Memories of Houghton Regis

Below you will find transcribed interviews with Beryl Morton, Pam Cameron and Pat Lovering, discussing their memories of Houghton Regis and the Park.

Snow

"It was a village. But a busy village. It had a multitude of little shops. You could buy anything in Houghton Regis when I arrived there."

Pat Lovering
Houghton Regis

Gymkhana

Beryl Morton Open

Date of Birth: 05/10/24

Place of Birth: The Nurseries, Bishopscote Road, Luton

 

Transcribed by Stephen Flinn (May, 2014)

 

0:00:20

What is your name?

Beryl Gwendoline Morton.

05.10.24.

And where were you born?

At The Nurseries, in Bishopscote Road, Luton.

What family did you have in those days?

A brother, a sister, a mother and father.

And where did you go to school?

I went to school in the primary school just round the corner. I moved on, when I was seven, to Norton Road, Luton. And then I moved on, just a little later on, to the senior school at Denbigh Road school, Luton and finished my education in the Technical College at Park Square.

Which is now the university.

Yes, that’s right.

What jobs did you have?

Ah! Now that’s awkward.

We can abbreviate that if you want.

I had a secretary’s job in Dunstable, at (unclear) Hanson’s... for ten years. I went on then to work twenty years for... he wasn’t a chartered surveyor... he was a quantity surveyor, which was different.

You’ve worked in Luton at that time with the, sort of, cinemas?

Oh, yes. I did. I’d forgotten that. That was so long ago. My father didn’t like it. However... yes, I did work at one... two... three of Luton’s cinemas. And enjoyed every minute of it actually.

It was in the sound era, was it? It wasn’t silent, was it?

No, it wasn’t.  Do you mind? (Laughter).  Excuse me, I’ll see you later! (Laughter). Oh, dear me. (Unclear).

You’ve had a fair sort of experience?

I must say I worked for a translation firm in Houghton Regis and I was there for five years and my subject was German. And I worked on water. You would be surprised what a lot of investigation there is to do with water. A tremendous amount. I left there because, I’m afraid, the lady concerned and in charge fiddled my insurance and I had to go to the Ministry of Labour and I came out alright. But she sacked me then. I was a good employee but I got the sack because she didn’t like being taken to task. That was a shame but that was good.

What about your arrival in Houghton Regis?

Ah. 1959. Now I knew Houghton Regis a lot before then because my parental grandmother lived up the high street and my mother (who was her daughter, of course) had... her mother had thirteen children and one of them... of whom... organised the Bobbers Stand in the football club... Luton Football Club. And she had one sister. One sister and eleven brothers. They made a football team. That was good. They worked in various places, the hat factories and things like that.

What sort of year was that? Was that in the 1900’s? Have you any idea?

When I came here with my mother?

To Houghton Regis...

When I visited?

Yes.

Oh, I was about six I suppose. Mother used to walk over from the Nurseries at Luton with me sitting on the canopy and my sister sitting in the pram. Yes.

0:04:59

Ok. Let’s go to what was the house now. I mean, you’ve got a lovely property here. Can you remember when you moved in here?

I can. My father-in-law stood in the middle of the room and he said, “Whatever have you bought this for?”

Really?

Really, really. They’d no idea that it could look so nice. Obviously, it was empty and in a... in a good state... a very good state of repair but without its furniture and tiled floors and floors... you, know... the old style. It didn’t look so good.

Can you remember the year?

1959.

What did you have... let’s focus on the Hall... Houghton Hall and the park. Did you have any contact with the people at the House or the Hall at all? Did you see them?

No, I didn’t... we didn’t. They used to ride to the Hunt every Sunday and that was a fine sight but when the owner left there he put the horses into the Top Farm. Do you remember the Top Farm?

I don’t.

Oh, no. The left-hand side. On the corner of Houghton Road, where that... where that small engineering works... several works are... on the left-hand side. That is... the Top Farm occupied all of that. Yes.

So you were saying, a minute or two ago, that the... it was a sight to see them ride. Are we talking about horse and carts or...?

No. We’re talking about horses.

Just horses on their own?

Yes, horses on their own.

You used to see the family, did you? Well, him...

Well, yes. They’d ride to the Hounds but it was... Colonel Part was his name... and he used to ride to the Hounds and as many people as possible could get on to The Green to see them go off, of course. Yes, it was a grand sight, it really was.

So that was one of your memories of the Part’s?

Yes.

And I mean... did you go to the park as a child?

No, no. We just walked with our mother from Luton... Leagrave... to here and back.

Do you remember anything about the park in your walk?

No. No, I don’t. I don’t remember much about it until I came to live here. Then I made it my business to find out about the park. And I did.

And what did you find out about the park?

Well, I found out that about that time there was a gardener, Mr Lewis and his wife, Mrs Lewis. And they loved gardening. They did it for a living. They occupied one of the houses down there, which was... I don’t know whether they were sold or let... those four houses... but they occupied one of those.

Is that in the mews bit or on the side of The Green? Which houses were they?

Oh, the ones... down. They were the storage for the apples and things. They were just storage houses.

Are we talking about the side of the village green?

No, we’re talking about...

The side of the house?

When you get down there... you know, you’ve got the office... office bungalow?

Yes.

Well, those on the left-hand side going down... which used to be, of course, in the garden. In the vegetable garden. That was the vegetable garden there.

Do you remember the vegetable garden?

Very well. I used to go and buy a lot of vegetables there at one time.

Tell me something about the garden. That interests us.

0:09:52

It was a walled garden, all the way round. It was a mixture of flowers and vegetables, mainly vegetables but very tastefully done with small hedges and, on the left-hand side were the vegetables and on the right-hand side were the flowers. Now what else can I tell you? Mr Lewis did all sorts of vegetables. You could buy anything there... fresh... and you just went down and asked him for what you wanted and you got it, you know. He liked you to walk around the garden. He liked you to ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at what there was and there was plenty to see.

He was obviously very proud of his garden?

Oh, yes, yes.

Was it he alone that actually...

No, his wife as well.

They both...

Yes. The both of them... day and night. Yes, yes.

I believe there were very big asparagus beds there

Yes, there were. There were.

It must have been lovely.

Yes, it was. It was gorgeous and their fruit and vegetables were lovely as well. I mean, the apple trees come along yearly. You know, from my trees... you can rely upon them but with vegetables you have to grow them. You’ve really got to grow them.

Work at it.

Yes, you have. You have. You’ve got to be hoeing and disbudding and everything, night and day.

It’s a full-time occupation, isn’t it?

Yes, that’s right. Well, my father worked in it before he went to New Zealand. I knew that...

He worked in the gardens?

Oh, yes.

Not here, where...

No, in his own nursery.

Were the greenhouses there? Were there any greenhouses?

Yes, there were. Where were they?

They were outside the walled garden, were they?

That I can’t be sure of because...

It’s a long time ago

Well, yes. There is that and the very fact, of course, that the garden did really become accessible to the public. I mean, it was open for the public for all sorts of reasons. We had shows there. We had woodworking exhibitions. Do you remember that one?

No, I don’t personally.

Cane people used to come down there and have stalls and so on. And we used to be in attendance usually because, as the Horticultural Society, we were responsible for them, you see.

Was it the horticultural shows that you had there?

No. No, it wasn’t the shows. It was displays of pot plants and all sorts of things that we... we got them up to raise money. For instance, for one, I can remember clearly and I came across it the other day... a resumé of my character. Somebody that told the character of people by looking at them and he wrote it out and sent it.

Were the shows on the Green or were they in the garden?

No. They were in the garden, outside the house. You know where those pots are?

So it was on the formal garden rather than the vegetable garden?

Yes, and we were allowed in the formal garden for all sorts of things.

What can you remember about the formal garden? Can you remember anything about the formal garden?

It was very plain. Yes, it was very plain. I mean, they had walls standing proud and they would have ordinary things like geraniums and pansies and things like that in but, generally speaking, it was a plain garden. More mowing and seeing to from that point of view than... I suppose really, he didn’t have the staff I feel but... he didn’t have a lot of gardeners. I mean, Mr Lewis would spill over into the main garden to keep that tidy.

0:15:01

He must have had real passion?

Mr Lewis?. Yes, I think he did.

To be so dedicated.

I think he did.

The flowers in the walled garden... the flower side... what was grown and where were they used?

I don’t think they were grown on the site. I don’t think so but I don’t really know. Mr and Mrs Lewis didn’t impress me as a flower grower particularly. They’d grow big bushes of lavender and clip them every year and do that sort of thing to shrubs, you know? But not flowers like I grow in the greenhouse, you know, for the garden really.

