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.

The Shipton Tillyards

by ALAN VICKERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map showing the locations of the three Shipton Tillyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Plan of the Ascott Road Tillyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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