A Magic Lantern Splutters Back into Life

The society has had access to a set of scans from recently-discovered glass plate slides owned by the late Ellis Groves 1872-1914. Here, I describe a small selection of these slides, and also include them with 40 more of the better preserved in a slideshow.

“Would I like to look at a box of old black and white transparencies?” This was the offer made to me by Peter Rathbone a few weeks ago. Peter brought them round and I settled down to go through them. The simple wooden box contained about five dozen old glass transparencies. Not your familiar, modern 35mm slides but 3¼” x 3¼” magic lantern glass plates, many in the form of glass sandwiches.

Ellis Groves’ Box of Magic Lantern Glass Plate Slides

A label in the top of the box indicated that they had been put together by the “late Ellis Groves 1872-1914”. Most were very dark and dusty and not always sharply focused. A few had begun to peel off the glass substrate. Not surprising as they had been kept in one of Grove’s sheds for thirty years and had been saved from going to the tip by Peter.

Going by the rare labels, the collection appeared to date from the first decade of the 20th century. A few slides had been coloured by hand. Several I recognised having seen them already in the archives of the History Society. My first reaction was that it was unlikely there would be any treasure here – perhaps just half a dozen images could be salvaged? I was wrong.

In the end more than 40 interesting and usable images emerged, after scanning, from the collection. A few were very surprising and these are the images seen here, in most cases probably for the first time in 125 years.

Slide 1
Slide 2

Slides 1 and 2 – These depict an old three wheeled car with the single passenger seat facing forward at the front.

The second slide probably shows the garage where the car was kept. Was this the first internal combustion vehicle in the Wychwoods? Could the driver have been Fred Pepper who had bought Shipton Court in 1901? It does look like him although he is not known to have owned such a vehicle. His first car was in fact a larger French Gobion Brillé but perhaps this three wheeler was a precursor.

Slide 3

Slide 3 – This shows a mix of two cricket teams in front of the Shipton Court cricket pavilion. The label refers to the Shipton Court team and a team from Monk Bretton. Monk Bretton colliery in Yorkshire was owned by the Pepper family. It is known that twenty of the long service employees were invited down for the day to Shipton to play the team from Fred Pepper’s new village in 1908. This photograph marks the event.

The bearded gentleman on the left is Thomas Alfred Groves who owned and managed Groves and was the Captain of Shipton Court and Milton cricket teams. He was the son of Alfred Groves and his first wife, Ann Shepard. Ellis Groves, who assembled the lantern transparencies was the eighth child of Alfred’s second wife Mary Reynolds.

Slide 4 – This shows a young girl holding a poster advertising a magic lantern lecture in Milton for the Mutual Improvement Society. It was included more than thirty years ago in the Second Wychwoods Album. The photo was apparently taken by Ellis Groves who also operated the magic lantern. Did the Mutual Improvement Society meet its aim? As a Shiptonian I could not possibly hazard a guess.

Slide 4

Slide 5- shows the bottom of Burford Hill in around 1905. In the background, behind the assorted Burford urchins, is Hambidge’s Delicatessen. Ellis Groves married one of the Hambidge daughters and his younger brother, Samuel, married her sister.

Slide 6 – A distant view of Green Lane Milton. Older by at least ten years than the view shown in the first Wychwood’s Album. The building on the right was the Quaker Meeting House which was sold in 1925 and divided into two cottages.

Slide 5: Burford Hill c.1905
Slide 6: Green Lane, Milton under Wychwood
Slide 7: c 1903 Milton under WYchwood Sunday School Project

Slide 7 – Milton Sunday School built this large life boat and took it to a Sunday School Festival at Moreton in 1903.

Slide 8: Shipton under Wychwood Station Master’s House

Slide 8 – This shows the erection of the Shipton Station Master’s house. It is not clear whether this was the original building or the subsequent demolishing and re-erection as the last house on the right as one one leaves Shipton for Milton.

Slideshow of all 47 Slides


AWV Feb 2022

A Wychwoods Wedding: Reply to a recent inquiry from the WLHS website

Wedding of Raymond Burden and Ivy Slatter June 1943

A lady called Jo Lewis wrote recently to the Wychwoods History Society to say that her mother-in-law, who died last December aged 100, had in her possession a wedding photograph of a friend she had made while living in the Wychwoods during the Second World War.

She wished to know whether any of the relatives of the bride or groom might be still living in the area and might like a copy of the photograph.

The mother-in-law’s maiden name was Joan Nesta Mills. She worked with a Shipton girl called Ivy Slatter in Cowley Oxford where they were both engaged in welding to repair spitfires and other damaged aircraft probably at the Metal and Produce Recovery Centre established there (or possibly at Witney where similar work was undertaken).

From the WLHS archives, it appears that Ivy had worked in the drapers, Hathaway’s, before the War and lived in one of the cottages behind the Red Horse Inn. There is also a Private G J Slatter shown on a photograph of the members of the Shipton Home Guard, who may have been a brother of Ivy’s.

Joan returned to Bristol where her mother was ill and became a fire watcher. Ivy married Raymond Burden in June 1943 and sent her friend a photograph of the wedding. Raymond died in 1972 aged 54.

Rod Blackman, who lives in Milton and who is a member of the WLHS, relates that his mother, whose maiden name was Higbee, also worked at the recovery centre during the war and may have known these two ladies. She is fortunately still with us at 98.

If anybody knows of any relatives of either Raymond or Ivy still living in the Wychwoods perhaps they could get in touch and we would be pleased to send them a copy of the photograph.

AWV February 2022

Joan Howard-Drake and her contribution to local history in the Wychwoods

The death occurred on 31 October of Joan Howard-Drake following a long struggle after she suffered a severe stroke about a year earlier.

Joan and her husband, Jack, were founder members of the Wychwood Local History Society (WLHS) in 1981.They remained stalwarts of the Society for the remainder of their long lives. Joan and Jack were very computer literate into their 90s and spent many hours beavering away in their book lined study in Shipton largely for the benefit of history research in the Wychwoods and the WLHS in particular.

Both were on the Society’s committee following the first Annual General Meeting 1982. Jack became the Chairman in 1984 until 1992. He died in 2013 at the age of 94. Joan was on the committee for 35 years, until 2016.

Under the auspices of the Family History Society, the Howard-Drakes started the long task of transcribing the Shipton parish registers from 1538-1899. They also worked together on significant projects such as the transcription of the Oxfordshire Tudor Church Court Rolls.

Joan became the guardian of the Society’s archives in 1995. She managed them until she stepped down from the Committee by which time they had grown from one box file to more than five. Joan herself added much material to the archives through her research on local family histories.

