“Keeping a Watch” – Memories of Shipton One Hundred Years Ago

The Wychwoods Local History Society website often receives enquiries from the wider world. Recently John Longshaw contacted the WLHS from Sussex. He said that his late father, Leslie Longshaw who died in 1990 aged 79, had left a hallmarked silver fob watch. An engraved inscription indicated that this had been awarded to Emma Pittaway for exemplary school attendance at Shipton School. He was puzzled as he could not see any connection with his family name. From here, the story continues…

The watch that started it all……

We were able to establish a connection relatively easily from the parish records. In 1900 a James Pittaway married Lucy Anne Smith (the widow of John Longshaw). Witnesses were Thomas Longshaw and Geraldine Longshaw. They had two daughters – Emma baptized in 1900 and Bertha baptized in 1907. There was no further reference to Emma but it appeared that Bertha had died in 1981 and had lived in Bowerham in Gas Lane Shipton.

John was pleased to learn this and sent us more details of his father’s connection with Shipton. How his father came to Shipton is a rather sad story, although he always claimed his childhood years in Shipton were among the happiest of his life.

Leslie Longshaw as a young man
Leslie Longshaw as a young man

After the birth of her third child, his mother was sectioned to a mental institution for a condition which today would be recognised as severe post-natal depression. The children were told she had died and Leslie was sent to live with his grandparents who lived in Leafield Road in Shipton. His brother and sister were sent to a children’s home. It was only much later in life that he received a phone call from a nursing home to say his mother was alive and he subsequently used to visit her until her death. As they say “the past is another country”.

His grandfather, Thomas, was born in Shipton in 1859 and died there in 1921. He appears to have been a gardener at St Michael’s Orphanage. Leslie attended Shipton village school and made many friends there. The headmaster was John Strong, who reportedly used to measure up fields, to augment his income, for farmers at harvest time for those who had to hire contractors using traction engines and threshing machines.

Thomas Longshaw of Shipton born 1859
Thomas Longshaw of Shipton born 1859

He remembered the Squire, who used to organise a Christmas dinner at Shipton Court, for the village children. Leslie was in the choir at Shipton church and a church member who was a master at Burford Grammar School taught him to read Latin. He recalled a charabanc outing to Western Super Mare organised by the Sunday School.

Leslie was also an active member of the local scout troop and went on camps using a trek cart. He recalled many events and traditions in the village some sadly now gone for ever – Guy Fawkes night, the Hospital Carnival, the Local hunt meet. He said some people celebrated the Epiphany when bonfires were built, shot guns fired in the air and his grandmother baked a special Epiphany cake. The village baker, Marky Buntin baked on a Sunday and his grandmother sometimes took her Sunday lunch to be cooked along with others in his still hot bread oven for a nominal sum. His grandmother’s cottage had no range and meals were cooked in pots over the fire.

Thomas Longshaw and his son Alfred Longshaw
Thomas Longshaw and his son Alfred Longshaw

One story that he related was that his grandfather used to like to get the train to Stow on the Wold or perhaps Chipping Norton (both possible by rail in those days) on Boxing Day. He would have a few pints there and then walk back. On one occasion he was joined by John Longshaw, a relative who was a shepherd. The young Leslie went with them. He must have been less than ten years old.

On the way back a terrible blizzard started and they could hardly see the road in front of them. His grandfather wanted to take shelter but the old shepherd said that, if they did, they would not survive the night so they carried on walking. Sometimes they had to walk backwards so strong was the wind driving the snow into their faces. On the outskirts of the village they were met by the village policeman and men with lanterns. Grandmother had gone to the police house and the village police man had organised a search party. Needless to say, his grandfather received a serious ticking off.

Leslie also remembered an extremely rare sighting of the northern lights at Shipton due to freak weather conditions. A lot of the old folk thought the end of the world had come and had to be reassured by the vicar and doctor.

When he left school at fourteen he was not keen on agricultural work and his grandfather helped him gain a position working on the wooden cases for cash registers in the first till yard established just after the First World War. When he started there his job was to check and start the stationary petrol engines that powered some of the machinery. Later his father, Albert, obtained a position for him with Marshall and Snelgrove where he worked in London. Eventually he joined John Lewis and completed 40 years with the company ending up as a textile buyer.

Helen Hodge who married Thomas Longshaw

He met and married Winifred Schofield, in 1939. She was evacuated during the War to Shipton with her first child Christine. Winifred worked in the booking office at Shipton station at this time and her mother worked as a post woman in Shipton for a while.

Emmie and Bertha Pittaway's father
Emmie and Bertha Pittaway’s father

Although he lived in Surrey, Leslie kept strong links with family relatives in Shipton and regularly attended annual village ”lads” reunions in the village, staying with friends Graham and Dulcie Arundel at their bungalow Clutterdene. The reunions started in 1972 and friends came from all parts of the country. The Wychwood Magazine reported on the reunion of 1983 in its volume December 1983-January 1984. The following are notes from that report mentioning some of the participants who met in the Shipton cricket pavilion for an afternoon of nostalgia.

