We invite Wychwoods Local History Society members and friends to consider contributing their own WWII memorabilia to an important OU and Heritage Lottery funded initiative.
Bring your stories and objects relating to the Second World War to the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock. The Collections Day is part of a nationwide campaign organised by Their Finest Hour.
Objects will be digitised and recorded: the items themselves will remain with you and your family.
About “Their Finest Hour“
Their Finest Hour is a University of Oxford project that aims to collect and digitally archive the everyday stories and objects of the Second World War.
Share your family’s Second World War stories and objects for an online archive
Opening from 11am – 3pm, Saturday 1st April 2023
Museum Open Day – free admission to the museum throughout the day
See Second World War living history displays, kit displays and art exhibitions in the museum galleries
World War II stories are fast fading from living memory, so we believe it is vital that they – and the wartime objects that often accompany them – are preserved for future generations.
Here are some ideas:
Stories about your family’s wartime experience
All these and more will be recorded, digitised and then uploaded to the Their Finest Hour online archive, which will be free-to-use and will launch in June 2024.
Why Else Visit on April 1st?
The museum will waive its normal admission fee on the day – entry will be free to all on 1st April.
SOFO will also be hosting a range of other Second World War-themed events and exhibitions on the day. Visitors will be able to enjoy displays from 1940s living historians inside the museum and view a recently installed replica Anderson Shelter, as well as a number of exhibitions.
With often limited parking in Woodstock, Blenheim Palace will also be kindly supporting this event, offering free parking to those attending to share their stories. The museum is just a short walk into town through the palace’s Woodstock Town gate.
Attending Living History Groups Will Include:
Doing Their Bit (Home Front)
Oxfordshire Home Guard
Ham & Jam (Second World War British Airborne troops).
Collector John Noott’s expansive exhibition, The Art of World War II, will showcase a diverse range of perspectives of the era all produced during the conflict, while the Aces High gallery will have a range of impressive prints – including many signed by veterans – up for sale.
Visitors can talk to museum staff on the day about donating items to the museum’s own collection if they wish, but the focus will be on digitisation – photographing objects, recording stories and scanning documents – so original items can remain with their families.
The project team is especially interested in collecting contributions from people from under-represented backgrounds in order to increase the diversity of people benefiting from Second World War heritage.
Here is a second extended piece by Dorothy Brookes, taken from the WLHS Journal No. 10 (1995). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).
Mrs Brookes, born Dorothy Coombes, grew up in Shipton under Wychwood during the second two decades of this century. Her earlier recollections were published in Wychwoods History no. 7 (1992), and are also available here.
Most local villages were almost self-sufficient; there were family grocers, bakers, dress makers, wheelwrights, a butcher, several smaller shops and one or two public houses. Shipton was no exception.
When my mother’s youngest sister Lily Longshaw left school, she went to day work at the Bankhouse. The owner ran a family grocer’s business as well as a small bank. Her wages were two shillings a week and a bit of lard to take home to her mother. In those days grocers bought whole pigs and boiled the bacon for sale over the counter along with the home-made lard and brawn. The owner used a shovel to pick up the sovereigns in the bank and Aunt held open the canvas bags for him to tip the money into. She then had to clean the room for the next day’s business. He told her he knew her father Robert had brought the family up to be honest, so he had no worries about losing any of the money.
While Aunt Lily was there, the then Prince of Wales called in one day for help with a hunting accident. He was out with the Heythrop Hunt and MajoeBrassey had been thrown from his horse.
The people who kept the grocery shops didn’t inspire much loyalty. The one with the bank attached to it was well-stocked and always had good, smart staff and a regular delivery man. The owner, however, was not so popular as he was overbearing, noisy and could have a child shaking in its boots in seconds. His wife never deigned to speak to village folk; their only son was not allowed to mix with other children but had a governess instead of attending the village school. I don’t think us school children ever envied him, we saw him as a lonely little figure forever muffled against the cold, the governess dragging him along when he looked over his shoulder at the ‘working-class’ children playing happily on their way to and from school.
