Date of Birth: 05/10/24
Place of Birth: The Nurseries, Bishopscote Road, Luton
Transcribed by Stephen Flinn (May, 2014)
What is your name?
Beryl Gwendoline Morton.
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?
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.
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. 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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 got some...
Where did they meet? Did they meet in front of the house?
And then go off from there?
Yes. Had their little drink, you know, like they do.
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?
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...
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.
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.
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.
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?
Not up this end of the village. It was all down this end.
Right. Do you remember... you know where the pavilion is today?
Do you remember the river that was running by the side of the pavilion?
It’s a tributary to the River Lea.
Yes, it does come... it comes down here, opposite...
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.
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.
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. 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?
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...
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.
End of Interview