“Older residents of Shipton will remember Drummer Longshaw who lived in Magpie Alley; Bert Powell, who lived in Chapel Lane and who joined the Metropolitan Police in the 20’s; Jack Baylis, a nephew of Alf Baylis, who brought the Cash Till industry to Shipton, and who must have employed at least a hundred people at one time; Leslie Longshaw who spent his school days at Shipton under the great John Strong.

On leaving school, Leslie went to London and now lives in Surrey. Bill and Reg Franklin will be remembered by most people as their father was the village postman. Reg joined the Royal Air Force straight from Burford Grammar School and now lives in Twickenham. His brother Bill joined the army soon after the outbreak of war, was soon commissioned and spent most of his time in India.

It was good to see Les, Cecil and Dennis Viner there. Les and George Case are two of our one hundred percenters, having attended all twelve ‘get-togethers•. Les still lives in Shipton and George at Leafield. As always, it was great to see Reg, Bob and Dorothy Brookes. Reg was on top form, and it was like old times to see him well again.

Alf Carpenter was another of our old football team, who was there. There are not many members of that team left now, but it was that team that brought soccer success to Shipton. Charles and Bill Slatter made up the eighteen who attended our gathering”.

Leslie used to say that change was inevitable and the village was never the same as it had been in his youth. He particularly liked to go on holiday in South West France as the old stone working villages and small farms with their tiny fields and many hedge rows reminded him very much of the Cotswolds in the pre-war years.

The annual reunion of Shipton old boys

This image is of the annual reunion of Shipton old boys who had been at school under John Strong in the 1920s. The picture was taken in 1983 in the Shipton cricket pavilion. The first reunion had been in 1972.

Left standing: Bob and Dorothy Brooks;
Left seated: Les Reed;
Third from left seated: John Longshaw (Drummer?);
Sixth from left standing: Leslie Longshaw and in front of him Bill Slatter;
Others on the photo include: Charlie Slatter, Alf Carpenter, Reg Brooks, Les, Cecil and Dennis Viner, Bill and Reg Franklin, Jack Baylis, Bert Powell, Les Case and George Case.

Maria Matthews: A Gifted Life in Context

We were recently preparing to put the History Society’s Second Wychwoods Album (first published in 1990) on the Society’s website, and we came across this rather striking photograph of Maria Matthews. There was little context and we had to think about which part of the Wychwoods she belonged. An approach to one of the Society’s longstanding members, Anne Matthews, clarified things. The following is based on notes which Anne has kindly provided.

The Matthews family came from Warwickshire to Fifield in the early 19th Century. Marmaduke Matthews 1782-1840 moved to Fifield House and farmed locally. His grandson was Frederick Matthews who married Emma Powell (born 1844) in Taynton on October 27th 1863.

Frederick was living in Burford at that time. Emma was the daughter of a farmer in Taynton. (Her father was William 1794 – 1867 and her mother Ann 1802- 1875). They had three children. Frederick farmed William’s farm in Taynton until he inherited a farm in Fifield from his own father.

Their eldest daughter, Maria Matthews, was born in 1864. Their second child was Florence who later married and emigrated to Canada. Their third child was a son, Frederick William Powell Matthews (FWPM) who gave his name to the flour mill built in 1913 close to Shipton Station.

Maria was academically inclined but never went to university, which was not always considered the most suitable place for women. She became a gifted photographer and her photographs illustrated Three Centuries in North Oxfordshire by M. Sturge Henderson published in 1902. She and her cousin Anne Matthews lived in the Cottage in Fifield. They travelled together to France where she took many photographs.

Her brother Frederick was widowed twice when his wives died after childbirth. His first wife had five children. On her death certificate, in addition to medical reasons, it was stated that she died of exhaustion! Each time he was widowed, Maria took over running his house and his six young children.

When Frederick married for the third time, Maria returned to live with her parents in the house they had built then called the Gables. She and her mother gave a reading room to the village. This is now the Parish hall of Fifield.

Her father had started a small business buying and selling grain and seeds from his barn before they decided to build the mill at Shipton. Sadly he died in 1911 shortly before the mill opened.

Maria’s eldest nephew, Donald, married and had three children but he left his wife Nancy. Maria rented a house in Malvern to offer a home to Nancy and her family where they took in paying guests.

Later in life, Maria had a serious fall and broke her hip. She was confined to bed in the care home attached to the Wantage convent where her younger sister Doris was a nun. Nancy moved to Wantage to look after her.

On their wedding day in October 1955 Anne and Ian went to see Maria and gave her Anne’s bouquet as the oldest member of the Matthews family.

Maria never married but gave much of her life to helping her family. She died on 8 June 1963, just two days before her 99th birthday and is still fondly remembered within the Matthews family.

