Betty Kennedy from Some Shelford Lives
Betty was born in the 1920s and lived, first with her parents, and then husband Robert, for many years. In later life she moved to Great Shelford and now lives in Cambridge Rd. She describes an idyllic childhood, and a moving wartime experience.
As you go over the bridge our house was the one back from the road on the left-hand side, with great decorative chimneys and clock tower. (Betty lived on the Wale Estate.) There were five children -Margaret, Jean, Douglas, myself, and my younger sister Mary. Daddy was chauffeur/head-gardener to Mrs Eaden (a descendant of the Wale family). She lived in the Hall. One night my father called us all into their bedroom because the Hall was on fire. Our house being so close, the firemen had to keep turning the hosepipes on to the corner of our house. For me, a vivid first memory! After the Hall burned down, they didn’t rebuild it, but they did build an extension on the lodge, right on the corner.
The estate took in all the fields at the back and down to the river (after the war it was given to the village). We used to go swimming there. Going up river, the Great Shelford river went through the Mill (Pearce’s, that is), to turn the mill wheels. When the sluice gates were opened, the rush of water caused a large deep pool, where we had changing huts and a diving board.
There were several gardeners on the estate. The house also had stables underneath and a huge hay loft above, next to our bedrooms. There were usually about six horses, owned by the Pares Wilsons from the Manor House on the opposite side of the road, who rented the stables. They did a lot of fox hunting. One time the fox ran into our kitchen door, so Mary and I shut the door and let him out of the front door,the opposite side of the house, where the fox escaped before the hounds found his scent.
We were always getting into trouble. That was nothing unusual! But it was all innocent. Never any damage done. You could go off for a week without shutting your back door. You never locked anywhere up.
Another thing that was wonderful in the village, as far as I'm concerned, was that you'd always got someone there to help. It was like one big family. If someone was in trouble, you could guarantee there was always someone around to help in some way. They always kept an eye on everyone else. It was such a friendly place.
When we were at school, we would go swimming once a week on the Great Shelford rec. We had changing huts down there. So we used to change into our swimsuits. The swimsuits that we wore had to be knitted by ourselves, in a knitting class. I couldn't knit, so I got my knuckles whacked every time because I didn't hold the needles correctly. So I've knitted since. The swimsuits were made with wool. They had a sort of bodice part, and the base, with a crossover at the back. As soon as you went in the river, the straps stretched and the neck part dropped down to your navel somewhere! It was very heavy. They were terrible things.
Another thing we used to love. the farm next to the school was Rodwell's (now Rectory Farm). We had to take a big jug, a metal can sort of thing, on the way to school, and leave it down at the dairy. then we used to go and pick it up on the way home with six pints of skimmed milk. Ever so cheap. So we'd get the milk, and take that home. Sometimes we fell over and dropped the whole lot and we'd go back to the farm. Billy Bye was in charge of doing all the milk. "Come on," he'd say and he'd give us another can, so mum and dad never found out about it.
Then another thing we used to do once a year. All the kids used to go round when they were harvesting. We got paid for hitting the mice as they come out. Killing the mice. So you'd stand there, and we'd all got our big sticks. "I've got one.I've got another one." You'd just go bang. You got paid for them.That was another fun day. Well, for us it was fun, but the poor little mice...but that was the done thing.
The farmer in the village (in Little Shelford) had one of those old snow ploughs. It was like two great big railway sleepers and that trailed behind the tractor. He used to go round the village to take the snow off. But it only skimmed the top layer and then it froze solid. You'd get a sledge...we used to go up and down the Whittlesford Road - we called it the Back Road then - and my brother used to ride the bike, and he used to tow us on the sledge behind him. It was great fun.
We all had stilts. Daddy made us stilts as soon as we could walk. Everyone always had stilts. My brother had his blocks ever so high up,and he used to chase the kids to school in them, which we loved. I'd squeal and squeal and squeal because he was chasing me, right up to the school, round the playground. But we could alls tilt walk. Its good fun.
My husband Robert was stationed in Davey Crescent. He came before Dunkirk. He was in the Eighth Army, a Desert Rat. He lied about his age to get in the Terriers., because his friend joined the Terriers and he wanted to. They were all going abroad. Hi mother, much to his disgust, sent in his birth certificate. He wasn't old enough to go. He was fuming! So his mate went abroad without him. He was my brother's friend, not mine, when we first met. My brother was home for leave from the Air Force and he met Robert the first night he was home. They went out and said farewell every night. So that was 21 days of farewell parties, much to my father's annoyance.