Bank House Shipton estimated 1900s
The other big shop (now Shipton House Stores) had little railings to prevent children leaning against the windows. The maiden ladies who, with their brother (Ernest, Mary and Ellen Dee) kept this establishment, just didn’t approve of children window-gazing. They would come to the shop door and ask if mother had sent us down for something. But they never shouted at us and ‘Miss Mary’ was our kind Sunday School teacher who once organised a picnic for us. One side of this shop was given over to drapery sales, and near to Christmas a lighted Christmas tree appeared in place of the usual hats, stockings and rolls of cloth. The tree was surrounded by books, dolls, games. paintboxes and numerous small toys. Once the cry went up that ‘Dees’ had decorated, we tore out from school and spent the next couple of hours deciding what our Mam would ask Father Christmas to bring us. The grocery side was festive too, with huge mounds of dried fruits, cheese and sugared almonds. How we loved it all.
The village sweet shop was older with a distinctive smell and usually a couple of cats sitting on the counters. They stocked everything that was tempting to a child with a Saturday’s penny to spend – lovely glass jars filled with boiled sweets, hundreds and thousands, broken toffee, sticks of barley sugar, long ‘shoelaces’ of liquorice and numerous other delights. They also sold the basic groceries. Woodbines, cheap tobacco and snuff. What was more important, they gave credit to poor families, and there were plenty of these. Neither did they mind weighing up two ounces of cheese or loose tea. If they could not pay their bills they borrowed a box of stores from a similar shop in the next village. The first imported New Zealand lamb was sold at the back of this shop and, later on, fish and chips.
Hathaway’s shop High Street Shipton 1930s. Originally Dees stores, the shop was built in 1919 when Mr Dee moved from his premises opposite Shipton Lodge. The drapery section was upstairs with the groceries below. Deliveries were made to surrounding villages by Stanley Gorton seen here with Mary Barnes and the Model A Ford van. The railings around the shop went in the war effort in 1940
A notice on the yard wall said ‘Stabling and Horse and Trap for Hire’. This was a relic from the days when my great-grandfather Peter Townsend owned all this property. When my Granny (Eliza Coombes nee Townsend) was a child they lived in what is now the Doctor’s house near the school. It was only a cottage then and her father did cobbling. (During later alterations the window he sat by was discovered, walled up in a passage). He also drove for people who did not have their own coachman. He bought property at the top of Church Street and opened refreshment rooms, a pork butcher’s shop and had a horse and trap for hire, the stables being down where the gasworks were later built (now the site of ‘Bowerham’ sheltered flats). Her mother sold ‘piece goods’ (materials by the yard) in the room over the refreshment rooms. Most of the property was eventually sold except for the refreshment rooms which were turned into a grocery shop. Granny’s sister Maria married Richard Avery from Burford and they lived there with their two sons.
Later on you could hire a car from here, and once we all went to Chippenham for the day for 42s. We started at eight o’clock in the morning with Mother, Dad, three children and the driver, all in a red Ford car. We had several adventures on the way: this was 1922 and the roads weren’t quite as good as they are today. We got lost once or twice before finally reaching my uncle’s house, and on the homeward journey the car had several punctures. A kind lady at a roadside cottage lent a bicycle for our driver to go to a garage miles away for help while my brother and I sat on a roadside bank watching several adders basking in the evening sunlight. Eventually we got home safely, my mother paid the driver and Dad gave him 2/6d. It was a good thing he didn’t charge for his time!
Grampy Coombes had a brother (Henry) who was for several years the village undertaker and wheelwright, while his wife and daughters ran the post-office. I only ever saw them from the other side of the counter and was expected to call them ‘Miss’. (These were Kathleen, later Mrs George Wiggins, and Miss Jessica Coombes).
