Meldreth Village - Part Two

Sarah Butler outside her home in Whitecroft Road c.1940
Photo supplied by Gloria Willers

As mentioned in Part One, Sarah’s book was written in two parts, the first in 1972 with her memories from the beginning of the century and the second written in 1975 with her memories of village life from the 1920’s. However, as the books were written several years apart, some of the information is found in both parts.

Sarah was very involved with fundraising for Meldreth Manor School and donated all the money from the sale of her books to the school fund.

My Memories of Meldreth in the Early 1920’s

The end of Chiswick End, or The Green, as we called it, was nothing but a very rough chalk road leading to the orchards on the right. On the left were parish allotments and a footpath going over the railway and coming out at the top of Bury Lane. The springs of sparkling clear water start just before the allotments. These springs are the source of what we called the Running Ditch because the water flowed so swiftly up to the top of the lane when it went under the road and continued to flow along the deep ditch on the left hand side of the road. This was the only source of water for many of the cottages and every so often along its course would be “Dipping Holes” where the stream was deeper by having been dug out for this purpose.

From the Dipping Hole the stream again crossed the road in front of a row of cottages with orchards at the back. These were the cottages burnt down; details are in Part One. The stream then flowed swiftly to Polly Dacre footpath, where there was a sleeper across to gain the footpath. Mr Dash’s house was once a meadow, and the stream flowed along this and right on to Fenny Lane, where once there was a ford, quite deep in Winter and so on until it reached what we call the High River. This running ditch is now piped along the Whitecroft Road and the Council houses now stand where once was an orchard, beloved by us children because of the large walnut tree which stood in the corner. This was owned by the local celebrity, one Mr H.O.S. Ellis a retired barrister and he spent a good deal of time in the walnut season brandishing his stick and chasing us children off. Continuing up the Whitecroft Road there were fields of corn up to Whitecroft Gables which were then just two small cottages. Opposite was White Croft, my home for sixty years. It was then two cottages but my father made them into one when the tenant of the other one died. It was said the previous owner obtained them, by deceiving the previous owner who was an old lady who had no relative and she herself was mentally deficient. Three acres of orchard went with the house and the story goes that the deception so played on the man’s mind that he went down the orchard and hanged himself from one of the trees. It was said that his ghost haunted the house and my brothers swore they heard footsteps in the night and the bedroom door was opened by an invisible hand.

Then coming up to Donkey Hall there were allotments on one side and on the corner stood the tallest poplar tree which could be seen from miles away. Three cottages stood at the other side of the road, two small ones and a larger one with a small field and orchard belonging to it. It is said the name Donkey Hall originated from these cottages because the man there used a donkey for all his field work.

Leaving Fenny Lane we get to the High Street again and on the left is Rose Cottage [1]. In my early days it had a thatched roof and a porch over the front door with a climbing rose; they looked a picture in the Summer time. Next were the very poor cottages, now renovated and made into two dwellings with added kitchen and bathroom. Between here and the corner were many old cottages including two on the corner which stood endways to the road. Then we come to the old Blacksmith’s also the Post Office which in my days had been kept for generations by the Hale family. Two of the Hale family maiden ladies kept the postal business; telegrams were, of course, in code in those days. The mail cart came up twice a day and letters were delivered by one of the Hale brothers. The Blacksmiths and Wheelwright was at the end of the house.  There were always horses waiting to be shod and farm carts to have new rims put on. Next came the brewery which was most flourishing. Beer was brewed twice a week and the smell pervaded the whole village. Children could be seen going down with cans to purchase the yeast as most people made their own bread. There was one cottage in Brewery Lane which belonged to Brewery Farm later purchased by my father. It is a 100 acre farm and my father planted part of the fields with fruit trees, plum, cherry and apple with gooseberries, red and blackcurrants underneath. Women went out during the season in gangs to pick the fruit.