Joan was involved with the planning, writing and production of the Society’s well respected annual Journal for thirty years and was joint editor with Trudy Yates from 2012 to 2015. She indexed all the first 27 volumes of the Journal.

She was an active member of the Wills Group – associated with and partly funded by the WLHS – which transcribed 17th century wills in the Wychwoods.

Apart from researching and publishing with other members of the WLHS on team projects, Joan also wrote separately on:

  • The Poor of Shipton under Wychwood Parish 1740
  • The Burford to Banbury Turnpike Road
  • Care in the Community 18th Century Style
  • Bruern Abbey (with Joy Timms)
  • The Reade Family
  • The Crown Inn Charity
  • The Old Beaconsfield Hall Shipton
  • The Brookes Family of Shipton
  • Brasenose Leases

She was always ready to give real and generous help to younger local historians working on various projects and for that alone she will be sorely missed.

AWV November 2021

The Small Tin Church – Little Ben Rings Back

This article, first published in the Wychwood Magazine some years ago, features the story of the bell from the small Shipton church, long since demolished . The bell featured in the Society’s 40th Anniversary celebrations.

Some of the older inhabitants of Shipton can recall a small tin church up on Fiddlers Hill. Today nothing remains but a small, dense copse of trees sited somewhat incongruously in the corner of an extensive arable field.


Fiddlers Hill showing tin tabernacle. Probably in the 1950s

What Happened to the Church?
The church is believed to have been built in the 1880s to serve Shipton inhabitants who could not easily get down to the Mother church, St Mary’s. It had ceased to be used as a church before 1930. Sometime in the 1930s it was bought by Dr Gordon Scott and used to store clothing during the Second World War under the Bundles for Britain scheme – hence the name given to it by some irreverent residents of ‘moth hall’!

In the period immediately after the War the building was used as a basic youth club for children living close by, run by Alf Clarke who had the small grocery shop opposite (now a garage). He ran a cable from the generator in his house to light the snooker table.

Only the Shed Door Left!
By the 1960s the building had fallen into disrepair and Dr Scott could not get permission to develop the site. The tin church was therefore dismantled. Nothing remains, except the vestry door, from the rear of the church, which was re-used as a shed door by Charlie Pilcher who lives opposite the site.

Charlie recycles the old Vestry Door
Charlie recycles the old Vestry Door

The Story of the Bell
This left Dr Scott with the problem of what to do with the small but solid church bell. The problem was solved when he gave it to Peter Coveney who lived nearby. But eventually Peter moved away to the outskirts of Oxford where he died earlier this year (2012). His Widow, Margery, (cousin to Jim Pearse of Honeydale Farm Shipton), thought it would be fitting if the old bell could be returned to Shipton.

She contacted the Wychwoods Local History Society and they now have it in their safe care and are looking for a suitable home.

Bells and Whistles?
A suitable home for the bell could be the Wychwood School where presently a simple whistle is used to summon the pupils to their lessons. The school has indicated its interest.

Even the old Shipton school had a proper bell which would be rung by a well behaved pupil worthy of the privilege.

This bell could certainly be an improvement on a mere whistle! It bears the inscription of the maker J. Warner and Sons and the date 1883. Research has shown that this company also produced the first Big Ben. It was a Warner bell which was used as the pattern for the Paul Revere bell founding business in the US.

Gordon’s Penance
If it is eventually installed in the school, we hope the current pupils are better behaved than the young Gordon Duester who once rang the bell without touching it – by using his air gun from a safe distance!

The Tin Tabernacle Sketch by Gordon Duester
The Tin Tabernacle Sketch by Gordon Duester

As a penance the older Gordon Duester has kindly provided a sketch opposite of the outside of the old church, drawn from memory.

Alan Vickers.
(First published in The Wychwood December 2012)

The Rector Returns – A Well-Travelled Painting

This article, first published in the Wychwood Magazine some years ago, features a well-travelled portrait of Revd. Dr. Thomas Brookes, Rector of Shipton from 1773 to 1814, which currently hangs in the Old Prebendal House. This painting will feature in the Society’s 40th Anniversary celebrations, re-scheduled for May 2022.

It has been a convoluted journey, via South Africa and Germany, but the Revd. Dr. Thomas Brookes, Rector of Shipton from 1773 to 1814 is home again. His powerful portrait, probably painted in 1783 when he was fifty, will once again grace the Old Prebendal House where he lived two hundred years ago.


The WLHS acts as a home for some historical objects of interest to the Wychwood Community. Here in 2013 the Chairman Alan Vickers receives the very generous gift of a portrait of the Rev Dr Thomas Brookes who lived at the Prebendal. The portrait was returned by Peter Cullom following the death of his brother. The return was physically made by Mr Cullom's parents. It is currently on long term loan to the Prebendal Care Home

A Well-Travelled Painting
Some years ago Mr John Cullom bought the portrait in an auction to furnish his house in Oxford. He became a pilot for Virgin Airlines flying the route to South Africa and took the portrait to his new house in the Cape. Tragically he died when he was swept off rocks near his house and drowned. His brother, Peter Cullom, took over the house and planned to let it. The picture was no longer required there so he brought it back to his own home in Germany and considered what should be done with it.

He noticed that there was a pencil inscription on the back of the portrait describing the portrait as being of the Rector of Shipton-under-Wychwood. He googled ‘Shipton under Wychwood’; and found the website of the Wychwoods Local History Society (the WLHS). After an exchange of emails, Peter then generously decided to gift the portrait to the WLHS for the benefit of the local community. His parents brought the portrait to Shipton and presented it to the Chairman of the Society (see photograph). During their day with us they visited our prime old buildings and especially St Mary’s where Thomas Brookes had preached, and the Old Prebendal House where he had lived. It was wonderful to hear Mrs Cullom say at the end of the day, “This is where he belongs. I am so glad he is coming home”.

In His Church Once Again
The following Sunday, the portrait was displayed in the Church during the morning service, for parishioners to view.

Portrait of Revd. Dr. Thomas Brookes, Rector of Shipton from 1773 to 1814 on display during the church service commmorating the portrait’s return to Shipton

Arrangements have been made for the portrait to hang in the Old Prebendal House, possibly in the same room where it may have hung two hundred years ago. The Care Home has kindly agreed to allow interested members of the Community to view the portrait on application.

AMV August 2021

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

“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 Shipton Tillyards


This article is also available as a PDF, downloadable here.

Wooden cash tills, usually with an opening on the top to accommodate a paper roll, were common in small shops throughout the country until about the 1970s. More often than not such cash tills came from workshops in Shipton under Wychwood. From the First World War until the late 1970s, the village housed three such businesses (see Map), which have now completely disappeared. This is the story of this local enterprise, which for so long was an important part of the village’s economy.