Do you remember anything about the park itself... at the back of the formal gardens? On the fields, were there any animals or anything like that?

I don’t remember animals. Of course, there were lots of fields at the back of the house but I didn’t know whether they were let out for anything, you know. I don’t seem to think so but then I don’t know. I mean to say, we used them with the goodwill of Colonel Part. He liked anything that involved the community itself. He liked to walk up the town, you know. We’ve had... should I say it? We’ve had mayors that wouldn’t walk up the town. They’re too good you see. That’s as much as I’m going to say really otherwise I might get myself into trouble. (Laughter).

Obviously, through the years, you’ve seen, especially around the green, a lot of changes. A lot of changes, old buildings going and being replaced...

Well, I’m never free from saying about the old buildings going because I’m really troubled about that. How really nice Victorian villas could be pulled down like they were. How the old farmhouse could be pulled down, on the roadway, and what about the big shed?

It’s all gone.

Like we go... we’ve been going to dances all our lives to St Albans... to dance... and that was wonderful, you know. And if St Albans could move it and replace it up the High Street...

Why couldn’t we?

So could we have done. But I’m not the only one that’s asked after that. It will go down as something...

No. A lot of people feel exactly the same as yourself.

It’s terrible, it’s terrible.

What do you know about the Hunt?

Not a lot really. I don’t know a lot. I don’t think any of my mother’s family, although they were mostly men... I don’t think they could afford to use it. They were mostly men like... our first... our first chairman, Lord... lived down at Leighton Buzzard...

Don’t worry if you can’t...

The comedian... the comedian bought it. Dear me!

Perhaps that might come back to you.

Well, perhaps it will. Yes.

I mean, you saw them... you saw the Hunt, did you?

Yes, I did.

You saw the Hunt, did you?

Yes, I did.

Where did they gather? Where were they gathering?

Well, they went towards Dunstable Downs but I can’t... aren’t there any pictures in the library? Hasn’t Mrs...

Pat Lovering...

Pat Lovering got some...

0:19:57

Where did they meet? Did they meet in front of the house?

Yes.

And then go off from there?

Yes. Had their little drink, you know, like they do.

Yes.

You know, like they do... don’t you? And then went up the hill. Up the Houghton road.

Were there any kennels around? Were there any kennels in the park?

Well, there must have been because they put the dogs away there. They brought the dogs back there, you know, until they left the Hall and they put them in the Top Farm (which you don’t remember) but which used to be on the corner, you see. Opposite that pub that’s on the other corner. You know that building... that cream building?

Yes, The Chequers?

That used to be a pub. Was that what it was called?

No.

What was it called? Do you know?

Where was it?

Number One. Up on the pub... up on the other side of the road from the Top Farm... where the Top Farm was.

We’d have to look that up I think. We’d have to look that one up. Ok. Do you remember anything about the Ice House? Probably didn’t know anything that existed there, did you? That was...

I didn’t.

No. That was sort of in the park. There was one... there was a well in the park. Also there was an ice house in the Hall grounds itself.

Was there?

Yes, but you wouldn’t particularly know that.

No, I didn’t.

No, because you didn’t actually venture into the house or anything, did you?

Well, yes, I did.

Oh, you did?

I did, yes. I did. I had to see in that house.

Tell me about that. Your visit there.

Well, it was Mr Lewis who said I seemed to be interested in the district and would I like to see in the house and yes I did. And it was a large series of rooms, as you can remember, I’m sure. And it was very high ceilinged. I don’t remember going upstairs. I only saw downstairs. I suppose I was thinking I would see it again. I never saw... I never thought it to be let like it was because I don’t think... I know the people that are in there. They lived at Leagrave Road. They were at... they took over Skefco Ball Bearing Company in Leagrave Road.

Chamberlain’s?

Yes, that’s right. Mr Chamberlain. I know him well. And... well I used to know him well. I worked at Peter Hill’s, you see.

When you walked into the house what was your feeling? You said sort of high ceilings... were you impressed by what you saw?

Not really, no. Because... I loved the high windows and that sort of thing but I thought, at that time... perhaps I shouldn’t say this... I thought it needed interior decorating and I would think, perhaps, Chamberlain’s did it. I should... I haven’t been in there since Chamberlain’s taken over, which is some years now. Well, how many years?

I don’t know.

It must be... no, must be eight/ten... something... but I... when I went in it certainly was in need of decoration.

Were  there tapestries? Any tapestries or paintings?

I didn’t notice them particularly. No, but then I wasn’t looking for them really. I was looking for the general perspect of the room.

What about the gardens around the house?

Oh, very well kept. Very well kept. Yes, yes. The geranium pots full, you know. Bursting with red and really nice. Really nice and the lawns cut nicely. Yes, that was always done. I don’t know who did it but... yes.

Ok. You talked a little bit earlier about the displays and everything in the walled garden. Do you remember any other sort of events that took place in the park or on the village green?

Well, we had a few... before they started the carnival, they had Open Days for the people in the village and people used to go there and... in their best bonnets and things. I suppose they always have done.

0:25:19

What a sight it must have been.

Yes, exactly. Exactly.

So, they went into the house or...

I don’t know that.

No, you just saw them...

No. I know they went into the gate, you know. They obviously paid a fund or something, although... I expect you don’t get into these places for nothing although... in those days... in the 1950... early 50’s... you know, mid-1950’s... they might not have had to pay. I think that depends largely upon the owner really.

Do you remember anything about the ponds around the Hall? That... the area around the village green. Do you remember any ponds?

No.

Any water?

Not up this end of the village. It was all down this end.

Right. Do you remember... you know where the pavilion is today?

Yes.

Do you remember the river that was running by the side of the pavilion?

Yes.

It’s a tributary to the River Lea.

Yes, it does come... it comes down here, opposite...

Does it?

Yes.

Oh, yes. It’s a little thing...

It flows down here and goes across the road just down there.

Was it well kept in those days? Can you remember anything?

Yes. Well kept by a gentleman named Lol.

Really?

Yes. L-o-l. He used to work his backside off really. Up and down this road and, you know... I mean, there were much steeper banks then and he used to work really hard. Yes, he did. He never... I don’t think he even stopped for a cigarette.

Really?

I don’t think so.

And what did he used to do? He used to clear...

Well, yes. He used to clear the river up here.

To make sure it flowed?

Of all the... yes. Of all the rubbish and everything. I don’t know where it went because, eventually, it went into blue bags but it didn’t at first, when we first came here. He was a nice old chap. Not all together there but...

He must have put it all in one of those wooden wheelbarrows... in those days.

I expect he did.

Tell us about the use of the park during the war years. Do you remember anything about that?

I don’t.

You don’t?

I don’t. I mean, I didn’t come here until after the war. I knew that all the ladies in the village went to Luton to... or to... what factory was there handy here? On munitions.  Kent’s were on munitions, you see. My mother was on munitions. She used to walk to Luton and back... at night.

How did she walk there? What...

On her feet! (Laughter)

It was a silly question. And a proper, silly answer. From here into Luton... was it down the main road?

Yes, up this road. It was only a track. You’ve probably seen pictures of it in the picture book, if you’ve got one. But it was just a track. You know, along which horses and carts came and which young girls could very easily and... not come to any harm... get a lift on a cart. You know, you didn’t have awful things happening like you do today.

So there were lots of carts and horses?

Yes.

No buses but carts and horses?

No buses. There were buses when I came here, of course. There was the number 6 running past. Now I haven’t heard anything for years and I have to walk all the way up there or all up there.

It’s strange how people remember the bus numbers. The bus numbers always stand out.

Well, that was number 6.

The number 6.

And it never once had an accident. Never once.

There’s a good history there. A good history.

Yes, yes. And all there was was a little corner of grass just down here, where The Chequers have got their board now... no business to be there. They don’t own that but they’ve got their board there... but there was a triangle of grass and then... one came down there. Just once...

0:30:23

We’ve covered a lot of ground there... that you want to add...

Anything you want to add or talk about while we’re here?

No, not really.

We’re going to be, kind of, covering the town and the village at a later date but really... this interview... the focus of this is on the Hall and the Park.

I understand that. I would like you to cover some part of the Houghton Regis Horticultural Society.

Yes, oh definitely.

Because it is going... well, it’s a lifetime’s work really, which makes me rather sad about... I am working on maintaining its... perhaps, our trophies in the library or something like that, which I would like known. But I have other bad news at the moment which is that Sidney, our chairman, is in hospital.