The house standing at the bottom of Brewery Lane was once the Brewery Public House [2] . On the opposite side of the road there was a fountain of pure water, the overflow from the artesian well inside the brewery. There were no houses between the Church House and The Warren. The next one was Blenheim Farm on the corner of Malton Lane, or to give it its ancient name, Balls Lane. The Old Maltings are near the Sailors’ Return Pub. Both these played their part in the village until the Second World War. Next are the last houses in the village – the Jubilee Cottages. As Meldreth boundary from Shepreth is the Guilden Brook, Stone Lane, the other side of the road had two cottages at the lower end. Near Stone Lane were other thatched cottages. At one time Methodist services were held in the Course’s farmhouse then a small piece of land at the opposite side of the road was given them and they built their own Church. Now, alas, with all those early enthusiasts passed away, support dwindled to such an extent that it could no longer pay its way and the building was sold a few years’ ago. Other cottages between the Chapel and the corner of the road were burnt down in 1884. There were no houses between Wedds Corner until you get to what was called Medlocks Farm but old records say it is Vesey’s Manor Farm.

Topcliffe Manor and Mill are up Mill Lane and there is a public footpath which we called “Round by the river”. This led over the mill stream on sleepers put across to Melbourn Moor. The mill was working until just before World War II. Later on it was bought by Miss M A Bowen and the cottage there made into a large dwelling house. Miss Bowen established a market garden and had a cottage built further down the lane for a gardener to live in. Just past the Church there was a thatched cottage on the corner.  Coming to Marvels Green where the stocks still stand, there stood also a cross. The base of this has been returned to the stocks after being buried in a garden for many years.

The Manor House opposite, now the Spastic School [3] is “The Manor of Street”. On the left hand side of the road a high fence guarded a flowing river, part of a moat which surrounded The Court built in 1772 later to become the house of John Marvel, father of the poet who wrote many poems in the Oak Room looking out to lawns and gardens. This room has been preserved and is still the Oak Room.

In my childhood days a Mr John Mortlock owned The Court, the most important house in the village. He kept six indoor servants and nine gardeners to keep his beautiful grounds and greenhouses with tropical flowers in order. There was a cottage for his coachman and special stalls in the coach house for each horse, there was a name plate on each stall and all had silver plated harness. It was quite a sight each day to see Mr Mortlock being driven to the station in his carriage with a footman sitting behind, to catch a train to London where he had several china shops. The train at Meldreth station always waited for his arrival if he was a little late getting there.

There was another Maltings in the High Street in use until a few years’ ago. Opposite is The Gables which has the tragic story of a lad who shot his mother when I was a girl. He was detained during “Her Majesty’s Pleasure”. Two cottages for work people stood a little back from the road. On that same side was the old Congregational schoolroom built of clay bats with a round stove and a chimney going up in the middle of the room. In my young days it was “a going concern” with services and Sunday school.  After the First World War things changed and the building was used for all sorts of purposes even to the billeting of soldiers in the Second World War.  It has been bought now by Mr J Gipson and will eventually be demolished. [4]

The British Queen Public House is now the only one in the village and has had internal improvements to cope with bigger trade.

In the next house lived a Mr Hope who had great inventive powers but not sufficient money to carry his ideas out for any length of time. He built a ramshackle building near the station which villagers called Hope’s Folly and here he started a gas works with a large gasometer in the field beyond. He laid pipes across to Melbourn and erected gas standards in part of the village and it was really lit by gas for a considerable time. His next venture was to start a laundry which employed several people but once again money ran out and the laundry had to close. Hope’s Folly was used as prisoner of war camp near the end of the First World War. Prisoners used to work on various farms in the village. The building was then used for various purposes until it was demolished and the present bungalow built on the site.

Going back to the High Street there was a general shop opposite Mr Hope.  This was kept by a Mr Mark Palmer. He also sold wines and spirits. Port wine was 2/- a bottle and whiskey 3/6d. a bottle. Mr Palmer owned a coal business in the station yard. Coal was 1/- a hundredweight. Next to Palmer’s shop and house was the Bell Close meadow, hired to a local horse dealer who kept horses out to grass there between his buying and selling.  Opposite was Ellis’ Farm – The Woolpack. There was a very large barn there and during the second war years the Atlas stored asbestos there. There were also other buildings and a cottage with orchard at the back where there were usually young heifers out to grass. Next came Warren’s pork butchers and bakers which had been for generations in the Warren family. Next to it was the slaughterhouse and stables. These and the house were burnt down together with a row of cottages further up the High Street. The account of the fire is in Part One.

