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.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

MURCOTT : Guest post by John Flitney

Front of cottage, circa 1970

I have no recollection of the date we left Lower Farm or how the move was achieved. We had visited Murcott previously but now we were going to live there and life would be much different. Dad had got a new job as maintenance engineer at Woodham Brick company, Mum would be busy in the house and caring for her father who was now bedridden. Richard was none too happy about the move as he had been doing very well at Aylesbury college, particularly at sport. During his last football match, with a talent scout watching, he had scored three goals. Impressive stuff that could perhaps have led to a career in the game. Now he would have to cycle two miles to Charlton on Ottmoor to catch a bus to Oxford to attend Cheney Technical College. As for me, I was eleven years old so would have had to change schools anyway. Now I could walk to the top of the lane and get the school bus to Hyfield Secondary Modern school in Bicester.

These two photos are from soon after Gran and Gramps moved in. The cowshed is behind the camera in the front view. The arch is over the well in the garden scene. The lady is Aunt Kay, George’s wife, with Nipper Grampie’s dog.

The biggest change was that there were now six of us in the house, spanning three generations. Granny and Grampy were both in their late seventies and Grampy’s health was none too good. He was confined to bed after some heart trouble. What was most disconcerting was that his bed was downstairs in the living room and us boys had to sit on the side of it to eat our meals. So the ‘Children should be seen but not heard’ rule was regularly enforced, particularly indoors. Also things (ornaments or the piano etc) were not to be played with. This was something new for Richard and me and I found it hard not to meddle with things. Especially in the ‘End Room'. (It was out of bounds really which made it even more imperative to find out what secrets it held.) This was the place that was kept for special occasions and had all the best furniture and most treasured possessions.

The piano was here and I am convinced the lid only ever squeaked when it was me lifting it. There was also a wicker bookcase, that seemed to creak whenever I looked at it, a tall glass fronted cabinet with exotic ivory ornaments and other delights all crying out to be touched and admired. For some reason they were all locked in.The table and piano top had potted ferns on them, the windows had net curtains across and the sills were crowded with Geraniums which made the room quite dark and mysterious. Adding to this mystique was the fact that most of the ornaments and bamboo wall hangings were what Uncle George had brought back from Hong Kong. He had served out there with the Royal Engineers for five years before the second world war. One of these was a three string Mandolin type instrument with a horse hair bow. Snag was I could never play it quietly and cat impressions were my forte. Trouble was we didn't have a cat at the time so Mum always caught me at it and I always got told off for ‘fiddling’ with it. The cupboard beside the fireplace was another source of treasure too. The fire itself was surrounded by an elegant fender with brass rails and padded lid box seats either side. Somehow the room always seemed very peaceful and quiet like it was just holding time in abeyance............just waiting...............remembering days past...............

Uncle George

Outside things would be different too. We now had neighbours just across the lane at the farm. Gran and Gramps had not got on very well with them in the past so we boys were warned to be careful and not upset them. Also we were now living in a village, albeit at one end of it and separated from the main part by small fields, yet it was only a short walk to the village hall. Murcott, a small village on the northern edge of Ottmoor in Oxfordshire. Ottmoor was/is a flat area of farm land prone to flooding in winter time. It was/is criss crossed with drainage ditches with lines of tall Poplar trees along the banks. At that time (1954) the Royal Air Force had a practice bombing range there. At night we could hear the jets approaching and a short while after a dull thud as the bombs landed. The village had no proper shop back then but an elderly fellow in a house close by the hall sold a few of the basics. I remember going into what was his front room and buying sweets over the counter he had there. There was a pub, The Nut Tree, and the landlord had a bloodhound, a huge dog with big floppy ears, big feet and big amounts of drooling saliva. If you took it for a walk it was like having a mobile shower beside you.

The Nut Tree (with nuts) mid 1960s

Our address now was The Cottage, Pigeon House Lane, Murcott, Nr. Islip, Oxon. The house stood a short way down a shared lane ( with the farm opposite ) off the village road which now is called Fencott Road. This lane became a farm track beyond the house and led to fields on Ottmoor. Built with thick stone walls and a thatch roof, the house front faced northeast and the one entrance was on the south western side. Also with the property were two grass meadows, one larger than the other which had a pond in it and a hollow that would fill with water in the winter. If this froze hard enough it was ideal for sliding on, certainly safer than the pond as the water was not so deep should the ice break and you went through. The moat I have mentioned was a silted up small lake which started at our gate and went the whole length of the big field between the hedge and the farm track. In summer it dried to sticky mud but was usually full during winter. Other buildings were a square stone wall barn with a dodgy roof, two corrugated iron sheds, one a cow shed (the horse had gone to be replaced by a Jersey cow) divided into two pens. One of which Dad used as a garage later. The other shed was nearer the house and was a wood store and workshop. On the left side of the house front was a small lean to shed where Grampy used to store his fruit and veg.