The first till manufacturing business was established by Alf Baylis just after the First World War. Alf Baylis had been raised in Shipton. His father was a railway signalman at Bruern and the family lived at 1 The Row next to the Red Horse public house.

Alf had a reputation as a bit of a “ladies’ man” who appreciated fast cars. He had learned the cash till construction business at Gledhills in Halifax (who in turn had copied from the National Cash Register Co) and brought Jimmy Wallace and Harry Crabtree with him from Halifax to work in his new business which traded in Upper High Street Shipton under the name of The Oxon Cash Register Co. Alf Baylis later lived at Wayside, Milton Road, Shipton.

The site of Alf Baylis’s new business was a builder’s yard belonging to Shipton Court. It had been described as the “Estate Yard” in the sales catalogue of 1913 and as having a carpenter’s and painter’s shop, an engine shed and saw shed with saw pit. There were also hardware and timber stores. In total the area was given as occupying one rod and 11 perches. This reference to a “yard” encouraged the naming of the cash till manufacturing works as a “tillyard” and this was later applied to the other locations where cash tills were produced. Diagram 1 shows the layout from memory of the Baylis works (source Bob Coombes).

In 1919 Henry (Harry) Coombes and his second cousin William Edwin (Ted) Coombes joined Alf Baylis. They had worked at Groves, the Milton builders, before the First World War. By 1923 the relationship between the workforce and Alf Baylis had deteriorated, for example over clocking in procedures (the clock in question is shown in the mess room on Diagram 1) and possibly pressure to work on Sundays (both Harry and Ted were staunch church members and had been in the bell ringing team before the First World War – see Photo 3). One day in 1923 Alf Baylis lost his temper and told some of the men to leave.

Map showing the locations of the three Shipton Tillyards

The vicar of St Mary’s Shipton, the Reverend Nixon, helped the unemployed men set up their own business in the stable loft at the Vicarage but there were objections to men in working clothes being housed about the Vicarage. After some two years, premises were obtained in Station Road for the new United Woodworking Company. For a while the two cash till companies worked independently although social connections seem to have been reasonable. In 1927 the Parish Council for example thanked both Harry Coombes and Alf Baylis for carrying out work to provide a coal store at the village hall.

Shipton Tillyards Diagram
Diagram 1: The Oxon cash register Co’s works (later the south or lower Tillyard of the United Woodworking Co.) Camera A is the position from which photograph 1 was taken. Similarly, camera B is the position for photo 2.

By the second half of the 1920s, The Oxon Cash Register Co. was getting into financial difficulties. One factor may have been the building of a large show room (which later became Shipton’s cinema) described as a “white elephant” by Bob Coombes, and the old Baylis business was bought out using money from Sam Groves and William Willett. By 1929 Alf Baylis had moved to Lyneham and resigned from the Parish Council. He disappeared from view, although he is reported to have traded in furniture in Manchester and is believed to have died relatively young.

The Station Road works now became known as the North Works and was run by Harry Coombes while the Oxon Cash Register Co.’s works continued as the South Works under the supervision of Ted Coombes. Both units cooperated in the manufacturing process where required. For example the North Unit had a dovetailer machine while the South Works, which mainly made shop fittings, had a corner locker machine.

Photo 1: The workforce at the Oxon Cash Register Co in about 1923 (presumably after the exodus of Harry and Ted Coombes who do not appear in the photograph). The man crouching on the left of the front row is Charles Duester. The fifth man from the left in the front row is Alf Baylis. Standing behind him in the back row is Ken Earley. Between them, in the middle row is Bertram Powell who is also third from the left in photo 2.

The layout of the Station Road or North Unit as it was just before the Second World War is shown in Diagram 2. The top shed with an engine in what later became the polishing shop was the extent of the first works. By the mid 1930s a second shed had been erected housing the machine and fitting shops. This second shed was joined to the first via the polishing shop. The adjacent business was Bradley’s Garage, belonging to Reg Bradley, who had served with Harry Coombes in the Royal Naval Air Service. Harry Coombes lived in Glenhurst opposite the Station Road Tillyard and then in 1935 moved to the adjacent villa, Hawthornes. In about 1945 a further shed was built parallel to the “lean to” and this housed the timber store, the fitting shop for the poultry incubators and the garage for Harry Coombes’ car. A small office and mess room were built to the right of the plan, ie parallel to the main road.

Photo 2: Workers in the fitting shop of the Oxon Cash Register Co. About 1923. Note that the wall behind them backed onto the slaughter house run by Dick Avery. Rats from there often ran along the shelf visible behind the workers in the photograph. They would have been standing over the old saw pit. When eventually a house was built on the site in 1980 a digger rediscovered this pit by falling into it! The rear of the photograph has the names Jack Baylis and Bert Powell. Jack Baylis was the brother of Alf.
Photo 3: The bell ringers at St Mary’s Shipton around 1910. Harry Coombes is at the end of the back row on the left. Ted Coombes is fourth from the left in the back row. Standing on ted’s left is Alf Miles who later worked at the Oxon cash register co. And whose Ascott road workshop was taken over after the second world war by the Wychwood Manufacturing Co, the last of the three Shipton cash till businesses to start up.
Diagram 2: The Station Road Tillyard just before World War 2.

About one year after the move, in 1926, a young woman, Phyllis Siford (later Phyllis Longshaw and finally Phyllis Smith), came from grammar school in Cheltenham to be the new and indeed first bookkeeper. She later recounted (WLHS archives), that the administration was in a state of some disorganisation with bills stuck on nails and the cash flow not receiving the attention it required although this was probably to be expected in a new and growing business.

According to Bob Coombes, Ted did not get on with Phyllis but she and his father Harry always had a good mutual liking and respect even after she left in 1946 to set up the third Shipton operation, Wychwood Manufacturing Co. They were both very shrewd, the one a modern, well educated girl from outside the village while Harry had left school at twelve and was very much a pillar of the local community – Chairman of the Parish Council, a member of the Rural District Council, Church Warden, Grandmaster of the Oddfellows and on the Board of Governors of the Workhouse. Photograph 4 shows the workforce at the Station Road yard in about 1936.

Photo 5 shows the interior of the Oxon Cash Register Co.’s workshop after it had been bought by the United Woodworking Co.