The Bell Inn was opposite and kept by an eccentric couple named Woods.  After they died the pub became a private house.

The Post Office was once a very old thatched house now modernised and enlarged and the Post Office added on. In my days a devout Salvationist lived there called Issen East. The Salvation Army Band always had a service at Melbourn Cross on Sunday evening. Issen preached and so powerful was his voice that usually people in the High Street Meldreth could hear every word.

There was no school in the village; the present one was built in 1910.  Ellis’s farmhouse stood opposite at the entrance to farm lands and farm buildings and a little further on was his house, The Grange, which is now demolished and is the Grange estate.

Opposite this was a meadow leading to the river and Flambards Mill which was demolished before my time but the house still stood and was occupied. This meadow is now fully developed and is called Flambards Close. Next to the Grange stood a small wooden cottage. Then came the next house which was not enclosed as it is now. It was a farm, with farmyard and buildings in front. It was let to a Mr Palmer, great grandfather of the Melbourn Palmers and was part of The Sheen Manor Trust. It is recorded in one of the Manor trust deeds that when a barn was burned down in what we called Bullock Yard; this was a field near the railway line; £100 was paid out of Trust funds to build a new one. It is said that the large barn next to the house, which is now a garage, is hundreds of years’ old and at the time of the Cambridge plague, food for the city was stored there. My memory of Palmer’s farm was in the winter time. Apples were stored in The Hovel there and my father sometimes was asked to put in a lot of extra time in the winter to sort the apples out.  We children looked forward to him coming home with a basket of specked apples.  Elbourn’s farm was on the other side of the road. It had a farmyard at the side, now Woodlands Drive. He kept dairy cows and we children had to take a can up there each for a pennyworth of skimmed milk, all we could afford.

Allerton Terrace was the Station allotments and next door the Railway Tavern was open all day.

In the wall is the original Victorian pillar box. Letters were collected when the mail van passed through on its way from Cambridge to Royston at 6 am and on the return journey at 8 pm. The Railway Station was a very busy place with its three coal depots and engines shunting all the time bringing the loaded trucks. There was also a weighbridge and both a coal office and a goods office. There was always a Station Master, Booking Clerk, two Porters and a Shunting Porter. Four large horses were in the stable near the road. All produce went by rail. In the season extra trolleys were sent down to collect the produce and a goods train arrived in the evening to be loaded up for the London markets, finally leaving about 10 pm. Cattle for the markets were also sent by train and these could always be seen on Monday being driven along the roads to the special cattle stand at the Station, to be loaded onto trucks. The building in the Station Yard at the bottom of the hill was connected with the coprolite digging. It housed a mill and there was a very deep well and a wind-wheel above to draw the water up. Incidentally, there was no railway between Royston and Shepreth until 1846 and roads were very bad so work people must have had a very hard life in those days, bringing the coprolite from Whaddon.

At the beginning of Station Road there were three cottages standing end way to the road. They were built of clay bats and one day the end wall fell completely out. The other two are now made into one very nice cottage.

We come next to Jarman’s Yard on the right and a thatched cottage on the left.

Between was the orchard belonging to the Palmer’s farm. I remember it as a cherry orchard and we children used to go bird scaring in the season. The cherry pickers always had their powder and shot guns with them. The birds they shot went into bird pies and puddings to feed us hungry children. Robins always went free to eat the cherries and starlings were shot and given to the cats as they had a peculiar flavour. The village roadman lived in one of the cottages; a very nosy man, always asking people where they were going. If he was told to mind his own business he always replied “Oh, I don’t want to know boy, I only thought I’d ask.”  Another man who lived there was so fed up with his wife’s tongue he told her he would go and drown himself and straight away went down the well in the corner of the yard and was presumably hanging on the top with his finger tips. What she didn’t know was that the well was only a few feet deep and he was standing on the bottom. His wife screamed and said “Don’t go, I’ll never nag again. Hold on dear, I’ll get you out.” Next to Jarman’s Yard there were more orchards and then a farm roadway leading to Grange Farm in the High Street.

