excellent articles were researched and written by Joy Field and Evelyn Watts and
appeared in issues of The Breachwood Times between 1992 and 1998. I am grateful
to both ladies for their kind permission to include their fascinating work here.
It is not possible to do more than surmise that the earliest humans in the area of Breachwood Green were nomads of the late Ice Age. Almost certainly there were Stone Age dwellers making use of the abundance of flint stones hereabouts.
The proximity of the important town of Verulamium, with its busy roads like the Watling Street and the Icknield Way, lend credence to the presence of Romans, or, at the very least, their influence on the way of life in the hamlets and villages of the neighbouring countryside.
The exact beginnings of Breachwood Green, like so many other places, are not really known, but it could possibly have been a small hamlet of the King's Walden Parish, originating from Saxon settlements which became more firmly established in the time of the Norman occupation. It is recorded that in the Middle Ages, on the orders of Lord Walter de Neville, 236 trees were felled, leaving an open green. From this it can be assumed that the whole area was covered in trees and it may be from that time that the name Brachewood, or "break in the wood", became used for the hamlet. (See Village Origins by M. George from the Main Index - Peter Rochford)
As a rural community, farming was the main source of work for most of the inhabitants from the earliest days until the beginning of this century, when the most significant changes occurred. In common with farming throughout England, various changes in the methods of growing crops and the raising of livestock and in the ownership of land have taken place throughout the centuries. In the earliest times, once people had settled and were no longer nomadic in their way of life, it was the custom for the land to be parceled out into strips with each tenant having a strip of land in each of two or three fields and grazing rights on common and woodland. After the time of the Black Death in 1349, the greatly reduced population could no longer work all the land in this way and so this led to the move towards enclosing some of the fields and developing sheep farming. This was a gradual process, the strips in some fields continuing to be farmed until the Enclosure Act of Parliament, which took effect in Kings Walden in 1797. The land was surveyed and then re-allotted. In many cases this caused great hardship to the smaller farmers who could not afford the expense of the surveyors' fees, together with the cost of hedging, and thus the land became owned by the wealthier few. Also at this time, the common land was enclosed, leaving nowhere for the cottagers' animals to graze. Thus, by the early nineteenth century, the farms in Breachwood Green and Kings Walden had taken shape and have remained, with few changes, to the present day.
Most of the land belongs to the Kings Walden estate and is worked by tenant farmers, some farms having been occupied by two or three generations of the same family. Others have become non-existent, such as Browning's Farm, Manor Farm and Hill Farm. The houses of Browning's and Manor Farms have disappeared, leaving only the crumbling barns at Browning's (Author's Note: Now being renovated and converted into dwellings in the year 2000) and a bare heap of rubble showing all that remains of Manor Farm. Hill Farm House still remains but the land that went with it has been re-allotted to neighbouring farms, as has the land from the other two. In this way, it has increased the size of the benefiting farms and enabled them to remain viable businesses but with fluctuating fortunes as is the way of farmers in their constant battles with the elements and changing demands of governments.
The changing methods of farming are due to several causes. Mechanisation obviously needed fewer labourers and the development of industry and better transport enabled villagers to find better paid work in the nearby towns of Luton and Hitchin. These causes combined to change what had been the way of life for most of the inhabitants for a very long time.
Many women and children would earn a few shillings helping with harvesting and other seasonal work and also the Straw Plaiting was a flourishing business. No fewer than ninety women are entered in the Census of 1861 as being straw plaiters. In the same Census, there were sixty seven farm labourers, nine ploughmen and four shepherds. Twenty years before that, there had been nearly two hundred men working on the land and today there are perhaps only one or two workers on each farm.
In the past, most farms had cattle, pigs and poultry, as well as the arable land but this has now changed and we see the fields today with crops of barley, wheat, beans and oilseed rape and no, or very few, animals in the yards.
At Coleman's Farm (the birthplace of Thomas Whitmore, father of Richard Whitmore of TV fame) now in the hands of the Coulson family since 1936, the pedigree herd of 60 large black pigs and a dairy herd of Shorthorns and Friesians, as well as calves for fattening, has long since disappeared. Tom Coulson now has just a few bullocks for fattening and producing manure. What a change from the times when hay was carted to London for the many horses stabled there. The carter would probably stay overnight and return the next day with a load of manure to be spread on the fields.
Ploughing followed the muck-spreading and in the mid-nineteenth century was normally done with two horses pulling the plough. The ploughman would be able to cover about an acre per day and by the end of the week he could have walked 80 miles. Some of this work was made easier with the invention of the steam ploughing machines. This was, in effect, two engines, one on each side of the field which hauled the plough from side to side. These engines, with all the necessary tackle and the engineers, or drivers, were hired by the farmers from Agricultural Engineers such as Olivers. The driver would move with the machinery from farm-to-farm taking with him a small caravan in which to live. The water needed would be drawn from nearby streams and up to six hundredweight of coal would be used each day. These engines were also used to work the threshing machines which were in use until after the Second World War when the advent of combine harvesters rendered them obsolete.
Tom Field has very vivid memories of his days as horsekeeper at Whitehall Farm, working for the Taylor family. Tom was responsible for fetching cartloads of coal from Hitchin Station yard to keep the steam engines fueled and also for keeping the water carts filled. Another of Tom's many tasks was to fetch the manure which had been brought by rail from London to Chiltern Green. Apparently it was not only manure that arrived; all sorts of rubbish was thrown out with it, including dead monkeys, obviously from London Zoo. During the fifteen years that Tom worked at Whitehall Farm, he became a skilled ploughman, starting work at 7.00 a.m. and finishing at 3.00pm. That was not the end of his day's work as the horses, Suffolk Punches, had to be fed and stabled with clean straw, as well as being groomed and given their final favourite tit-bits of two mangolds. The Taylors kept cattle for fattening and on one occasion when Tom drove his cart into the stockyard with a load of feedstuffs, the bullocks were so impatient to get the food that the cart was lifted off its wheels. In those days when the cattle were driven to market in Hitchin, the first mile before reaching Preston was the most hair-raising while the animals were fresh and lively and liable to gallop in all directions. An open gateway was an invitation to enter the field, which a herd did one day with such energy that a small hayrick was demolished by them rushing round it. Tom later worked for Mr. Templeton, a gentleman farmer, at Medlow. He drove the pony and trap and had four other horses for work on the farm, which included the fields of Hillside Farm. Radishes and cabbages were among the crops grown and the local women were able to earn the princely sum of one penny for each bunch of radishes they pulled.
