Wychwoods Victorian Evening 1990

In January 1990, the new decade was celebrated in truly entertaining style by the society. Here we present the show, digitised from the old VHS tape which recorded the event.

The Victorian evening was based on the format of a concert given in Milton Board School in 1885. Society members and friends entertained the audience with a feast of words and music depicting late Victorian life in the Wychwoods and surrounding areas.

The cast played, sang or recited from contemporary sources with material created and researched by members. Many aspects of everyday life were included – Christmas, cooking and health were prime examples. Farming life with its attendant problems was also part of the show. The themes made many references to low pay, woodland disappearance, emigration, the coming of the railways and fear of the Workhouse. Much more fun than it sounds!

We hope you enjoy the show.

Ascott Village Charity Booklet: Village History and Things to Know

A publication funded by the Ascott Village Charity can be seen here. The publication is offered courtesy of the charity. It highlights the fascinating and varied history of the village.

Ascott Earl Castle Looking South East: photo Hamish Fenton

The booklet contains a variety of maps and images. These include features of the village from Neolithic times and the later Iron Age. It describes Saxon field systems and also the Norman Age which saw the building of Ascott’s 12th Century Holy Trinity church. Also described is the founding of the Ascott Village Charity in 1480. Finally, the booklet also covers medieval, Victorian and 20th Century events and personalities.

All in all, this is a handy guide and is an inspiration to wander through the village and its surroundings and soak up its varied and deep past.

The booklet is available here as a PDF.

A Short History of Ascott-under-Wychwood
Copyright © Ascott Village Charity 2016
Thanks to Ascott Village Charity for permission to include this booklet. Not to be reproduced or distributed without the Charity’s written permission. Please check back with the Charity for any updates and amendments.

Shipton Memories: Jim Hudson

Here is an article by former Shipton resident Jim Hudson, which has been published in the Oxford Mail and also appears on the Wychwood Magazine website.

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Jim Hudson

My name is Jim Hudson; I live in County Durham and work in ICT for a local council. Before that, I served all over the world in the Royal Navy and long before that and before my wanderings began, during the mid 1960s, I was a small child living with my parents in Shipton-under-Wychwood.

The Smiths’ Bus

Living at the top of Fiddler’s Hill in Cherry Tree Cottage, I would walk to St Mary’s School each morning and home again that evening usually on my own; this would be from the age of about five. Sometimes on the way home, if I was lucky, I would be picked up by the Smiths Industries’ bus taking workers home from the factory in Witney. I would walk down the length of the bus to where my Dad would be sitting and we would go home together. If I had missed the bus, I would walk home past an old hand-operated water pump.

During the summer (and it always seemed to be summer) I would stop to wash my face and hair, drinking the cool water as I did so. I remember at the School, one of the greatest honours was to be allowed to ring the school bell at dinnertime. A chain hung from the bell in a small bell-house at the top of the school, ran down a cast iron tube and into the hallway. I only remember being allowed to ring the bell once but I can still remember the feeling of importance. I must have been a very good lad that day.

Dinner time meant being served food that had been cooked and ferried in from Burford Primary School. It generally arrived in an open wagon during morning break, packed into large metal flasks. The drivers would employ all us kids to hump it off the wagon and into the kitchens, two kids to one flask. We finished the work and got stuck into the small one-third pints of milk we received mid-morning, small glass milk bottles and straws, served from battered metal crates.

Another Village!

On hot days, we were sometimes allowed to take the class desks and chairs outside into the courtyard. Again during the break, we sometimes stacked the tables up, one on top of another with chairs on top of that. We used this as a homemade climbing frame and called it ‘Table and Chairs play’. The teachers would stand by, telling us to be careful and not get ourselves hurt.

At Harvest Festival, we would all troop to church. Two by two, and it had to be boy next to girl – we were not allowed to walk next to our mates. At church we boys had to take off our school caps, girls of course could leave their bonnets on. Teachers fussed over us, making sure our hair was combed and our partings straight. They would spit on handkerchiefs and rub the muck off our faces.

