My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Leaving Lower Farm, Pitchcott By John Flitney

View of village green Quainton, circa 1860, showing whipping post. 

So I had saved my feet from getting burnt but had to walk home with puddles in my wellies. Then when mum found out what had happened, I got my ears ‘burnt’ hearing how stupid I had been. By the time I dared to return to the scene of the crime the fire had burnt out and the ‘dragons’ had gone. The ash was cold.

Talking of cold, one winter while we were at Lower Farm it snowed several times and the snow remained between each fall so the countryside stayed white for several weeks. In places it had been blown into deep drifts. The stream-bed beside the road at the bottom of the big field was about five feet below the road level. The snow, where it had drifted, had filled in the ditch to the same height as the road. The water was still running and was coming out of, and running into white tunnels. It was quite a coincidence but at that time I just happened to be a famous Arctic explorer. Famed for hunting Polar bears in the wilds of Buckinghamshire. (Such imagination! Must have done a good job though, I haven’t heard reports of any sightings there since!) One morning I decided to find a really deep drift to dig myself an ice cave where I could hide and ambush the bears. Behind one of the sheds was a drift higher than me, so I was at it straight away. As I dug into it I noticed that the snow was in distinct layers, some separated by thin layers of ice. One was powdery, one had larger crystals of ice where it had perhaps thawed a little before freezing again and been covered by the next fall. Another layer was softer and made super snowballs, ideal for attacking those bears. The bottom layer was quite compacted by the weight of those above. So explorer and scientist too, never did finish the ice cave though. Funny how just getting cold hands, toes, ears and nose can put you off a good scheme. Hence the expression ‘getting cold feet’ perhaps?

I have mentioned the road at the bottom of the sixty-six acre field in front of the house, it was, and still is called Carters's Lane. It was a good adventure in spring time to take the dogs and search the dividing hedge between the two lower fields on the way to the pond near the lane. Once there check out the water for frog spawn or tadpoles then go on to the road and turn right.  Further along there were hedges both sides of the lane with large patches of wild Violets on the verges. I also remember for some distance along the lane, on either side grew huge majestic Elm trees whose branches formed a high arch above the road. Way up in the branches were dozens of Rook's nests and the noise the disturbed birds made was quite amazing. On the way home we would pick mum a posy of the sweet-smelling Violets.

My recollecttion of the time at Lower Farm is full of happy memories, I don’t recall having any tedious daily chores to do. There were times, when Dad had sawn an old telegraph pole into short lengths, that Richard and me would spend ages chopping the logs into kindling. It was enjoyable work as the wood split so easily. With three dogs as company, and for a while a pig as well, while roaming the fields, sheds and barns to play in, mostly in summer time when the animals were out, trees to climb, bikes to ride. Life was idyllic for two boys. Then on rainy days we had toys indoors, a quarter size snooker table, a Meccano set and Dinky toys, then later an electric train set. Weekly we would look forward to the arrival of ‘The Eagle” comic. My favourite story in that was Dan Dare and his adventures in space. I think also, about that time, there was a programme on the wireless (radio, nowadays) A series of plays called ‘Journey into Space’ which was both exciting and at times scary, especially with the weird sound effects. There were Jet Morgan, the captain, Doc, Mitch, engineer and Lemmy, crewman. The later was played by Alfie Bass I believe. These, I think, started my liking for science fiction and I now have a small collection of favourite stories with Eric Frank Russell my first choice author.

Dad had got some solid wood models of aircraft and these intrigued Richard to the point where he started to build, from kits, flying models and it was always exciting to witness the maiden flights of these. There were also trips into Aylesbury for shopping, the usual groceries and clothes I expect but I don’t remember much of that just the pleasure and excitement of visiting the toy shop and being allowed to choose a new toy. Also back at the bus station we would go to the cafe and have a meal. My choice was always egg and chips. Other bus trips we took, on, I think Greenline coaches, were to Aunt Mary and Uncle Fred at Boxmoor a village near Hemel Hempstead. I liked Aunt Mary a lot and always enjoyed those visits and the pleasure of the watercress sandwiches she did for tea. (Later when I had my own transport I would go and visit her and Fred. Then years later, not long before she died, they surprised us by coming to see us here in Devon. Although she was then confined to a wheelchair she was still her usual cheerful self. A really special day.)