The Wychwoods Local History Society (WLHS) – The First 40 Years

It is planned to produce a full history of the WLHS in time for the 40th Anniversary in 2021. This article can only give a brief outline of its development and activities. For the history of the first twenty years, we are indebted to an article by Margaret Ware which may be read in full on the Society’s website here, a summary of which is covered by this update, which now includes the years from 2002.

During her work as a councillor in the 1970s, local residents gave Margaret Ware snippets of local history. She realised there was a lot of fascinating information gradually being lost. At the same time, another Shipton inhabitant, Mike Linfield, was interested in copying and preserving old photographs. They both felt that a local history society would be an asset to the community. So the evening of Thursday 2 April 1981 saw ‘The Inaugural Meeting of the Shipton and District Local History Society’, in Shipton’s old Beaconsfield Hall. Well over 80 people attended. Twelve volunteered to form a steering committee with Geoffrey Giles as Chairman. After a short while, the name became The Wychwoods Local History Society and the rest as they say is history!

A number of projects were recognised as high priority. Mike Linfield and Norman Frost concentrated on their photographic recording and Gwen Allen led a group of about twenty members on successful hedge-counting forays. An early task was the indexing and transcription of Shipton Court estate papers. A group transcribed the 1851 census returns from villages in the ‘old’ parish, which included Shipton, Milton, Ascott, Leafield, Lyneham, Langley and Ramsden. In the first season there were 88 members.

Sue Jourdan joined the committee in 1982. Jack Howard-Drake succeeded Geoffrey Giles as chairman in 1984. Jack and Joan Howard-Drake started transcribing Shipton parish registers from 1538-1899, Geoffrey Giles and his wife covered Ascott and Leafield and the Ashtons Fifield, Idbury and Bould, a task which was to take several years.

By 1985 there were 200 members. The first journal, Wychwoods History No. 1 was published. Subsequent Journals were to be published every year until Volume 31 in 2016. In November The Wychwoods Album of old photographs was published. A second volume was published in 1990.

A second exhibition held at Milton in April 1987 (the first had been held in 1983) was a resounding success. Over 500 people queued to see the exhibits which included field walk finds, old medical instruments, histories of Alfred Groves and Sons and of the Groves family, nineteenth-century agriculture, the village constable and many photographs.

May 1987 saw two new committee members – John Rawlins who later built up a significant archive of around 3,000 photographs which the Society has recently taken six years to digitize, and Wendy Pearse who later became secretary for many years.

1989 started with a bang with the January meeting taking the form of a Victorian evening’s entertainment organised by Daphne Waugh and modelled on a concert held in Milton in 1885. [ Video clips here ]

In 1992, after eight years as chairman, Jack Howard-Drake retired in favour of Sue Jourdan who remained Chairman for 20 years. Janet Wallace and Trudy Yates joined the committee, Trudy started the job of recording local oral history. For the next twenty years the Society successfully followed its established enjoyable pattern of eight monthly meetings each year, covering an astonishing range of topics.

In 2000 the millennium was celebrated in grand style with an outstanding exhibition of the Society’s work in the New Beaconsfield hall. The attractions included a 1940s-style kitchen and a thatched Saxon hut with weaving. Also on sale was the Society’s latest publication – That’s How It Was – the story of women in the Wychwoods in the Second World War. About 800 people were estimated to have visited the exhibition over the weekend.

By the time Sue Jourdan left in 2012, the Society was in a transitional stage. Technology was changing fast and the membership was getting older. Alan Vickers took over as Chairman and carried out a survey of members. This found that 53% of members were over 71 years old. 35% strongly disagreed that the society should move more to digital communications and 36% thought it should! The average period of membership in the society was 14 years.

In response to this, the first WLHS website was set up and investment made in a digital recorder and a society laptop and scanner for use at fetes. A programme to digitalise the Society’s photo archive was started and has now been completed with close to 500 pictures put up on a newly revised and improved website. This website now has new material produced by the members and the production of the Journal, which was a serious financial burden, stopped in 2016

Apart from the continuation of the regular and popular member speaker evenings, visits have been made to Bletchley Park, Gloucester Docks, Fairford Church and Bruern House. Meetings have been held with elderly inhabitants of the Wychwoods to examine old photographs. The Society cooperated closely on the latest Volume of the Victorian History of Oxfordshire covering the Wychwoods. A probate group read and transcribed all local wills from the 17th century.

Roger Watts, who has been Chairman for the last three years, has presided over the creation of the new website and dealing with the problem of storing the Society’s extensive archives. He has had the unenviable task of holding the Society together during the Pandemic. The first digital, Zoom speaker meeting took place in mid-October and this is the way we will have to meet for the foreseeable future. The programme set up by Roger for the current year is as shown below. He is also planning for the Society’s 40th anniversary next year when we hope to have digitalised all the issues of the Society’s Journals so that they can be searched from anywhere in the World.

See our Programme for 2020/2021