There were several smaller shops where sweets were sold from tins, and like the others they had a tobacco licence and sold snuff. On their shelves were packets of starch, soap and blue bags. They also sold loose tea and sugar but not much else. All these shops suffered terrible losses when the Cooperative opened at Chipping Norton and started delivering twice a week around the villages – groceries, shoes, clothes, bread and cakes and, what was most useful, they also brought bags of pig food in the shape of ‘toppings’ and barley. The great attraction was the quarterly dividend; few women could resist this and many found it their first form of saving.
Besides the gypsies who came round the village with pegs and ferns, there were regular pedlars or packmen. They came every few months with lace, ribbons and cottons. There were no operations for bad hips in those days and one saw much suffering and quite a few crippled people. On the principle that everybody had to eat, most women kept back a few pence to spend with these unfortunates. One such old man rested his basket on the wall and gratefully accepted a cup of tea; he had a speech impediment too.
A reel of white cotton cost 21/2d; he took your shilling and counted out your change as follows: “uppence-‘appeny, ‘eppence, ‘ourpunce, ‘ipunce, ‘ixpense and a ‘illing’. Then there was the Thankyo’ man who bought rabbit skins, rags and old iron. He always paid the best prices and when he left he would slam the gate with a flourish, loudly callingThankyo’; that way the next housewife know he was on his way.
Another old couple brought gravy-salt, bar-salt and pepper. They sometimes brought lardy-cake and could be heard crying their wares ‘lardy-cake and lamp-oil!’. These two old boys had wonderful hair which they said was due to them wiping their paraffin-soaked hands through it before serving the lardy-cake. If you were going out it was quite safe to leave the money on the door-step for the paraffin, shoe-polish etc. Fresh fish and fruit were brought to the door, the fishman meeting the early morning train to get the fish sent overnight from Yarmouth so that it reached our tables in less than twenty-four hours.
Here is an extended piece by Dorothy Brookes, taken from the WLHS Journal No. 7 (1992). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).
I was born Dorothy Mary Coombes in 1911 in a small cottage, the last in a row of stone-built houses called Blenheim Cottages erected on land known as ‘manorial waste’ alongside the Burford Road. The top three were much older than the others: ours, ‘Top House’, the one nearest Burford, had a stone staircase. None of them had back doors. Farther down the road there was a common wash-house and drying ground. The cottages faced west and from their tiny bedroom windows could be seen Icomb Roundhouse, Stow-on-the-Wold and, away in the distance, Batsford Park. Tiny gardens and a rough pathway separated the cottages from the road which went up the hill to Burford or downhill through Shipton village, past the railway station and then on to Chipping Norton.
My mother always said that history unfolded itself on the Burford Road. There was no railway at Burford so people from there had to travel the four miles over the Downs to Shipton Station. There were carriages from the big houses, carters from the farms with their teams and huge wagons loaded with corn, cattle being driven, a horse-drawn bus and a few people on foot.
When I was three years old we moved just down the road to a better cottage. My father made many journeys to the new home with a truck he had made, my brother and sister helping him each time to push the load while I rode on top as I was the youngest. Mother scrubbed out as each small room became empty. A new tenant would make a thorough inspection of the vacant house and report to the neighbours if it had been left dirty.
The new house was a `back-to-back’, ours facing the west and the Burford Road like the one we had left, the back tenant facing east with their garden path going into a small lane. It was a much nicer house than the old one; there was a good garden with a pig sty, a good shed and our own lavvy’. But it had its drawbacks: there was no pump, so water had to be fetched from the stand-pipe some distance away. When it rained hard my mother had to stand at the door with a broom to turn away the water that cascaded madly down the steps. However, enough rainwater could be collected in a huge tub for washing the clothes, ourselves and for boiling the pig-swill.
I am told that the day I was three years old, I demanded a clean ‘pinny’ and a note for the teacher as I was now old enough to go to school. It seems that at two years old I had followed my sister and brother the mile to school and I vividly remember my mother snatching me away from the wallboard
where I was making an effort at writing my name. I was scolded all the way home with Mother saying ‘You shall go the day you are three my girl, I’ll have no more of this worry’. And go I did, although I must confess I don’t remember that day.
