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.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

More of Murcott - Guest Post By John Flitney

I do not recall much of the early days at the cottage except that it was all a bit crowded as the place was much smaller than at Pitchcott and there were six of us now living under one roof. Grampy was confined to bed in the living room which restricted available space and we boys had to keep quiet and behave. There wasn't a lot of freedom for us now outside either, the two fields put together were smaller than any of those we had been free to roam before. We could go down the lane and explore the stream that ran along the bottom but beyond that was Ottmoor where the land was owned or rented by local farmers. It was somewhere else to walk but there was little of any interest. Besides it didn't matter how careful we were we were all to often (wrongly) accused of causing damage to gates or fences that were already in serious disrepair. “It’s them boys, they newcomers!” It was conspicuous how that attitude changed when the farm across the lane changed hands and Jim and Joan and later their son Barry became our neighbours. They were really nice people and became very good friends with Mum and Dad.

In the village at that time, 1954, there were four others of school age, Roy, a war evacuee, who lived with his aunt and uncle. Margaret and Audrey in a house opposite the village hall and Hazel whose home was the small cottage by the chapel at our end of the village. Roy was the eldest I believe and would soon leave school. Margaret and Audrey both attended grammar school in Bicester. As for Hazel I am not sure which school she went to, maybe the same as me (Bicester Secondary Modern) but I do remember her lovely red hair. I caught the school bus at the top of the lane and would enjoy the ride into school but not half as much as the ride home. The school was a fairly new build with long corridors and separate classrooms for different subjects. Compared to Quainton it was huge with, I suppose, several hundred pupils. Something I found hard to get used to and felt very alone. We studied maths, english, geography, science, history, art, cookery, played sport and did metalwork and woodwork.

Mr. Simms was our regular class teacher and our ‘house master’. He taught us maths and english. English was my preferred subject especially when it came to writing essays with a free choice of subject. I could quite easily go off to some imagined leafy nook in the country and spend the whole lesson happily scribbling away. I gained a few house points for my stories. One time a weekend homework task was to write an essay involving wildlife. (Right up my street! Or rather lane.) My tale was based on memories of Carter’s Lane and the hero was a vole living in one of the hedge banks. There was mention of rabbits, hedgehogs, the violets and foxgloves and all manner of springtime scenes. I pictured all these events taking place under the tall elm trees and went on to describe an owl swooping from the leafy arch above.....(no animals were harmed in the making of this story).

Monday morning, as usual, when our names were called for the register, we went up
and put our homework on Mr. Simms’s desk then walked to our first lesson in a different classroom. After dinner time that day we had a double english session during which our essays were discussed with Mr Simms giving guidance on grammar, spelling and punctuation etc. To my surprise he called me up to his desk and quietly, between the two of us, expressed his concern that my effort was “perhaps not all my own work?” Pointing to the paragraph about the owl he asked “Did you copy that from somewhere?” I was quite upset by this and indignantly defended my honour. He listened to what I had to say then wrote in my book, handed it back to me and told me to go back to my seat. As I sat down and before I could read what he had written he announced to the class “That is quite an exceptional piece of work that John has written, therefore I award him two house points!” Sure enough written in bright red ink at the bottom of my story were the words Two house points. Well done! High praise indeed. I kept that essay book when I left school but alas it got discarded somewhere, yet I shall always remember that day and Mr.Simms.

I made no lasting friends at school, in fact the whole experience never really inspired me. Most of the classrooms had one wall as a window from desktop height to the ceiling. There were no curtains or blinds to shield the sun, so on clear sunny days the sunshine became quite soporific and I found it hard to concentrate and could quite easily drift off into a daydream. Only to be brought back abruptly when the backboard rubber landed accurately. Mr. Jones’s lessons in metal and wood work were OK and I enjoyed the cooking in domestic science. The highlight of that was after making a Christmas cake I was the only one to ice and decorate the cake with piping. I did get into the school soccer team for a season and the best game I played was the first one. There after my talent waned along with my enthusiasm. The best lesson was last period before home time on Fridays when Mr.Simms would read stories, such as John Buchan’s 39 Steps, to the class. There was only one school outing I went on, other than away games with the football team. That was to Cheddar Gorge and was only memorable for the awful pounding headache I had all day, not helped by the stuffy, noisy coach and the bright sunlight.

Village life was dull too. For a while Richard and I delivered the morning papers around Murcott and Fencott. On hot summer days we would sometimes meet with children from the other nearby villages and go swimming, or in my case splashing, in the river Cherwell at Fencott. Other than that there was little to do. Girls were no fun, besides according to Richard, I was too young to know about them anyway. True perhaps as I had been taunted at Quainton school by a very precocious girl who suggested “I bet you don’t even know what a period is?” Thinking, Ah! punctuation! I said “It’s a full stop!” This brought shrieks of laughter from all the girls in her company. It was years later that I became aware of what she really meant. There was a time when I did some odd jobs of a weekend for Miss Stanton who had a small farm next to our neighbours. She was a spinster and lived in the farmhouse along with Mrs. Chennell. Mrs. Chennell was quite a character and was well liked in the village for the Christmas pantomimes she would write, produce and stage in the village hall with local people for the cast. Dad and I took part in two of these and the second time Mum sang during the interval. Richard, being technically minded, did the lighting. Dad played dame on both occasions, I was the cat in Dick Whittington and the goose in Mother Goose. All great fun as the scripts were only loosely based on the original story and the songs, apart from that which Mum sang, were all Mrs.C’s own words. There is one short piece I remember but have no idea where it fitted in the script other than it followed a dance scene :- To the tune of After the Ball is Over..