From the recently-discovered Farming Accounts Ledger of William Hale Esq., of 1815 - 1819, kept by a Mr. Roberts, very interesting facets of farming life in those times came to light. The many varied jobs undertaken included catching moles, "throwing up" dung, carrying stones, crow-keeping, thatching, horse collar making, filling and spreading carts of mould, picking docks, hoeing turnips, keeping pigs, mending sacks and cutting the browse in Mobb's Dell. The expression "throwing up" dung probably meant loading the carts in the farmyard prior to it being taken to spread on the fields. The browse in Mobb's Dell was the young twiggy growth used for animal fodder.
Some of the terms used to indicate weights and measures are still used today, such as acres, roods and poles, in measurement of the land. Other measures are now mostly obsolete, such as a Todd of wool, which was about 28 pounds or one fleece, and a Chaldron of ashes which was 36 bushels or a small cartload. The toll road payments were made per wagon load or weight and overweight payments had to be made; for example, one entry reads: "One shilling paid overweight for 4 bushels of beans to the Marquis of Salisbury". Another entry was for the expenses of Mr. P. Day for carting two wagons to St Albans for 7s.6d and the turnpike payment of 3s.0d. Mr. Day also received payments for journeys to Biggleswade, Hitchin and Luton, and "for going all night to London".
Thatching was paid for at so much per square; for example, J. Lawrence was paid 4s.9d for three squares.
Animals are frequently mentioned in the Ledger. Sheep were an important part of farming in the area and are entered as being sent to London for sale, fetching different prices according to them being ewes or whether sheep or lambs, varying from 32 shillings each for the best down to 18s.6d for 5 sheep and skins.
Preston Fair held on 30th October each year was also mentioned in respect of the "expenses of 7 score of sheep at 10s.6d." Payments for sheep shearing were made to Joiner & Co. They were paid 5 shillings per score for shearing 450 sheep, which was threepence per sheep.
A boar sent to London, possibly for some special feast, fetched £3.14s.3d., whereas 4 pigs together only yielded £5.11s.4d., and on another occasion, 5 pigs were sold for £8.8s.3d. Pigeons were another source of income, being sold for 4 shillings per dozen.
An interesting entry records the payment of 2 guineas to Mr. Bull for catching moles for a year. Another payment was made of 1s.6d. for killing 12 rats. Yet another entry tells of "Mr. Gardener's man's fees for 2 mares stinted for 4 guineas."
The need for extra workers on the farms for certain jobs was shown by the mention of Irishmen being paid 8 shillings per acre for reaping 39 acres and a half of wheat, and on another occasion receiving £28.6s.10d. for reaping and beer". A local man, William Chalkley was paid at the rate of 9 shillings per acre, the entry recording that he reaped 1 acre 2 roods 15 poles for 14s.3d. Extra helpers were obviously needed at certain times of the year and Boy Woods is mentioned on several occasions, once as being paid £1 for the lambing season. At other times he received 12 shillings in lieu of a jacket, and 4 shillings in lieu of dinners. Also, for three Sundays' work "keeping pigs" he received 1s.6d.
Many of these entries in this old Ledger give a vivid picture of life in those times. The payment of 5s.6d. for a boy's 11 days' work crowkeeping, compared to William Fleckney's £1.8s.Od. for 14 days hoeing turnips in Little Cowditch. Someone else, possibly following behind William, was paid 2s.8d. for carrying 16 loads of stones.
The wheelwright, Mr. Wren, was paid £12.13s.7d. for the year's work. This does not give any indication of how much work he had done for this payment but no doubt he was responsible for the upkeep of the carts and carriages on the Estate. The collar-maker, Mr. Topham, received £14.13s.9d. for his work. The pond in the Park was cleaned out by J. Angel & Co. for which they were paid £1.0s.Od.
Alice Cotton, whose name was spelt as Alex Cotton in one entry, was paid 1s.4d. and 1s.6d. for mending sacks, the thread for this work costing 4d. per ounce.
Various payments were made for beer. Old Matthews had "£3s.0d. for Beer in Harvest" and Mr. Crabb had £3.12s.Od. for small beer for the year to Legatts, Mr. Crabb presumably being a local brewer. Mr. P. Buck was paid £3.15s.10½d for providing "Bread and Cheese for Sheep Shearing, Hay Home & Wheat Harvest Home". Another year, instead of providing a Harvest Feast, 20 men were given 3 shillings each and 7 boys had 2 shillings each.
(contributed by Geoffrey Mant)
Most, if not all people in Britain today are familiar through the medium of television with the sight of vast combine harvesters at work in the cornfields during summer, surrounded by rising clouds of dust, scurrying along the edges of waving cereals, gobbling up acre after acre with apparent ease. Alternatively, they may perhaps have found themselves behind some lumbering 4-wheel driven Leviathan, greenhouse-cab topped, in which may dimly be perceived its occupant, who may at last be aware that you are following along the same narrow Hertfordshire lane and seek to pass.
The very speed at which operations are conducted and the obvious power available to the farmer and his men today should encourage us to consider those pioneers who forged ahead from the horse and cart era. The descendants and near neighbours are thriving to this day.
A century and a half ago, James Oliver, a member of a well-known Bedfordshire family long associated with farming, had an address in Park Street, Luton, from whence he conducted his business as a contractor supplying men and machines to plough and cultivate farming land, following on to thresh the corn which farmers subsequently harvested. It was the early days of the Steam Age when the only alternative power was provided by the horse or, in some cases, by oxen, used for the preparation of the ground. The threshing of corn by men armed with flails was not so far in the past. Demand for the new power and for his services increased, and with an expanding business there came a need for a new site on which to house all his machines, large and very heavy implements which wanted a lot of space.