The Great War had started on August 4th of that year and our dad had volunteered for service on September 5th. My mother told us of the day he left home in his best suit to catch the train to Oxford. Here he enlisted in the 2/4th Oxon. and Bucks. Light Infantry. After a few weeks’ training and embarkation leave he was soon en route for France. It was along time before we saw him again and each night Mother led us, her three children, in prayer for his safe return. One night I was watching her brush and comb her lovely long hair when she said ‘It’s moonlight, the same moon that is shining on your dad. I wonder where he is tonight?’ We soon found out, for in a few hours’ time there was a shout from the garden of ‘Mother, open the door!’
Mother lit the candle and, carrying it downstairs, opened the door to a weary, muddy and pack-laden soldier. In a very short while she had our dad into clean clothes and, sitting by a blazing fire over a cup of strong tea, he told us how a few days’ leave had been granted following a terrible battle. A troop train had brought the soldiers from the Channel boat at Dover, up to London and then down to Oxford. From there, there had been no further transport. The men could either sleep on the platform or find their own way home; some lived in Oxford but others out in the villages.
Dad and his companion, a young man from Taynton, had walked to Shipton. The young man had come Shipton way to see Dad indoors and then had the long, cold walk over the Downs to his own home at Taynton. While Dad was at home he helped Mother with the garden and mended our shoes and boots. Mother ironed his uniform to kill the many fleas he had brought back with him, arid then left us at Granny’s while she went to the station to see him off again. In a few days’ time she took us to stay at Chippenham with her brother Walter Longshaw and his four children. We lived there for almost a year.
I was six when we returned home – too young to know anything of war? Our schoolmaster didn’t think so. There was no radio or television in those days, but Mr Strong read the war reports to us from his newspaper. He told us when local young men were killed in action and who was badly wounded; we were taught to sing patriotic songs and to hate the Kaiser and his people. None of the schoolchildren had ever seen the sea but we were taught that the navy was playing a vital role in the defence of our island. To illustrate this, my dad sent me a Navy ABC for Little Britons. I took this book to school many times and have it to this day.
The way to school led through the churchyard. One morning I had raced ahead of my brother and sister and turned the corner into the narrow path. There, leaning against the wall was a familiar figure – it was ‘our Dad’. He had travelled down on the first available train from Oxford and was waiting near the school to see his ‘mites’ before walking the last mile home. The schoolmaster met him too and said that we children could go home. We heard that he had been awarded the DCM and were very proud to read the following week in the Oxford Times:-
Lance-Corporal T.T. Coombes of the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks. Light Infantry has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for Auspicious Gallantry. When an enemy torpedo knccked a man over the parapet severely wounding him, Coombes went out in full view of the enemy at 150 yards range and lifted the man back into the trenches. Lance-Corporal Coombes is an Oxfordshire man – his home being at Shipton under Wychwood.
We were soon to hear that he had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Later I remember the lovely Easter egg Dad sent us from Eastbourne, where he was recovering from burns from a discharged Very pistol. My brother saved most of his share to give to Mother the next Sunday. At times, food was not very plentiful but Donald never started his dinner until he was sure that ‘our Mam’ had hers on the table. He helped her in the garden, ran errands, cleaned the shoes and knives and was generally the ‘man of the house’. He was still only nine when Dad came home from active service. The schoolmaster told us about the coming Armistice and explained what it was. We expected Dad to come at once but of course this was not to be for a while. There were great celebrations in the village and Mother took us to Oxford to see the victory parade. I remember the decorated trellis arches and Dad waving to us as he marched by.
Eventually Dad resumed his work as a stonemason at Groves’ but, once home in the evening and in by the fire, he did not want to go out. He slept badly, haunted by the spectres of his young comrades dying in the mud and filth of Flanders, of the countless women and little children fleeing before the battles, the many screaming horses and cattle and miles of the cruel barbed wire that tore at flesh and clothes. I heard Dad say ‘The man who invented barbed wire should have been hanged with it’. The world ‘Fit for Heroes’ to live in proved not to be so.