Aunt Mary and her Mum, Granny Flitney.

There must have been other outings from Pitchcott but how they were undertaken I cannot say as I have no idea if we owned a car at that time. Dad had started working for Bob Kirkland in his spare time. Bob was an engineer and had a place at Blackgrove. From there he would go out and fix all manner of machinery from farm tractors to industrial stone crushers or cement mixers to diggers and cranes. With the extra cash Dad may well have bought a car as I can recall visits to Ellesborough and Combehill, Butler’s Cross to see Aunt Margaret. Visit Great Aunt Flo or go to Holmergreen to see Mum’s friend, from her school days, Ivy Knowles.

Mum and Ivy, in later life

We even had outings to Bournemouth and to Brighton. On one of these visits, Bournemouth I believe, I got lost for about an hour. In fact it is the only thing I remember of either visit to the seaside. I had been allowed to go for a paddle and while enjoying myself had unwittingly moved along the shore line. So when I had had enough of the water and went straight up the beach, as Mum had instructed, I was in the wrong place with no familiar faces in sight. What I did next who knows, I must have turned the wrong way in my search as I was a good distance from where I started from when eventually Mum appeared. All I remember next is walking along the beach crying and a woman stopping me to ask the reason I was so upset. On explaining she suggested I sit down with her and wait for Mum to come along, “If you keep roaming about she’ll never find you”. Now whether that dear lady put the word out about having found a lost boy I don’t know but I shall be eternally grateful for her kindness and wisdom for not long after Mum came along. 

Me at the beach.

Also we went to Murcott to see Granny and Grampy Moore. One time I got to stay with them for a week and managed to get into trouble then as well. They kept a pony and had a very elegant four wheel cart too, as Grampy at one time, when they lived at Holmergreen, had delivered goods around the area. The buggy was well sprung, and I could sit on the seat and get it really rocking and bouncing along the dusty prairie trail at the head of the pioneers wagon train while the indians fired arrows at us all. (Well I’d seen the pictures in a book at home you see.) What really spoilt things was being betrayed by the sheet on the hayrick. Close by the rick was an apple tree with a branch laden with fruit within reach from the top of the rick. So one hot sunny day I climbed up, got myself an apple and settled down to eat it. Now me being in ‘wildwest’ mode at the time the height of my vantage point gave me good cover for shooting all manner of enemies. Now what I didn’t know at the time was that canvas sheets create a ‘bloom’ as they age. Unfortunately, this will attach itself to anything it makes contact with, especially young boys squirming about bumping off baddies. The storm broke when I got called in for tea and I realized I was green from head to foot. So no more ‘cowboys and indians’ or buggy riding.

Richard and John at Murcott

Overall my memories of life at Lower Farm are of happy and carefree times. Young enough not to be troubled by adult issues and old enough to have a good imagination and the freedom to be able to act out those dreams. Richard, I think being older, took life a little more seriously and maybe already had plans for what he wanted for his life in the future. We had very generous and loving parents. Things, obviously, were not so carefree for Mum and Dad. Dad had taken more work to earn a bit extra. Mum was becoming more and more concerned about her parents not being able to cope as they got older. Aunt Ada (Mum’s sister) had not married and lived with them until her death.

Aunt Ada

After this Mum would occasionally cycle the twenty plus miles to Murcott to see how they were. These visits became more frequent as Grampies health deteriorated and he became bedridden. Gran was finding it increasingly hard to cope so Mum would stay for days at a time. Eventually Mum, Dad and Grannie agreed that as the house was big enough we should move there so that Mum could care for her parents full time. So sometime in 1954 that is what we did.