Photo 4: United Woodworking Company workforce In About 1936. Photograph taken in front of the polishing shop. Back Row from left – Ernie Belcher (Lyneham), Cyril Lainchbury, Victor Brookes, Don Pittaway, Horace Pittaway, Alf Carpenter. Middle row from left – Jim Slatter, Sid Harvey, Phyllis Longshaw (Nee Siford), Dan Wiggins, Alf Smith, Harry Coombes, Jaybee Broom, Laurie Pittaway, Francis Dix, Sid Tierney (Church Street), Norman Cooper. Front row from left – Albert Longshaw (First husband of Phyllis Siford), Charlie Norgrove (Mount Pleasant), Charlie Stringer (Fifield), Arthur Shirley (Ascott), Fred Smith (Milton, Second husband of Phyllis Siford), Alf Harvey Alf Harvey and Sid Harvey were brothers as were Horace and Don Pittaway. Alf Harvey and Don Pittaway worked for the company from its inception In 1923. Sid Tierney was possibly the only man to have worked in all three Tillyards when they were independent operations.

There is some disagreement over the identity of the workers shown on Photo 5. The best suggestion is that the man on the left is Jim Slatter. The two men (second and fourth from the left) are Jimmy Wallace and Harry Crabtree who had come to Shipton with Alf Baylis from Halifax. At the front right is Ernie Souch and behind him Albert Longshaw. The man between Jimmy Wallace and Harry Crabtree has not been identified.

Photo 6 is of the interior of the Station Road Workshop of United Woodworking at about the same time.

Photograph 5: interior of the Oxon Cash Register Co.’s workshop early 1930s

Both workshops were in operation until the start of the Second World War although by then the South Works was mainly making shop fittings. The Station Road Works concentrated on cash tills. The range comprised about a dozen models including one for fitting under counters (used in public houses) and one with a separately locked desk shaped top. Some wooden furniture was also produced (for example chairs for the Village Hall and cotton reel cabinets to a German design for Coates). There was still a relationship with Groves. This mainly took the form of Groves buying occasional fittings from United Woodworking and United buying English timber from Groves. Photo 7 shows typical Shipton cash tills.

One day early in the Second World War a Ministry of Supply controller, working for the Air Ministry, called at the South Works. He inquired whether they might be interested in making aircraft parts from wood. Ted Coombes apparently tugged his moustache in disbelief and showed the caller the door. Thus vanished any opportunity for Shipton to be the site for the production of the Mosquito fighter bomber! Shortly afterwards Ted sold off the machinery in the original works to Kings of Oxford and he, Reg Duester and about half a dozen other workers moved into the Station Road Works while about a dozen of the workforce including Fred Smith and Horace Pratley went to work at De Havillands (later Smiths Instruments) in Witney, ironically on the Mosquito.

Photo 6: United Woodworking Co’s Station Road workshop probably in the early 1930s and taken looking towards the end of the making shop. The man on the left is Charlie Norgrove. The man facing away from the camera. Second on the right is Jaybee Broom. On the left is Jim Slatter and on the extreme right is Sid Tierney.
Photo 8: A consignment of cash tills leaves the Station Road Tillyard
Unity cash till – new era cash till of United Woodworking Co of Wychwood Manufacturing Co

Photo 8 shows the Great Western Railway lorry picking up a consignment of cash tills from outside the Station Road tillyard. The driver is Ernie Clemson and the photograph would have been taken during the mid 1920s. Bradley’s garage is on the right.

The old premises were used during the early war years to shelter cars owned by well off car owners from Birmingham. After the War, they became a store for agricultural materials for Pratt and Haynes. In the 1950s, films were projected in the old showroom. Its final use before demolition was by the Newbolds, of the Court stables, to house pigs.

Photo 6: United Woodworking Co.’s Station Road Workshop probably in the early 1930s and taken looking towards the end of the making shop The man front left IS Charlie Norgrove. The man facing away from the camera, second on the right is Jaybee Broom. On his left is Jim Slatter and on the extreme right is Sid Tierney.

During the Second World War the number of employees declined until, according to Bob Coombes, there were only two or three boys, too young for national service, and half a dozen women including his mother. Besides cash tills, they made battery boxes and rubber stamp mouldings for the Post Office.

By 1946 however the workforce had recovered to sixteen people. The list taken from the wages book for the week ending 19 April 1946 was as follows:

H Pittaway

Makers or Assemblers
R Duester
S Tierney
P Hepden
J Sheehan
H Moss
G Duester
B Miles
V Brookes
H Pittaway
J Broom
F Smith
D Pittaway

F Richards
R Brookes

P Smith

This was the last page written in Phyllis Smith’s neat handwriting. The next week’s entries were in the hand of Mr R Williams (Ted Coombes’ son in law). A group of employees (Phyllis Smith with her husband Fred, Laurie Pittaway – who had been one of the originals to have split from Alf Baylis in 1923 with Harry and Ted Coombes – and Jaybee Broom) b^Jieved they could do better on their own and gradually left to found the Wychwood Manufacturing Company. Harry Coombes had apparently wanted to make Phyllis a director of the United Wood Working Co. but Ted had objected. Phyllis Smith left first. She was followed by her husband Fred Smith on 10 May (Alf Harvey rejoined United Woodworking that week as a polisher and Arthur Shirley also rejoined but as a maker). Laurie Pittaway left on 24 May and Jaybee Broom on 21 June.

At first they worked at Phyllis Smith’s bungalow, Alstone in Station Road just the other side of Bradley’s Garage but then took over workshops in the Ascott Road belonging to Alf Miles and used for his woodworking and undertaking business. Alf continued to work there until he died (and presumably was responsible for the “undertaking” mentioned on the new company’s promotional material).

Diagram 3: Plan of the Ascott Road Tillyard

Diagram 3 depicts the layout of the Ascott workshop as recalled by Bim Champness. The structure was of wood with a corrugated tin roof. There is no known photograph of the Ascott workshop and only one, rather poor photograph of the interior taken for the Oxford Mail (see Photo 9)

The workforce in the mid 1950s as recalled by Fred Russell and Bim Champness consisted of:

The four partners – Phyllis Smith who ran the operation, Fred Smith (in charge of making), Jaybee Broom (polishing) and Laurie Pittaway (machining). The partners all lived close to the workshop – the Smiths in Church Street, Jaybee Broom in Ascott Road and Laurie Pittaway in the High Street but next to Jaybee Broom’s house.

Bim Champness, who was Fred Smith’s nephew by marriage, was a polisher.

There were six assemblers – Bill Slatter (Ascott), Bernard Wicksey (Fifield), Philip Hackling (Milton), Basil Miles (Milton) and Sid Tierney (Shipton) plus a trainee assembler Fred Russell (Ascott).