0:31:28

End of Interview

Pam Cameron Open

Date of Birth: 05/06/1927

Place of Birth: 31 High Street, Houghton Regis

 

Date of interview: 18/03/2014

Interviewed by Tracy McMahon

Transcribed by Stephen Flinn (May, 2014)

 

0:00:00

Would you like to state for the record...

My name is Pamela Cameron.

When were you born?

05.06.1927.

And can I ask you where you were born?

Houghton Regis.

Whereabouts in Houghton Regis were you born?

In fact I only found out the other day, when I found my birth certificate. 30... I think it was 32, High Street, Houghton Regis. It’s not there anymore, it’s all been knocked down.

You were delivered at home then, were you?

Yes. Well everybody was in those days, weren’t they?

I don’t know. What number was it again?

I think... it was either... no, it wasn’t. It was 31 Houghton... that’s why I’m getting muddled up. 30 or... 31 High Street, Houghton Regis. That was right at the top. You know the photo that you looked at? It was up near that end of the village.

By the Top School?

It was just a little cottage. Yeah.

Who did you live with?

My mum and dad, at that time but then my dad died... I told you... when I was three-months old and my mum died when I was twenty-two months old. So my grandmother brought me up and, funnily enough, I was looking the other day and I found my mum’s will and, believe it or not, she only wrote it two days before she died. And she said something about that she left sole charge of me to her mother because my dad had a brother and he died. TB was rampant in those days. He died and he had three children and my dad’s family put them into an orphanage but my mum didn’t want me to go into an orphanage so my grandmother brought me up. But I always refer to my grandmother as mum because she said that I said to her one day, “Where’s my mum?” And she said, “I’m your mum now.” And she said, after that, I never called her anything but mum. But I don’t remember my mum anyway. I had a marvellous childhood.

Would you mind me asking... how did your parents die?

Both with TB.

It was very prevalent back then, wasn’t it?

Umm, especially in the hat factory area and my dad owned a hat factory... well, was the director of a hat factory... in Luton.

Really? That’s interesting.

And,  of course, it... something to do with the steam... didn’t help, I don’t think. But there was a lot of people in that area, I think, died with it and, of course, my mum got it from me dad. Catching...

Do you know the name of the company?

The hat factory where he worked?

I don’t know the name of it. No. I mean, I used to go... mum used to take me there quite often when I was young because my mum and dad had only just died but then, once I started school, we didn’t go very often.

So you didn’t have any brothers or sisters?

Unlikely, wasn’t it?

Any cousins... anything like that in the area?

Pardon?

Any cousins or anything else in the area?

My dad had a sister who had two daughters and they lived in Luton but I’ve never really kept in touch with them but my mum’s brother... he had one daughter, Sonia, who lives just outside Leighton Buzzard and I do keep in touch with her.

That’s good, isn’t it?

Yeah, but not all that often but I mean I do keep in touch with her and, believe it or not, her daughter’s a sergeant in the police force.

Would you like to tell me about your schooldays? Where did you go to school?

Well, it was called the Top School because, in the village, it was the Top School or the Bottom School, which the Bottom School was a church school but it was mostly the people that lived down that end of the village that went to the Bottom School and the people up this end of the village...

Was that the one that was set up...?

That’s the photograph of the school and it was opposite Townsend Terrace.

This is Top School... this one?

Yeah, opposite Townsend Farm. Yes.

In the...

That is the whole school there.

0:05:06

In the vicinity where Houghton Regis Lower school would be now?

Well, it would have been... it was on The Green, where... now how does it... you know The Red House? It was more or less along that side, next door to that. And then there was... the schoolmaster lived in a house attached to the school and then there was... it was General Smy lived in a big house there. And that’s where the kennels were for the... that was where the kennels were for the Hunt.

Top School was where you went though?

Yes.

And that’s the one at the top of the village.

At the top of the village, yes. And, again, that’s where...

Where the Lower school is now?

Yes, that’s it. Only it was in the front. I mean, this was... that was the back of the school but the front of the school was on... just a small playground in the front and then it looked over onto the road. But we left there... you left there when you was eleven and went to Northfields or... I actually passed my eleven-plus but I didn’t want to go to... because I had to go to Luton if you went to the Girl’s High... it was called Luton Girl’s High School and I passed my eleven-plus but I was the only one that was going. All me friends was going to Northfields so I didn’t want to go.

So you went to...?

And my mum was quite good like that. She said, “If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to.”

As you were growing up, what jobs did you have in the area?

Well, I always used to have to help mum when I was at school because we had a smallholding and my job was to water the tomato plants at night-time, when I came home from school. We had five greenhouses and every greenhouse had a hundred plants in it.

That’s not really a smallholding, is it?

Well, it was. We kept pigs and we kept chickens and we kept ducks and we kept geese.

And where was this?

Where Orchard Close is. That was where our ground was.

So not far from where we are now?

No, no.

You didn’t move very far, did you?

No. Well, I did because in between I... when I got married I moved to Manor Park and then, when I... I moved to London and I lived in London for thirty-one years so... then I came back to Houghton Regis and I didn’t know anything about... everywhere had changed so much.

Did you have a job when you were...?

I left school and I worked in Moore’s, the draper’s in Dunstable.

Nice, I liked it in there. We’ll move on to some of the questions about the Hall now. Did you have any contact with any of the people who lived in the Hall, worked in the Hall?

Only with the butler, who was Mr Townsend and I knew him because he was friends with mum and my auntie. And I used to do sewing for whatever he wanted. I don’t... I shouldn’t say this but he... I don’t think he looked after the colonel’s clothes that well because, when it was the Coronation, I had to mend the Colonel’s trousers because he was Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire at that time and, when the Queen’s Coronation was I had... I think it was... oh, about seventy or eighty... I’m not quite sure... moth holes in his trousers, which I had to pull the threads through from the inside to invisibly mend them.

Oh, my word. You’d have thought he could have afforded a refit.

Well, I don’t know. I mean, the things was... clothes... things were still short... I mean, I don’t think they were particularly rationed but I don’t suppose that Mr Townsend wanted the colonel to know that they’d got moth holes in. He most probably didn’t know and I used to put patches on his elbows and I used to change the collars on his shirts but that was all through the wartime because I used to do quite a lot of dressmaking.

What about the owners of the house? Was it Lord...?

Well, it was Colonel not Lord. It was... I think he was Lieutenant Colonel Dealtry Part... his name was... and Lady Part. Now, I used to go over to the woods although the woods weren’t open to the public. The park wasn’t open to the public. You could never... it had got a notice ‘Private’ up and there was a gateway up the road at the side of there. I don’t know what that was called.

0:10:20

What side?

At the side of the wood.

The side of the wood. Which side of the... if we were looking towards the house from The Green...

The woods on the right-hand side.

Ok.

And it went right the way up to the top and there was a dirt track which the hounds... they used to take the hounds up there, I think, for a run and things like that but there was a gate at the bottom.

Would that be Rabbit Lane? Is it Rabbit Lane?

No. Rabbit Lane... I don’t think... Rabbit Lane was over the other side, wasn’t it? I mean... can I draw something and show you roughly? Have you got a piece of paper? Now you see there was a meadow which part of... now we come along the footpath that’s still there... that footpath... and that was where me mum’s ground was... and then there was a gap here, which would have been at the bottom of this road and the footpath still went across there. Then there was a big meadow here. It was... I think it was Eddy’s Meadow they called it... and then there was a gate here and that was where this road went that... now the woods was like up there. This bit comes out to The Green. Yeah, and this road up here... but here was a gate and it had got ‘Private – No Admittance’ on it.

But, because Uncle Charlie worked at the hall I used to, more or less, go there when I wanted to but you wasn’t really supposed to go there but some... this was the woods here that I’m talking about. Now I used to go there and right up at the top was a gate and I used to go through this gate and there was a footpath that I used to walk down. Sometimes I’d meet Lady Part on there... walking... but she never told me off because of Uncle working there, I suppose. In fact, she was really... I think quite fond of Uncle Charlie because he was quite... he’d worked with the horses and then he’d worked in the garden but he was one of these people... I mean, he’d lost his parents when he was young and he’d been brought up and he went into, like, service kind of thing so he was used to dealing with people like that. And he said that she’d asked the gardener to put the summer seats out and he’d do them when he felt like it but then she’d say, “Oh, Jack...” Because Uncle Charlie’s name was Charles James but she used to say, Oh, James. Can you put the summer seats out.’ And he’d put them out straightaway, which pleased her I suppose. Lewis... if he was doing something in the garden, he wouldn’t... he wouldn’t do that.