In 1880 therefore a move was made to Wigmore Hall Farm, which today (1993) is the Airport Hotel, Luton. The original farmhouse is the white house which stands on the roadside and which has been incorporated into the restaurant. The farm buildings on the other side of the road were pulled down and all the land built upon. At the time Wigmore was occupied, James Oliver tried to improve the machines he owned and did, in fact invent a chaff-bagging apparatus which he patented. The rights for this he duly sold to a Lincolnshire firm engaged in making the Marshall threshing machines. In due time Mr. Oliver retired and his two sons, Mr. Walter J. and Mr. Archibald T. Oliver carried on the business but Walter left the firm and his brother decided to acquire even larger premises, which he found at Wandon End and it is here that the family firm, which later came to be known as Messrs. A.T. Oliver & Sons can be found in their 138th year of service to the community.
It was Archibald's business acumen and technical skills which laid the main foundations for the undoubted success of the business, and with the aid of his two sons, P.J. and A.R. Oliver, that the threshing contracting part of the venture soon became the largest of its kind in the country, with demand for his services spread far and wide. The size of the undertaking can be gathered from the fact that the firm then owned 32 sets of equipment, each being made up of the steam traction engine, threshing drum, chaffcutter and bagger. Many also had their own water cart. These sets would travel round the various counties for months at a time, to return at the end of the season for maintenance.
In 1895 the scale of hiring charges was as follows:
A day's threshing by drum 34 shillings - (£1.70)
Chaff-cutting per hour 2/6d (12.5p)
Team of 11 men 2/9p (13.75p) per man/per day
A small charge was also made to the customer for 'beer money'. It has thirsty work indeed for those employed!
There came a time when it was decided to add further to the range of machines which the firm could offer and an extensive steam plough-contracting side of the business was developed. A team consisted of a pair of huge 18-ton engines, a reversible 6-furrow plough equipped with a seat on which the ploughman sat, a heavy type scuffle or cultivator (depending on the job) and a living van for the 7 men who accompanied the machines. One of the men was expected to be cook. The living van had its own store and the men filled palliasses with straw for their bunk areas. Each team would expect to have enough work to be away for several months at a time.
The summer months meant that men were not actively engaged on the land and it became necessary to find alternative work in order to keep the men together and a further line of business was found by setting up a steam-rolling section which took drivers far and wide, sometimes for many months at a time. The old L.N.E.Railway and the Beds and Herts County Councils, also the Luton Corporation, provided much work and there were soon 13 rollers on the Company books. The post-World War 2 period indicated a change in policy, sensed earlier by the Chairman, Mr. A. R. Oliver. The threshing machine was being overtaken by the mobile Combine Harvester which was being brought over from Canada and the U.S.A. in ever-increasing numbers and the farming community were finding that they could afford these modern methods and so it was decided to gradually reduce the number of sets until such time as they could be phased out completely. There were 80 to 90 outfits to disperse, even though a certain amount of sets had been sold already during the war period to other contractors, or even farmers themselves in order to avoid unnecessary travelling and thus conserve much-needed fuel.
The firm during its growth has taken on many agencies for both British, American and Canadian manufacturers and from 1946 onwards the volume of sales gradually increased, particularly when the quality of both design and materials was greatly improved so that other branches of the firm were opened and the labour force increased.
Mr. A.T. Oliver retired in 1926 and the business continued as a partnership between Mr. P.J. Oliver (joined by his son, Mr. F.R. Oliver in 1933) and Mr. A.R. Oliver (joined by his son, Mr. J.A.R. Oliver in 1936).
With the death in 1951 of Mr. Percy J. Oliver, the business was turned into a Limited Company with Mr. A.R. Oliver, Mr. F.R. Oliver and Mr. J.A.R. Oliver as Joint Managing Directors. Mr. A.J.S. Oliver, the son of Mr. F.R. Oliver, joined the firm in 1961.
Mr. A.R. Oliver, known as Ralph Oliver, died in 1964, leaving a thriving business in the hands of his fellow-Directors. The premises at Wandon End were much enlarged shortly afterwards to enable the servicing of machinery to be facilitated. Many European manufacturers were developing new and startling ideas and the resultant implements which were being sold meant a radical change in technology. Much larger stores had to be erected and training courses obtained for the workforce.
In August 1969 Mr. John M. Humphreys, a nephew of Mr. John Oliver, joined the Company and subsequently became a Joint Managing Director with Mr. A.J.S. Oliver, whose father, Mr. F.R. Oliver, had retired during 1989.
They carried on the traditions of the Company under the Chairmanship of Mr. John Oliver until his death in February 1992. Since then the company operates under the Joint Directorship of Mr. J.M. Humphreys and Mr. A.J. Oliver.
Many of the cottages and farm houses in the village date back to the 17th Century and 18th Century. No doubt before that there were other more primitive dwellings which, because of the impermanent style of building, have long since disappeared. The oldest of the cottages that have survived are mainly of timber-framed structure with lath and plaster or brick walls. Originally, they would have had thatched roofs but these have been replaced by slates or tiles.
Amongst these very old houses are The Old Homestead which has a very rare 17th Century wallpainting of a floral design on the plaster wall between the timber framing.Even older is the Heath Farmhouse, which is an "open-hall" type of building with two cross-wings dating back to the late 15th Century when the Hare family was in residence.
Other 17th Century houses are Coleman's Farmhouse, Moss Cottage, Old Pump Cottage, Keeper's Cottage, Meadow Cottage, Bailey's Farmhouse and the Wheelwright's House, as well as several more in King's Walden and Ley Green.
During the 18th Century and 19th Century the small terraced cottages in Lower Road and along the Heath were built to house the many employees on the farms and the workers on the King's Walden Estate. These cottages were virtually unaltered until after the Second World War and had only two rooms up and two down, with a communal wash-house and individual bucket toilets in the back yards. Water was drawn from several wells in the village, these only being replaced by standpipes when the water mains supply eventually reached Breachwood Green. Later on, as improvements were made, the water was brought into each house. The tenants of the cottages had to share the wash-house, each one being allocated a certain day of the week in which to do the family washing, and bad luck if your day was a wet one! There was a copper which had to be filled by bucket and the fire to be lit and kept stoked to heat the water, all demanding far more physical effort than today's push-button machines.
Inside the cottages, the main living room housed the kitchen range, kept burning all year round in order to do the cooking, for warmth in winter and for drying the washing, as well as the all important black kettle always ready on the hob. Furniture consisted of a table, perhaps covered with a chenille cloth, chairs, a dresser and perhaps a chaise longue. Floors with scrubbed boards, perhaps covered with linoleum and with rag rugs, and roller blinds at the window complete the furnishing of the main room at the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century.