"After the ball went Uncle number nine in his hand
Hit the ball right into a bunker filled both his eyes with sand
Hit the ball right up a drainpipe after it began to crawl
Threw both his clubs and his golf bag after the ball!”

There were several verses but alas that is all that stuck with me. About this time television was becoming more affordable and popular. We hadn't got one as we had no mains electric yet. Events in the village hall had been well attended but now fewer and fewer people were coming. The last performance I went to was with Dad and Richard. It was to be a one man show of comedy, magic, ventriloquism and performing dogs. Half an hour after the intended start time we were the only people there. By this time the chap had come out and was telling us this was happening all over because of the telly. He did kindly show us the dogs performance which was very good. We would have liked to have seen the rest of the show but hadn't the heart to ask just for the three of us.

Two holidays I had away from Murcott were one with Granny Flitney at Winslow. She was great and made my stay really good fun. She would allow me out to explore the town with a few coppers in my pocket for sweets. On one such trip I found the railway station which then became my sole destination.I would go on the platform to watch the trains. That was it, never mind the anorak, I was going to be an engine driver! I would talk to the footplate crew and on one occasion I asked the driver if I could have a ride please. “Yes!” he says, “But you’ll have to get your mum’s say so first! So immediately I’m burning rubber racing back to Gran’s to see if I can go on the engine, “Oh please, please can I Gran? Please? Thinking of it now I realize how smart and kind that man was. He didn’t want to hurt me by saying no but knew jolly well that he would be gone by the time I got back to the station. Gran knew the same and so wasn’t worried either. I should have had faster shoes on. I left the station feeling rather sad but I was going home the following day so I soon forgot about it.

The other away time was with Uncle George and Aunt Kaye in Torpoint, Cornwall. They had come to stay at Murcott for a few days after Grampy had died and offered to take Granny Moore and me back with them for a week. During that week I had a great time, George was a boy’s dream of a proper uncle. We had all sorts of adventures around Torpoint and into Plymouth. Digging for Lugworms in the mud on the foreshore just around from the ferry. They were to be for bait on the two fishing trips up the river, one with Gran, with me under instruction on how to row the boat. The other at night, again on the river, off Wilcove. He also took me out late one evening to a narrow lane, leading to the village of Wilcove again, where on a rocky bank were a group of Glowworms. The only time I have seen the magical little creatures. The most exciting trip was to the Eddystone lighthouse and my first experience of the sea. Below is a photocopy of what I wrote of the event, using George’s typewriter, the following day. I had great fun carefully positioning the paper to create the line of soldiers at the bottom.........Royal Engineers of course. Just wish I had dated it.

              Our Catch                   Rowing past Naval Dockyard         Ashore at Antony Point

             Approaching the Eddystone              Boat going in                      Stores transfer

Breakwater Lighthouse                                                                Me at base of lighthouse

Life at home was somewhat drab for a time after that week in Torpoint but it all changed one morning when we, Richard and myself, were stood outside the village hall debating what to do next. We noticed an elderly gentleman come out from the big house, and come towards us, a tall stout man with receding hair, a jolly face with a neat moustache and very smartly dressed. He stopped in front of us and after saying “Hello!” and introducing himself said “I have recently moved into Murcott House and wondered if you boys would care to come along sometime and help me put some trophies up?” So we cut along home and told Mum about it. She said to “wait and see!” (I suspect she and Dad quietly made some enquiries.)

Major (rtd), Bramwell Henry Withers OBE who we had just met and he would do a lot for us in the future, me especially.

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

See previous posts here, here, here, here and here


  1. Barbara,
    Another superb job by you publishing this.
    Thank you so much.

    1. The pleasure is all mine John, thanks so much for sharing your story.

  2. Hi John, loved your post and must say I felt like you at school. Like a fish out of water I was at High Wycombe. I remember going to Grandma Flitney for holidays as well; hated sleeping with her, but loved the mint she always gave me! Looking forward to your next adventures. Sue x

  3. Hello Sue,thank you for your comments.
    It is said that school days are the happiest of your life. I think in my case days is misspelt, I was only happy when I was in one..............

  4. Hi John, village life didn't sound dull at all! There was so much to observe, so many animals to chase, and children to play with. I was relieved to learn Mr. Simms gave you high praises for your essay. Also, your "period" anecdote had me in stitches. A wonderful post!

  5. Hello Claudine G,
    Thank you! I am flattered by your kind words and also really pleased that you found it so amusing. That has eased some of my embarrassment about that "period" in my education.


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

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