Now we have finished our tour of the village we will go on to other information. Meldreth was mostly fruit growing and many orchards were known by name. An orchard in Whitecroft Road was Medlock’s Orchard.  Oaksit was near the Station. Oaksit Meads were ploughed up about 1940. Clemencey’s was at Chiswick End, Burton’s was at Kneesworth Road, Honor’s was at Fenny Lane, Scruby’s at Whaddon Road, Hornsey Woods just past the Atlas works and Pink’s Corner near the boundary with Whaddon, Peat Moor is now the Atlas car park and Huneret is over Mettle Hill. What was called “Down the Manting” was the public footpath through the orchards near the stocks. There were no Atlas works in my early days, just two derelict lime kilns and a very deep pit full of water where I remember a boy was drowned while swimming.

Public houses where thriving, there being nowhere else for the men to go and with beer 2d a pint and whisky 3/6d a bottle, drunkenness was an everyday occurrence. The row of houses where the Council houses stand opposite the thatched cottage in Whitecroft Road were burned down by a man who lived there. His wife got so fed up with him coming home drunk that one night she locked him out. After banging on the door for some time he shouted, “Alright old gel if I can’t get in I’ll have you out.” And he straightaway put a match to the thatch. All three cottage were burnt down, including the end one, where lived a man called Waldock who cut men’s and boy’s hair in his spare time. Men were charged 2d and boys 1d.

The Dumb Fleece pub in Chiswick End is centuries old.

In a cottage near it was a small shop. In my day it stocked everyday items like needles, cottons, tape etc. Then there was the Railway Tavern, the Bell Inn and the British Queen in the High Street.  North End had the Brewery pub and the Sailor’s Return where the carrier from Bassingbourn to Cambridge on Wednesdays and Saturdays frequently stopped to have a drink and collect passengers and goods of anyone who wanted to be taken to Cambridge. It is interesting to note that in the 1860’s a Mr Frances Bell owned The Grove and Thomas Bowman Westrope, the Laurels. Rev. Cory was the Vicar, John George Mortlock owned The Court after William Walter Mortlock, David Adcock was the baker, James Adcock the miller and John Adcock the tailor. Thomas Bowman was a farmer, William Chamberlain was a shopkeeper and Samuel Clear a farmer.  Meldreth High Street had several fountains of pure water. People could be seen with a yoke on carrying two pails of water or trundling a water cart.  These were the only sources of water and yet when piped water was first mooted, a meeting of protest about the cost and quality of the water was held in the village. This in spite of a water famine a few years’ previously.

As there was no school in the village, children had to walk to Triggs School at Melbourn. I remember if there was a farm cart going our way we quickly climbed on, arriving at school rather bedraggled. Sometimes we stopped to buy a halfpennyworth of sweets at the shop in Melbourn Street. They were sold in little screwed up pieces of paper. We got quite a lot for a halfpenny. We could not go home at midday so we sometimes brought slices of bread and sugar for our dinner or we would bring slices of bread and a jar of treacle which we would buy for two pence at Camphen’s shop. Sometimes we had two pence to buy a bag of broken biscuits. There were plenty of those about as biscuits were delivered in tins without packaging then. We sometimes stopped to peek through the door at the ginger beer making machine next door. This was put into bottles and we sometimes saw the glass marbles going into the bottles as stoppers.

The school had three divisions; the infants’ room, one classroom and the large room with a partition down the middle, one side for the girls and the other for boys. This room was heated by a large round stove which always had a dish of water standing on it. There was one teacher for the infants and an elder girl as a helper. Then for the upper classes there was the headmistress, the headmaster and two teachers. I remember the first thing we infants were taught was drawing pot hooks on our slates, and then we went on to numbers and the alphabet. This school was founded by a John Trigg who in 1816 left a large sum of money for the purpose of educating poor children within a radius of five miles of Melbourn. He was at that time owner of Melbourn Bury. The money was to be used as prizes and scholarships to Cambridge schools. I remember the prize money for needlework, reading, writing, arithmetic, woodwork etc. was in the form of stamps in a savings book; 5/-, 3/- and 1/-. If we were lucky enough to get several first prizes we felt very rich and our parents were very glad of the money. In the winter months we first did exercises and then sang a hymn and we had to learn chapters of the Bible and the headmistress would say a prayer. Discipline was very strict and the cane was much in evidence. There was no lighting in the school and I remember a heavy thunderstorm when the school was quite dark and we were all frightened. The High Street became a torrent and farm carts had to be brought to the school to take us home.