The Cottage, Pidgeon House Lane, Murcott

To be continued...........

Previous episodes here, here and here  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Guest Post - My Sister Remembers - Part Five

Memories of Susan Poulter nee Flitney; Sue is my older sister (although she looks younger!)
Previous instalments herehere, here and here 

After a while dad found a job At Well Manor Farm in Hampshire. Mum hadn't seen the house and knew nothing at all about the farm. Dad took the job on the understanding that we would be moving into a new (as yet unbuilt) cottage.  We were told we would be staying at a place called No Man's Land while the cottage was built. When we arrived, someone was already living at No Man's Land, it was evening, and we and our furniture had nowhere to go. Dad managed to contact his employer who at that time was staying at a hotel in London prior to moving his wife and family to the farm. There was nothing else for it, the owner and his family ended up staying in London for an extra few months while we moved into The Manor House! I had totally forgotten or shut out memories of living at the Manor, I often had what I thought were dreams about it, but my sister Barbara assures me it actually happened.
Sue how could you forget? It was luxury compared to what we were used to - masses of bedrooms and a big old staircase that always reminded me of Gone with the wind. Not to mention the tennis court in the garden and the two giant tortoises a previous owner of the manor left in the grounds!
The back garden No Man's Lane
There used to be apple and pear orchards beyond the fence.

No Man's Land consisted of two semi-detached house on the edge of the village and, as far as mum was concerned, the village was miles from anywhere. Mum was also horrified to find the cottage had no electricity. Us kids found it a bit of a novelty (until it came to doing our homework with the very little light the gas mantels gave out) I remember mum and dad having awful rows at this time and once mum put a saucepan through the TV. It was really a grim time for us kids, especially Barbara, who was quite young and very frightened by it all. Our neighbours were Hampshire "born and bred” and one day when I saw them, they said “Hello Mush” to me – how rude and uncouth I thought, but it seems that was not the case at all, it was quite an affectionate and civil greeting.

Again, I had to go to an all girls’ school, Basingstoke High School for Girls, and it was just like going back to High Wycombe – how I hated it!!

Basingstoke High School for Girls (now Costello Technical College, Crossborough Hill, Basingstoke. 

This time it was even worse as mum and dad couldn't afford to get me the proper uniform, so I had to go in the uniform from Aylesbury until some second-hand clothes could be found for me. The girls there did not like my Buckinghamshire dialect, and I was teased unmercifully. I was allowed to go on one school holiday to the Lake District but there was no money for walking boots, so I slipped and slid around the Lakes (including climbing Hellvelyn) in slip on shoes. I don’t think dad ever got over the fact the Rebecca West didn't change her mind about the pigs. I think he always thought she would ask him back and our fortunes would change, but it was not to be.

Life was very stressful at Well for quite some time. Mum always hated No Man's Land, while dad loved the remoteness of it all.  He would take her to Alton, Farnham or Odiham shopping once a week, but there were no buses unless you walked or cycled to Long Sutton or Odiham, and then you could get to Basingstoke.

The buses were few and far between, and I used to arrive slightly late for assembly in the morning and was usually very late home.  I joined the hockey team, but if I wanted to play a match, I would have to cycle to Odiham in the morning as the bus back to Long Sutton left too early. Dad would never pick me up so it meant a cycle ride of four to five miles each way. Barbara went to school at Odiham and either dad or his boss’s wife would take her. Tony had already left school and worked on the farm with Dad. Long Sutton was about two miles away, and that was our nearest shop so mum did a lot of walking in those days! I imagine she was very lonely as it really was a small village. She and dad used to row all the time and she threatened to take her own life a couple of times.

The new cottages were eventually built and that made life a little easier. The Collins family moved into the one next door, and their daughter Violet became my friend and ally. The cottage was closer to the centre of the village and had electric light and gas for cooking. There was also a lovely big area for a garden and mum and dad set to and laid it all out with flowers and vegetables and for a while life seemed happier.

