Memories of Bill Horn
Part Two - Reminiscences of pre-Welwyn Garden City and area
By Roger Filler
Transcript of tape recording by William Harvey Cooper Horn 1901-1987. Made 1976). Part Two
The sanitary arrangements, both at at Brickwall and Handside were waterborne, and we had, of course, no mains drainage. There were cess pools which had to be cleaned out periodically. There was no proper hot water system in either house. We had cold water which ran into the bath taps upstairs, but hot water had to be boiled in coppers downstairs, and carried up in buckets, and this was accepted quite as a matter of course. And on washing days, of course, all the washing was shoved in these coppers, and boiled up etc, with a coal fire underneath. And I can remember now being allowed to use the sort of pole arrangement which was known as the copper stick, to stir the washing in the copper. There was no gas or electricity. All the lighting was by paraffin lamps, candles and the heating came from coal or log fires. The cooking was done on the kitchen ranges which were fired by coal.
Getting the coal in
We used to get the coal in, I remember, in trucks to Ayot Station. It was the steam coal we used to use for the traction engine and we used the same coal for the fires in the house. It used to come in huge great blocks and we had to smash it with sort of sledge hammer thing. I remember my father saying that at that time we could get steam coal delivered to Ayot Station for five shillings a ton. The only fires we had in the house were as I say, in the kitchen, where the kitcheners were fed by this coal and in the living rooms. Heating in any other part of the house, except in the case of illness, or anything like that, and we would have had coal fires or wood fires in the bedrooms. But this was only on a very special occasion and considered a great luxury.
Lemsford village was very much as it is today, at least the older part of it (see picture). There were a few more houses along the lane leading towards the A1. They were largely of wooden construction, weatherboarded, with old tile roofs, but they have been pulled down many years ago. There was a general shop, in the corner, near the end of the bridge. It was in the house which was occupied until recently by the late Mrs Killick, who was incidentally before she married, a Miss Wilmot, daughter of Fred Wilmot, who I mentioned earlier, who used to be our shepherd. This shop was kept by another member of Wilmot family, Miss Susan Wilmot, and her brother William. Aunt Susan Wilmot, as we affectionately called her, was a wonderful old dear and she kept this marvellous shop, which was really like a miniature Harrods. And we as youngsters used to love getting in there and buying sweets and looking around at all the wonderful things she had, which ranged from groceries, needles and cotton, sides of bacon. In fact what she had in the small compressed area was simply amazing. The old dear, she was so friendly to everybody and she knew everybody and welcomed with a smile and she lived to an age of over 90 and died in the bedroom above the shop. She was a wonderful old character – there aren’t many about like her today. Across the road, near the old chapel, was the Post Office, which was also a shoe-makers shop. This was also kept by members of the Wilmot family, with a father and a son. There was old Fred and young Fred. In those days the post used to come out by bicycle from Hatfield, which was a main post office, and was then delivered round to the houses by young Fred Wilmot on foot. He did a very good trade, they were both very good shoemakers, and they made shoes and repaired them for the whole area.
Two public houses, The Sun and The Long Arm and Short Arm (see picture) were there in those days. We were never really quite sure how the Long Arm and Short Arm came to have its name, but the popular story was in those days, that is used to have a sign hung outside, which showed a landlord with a pint of beer held short up against him on one side, and a long arm stretched out on the other, asking for the cash. Whether this is the case or not, I am not quite sure. The village hall, which is still in existence, was the main centre in the social life of the village. There used to be held there the whist drives and the dances and the local concerts etc. In the evenings it was used as a (sort of) reading room and a club by the men of the village.
Lemsford Mill and swimming the Lea
The Lemsford Mill was functioning very strongly then and it was run by the Sheriff family (see picture). The younger ones are still about, of course, in the firm of Sheriff and Sons. The mill was one of the first houses in the area which had electricity and electric light. The electricity was generated by a dynamo which was driven by the mill wheel. I remember also that on occasions that they used to clean out the sluice below the mill wheel, and catch large quantities of eels, which were considered to be a great delicacy, although personally I was never fond of them. The River Lea in those days was a beautiful, clear stream, and not mucked up by detergents and muck like it is today. And where it went through the village all us youngsters used to paddle in there, and then lower down in the lower reaches, beyond where it goes down towards Stanborough we used to bath in it. There was a place made especially for bathing, fixed up with diving boards, etc and it was very pleasant.
The Lemsford school, was a church school them. I am not sure whether it is today. I suppose it’s been absorbed by the local Education authority, but the headmaster then was a Mr Ladbury, and he was assisted by a team of school mistresses, and they turned out some very good results from that school, and a lot of those who went to it, always think back with gratitude to the education they got in Lemsford School. Then in Hatfield there was a private school called Dagmar House, and this was run by a Mr J R Shienders, headmaster, and he was assisted by two junior masters. And to this school I went, and also members of my family before me. We used to get there by pony and trap or cycle, and I generally used to stay there all week and come back at weekends. I think most of the family before me did the same thing. It was divided into two sections. There was Dagmar House which was the boy’s school, and there was Alexandra House next door which was a girl’s school.