So, she was quite fond of him and now, when the horses fell and he hurt his leg or his back or something and he couldn’t get to work... it was when there was snow about and she got somebody to make a pathway all the way through this field... and here... so she could come to the house to see him.

Oh, that was nice of her.

Yeah, but she was... I mean, she was a Lady, wasn’t she? And she came... you know, came to see him to see how he was and different things like that and then she used to talk to mum. Sometimes, after that, when the weather was alright, she’d feel like walking across I think and she’d go and sit and talk to mum or if... mum often would have a lie down in the afternoon and she’d... so she never used to see her and she said when she came out, Lady Part would be weeding the garden but she said the annoying part was they was all in little piles so she said, “I had to pick them up.” (Laughter)

So Lady Part liked her gardening?

Oh, she loved her garden. I think... in fact, I think, as far as... it was her that run the estate not him. I don’t know. I mean, he was most probably away at times, I don’t know. But you never... very rarely saw him about anywhere but you did use to see her. But, as I say, I think that the book from Evelyn will be most helpfull.

0:14:56

Definitely, definitely. How did you use the park as a child?

You couldn’t. You wasn’t really allowed to go in there. I mean, people of my age... I mean, the park was never open to the public, I don’t think, not until they had the gymkhana there and that was not until after the war.

After the war?

But I’ve got an idea they might have had like an Open Day for some charity, like they do at these big houses but, it was like, pay as you went into it, you know.

Do you remember how far after the war the gymkhana’s might have started?

The war finished in ’45. I suppose, most probably, ’46-’47.

Do you know what the reason was for the gymkhanas? Was there anything special?

I think it was for The Memorial Hall. For the funds for The Memorial Hall because the village... I mean, they had the fete after the war as well. I mean, they never had anything like that Fancy Dress thing till after the war.

This Fancy Dress thing that we’ve got these pictures of?

Those are all after the war because there’s my children and they wasn’t born until after the war. There was one with the... which I thought was the... I know it was taken in front of there.

It was taken in front of the cottages, wasn't it?

Yes. I think that was when the gymkhana was on.

Who was in that picture?

Me.

On your own?

No, that’s that one, isn’t it?

That’s that one, yes. That’s it.

Let’s go through these individually?

But I think that this wall... that wall... I think the garden... because it looks like the flower garden in the front of it... but I know that that’s where it was taken.

That’s the one I’m looking for.

This one?

Now, who’s this gentleman?

That’s Ted Gaddesden and he was Master of Ceremonies.

He was a local boy, was he?

He was local, yes.

He was there last night.

Oh, is that the chap that was in the front?

Yes.

So this is Ted Gaddesden?

In those days, you see, everybody knew everybody else. I’d go up the village and I used to know everybody I met.

Sounds a little bit like me these days.

I mean, we used to get snowed down here and couldn’t get up the village sometimes for a couple of... because this was all open and it used to drift... the snow did... so we never could get... that’s my daughter and that’s my young, middle daughter.

Do you want to tell me a little bit about this...?

And that’s... and that one’s Janice McKernan, her friend.

What’s this one all about?

That was the Carnival... and that started at the Top School. This was Huckstead’s Farm and the Top School was opposite that, you see. And they used to all meet there and then walk through the village because Mrs Fensom was a teacher at this school and she was the one that used to organise all the fancy dress.

Ok. And where did they end up?

They finished up on The Green.

Did they have prizes?

Yes.

Did your girls ever win?

They nearly always won, I’m afraid.

Did they? I’m not surprised with a hat like that!

Her jacket was a red blazer and I cut the front of it off and put that on and then I just made the white trousers.

And what about this next one?

And that one she was a fairy.

In that one she’s a fairy?

She wasn’t even at school then. This was the one that won it. She was a ‘Lavender Lady’ and I don’t know... I think she was supposed to be Bo Peep in that one. Freda was second and she was third.

Did they have themes for the carnivals back then?

Nothing, no. Not... you just did what you wanted to. In fact, there is a thing... I don’t know if it’s the Internet or Facebook, because I don’t know which is which... and there is part about the Houghton Regis Carnival on that... yes.

Yes, we’ve got that.

Because they took a lot of my daughter on it because she was a ‘Powder Puff’ in those days.

She was the Powder Puff?

Yes, she was the Powder Puff.

20:00:01

Do you remember who organised the carnivals and why they had the carnivals?

Well, it was like... I think they must have had, like, a committee that started it up. I mean, I didn’t really... I mean, the children wanted to go in the Fancy Dress but, I mean, I didn’t really... I only just made the clothes. I didn’t have a lot to do with it. I mean, I’d got three children then and so you was too involved looking after the family to do anything like that.

Was it still held in July, like it is now?

Usually, I think, it was about July time... yeah.

Were there any other events that...?

The only other thing that there was was the gymkhana and I’m nearly sure that that was always held on a Whit Monday. And we always used to have rook pie for dinner that day because...

Where did you get the rooks from?

Colonel Part’s There was rooks there and Uncle Charlie used to go shooting up there and they... I mean, it was all legally done because it was private estate. They say if you don’t shoot rooks they go away and there isn’t any up there now, is there? And yet there was quite a lot up there in those days. Colonel Part had rook pie for his lunch so mum said if it was good enough for the colonel it was good enough for them. But you only used... you don’t pick them. You skin a rook and you just use the breasts. It was lovely.

I don’t suppose there’d be much meat on their legs, would there?

Well, I don’t suppose there would but the breast was... I mean, quite like a chicken breast.

What changes have you seen since you’ve moved back to Houghton Regis, as far as the park is concerned? The park and The Green?

Well, the thing was you didn’t really have anything to do in the park. You wasn’t allowed in there in those days. I don’t think you was allowed in there even... I mean, Lady Part died first and then, after she died, Colonel Part went to live in Scotland and I mean I don’t know... in fact, I’ve got an idea he got married again. Then the only time... and I never kept it... I wish I had of done sometimes... the only time that he... I heard anything was when Uncle Charlie died... he’d heard that Uncle Charlie had died and he wrote a letter saying, you know, how nice he was when he worked for him and things like that but that was about it and I don’t think... I mean, I did hear somebody say something about he’d died but, I mean, I don’t really know.

He was a very tall, quite a big-built man. There must be some photos of him somewhere because I remember once when they had the Fancy Dress he... I think he was... I don’t know if it was him or his wife was the judges there and I know that he’d stood... because they had like a little band that would play and I think he took a salute there, on the village green but that was the only time I can remember seeing him there. I mean, you didn’t even see a lot of him when it was the gymkhana.

Back in the 1980s I remember seeing cows in the... what we used to call ‘The Meadow’ then, which would be in the grounds of the park now. Do you recall...?

Well, they did... I don’t know who... because I think Commer Cars bought it or something, didn’t they... originally... or had it. Was the park left to the village?

No.  

Or did they buy it?

I don’t know. You’re supposed to be telling us all...

No. Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, I know that the colonel left there and the next thing... because... in fact, it was funny because I was thinking, at the time... I thought, ‘Oh, I wonder who will live there.’ And wouldn’t it have made a nice, like, nursing home or something like that but then, of course, Commer Cars took over. I think it was Commer Cars, wasn’t it? Took over and it was used as offices and that was all I knew about it.

We know a man who might know. Our friend, James.

But, I mean, apart from that... I mean, the hall wasn’t open to the public, not when we were children or... well, until after the colonel... I mean, even when Commer Cars were there I don’t think you could go in there.

0:25:06

Can I take you back just a little bit here as well now? Talking about The Green now specifically. Do you remember any sports being played on The Green?

Yes. They used to play cricket and football on there.

They used to play football as well, did they?

I think they did. I know they used... there was a cricket club. A Houghton Regis Cricket Club.

Did they have a pavilion then?

Yes.

Do you remember where it was?

Down... similar to where it is now. I think it was about down the bottom there. I mean, the only thing that overlooked The Green was... there was a small cottage. I don’t know if it’s still there... as you go into the hallway... there was a cottage on this side, which... I think it was something to do with the... I think it was the... something to do with the... when they had the Hunt and he used to live there.

Yeah, I think it’s The Lodge now.

The Lodge? Yes, I think it was called The Lodge then. And then there was... at the back of there there was some stables underneath and then there was some of the staff lived in the stables over the top, I think. I’ve got an idea Lewis lived there at one time... in The Lodge.

Who was Lewis?

Who was the gardener.

Lewis the gardener lived in The Lodge?

I think so. I’m not absolutely certain.

You briefly spoke about The Hunt then.