The scullery may have had a stone sink, but more probably merely a bowl on a stand or table for the washing up, as well as for personal washing. The dirty water was tipped into a bucket and disposed of in the garden, no such things as drains and modern drainage systems.
Upstairs, which was approached through a door in the living room, comprised two bedrooms, each having beds with flock or feather mattresses on the iron bedsteads, complete with brass knobs. There would be a washstand with its matching set of bowl and ewer with the essential chamber pot. Clothing was stored in chests of drawers.
Life was hard for the villagers who lived in these cottages. The men had to walk to wherever they worked, in many cases starting as early as 5.0 a.m. and not finishing work until dusk.
Information available from the Census Returns gives details of the various trades and professions pursued by the inhabitants of the Parish. The earliest Returns consisted mainly of summaries until 1841 when the first detailed Census was taken. This gives us the information that about 210 houses were inhabited. There were approximately 1,000 people in the Parish, of which about 350 were children under the age of 14 years. The majority of the people were born in the Parish, only 24 men, 55 women and 11 children having been born elsewhere.
The great majority of men were employed as farm labourers by the 22 farmers. Also listed were 8 Carpenters, 6 Wheelwrights, 4 Publicans, 4 Grocers, 8 Shoemakers, 2 Bricklayers, 2 Gardeners, 1 Baker and the Clergyman, Minister and Schoolmaster. The occupations of the women were not generally specified in this first detailed Census, apart from 3 Dressmakers, 2 Grocers, 2 Plaiters, 1 Plait Dealer and a Washerwoman.
In the 1861 Census there is a considerable change in the amount of details recorded. Some of the men were no longer entered as labourers but as ploughmen, shepherds, horse-keepers, hurdlemakers and thatchers. There were by this time only 9 farmers, indicating that many farms, too small to be economically viable, had been taken over by the more successful tenants. Also in this Census there were now 6 men who were Plait Dealers. The growing importance of the straw plait industry is echoed by the 90 women listed as Plaiters. More women were Dressmakers and the hat trade is represented by 3 Bonnet Sewers. For the first time there is recorded the all-important Midwife, and also a Governess and house servants resident at the Bury.
By 1881 there were still 9 farmers, but the number of farm labourers had risen to over a hundred. There is an increasing variety of jobs listed, such as 3 Brickmakers and 7 Bricklayers. These men were responsible for the brickworks and clay pits which are still in evidence in Great House Wood and in the grounds of "The Spinney". These local-made bricks were used to build many of the Victorian cottages in the Parish. There are also two Gamekeepers listed showing the beginning of the management of the woods and wildlife on the King's Walden Estate. The young Police Constable, William Bedford, at that time 24 years old, who was born in Devon, was a lodger with George Nash, one of the Wheelwrights.
Other jobs listed were Wheelwrights, Carpenters, Shoemakers, Bakers, Grocers, Brewers and Plait Dealers. These dealers were kept busy, as by now there were 141 women working as Plaiters.
The Hill family ran a plait store in the cottage next door to the Red Lion. They had a steam chest there which was used for the making of hats. Two young women, Ruth Croft and Jane Rolph, were straw hat bonnet sewers and finishers. Other dealers were Henry and William Swain who lived at the Sugar Loaf, Mrs. Patty Angel who lived in the Old Pump Cottage and also George Parkins, Thomas Smith, John Chambers and Alan Graves. At the Sugar Loaf, then a pub, ten men plaited when farming work was slack, 8 of them plaiting while two played bowls on the green opposite, now built upon. The dealers went to the Plait Hall in Luton to collect the straw and the finished plait was later sold to the hat makers.
In Breachwood Green there were 3 Plait Schools, one in the barn at Laburnum Cottage, which in more recent times was used for the school children to have their dinners. Another Plait School was in the barn beside Old Pump Cottage, the straw for use there being collected in Luton on Mondays by Mrs. Patty Angel and the finished plait being taken back by her on Fridays.
The third school was beside the Old Manse, two modern houses now occupying the site. The ladies plaited while the children had lessons in the mornings, learning the basic skills of reading and writing. The children would then join their mothers and do plaiting in the afternoons. School cost sixpence per week, but the less well off could pay two pence. Most of the women plaited while gossiping or even walking about the village. It was a very valuable source of income in those days as the men were very poorly paid as farmworkers. No doubt the work of plaiting done by the children was an important factor in increasing the family income. They were supposed to be protected from overwork by the Workshops Regulations Act of 1867 which stated that children under the age of 8 were not to be employed and children under 13 were limited to 6 hours work per day, as well as attending school for ten hours per week. Perhaps the end of their drudgery came with the dying out of the straw plait trade with the introduction of technological changes and foreign competition. The advent of bicycles and more modern transport also enabled the villagers to travel into the towns to seek more lucrative employment.
The original Saxon settlement of King's Walden probably consisted of the Manor House, the Church and a few cottages. Several hamlets developed around the Manor, the largest of which are now Breachwood Green and Ley Green.
In 1570, in the time of Queen Elizabeth 1, the property was bought from the Crown by Richard Hale of London in whose family it remained until 1891 when it passed to the Harrison family. Colonel and the Hon Mrs. Harrison, grandparents of the present owner, took an active interest in the village and its inhabitants, including the successful Bury Cricket Team, which were hosts annually to the Eton College Boys' team. Mrs. Harrison was for many years the President of the Women's Institute.
Most of the cottages in the Parish belonged to the Estate and housed the many workers on the farms and gardens. Several of these cottages still retain the names for whom they were originally used, for example, Buffer's Cottage, Laundry Cottage, The Bothy and Keeper's Cottage. Ron Young has vivid memories of his time during the 1920s as an apprentice gardener living in The Bothy with five other boys and the foreman. They took it in turns to get up first to cook the breakfast before starting work in the gardens. There were two lean to glasshouses in which grapes, figs, peaches, nectarines and apricots, as well as cucumbers, melons, tomatoes and carnations, were grown. Besides the glasshouses there was the walled kitchen garden and the fruit house for storing the apples and pears. This had a thatched roof which, on one occasion, caught fire and the Estate's own fire engine came into use to extinguish the flames, using water pumped from the swimming pool. The fire engine was originally horsedrawn, but was later converted to steam engine power.
