A Portrait of an Old Lyneham Gentleman

Memories of being a Home Help in the 1980s

In the early 1980s Jill Fox joined the band of Home Helps in and around the Wychwoods. She was issued with a nylon check overall and her first client was an elderly gentleman, Fred Tidmarsh in Lyneham. His previous help, Vera Case, had retired. Here are Jill’s memories of those times, in her own words.

Fred Tidmarsh in Lyneham
Fred Tidmarsh of Lyneham

Fred had originally come with his family from Ebrington. He told me that his father had a job at the farm of Mr Izod in Lyneham in the early 1940s, and there the family had a tied cottage. Mr and Mrs Tidmarsh had, as far as I remember, three children – Fred, Nellie and another daughter (whose name I cannot remember). They crossed the Gloucestershire/Oxfordshire border so that his dad was not conscripted (so Fred said)!

I believe the family had also lived in Wyre Piddle/Upper Piddle which Fred thought was hilarious! When Fred was old enough he too worked at Izod’s farm. Nellie became Mrs Turner and lived in one of the bungalows at the top of Milton High Street when I knew Fred, and she was a widow. His other sister, I seem to remember was in a home somewhere in Buckinghamshire. Each year on her birthday Fred asked me to address an envelope with a £5 note in it, to send to her. Fred could not read or write. I do not know if he ever attended school.

I went to his cottage on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I collected his pension and some groceries from the then Milton Post Office each week. His shopping list consisted of: 2 oz. of tobacco, ¼lb of tea, a piece of cheese (either Stilton or Cheddar), ½ lb of butter, sometimes sugar but not often, and a jar of marmalade. About once a month he would ask for a packet of candles and sometimes he would say his ‘lectric’ had run out and could I get him some more – that meant a battery for his torch.

On Sundays, Mr Lewis, who lived nearby, would go and give him a shave and Mrs Lewis would give him a Sunday roast. The milkman and the baker called. Three times each week I would fill two plastic buckets from the tap at the bottom of the garden, near the privy, and put them in the back kitchen on the table. One was for drinking and one for washing he told me. Then I had to fill two buckets of coal from the coal shed.

Once a week I washed the floor which was red and black quarry tiles, although you could not see their colour as the soot from the fire had discoloured them over the years. However, Fred was very bent and looked at the floor when he walked about so he saw a lot of the floor. I never made his bed. He always did that and he was always sitting in his chair when I arrived. Each side of the fireplace was a big cupboard and in the one, by his chair, he kept his cider. Normally, Mr Hussey (from Hussey’s in Burford) would deliver his one or two gallon jars of cider each week. However, if there was a hiccup in the delivery Fred was not happy and when I asked him how things were he would say “No good – Brewer ain’t been”. I would then be asked to go on my bike, back to The Quart Pot in Milton to fill up a couple of cider bottles from the Off Licence at the side of the pub. Normal service was then resumed!

Also each week I would take his washing home. He kept himself as clean as he could and was never smelly! On his kitchen table was what he called a blue check oil cloth. On the wall was a picture of Queen Victoria, although she was almost impossible to see because the walls were covered in black from the smoke in the fire. He had a regular delivery of coal.

Fred lived downstairs. He had a range with a kettle, always on the boil and he never let the fire out. I have to say that the range was a bit splattered with ‘baccy’! He slept in the same room with navy blue army blankets (a bit moth eaten). I would wash these periodically when the weather was warm enough because they had to go back the same day! The kitchen was attached to the living room and that is where he kept his few provisions. His mother’s old hat still hung on the wall.

When I arrived in the morning, usually about 9.30 I would knock on the door and wait to be allowed entry. The door was never locked when I got there. I could often hear a clink or two as I think he was secreting his cider bottle but I never ever saw it! We would pass the time of day and discuss the weather before I did the chores.

At that time my youngest child was about four and occasionally I would put her on the back of my bike to take her to visit Fred. While I worked, she played dominoes with him and she often won! It was a lovely relationship and for the 45 minutes or so I was there they both enjoyed each other’s company. There were 80 years between them!

One day I asked Fred when he last saw his sister Nellie. At least two years ago was the answer, so I suggested that if I drove to Lyneham one day each week instead of going by bicycle, I could perhaps take Nellie with me. I could leave her with Fred while I ‘did’ for Miss Treadwell who was round the corner in one of Henman’s cottages, and then collect Nellie before returning home about 11.30. He thought this a good idea so we started the new regime. Each week I took Nellie to visit her brother and they had a good ‘chin wag’. It worked well.

Fred was apparently known as “The Cider King”, although this was before my time and when Fred was much younger. Legend has it that he would walk with his dad every night to the Red Horse at Shipton for their pints of cider. One night they were walking home and Fred asked his dad how much he had drunk. “eleven pints” he replied – “Well, I have only had ten” said Fred and turned round to go back for the other one!

I asked Fred one day if he had ever been married. His reply: “I couldn’t afford any of that tack – done a few jobs in my time though”!

One day I arrived at Fred’s and he was in bed. This had never been known before. I asked him what the problem was and he said he could not get out of bed. I told him I would get the doctor. Fred said that, although he wanted to stay in Lyneham, if they offered him a place at “that Langston House place” he would go, although he didn’t know how he would get on with Miss Treadwell (who had gone to reside there after a fall). He told me he thought “That Doctor Beazer is a real gent”. I said not to worry and got on my bicycle speedily down to the surgery. “That Doctor Beazer” was there and I asked him to come quickly to Fred.

I went back on my bike to Lyneham and waited for the Doctor to arrive. He told Fred he must go to Chipping Norton hospital. This put Fred into a panic because, as far as he was concerned, it was the “Work House” and his biggest fear was that they would give him a bath! I explained that it would be very different and that I would follow the ambulance and see him in safely.

Whilst waiting for the ambulance to arrive Fred had me climb up to the big cupboard, at the side of the range, and in there was a biscuit tin with money and a copy of his Will. He said I was to keep it safe as the Will was for his sister and the money was to pay for his funeral. This I did and off we went in convoy to Chippy hospital.

I saw him safely into a lovely clean bed (they did not give him a bath). He was concerned because he did not have a clock so I gave him my old, schoolboy type, Timex watch which I wore for my chores. He looked very comfortable and as I left he said “Thank you, it won’t be long before I sees the Lord”. I then took the tin and his Will to Nellie in Milton and told her what had happened.

I went home sad, but pleased Fred was in a safe place. The next morning, around 8.0am there was a knock on the door. It was Dr Scott who came to tell me that he had been to certify Fred’s death. I was very touched by his sensitivity, knowing I would be worrying about Fred. Fred is buried in Milton cemetery, strangely near Miss Treadwell. His cottage is now called “Tidmarsh Cottage”.

After his funeral, I was able to buy his chair from his sister and it is in regular use in my kitchen – a permanent reminder of Fred who was a lovely person and whom I feel privileged to have known. My experiences looking after folk who needed a bit of help to remain in their own homes in the Wychwoods enriched my life and gave me many lasting, happy memories.

Jill Fox, April 2021