The Hunt used to be on The Green. I can’t remember it ever being there after... well, it must have been there during the war but I can’t remember. I can remember it as a child because it used to go through the whole of the village.

Really?

Yes.

From one end to the other?

Well, from The Green...

Where would it have started?

It started on The Green and they used to go up Dunstable way somewhere. I don’t know where they went to. I mean, really and truly, I don’t think I was that particularly interested. I can remember seeing it on the village green a few times and I can remember the hounds because we had a dog and, if he could get a hound by itself, he’d fight with it. I think I told you this before. And then, one day, I was in... perhaps in the village... in the butcher’s... and he said did you have Rollo with you? Because everybody knew Rollo, our dog. I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, I’ve just seen the pack of hounds go chasing up the village.” And mum said that the dog came flying in the back door and she said she heard the hounds so she just shut the door. And shut him inside because they would have torn him to pieces if they’ve had got him. But, I mean, it was just one of those things.

The dog always used to come with me. He would never go on a lead. I don’t know what we’d do if we had him in these days. He would never go on a lead. He used to go mad if you tried to put a lead on him but he would always follow you... at the side of you... until he saw another dog. And that was it. I used to have to get hold of his collar and hold him but he was a good dog for the children. I mean, he used to lay under their prams and he wouldn’t let anybody go near the pram.

What sort of dog was he?

57 varieties. I think he was... he looked a bit of a hound so I think he’d got a bit of hound in him somewhere but why he always picked on them particularly... I think if sometimes one would get out and that was it and I think hounds are a bit of cowards if they’re, like, by themselves. They’re alright in the pack but...

There’s been a lot of talk about ice houses.

Yes. I don’t know. I can’t remember any of that. I mean, I can remember the walled garden because Uncle Charlie would be in there working sometimes and I would go down there and I can remember the asparagus beds there. But I think it was three or four and they were, like, in a row and they’re raised beds... asparagus. I know you have to cut the asparagus under the soil. I mean, asparagus was nothing because when it was in season they used to sell it quite cheaply there.

Does asparagus grow well in chalky soil around here?

Well, it was built up in a sand bed. It was like...

It needs to be quite loamy, doesn’t it?

These beds must have been made especially for it because they were, like, a raised bed and you could walk in between the beds. The beds were about this wide but, you see, because it is only in season about end of May/June and then the beginning of July. It’s not in season for that long and you only had it when it was in season in those days.

0:30:23

It must have been quite a treat, mustn’t it?

Oh, we just took it as an everyday vegetable. I mean, it wasn’t like it is now. I mean, my cousin often says to me... she says when they talk about asparagus... She said, “I thought to meself, ‘Well, we had it as an everyday vegetable.’ ” Because, as I... my mum brought her up from when she was eight because her mum died and my uncle came back to live at his mum’s, you see, and brought his daughter with him.

So you used to get the asparagus from over there then, did you?

Well, Uncle used to bring them home, bunches at a time. I don’t know what they was but I know sometimes I’d go into the post office in the village and there used... the lady that worked there, she knew I liked it and she’d say, “Mr Lewis brought some asparagus in so I’ve kept you a couple of bundles.” And I think they were something like one and six a bundle. They could have been one and six... they could have been one and six for the two bundles.

Is that cheap? What’s that in new money?

Five p... seven and a half p...

Really!  Oh, wow. It’s so expensive now though, isn’t it? You pay about £3 for a bunch.

I know. And I do. I love asparagus. It’s my favourite vegetable.

Can you remember any of the other things that used to grow in the garden? Other than the asparagus?

I think they grew most things, like vegetables of all kinds. Peas, beans and things like that.

Any other exotic stuff like asparagus?

I can’t remember anything exotic because, in those days, I didn’t like vegetables. The only vegetables I eat was... the only vegetables I ate was peas and asparagus and anything else I wasn’t very keen on, especially cabbage. And I still don’t like it.

So you think peas, asparagus and seasonal vegetables, you would imagine then?

Well, yes. Well, seasonal... I mean, I think they more or less grew all the vegetables that there was. I think that they grew everything for the house, you know.

Would they have had potatoes as well?

Oh, yes. Potatoes.

Potatoes would have taken up quite a lot of room, wouldn’t they?

Yeah, I mean... it was huge... the walled garden was, from what I can remember of it.

Any fruit in there?

I can’t... I think there were things like raspberries and things like that but I can’t remember a lot of fruit. We never...

Were there any fruit plants in the garden?

I can’t really remember about the fruit trees because we’d got two orchards so we never really bothered with anybody else with fruit.

Is that why Orchard Close is called Orchard Close?

Yes, although they didn’t seem to know... the council. They wrote... they said they didn’t know why it was Orchard Close. Well, they said they was going to call it Orchard Close because originally, before they put the houses up, they said they were going to leave some of the trees in the gardens but, in the end, I think it was cheaper to cut the whole lot down.

What sort of fruit trees did you have in your orchard then?

There was apples, every kind you could think of. Blenheims, Cox’s, Russetts... every... Beauty of Bath. There was pear trees, and there was plum trees and there was a damson tree and there was a greengage tree... and gooseberry bushes.

Sounds amazing.

And blackberry was in Uncle Charlie’s bit of the garden. And it’s still there I think. I walked round there one day and I could see up this fence and I thought, ‘That’s Uncle Charlie’s blackberries.’

So it was quite a large orchard then?

Oh, it was... quite big. Well, I mean, Orchard Close... they’ve put fourteen houses on it.

So do you think there’s a possibility that the people from the house could have used the fruit from the orchard?

I doubt it. I don’t know. I can’t remember Uncle taking any. We used to sell it.

0:35:00

Was it a well-established orchard?

It was there when we moved there.

Alright then. It seems it was a little bit unusual, isn’t it... if they’ve got a garden growing vegetables...

I think they most probably did have fruit trees in the garden but I can’t really remember them.

Would you know much about the formal garden? Can you remember what that looked like?

I can’t really remember how it was laid out or anything like that. I know that photo that I showed you... that was like coming along the wall of the... I’m standing in the formal garden there.  Lost it again...

There we go.

You see, this is... look, you can see this is a formal garden at the back. It was like a border and... vegetable garden... and that was over the other side of that wall.

So which way round was it? If you’re walking into the garden in... into the park now...

It was on the left-hand side... over that side, past where the stables were and things like that.

Ok.

It’s a long time ago, don’t forget. I can’t... I mean, I remember some things but I can’t remember...

The trees all round there...

Those are the trees that would be up like... where Poynters Road is, I think, because the ground went right over that way, didn’t it?

We’ll pop over there... so over there is like where the bowls green is, over the back...

Well, Woodlands Avenue was at the front but the Colonel’s ground went along the back of Wood... like, over the back of there. And I mean it finished up in... there was a cornfield at the back there.

You were saying about... yeah, the land behind Woodlands Avenue then... you’ve got the... the stream is there now, isn’t it?

Yes.

Do you remember any other water in the village?

No. Well, I can remember water in the village. There was the village pond, right down up Sundon Road and then there was a pond opposite The Crown... at the house there... and it used to have a gate at each end. Well, not a gate... an opening at each end and that’s where the carts used to go to put their wheels through.

This is the one on the corner?

Yeah.

Yeah, I remember that.

But that one has all been blocked in. I don’t know if the other one’s still there... up Sundon Road.

No. Sundon Lodge is now there. A house got built on it and part of the playing field for St Vincent’s.

Because there used to ducks on that pond.

Was there?

Yeah.

So you don’t remember any water actually around the grounds of Houghton Hall or The Green?

I can’t remember any water in there. No... or The Green.

Can you tell us anything about... anything that might have happened on The Green during the war years? Were you here then? During the war can you recall anything that The Green might have been used for then?

I can’t remember particularly anything. I don’t think I went down there a lot in those days. I mean, the war broke out when I was twelve and we had evacuees, of course. We had to have evacuees. In fact, I was on holiday when the war broke out, at Stony Stratford. I’d got an aunt there and I was there and, for some reason or other... Ray was a lorry driver and he came and picked me up and brought me home. So I was home because the war was going to break out. It broke out on the Sunday but on the Friday... I was in the Girl Guides and we used to... we had to go to... they come to the Top School and we had to go and take them to people’s houses.

Did you have any evacuees?

We had three to begin with and then, during the war... we had a pavilion at the side of the house... and during the war, if the billeting officer couldn’t find anywhere to put them for a couple of days, she would come down and she’d say, “Mrs Welford, I’ve got five evacuees but I can’t find anywhere for them.”

Oh, bless your old mum.