                                Frozen hollow                                               Garden winter '63

The Moat, full

Within the house there were six rooms in all, three up three down. The toilet was a bucket affair in a wooden shed some fifteen yards from the house. There was no mains electricity and only one cold water tap in the kitchen. Previously all the water had been pumped by hand from the well close by the entrance.

Entrance from garden. End room door is top left.

One entered the house into a passageway, to the right was the sitting room, always called the ‘End room’ and rarely used except for visitors. To the left a short way along was the door to the living/dining room. This had an old fashioned coal fired range in it that Mum would use for baking. There was always a kettle on the hob quietly singing to itself. A fascinating little sound that modern electric kettles never achieve.

The livingroom.

At the end of the passage and down a small step was the kitchen/pantry. It was divided into two by a wall but we considered it one room as there was no door into the pantry area. It had two windows, a small one facing the moat and a larger one with a view up the lane. For cooking Mum had the use of two paraffin stoves, a single and the other had two burners with a small oven between them. To regulate the heat she would turn the wicks up or down. There was also the oven in the living room for larger roasts and cakes. Mum managed to feed us six, plus guests on occasion, with this equipment for nine years.

Mum and the two stoves

Lighting came from paraffin lanterns that had tall glass chimneys, also for more portable lights, candles in enamelled candle-holders. Being trusted with carrying my own candle up to bed was a big responsibility. We had moved from a house with lots of room, a proper bathroom, hot and cold running water, electric cooking and lights to a place that boasted one cold tap and the luxury of a battery powered wireless. It wasn't until Dad got some compensation for injuries caused in a road accident that mains electric was brought to the house in nineteen sixty three. The neighbours had had it for years but Gramps had not trusted “these new fangled ideas”. The stairs went up from the living room and turned a hundred and eighty degrees to a small landing. From the top, turning right took you along a short passage to what I always thought was an enchanting room. It was over the kitchen, had two windows, one looking out over the farm track the other facing to the lane. The ceiling was angled at each side and, like in the kitchen below, the floor sloped toward the end wall. Straight ahead from the top of the stairs took you into the middle, and smallest room in the house, the bedroom Richard and I shared. It had a tiny little window that looked out over the garden. Mum and Dad had to pass through our room to get to theirs at the other end of the house.


As for the village it was spread along the Fencott road and it wasn't until opposite the church that there were any houses on both sides of it. Richard and I had our first venture that way when we were tasked to take the spare accumulator to be recharged. The wireless (radio nowadays) was battery powered by two batteries. One was the accumulator, a lead/acid affair in a clear class case with a carry handle. The second was a multi cell dry one that produced a hundred and forty four volts when new. The lead/acid one could be recharged and as I say Richard and I had to take it periodically to Mr. Crawford’s works at the far end of the village for this to be done.

So a new chapter in our lives had started with lots of changes and new restrictions and the prospect of new surroundings to explore. Unbeknown to me at that time a person was soon to move into the village who would have a great influence on my future.

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

Previous episodes herehere, here and here  

8 comments:

  1. Hi John, Loved this part of your story and wonderful photo's. Did we ever visit you at that time? The cottage reminds me of the one Bob and I first lived in. We only had a tap in the yard and a thunder box up the garden! Happy New Year to you and Liz. Sue x

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    1. Hello Sue, Thank you for you kind words. Barbara has done a fine job again putting it all together.
      I like your description 'thunder box'. A place renowned for improving one's self-control on cold stormy nights.
      Best wishes for 2015
      John

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    2. Oh I remember struggling up the garden so well! Thank goodness for modern day living! x

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  2. Im Loving all this family history,hurry up with more x

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    1. Hi Paula, Like you I am finding this history fun especially the bits by Barbara and Sue......

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  3. I'm loving your posts John, thanks for all the hard work you put into each one. I get to do the easy bit. Barbara x

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  4. Happy New Year, Barbara, John and Sue. I love your stories and hope you have many more in 2015. We had a paraffin lantern too, when I was young - it only came out when the power was cut, which happened regularly enough. I loved the soft light it created and the flickering shadows on the walls.

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    1. Happy New Year, Dara. John and Sue are both busy writing about their lives so I'm sure there will be plenty more stories during 2015.
      The lamp we had when I was a girl still lives in my kitchen. I’ve not tried lighting it for a long time, but I regularly polish it! Best Wishes, Barbara.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

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