Before long, men and boys who had been feted and cheered on their return from France were roaming the countryside looking for work. They often called at our house for hot water, tea, bread and cheese or perhaps an old pair of shoes or a jacket. Homelessness is no new thing: some of these men were on the road for years, and soon whole families were tramping, making their way to Northleach or Chipping Norton workhouse. There were hard hills to climb to get to either of these places where the men were expected to work for their supper. This may seem practical to those who have never known poverty, but these people were hungry, cold and ill-clad against the weather. They were in no shape to do much wood-chopping or scrubbing. No wonder they preferred to find a dry barn in which to bed down for the night.
Once a month there was a cattle sale down in the village; the sale ground was where the Bowls Club now have their green. Most of the cattle drovers were men who ‘lived rough’; they started early in the morning bringing the cattle in from neighbouring farms. Some came from villages many miles away: we could hear cows and sheep coming over the hill from Burford: not much time was wasted getting ready for school on sale day. Plenty of help was needed with the droving once the animals got near the village.
With my friends I stood at road junctions and open gateways to prevent the awkward cows straying off the road. At dinnertime we helped drive animals up the Burford road, very reluctant to go in to our dinner which Mother had cooling on the plates so that we could get quickly back down to the sale where we mingled with the grown-ups until the second bell for school.
We went back again after school, and this time helped a drover take cattle to the crossroads on the Downs. These men were paid a few shillings for this work and they usually gave a penny to any young child who would go up the hill with them. At Fulbrook, school-children would be waiting there to carry on to Burford. This continued until the cattle reached their new home, often miles out over the Cotswold Hills. From these huge farms, corn was brought to the mill at Shipton Station.
The carters had to make an early start and usually got to Shipton as we were ready for school. Their wagons were piled high with great loads of corn, and each drawn by a team of enormous but very gentle shire horses. The horses were decked out in well-shone brasses and some wore little caps on their ears. The wagoner had a ‘bolton’ of straw he could sell to provide his dinner money; it went to the first pig-keeper who had a shilling to spare.
We school-children followed the wagons down the street, hanging on to the tail-board and lifting our feet off the ground, thus getting a ride for a few yards. Envious school-mates would soon cry ‘whip behind’ and the wagoner would grin and curl his whip over his shoulder, trying to tickle someone’s ears. Later in the day the wagons had to make the long journey back to their farms. I was very friendly with one of the carters and instead of riding on the wagon he would walk up the hill towards Burford chatting to me. He wanted to hear bits about the world we had learnt at geography lessons and said he wished he had got a bit of learning. He liked to hear the recitations and songs and would make the cart horses stand until he had heard the last verse.
The horse-drawn bus made regular trips to Shipton Station to meet the trains. It came from Burford, picking up passengers from Fulbrook and the top end of Shipton on the way. The coachman was fond of ale and often stopped at the Red Horse too long so prudent passengers alighted here and walked the last quarter mile to the station. The once-talked-of branch line to Burford was never built although it was mentioned on the deeds of a cottage my father once owned as it might have gone through that cottage garden.
Other vehicles came up and down the ‘Turnpike’ (now the A361), mostly horse-drawn. There were the gaily-painted caravans of the fair people who came to the village twice a year and put up roundabouts, swinging-boats and stalls. The women folk went round the houses with baskets of pegs and cottons; if you bought from them you had a lucky face; should you refuse, calamity or sudden death were forecast. We knew one of the men with the fair as he came into the village in spring and autumn to sweep the cottage chimneys.