I was working on the telephone exchange at number 30, High Street. One night we had calls coming through one after the other. I suddent y realised they'd come from Dunkirk and they'd arrived in the village here.. Of course, everyone of them wanted to phone home and tell their mum, and of course they had got no money. So I ended up putting everyone through and not charging them. I don't know what the Post Office would have done if they'd known, but there we are.. I think i cried the whole evening. It was heartbreaking, but it was lovely. I had to see the telephone call complete, make sure the other end had answered before I pulled my plug out and left them to get on with it. And many a one answered the other end and they said, " Mum, hello, mum, I'm home." And then you'd hear "oh", a scream and then a bang. Mother had passed out and dad took over.
My dad had a smallholding by the level crossing in Little Shelford. It was, you might say, a hobby. We did flowers mainly. then when they had the house built up there, we had a large glasshouse, which was all tomatoes and lettuces. Sean Smith took all the lettuce . (He ran the VG stores in Woollards Lane, Great Shelford.) He probably came up twice a day to take the lettuce back with him. He come out one morning, took the lettuce down. Then he rung up at 12 o'clock and had said he's sold out, and had we got any more. He was going to call after dinner, but the geese got out. They went right down the whole row and there wasn't a blooming lettuce left. They'd eaten the whole lot so Sean didn't get any.
Another village character was Ganger Oakman. Ganger used to go around and do beet cutting and things like that for local farmers. He was Called Ganger because he arranged gangs for the beet crop or anything else that needed a gang. they'd pull the beetroot up and chop the top off. He used to come and do ours for us. You'd say to him, "How much Ganger?".
"Oh well, so much for an hour. Or I'll do the lot for so and so." You could guarantee that the hours he said it would take him and charge you for,and the price for doing the job, was exactly the same. He was a character.
Courtesy of the Great Shelford Oral History Group
Heather Coppock - Some Shelford Lives
We moved to Little Shelford early in 1953 when my son was a few months old. My husband converted the old cottages beside Little Shelford village hall, eventually to name them The Long House because they were about 60 feet long. Opening the bedroom windows facing the hall and looking left (across where the Gall family ropewalk ran) it was possible to see the railway line - Grandad’s railway line. When Grandad’s train was due we’d wait for his whistle as the engine came down the line – once we waited, pillow-slip in hand, ready to wave, for almost 45 minutes.
Sometimes, if I knew Grandad was due, I would, with son in pushchair, race to the Hauxton Road crossing gates; at other times I’d go in the opposite direction to Great Shelford station, but it was always exciting seeing Grandad and his train (sometimes pulling goods wagons) go past.
By 1955 and because proper sanitation had not arrived yet in Little Shelford, and my daughter was shortly due, we moved to Station Road (opposite the then Shelford Corn & Coal Company). For the first few weeks we found that the noise of the express trains racing down the line from London took some getting used to - as though they would come into the bedroom - but eventually we got used to them. When Grandad came and made up our coal fire we used to joke that he was ‘stoking his engine to go up Chesterford Bank’!
We lived at Station Road until December 1960, moving to Queen Edith’s Way, Cambridge, two days after Christmas. We hadn’t wanted to leave the Shelfords; I’d made a lot of friends and particularly enjoyed working in my front garden when people returning from work on the trains would sometimes stop and talk. One day there was great excitement when the Queen Mother, the Queen and members of the Royal Family drove over the crossing gates and waved at us on one of their journeys. One of the things I still miss today were the whist drives at Great and Little Shelford, particularly the Christmas ones; in the early days at these drives even the small rooms at the rear of the Memorial Hall and up on the stage at Little Shelford village hall were packed with people – the prizes laid out a joy to behold – turkeys, chickens, pheasants, rabbits, etc. Yet in the end, sadly, because of insufficient support, it all came to an end.
Today, all these years later, we still love the Shelfords, the recreation ground and river where we walk, we use the shops, library, etc, regularly, and the beautiful trees are nearly all still there for us to see as they were.
Excerpt courtesy of the Great Shelford Oral History Group
Colin Norman's memories from Some Shelford Lives.