Another time I well remember was Queen Victoria’s Jubilee when we were taken in farm wagons for a day on Royston Heath. Stopping at the Halfway Pub we were each given a pork pie. I just remember there were all sorts of amusements on the Heath and my sisters being so angry because I cried to go home. I was allowed to leave school at the age of twelve because I had reached the top standard and the teachers at that time had no more knowledge to impart.

My Sunday school days started when I was about five years’ old. We walked to Melbourn Chapel for Sunday School at 9 o’clock then at a quarter to ten we marched across to the New Chapel for the service which was long and boring but we dare not fidget and had to sit through seven hymns, two Bible lessons, a children’s talk and a sermon that went on for an hour. I remember the preacher well. We walked home, had dinner and then Sunday school again in the old building at Meldreth, home for tea and another service in the evening. Lay preachers took the service and when a certain dear old soul was down to preach we knew we were in for a giggle because before the sermon he would give out the notices, beginning: “Before I speak, I’ll say a few words.”  We always had a Good Friday tea and service. We paid 6d for Good Friday buns, tea and plum cake.

My earliest remembrance is of seeing my father and brothers cutting the corn with scythes. The wives would tie the sheaves with the bends made by us children, by laying out long strands of the corn and twisting them together. The sheaves were then “stoked” until the corn was ripe. Then came the wagons with horses led by small boys between the “stooks”. One man pitched and another loaded until the wagon was fully loaded and then driven to the stack yard and stacked up until “sheening” time.  To quench their thirst the men had “Harvest Beer” which they carried in a small barrel. This beer was made at home by the wives and for elevenses a large part of a cottage loaf with a lump of butter or cheese in a hole in the middle of the loaf. This was eaten “under the thumb” so called because the men held it and cut off pieces with a “shut” knife. After harvest they had a “Hokey” either in a pub or in a large barn. Later on came the “sheening”. A farmer in the village had three sets of “sheening” tackle which he hired out. This was the large threshing engine, the drum, elevator and chaff cutter. I remember we always had a truck load of engine coal straight from the pits. The man who drove the engine had to be at work about 4 o’clock in the morning to get steam up so that work could begin at 6 o’clock. One man was kept busy fetching water in the water cart. Some straw was cut into chaff to feed the horses, the other was stacked up and afterwards sold for thatching and other purposes. A Mr Medlock, in my day, was a buyer of hay and straw. I watched him one day testing the straw in the stack by pushing in an iron rod. He bought straw from miles around and employed two men tiers to go and tie it into bundles ready for carting away. We also had Stockbridge brothers in the village who were well known horse dealers. Horses they had bought were often kept in village meadows, notably the Bell Close meadow and the Folly meadow on the Whitecroft Road where the shop and bungalows are.  Women and children always went gleaning after the harvest and then threshed out the corn with a flail. The Topcliffe’s miller was a jovial man and he would grind the corn into flour for us at very little cost.

Every household baked their own bread. My father made ours. I can picture him now, kneading the bread in a huge wooden trough. When the dough had risen he would put it into pillow cases for us to wheel in our little handcart down to the bakers who would make and bake the loaves for us. The baker would always cook our Sunday joint on special occasions when it was a large one. Everyone kept a pig and as there was then no refrigeration, our meat was usually salt pork mostly made into dumplings with onions and potatoes. We could not afford other meat. When a pig was killed the most delicious faggots were made from the offal, far superior to any bought today.

I must not forget the widows of the village, who after the harvest was gathered in went on their “Gooding” round of the farms. Of course, this “gooding” is asking for alms. As children, we as well as the farmers got a lot of fun out of this because one very rotund lady when trying to curtsey always rolled over. We children did our bit of asking for alms too. On St. Valentine’s Day, on our way to school, we called at certain houses and sang:

Good morning Valentine curl your hair as I do mine
Two before and two behind good morning Valentine.