The big house was nearly self-sufficient and had its own dairy herd at Frogmore Farm, producing enough milk, butter and cheese for the house.
At one time there were as many as eight game keepers tending the pheasants and other wild life on the Estate which supplied meat for the household.
Col. Harrison had a keen interest in polo and hunting and there were about 25 grooms (one of whom was the late husband of Mabel Illing, one of the older village residents). The grooms tended the many ponies and horses used for these pursuits. An annual pilgrimage to Melton Mowbray, entailed hiring a train from Luton to transport the ponies and their attendants for the season.
Besides horses, cars came into use and that gave employment to a head chauffeur and four others. The Estate also had its own plumbers, carpenters, painters, bricklayers and, more recently, electricians, who were responsible for the upkeep of the Bury and of all the cottages owned by the Estate. The carpenters who worked in the Bury itself were known as the "House Rats". The upkeep of all the fences and hedges was and still is the work of yet other employees, all under the direction of the Estate manager.
According to the 1881 Census, there were a great many household servants, including a nurse, a cook, four housemaids, kitchen maid, scullery maid, two lady's maids, valet, footman, usher of the hall and two grooms, all of whom resided in the big house or above the stables. It is interesting to note that only two of these servants were of local origins, the others having come from places as far away as Worcestershire. This number of people working in the house remained very much the same until the onset of the Second World War in 1939.
The big house building was altered and added to over the years and finally rebuilt in the 1970s.
Many Public Houses started their life as merely part of a small general shop, or perhaps even a private house. They may have begun as the selling place for home-brewed beer and meeting place for the village menfolk after a hard day's work. Other pubs became more well-known as Coaching Inns, such as the Sun Hotel in Hitchin. It is unlikely that such Inns were in Breachwood Green as it is not situated on any main coaching roads or even drovers' routes.
Records of 1854 show that there were several entries of "Grocers and Beer Retailers". In Breachwood Green, Thomas Hewington and Samuel Peters, and at Darley Hall, Michael Macdonald, were listed. There were also Victuallers and Brewers listed, providing food as well as drink, these being the forerunners of our present-day pubs. Henry Timson was at the "King's Head", Abraham Isaacs at the "Red Lion", John Buck at the "Fox" in Frogmore and John Styles at the "Crown" in Ley Green.
By 1869 John Eldred had the "Queen's Head" which is now known as "Crossways" (Author's Note: Crossways has been renamed by the new owner in 2000 to Queen's Head House). Earlier records mention the existence of the "King's Head", which may have been the same place with its name changed in honour of the reigning Monarch. Records after the 1861 Census show that "Crossways" has had various uses changing from an ordinary licensed house to becoming a Trust House which eventually closed in 1935. During the 1939-1945 war it was used as a billet for soldiers and subsequently reverted to a private house, part of which for many years housed the doctor's surgery.
Old records show the existence of many small beerhouses or pubs which are no longer used. Frogmore was a large enough hamlet to require two named pubs during the nineteenth century. The residents of Frogmore were mostly employees of the Estate who worked either on the land or in the house and gardens. Their local beerhouses were the"Fox", which in 1832 was run by Samuel Wilmott and after him by John Buck who married Mary, the widow of Samuel Macdonald, licensee of the "Fox" at Darley Hall. Mary Buck later became the licensee at Frogmore with one of her sons, Thomas Macdonald, being her Manager. The other beerhouse was known as the "Jolly Sailor", whose publican was Sarah Wright who took over from her husband, James. Records do not show precisely which cottages were the location of these beerhouses.
There was another beerhouse known as the "Woodman" at Diamond End, run in the 1860s by William Pestel and later by Jonathan Hill, and which closed down about eighty years ago. This same house was the home of Wally Angel whose wonderful collection of old bicycles was housed in the large barns.
Ley Green had two recorded pubs. The "Crown" was one of the very old houses in the centre of the hamlet. By 1881 this was entered in the Census as being a Public House with John Carter as the Innkeeper. The other Public House was recorded as "Godletts Hall", but was also called the "Plough" and had John Squires as its publican at that time. The "Crown" eventually closed in 1960, leaving the "Plough" the only Public House still trading in the King's Walden area of the Parish.
In Breachwood Green itself during the 19th century there were several beerhouses which have since disappeared. Among those listed in various Census returns and Trade Directories were the "Help Through the World" run by Samuel Peters, who was also a baker, and the "Bricklayers Arms" run by Henry Timpson. Other outlets for the sale of beer were the homes of George Margrave, listed as a bootmaker and beer retailer, and Abraham Isaacs, entered as a baker and beer retailer. The first mention of the name "Red Lion" was in this entry showing Mr. Isaacs to be the said baker. There were bread ovens at the "Red Lion" which passed through many hands, including those of William Whitmore, the horse-dealer, in 1878, and on to Reginald Field in the 1930s when he moved from the "Sugar Loaf" after that finally shut down. The "Sugar Loaf" had previously been in the care of William Swain, the plait dealer. Both the "Red Lion" and the "Sugar Loaf" were at one time tied houses being supplied by the brewery at Medlow, which was run by Henry Pinks Arnold.
Today the "Red Lion", which had its pumps installed in 1933, is the sole survivor in Breachwood Green of the many little gathering places which were so much a part of village life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Breachwood Green School was built in 1859. Before that there had been the Plait Schools and Colemans Green School, which may have also been a plait school. The records of the Baptist Chapel show a Chapel was erected at Colemans Green in 1704, and by 1814 Mr. Daniel Parkins of Luton had opened a school for instruction of some 150 children from the surrounding area. Three beautifully worked samplers made at this school are still in existence. These were made by Susan Wilson, aged 7, Elizabeth Rudd, aged 7, and another by her in her ninth year.
In towns, schools were being set up in the early 19th century, but this trend did not reach the villages until later. Some schools were financed by the Government and known as Voluntary Controlled, and others by Church or Chapel and known as the Voluntary Aided Schools.