Also once a term or so we would walk along the road – two by two again, all the way to Ascott-under-Wychwood School where we could bathe in their new bathing pool. It was three foot deep and outdoors. It was great fun, not only because we were splashing about in the water, but also because the whole class had walked all the way along a road to Ascott … and that was another village!

Hay-Bale Heaven

Outside of school, my mates and I would make camps and dens out of the hay bales in the fields. Staking them up, we would make structures two or even three storeys high. We helped the farmers to collect them at the end of the summer, riding on the open trailer and lifting the bales on. Above us, the Red Arrows aerobatic display team, based at Little Rissington, would be practising their next air display. I thought it was perfectly normal to have an air display nearly every day.

We spent long afternoons building go-carts from old tea chests and pram wheels. These carts were very special as you actually rode inside them rather like an armoured car. With a crew of two, one lad driving and one in the back with his head stuck out of a hatch, we ran them down Fiddlers Hill. Whoever was driving nearly always lost control at some point and crashed. We didn’t bother with brakes either, once the cart was going down the hill you could not stop it and you were therefore committed to experience whatever happened next. We certainly never worried about cars coming the other way. We were all grazed up and cut but it was great fun, we dusted ourselves down and pushed the cart back up for the next run.

I often think back to my time in Shipton, and surprise myself that I only lived there for about four years. Even now, so many years later I still consider myself as “growing up in Shipton” and consider it to be my spiritual home.

Are YOU in the Photograph?

Here is a photograph of Jim Hudson and classmates, dated on the back as 1967, so Jim would have been eight years old. He is the lad in check trousers, centre front. Second lad to the right of him is Duncan Barney and five to his left is Nigel Barrett.

So, are YOU in this photograph? Do let us know : Contact Us!

A Shipton Lad – Not just a Naughty Boy

Rob Taylor’s memories of Shipton 60 years ago, as told to Alan Vickers

Rob Taylor has lived in Shipton since 1958. His father came originally from Blockley and his mother from Longborough. Before Rob was born, his father, Charlie, had been working in Upper Milton for the Reynolds’. But by the time of Rob’s birth, in Moreton in Marsh hospital, his father was working for Bobby Bull in Bold, which was “three houses and a letterbox”. Rob’s first school was at Idbury and had just 15 pupils.

Rob Taylor

When Rob was 11, the family came to Shipton where his father was employed by Percy Holloway at Grove Farm. Rob’s two brothers got jobs with Dick Hartley, one as a pigman and the other as a shepherd. Eventually Rob’s father got a job as a length man for the Rural Council. This involved keeping the footpaths clear and maintaining ditches. His partner was a Mr Cox. They each had a spade and a bicycle. One of them would go off in the direction of Kingham and Churchill while the other would go as far as Fifield. Rob’s father was a keen follower of the local hunt and would always choose his working area according to whether the hunt was meeting. One of his jobs in the winter was to manually spread gritting from the back of a lorry and to roll out snow fencing to prevent drifting. This happened along the Chippy Road and along the Stowe Road. Rob remembers seeing snow almost the height of the telegraph poles at times. After the risk of snow drifts had gone, the wooden snow fencing would be rolled up again.

Rob’s father had always had a tied cottage while working on farms but was never in favour of this. When he got the job as length man, he had the opportunity to buy two cottages up on Fiddlers Hill – opposite where the telephone box is today. He was £50 short of the purchase price but Ken Early, one of his friends, lent him the money. The houses were separate dwellings – you had to come out of one to go into the other. There was no running water and no sewage although there was electricity. He remembered Gordon Duester living up there and using the shared outside tap.

Rob went for a short while to Shipton School, which he hated. Once he was put on coke shovelling duty by the Head Master, Tom John, for smoking in the classroom. He was found out when the smoke drifted up from the inkwell in the desk!