We were always late for school on that day because we called at the shop and spent all the pennies which had been given us on sweets. Another way we got sweets was to scrounge empty beer bottles and take them back to the Railway Tavern because the landlord there kept a bottle of sweets for this purpose.

Melbourn is spoken of as along straggling village and in my childhood had between 600-700 inhabitants. We had to make our own entertainment and I think our Band of Hope concerts at Melbourn Old Chapel were one of the highlights of the village. We children spent weeks rehearsing our recitations, action songs etc. And the place was packed out on the evening of the concert.  No charge for admission. Other events were when Mr Mortlock, owner of The Court, gave a “do” at The Court. The grounds were lit up in the evening with coloured fairy lights – candles in coloured small globes. The fountain was turned on and there were games and races for everyone, also refreshments. Mr Mortlock loved children and we would all gather round his gate after Sunday school until he let us in and walked with us round his beautiful gardens. We would peep through the windows of the greenhouses. We were not allowed in as he had beautiful tropical plants growing there. One of our Sunday school treats was a magical lantern show in the winter, and one Sunday school treat was being taken by train for a day at the seaside. The teachers had the mammoth job of keeping over 100 children safe and I remember once there was great consternation when the roll was called on the platform at Lowestoft to find one boy missing. He had not been found when the train left for home. One teacher was left behind to look for him. Both arrived home safely the next morning.

Meldreth High Street presents a vastly different picture to that in my day when there was a row of thatched cottages near where the school is. The whole row, together with Warren’s shop was burnt down in the early 1900’s. These were small cottages containing two up and two down. In one lived a newly married couple who lost all their new furniture. The middle one was occupied by Jane Thriplow, one of Meldreth’s largest ladies. It was her birthday and she jokingly said “I’m going to have a blaze up”. Little did she think of the blaze up that would take place at the end of the day. Of course the only light we had was candles and lamps.  Jane lit her candle and went up to bed. She put the lighted candle on the window ledge and the curtains caught alight. Unfortunately, there was a crack in the wall and the flames went up to the tinder dry thatched roof. Soon the whole row of cottages was blazing away and before help could be obtained the wooded barn and slaughter house belonging to Warren’s shop was alight, also the shop and house. Meanwhile Jane refused to budge from her house, being stupefied by smoke, so Issen East who lived opposite, had somehow to drag her down the stairs as she was too heavy to carry. It was said the flames could be seen from Royston.  The Melbourn Fire Brigade eventually arrived and the sluice gates at Flambard’s Mill were opened and the volume of water was turned into the ditch just at the back of the cottages. The hose was quickly connected but owing to so many willing helpers, two lengths of it were twisted and burst. As the fire was so quickly spreading, a Mr Percy Elbourn got on his bicycle and rod with all speed to Royston to summon the Royston Fire Brigade. When they arrived they started pumping on adjoining properties and the fire was arrested there.  Some furniture was saved. A pony from Warren’s farmyard was saved but carts and other things were all burnt. Six tons of coal was smouldering for days. Everything in the house and shop was ruined and when the fire was put out there could be seen large joints of charred meat. A number of chickens were also burnt alive and some of these were eaten on the spot by some of the rougher people. Sifting through the debris the next day £6 in gold was found and some loose silver and copper coins. (Note: Sarah also refers to this fire in Part One.)

We all rode bicycles in my young days. I can remember my father riding his Penny Farthing. Then came the solid tyre bone shaker. Some of the better off rode a tricycle. We had oil lamps at night and later on came the carbide gas lamps. Very few people rode after dark and I can remember in my very early teens returning to Cambridge where I was employed, one dark evening and I did not meet a single person or vehicle from Meldreth to Trumpington. I remember the first charabanc ride vividly. These charabancs were like a long wagon with seats and just a canvas roof to pull down if it rained. A day’s outing to the seaside had been organised and off we started at 6 am; mothers carrying enough food for the day. All went well on the outward journey and we had a lovely day at Lowestoft.  Coming home it began to get dark although there was a moon. The driver stopped to light the candle lamps and we drive off but somehow the journey took longer than expected and the candles burnt out and we had no replacements. We had to get home somehow so the driver went on, frequently getting on to the grass verge and having to climb down from the driver’s seat to find out where we were. Eventually we arrived home, hours late, to find all the fathers and relations wandering about the street thinking something dreadful had happened. No one on the charabanc had worried, we had complete trust in the driver.