One year there was a constant stream of Foden lorries through the village, all heavily laden on the southbound journey, with their loads hidden under tarpaulins. We wondered what they were and finally found out that surplus shells and ammunition from the war were being taken to Bristol to be dumped in the Channel. These lorries had to pass close to our gate and one day the road surface gave way and the wheel sank in, firmly stuck in the clay. My mother went out to see what was the matter and made cocoa for the man and boy while it was decided what to do
. In those days the only telephone in the village was at the Post Office, so a telegram was sent for help but it was three days before a relief with hauling tackle arrived, during which time the lorry had sunk even deeper into the clay. The driver slept in the cab and the boy in our wash-house and Mother helped with the food situation: the driver did have a tin of bully and some bread with him. The village children swarmed around to look at the shells and we wondered if we might get blown to bits in our beds.
The first rescue attempt was a wash-out; the thick steel rope broke and bits flew far and wide: it was lucky no-one watching was hurt. We children were sorry to see ‘our Foden’ finally rescued as it had been quite an exciting few days. The Fodens were steam wagons and ran on coal: the driver gave Mother a bit of coal for her kindness.
Other events came along to claim our attention. Sparks from the chimney of the Foden belonging to Groves the builders set fire to a barn up the Station Road; the horse-drawn bus turned over and people were injured; a school-friend was impaled on the spiked railings outside the Baptist Chapel; one night a terrific gale brought many trees down, blocking roads and lanes; torrential rain or melting snow caused the River Evenlode to flood the meadows and Station Road so that we were sorry that the school wasn’t on the other side of the river.
On the whole though, school-days passed pleasantly enough, and it was soon time for those not lucky enough to go to Burford Grammar School to think about looking for work. The girls mostly went into domestic service and the boys either to the farms or, if they were lucky, to an apprenticeship to a carpenter or into the building trade. There were a variety of ways of getting to the Grammar School, mostly scholarships of one sort or another. Boys walked to Burford from the villages and those from Kingham came to Shipton on the train and then on by foot or bicycle.
The Girls’ Grammar School had only just been opened then (1922); previous to this, a favoured few who could afford the train fare went to Oxford with forgotten scholarships somehow brought out into daylight for these lucky ones.
My brother won a scholarship to Burford: I missed the exam because I caught the dreaded scarlet fever. No-one knew where I caught it as there was not another case in the district. It was contagious and, in those days often fatal, but my mother said she would nurse me at home as the nearest isolation hospital was many miles away at Reading. She faithfully carried out the strict rules laid down by the village Doctor and as a result I recovered and no-one else caught the complaint from me.
I got the rest of my education when and how I could, reading books considered too old for me, watching others and, later on, attending W.E.A. classes and taking full advantage of anything offered by the Women’s Institute and their wonderful Denman College.
But before that, there were changes at home. Dad bought Rock Cottage round the corner and we moved our bits and pieces to a much larger place. Mother got the pig to move by rattling his food bucket; not having been fed all day he was no trouble to get into his new home.
There was a lot of work to do on this old cottage but with Mother as labourer it soon became a good home. Dad dug stone from the garden to build the garden wall. This cottage had a tithe on it and after quite a battle with the powers-that-be Mother and I went to the Old Bailey in London and finally got it redeemed. It was many years before there was a water supply – I had left home long before that came about.
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 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the Wychwoods Local History Society we are always delighted to receive local photographs to add to our archive.
Two fine pictures have come to the society recently, courtesy of our friends at Charlbury Museum. These are of the pupils and staff at Milton Primary School in the early 1960s.
Daphne Jeffs and Class 1961
Daphne Jeffs is pictured here with her class of 1961. Daphne taught at the Milton School from about 1955 to the early 60s, firstly under Mrs Pearce, and then under Mac Akers, at a time when head teachers lived in the head’s house on the school site. Headmistress Mrs Pearce was a fine Welsh lady, who had taught at Milton for many years and who had a reputation for discipline. Many parents of the children in these pictures would have been taught by her. She and her husband had moved to Milton from Wales in 1927. Mrs Pearce asked Daphne to take football lessons, so she had to learn the rules of soccer pretty quickly.
