. It was knocked down, and now the Village Hall stands there. A man lived there once, he didn’t like the door where it was, so he picked a hole in the wall and got in it like that. It was a very old house made of clunch! Where the Grange now stands is where Mr Heddes [Mr Ellis?] the barrister lived. His house was demolished to build the Grange. Next to that was an old wooden cottage and then Temple House, owned by the Palmers. Then, where all the new houses are now, (Oakrits), that used to be an orchard up the High Street and along Whitecroft Road.

The school is opposite where Mr Ellis lived and Mr Wright lived next door. There was a coach house, now a private dwelling. Another Mill where Flambards is now, belonged to Mr Ellis. People who lived there were called Sheldrick – we called it Sheldrick’s. There was an old Quaker cottage where you turn into Flambards. From there two more old cottages and another house. The three Palmer sisters lived there, White Gates it’s called now.

Elbourn lived at The Pump House – they had traction threshing machines there which were hired out at harvest time. Then the Railway – a busy place in those days. A very busy station. Next to the station was the coal yard. Three coal people had their businesses there, one, Coningsby from Whaddon, some of the Palmers, and a man from Melbourn. Over the railway hill to Valley Farm.

There’s a cottage that stands out on its own as you turn round the corner. Then one right on the corner – but it fell down before they built the bypass, I believe. Then there were some more houses where the brick houses are now. They got burned down one afternoon. From there an old house that stands back and then a little house by the side of the road, from there you get to Melbourn.

There is a stone on the other side of the river on the left as you go into Melbourn that marks the boundary between Meldreth and Melbourn. Go back the other side to Sheene Mill, part of it’s in Meldreth and part in Melbourn. Then we come to Sheene Manor and then on to what is now Fieldgate nurseries. Then they built another house, there used to be a farm there, St. John’s Farm. Over the railway hill again, then just round the corner there are two cottages where the end fell out of one. It’s called Walnut Tree Cottage. Then Hope Folly where they made the gas – it was a sort of iron roofed shed – he had the Gas House and Laundry in Melbourn, just over the river opposite the Sheene Mill. He supplied the gas for Melbourn. We never had gas in Meldreth. Mr Hope’s gas brought street lights to Melbourn in 1912, he was always into something hence Hope’s Folly – he brought piped water to Melbourn from the Newmarket Road. There was plenty of springs in Meldreth but Melbourn didn’t have so many.

He married into the Palmers, all interlocked, Palmers, Elbourns, Wedds, all married into each. They tell me that’s where they put the German Prisoners – in Hope Folly. The old cottage on the road was there then (in Whitecroft Road) opposite 3 cottages in a row end on to the road and one facing the road. Mr Hope lived in Longmead.

Up to Chiswick End. Chiswick House is end way to the road, it belonged to the Elbourns. He used to have threshing machines. There were several old cottages and next to them the Dumb Flea – which used to be a pub; one of my daughters lived there, they were the last ones to have it as a pub. After the Dumb Flea another cottage, that was all there was in those days before they built the new bungalows. On the other side there was an old cottage, then the Parish Cottages now knocked down. These were right at the bottom of Chiswick End on the right. Two more stood on their own. Then my sister’s cottage. Then the row of cottages joined on to the fruit farm owned by Mr Howard. Mr Howard and the Palmers were the two main fruit growers in Meldreth.

On the corner there used to be two cottages, there’s only one now, it looks right up to the station. Going up Whitecroft Road there is an old timber cottage on the left where Mr Harper used to live – it stands back from the road. Then there was a meadow where we used to play football – there are bungalows there now. There was a house that still stands on its own, it used to belong to Miss Spooner. It’s called Whitecroft Gables. Then on to Donkey Corner at the junction of Whaddon Road and Kneesworth Road. There were three cottages there – they were knocked down by Charlie Plumb after West Way was built.

By the Stocks was the Court, that belonged to the Mortlocks and beside that were Elin’s almshouses. They were built in the 30’s. In 1955 plots of land next to the Almshouses were sold for £100 per plot. Mr Croxton [Croxall] in Dolphin Lane built Elin’s Almshouses. Going towards Melbourn the Miller’s Cottage, now the British Queen, was owned by Mr Mortlock. So were the Maltings where Chamberlain’s the Corn Merchants used to be.

By the British Queen was Longmead and then a cottage set back – I think its now a car show room and Johnnie Gipson started that garage around the 1950’s. Johnnie’s father was a farmer but he also ran the British Queen. Beyond that was the Woolpack Yard where bullocks were over wintered. Where the V.G. now stands used to be a bakery. The row of cottages and a barn (now a hairdressers) all burned down in a huge fire in 1908. Then there were two cottages that belonged to George Winters and then another bakery.

There’s a big house next to that which always seemed to stand empty! Then there was a row of thatched cottages where Quest End now stands – I remember the Dashs and the Farnhams lived there – as lads we used to tie the two front doors together so they couldn’t get out! Keys Cottage stands next – it was two cottages then. The school was built in the early 20’s [it was earlier than this; it opened in 1910]. Past that was a big coach house set back. Both it and the house there were owned by the Atlas Stone Company and the Managing Director lived there.

On the corner of where Flambards is now stood an old cottage. There’s a bungalow on that site now – it was reckoned to be haunted – it got knocked down to build Flambards. Sheldrick’s Mill was over a footbridge at the river at the back of Flambards.

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