Lemsford Church, then, as today, was very much a centre of local life, and the vicars there generally succeeded in getting pretty good congregations. Most of the village used to go, in the mornings, or the evenings then, and I remember the young men of the village use to (we had a vicar then called Mr Ward) meet in the mornings on the bridge over the river to gossip and talk about football and various things. Well he persuaded them to shift their meeting place in the mornings to the green outside the church. And the next step, of course, was that after having had their chat, they all came in to the church, and he achieved very great success with the young people, did Mr Ward.
Our social life in those days was largely organised by ourselves, and consisted of visits to our own friends houses round about, and neighbouring farms. Tennis: nearly every farm house had its own tennis court and we used to have some very enjoyable tennis parties in the summer. We organised our own hockey club in the winter, and then there were dances in Hatfield, in the town hall there, and also in St Albans town hall. There again we used to go to these either by bicycle or by pony and cart. It seems strange to think now that when we went out in ponies and carts etc, practically every public house had stabling for horses, and people to look after them and feed them, and you could go into St Albans for instance, there were three or four places where you could take your pony or your horse and cart, and they would be fed and looked after until you were ready to come home again. Often when we used to go out to dances at night, we’d go out in these open pony carts, and sometimes it would pour with rain and you’d go along driving with somebody holding up a big umbrella over your heads. And other times we used to cycle in the rain. But it seemed worth while. We enjoyed it. We put up with it all. And well, that was the way of life in those days.
The Horns and public service
My family, generally speaking, used to like to take their part in public life, and in those early days, of course, the public work they were able to do centred to a great extent around Lemsford. My grandfather, and my father, and my Uncle Jack, were, at various times, church wardens and also school managers, and my Aunt Mildred she used to run the Village Institute. And I, in my small way, I became a sidesman at the village church, and then in the latter stages of the war when the sexton was called up for military service, I used to ring the church bell. And then on one occasion the young lad who blew the organ was taken ill, and there was nobody else to do it, and so I had to ring the church bell until the clock started striking eleven, and then run with great rapidity around the church and into the vestry and start blowing the organ, so that the organist could play the voluntary, in order to allow the clergymen to appear. That was the way we had to improvise in those days.
In those day, of course, transport would never have been complete with its blacksmiths shop. And, of course, Lemsford had its own shop, and it was run by, as I remember, a man called Smith. And then there was another blacksmiths shop on Ayot Green, which was run by a man named Draper. He was also a repairer of farm implements, and he was a very religions man. I always remember on one occasion, my father’s sister was married to a man named Frank Lowe, who farmed a farm up at Bridehall, near Wheathampstead, They’d been over one day to see my grandfather, and they were driving back past Drapers shop, the blacksmith’s shop, and my Uncle Frank he wanted to enquire whether or not a binder he had left for repair was ready for collection. And he called out as he went by to Mr Draper, just asked if it was ready for collection. Mr Draper’s reply was “I do not do business on Sunday,” but my uncle said, “Well, I only want to know whether it is finished and whether or not I can send for it.” He said “I don’t do business on Sunday, you can send for it if you like, but I won’t say whether or not it will be ready.” And that was that, and he couldn’t get anything more out of him at all. Whether or not he did send, and whether or not it was ready I don’t know, but it just shows really the attitude of some people towards these things.
During this period all the haulage work on the farms was carried out by horses. Tractors were only just coming into general use, just about the time that my family gave up the farms, and we actually did buy one just before the end, but it was only used for a very short period, We kept about twelve horses, most of them shires, and there was one percher on, and this provided us with five plough teams with two horses per plough. Also three binder teams, for the harvesters, each of which was pulled by three horses abreast. It was a wonderful sight to see these old horses going around the fields pulling these binders. The drivers just sitting, swaying. At times you might almost think they were asleep as they went round. But they weren’t. Very far from it. One has to regret the passing of the horse, but one has to remember that it meant a lot of hard work for the people who had to look after them. In these days of tractors, you just take a tractor out of the shed, put in some oil and diesel, and away you go. And when you’ve finished at night shut it away in the shed. Of course, the horse had to be fed and watered and groomed before they started work in the mornings, and the same thing done after they finished work in the evenings. The horse keepers, generally speaking, had to be there about half past five in the morning, in order to have the horses ready for starting work at half past six, which was the normal starting time in the winter. Of course, we had no daylight saving, they used to be out on the ground before it was light. And of course it meant them leaving their homes in Lemsford to walk to Lower Handside Farm where the horses were kept, starting away well before five in the morning, and not getting home until probably six o’clock. A long day. We had some funny characters about in those days. There was on old chap I heard my grandfather speak off called Abe Taylor, and this old boy, he wasn’t a horse keeper, but he used to work general labour on the farm and he used to get up at five o’clock every morning though the week, and on Sunday he used to get up at four o’clock, so he said, in order to have a longer day of rest. There’s something in it perhaps. Perhaps we do waste our days of rest a little too much lying in bed. I don’t know, everybody to their own taste.
End of part two