Earliest records of Breachwood Green School reveal that in 1864 when Mr. King was the headmaster, he "commenced his scholastic duties" with 25 children, with this number having risen to 52 by the end of the month. Mr. King remained in office for eight years and was followed by Mr. Shepherd, who stayed for five years until 1878. During this period the school was changed from being a National School under the Church of England to become a Board School in 1876, when education became compulsory up to the age of 13 unless an examination had been passed earlier.
In 1878 Mr. J. Rowland became the headmaster and during his term of office the school had over a hundred pupils. Mr. Rowland came from Yorkshire and the children always knew when it was the last day of term because he would appear in his best suit ready to go away for the holiday.
Mr. Octavius Sumner took over in 1892, and by then there were 122 children on roll. Mr. Sumner, well-remembered by Breachwood Green's older residents, stayed until 1922 when the post was taken over by Mr. Woolfall until 1926 or 1927. Next was Mr. Simpson, who, with his wife, stayed until Mr. Desborough, with his wife, took over in 1954 for the next 26 years.
The old school Log Books make very interesting and amusing reading. In the earliest records there are accounts of frequent visits by the Reverend Baker, and reports of the progress of the children in learning the Catechism and hymns. On one occasion a length of calico was sent by the Rev. Baker to be made into a shirt for a boy of 14; presumably this was the basis of a needlework lesson for the girls. Mrs. Hale, at that time resident at the Bury, was also prominent in these old records, and it was at her instigation that ivy was planted round the school to hide the bare bricks of the building. She also inspected the needlework, writing and general appearance of the children.
Mr. Hale, Lord of the Manor, was often at the school in his capacity as a Governor to see that the school was being conducted properly. Many of the entries in the Log Books are concerned with how many children were absent from school and the reasons for those absences. Often the excuses were concerned with the work on the farms according to the time of year. In summer months the boys would be helping with the haymaking ,pulling catlock, or bird-scaring from the cherry trees. Later in the year was the harvesting, gleaning, acorning and potato picking. Other reasons for absence were the inclement weather, such as very bad snowy conditions, usually in January, which meant the children from outlying hamlets and farmsteads were unable to walk the often quite long distances to school. Illnesses also were often mentioned as the cause of poor attendances. Whooping cough, measles and smallpox were regularly recorded, as well as more unusual things, such as worm fever, inflammation of the stomach, fits, bile and neuralgia. In February of 1872, thirty-two of the fifty-two children on roll were absent with mumps. Again, in 1879 there was an epidemic of mumps and blister pox. By 1886 it was a bad year for scarletina and diphtheria. Scarletina was often referred to as Rose Rash, having a fever and weakening effect. In 1890 Russian Influenza was prevalent. Poor attendances were also blamed on local events. In 1864 there was a Balloon Ascent in Luton which was a great attraction. There were also the Annual Chapel Sunday School Treats, and merrymaking on the green, which at that time was next to the Old Blacksmiths Workshop. This merrymaking in all probability was because of the visit of a travelling fair. One extraordinary excuse for the school being closed for the day on March 28th 1866 was Humiliation Day in remembrance of the Cattle Plague.
Other occasions which were marked with half-holidays were cricket matches in the park, the Agricultural Show in Hitchin and in 1878, when the Prince of Wales visited Luton.
The Log Book entries are somewhat sketchy with regard to the actual lessons given to the children, other than long lists of poems and songs to be learnt. Frequent comments were made criticising the poor handwriting or the improvement of it. One headmaster was particularly interested in the children's development in their field of drawing and they took National examinations to show the high standard of work attained. Of English and arithmetic, very little mention was ever made, but presumably they were required to reach a certain level of ability in order to pass the tests required before leaving the school especially if they wished to leave before the statutory age of thirteen.
The upkeep of the school building seemed to be of constant concern. The outside toilets were "smelling very foul, disinfectants should be freely used". Another entry stated that "a separate division was desirable between boys' and girls toilets".
The heating stove at times caused problems by filling the schoolroom with smoke. An entry in 1869 said "the stove is objectionable". Deliveries of coal were made from Luton to fuel the stove, and the chimney needed frequent sweeping, although on one occasion it was "swept again through a misunderstanding".
Apparently the schoolroom was used for village concerts and it was recorded that these occasions "did great harm to school desks and furniture, especially the maps which were used instead of blinds". Another entry reports that the school was to have its annual whitewash during the Easter holidays.
The School Board Meetings were originally held at Mr. Swain's at the Kings Head, until May 1st 1890 when they were held in the School House which had been completed in 1889.
Over the years of the 20th century, various additions have been made to the original school building, even though there are now fewer children at the school.
Shops as we know them today are very different from the very early days when goods were exchanged, perhaps by bartering, when one man's surplus provided another man's needs.
Gradually, specialist shops were established in the front rooms of the cottages. In the parish in the nineteenth century there were several bakers, grocers, shoemakers and tailors who had businesses of this type.
The grocers were more of a general store selling a wide range of goods which varied from candles to home-cured bacon, and included, besides the general grocery items, such things as ironmongery, drapery and clothing. Shopping was a much more leisurely affair as it took time for each item to be weighed out and wrapped.
In Breachwood Green during the nineteenth century there were several small shops which sold groceries. The shop at the Heath was at one time run by Samuel Raiment and later by Frank Hammett. In more recent times it was the property of the Robarts family of Whitwell, until it finally closed as a shop and became part of the adjoining SAAB garage.
The Post Office was first in the small general store next to the Red Lion. This little store, run by Mr. and Mrs. Batchelor for many years, sold every type of dry goods, stationery, medicines and haberdashery, as well as there being a petrol pump and supplies of paraffin and wood in the yard alongside. When this delightful shop finally closed, the Post Office moved along Heath Road to the Middle Shop and later to Robarts' shop at the Heath. Before the Batchelors were at the little shop, it had been in Mrs. Batchelor's parents' possession. They were the Pryors who had previously had the baker's shop in Oxford Road. The baker's ovens, besides doing the weekday bread and cakes, were quite often used to cook the Sunday joints which were taken there by the villagers on their way to Chapel or Church and collected on the way home again.
By the time of the 1881 Census, more people were registered as grocers and bakers than had been shown on the earlier records. This may have been due to either an increase in population or the fact that fewer people did their own bread baking. Also, a greater variety of goods was becoming available with the improved transport facilities brought about by the arrival of the railways at Luton and Hitchin.