There were evident tensions. Fred Smith suffered badly from asthma and was often unable to work so that Laurie Pittaway and Jaybee Broom felt they had to do more than their fair share. Jaybee Broom had taken something of a demotion in joining Wychwood Manufacturing. At United Woodworking he had been foreman in the making shop. Fred Smith in fact had started his career as Jaybee Broom’s “boy”. Laurie Pittaway (who later returned to work for United Woodworking in Station Road) was felt to have a rebellious streak and Fred Smith was critical of his cutting at times. It probably did not help that two’ of the four partners were married to each other and could carry on business conversations out of hours.

Conditions were hard especially in the winter. The wood glue used to freeze solid over night. At first heating was from the “slow but sure” stove in the making shop. It was Fred Russell’s job to pack the stove with sawdust the evening before and then get it started when work began again at 7.45 the following morning. There was apparently no water. He used to fill up a kettle from the neighbouring gas works so that Phyllis Smith could make tea for 9.45. She and Fred would then sit on the tool box and discuss priorities. Sometimes she would say, “There’s a bit of post Fred” and this was a signal for the directors to meet informally.

Phyllis Smith always had a reputation as a sharp business woman. She knew the value of information. In 1958, when the Oxford Mail visited both working tillyards, United Woodworking was frank about its current production level of some 200 tills a month. Wychwood Manufacturing’s output however was a secret! Phyllis Smith would allegedly tip the lorry driver, who collected the output from both tillyards, ten shillings a week so that he would pick up the tills from Wychwood Manufacturing after those of United Woodworking and she could see how well the competition was doing and to whom they were selling! She would also look at the United Woodworking Co.’s paying in book at the bank (these were apparently often left open on the desk at the bank in Shipton) and tie up payments with known deliveries. In this way she was able to undercut United Woodworking .

Wychwood Manufacturing concentrated on the production of cash tills (according to Fred Russell 80% of sales consisted of cash tills in batches of 30 units which would take up to three days to produce) although invoices prepared in the mid 1950s still listed ‘cabinet making, undertaking and general repairs’ among the activities. There was a greater concentration on exports than at the United Woodworking Co. and, according to Phyllis Smith, this brought support from the Board of Trade when Sam Groves tried to get them closed down just after the War.

In the 1950s employment at both tillyards fell by roughly half as wooden fittings gave way to plastic and more sophisticated cash tills became popular. Neither firm was in direct contact with its market as they only sold to wholesalers who generally marked up prices by 100%. Brunton and Williams of Peckham took around a quarter of the production of the United Woodworking Co. while Morden and Green, also in London, were an important outlet for the Wychwood Manufacturing Co.. Neither till producer had the means or perhaps the initiative to employ their own sales people and both suffered from a lack of space to allow them to hold stocks.

In 1972 the Ascott Road business was bought by a Mr Cohen of Adsit Typewriters of Birmingham who wanted to close it down and build on the site. Phyllis Smith stayed on for the new owners for a further two and half years until the business eventually closed in about 1975. After that the deteriorating building was briefly occupied by a tramp until a fire caused further serious damage. Now brambles have completely taken over the site.

The United Woodworking Company lasted three years longer. Harry Coombes had bought up the Groves, Willet and Clifford shareholdings and obliged Ted to retire just before his seventieth birthday in around 1954. Harry himself fell ill in 1956 and died in the following year. The day before he died, Phyllis Smith turned up to ask what arrangements were being made for the tillyard! She was told that this had been decided some three years earlier. Harry’s son, Robert (Bob), who had his own busy accountancy practice, took over the running of the company (he had been partially involved during the period of Harry’s illness). At Harry’s death about 80% of revenue still came from the production of cash tills. Bob made efforts to diversify the business. New ventures included pheasant and turkey incubators, bale sledges, bar and drapery store fittings (Avery’s store in Shipton was refitted twice and Langston’s pub in Kingham was fitted out as a night club) and garden furniture.

Roger Watts worked at United 1959-1964. He estimates the business employed approximately 17 people at that time. Harold Lord was the foreman. Other workers he remembers included Jim Claridge machinist, Terry Stowe fitter, David Rathbone, assembler and Roy Rathbone assembler. Interestingly there were also three mixed race assemblers, Mervyn Case, Johnny Neibeer and Clifford Glynn whose fathers had been American servicemen during the Second World War. Working hours were to 12.00 with a quarter of an hour for tea at 9.45. Lunch was from. to 13.00 and then work resumed until 17.30 with a ten minute tea break at 15.00. There was work on Saturdays from 7.30 to 12.00.

As with the first tillyard, clocks were an important feature in the daily life of the business. Roger Watts relates how Jim Claridge, while playing football, hit the works clock and broke the glass of its elaborate cupboard. Harold Lord continued to open the glass case for six weeks to wind the clock up before he realised the glass was missing!

From the time of the business’s inception until 1978, according to Bob Coombes,- it rarely sold less than 300 cash tills in any one month. The peak month was 3,000 tills probably in the boom years just after the Second World War! Decimalisation in 1972 however led to the introduction of even more sophisticated automatic cash tills and there was no longer the need to write on a paper roll as with the Shipton tills. The National Cash Register Company (which had first inspired Gledhills and indirectly Alf Baylis fifty years earlier!) had large stocks of automated decimal machines which would do both the calculation of the sale and the recording. Demand for traditional wooden cash tills dried up. Even the Company’s diversification programme ran into problems. Larger, specialist agricultural machinery manufacturers brought out bale sledges which stacked the bales so that they were easier to pick up. Several large orders for turkey incubators were cancelled when hire purchase of agricultural machinery was stopped. By 1978 the business was no longer viable and was wound up. Of the long-time workers, Philip Hepden, Eric Pratley, Horace Pittaway, Ernie Hedges, Jimmy Woodward, Alf Harvey and Reg Duester were there until the end.

Shipton probably produced at least 500,000 wooden cash tills in the half century from 1920. There are no production records so this must remain a rough estimate. What is true is that this micro industry allowed a significant number of men in the Wychwood villages to exploit carpentry skills largely learned at Alfred Groves and Son so that they could earn higher rates of pay than were available elsewhere (including Groves) and generally enjoy better job security without having to commute to Oxford. Its insularity was initially a strength but led eventually to its demise because the industry was, to use the modern jargon, product orientated rather than market orientated.

This article owes much to the painstaking collection of information, including audio recordings made over the years with Wychwood inhabitants, by John Rawlins. The author is also very grateful for interviews with Bob Coombes, the son of the founder of United Woodworking and Roger Watts who worked there from 1959 to 1964.Gordon Duester who worked at United Woodworking at the end of the War also made several valuable suggestions. Similarly, with regard to the Wychwood Manufacturing Co, information and recollections were generously shared by Fred Russell who worked at the Ascott Road works from 19s4 to 1958 and then again from 1964 to 1966 and Bim Champness who also worked at the Wychwood Manufacturing Co. from 1956 to 1966.