Colin was born in Little Shelford, but came to live in Great Shelford and attended the school there. Many of the moves were caused by his grandfather losing his agricultural labouring job and having to move out of tied cottages. In retirement Colin worked for an OU degree, and later a higher degree at Anglia Ruskin University……in family history!
I was born in Little Shelford in a cottage next to the village hall. It was two cottages then. Two tiny rooms up and a tiny room and a kitchen-come-staircase downstairs.
My grandparents lived there. Grandad Alf was a farm labourer at Manor Farm, Little Shelford. I think at the time they had at home five of their eight children - four or five certainly.
Grandfather lost his job as a cowman at the Rectory Farm, and with it of course the tied cottage he lived in, because the farmer wanted the job and the cottage for another man, who just happened to be George Easy, who was about to marry my Aunt Tilly. Her brother Luke had emigrated to Australia. When I asked ‘Why did Luke go to Australia?’ she said ‘Why, boy, for betterment.’ George and Tilly moved into the cottage that we were kicked out of.
Alf and Flo with their two remaining unmarried children, George and Rowie, my mother and I, all came to live in Great Shelford along the High Street - number sixty High Street it's called now. I can remember sitting on the doorstep with grandad Alf and he put his head in his hands and he was crying. ‘I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know what I'm going to do.’ I had the pleasure of sitting on that doorstep again ten years ago and wandering around in the cottage and photographing the interior.
In 1935 Grandad got a job as a cowman with Farmer Howard at Hauxton Mill. We lived in a bungalow where we had electricity installed. I can remember that being installed, the shiny varnished switches. And floods down there that came right up the road, but not into our bungalow because that was set about two feet above the road. Alf lost the job there too because the farmer told him ‘I want a younger cowman, Alf’.
We moved then in 1936 to an old detached house in Hauxton, still standing, now renovated. There was no lighting, but we had the oil lamp, which I've still got. I remember grandfather, who used to sit and read the family bible on a Sunday evening: He'd read a chapter and then he'd sit down with me and we'd play draughts and snap.
In January 1940 we moved to a cottage in High Street, Little Shelford, called Botwell's Row, still standing. Two up, two down. I remember we had twin evacuees billeted with us, Jimmy and Johnny. They were younger than me. I went to Great Shelford school which was of course a bit daunting after Hauxton, which had just 15 pupils, aged 5 - 14. The headmistress who came in the early'40s was a Miss C.A. Hayes. She was a bit of a dragon. I can remember in one lesson we were given three words and we had to put them together in one sentence. I was eight years old. "Where, there and were. the sentence I wrote, I clearly recall it, was " We went for a walk on Sunday afternoon and came to a place where there was a puyb." Miss Hayes was outraged that anyone could come from a home that would encourage him to write in that way. I don't know what I thought at the time: A bit disappointed? I kept it to myself.
January 1943, i think it was, I sat the scholarship to get to the County High, now Hills Road Sixth Form College. the results came out and were announced in the school hall by Miss Hayes and I remember there was a great deal of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth because only girl and five boys passed. So that caused a bit of controversy. I've still got the forms Mum had to sin and were countersigned by Miss Hayes.
Of course they were all fee paying places in '43 but my mother was able to afford the four pounds a term fee for the first year because she was in her war work. It was well paid relative to what she had been accustomed to at Chivers' factory in Histon. We had to attend for an interview, conducted by C. Kingsley Dove, the deputy headmaster of the time, who lived in Stapleford.
I didn't really know what I was doing at the County High.Perhaps I shouldn't have gone? I wasn't bright enough? All my mates had gonbe to Sawston Village College and they seemed to treat me as posh. I don't see why they should. I'd been taunted long enough for my background: Bastard, to put it mildly,and that they threw at me when they felt like it.
In 1974 Sawston Village College became comprehensive for all abilities. My three sons went to Sawston and then two to Hills Road and one to the Tech and then all on to Higher education at University for degrees, and that is the opportunity which we'd given them, without the hurdle of discrimination and the selection of the eleven plus.
I think things generally, socially and economically, are so much better now than they were, despite all this crap from people who say "Oh well, life's not what it used to be." I'm glad its not. I never dreamt of living in a house like this. I haven't had to fetch the water for a long time.
That's the bottom line in life for me - if you can maintain a positive progressive attitude for betterment, you find it - it is not just a dream.
Excerpt from Some Shelford Lives courtesy of the Great Shelford Oral History Group.
Other sections on the Little Shelford history website