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, 25 January 2017

Meet another member of the Flitney family: Albert Flitney, Sexton at Butlers Cross in 1939.

I’ve read dozens of old newspaper clippings about the Flitney family. Most are reports of births, marriages and deaths, but just occasionally something a little more unusual turns up. The following is an account of a stroll through the ‘fragrant English countryside’ written by a diarist by the name of ‘Longman’. It was published in the Daily Mirror on Saturday April 8th, 1939.  

The Daily Mirror April 8th, 1939 Via Find My Past

It begins: 

By fields, across deserted meadows, down leafy lanes, over quaint old stiles, along the willow lined banks of winding meadow streams and into the fair county of Berkshire. Arriving at the village of Aston Tirrold, I visit The Chequers Inn, where the landlord Mr. Morris tells me “the Danes and Saxons agreed to share the place, so one part is called Aston Tirrold, and the other Aston Upthorpe.”

Later, ‘Longman’ meets Mr. Stevens a trainer at Springfield House Stables.  Mr. Stevens tells him they have “the finest gallops in England." After enjoying lunch with The Rev Gillespie rector of St. Michael’s, he continues on his way towards Aston Upthorpe, where he meets Mr. Clacy a seventy-four-year-old gamekeeper.

It was late on another day when 'Longman' arrived at Butlers Cross.  Here he spent the night under the thatched roof of a tiny cottage. Where (he tells us) local legend has it; a witch once lived. His diary continues:  In this quiet village, that lies under the shadow of Coombe Hill, close to Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country home, are contrasts and gossip to be had for the asking.  The village folk are talking of the fields and gardening, and of the sad case of a young farmer who died, leaving a wife and two little children.

Longman enjoys a chat with Mr. Mooney, proprietor of the Russell Arms, recently returned from a holiday in Wales and with Mr. Cox landlord of the Rose and Crown who hasn’t had a holiday for more than fifteen years. Mr. Webb the Baker talks of supplying bread to the locals and the incumbents at Chequers for over sixty-five years.  Mr. Lloyd George, Ramsey MacDonald and Mr. Chamberlain have all eaten his bread.

The article continues: I took a stroll to the parish church where I found the Sexton old Mr. Flitney. The children call him “Navvy” because he always wears hob nailed boots. Mr. Flitney is seventy seven and still as active as a kitten.  He is happy to share a few stories one of which concerns a lady by the name of Granny Wheeler, a church cleaner. The story goes that Granny Wheeler likes to eat her lunch while sitting on her husband’s tombstone. Miss Simmonds the district nurse is another subject of great interest. Apparently Miss Simmonds can converse in Italian and drive a car! 

After talking to Mr. Flitney 'Longman' set off again and later records in his diary: An air of gentle peace rests over Hagbourne. It is like a perpetual Sunday afternoon, except on certain occasions. It reminds one of a dear old lady who dreams of the past, and smiles.  

Footnotes & Source Documents 

According to the 1871 census, Albert Flitney (born 1861) was the son of Moses and Eliza. The family lived at Church Hill, Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire.  At the time of the 1881 census, Albert was employed as a domestic servant.  He married at the age of 40 by which time he was a cattleman on a farm. The 1920 Kelly's Directory lists Albert Flitney Sexton at Butlers Cross.

Sexton: a person who looks after a church and churchyard, typically acting as bell-ringer and gravedigger.

The above article appeared in The Daily Mirror on Saturday April 8th, 1939.  

The first photograph shows the newspaper headline and Mr. Clancy, the gamekeeper. Via FindMyPast/The Daily Mirror.

The second photograph is The Chequers Inn, Aston Tirrold. Via The Astons.Net

The third and final photograph is of 'old' Mr Flitney and an unknown companion outside the church at Butler's Cross.  Via FindMyPast/The Daily Mirror.  

When this article was written Aston Tirrold, Aston Upthorpe and Hagbourne were in Berkshire but after the boundary changes of 1974, they became part of Oxfordshire.

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