He was one of three pupils to pass the 11 plus and go to Burford School, which he also hated. The other pupils were David Hicks, son of the village policeman Stan Hicks and Monica Duester. New pupils were based at that time in the lower school where the boarding house is now located. This meant walking up Tanners Lane sometimes twice in the day to attend lessons.

He could read but found spelling difficult. He got little encouragement from his teachers and behaved badly. Not surprisingly he was “top of the league for being caned”. He remembers only two teachers with any fondness, Mr Atkins, the art teacher and Jimmy Weir a history teacher who had been in the Welsh Guards. Rob was good at art and Mr Atkins encouraged him. Jimmy Weir was strict and once hung him out of the window by his feet for looking at the girls playing tennis instead of paying attention to the lesson. On another occasion he was caned for putting carbolic soap in the woodwork master’s tea kettle! One of the worst lessons at Burford was cross country. This took two periods and often would finish after the bus for Shipton had gone. He and David Hicks worked out that the way to avoid having to walk home was to hide in one of sheds and take a short cut to finish early.

He missed quite a few days of school by deliberately not catching the bus in the morning. This usually happened on Thursdays when Hartley’s farm in Upper Milton, where his brothers worked, had hundreds of chickens hatching from the incubators. Rob would be employed in packing them. He eventually left school at 15 without any formal qualifications.

Rob’s father did not want him to work on the land. He advised his son not to work for a farmer or take a tied cottage saying, “You never see a farmer on a bike!” He arranged for Rob to have an apprenticeship in carpentry at Groves but this only lasted two weeks.

He then got an interview with Phyllis Smith who owned one of the Shipton tillyards (Wychwoods Manufacturing Co). Phyllis interviewed him at her home, coincidentally in the same room that I spoke to Rob in. She offered him a job at 1/6 an hour but advised him “not to tell the rest!” When Rob joined, the workforce consisted of:

Fred Smith Dir.Reggie Weston
Phyllis Smith Dir.Ernie Hedges
Laurie Pittaway DirRob Valentin
J. B. Broom Dir.Fred Russell
Rob ChampnessRaymond Puddle
Rob TaylorJack Beany
Wychwoods Manufacturing Co

His first role was to install two springs with two screws in the rear of the tills. If the till was to go overseas then it got a brass bell. If it was sold in the UK then the bell was made from steel. Later he applied filler to smooth the wood grain before polishing. The person who had finished each till had to put his initials in the back so any imperfections or faults could be traced. The company bought ordinary broom handles to make the spools for the paper rolls, They had a groove put in to hold the paper end and were then cut to size. One of Rob’s tasks was to bury the contents of the toilet bucket once a week. For this, he received an additional 2/6. It was a heavy job and he told Phyllis it was really a job for two men. She agreed and said two could do it. Rob thought they would be paid 2/6 each but the job rate remained 2/6 for both.

He found Phyllis a very shrewd business woman, “fair but strict”. She would make tea every morning around ten o’clock and bring the post in for the directors to discuss. “This gave us a rare ten minutes to mess about in!”
There was some animosity between Phyllis and her second husband Fred and the other directors. Fred has some underlying health problems with his heart and the others felt that he did not always pull his weight. For his part, Fred would often moan about his mother in law, Mrs Sifford who lived with them.

Rob left to work as a labourer for Groves’ for around four years and then returned to the tillyard for the last four years of its existence ie about 1970-1974. By that time Phyllis was living in the bungalow now occupied by Dave Johnson. Rob had helped with the footings by working at weekends for Ken Early. Her former neighbour, Jean Hawcutt was working in the tillyard packing the finished tills. At the end there was only Phyllis, Rob and two Mitchell brothers, Ron and Brian. The tillyard was bought by a Mr Cohen but Rob thinks it was used by a saddlers from Charlbury for around eighteen months.

Rob was approached by Bill Dore’s sons, Ray and Trig because their father was looking for a woodworking machinist. Although he had not been a machinist, the boys told Rob to answer yes to all the questions Bill might ask him. He got the job and fused the workshop on the first day because he was not aware that
much of the equipment worked on three phase current. Vic Avery was called out to put everything right.