Dad working in the garden at Well

Well Manor Cottages – the garden was mum's pride and joy.  

The basic problem of no social life for mum was still there though. At the time, we didn't have much sympathy for her as she always seemed to be in black moods; I can just imagine now what it must have been like for her.  She came from a large family of Londoners who were very sociable; she used to go to the ballrooms in London as a teenager and had a good old time.  As far as I can remember from mum’s tales of “the good old days” she was working “in service” for a Harley Street doctor and met dad when he delivered milk to the house. They courted, and she fell in love. Dad was a really nice-looking  young man but, once married to a farm worker, her social life almost came to an end. It was forty years before she went out for dinner in a restaurant. Tony and his wife Eva, Barbara and Terry, and myself and Bob along with all the children, took mum and dad to Lakeside at Frimley for their 40th wedding anniversary. I don’t think dad even wanted to go to that really. 

The one good thing for me about school at Basingstoke was that I met my friend Fran. She lived at Odiham and would bring her pony up to the farm. I also had a friend in the village, Mrs. Biddlecombe, who owned an old grey pony called Nobby. He used to pull a milk cart but had been retired. Anyway, Mrs. B knew I was horse mad and let me borrow him and Fran and I would ride for hours – again I only had a rope halter for Nobby. I used to follow the hunt using just the rope halter and Nobby would fly over the biggest jumps with the best of ‘em. Looking back I expect I was frowned on quite heavily, but I didn’t care. I only gave up following the hunt the day I was in at the kill and the Master of the hunt gave me the blooded paw of the fox – poor fox.

Sue and friends in the garden at Well

I occasionally stayed in Basingstoke after school to go to the pictures with another friend, Megan. Her family were members of The Salvation Army who made me very welcome and were happy to take me home at the end of the evening. It was strange visiting people in a town house, who seemed to have plenty of money and whose table always groaned with food. Megan’s mum and dad were very independent and seemed to enjoy each other’s company, but would come and go as they pleased. Much different from our home, where if mum went out too often on her own dad would not speak to her for days on end.


The highlight of the year at Well Manor Farm was apple-picking season. In those days they still had fairly large orchards, although these were all pulled out at a later date, and it was all hands on deck once the apples were ripe.  There were Russets, Cox’s, Discovery, Blenheims and James Grieve, there may have been others whose names I can't remember – really lovely old English apples. We spent days picking the apples and packing them into boxes ready to go off to the wholesalers. I remember Peggy, our Jack Russell Terrier in the packing sheds “ratting”, dad would often have to pull huge rats off her ears or tail. She always seemed to have chunks out of her body, but it couldn't have done her too much damage as she lived to a grand old age. We would get enough apples to store for the winter for our own use, and apples have never tasted the same since those days.

Thanks to the blacksmith who visited the farm, I was able to get a weekend job at Pococks riding stables in Wrecclesham. I would be up before dawn, cycle to Wrecclesham to get the horses ready to go out to the hunt. I would delight in cleaning the tack, and eventually I was allowed to ride in gymkhanas, which was great fun. I had some second-hand jodhpurs and a waterproof riding coat and thought I was the bee’s knees.

High Street, Odiham c1950s.

Later on I got a Saturday job at Dickers Grocers in Odiham. This was the place where I really started to learn what “growing up” was all about.  In Well I had no friends older than me but the girls I worked with at the shop seemed very sophisticated. I had never used make up so the girls showed me how to use it and how to make more of my hair. They chatted about their romances and exciting outings with boys to rock and roll concerts, and it was like entering another world. The best part of the job was getting my pay packet at the end of the week and being able to save for things I wanted. I remember buying my first pair of court shoes and mum and dad being horrified as they had one-inch heels...

Memories of Susan Poulter nee Flitney; Sue is my older sister (although she looks younger!)
Previous instalments hereherehere and here 

To be continued... 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Sepia Saturday; Love means never getting your feet wet!