0:40:03

And she used to... we counted up one day and I think we got to about ninety-two different evacuees we’d had through the house. Some would only be there for a day or a couple of days, you know. Perhaps a couple of nights. In fact, mum run out of beds in the end. They’d brought camp beds and they said... she said, “I’ll bring some camp beds down for them.” Because it was... sometimes just a couple of days because it was getting somewhere in the village to take them but you had to have evacuees if you’d got the room anyway, whether you wanted them or not. But, I mean, mum didn’t... you know, we had three and, funnily enough, one of the girls... Rosie Knibbs her name was... she came... she was one of the first three that came to us and she stayed with us for a year after the war finished. She didn’t want to go back to London she said. She was working at Waterlows and mum said to her, “You better go home to see your dad.” She went a few times and then, in the end, one day she come back... because they all called mum ‘Auntie’... and she said, “I think I’m gonna go back to London, Auntie.” So she said, ‘That’s alright.” She said, “You know, I told you you stop here as long as you want to.”

(Unclear)

My mum was fantastic like that. She always had waifs and strays. That’s why she had me, I think.

She liked the company of children? She liked kids?

Well, I think so but I mean, as well as that, her brother... Uncle Charlie... who worked down the hall. That was mum’s brother. Well, he was my great uncle, like she was my grandmother. But, I mean, he lived with her after... her husband got killed in the First World War, you see. And she had three children and then she had one son who died when he was ten and then she had my mum, who died when she was twenty-three and she was left with one son, Ray. That’s the own whose... his daughter is my cousin, that I know.

I know you’ve got a wonderful story to tell about the evacuees, as well. You got poorly during the war, didn’t you?

I got diphtheria and...

If you don’t mind sharing this story.

No, not really. I got diphtheria. I was... it must have been fairly... right at the beginning and we had... at one time, we had, like, six evacuees there and three of them were brothers. The Tilsley’s, their surname was and I think it was Johnny. Of course, when I went into hospital... because in those days you used to go in hospital for diphtheria... and when I went into hospital... course they had to go down... and Johnny’s mum came and she said, “Well, Johnny won’t get it because he’s a carrier.” So, I must have got it from him and I was in hospital for six weeks.

Nice of them to share that information with you, wasn’t it?

It was. Well, it was. Yeah, but it was just one of those things, you know. Mum wouldn’t say anything anyway, you know. She... I mean, not that she was particularly easygoing, in as much as that... if you told... I mean, it got to a point... I mean, with my mum I asked to think, ‘I mustn’t do that because she wouldn’t like it.’ But, I mean, we did use to do things we shouldn’t have done. Like we used to have races over the greenhouses.

Which greenhouses?

The greenhouses where I used to have to do the tomato plants but it was like during the war... towards the end of the war, I suppose, when I was about twelve or thirteen... something. We used to have races over the greenhouses and then, one day, I fell through and cut all me bottom. So I said to Joan, “I’ve got to tell mum because...” She said, “No.” So, when I went over and I went in and I said, “Oh, mum...” Before I could say anything, Joan said, “She fell over on a ginger beer bottle.” And I think it was about two weeks afterwards that I told mum and she said, “Oh, I knew.” Because the worst thing that you could do to my mum was to lie to her.

Yes, I understand that.

You could do anything else but you mustn’t lie to her. And, eventually... she said, “I guessed that’s what you’d done but I knew you’d tell me eventually.”

I’m through with all my questions now.

Oh, have you? Oh, good.

Unless you’ve got any more stories you’d like to tell us.

No, I think I’ve told you enough.

For the time being... Ok. I think we can wrap that up now. Thank you very much for your help this afternoon.

Ok.

It’s been a pleasure speaking to you.

And you have got the book that you can look all about the hall, which... that will tell you more than I know.

And I’ve got your little sketch as well. We’re going to take those photographs along with us...

0:45:27

 

End of Interview

Pat Lovering Open

Date of Birth: 13/05/1933

Place of Birth: Birmingham

 

Date of interview: 20/03/2014

Transcribed by Stephen Flinn (May, 2014)

 

0:00:09

When were you born?

On May 13th, a very long time ago.

Where were you born?

In... in Birmingham. I was born in Birmingham... yes. My mother was a hairdresser and she lived in Birmingham at the time. We had relatives there. We moved very, very quickly down to Southampton and I spent most of my life in Southampton.

You travelled around a bit, from one part of the country to another?

Oh yes indeed. Yes.

Were you at Southampton very long?

Yes, I was there for many years. Well, I worked abroad. I was there during the war. We got heavily bombed, it was all quite horrible really. Southampton was dreadfully bombed. I was there all through that. My mother died when I was eight and I think it was because of the... actually because of the bombing... because we were bombed out.

Oh dear.

You know it was quite...

It was a bit difficult?

Oh very difficult. Yes, yes, but I lived with my father in Southampton and then I worked abroad for many years.

What sort of work were you doing abroad then?

(Laughs) Well, I looked after children and that sort of thing. I was a sort of au pair. It was very interesting. I was in the French Sector of Germany after the war. It was all divided up into sectors and I was in the French Sector. I was working with a French family looking after their children as an au pair. Great fun really and my boyfriend was a doctor in Strasbourg and I used to pop over and...

So, what sort of family do you have or did you have?

Well, of course, my mother died when I was young and I was brought up, more or less, by an auntie and my father of course. He sadly died while I was working abroad and so, of course, I then came home and very shortly afterwards I met somebody and got married and that was my first marriage.

Going back to those sort of days where did you actually go to school... were you at different schools?

I didn’t go to school until I was twelve.

Really?

Umm... well, because all the schoolchildren very sensibly were taken... were evacuated from Southampton but my father and mother wouldn’t let me go, you see. And so there were no schools and I didn’t go to school and my maths are always... have been very poor ever since.

So were you sort of self taught?

Yes. more or less. Yes.

You’ve just told us that you were a kind of au pair in those days. After that what sort of jobs...?

Well, I came back and I got married quite soon after that. I was just doing ordinary, clerical work and then the children came along, you know, as they do and then we moved up to Houghton Regis.

Can you remember when you moved here?

Yes vividly... 1965.

So your memories go from that date?

That’s right.

So when you arrived here, what was your first... what sort of age were you then... when you came to Houghton Regis? Any idea?

Oh, goodness me. I don’t know!

That’s ok, we’ll forget about that. What about...?

Well, I was born in ’33 and I came here at ’65... 1965.

And what was your first impression when you moved here?

I thought it was very nice. Of course, the building... they hadn’t started to sweep everything away. The only thing that had been destroyed at that period was the... the actual tithe barn. I could not believe that... that the tithe barn, which was at least fourteenth century, had been pulled down and burnt. The tithe farm was still standing when I arrived but that quickly went and from then on it was just destruction... slowly, all over.

Very sad.

Yes. I could not believe it.

The tithe farm was a kind of feature of the town, wasn’t it?

Well, it was so pretty. I’ve got beautiful photographs of it. Yes and it was so pretty and so... rural!

00:05:00

Yes. So in those days it was more or less a village...

It was a village.

... without all the great changes.

But a busy village. It had a multitude of little shops. You could buy anything in Houghton Regis when I arrived there. My children used to run down with their pocket money and... there was a... I’ve forgotten the name of the shop now... but he had a little place for the children to ferret about and buy things for the... Jaspers. It was absolutely lovely. It was lovely and I was... I have to tell you that I was extremely upset when it was all pulled down.

A funny thing happened. As we were in the car arriving... this was 1965 and we arrived at the beginning of September, ready for the school term and we approached... we came into the High Street... right. My children, who were at that time aged something like... I don’t know four and so on... they said, “Mummy, mummy, it’s snowing!” Because, of course, the cement works had coated everywhere. It did, it looked like snow in the middle of August! They were fascinated by this, absolutely fascinated. I was less fascinated because the wretched chalk got everywhere... all the houses.

At what point were you suddenly fascinated by the archive... by the history and archive? What started you off?

Well, it was because everything... I was upset because everything was being pulled down. All these lovely buildings and these wonderful people, that I liked so much... and it was all being... just pulled down. I was quite upset actually and I thought, ‘Well,  I can do something about it.’ And that’s when I started to sort of concentrate on getting photographs and things. Quite early on actually... about... about ’65 I suppose.

Pat is our local archivist and she’s got a thousand or more pictures from the early days of Houghton Regis, I thought I’d throw that in.

Thank you. Yes, yes, I am bowing!

So, at that point that really stirred your interest?