Combe Mill Recollections

The following article by Alan Vickers is based on the written notes of Jeff Broxholme, who has lived at Milton under Wychwood since 1969.

Combe Mill

An idyllic Life – Living by an old Oxfordshire Mill before and during the Second World War

His family lived very simply but Jeff Broxholme still remembers his early life at Combe Mill with affection. Combe Mill is in a valley midway between Long Hanborough and Combe Village in West Oxfordshire. The Oxford Worcester railway shares this valley with the River Evenlode. Combe Mill is mentioned in the Doomsday Book but was probably not as large as it is today. It is assumed that this earlier mill was a flour mill, powered by a water wheel on the River Evenlode. It has greatly changed since that time. Even the original village has disappeared, possibly because of the Black Death. It is said to have been relocated to the top of the hill where the present village stands, about one mile North of Combe Mill. There are no remains of the original village except for a mound where the church stood. This is on the left near the top of the drive from the road linking Long Hanborough with Combe.

The drive itself leads to the Blenheim Estate Maintenance Yard. It passes two cottages where Jeff Broxholme lived until he was eighteen years old. Part of the first building on the left was a saw mill, in use until around 1980.

His father, Stephen Leonard Broxholme (always known as Leonard) was born in Ragby Lincolnshire in 1901. He worked as a sawyer in the local sawmill until 1927 and then moved to Heythrop to work in the sawmill there. In 1930 he married the housekeeper and cook of the Rectory at Cornwell, Emily Selina Hands from Chipping Norton and needed a house for his new family. He found a position as manager of the sawmill on an old estate yard belonging to the Duke of Marlborough in Combe and moved there in 1931. Jeff was born in the same year and his sister Edith Marina followed in 1934. Jeff’s father was the only sawyer at the mill which was very run down following the First World War and the depression of the 1920s. He was to work there from 1931-1949 cutting timber from the Estate Woods for use on the Estate – planks, posts, rails and oak coffin boards for Blenheim Palace.

Early Life

Jeff’s early life was somewhat precarious. At first the family lived in a small thatched cottage in the hamlet of East End Combe. When he was only two, a beam above the cottage fireplace caught fire which spread to the thatch. He still recalls the flames and reflections off the firemens’ helmets. He was taken to another house in the hamlet. His mother was rehoused with a friend nearby. Shortly afterwards the family moved to Combe Mill. There he suffered a series of illnesses, possibly due to the poor water quality at the Mill. At first he developed a large swelling in the neck and had this operated on at the Radcliffe, travelling there from the new railway halt at Combe. While recuperating he took some water to drink from a bucket at Mrs Williams’, friends of his parents who had helped them following the fire. He slipped and fell on the edge of the bucket undoing all his stitches. Somebody with a car took him back to the Radcliffe. Later he spent time in the isolation ward at Abingdon with scarlet fever.

Life at Combe Mill

Food was never in short supply. Leonard always had a fried breakfast before going to work. Eggs came from their own chickens. A very impressive cockerel attacked young Jeff but disappeared very shortly afterwards, presumably via the pot. Rabbits and hares could be caught but game birds belonging to the Estate were strictly off the menu (hardly surprising when a gamekeeper was summarily dismissed after a day’s shoot just failed to reach a bag of one thousand birds!).

Occasionally there were shooting parties from the Estate in the vicinity of the Mill and Jeff’s home would be used for luncheon if required. The servants brought the food in hay boxes. The ladies used the house for powdering their noses – how they got on with the Elsan earth toilet in the garden is not known!

 There were domestic rabbits too whose numbers were increased by taking the does to the buck in Long Hanborough. Two pigs were kept in sties at the back of the house. One was killed in March and one in November by the local slaughter man. A straw fire would be lit to burn off the bristles and the carcase hung up to bleed. Milk was delivered from Richard Colliers’s farm along the lane. Although the river was close by, fresh fish did not figure on the menu although occasionally eels were caught and eaten and their skins used for shoe laces. In season, blackberries and hazelnuts could be gathered from the hedgerows close to the mill.

Bread and meat were delivered. The meat came from a butcher in Woodstock. Bread was supplied by the two bakers in Combe.  One, Mr Pott, did not have a van and walked everywhere with a large basket. He also delivered telegrams and cooked meat for private households on Sundays. The Coop could be reached by bicycle to Long Hanborough. Some groceries came in Walford’s van from Bladon and there was a small grocers in Combe, Teddy Busby Stores. The Combe Post Office also served as a general store. Brookes stores, also in Combe, supplied sweets. Clothes were ordered at Strong and Morris in Woodstock but sometimes items were obtained from Banbury.

Mrs Broxholme made a wheat and potato wine. Other sources of alcoholic beverages were the three public houses which existed at that time in Combe village – the Cock (still in existence today), the Royal Oak and the Marlborough Arms. The Royal Oak suffered a setback when the landlord, Mr Muggeridge, killed himself by jumping off a railway bridge into the river following irregularities with the Christmas fund.

Heating the home was not a problem as the family could burn the offcuts from the sawmill. The same energy supply served for cooking. Electric power only came to the cottage in the 1950s. Light was from paraffin lamps or candles.

Entertainment was from a battery powered radio bought just before the War and attached to a long wire aerial. New batteries were sourced from Woodstock when required. There were no holidays but only the occasional bus trip to the coast, mostly to Southsea which was the closest point on the coast. A train trip to Chipping Norton to visit his maternal grandparents was an infrequent pleasure. This would be either in a diesel car or on a steam train where the driver would sometimes allow you to stand on the footplate. At Kingham one had to change and go over the covered bridge to catch the train to Chippy.

School Life

Jeff started his formal education at five years old in the infant department of Combe School. He would be taken the one and half miles on the back of a bicycle ridden by his mother. Because of the earlier injury to his neck, he was always reminded to take extra care and could not take part in sports or games so that he felt isolated from his schoolmates. There was no hot food at school. Most children went home at midday. Some, like Jeff, who lived some distance from the village, were allowed to stay in the school and eat their sandwiches. A large white card was hung on the school gate and the children could not re-enter the school until this was removed. Jeff would be picked up again by his mother at the end of school. In the meantime, his father kept an eye on Edith, sometimes with the help of a neighbour, until his mother got back.