I can't resist sharing these postcards for this week's Sepia Saturday. They just seem to suit the theme of couples, clinches, crossings and hitching a ride.  I originally shared them on my book and postcard blog but that was back in 2012, so I'm hoping most of you won't have seen them before.   

The cards were produced by Raphael Tuck as part of their “Oilette” series. As I understand it “Oilette” is a trade name used to describe cards reproduced from original paintings.

The cards were posted in December 1904 and January 1905. These and another set also sent to 'Maudie' have been in my collection for a number of years. I purchased them from an auction so sadly there is no history attached to them.  All I know is that Miss Maudie Anscombe was living at an address in Hove, Sussex at the time and that Charlie was obviously very fond of her.  

Once on board the lugger, and the girl is mine.

Dear Maudie,

I know this set of cards will suit you. I went to see your Darling **Lewis Waller in His Majesty's servant yesterday. 
Love Charlie

**Lewis Waller played the part of Geoffrey Mohun in His Majesty's servant written By Sarah Barnwell.

Photograph of Lewis Waller as Geoffrey Mohun here

The Lass that loves a sailor.

Dear Maudie, 

Did it feel grand, then at being able to crow over ones learned relation? Don't say you did not! I hope your pink dress is finished and that your green dress suits you and that your friends like your blue dress and that your yellow dress is not too thin for the cold weather and that your purple dress will be ready in time for the ball. (I hope you appreciate my delicate cynicism!) 
Much love, Charlie
The course of true love never did run smooth.
Dear Maudie, 

Your irregularity is simply disgraceful!!! 
I'm in the eighth heaven of delight. Bert has a cold; Aunt May has a cold; Vera has a cold; Metcalf has a cold; the driver of the G.M.C has a cold, and I have not! Metcalf and I are busy thinking out grand Xmas decorations so you'd better dodge along again and help us. 
Much love, Charlie.

Two is Company.
Dear Maudie,

Below is own interesting programme on Wednesday last;
2.15pm arrived Waterloo. 2.25 Coliseum - House full. 2.30 Prince of Wales House Full (this continues with a list of other theatres also displaying house full signs). 3.00 stop for refreshments. 4.00 attended evensong at St. Paul's. 4.35 left St. Paul's at beginning of sermon. 4.40 tea at A.B.C shop 5.30 arrived at Drury Lane theatre, outside. 7.00 Drury Lane, inside.
Remainder of day is oblivion owing to exhaustion. Only just recovered.
Much love, Charlie.

The old, old story.

Dear Maudie, 

Are you deceased or diseased? 
Please relive my anxiety at once, as it is preying on my mind. Shan't tell you any news, as I don't wish to waste my time on a corpse. 
Much love, Charlie.

The harvest moon.

Dear Maudie,

Thanks for relieving my anxiety. 
I have had a ferocious cold this week - hence the lateness. You had better come and say farewell to the Clarke's as they are departing Tues or Wed. Lamentations going on all around. 
Much love, Charlie.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday number 254

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Alice Laura Harding née Wesley 1893 - 1939

Most of the stories on this blog have been about the Flitney/Stopps side of the family, but it’s now time to redress the balance a little.

A summer picnic; Left to right me (Barbara), Auntie Gladys, Sue, Rene Flitney née Harding and Thomas Harding.

By the time I got to know my maternal grandfather Thomas Henry Harding his first wife Alice (my grandmother) had died, and he was married to my Auntie Gladys. I just accepted that Gladys was my 'auntie' and that my ‘real’ grandmother was dead. I'm kicking myself for not asking any questions when I had the chance.  I know mum was often sad when she talked about her own mother, but I have no idea how she felt about Gladys. They always seemed to get on OK more than that I don’t know. Gladys is a complete mystery – I have nothing to go on. I will have to start by looking for a marriage certificate but for now I want to think about my Grandmother Alice Laura Harding née Wesley.  

Alice was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire on the 26th December, 1893 the daughter of John (**a gas stoker) and Mary Wesley née Simmonds.