Rob points out that, “If you were a lad in the village, you did not need to leave to get a job. You went to Groves’, the tillyards, Bill Dore or Bill Davis. Bill Dore always paid more than Groves’. Rob worked for twenty years for Bill at the workshop beyond the stream in Meadow Lane where there were around 50 employees. “I was sacked a few times but I never left”. He describes Bill as a larger than life character who would reverse his huge Van den Plas car up Meadow Lane while smoking a cigar. He had a full size dog track on the same site. When he got the job, Bill asked him what he had been earning. The sons told Rob to add a bit and he answered £20. Bill replied, “We can do better than that. Start on Monday and I will pay you £26!” There was no attention to health and safety. If an inspection was made then machines were simply disconnected and turned upside down.

Once he asked Rob to prepare 100 fence posts, five feet high. Rob got them done but Bill was upset because Rob “had not allowed for the two feet in the ground!”

Rob worked part time for Lady Sarah Moon, who lived at Cromwell House opposite the Red Horse and was married to Sir Peter Moon. Sir Peter had an affair and Lady Sarah got her revenge by giving away his valuable stock of vintage port and cutting up his clothes. She also poured paint on his BMW and went on to found the Old Bags Club for women who had been wronged.

Rob himself had a smart purple Triumph Herald but no driving licence. He took the driving test six times in Banbury and failed, always driving himself there alone with learner plates. If the village policeman ever stopped him, he would be told to remove himself from the village because the constable did not relish the necessary paperwork.

Now, in retirement, Rob maintains his allotment and pursues his lifelong hobby of keeping canaries. He has around one hundred birds and travels the length of Britain as a recognized judge.

That is Rob Taylor – a Wychwoods character for six decades and no longer a naughty boy after all.

Life in Old Milton

This article was by Olive Barnes, later Mrs Olive Frost, who was born in The Square, Milton under Wychwood in 1907 and later lived in Calais Cottage, Frog Lane. It is taken from the society’s Journal No 6. It is also available as a PDF here.

My Mother rented three cottages which stood apart because, as she said, she wouldn’t have other peoples’ noise and stinks. In 1914 we moved to the last house in Frogmore Lane, which had a drive and stood in an acre of ground. My Mother Lizzy Barnes, formerly Lizzy Norgrove of Shipton, was a very clean and hard-working woman, very well-known and respected. She married Henry Barnes in Milton Church in 1888. She refused to use the work ‘obey’ in the marriage service and said instead ‘to love honour and nobay’.

Olive Barnes, aged 3 years (1910 )

Until 1910 we were quite well off; I remember my Father dropping sovereigns through his fingers intd my Mother’s lap. Groves’ men did contract work at that time. (I am delighted that Dad’s photograph is on page twenty-six of the Wychwoods Album; he is on the extreme right front.) He was very smart and good-looking and I adored him. In 1910 he met with a terrible accident. He went with other Groves’ men to dig gravel from a pit near the top of Milton High Street. They hadn’t been working long when the walls caved in and Dad was completely buried. His friend Percy Greenaway dug with his hands to find Dad’s face so that he could breathe. Dad never worked again and from then on we were very poor. Half his basic wage was paid to him weekly, amounting to 11. 3d. (56p).

Mother was very proud and although she had six children at school, not earning, she refused to allow the powers that were to put us into a home. She did all sorts of work to keep us fed and clothed. What wonderful people they all were, helping each other in ever)’ possible way, day and night. As we all nine grew up we became better off, and indeed our home was a palace.

The gardens were a joy to behold and it was usual to see people standing at the bottom o f the drive admiring the beauty. Mother would go to furniture sales at the big houses and buy beautiful furniture. She would bid against Marky Bunting, a well-known furniture dealer of Shipton. Mother always won. I still have a large mirror she bought at Shipton Court. The stories Dad told us on winter nights around a big fire, some handed down the generations, were a great joy to us children. Stories of local ghosts, highwaymen and murders; rather different to today’s television as our stories were all true.