Butchers shops as such did not exist, as many people could not afford fresh meat and most kept their own pigs and chickens. Opening times for the shops were from early morning until late at night for six days a week.
The little shops were not much more than the front room of the cottage in which the shopkeepers lived. There are several of these in the village which obviously had shop windows. Among these are the one time grocers shop at 10 Lower Road, the house at the comer of Chapel Road and Colemans Road, Oxford House in Oxford Road and the Middle Shop in Heath Road.
Fruit and vegetables were grown on allotments and gardens, no doubt any surplus being exchanged between neighbours. There were many more allotments than now; almost the whole of the southside of Oxford Road was used, as was the stretch of Chapel Road from Oxford Road to the "Queens Head" or Crossways.
Milk was available from any farm which had dairy cows. The children would be sent to fetch the milk in jugs or cans and thus earn perhaps a penny a week.
Another much-needed business was the boot and shoe maker, there being seven of these recorded in 1861. By 1881 though, there were only four, this again showing that factory-made goods were becoming available and it was easier to reach the nearby towns to go shopping.
Clothing was mostly home-produced or made by the increasing number of dressmakers. The increased wealth of the women in the straw plait trade enabled them to buy clothes made by specialists. In 1881 there were nine dressmakers and five plain needlewomen recorded on the Census.
Bonnet sewing was undertaken by two or three ladies and this occupation was, until very recent years, still done by several villagers working for the Luton hat trade, the boxes of work being delivered to their homes and later the finished articles being collected.
Other thriving businesses in the parish were the blacksmiths and wheelwrights. The blacksmiths were much in demand, not only for shoeing horses, but for making any ironwork needed by the farmers and cottagers, from plough shares, gates and fences, down to a humble door latch or hinge.
The wheelwrights also played an important part in maintaining the fabric of the village dealing with any type of work using the local supply of timber, which included the making of coffins. One field, which is now part of Colemans Farm, is named Sawpit Field, obviously from there having been a pit in that area from where the local timber was obtained and prepared for use.
For about twenty years in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Mill played a busy part in village life. This was worked by William Deller and his son, also William. The Mill continued to be worked to a lesser degree until earlier this century, since when it has, regrettably, been quietly disintegrating until just recently when restoration work has begun.
Records of the Parish date from 1557, but the earliest entries are virtually illegible. One of the first records of the Hale family, the residents and Lords of the Manor at Kings Walden Bury, was in 1659 when "Richard, son of William and Mary Hale was borne on the 4th day of November 1659 and baptised on the 9th of the same month".
In 1729, Sir Bernard Hale, Kn Baron of the Exchequer was buried on November 12th.
The unusual name of Paggen Hale was mentioned several times. He was a very worthy gent and member for the County in two Parliaments, buried on April 12th 1755. This same Paggen Hale had been "married by licence at Whitehall to Mrs. Elizabeth Morice on November 20th 1742, by me, Davies the Curate".
Many of the village families date back to the earliest records and reveal that there were many branches of each family with brothers and cousins in all the surrounding hamlets, and many of the families related by marriage.
The Parish Records also disclose interesting information about the Workhouse. In the early 1830's the Workhouse in Ley Green must have been closed down, as later entries show that burials at Kings Walden were of inmates of Hitchin Workhouse, which by 1848 was known as Hitchin Union. It is surprising that many entries of these impoverished Workhouse inmates show that they lived to a good age, several of them over 80 years old.
An entry in 1836 records the burial of "Phoebe Smith found dead in barn at Kings Walden aged about 83 years". Other sad records are of "A stranger" buried in 1705, and several unnamed infants. Quite a few baptisms in the 1800's were of illegitimate children, where the mother was openly recorded as "single woman".
The early census returns on population consisted mainly of summaries, but in 1841 the first detailed record was taken and from this we can gather a few facts about the Parish of Kings Walden, mainly about male or female and age. Some occupations are listed, mainly for men, as few women in those days had specified jobs. Subsequent censuses, every ten years, have provided more information.
From these records it is interesting to note how certain jobs became more important in some decades than in others and again how, as in the case of straw plaiting, they later died out. We can see the influence of the money created by this work in the appearance of dressmakers and more bakers, as those concerned in the plait work no longer did their own breadmaking or dressmaking, being able to afford the services of others.
The numbers of farmers remained very much the same over the fifty years of which we have records, but in the latter decade, that is the '80's, with the introduction of mechanisation the number of farm labourers decreased noticeably. Other factors, of course, helped to account for this, such as the increase of work in town factories with better-paid jobs, and the Government-induced situation in regard to the Corn Laws. Mechanisation of farming methods introduced other work in connection with the machinery, such as engineers and coal dealers to supply the steam engines.
Another type of work which shows a change in the numbers employed is that of the brick-making and brick-laying trades. The time of most production was from 1860 to about 1885 when numbers again fell. The evidence of the brick-making still remains in "The Spinney" garden and in Greathouse Wood, and also in many houses in the village built from the local bricks.
Several of the trades, such as carpenters, gardeners, gamekeepers and many domestic servants, male and female, were employed on the Kings Walden estate, the numbers of these increasing during the years between 1861 and 1881.
The number of shoemakers increased at the same time as the boom in strawplaiting, but this declined again as cheaper factory-made boots and shoes became more readily available.
Evidence that the mill was a working concern is shown by the presence of two or three millers from 1861 onwards. The village also from 1881 had its own constable, but regrettably since the 1960's there is no longer a residential police presence.
The number of children by 1861 had increased by about a hundred over the previous twenty years. It can be conjectured from this that the increase in wealth through the plait trade had created a better lifestyle and therefore fewer children were dying in infancy. Many families were of five to eight children, all crowded into the small cottages.
Summary of some information from census returns
PARISH OF KINGS WALDEN
Year 1841 1861 1881 1891 Number of: Houses 217 271 236 241 Men 322 349 352 327 Women 338 382 377 368 Children 377 397 467 403 Farmers 24 20 21 21 Farm Labourers 201 129 210 181 Shoemakers 9 12 6 6 Grocers/Bakers 5 14 12 12 Straw Plaiters 3 187 178 135 Dressmakers 4 16 18 20 Bricklayers 2 5 2 10
We are fortunate in the Parish of King's Walden to have both a church and a chapel rich in history.
