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Memories of Aldington and Elm Cottage in the 1930s

Hilary Bolton (née Westbury), whose grandparents, John and Alice Westbury, lived at Elm Cottage, Aldington, during the first half of the 20th century, recalls happy memories of the village in the 1930s, when she stayed with her grandparents as a child.

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Memories of Aldington

There were not many houses and the main street looked much as it does in the photograph on page 66 of Mr Sparrow’s book.  My grandparents lived in the nearer of the two semi-detached stone-built cottages shown, rather faintly, in the picture.  Their rent in the early 30s was 5/- per week.  You can just see the track which ran alongside their outer wall.  The big house below was the Post Office; Mr & Mrs Cole lived there with their twins, Greta and Jimmy, much younger than me.  Greta is in the photograph on page 109 of Mr Sparrow’s book.  Mrs Cole was always a friend and a good neighbour to my grandmother.  In the cottage adjoining my grandparent lived an elderly gentleman with a white beard, always addressed and spoken of by my grandmother as “Master Jelfs”.  Maybe this was a form which went back to Victorian days, when the young were expected to show deference to their elders.  She spoke in quite a broad Worcestershire dialect, my grandfather less noticeably so and she had one odd usage which I have never come across with anyone else; the plural of house was for her always “housen”, not houses.  Perhaps this was an Offenham expression, as she was born and grew up there.  She was one of the twelve children of William Drinkwater of Offenham, who owned a steam engine and threshing machine in the late 19th century, so he may well have visited farms and been known in the Badsey area.

My grandfather rented a piece of land on the far side of the Badsey brook.  To reach it we had to go down the main street, along a short track between the Manor and the Ivy House, then across a shallow ford with a single plank bridge on the left; it had a rail alongside and a deep pool beyond.  Then we had to go round the edge of a field and I think across the top of another; there didn’t seem to be any way to the plot from a road.  The brook ran at the foot of a slope below.  My grandfather had to bring his produce home on a wheelbarrow.  He had a stout leather strap with a loop on each end to fit the handles; this he could put across his shoulders to ease what must have been a considerable strain.  He used to wheel the barrow, heavily loaded, right up to the house.  My grandmother used to help him with some of the work and sometimes did casual work such as pea and bean-picking for one of the larger growers.

After old Mr Jelfs died, some time in the 30s, Mr & Mrs Ralph Bell moved into his house.  I believe they bought both cottages and after my grandmother’s death in 1964 had them converted into one house.  I knew their daughters, Avice and Peggy, but my most usual playmates were their cousins, John and Mary and Geoff Bell, who lived in one of the houses at the bottom of the street.  Their mother, Mrs Hilda Bell, was a great friend of my grandmother.  Another friend was Mrs Elsie Bedenham, who lived in one of the council houses right at the top of the street.  The Marshall family were at Aldington Mill and had a haulage business.  Mr Butler still lived at the Manor and one member of the family (it may have been his son) was an invalid or disabled and was sometimes to be seen on fine days sitting in his wheelchair at the front of the house.

On Saturdays my grandmother used to walk into Evesham to do her shopping, taking me with her when I was visiting.  We always took a short cut along the footpath known as “The Furrows” which ran from the top of the main street through fruit plantations to the left and came out on the main Badsey-Evesham road.  When we reached Evesham High Street there would often be friends and acquaintances to greet and gossip with for what always seemed to be an interminable time.  I only remember going to Badsey once during any of my visits, hence I never really knew the village.

On Sunday evenings, my grandmother attended the service at Aldington Baptist Chapel while I stayed with my grandfather.  I did go to a service once but this must have been when I was older, as I played the harmonium for the hymns.  The congregation was small, mostly middle-aged and elderly women, and I remember the preacher handed round boiled sweets for everyone at the end.

Memories of Elm Cottage

You may be interested to know details of their cottage in my grandparents’ time.  The adjoining cottage will have been much the same.  Both houses had a small garden at the front with the hedges and fence looking much the same as in the 1900 photograph.  There was a large, closely-clipped bush of lonicera between the two which my grandfather once told me concealed an old well; this would have been the original water supply for both houses.  There was a small metal gate from the main street and a crazy paving path ran up to the front door and along under the window to another gate into the track at the side.  The front door opened directly into the living room; another door on the left of this led into the kitchen.  Both were floored with huge dark grey stone flags, though the living-room had linoleum over these.  The front door and the door to the stairs at the back both had heavy curtains, very necessary to keep out draughts.  Each room had a single small window and the walls were thick, so they were rather dark and made darker by the shade from the row of massive horse chestnut trees which grew opposite.  These were cut down in the 1950s and a new bungalow was built opposite the cottages.  The living-room had an inglenook, mostly occupied by a cooking range with an open coal fire and baking oven at one side.  On the left of this was a small niche where my grandmother kept her Primus stove; probably there had once been a bread oven here.  There was a high mantelshelf and a cupboard built in to the wall near the window.  The ceilings were low, with whitewashed beams.  Electricity was only used for lighting and the wireless.  The kitchen had a sink in the corner by the window with one cold tap, a few shelves along the party wall and a table for preparing food.  My grandmother always kept a small barrel of cider at the back.  Though she had a small electric cooker much later on, she always preferred to do her baking in the coal oven.

The stairs, against the back kitchen wall, had a small single pane window half way up; there was a small square landing at right angles, another step and then the open landing bedroom which one had to cross to reach the door to the main bedroom.  Both rooms had sloping ceilings and dormer windows.  The landing bedroom used to be a very common feature in rural cottages.

Behind the house was a large sloping garden.  There was a wash-house against the back of the hose with a copper and a huge mangle with enormous wooden rollers.  Rain-water for the wash was stored in a large wooden butt against the wall.  The garden occupied the full width and more of both cottages, the adjoining one had its garden to the side.  There was a brick-built privy in the topmost far corner and a pig-sty, also brick at the side, the latter without an occupant in the 30s though doubtless a pig was kept in earlier years when both sons were at home.  There was a fowl house and a large wire enclosure for the hens, these were allowed the run of the garden sometimes.  My grandfather’s hovel was in the top corner against the cart track which ran past the house; in it he kept his tools and packed his asparagus and other crops.  Coal was kept in a heap outside, just below the hovel.

There was an orchard of big old apple trees behind the garden and the track ran on through more plantations and market garden land, a long way it seemed to me as a child.  I believe the orchard and surroundings have long since been occupied by modern houses and no doubt there are many other new houses in the village.  There were some half-timbered cottages in the lane leading to Badsey as I remember, possibly they are still there.  I have only once been to Aldington since my grandmother died and that was many years ago now.

Hilary Bolton, 2008