When my Mother was eight years old she called at ‘The Lodge’ at Shipton and asked a lady if she would teach her to sew. ‘What a dear little girl’, said the lady, ‘ask your Mother if you can spend half an hour each afternoon and I will teach you to sew’. What a blessing that turned out to be. In our badly-off days Mother would buy clothes from rummage sales, given by the gentry, and reshape them into clothes for us. She made beautiful bedspreads for Mrs Samuda of Bruern Abbey who was very much looked up to.

My sister Dolly Barnes used to get smacks from my Mother because she refused to curtsey to Mrs Samuda. Dolly was a character and no mistake. She died in 1985 at the age of 88. Her real name was May Diamond jubilee because of her date of birth. I remember at her wedding, Molly Timms (later Mrs Jim Puddle) shouting ‘Good old Doll, keep your pecker up’, as my sister walked down the aisle of Milton Church on Dad’s arm. The whole village turned out for weddings and funerals then and we all went to church or chapel on Sundays. A very united village was Milton in those days.

Our house was known as Calais Cottage, pronounced Callis. The fields were First, Second and Third Callis. Dog Kennel Lane was so called because the Peppers of Shipton Court had kept dogs there. The cricket ground at Shipton was known as Shortcraft, the best cricket pitch in Oxfordshire. The fields nearby were called Diggerspit, Cow Common and Forty-eight Acres. Calais Cottage looking towards Frog Lane, Milton, before 1914 The paths through Bruern Wood were called the Vestry Light and Unkid Light.

Frog Lane Milton under Wychwood – Calais Field Bridge over stream – Calais Cottage on left – Homestead on right c. 1909

When war broke out in 1914 the Milton men left their ploughs in the fields and went to join up. I remember standing outside the Baptist Chapel one Sunday afternoon watching young men sign their lives away. Some were only seventeen. There were 827 inhabitants in Milton at that time and we lost 48 of our lovely boys. Some also died later of their wounds.

Milton was a wonderful village in those days. Mr Guy Mayman was the tallest man in the village and Mr Dorset, the smallest man, worked for him. It was a common sight to see Mr Mayman being driven about in his pony and tub by Mr ‘Dosset’. The Maymans lived in Kohima, now Heath House. In the High Street lived old Mr Wright who had fought in the battle of Balaclava in 1855. Walking or running home I would pass the blacksmith’s and at the end of Jubilee Lane was the wheelwright’s where Mr Keen made lovely yellow wheels for tubs or traps. Roy Ridley was the carrier and I was often sent to Chipping Norton by carrier to collect goods Mother had ordered. We went through Churchill and the horse knew all the stops.

Our Vicar Mr Horlock was very much loved. As he lay dying, he said ‘Bury me near the organ so that I can hear it’. I was taken to see his corpse by Louie Pittaway of Shipton. I could never understand a word Mr Shildrick the curate said. When we sang the hymn Make mine eyelids close, I sang with much feeling thinking it meant a girl named Eyelid was needing clothes. Shipton had much loved vicars too: Mr Carter who christened me in Shipton Church in 1907, then Mr Nixon, a big man who went about on a bicycle and greeted everyone he met. People came from miles around to hear him preach. I was in Shipton Church when Miss Dee fell dead as she sang a hymn. They carried her body home on a hurdle. How sad we all were.

I knew Alfred Groves well; he was bent double with age, a nice-looking old gentleman with a stick. He used to put pears on the spiked railings for us children to find. Taking a short cut home from school through The Square, I would pass Renee Hedges’ house with her 13 cats. Her brother Jessie who had been a sailor lived with her and he wore his seaman’s hat until he died. There was no money for his funeral, so he was buried by the parish. The coffin was a cheap one and we could see his hair through the cracks. There was no one to follow him to the grave so kind Hilda Rathband said, ‘I’ll get my hat and follow the poor old b—’ and follow him she did

Mr Keen, wheelwright, in Jubilee Lane c.1929

I remember her Mother always standing by the Methodist Chapel. We used to go to Tangley for picnics during the long summer holidays and one day we ventured down the tunnel that leads from Tangley Farm to Bruern Abbey. When we came upon a dead sheep, we beat a hasty retreat.