A team of gas stokers hard at work via

**At this time just about every town in the land had a gasworks. Gas lighting was common in most houses, and gas lamps were used to illuminate the streets. Industry too was dependent on gas, to fuel the engines that powered the factories. For most people a reliable gas supply was just a normal part of life, and something they took for granted. Very few knew or cared how coal-gas was made, and fewer wondered what it would be like to be a labourer in a gas-works. William James Thorne (1857 – 1946), British trade unionist, activist and one of the first Labour members of Parliament described it thus “The retort houses are exceedingly hot, for both behind and in front of the stoker are the burning eyes of the furnaces; amidst the roaring of the heat-hungry retorts a breeze as of hell fans me.” via

By 1901, Alice with her mother, father and older brother Thomas were living at 39, New Zealand, Aylesbury. I felt sure the address taken from the 1901 census must be a mistake, but it turns out New Zealand is a hamlet in the parish of Aylesbury. Apparently, the name comes from a breed of cattle that was farmed there. (Wikipedia)  

1901 census showing the family living at No. 39, New Zealand, Aylesbury.

When Alice and Thomas married in 1908, Alice’s family were living at Willow Road, Aylesbury and that was where Alice and Thomas started their married life. I'm assuming money must have been very tight for the family. Thomas was employed as a general labourer and his father in law was still working at the gas works.

My maternal grandmother Alice Laura Harding née Wesley

Alice and Thomas went on to have five children born between 1911 and 1917. Their youngest Alice Irene Florence (known as Rene to her friends and Dinks to her brothers), was born in 1917. By this time the family had moved once more and were living at Prebendal Avenue, Southcourt.

Thomas Harding back row far left. Alice & Rene front row second & third left. I assume the chaps in the back row must be their sons so perhaps the women are wives or girlfriends. 
With thanks to Sue Poulter for the photograph.

Money continued to be an issue for Alice and Thomas as recalled by Rene in this hand-written note from November 1994.

I often sit alone and think of my childhood. We were so poor and I always longed for Saturdays when my Uncle Peter came to visit – he was always worse for drink and would get to us after the pubs closed. My mother always cooked him a lunch. Her name was Alice and Uncle Peter would arrive, sit down by the fire and start crying saying, “don’t be cross with me Ally"  he would say it over and over it always worried me, so he would give me a penny and tell me to buy something nice. I would rush up town and buy a balloon and play with it until it popped, then I had to wait for the next Saturday.

Alice - (on right of  photograph)

Alice was in poor health throughout most of her life and when her daughter Rene got married in 1938, she was too ill to attend the wedding.  

Just seven months later the newspapers were reporting her death;

Mrs. A. L. Harding; After a long illness patiently borne, Mrs. Alice Laura Harding, of 37 Prebendal Avenue, Southcourt, Aylesbury, died last Wednesday week (25th January 1939). Mrs. Harding, who was 46 years of age, was the wife of Mr.T.H. Harding. She was a native of Aylesbury, the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Wesley, formerly of Maldon Terrace. She had been in ill health for some time, and had twice been in the Royal Bucks Hospital, but her cheery disposition had never failed her. Four sons, well known in local football circles, and a daughter are left with Mr. Harding to mourn their loss. 

Alice was just 46 years old when she died. 

her husband (my maternal grandfather) Thomas Henry Harding

and their daughter Rene (my mother) looking remarkably like her own mother
Alice Irene (Rene) Flitney née Harding with Peggy.

This poem was found in Rene's diary. I assume she must have copied it from somewhere;

Memories are the pictures that an artist cannot paint. 
They’re secret, and they’re private. Some are sharp, and some are faint.
Memories that bring laughter, some that will bring tears,
Happenings of yesterday, or of those bygone years.
Memories of my childhood, of the games I used to play.
Memories of the good old days, that seem so far away.
I sit and reminisce, in the silence of my room,
Painting pictures of my memories and a love that died too soon.

Please write down your memories and pass them on to your children. They may not want to read them today, but one day they will.  

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