Yes, I was very interested and, of course... due to personal circumstances I had to... I was alone bringing up the children and, of course, this does make a huge difference. But, none the less, from that time onwards I was very, very interested and, you know, made a hobby of it.

Eventually to write books?

Yes, yes.

How many books have you now written to do with...?

To do with Houghton Regis?

Yes.

Well, to do with the area, three... but they still seem to be going strong.

They must like your work. Going back to the Hall... Houghton Hall... did you have any contact with the people who lived there?

No. No, I’m afraid that the Hall... no. They... it was owned by various companies and that was fine because it was kept going but then it fell into disuse and this was very upsetting because the... I wrote many letters to the council. I was upset because the roof was stripped, anything of any value was taken out. It was disgraceful really. There was no...

How did you use the park as a child? Did you go...?

Well, I wasn’t there as a child, of course.

No, no.

But I took my children.

Took your children...

Unfortunately, for most of the time that we were there, my children didn’t play in the park because it wasn’t really altogether safe and, of course, it isn’t now and, in fact, I’m not allowed to go and photograph and I can... it really is quite upsetting when you do try and do something like that, you know. It’s not safe for a woman on her own.

00:10:08

No, no... but obviously you walked near the park... near the area?

Yes, yes.

Do you remember seeing anything of any... like cricket on The Green? Did you see anything?

Yes, of course, there was cricket on The Green.

Was there football on The Green or was it purely cricket? Can you recall?

Well, there was sort of casual football. Yes, yes. There were all sorts of things going on really. I think The Green was in constant use, wasn’t it? I’m always amused because the Brandreth... the original Brandreth lady... was furious because... of course, she had no jurisdiction over The Green. The Green is public land and people could do what they wanted to and they did. She was furious because they were forever digging up the chalk... the clay... the clay to make things, you know. Yes, they were constantly beavering away. She used to come down in her...

I think that anybody would be annoyed at that, wouldn’t they?

Well, of course, the actual pathway belonged to the Brandreth’s so they had a safe... where the... sorry... the coach... where the coach came round.

So that’s the main path?

Yes, the main path is the...

Or the road going through?

That’s right and that... that sort of belonged to the Brandreth’s. It would be interesting to find out if it actually belonged to them but they certainly used it. They assumed that it did. I think they... it probably did. I think it probably did. But The Green itself, of course, is public ground and the Brandreth lady was furious because they did... they used to do exactly what they wanted there, of course...

Do you remember anything at all about the gardens?

No, I don’t because in my time the gardens were pretty derelict... very sad because, of course, they’d been the pride and joy and, in fact, I’ve got a couple of photos to remind myself about things. There’s the original Brandreth building.

Is that a... that’s a print by... who’s the painter... George Arnold, isn’t it?

That’s right yes.

He was a local artist.

Oh, indeed. Yes, indeed and, as you can see, this was a very simple building and it fell into dereliction over the course of two or three of the early Brandreths and it was going to be pulled down but happily...

Is this the front or the back?

Well, you see, the front would be what we would call the back. This would be... this would be the front door where it is now.

Yes, yes. Right, yes.

And this would just simply be an ornamental door to get into the garden. The church is there. You can orient it quite easily.

And this was... 1830... this particular print.

Yes, that’s right. And, of course, here’s a famous photo from the Thurston Collection and here are the sheep coming out. Of course, there were no lawn mowers so the sheep were taken into the grounds of the hall to mow the grass.

Yes. I’ve seen the big version of this in the council offices and it was...

Is it in the council offices?

Yes. Yes, it’s a beautiful print and it really sort of sets the scene of how...

I have got a proper... this is my... and here’s the best available portrait of Henry Chernocke Gibbs Brandreth.

There aren’t too many of those... there aren’t too many portraits of him, are there?

No, because he was a very shy man but he did a lot of good.

This is Mr Henry Chernocke Gibbs Brandreth?

00:15:00

That’s right. There were a whole succession of them at one point . I’ve rather lost track. I have got it all somewhere but it’s in my book. Of course, the memory goes as you get older but the thing is that he... although he was very shy and retiring... he was very good for Houghton Regis because he got... he did a great deal of good in many, many ways and we can thank him, of course, for, you know the upkeep of the... because they were going to pull the old house down. It had got to a state of pretty well total dereliction but he decided that he would... yes, hang on with it. Here he is. There’s the... of course, this was his pride and joy.

The fire engine?

The fire engines, yes.

It was his little toy, was it?

It was his toy. Yes. He... you can see him. He’s lurking about somewhere in the background. Yes, there he is. He was very shy... very shy and very pleasant apparently and did a lot of quiet, good work. If you’ve got time to take a camera into the church everybody is documented there.

This... the place where the fire engine was kept...

Was there in my time.

Yes, so that’s in the front of the building. Was it in the front of the building... part of the wall?

Yes, yes, yes. I don’t know what you mean by the front of the building.

Well, you know, if you’re approaching from the road going towards the house...

 Oh no, no. If you’re going towards the house it was on the left.

On the left-hand side?

And it was there in my time.

Right.

It was used as a bus stop...

Was it?

... and all sorts, yes... very irreverent.

Did the buses go that close?

Yes, I think it’s the opposite side of the road from the actual Brandreth building.

Oh right. Oh I see, yes.

It’s on the main road.

Oh right, now we know. Ok, alright. Thank you.

I assume you know things when you don’t, of course. Now this is a Charles Smy picture which was in use, to my knowledge, for donkey’s years. He did this picture and it was used again and again and again all through the First World War...

Of the house?

It’s the house... and this is another version of it. It was very ubiquitous and, in fact, the hall was kept up very well until it finally started to go to pieces at the end of World War One. It was in a state of quite dereliction.

This is from which angle... is this the...?

No. This is... yes. What we would call the back but, of course, you... because the actual... it’s the front to them.

Yes, yes.

You know, posh people... posh people had the facade at the front and everybody else went in through the side door ‘darling, we didn’t...’

Like serfs...

Yes indeed. Indeed yes... don’t show your ignorance! (Laughter). Yes, toads. Here’s, a very... this is the end of World War One in 1918 and you can see that it’s hit hard because, of course, everybody was called up. I mean, the First World War was a bloody affair and many, many people died from the village. They marched off and never came back.

In your era, when you were here, what else went on in the park itself? Do you know?

Well no, because all the time I was there really, I didn’t have occasion to go to the park in the early days and then later on, of course, and for a long time now, it’s not safe.

Were there any events held?

On The Green, you mean?

Well or...

Yes. Yes, there were events on The Green all the time. I’ve got many, many photos of...

What sort of events were happening?

Oh, they looked very jolly. They’ve... I don’t know.

00:19:58

Gymkhanas and things like that?

Yes, oh definitely gymkhanas. I’ve got some gymkhana pictures to show you and... but absolutely any sort of thing. There were many... there were often sales of things, you know, and what do you call them... carts with...

... things on?

Yes they... they used to have a cart with all their goods on, didn’t they? Yes and there were lots of those about. It was very common and I would think on a regular basis.

Can you remember the walled garden at all?

No, the walled garden was in a state of disrepair when I got there. Yes, I’ve never seen it. In fact, it’s at its best I’ve ever seen it now. I haven’t been up recently, of course, because I can’t walk anymore but last year I had a look round and I was very impressed. It had been tidied up and replanted to a certain extent.

Yes, well I hope with the Renaissance Project...

Yes, yes.

 ... it will be wonderful again and restored to its original features and...

Well, I hope so but you see you’re going to have to tackle this business of the unfortunate people who run round on their motorbikes and...

I think everybody’s aware of that.

Well, yes, but I mean it’s a difficult thing to tackle.

It is, it is, yes.

You know with all the best will in the world. Here’s Lieutenant Colonel Part who, of course, was wonderful. He was wonderful chap and kept everything.

That was before your time obviously.

Yes, I’m afraid so. Yes, of course, but I know all about him. Here he is inspecting the new British Legion Standard, undated unfortunately. People don’t date their photos, you know, it makes it awkward later in life. Yes, yes. Right now I’ve got three lovely photos here for you. You’ll be thrilled with them. This is the gymkhana. It’s 1949 and it... now you’ve got to envisage it as including all the part that’s now built on at the back... at the bottom. So, the whole of the area belonged to Colonel Part and he used to have these great gymkhanas there which people have told me so much... or the very elderly people... have told me so much about.

Of course, entertainment in those days was very limited, to some degree, so people attended shows like this...

By the thousands, yes. Ten thousand or more, yes. When you say limited... but I don’t agree with that you know... because there was a tremendous amount going on.

Really?