The School comprised two classes and served around 35 pupils. Mrs Woodward looked after the infants (aged 5 to 7). Jeff was one of the smallest children and was put next to another small boy, Derek Allan, at the front of the class. Next door, the Head teacher, Miss Walker, had four different classes in one room – 7 to 8 year olds, 8 to 9 year olds, 9 to 10 year olds and 10 to 11 year olds.

The ultimate disciplinary sanction was the cane across the hand. Jeff remembers the cane breaking on the hand of a boy called David Oliver.

At the age of eleven, those, who had passed the Scholarship, went to Chipping Norton Grammar School. They cycled to Stonesfield (on bicycles apparently provided by the Council) where they caught a bus. Jeff went instead to the Marlborough Secondary Modern School at Woodstock. Prior to this school being opened in 1939, village children who did not pass the 11+ went by bus to the bigger school in Church Handborough.

The keepers saw to it that there were no raptors in the neighbourhood but Jeff remembers other wild life – otter spraints on the concrete strip near the mill, water voles and lots of hedgehogs. Strangely he does not recall seeing wild ducks but one year there was a wild goose down by the river although this disappeared just four days before Christmas!

The Village Calendar

An important village event was the celebration of Mayday. All the school pupils were taught various dances. The older girls had to decorate an old bath chair with flowers to form a suitable carriage for the May Queen, chosen, along with a May King, by the Head teacher, Miss Walker. This carriage was pulled around the village and a collection made for some unspecified purpose. The girls wore flower patterned dresses with bonnets. The boys had hoods extending over their shoulders in green cotton and long green buttoned coats reaching nearly down to their knees. Costumes were made by Miss Walker’s mother who lived with her in the school house. After the dancing on the green, there was a tea party and sports.

The first Sunday after 10th August was the Combe Feast. There was a funfair often with steam engines, on both village greens.

There were other flower and vegetable shows, which were usually held in conjunction with a fete and sports. These took place either at “Combe House” or at Mrs Cottrel Dormer’s in the middle of the village. Jeff’s father won many prizes for his vegetables and Jeff and his sister usually won certificates for wild flower displays.

At the end of the school year, there was always a school play where Miss Walker attempted to involve every child.

The Second World War

At Sunday school one day, Jeff learned that “there was a war on”. When he got home, his father confirmed this. Jeff asked who he was going to join, “the cowboys or the indians”!

With the outbreak of war the pupils were told to stick brown tape to the larger windows of the School. They were issued with a gasmask at home. This was a trunk like contraption with an eyepiece to look out from. The lower part comprised a flat metal attachment which was adjusted by the man who had brought it. The whole thing smelt strongly of rubber. Later everybody had to go to The Royal Oak Public House and line up by a large table to have another bit fitted to their gas mask. The lower part was green and it was fitted by means of some special sticky tape. Apparently this new bit contained charcoal. Gasmasks were kept in a brown cardboard box with a string handle so that they could be carried over the shoulder. This later wore out so a tin tube with a lid and string handle had to be bought to replace it. There were frequent practices at school in putting on the gas mask. Sometimes the eye piece misted up and the Head teacher told the children to rub some soap on the inside of the mask. Great fun could be had by blowing effective raspberries from inside the mask. There was no explanation as to what the brown paper or the gas masks were for. Similarly the children did not know why they were asked to bring cans to school and then hammer them flat.

 Many evacuees came to Combe and the surrounding area. They brought their own school teachers. One day two ladies appeared at the Mill with five children from Enfield in tow. The Broxholme family were required to house them – the French family of three (two girls, Betty and Ruth and one boy Derrick) and one boy (Peter) and one girl (Beryl) from a family called Carr. Peter and Derrick took the bus each day from Combe to Marlborough School with Jeff. This unexpected supply of playmates was welcome to Jeff and he does not recall any special friction between the children. They delighted in playing in the surrounding woods and there were Leonard’s wonderful sledges to play on in the winter.

Canadian soldiers were billeted at Blenheim Park where cattle and some lambs were said to have ended up on barbecues. The Americans were based at Brize Norton and Heythrop and consequently black troops were a rare sight in Combe. There were few British camps close to Combe apart from one at Finstock (the concrete remains are still visible close to the Garden Centre.) Freeland housed a military hospital.. There was a satellite airfield at Kingswood where Spitfires were hidden in the woods.

In the direction of Charlbury, there was a grass strip and a tin hangar housing a Liberator for the personal use of Winston Churchill who was a frequent visitor to Ditchley House.

Actual military activity  was hardly in evidence – a few incendiary bombs falling on Stonesfield and Bladon and a Bren Gun Carrier which became stuck in the river close to the Mill. The four Coldstream guardsmen from the Bren Carrier spend six weeks living in the Mill yard stables. Jeff and the evacuees helped clean the river mud off the bullets. His mother did all their cooking and even interceded for them when their officer would not let them go to a local dance!

The closest form of military power was the Home Guard. Jeff’s father was a member of the Combe unit. Some of the exercises closely resembled an episode of Dad’s Army. For example, on one occasion, the Combe unit managed to penetrate the defences of Brize Norton by using a false floor in a lorry. On another famous day during an exercise which pitted the Combe Home Guard against the forces of Long Hanborough, the Combe unit prevailed when the whole village population turned out and helped arrest the Long Hanborough contingent!

One night Leonard took Jeff out to Combe Hill rise to show him the glow coming from the bombing attack on Coventry.

Leonard Broxholme served in the Home Guard until he had a serious accident. Walking in the blackout to Combe for a Home Guard meeting, the handle of his canvas shoulder bag was caught by a passing car and he was dragged along. He lost an eye and one arm was so damaged that he did not regain the use of it until 1963 when a pit bonesetter in the North of England worked a miracle that was apparently beyond conventional medical practioners in the twenty years since the accident occurred.

Just before D-Day, there were manoeuvres between British and American troops around Combe. Telephone wires were laid in the fields from the back of trucks. Afterwards the wire was carefully harvested by the children just as they had done throughout the War with the aluminium strip broadcast to confuse the enemy radar. This wire made much stronger reed boats than had been possible before the War.

The children did not receive regular pocket money but earned cash by collecting flattened tins and rose hips for the war effort. Rose hips at three pence a pound were particularly worthwhile.

All the children were issued with Wellington boots during the war. Prior to that, wet socks had been hung up around the Tortoise stove in the classroom.

In 1943 Jeff joined the Scouts and stayed with them until he was 19, eventually becoming a Kings Scout. It rained on his first camp but the scoutmaster lit a fire and prepared a hot drink and supper. Sacks of straw were obtained from a farmer and these became the boys’ beds on the groundsheets. The scout movement became a window to the world beyond rural Oxfordshire when he went to France and Norway with the scouts in the late 1940s.