Two of her fellow teachers during this time were Mrs Bacchus, who had lived in Milton for many years, and Prue Nash, who lived at Idbury and drove to school in her bubble car, even though she was almost 6 ft tall!
Mr William (also known as Bill/Willie or Jimmy) James from Charlbury was a very jolly Welshman, who we think also taught at Milton for a couple of years as supply head. There is a story that he and Daphne once took the children for a nature walk to Bruern Woods one day and were horrified when some of the children came back to them proudly holding precious saplings to take back to school. Despite their attempts to replant the saplings, the ground was too dry!
Milton School 1960
Here we have a picture of the pupils and staff of the whole of Milton School, taken in 1960. The staff in this photo are Daphne Jeffs, Mac Akers, Judy Rowell and perhaps Mrs Bacchus?
Mrs Pearce’s son Colin continued to live in Shipton till his death in January 2020. Mac Akers left Milton to take up a headship in Woodley, Reading around 1962/3, and he died some years ago.
We would be pleased to hear from anyone who has stories to tell of these 1960s schooldays, and perhaps recognise themselves and friends in these pictures?
A photograph on the Wychwood’s Local History website prompted Lee Richardson to write this short biography of his relative, Ivan Wright. The photo shows the Wright family at harvest with John Francis Wright in the centre of the scene. John’s father was Ivan Wright, and a cousin of Lee’s grandfather.
Ivan Wright was born in 1887 in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire. His father, Jack, was a native of Cheshire and in addition to being a farmer was also a greyhound trainer. It is through the greyhound connection that the family moved to Scotland. Jack Wright trained coursing greyhounds for Mr Leonard Pilkington of Cavens, Kirkbean and was appointed as farm manager to him.
Ivan Wright moved to London in the early part of the 20th century and joined the Metropolitan police force, in 1923 he married Edith Harris whilst serving as a constable in the city. They had one son, John Francis Wright born in 1925 in Romford, Essex.
The family association with coursing greyhounds goes back to Ivan’s grandfather who bred and trained dogs from the late 1870s onwards. Several of Ivan’s uncles and cousins successfully trained winners of the Waterloo Cup. Greyhound racing came to Britain from America in the late 1920s and according to the Greyhound Stud Book Ivan was listed as a public trainer of greyhounds whilst living at Ilford, Essex in 1935.
He appears to have retired from the force at some point and is listed in the 1939 register as living at the Kings Head, Chinnor, Oxfordshire with his family. Although they are the only people present at the address, his occupation is listed as Police Pensioner and not as Landlord. Three years earlier they had resided at The Royal Oak public house in the same area.
It is around this time that the family moved to Shipton Under Wychwood and the 1941 stud book lists Ivan Wright as living at Little Stock, Meadow Lane in the village. In addition to training greyhounds he is shown as owning several greyhounds.
Disaster befell the family with the loss of John Francis Wright in 1944 whilst in Maidstone, Kent training as an officer cadet with the Royal Corps of Signals. He had attended Burford Grammar School and is mentioned as one of the fallen alumni at Christchurch College, Oxford. He is buried at St Mary’s churchyard.
As was common with the ownership of greyhounds Ivan gave his dogs registered names that started with his own initials: Indian Wave, Imperial Wave, Inky Wave, etc. I can perhaps only speculate but I suspect that Ivan Wright trained greyhounds for the sport of racing and possibly took them to the Oxford greyhound track which opened in 1939.
Ivan continued to train greyhounds at Shipton Under Wychwood until around 1950, his younger brother, Hardy Wright, saw some success in this era and trained Waterloo Cup winning greyhounds at Cummertrees, near Annan.
Ivan Wright passed away in 1971, his death being registered in Banbury and his wife Edith Mary Wright nee Harris died in 1996, her death was registered in West Oxfordshire.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Phyllis Smith Dir.
Laurie Pittaway Dir
J. B. Broom Dir.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
Machinist 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
Polishers F Richards R Brookes
Office 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 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.
Cookies on our site
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.