Yes. Music, things for sale, displays... all of those things took place on a regular basis. Here’s another one of the same...

And these were in the grounds?

In the grounds, yes... which were much more extensive. And he had over twelve thousand people come to it each time. Here’s the ‘Open Juvenile Class Jumping’ at Houghton Hall in the 1949 gymkhana and horse show.

Again these pictures are quite rare...

Yes.

There’s, you know... amazing, amazing. So, gymkhanas seemed to be very popular in those days, didn’t they?

Oh yes. They had a tremendous amount of entertainment going all the time. The idea that people have of a settled, rather dull community is totally wrong. Houghton Regis was seething with people. Here’s another horse show and gymkhana on the same date. We’re starting to get photographs you see. Look, you can see the size of the audience.

Amazing.

And that’s a full rig that she’s driving round.

And that’s in 1949?

In 1949, yes. All of those photos are 1949.

A lot happening as you said.

Oh, all the time. Yes, people were very adept at putting on all sorts of shows, you know. They were always having concerts and plays and things... everybody seemed to belong to something. They all belonged to things.

00:24:59

In your day... when you were here... what was the state of the Memorial Hall?

Excellent.

Was it? Was that a sort of centre?

Oh, it was the centre. Yes.

Can you remember what went on in there?

Absolutely everything, I used to put displays of photos up there in the very early days. I must have started this a very long time ago! But... there’s a stage, you see, and there were all sorts of plays and musical entertainment and dancing and regular ballroom dancing. I remember that as a regular thing.

Did you used to go to that?

I didn’t no. I didn’t but I went to lots of things there, just not that particular one. There’s the Houghton Hall... now, I want you to look at this because it’s got a secret message. There’s the Houghton Hall Home Guard. Now doesn’t that strike you...

There’s an awful lot of Home Guard there.

Yes. Do you know why?

No, but tell me.

Well, we do know why now. I didn’t know for a long, long time.

Tell me that. Tell me about that.

Well, they were a secret... they were the... they used to take... the Lysanders used to take off from Houghton Regis, to go on illicit... from the farms... one of the big farms on the left. Now which farm would that have been? I can’t remember just off hand. I’ll tell you if it comes to me. But that... those fields had... I don’t know what they’re called but they detect enemy aircraft.

Oh right, I don’t know.

All hush, hush secret things and the little Lysanders used to take the spies from there.

Right.

We only found this out very recently.

So who were the Lysanders then?

The Lysanders was the name of the plane that are used.

Is it? Sorry I’m not...

It was the name of the plane that was used.

Oh right. So they used to take... take off...?

Take off from...

The grounds?

Yes, from the grounds on the, on the left as you go along.

Not in the park?

No. No, not in the park. No, no, no. No sorry, I am... but it was such an important thing. This is in the park, as you can see and that’s why there are so many Home Guards and if you look they’re pretty able bodied...

Yes, yes.

... and that’s because...

They’re not old, are they?

No, no and there are a lot of them and that’s because of all this secret stuff going on during the war...

Amazing.

... which people only... they kept their mouths shut and they only started to talk to me about it... they thought perhaps they could tell me about ten years ago. Right this a lovely... this is a nice... this is only a... it’s a beautiful view. That’s the grounds of Houghton Hall going down to... of course, this is all... that’s turned into a bowling green, isn’t it and all that sort of thing but it was beautiful. A beautiful avenue of trees which the... I’ve forgotten what  people who deal with trees are called? But that chap was there recently and they were trying to... he was taking out the trees that shouldn’t be there and leaving the original arcade.

When you were... did you see any gardeners when you... in the park..?

No, no. The gardeners came to the house here and looked at my photos because they wanted inspiration for what to do. Now this is modern times we’re talking now. Right, this is an undated one of Houghton Hall but we think its post-World War Two because of the state of the place. It was in a bad way at that period.

Were there any ponds around?

Yes, yes.

Tell me about those?

The water level when I arrived here in the sixties... the water level was very high and that’s why Houghton Regis was such a magnificent farming area and was... all the farmers were extremely well off. There were no poor farmers and, you know, they were good farmers and they kept the ground... kept the area wonderfully well and... sorry, the ponds... yes and one of the reasons was because the water level was very, very high but, of course, because of all the building, it’s all gone. I mean, I can remember ponds that are not there now.

00:30:18

Whereabouts were the ponds? Can you remember?

All over the place.

Were they?

Yes, in fact ... I haven’t got the photos here but they were...

Were there any round by the house itself... by Houghton Hall?

Oh yes, they were everywhere. You’ll have to leave that with me but I’ll have a little look and identify where they were in relation to the house.

What about the tributary to the River Lea, which is by the side of the pavilion... did you ever see that?

No. By the side of the pavilion?

You know the pavilion on The Green?

Yes... oh, that little trickle?

That’s it, yes.

Yes, yes when I first came it was a big... quite a big...

Was it?

Yes but, of course, there has been so much building... yes, sorry. I didn’t connect it for a while because, of course, it disappeared quite a long time ago.

Yes, there’s only a trickle there now

Yes, yes. It... no, it was a hefty... it was quite a hefty sort of affair.

Right. The pavilion was there in... when you arrived?

Ah... was it or wasn’t it?

There must have been something there.

I think it was there. It had just... not long been built. It was in constant use.

Yes?

There was always cricket, football... goodness knows what was going on.

Really? That was good.

Much more than we see now. This is a famous picture of Charles Smy. He came to Houghton Regis in 1901. He was a very famous photographer. I’ve got a picture of him with his family if you’re interested at any time. That’s... that’s just another picture of Houghton Hall. We’re getting quite blasé now!

He wasn’t the... Mr Smy... Charles Smy... he... was he here when you were here?

Yes, yes he... no, sorry. He wasn’t. He died in the fifties and I came... I can’t remember when I came now... sixties. I came in the sixties, yes. He hadn’t long been gone.

But many of his pictures are still floating around, aren’t they?

Of course, because they’re... he was a wonderful photographer.

Yes really... I’ve seen some recently.

Ah, stunning... stunning. And there’s the... the Hall and Lodge together and you can see quite a difference here. This is 1985, which is quite late, but you can see the difference. My friend lives here.

Yes, yes. That’s where all the servants lived?

Well, it was mostly grooms and this would have been where the coach was but this is a... there are rows... these houses are incredibly big. They’re not little cottages.

So they look bigger than they are?

Well, they don’t look anything at all but in actual fact they are a considerable building. There’s how this all was in... well, I haven’t put the date down, but this is how it looked originally. This is how it was when it was in use.

Oh, when it was in use as a...?

As a... yes.

Wow, amazing... picturesque, very picturesque and they still are to this day.

Oh yes. Well, of course, they’re wonderful now. They’re worth an absolute fortune. Here’s Houghton Hall Park. You know we were talking about going down to the main road?

Yes.

And there is a picture of it. You can see how lovely it looked. Of course, it’s now been curtailed a little bit by the bowling green.

So really the changes that have taken place... you, in your lifetime, in Houghton Regis...

Oh, they’re immense.

You’ve seen so many changes and most of them...

Not beneficial.

Not beneficial?

We’re getting there, aren’t we? We’ve got the idea that we’ve... we’ve got the idea that we mustn’t just pull everything down and, you know, I think we’re getting there.

00:35:07

There was so much... so much destruction in those days, you know.

Do you know I have sometimes sat and wept when I’ve seen it, because Houghton... when I went there it was this lovely village. They had all these little shops. It was just fantastic and it was the beginning of... well, the end really... it was all... everything... there was no need to pull it all down.

I think looking at the old pictures, especially of the High Street... it’s very idyllic, you know...

Yes, but it was functional.

Functional idyllic, yes.

Because you could buy anything. When I first went there the shopkeepers were lovely. Yes, it might be a bit chaotic, you know, but my children used to run down to Jasper... whatever it was... and get their... spend their pennies, you know.

Was anything delivered to the houses in those days?

Yes. You could have things delivered. Yes, because this was the... in those days that did happen, yes... actually by horse and cart sometimes.

I mean, milk wasn’t in the churn by the time you arrived, was it?

No, no, no.

It was in milk bottles then wasn’t it?

Yes, yes and that was delivered. Milk was delivered.

Yes, so many changes, so many changes. Well, thank you very much for telling us your story.

Oh, it’s my pleasure.

We’ll probably do another one about the town eventually but at the moment we’re... we’re concentrating really on The Green and The Park and The House in this particular project. Thank you very much for telling us the story.

It’s a pleasure, a pleasure.

 

0:37:07

End of Interview