St. Mary's Church dates back to Norman times when the Saxon Settlement was held by King William. It was during the Norman years, that is between 1060 AD and 1190 AD, that the Church was first built. Later, King Henry VIII gave the church and living to Sir Ralph Sadleir of Malton Priory in Yorkshire. Then, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the settlement was sold to Richard Hale, a grocer, of London. He thus became owner of the manor, better known as the Bury, and all the surrounding land. The Hale family remained in ownership until 1891 when the Estate was bought by Mr. Thomas Fenwick Harrison, the great-grandfather of the present owner, Sir Thomas Pilkington.
The original church building probably consisted of only the nave and chancel, evidence of which is in the beautiful carved capitals of a leaf design on the circular pillars which support the nave arches. Later additions were the aisles in the 12th Century, at which time it is believed the level of the floor was dropped by about three feet, as shown by the base of the Norman pillars. The West Tower was added in the 14th Century. During the 15th Century the aisles were changed to make them higher and the clerestory windows were added to give more light in the church.
Other interesting features of the early church building are the 13th Century door leading to steps up to a gallery for the use of the Lord of the Manor and his family. The organ pipes are now situated where the gallery originally stood. There is also a rather rare double basin, or Piscina, in an alcove near the altar. The double Piscina probably dates the church chancel. Lawrence E. Jones writes in his book "The Beauty of English Churches" 'This type can broadly be assigned to the reign of Edward I (1272-1307). There were then separate drains for the lavabo (washing of the priest's fingers before the Consecration) and the ablutions or rinsing of the chalice.
Before that period one drain was used for both and since that date the ablutions have always been consumed by the priest. There is also a single piscina near the font.
The stone doorway of the church is enclosed by the addition of the Victorian porch and has a nineteenth century plank door. The vestry was a 17th Century brick-built mortuary chapel added on to the main building for the use of the Hale family, who were by then Lords of the Manor.
The wooden rood screen, of 15th Century origin, has an interesting history. During the times of the Reformation it was removed from the church and, to keep it safe, was hidden, buried in fields nearby. Later, in more peaceful times, it was rescued and replaced and then in the 19th Century was painted in its bright colours. The West Tower, reached through the large arch at the end of the nave, houses six bells, three of which are dated 1627, one 1629 and the others not marked. The stair turret, which is higher than the parapet, was used as a site for a beacon to signal messages to neighbouring areas. The village of Lilley is visible from the top of the tower.
Near the Victorian font are two memorial window: One dated 1867 was designed by the famous artist William Morris and depicts three archangels. The other is a modern memorial in memory of the late Colonel and Mrs. Harrison, grandparents of the present Lord of the Manor.
The origins of the Chapel were in the development of the Nonconformity Movement. In this neighbourhood it began around 1614, centred on a mansion occupied by Mr. Thomas Younge, one of 8 rich and able men who lived in the area. This mansion was possibly on or near the site where Browning's Farm once stood and was believed to be the venue for meetings of the local Nonconformists. By 1633 this movement was becoming more apparent and we read of "William Godfrey of King's Walden presented before his betters for going with his horses all forenoon on the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary". Others were recorded as recusants for not receiving Holy Communion on their knees. John Bunyan, 1628-1688, may have stopped in Mr. Younge's mansion, as it is recorded that he was once attacked at nearby Mob's Hole, although his main meeting places at that time were in Bendish and Preston.
By 1692, this mansion house had become the first licensed house for Nonconformist worship and Mr. Thomas Younge and his son, David, accommodated worshippers for 12 years until the first chapel was erected nearby at Coleman's Green in 1704. Worship continued here for many years, and the school for 150 children was opened in 1814 by Mr. Daniel Parkins.
In 1825 the Reverend William Early took over and the first church was formed by Rev. Early, Mr.& Mrs. Thomas Wren of Hitchin, Mr. Daniel Wren of Luton and Mrs. Sarah Harvey of Whitwell. In 1830 the old chapel was full of people when the supports to the gallery gave way, fortunately without anyone being killed in the accident. The building was condemned and in 1831 the first chapel on its present site was built. In 1841 Rev. Daniel Parkins returned to take over as Minister. Other Ministers were Rev. Penn who, in 1862, was presented with a New Year Gift of a velvet purse containing two gold sovereigns, and Rev. G. D. Shipley who came from Durham. During the 1880's when the Rev. Shipley was Minister, about 120 people were baptised by total immersion. It is also interesting to note that Sunday School treats for 200 or more were often held and it was not an uncommon sight to see the escorts tying the girls' feet together with a hanky lest when they started swinging with the motion of the brakes their ankles might be exposed!
Worship continued in this chapel from 1831 to September 1904 when the last service was held in the old building. More than £900 had been raised and the present building, with its beautiful woodwork was duly erected. The chapel houses John Bunyan's pulpit and also a Breeches Bible. In 1870, Breachwood Green was visited by a group of Mormon missionaries from America. Several men and a few women were impressed by their preaching and returned with them to Salt Lake City. One of the graves in the churchyard is of a Mormon elder, Edward Street, who died in 1878, aged 26 years.
It is very apparent that religion played an important part in the life of the village when the attendance records at church and chapel in 1851 read as follows:
|Congregation||Baptist Church||Kings Walden Church|
As well as the Church and the Baptist Chapel, there was a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, opened around 1884 in Darley Hall. This was a galvanised iron building, painted green, which had stabling underneath it for use by the members. Heated by a black stove and lit by oil lamps(until electric lighting was installed in 1938), it had a wooden floor covered with rugs, and forms for seating. In 1933, it came under the auspices of the Luton Circuit and teachers would walk out from Waller Street, Luton, as would the Ministers and local preachers. Music was supplied by a harmonium, played for many years by Florrie Folds, and often people from the adjoining pub would join in the hymn singing and contribute to the collection. Sunday School treats were held in Breadcote Meadow of Tompkins Farm where they had races and rides on Jesse Goodges' donkey, as well as tea. The big treat was on four horse brakes to Bricket Wood, the journey home being broken with a stop at the Silver Cup in Harpenden for a pint'.
The building was in use until 1951, when it was demolished and the land is now used as the car park for The Fox public house.