Members of the Red Spinning Society, a fishing club for London businessmen, would sometimes come down for a weekend of fishing. They would be looked after by Mrs Broxholme. Jeff recalls some splendid characters among the visiting members. A Mr Panyey had been to America and could spin a rope like a cowboy. Another used to bring a microscope and entertain the children with the results from his pond dipping among the reeds. Some were wonderful conversationalists who could conjure up something of life beyond rural Oxfordshire.

Later Career

Leonard moved to the Eynsham Estate in 1948 and worked in the saw mill there until the Mason family lost much of their fortune through the collapse of copper prices. Leonard then worked in Woodstock for Scarsbrook before finally joining the timber department of Groves the builders in Milton under Wychwood in 1954. Jeff became an apprentice carpenter at Tolley Brothers of Bladon in 1945. After two years of National Service with the RAF, He came back to Chipping Norton to work with a former colleague who was setting up as a jobbing builder. In 1954 he too joined Groves in Milton, working as a bricklayer charge hand.

The Mill in Detail

Cut timber was stacked on the right hand side of the drive to dry. Planks were left for seasoning underneath the carpentry shops. Some oak boarding was kept at Blenheim for coffins (including probably Winston Churchill’s) The planks and rails had small laths of about 1 1/4” by ½” placed under each piece of timber. It was reckoned that each ¼” of timber needed a year to season.

The timber in the form of tree trunks was brought by contractors, often using Foden steam lorries, and was placed where a small wooden crane (a derrick) could lift them onto a steel plate to be moved to a large circular saw blade. This crane was operated by hand with a winding handle and pulled diagonally as required by a second operator. If the log was too long, it had to be cut by a crosscut saw, a two handled saw blade operated by two people. Jeff remembers seeing his mother use the blade when no other person was available.

The mill was powered by a water wheel driven by shafts and pulleys through a blacksmith’s shop connecting with the main machinery under the saw mill. The water wheel, which is still in place today, was quite large, approximately 13 feet diameter by 8 feet across. It was converted in 1850 to saw mill use (source Oxfordshire Mills by Wilfred Foreman published by Phillimore 1983). The wheel was “breast-fed” ie the water hit the wheel midway between the top and the bottom of the wheel. The resulting power was well used. The first use was for a water pump taking water to the roof of the building where it filled a large tank supplying the adjoining cottages. This was only river water and was not for drinking. There were taps over the kitchen sink and also a copper in the wash house. (Drinking water came from a spring on the other side of the river, about 150 yards away. Two buckets had to be fetched before breakfast.)

The next use of the power from the water wheel was to turn the fans in the blacksmith’s shop. This was followed by power to the band saw in what was called the “pattern shop” on the first floor. The cogs for the pit wheel and pinion wheel were made from cast iron coupled with wooden cogs made from hornbeam.

The fourth use of the power was to the sandstone wheel used by foresters to sharpen their axes.

The fifth use was to a large lathe, used mainly to cut the hubs of cart wheels some of which could reach 15”” in diameter.

The sixth power offtake was to the saw mill itself. This was in the form of a continuous belt to a rack of belt pulleys powering respectively:

  1. A small carburundum wheel for sharpening saws
  2. A planing tool with a blade of approximately 15” wide, installed around 1944
  3. A large saw between 3 to 4 feet diameter
  4. A steel plate (called a rack bench) for bringing tree trunks from outside to the saw for ripping. The derrick crane previously mentioned lowered trunks onto this plate.
  5. A belt from the steam beam engine (discussed below)
  6. A small saw of approximately 30 inches diameter for a hand push bench  for much smaller pieces of timber

The steam engine was installed in about 1852 It was used when river water levels were too low following drought or when there was too much water because of flooding. This double acting, condensing, rotating beam engine was only therefore used intermittently between 1852 and 1913 and was in good condition when laid up in 1913. It was left in a locked room until the early 1940s. An auxiliary steam engine was installed during the First World War to cope with the additional throughput of timber needed for pit props and trench supports for the War Office. This was a coal fired agricultural tractor with belt drive. Jeff remembers this engine falling apart during the 1930s and it was probably scrapped around 1936.

The water wheel was in poor condition and required a new shaft when Jeff’s father arrived. He arranged for this to be produced at his previous sawmill in Heythrop. The mill workings were generally in bad condition – pully shafts were often missing and wheels had to be replaced. Brass castings were obtained from Daniels in Bridge Street Witney. Heavy mechanical work, including work on the waterwheel, was carried out by Johnson and Son of Standlake. Once the new main shaft for the waterwheel had been installed more people were engaged at the Combe Mill. An assistant, Mr Margates was taken on to help Leonard. Tom Knibbs was the carpenter working in the shop. He was the son of the landlord at the Cock Inn in Combe. A blacksmith, Bert Horn, came in from Bladon when required. A painter lived next door to Jeff’s family. The foreman for the estate yard was Charlie Townsend.

The company was completed by a horse named Jolly who could be harnessed to a cart for deliveries. A full time stableman from Long Hanborough looked after the horse and made the deliveries. The water wheel was used until the 1950s when electric power was installed at the Mill.

The chimney for the beam engine had been knocked down around 1922. As it was only of brick construction it was easily dismantled. Most of the bricks were simply dropped down inside the chimney.

The later Restoration of the Mill

Jeff was first approached by a group interested in restoring the mill chimney in 1968-69. He completely stripped down the old chimney and built a new one which has a date plate for 1972 fixed on the West side. The new chimney was first used in 1973 when the restored beam engine was fired up for the first time and Leonard, much to his delight, was able to witness this not long before his death in 1977. The restoration group was surprised to see how fast the engine fly wheel ran.

The original boiler is still in place but would no longer withstand the required steam pressure. A subsidiary boiler was installed and is used at the present time. The original boiler is of the Cornish type, consisting of a horizontal cylinder or drum and was installed at the same time as the engine. It is thought to be one of the oldest boilers in the country still capable of use.

The mill race was blocked up by the Estate but a small reservoir of water has been installed by the restorers. Water is pumped from the river to provide some motion to the wheel. The original sluice gate was also unfortunately destroyed by estate workers in the period 1965-1975. The water run from this sluice gate had produced an enormous hole in the river bed with a pool of 40’ diameter and 8’ deep, ideal for boating with reed boats, swimming and diving.

The mill building has now been restored thanks to a Lottery grant and is protected as a Grade II listed building. The restoration included the provision of a lift for the disabled. The Mill is now open for visitors  and is in steam from March to October on the third Sunday in the month. Here is The official Combe Mill Website