I also remember Mr  H. O. S. Ellis being about the first to own a motor car in the village, it was one of those open tourers, I think they were called.  Shortly after he bought it there was an election and I should think more people went to vote than ever before just to get a ride in the car. Mr Ellis was a staunch Conservative and he was at loggerheads with any of the other parties and did things he would not dare to do today. On one occasion he and my father, who was a Liberal, nearly came to blows and so infuriated was Mr Ellis that when he knew my father was picking fruit in an orchard he took along his shotgun and fired several times over his head shouting “I’ll teach you”. Mr Ellis had been a very clever criminal barrister and he was always to the forefront in enticing the not so clever villagers to stand up for their rights. So, when the Meldreth school (built as an infant school in 1910 but in fact children stayed there almost to leaving age) was only allowed to keep children up to eleven years of age, after that they had to walk to Melbourn school, one and a half miles away, he incited the parents to rebel.  Meetings were held and children kept away from school. After they had been duly warned summons were brought by the Education Authority against the parents.  One man was chosen as spokesman for the court hearing and of course the case was lost. In his usual typical way Mr Ellis washed his hands of the affair and the spokesman was ordered to pay all costs. This he could not do alone, so various events to raise cash was organised in the village. It was Mr Ellis, who also protested about Meldreth being on the mains for water.  He was alright because he had a well but other people had to rely on the three fountains in the village and open ditches for their water and many had to carry it some distance to their homes.

The General Shop which had been the village shop for generations was burnt down soon after electricity came to the village. This was caused by an electrical fault in the store room over the shop which was gutted, together with the downstairs and upstairs rooms of the house. The shopkeeper lost all his takings, about £100. This shop was on the site of the hairdressers’ in the High Street.

In the 1920’s Mr William Palmer, a noted antiquarian and member of the Melbourn Palmers, often came to our Young People’s meetings at the Congregational Chapel and gave us lectures on local history. One of these was in 1926 and I kept notes of it. I was fascinated by the old customs, especially the “Lark Silver” chapter (see Part One).

I remembered as a child my father and brothers going out trailing for larks when it was dark. The little birds fetched 6d each at the London markets. The method of catching was to stretch a net across a field and trailing it, with one man at each end, across the fields because, of course, larks always nest on the ground. One seldom sees or hears a lark nowadays.

Meldreth had its own vicar who lived in Church House and was vicar for thirty six years, by name of Rev. Percy Harvey. Details of the church, organ and bells are given in Part One.

After the small cottage hospital was built at Royston there was an appeal for funds. My mother could always be relied on to organise things, so in the morning I was ordered to harness up the pony and trap because we were going round the village to collect goods to sell at Royston market, making £14, a lot of money in those days.

Coming to the Second World War, we had many evacuees in the village.  One small boy who had never seen Brussels sprouts in his life was disgusted to find some on his plate for dinner. He shouted “You can just take those off – I’m not eating grass knobs”. When the soldiers who were billeted here were on exercise one week, it was presumed the village had been bombed. One small girl wanted to cross the railway bridge but a soldier standing there said “You can’t go there, can’t you see it’s been bombed?” She replied “Don’t be daft, of course it hasn’t”. She turned back but meeting another soldier she started telling him about the bridge, he replied “You can’t talk to me missy, I’ve been dead three days”.  Disgusted the child said “What, another daft one?”

During the War years I did WVS work and one week I was collecting for Red Cross funds. The Pioneer Corps were billeted in the village with the H.Q. in Church House. I asked the C.O. there if I could leave a box. He agreed and said it should be a “swear box”. Thinking I would be sure to have a box full, I was most disappointed to find only 15/- and without thinking I said to the C.O. “I hope the next lot will be better swearers than you…..”