There is a chapel in this tunnel under Two Bush Hill, and Dad used to tell us of two poachers who had a smoke in it. I think part of this tunnel formed Granny Green’s cave on Chipping Norton Hill and then went on to Chadlington House. Our Mother took us to tea with Granny Green. Granny used to smoke a clay pipe, just like a man.

There was a beautiful beech tree over the cave. I asked her if she was nervous, living all alone up there and felt very humble when she answered, ‘My dear, the Good Lord looks after me’. As we used to whizz down Chipping Norton Hill on dark nights with our shopping, we would call out ‘Good night, Granny’ and she would answer ‘Good night my darlings, God bless you’. The hedges were aglow with glow-worms. A bygone age

Cotham Cottage, Milton

This article by Norman Frost is taken from Volume 1 of the WLHS Journal Series. It was written in 1985 and in the detail there are charming reminders of 18th Century thrift and customs

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Due to the kindness of the present owners, Mr and Mrs Mattingley, two members of the Society were invited to inspect this cottage when the interior was stripped down to the bare walls, prior to renovation.

Cotham Cottage Milton Under Wychwood
Cotham Gottage, Milton

Without interior partitions and the upstairs floorboards which were obviously later additions, the building itself was just a rectangular 17th century structure. However, surprises were to follow. Firstly, the walls were indented in about forty places with recesses about 18 inches deep and very much wider at the back than at the front or entrance. Reference to the archives at the County Museum showed their purpose; they were roosting holes for doves. The structure was built as a dovecote and perhaps its very name was trying to tell us this in the first place. The museum authorities were most interested in the building as this was only the second example of a square dovecot to be discovered in the county. Most dovecotes are of the familiar round style.

Steven Mattingley had also discovered a child’s shoe hidden in one of the roosting holes when the walls were plastered to convert the building into a dwelling. The shoe was in very good condition for its age and the sole still bore the mud with pieces of straw embedded, exactly as it was when the child came into the house, wearing it for the last time.

Our search for answers led us a little further afield this time – to Julia Swann at the Boot & Shoe Department-, Guildhall Museum, Northampton. The shoe, she told us, was a boy’s shoe made sometime about 1750. For the period it was a very good quality article and very well preserved. In the style of the period shoes were made to be worn on either foot, so that by swapping the shoes around they would last longer. Miss Swann also pointed out a piece of stiff leather stitched around the heel, suggesting that the little boy who wore it did not unfasten his shoes before putting them on and that the leather had been stitched on to prevent him breaking the heels down. The shoe was fastened by two tongues of leather passing across the instep and through a buckle which was not attached to the shoe in any way. The act of holding the two leather tongues firmly together kept the shoe in place.

Concealing a shoe or indeed any other personal article within the walls of a house was a common practice about this period. Almost every old dwelling has or has had some article buried within its walls. There are many reasons for this practice. It could be a good luck symbol; it was thought to identify the occupant with the dwelling and sometimes when the article was buried in the bedroom wall it was thought to ensure the arrival of many children. I suppose it is logical therefore to assume that this building was built in the 17th century and that about 100 years later the owner converted it to a cottage for one of his workers, a use which has continued ever since.

A point of interest does arise, however. A dovecote was the right of the farmer and no one else. His pigeons were for his benefit and could not be touched even when they ate his neighbour’s crops. Was this range of buildings part of an old farmstead? We know that the old dovecote at the end of the Terrace in Milton was part of Hawkes farmstead and we have records of twenty-one of these old farms or homesteads within the old village. There are more than likely many more to be discovered. 

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