Going back to my early days and the Christmases we used to have. Of course we all went out Christmas singing and one small girl could play the melodeon and that made it very successful. On Christmas Eve my mother was banished from the kitchen and father took over.  We always made sugar balls on Christmas Eve. Father boiled the soft brown sugar whilst we buttered the plates. When the sugar was ready and poured onto the plates father told us to butter our hands and the take some of the toffee and roll it into balls. We had great fun. After this it was hanging our stockings up and then to bed. Great excitement in the morning when we opened them. Sweets filled the toe, then an orange, small picture book, pencil and various other small items and, best of all, there was always a monkey on a stick and a money box like the old post boxes. Dinner was always roast beef and Yorkshire pudding cooked under the meat so it was gorgeous with the gravy from the meat dropping on to it. Then followed plum pudding with lots of silver 3d pieces in it. We were carefully watched so we did not swallow any of them. Sometimes the mince pies also had some 3d pieces in them. We made our own mincemeat a month previously. All the ingredients were so cheap so we always made enough to fill one of those huge earthenware crocks. We children had to sit and stone the raisins under the watchful eye of mother, otherwise I’m afraid the amount that was needed would be sadly depleted. Mistletoe was home grown on a tree in the orchard and there was plenty of greenery for decoration. After tea we had a musical evening accompanied by one of my brothers on the American organ. They were very popular in my day.

Roads and paths were ankle deep in mud during the winter. We girls wore long dresses and they always had a wide braid sewn on the bottom because unless we held our dresses up, the skirt trailed on the ground and got very muddy. Hedges were high so it took some time for the roads to dry and even then they had deep ruts of mud. In the summer boys took out the cows to feed by the roadside so what with the mud and cow pats it was not very pleasant to get about.

In October 1844 the Sheen Manor was inherited by a Meldreth lady – Ann Ellis, who was then a widow. She later married the Rev. Andrew Curr Wright, a congregational minister of the Melbourn “New” Chapel. His tomb can be seen in the Chapel cemetery. Whilst ministering at Melbourn he was largely responsible for the building of the Chapel (now demolished) and contributed greatly to its cost. The Sheen Manor estate was bequeathed to his wife for her use, her heirs and assigns forever. Certain portions of the hereditaments were taken over by the Royston and Hitchin Railway after the Amendments Act of 1845. The land was conveyed to the use of the company and their survivors forever.

Purchase money was agreed on £800 together with the sum of £1,200 for damage and severance. This money was paid into the Bank of England in trust for Ann Wright.

In 1877 two pieces of land at Meldreth were sold to the Meldreth Portland and Brick Company, together with two roads at £200. Other lands and houses were sold from time to time and recorded in Trust Deeds. These speak of a farm at Meldreth being let to a Mr George Palmer in the 1890’s and when a barn, known locally as the Bullock Yard was burnt down in 1900, the Royal Insurance Company paid £100 in compensation. A new barn was erected at a cost of £193.19s.4d. This was defrayed out of Trust Funds. The Sheen Manor was once twice the size it is now. At the end of the 13th century the Manor was divided into two equal parts. One is now the Sheen Farm and the other is known as Topcliffe’s at Meldreth and up to 1926 belonged to St. Thomas’ Hospital London. [In actually fact, Topcliffe Mill was not sold by St. Thomas’s Hospital until 1948.]

People coming to Meldreth from Orwell would enter by Balls Lane [5].  This was enclosed by a gate until about 1813. There were several old cottages opposite the lane which were later burnt down.  The road divided opposite College Farm. The left hand road ran “over the downs” to Melbourn Moor. The right hand road named Duke’s Lane passed the old vicarage which stood between the river and the Church. Beyond the brewery the old blacksmith’s shop stood on a corner of open fields.

[1] This is now known as North End.

[2] Although The Green Man was next to the brewery, there is no evidence to suggest that the two were linked.

[3] This is became a Scope School and is now run by Aurora.

[4] The chapel was subsequently sold by John Gipson and in 2014/15 it was converted to a house.

[5] This is now known as Malton Lane.

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